Lena Rosenior: Diversity challenge needs to be tackled head on

Connected Places Catapult’s new Affiliate explains why diversity in business is so important

As a young, black woman working in a senior technology role, it would always amaze me that there were no women of colour making important decisions beside me. Having amassed a wealth of experience throughout my career, I now feel I am able to use my experience to help provoke change.

Today, I am a strong advocate for African, Caribbean and Dual Heritage (ACDH) women working in the technology sector, and I am passionate about forming strategic alliances with those who share my vision of supporting people from all backgrounds to further their careers.

In today’s corporate world, requirements for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are essential; especially in the technology sector where there is an acute shortage of talent coming through.

Last year, the UK’s technology sector saw vacancies nearly double compared to 2020, which highlights the importance of hiring and investing in talent from diverse backgrounds. Only by nurturing and recruiting people from different cultures can companies truly focus on filling the gaps in diversity.

For over 25 years I have been developing software for use in the UK and across Africa; and for most of that time I have been working within the built environment sector. The company I founded, De Graft Management (DGM), develops property, asset and waste management software that uses Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Internet of Things capabilities. Our clients include financial services, property companies and recycling organisations.

My work in this area led to the company winning a competition called Urban Links Africa, run by Innovate UK and Connected Places Catapult, to apply human centred design techniques to develop waste management software in use in Kenya.

Throughout my software development career, I have never met another black, female colleague in a more senior management role. This situation urgently needs to change as the technology sector continues to miss out on the added value that a diverse senior workforce brings.

It is essential that there are more role models and examples for young black women aspiring to advance in the technology sector; if you can see it, you can be it. I am passionate about leading from the front and using my position to help inspire younger generations.

In order to combat the chronic shortage of tech talent among ACDH women, I have recently helped to establish the FutureBuild Academy, an initiative that offers a six month training and employability programme designed to boost the IT skills of young ACDH women.

The first cohort of 20 women will graduate from the Academy fully prepared with relevant on-the-job experience, and I am proud to have helped to foster a new community helping to boost minority talent in the sector.

EDI is at the heart of how modern firms do business. My mission is to nurture the next generation of gifted female tech talent in the UK and Africa for appropriate employment by providing first class training in software technology, employability readiness and professional development.

I have also worked with Brunel and Roehampton universities to lead on mentoring programmes with students, and my company is a member of diversity advocacy organisation MSDUK.

Going forwards, I hope my role as an Affiliate for Connected Places Catapult will help to keep the issue of promoting diversity at the forefront of thinking for cities and those involved in connected intelligence, transport and place leadership.

We still face an uphill struggle to improve the representation of ACHD women in engineering and technology, and particularly in the software development sector.

It is essential that we make progress and engage with EDI programmes so that the professionals we employ in the future are fully representative of the society we serve.

* Lena Rosenior is an Ambassador for Connected Places Catapult and is one of 32 new Affiliates appointed this summer to help deliver on its strategic objectives.