Women in Tech Thursdays: Talking with Susanna Lawson

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Women in Tech Thursdays: Talking with Susanna Lawson

Women in Tech Thursdays: Talking with Susanna Lawson about her journey as a CEO and Co-Founder

Susanna is a CEO and Co-Founder of OneFile, which in 2017 was awarded the Queen’s Award for Innovation and Susanna was crowned Forward Ladies/HSBC Business Woman of the Year. Speaking at events promoting apprenticeships and the challenges facing SME’s, Susanna has grown Onefile from a start up of 2 people in the spare bedroom in Manchester to 85+ employees multi million pound company. Susanna is also on the advisory panel of BAME Apprenticeship Alliance and mentors other SME owners.

  • Tell me about your journey in the world of tech. How did you start and what was your motivation, what attracted you to the tech career you are in?

When we started OneFile 16 years ago I was not even consciously aware that we were starting a tech company. I was working in the apprenticeship sector and I saw huge inefficiencies and problems that could be solved using technology. So we went decided to build a cloud-based tech platform to overcome these issues. It is only really in the last few years since really getting involved in the tech scene in Manchester and I was being asked to speak at Female Tech Founder events did I appreciate that is exactly what I am!

  • What, in your opinion, might make other women hesitant about pursuing a tech career? There are so many Women in Tech initiatives right now (and here we are, adding yet another one) – and yet we are still working to close the diversity gap. What do you think is holding women back?

I am a firm believer of you can’t be what you can’t see. There are not enough women role models in technology. It is improving but slowly. When you are 14-16 years old and making decisions about what courses to do – a big pressure is friends. You want to be with your friends. I have spoken about this to my friends with children around that age and the choices that are being made about what subjects to do will pre define what options you have say at university.  Not enough girls are choosing STEM subjects and this then limits their degree choices if that is their choice of education route. I have also heard of family and schools pushing girls into more gender stereotypical routes.

Interestingly a couple of years ago Manchester Metropolitan University found that in their undergraduate technology degree only 13% of the cohort were women. However amazingly in their degree level apprentiecship programme in technology where the cohort were older, and previous formal qualifications would not have been necessarily the success criteria on getting on the programme –  there a staggering 63% of the cohort were women. The attitude/desire to study/work in the tech sector appeared to change as the women became older, maybe more confident in making their own choices.

  • You’re a CEO and a Co-Founder. Was it challenging to become a female leader in a potentially male-domindated industry?
Personally I have not found it a challenge. I have found kindred spirits in my network who want to see me succeed regardless of gender who I draw inspiration and support from. 
  • When you began your career, how did your friends or family react? Was there anyone to discourage you? Or did you have a mentor who supported you ?
When I first said that I was setting up a business I don’t think some family and friends thought it would be a success. However I have always worked since being 13 so they probably just thought it would fizzle out and I would just find another job.  I don’t remember anyone actively discouraging but also not like – wow that is so exciting either.  I think start up tech companies are more revered these days and seen as far more exciting.
  • What advice would you give to your younger self?
Buckle up and enjoy the journey!
You can follow Susanna on Linkedin or Twitter.

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