13 November 2018

Girls on Top: Pip Jamieson on why female ideas in Silicone Valley are more important than ever

The founder of The Dots on her route to success, and why inclusivity and diversity in the creative industry is more important than ever before.

Like numerous industries before it tech has traditionally been considered a boys club. Even the historical notion of an inventor has never been viewed as female (despite women’s numerous contributions), but creative entrepreneur Pip Jamieson is looking to redress the balance of power. Seeing the need for more voices and different perspectives in the tech and creative industries Pip founded The Dots – a diverse company that allows like minded individuals to exchange ideas – and hasn’t looked back since. We talk career fluidity, the robot onslaught and the continued importance of representation.

You originally worked in marketing – what gap in the market did you identify to start The Dots?

I was never one of those people that dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, and I had no tech experience to speak of. I just saw a problem while I was working at MTV, and (somewhat naively) wanted to build a solution to solve that problem. The whole idea came about because I was surrounded by incredible people who were adopting very different career paths (and in many ways had very different value sets) to the traditional white-collar workforce.

Our careers were much more fluid! We were increasingly working on a project-by-project basis, had side hustles, working freelance or adopting portfolio careers. LinkedIn just wasn’t working for us, so I wanted to invent a new professional networking solution that was fit for the 21st century. One that helped ‘no-collar professionals’ – creators, freelancer and entrepreneurs – build their personal brand, network and connect to dream roles – the rest, as they say, is history.

What bound us all together is we were coming up with ideas and building teams around us to execute those ideas. So a very basic level, the core difference between The Dots and LinkedIn is, instead of promoting yourself via a CV, people post projects and credit the whole team behind those projects. Kind of like a community-driven IMDB. For example, you could post the latest issue of Hunger, and credit with the full team that brought it to life, from the editor to the writers, stylists, photographers, producers and so on. It’s a recognition that creativity is a team sport – you can be a rockstar creative but if you’re not supported by an amazing team, that idea is hard to bring to life.

In 2014 I sunk everything I learned into starting The Dots from my houseboat, Horace. Fast forward four years and we have 100,000s of members and over 10,000 brands using us to hire full-time and freelance talent. It’s been a LOT of hard graft, but my goodness it’s been worth it!

 

"We all know the robots are coming. Soon machines will drive, serve customers, do our accounts and legal work."

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At the Dots you work hard to ensure that there is equal race and gender representation – how well do you think the creative industry represents the cross section of British ethnicity and what more could be done to ensure more diversity?

I experienced first hand at MTV how dangerous homogeneous teams are for creativity. If we’re all the same, how can we think differently! This is one of the reasons I founded The Dots, to help democratise the creative sector and make it accessible to everyone.

There is now endless research that diversity (in all its guises) is great for businesses, innovation and creativity. However, we still have a long way to go. In the UK for example, only 36% of jobs in the creative industries are filled by women (vs 47% in all industries), so there is a pretty big gender gap. When you look to BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) representation, the numbers are far worse.

For me, LinkedIn always felt like it encouraged homogeneity, but being a dyslexic sole female tech founder, I never felt I fit the corporate space. What I’ve come to realise is it’s our differences that make us brilliant. The Dots is all about promoting and championing diverse talent and the work they create. Our amazing community is currently 68% female, 31% BAME, 16% LGBT+ and we also do a lot of work supporting disabled, neurodiverse (dyslexia, autism, ADHD etc.) and disadvantaged talent.

As with most complex problems, there is no silver bullet. Where The Dots comes in is we help amazing diverse talent get their foot in the door. But what gives me huge hope for the future is the myriad of amazing grassroots organisations that are training, mentors and supporting diverse talent – you can find a huge selection here.

There is also a class issue at play in the British creative industry, worsening as creative subjects get cut from curriculums at state schools, how do you ensure you have diverse perspectives and voices at The Dots?

I’m a massive advocate of building teams that reflect society as a whole. Gender, ethnicity and LGBT+ representation are hugely important, but so is neurodiversity, ability, age and class. When it comes to socioeconomic diversity, we’ve got a massive hill to climb, particularly in light of schools scaling back creative education.

Something we’ve done at The Dots is we’ve removed the ability for the 10,000+ companies who use the platform, to search for talent based on where people went to university. This helps people rise to the top irrespective of educational background. We also adjusted our algorithm so a more diverse selection of talent appears at the top of searches.

"There is now endless research that diversity (in all its guises) is great for businesses, innovation and creativity."

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What are the biggest misconceptions about the creative industry that you work to dispel?

I think there is still a perception that the creative industries aren’t a viable career path. The reality is quite the opposite! The UK’s creative economy is one of Britain’s proudest achievements, and accounts for almost 10% of the UK’s workforce, GDP and exports.This is more than the UK’s car, life sciences, oil and gas, and aerospace industries combined! It is a hugely powerful engine for British growth, having grown at over double the UK’s GDP rate since 2011. Granted, you might not earn quite as much as you world working in the city, but (and I’m completely biased here) you’ll be much happier.

More importantly, as we enter an age of automation, creativity is our secret weapon. We all know the robots are coming. Soon machines will drive, serve customers, do our accounts and legal work. However, there are three very human traits that machines struggle with; 1) they don’t have common sense, 2) they don’t understand (or have) empathy and 3) they can’t match our creative capabilities. So if we want our children and grandchildren to have jobs, Sir Ken Robinson is completely right when he said that “creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

What were the challenges you faced while building and growing The Dots?

Gosh, scaling a business is hard, really hard. My journey has been a constant rollercoaster ride of highs and lows – but hey, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

I think the hardest thing of late was closing our recent £4 million investment round. Raising investment is a painful process for any founder, but it can be particularly gruelling for women. The numbers speak for themselves. In the UK, for example, a recent YouGov survey found that 1 in 10 women in the UK want to start their own business, but only 9% of funding into UK startups going to women-run businesses. While at my level, only 2.2% of Venture Capital (VC) investment goes to female founders. If you look at investment into female BAME founders, the numbers are so woeful they aren’t even measured!

I guess in the words of the amazing Sheryl Sandberg I’ve just had to ‘lean in’, and lean in hard! I think the reason I’ve managed to break the glass ceiling is I’ve completely focused on building a world-class product and team. Once you have a thriving business gaining traction, you get a little hard to ignore! It’s not easy, but I promise it’s worth it. Just make sure you surround yourself with brilliant positive people, and avoid the drains.

Have you ever faced any industry prejudice for being a woman? And what advice do you give people that may face the same?

I have definitely faced unconscious bias and sometimes overt discrimination. For example, when I raised our recent investment round and I had to bring a male colleague to meetings to be taken seriously. At a couple of meetings, investors would only direct questions to him, but to be honest, this wasn’t so bad as I knew right from the outset that they’d make terrible investors – an insight my fellow male entrepreneurs may not have seen until too late!

In terms of advice, if you’re facing prejudice of work, with unemployment in the UK at a 42 year low, and companies desperate for skilled talent, there is no better time to jump ship and find an employer who respects you for you.

"If we’re teaching machines to think but these machines are being taught by primarily white male teams based in Silicon Valley, we’re going start amplifying bias at a mass scale."

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Why is it more important now than perhaps ever before to have female voices in the tech industry?

Only 17% of employees in the UK tech sector are women, which means we are unconsciously building tech solutions for men, not everyone.

The reason being is we all have bias, it’s human nature. Here’s a couple of examples. When seat belts were first invented by a primarily male team, they only tested these belts on male crash test dummies. The result, while women are less likely to be in accidents, they were 47% more likely to die from these accidents.

Take the act of searching websites as another example. On average, men prefer to search a site using free text search. While women are more likely prefer some form of signposting (like a drop down search menu). The challenge comes when a product is built by a primarily male team, what happens is they unconsciously build products for themselves – not for everyone.

I’m as guilty of bias as the next person, it’s human nature – it’s no coincidence that LinkedIn’s members are primarily male, while The Dots membership is currently 68% female – I am after all a female founder and LinkedIn’s founder Reid Hoffman is a man.

Another example is when the first wave of health apps launch, none of them included a way for women to track and manage their periods – even though women’s health is intrinsically linked to their menstrual cycles.The teams that build these apps created a solution for themselves!

This gets a lot scarier as we enter an age of automation – if we’re teaching machines to think but these machines are being taught by primarily white male teams based in Silicon Valley, we’re going start amplifying bias at a mass scale. This is not just about gender diversity, it’s critical to build teams that reflect society as a whole – only then are we going to start really solving the most pressing problems.

Helping grow the pool of female founders can absolutely help this as female run businesses are more likely to build diverse teams but most importantly, we’re more likely to build products that are socially responsible – not just highly addictive products that drive advertising revenue.

How do you see the future of the tech industry evolving to become more representative? Is it moving in the right direction?

Ok so I’m going to caveat this answer by saying I’m an eternal optimist, so yes – I do see things starting to move in the right direction.

The industry is waking up to the value of women tech. First Round Capital found that companies with female founders performed 63% better than investments with all-male founding teams. While a study by Dow Jones of 20,000 US VC-backed startups found that a company’s probability of success rises with the proportion of women in executive management positions.

Most excitingly, of all over the last few years I’ve seen a sea change in the UK VC landscape, with most forward thinking VCs actively pursuing female founders and hiring more female investment partners to help start removing bias from their investment process. Things won’t change overnight, but I’m beyond excited for the future!

What would you say to young people that want to further their creative careers but feel discouraged?

This is a completely shameless plug, but I’d say join The Dots 🙂

 

words Holly Fraser

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