Darktrace CEO, Poppy Gustafsson on achieving #BalanceforBetter

Following the success of International Women’s Day 2019, Helen Wollaston, CEO of WISE, sat down with Poppy Gustafsson, CEO of Darktrace, to get her insights on diversity in the tech industry. Here’s what she had to say…

Helen: Why is balance so important in the tech industry?

Poppy: Technology is great. It showcases the very best of what humans have to offer: creativity, the ability to push boundaries, the rejection of complacency. To produce a truly world-leading innovation, you need different voices around the table – women and men of all races, sexualities and political leanings.

As well as a big push on STEM, it takes a multitude of different skills to build a standout AI-business. We need storytellers, linguists, ethicists and accountants too.

Helen: Do you see any differences in the kind of people working in tech roles now, compared to when you started your career?

Poppy: There are definitely more women in technology companies than when I started! The workforce is also younger than it used to be. Tech companies are far more willing to take on graduates from all kinds of academic backgrounds. I think they’re realising that you don’t need every person in the company to have a data science PhD.

Helen: What is Darktrace doing to encourage #BalanceForBetter?

Poppy: 40% of our workforce are women. I’m hugely proud of this number given that the industry average is 15%, but it’s something I’m only really aware of when I’m at an industry event, and it’s a sea of men staring back at me!

We haven’t got here with quotas. We look for bright minds and the hunger to learn. Being a dynamic, fast-growing AI company is a draw for a lot of men and women, and it’s a positive cycle, the more women who work for you, the more will want to work for you.

Helen: Which women in STEM have you been inspired by?

Poppy: Dr Rosemary Francis is a shining example of a woman bringing waves of innovation to technology. She is founder and CEO of Ellexus, the I/O profiling company, which she launched to solve the IT infrastructure problems she encountered in the semiconductor industry. 

Within Darktrace, I was privileged to work with many talented women in STEM daily, from technologists to cyber analysts.  

Helen: Why did you choose to work in STEM?

Poppy: I am passionate about innovations in AI and honing in on its power to deal with complexity and applying that to specific challenges facing society. AI is exciting because it’s continually evolving.

Helen: Why cybersecurity?

Poppy: As our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology, cybersecurity is one of our biggest challenges. And, it affects every sector and every individual. Our critical infrastructure. Our banks. Our governments. You’re reading this on a device that’s connected to the internet, and it’s probably got some information on there you would rather not land on the Dark Web. And, the challenge is only getting more complicated.

It helps me get up in the morning knowing that I am part of an organization tackling this challenge head-on, protecting data integrity and helping rebuild trust in critical institutions.

Helen: Do you think it’s important to have an International Women’s Day?

Poppy: It’s fantastic to celebrate and reflect on all that women have achieved, and I hope that the day continues to inspire and empower the next generation of women (and men). But what really excites me is a future where we shout louder about what people are achieving and doing, rather than their gender. Where men and women’s perspectives matter equally, and we channel these perspectives into driving society forward.

Quickfire advice:

Helen: For aspiring female leaders in STEM?

Poppy: Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, even if you end up making some mistakes along the way.

Helen: For young women, and their families, who are choosing their GCSE/A Level subjects?

Poppy: Choose the subjects you love, because you’ll be much happier and do far better than if you choose subjects because you think you have to.

Helen: For men leading tech companies?

Poppy: Hire people that are different from you, that think differently, be open to ideas that seem a bit wacky.

>See also: 7 entrepreneurs leading the way for women in technology

Darktrace, the world’s leading AI company for cyber defense, last year partnered WISE – a social enterprise which works to promote the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – to inspire more girls to consider STEM careers, and increase their awareness of the exciting future roles available in technology.