A professor at the world renowned School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh has received a major international award on International Women’s Day.
Elham Kashefi, who is professor of computer science and has a personal chair in quantum computing at the School of Informatics, received the prestigious Margaret Intrapreneur Europe award, marking her contribution as a role model for women in technology.
The awards celebrate the achievement of women in Europe and Africa for their leadership in the tech industry and innovation.
In addition to her Edinburgh professorships, Kashefi is also a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
She is also co-founder of VeriQloud, which develops applications and software for quantum computing and communication – work for which she has been awarded several UK, EU and US grants and fellowships.
Kashefi is recognised as a key role model as a leader in a field which is still generally very male-dominated – only one in five degree recipients in quantum computing are women and the numbers are still low in technology generally.
“When you look at the number of girls who come to study this, it is very limited,” she commented. “This is a real challenge, so that’s part of the excitement about this award, it’s trying to say that the landscape is changing – women should be there and want to encourage more.
“There is still the issue of the pipeline – there are women who are prominent who are role models, who become the CEO – but the numbers are still the issue.
“We need to start very early on, from very young, trying to push it from the bottom so that we will not reach the level where there are so few people at the top,” continued Kashefi.
“I am sitting on boards where I am still the only female, but the resistance has gone.”
She said that from her perspective the issue is not only about attracting women into the tech sector, but also about “how you survive it”, noting studies showing that girls and women are better in maths and coding, but the issue is often what happens when they are in the sector.
“Now the new role that we need to play is to show that you can survive in this sector – that it’s okay to be a mother and have a normal life and have fun, but still be in the tech sector – this is a different aspect of being a role model.”
Kashefi also said that networking is very important. “Connecting to people who are the same stage as you are, continuously having other females, other people that are thinking like you and trying to have this round life.
“Don’t be scared, you don’t need to be a bulldozer and push away obstacles, it is tough but it’s becoming tough in the same way that is tough for any men who want to have a family life and have a career.
“You can show that there is a different way of dong tech and it might be even more useful.”
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