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Profile: Dr. Kim Nilsson, Co-founder and CEO at Pivigo

Why aren’t there more women in tech? “We lack role models, and we lack support every step of the way”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Dr. Kim Nilsson, Co-Founder and CEO at Pivigo.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Dr. Kim Nilsson, Co-Founder and CEO at Pivigo.

Dr. Kim Nilsson, Co-Founder and CEO at Pivigo

Kim has a background in science, with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. She is the co-founder and CEO of Pivigo – the Data Science Hub. Pivigo is a data science marketplace, accelerating data innovation in organizations by connecting them to a global community of freelancing data scientists. Pivigo also runs Europe’s largest data science training programme S2DS. Kim and her team at Pivigo are passionate about bringing businesses and scientists together to harness the value and opportunities in data, by bridging the gap between the two fields. Since the launch of Pivigo, Kim has been named a Rising Star among the Top 100 Influencers of Big Data in the and she was recently awarded ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the Women in IT awards. Kim is passionate about data, people, and connecting the two.

What got you interested in tech?

I have had an interest in technology and engineering since I fell in love with Astronomy as a teenager. I was always curious about how things worked as a child, and my mother likes to comment on how I made a connection between shower steam and fog as a very young child. Studying physics, and later continuing into a data analytics and computer-related path, was a natural consequence of that curiosity.

A day in Kim’s life

Today I am the CEO of Pivigo, the data science company I co-founded about six years ago now. As the CEO of a fast-growing business, there is not much of a „typical day“. I have a finger in all pies and am involved in everything from sales, marketing, and PR, through operations, and into our product development. I do enjoy meeting clients and partners on our network and understand their challenges and how we can help them. I also enjoy building our data science community, especially via our training programme Science to Data Science, where we support academics like myself to transition from academia to industry jobs as data scientists. It is very rewarding to know that I am giving back to the community that I once came from myself!

A strong support system

I have always had huge support from my family, especially my husband. Without him, I would not be where I am. When I was unhappy in my work, he encouraged me to find something else. When I was tired of studying, he spurred me on. When I wanted to start my business, he worked hard to pay the bills so we could survive without a salary from me, and when I was complaining about my business challenges, he listened and offered advice. In terms of role models, I often look back to the women of my family. I am the fourth generation female entrepreneur in my family. The women before me all broke some form of mould to provide for themselves and their families. When things are tough, I remind myself that it was even harder for them, and I take strength from that!

Any obstacles along the way?

I was 13 years old when I couldn’t sleep one night. I was watching the stars and wondered why they twinkled at night. The next day I went to the local library, borrowed a book on astronomy, and then I was hooked on becoming an astronomer. From there, it was a straight path through school and University, to my Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Interestingly, it was only after a few years working as a scientist that my career took another turn. I finally accepted that I was actually not enjoying my work as much as I expected, and I decided to move out of academia. This turned out to be a huge challenge, as no one from the industry would hire an ex-astronomer! My path then took some twists and turns, via an MBA in the UK, to end up starting my own business. Obstacles to overcome included my own fear of the unknown, the prejudice against academics, and a lack of a business network to build on.

In general, however, I think I have been very lucky to have very supportive mentors and managers so far in my life. I was always very creative in my work and always wanted to improve on anything I thought could be improved. I think there is only really one person in my past who was unhappy with this, and tried to pressure me „back into a box“, i.e. force me to do the tasks he wanted me to do without questioning why. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am very proud that I dared to make drastic decisions about my career twice. First, when I left academia which was a relatively safe environment, to search for something more fulfilling. And second, when I agreed to „take the plunge“ and start the business with my co-founder Jason. Both times I left safe jobs and safe futures for the unknown, but both of those decisions turned out to be some of the best decisions of my life and I never regretted them for a day. That is one of my key advice to young professionals out there. If you are not happy in your current job, dare to try something new!

Why aren’t there more women in tech? 

I think it is a structural problem that starts at an early age and continues through every stage of the career ladder. At a young age, girls are less encouraged to be interested in STEM/MINT subjects. This causes few women to apply to MINT degrees at University, fewer still to start junior careers in the tech industry, and a very small minority to work their way up the ladder. It can be a very intimidating world to be in, as a woman. At a recent tech networking event, I attended in Berlin, I was the only female out of 30 attendees! You have to be strong to be comfortable with that. We lack role models, and we lack support every step of the way.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Diversity drives innovation! This is not just a debate about women, but also other minorities. However, today, women are the most underrepresented „minority“ group in tech. People with different backgrounds, gender, skills, nationalities, and opinions bring different perspectives on a problem. This includes keeping an eye out for biases and prejudices entering the product. The latest debates around bias in AI algorithms is one that could be solved with more diverse teams, and more diverse brains, looking at the same problem. It is clear that diverse businesses are more successful financially, but I think the social impact will be even greater by removing bias from product development.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

I am encouraged by the debate, but at the same time, I am disappointed with progress. The problems are indeed structural and will take generations to wipe out. We should see some results soon, with improving numbers within our industry. But to get to parity, as with the gender pay gap, it will take a long time to close the gap.

Tips & tricks

Go for it! Tech is already well underway to rule this world and will do so within the next generation. It is a future-proof career, and also a very exciting one. They should go into it open-eyed and know that it will not be easy. They may need to have a bit of a tough skin initially and know that it is likely that they will encounter prejudice. However, there is a strong, global network of women in tech forming, with strong momentum, and therefore we can always lean on each other when times are tough. In the meantime, we are building a better, more fair world, and blazing a path for generations to come.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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