As part of International Women’s Month, we’re speaking to our colleagues in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Women accounted for 24% of the STEM workforce in 2019. This is only expected to rise to 29% by 2030.
To celebrate International Women’s Month and promote gender equality in the fields, we’re highlighting colleagues who are “breaking the bias” and bringing innovation into their subjects.
About Lizzie Jackson
Professor Lizzie Jackson is Director of Research and Enterprise for the School of Arts and Creative Industries. She is also an Advisor to theUK Intellectual Property Office and has advised the Council of Europe on the governance of public service media and digital citizenship.
"Go for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain." - Professor Lizzie Jackson
From 2009-2012 she worked in a small team to co-draft an EU Recommendation and Declaration on the Governance of public service media that was ratified in March 2012. Lizzie was also a member of the Home Office Task Force on Internet Safety (2003-2007). Before becoming an academic Lizzie worked for BBC Radio (1983-1996). As Managing Director of Soundbite Productions Limited (1991-1996) 80% of her radio documentaries were critics’ choice of the day.
Returning to the BBC in 1997, Lizzie was one of the 20-strong launch team for www.bbc.co.uk (1997). As Editor of BBC Online Communities she developed the BBC’s first social media (message boards and chat rooms) and managed 30 Online Communities staff across the corporation. Lizzie also developed and managed the live chat team who ran the BBC’s first outside broadcast live stream (1999).
She was named ‘One of the 100 Innovators of the UK Internet Decade’ by NOP World in 2004 for her work encouraging the development of Online Communities in the UK, and Internet Safety.
Read on to get to know Lizzie’s role at SBI, her journey and experience as a woman in STEM, and her life outside of university.
Hello, please tell us about yourself?
Hi, my name is Lizzie and I am the Director of Research and Enterprise in the School of Arts and Creative Industries. Outside of University I do up old houses! One is in the Languedoc in South France, which is now completed, and it was built in the 1600s. The other is in Deal, Kent, and it is a Regency cottage built in 1805 - Im just starting that renovation. I have my holidays in France and weekends in Deal.
How long have you been working at SBI/LSBU?
I joined LSBU in 2015 as a Head of the Division of Creative Technologies. Currently I lead the Research and Enterprise team. I work extremely closely with SBI, and really enjoy working with my colleagues there. They are a fantastic bunch and supportive. We wouldn’t have got our big European grants without them. We have two grants, one building studios for researchers and small to medium businesses to work together on novel products, services, and experiences. The other is for exploring immersive media. They are very good at supporting us to manage these projects, which need a lot of paperwork and tracking. This allows our researchers to have the studios, time, and equipment to innovate through their applied research. I used to work in BBC R&D so this is a familiar environment for me; very exciting.
Please describe to us what your day-to-day life looks at your job?
My day is full of online meetings at the moment. But there are some days now in the office, and the occasional visit to experimental studios to see new types of cameras, computers, or what’s being called ‘Virtual Production’. I work with several colleagues in teams, which are mostly led by someone else, but from time to time I step in if I can see the direction of travel for the project needs adjustment. I am the Principal Investigator on one large project. There’s also the management of the School research budget working with our Research Administrator, and of the Research Centre I lead with a colleague; the Creative Technologies Research Centre. That has three Research Groups within it, that are looking at emerging directions in sound, film, and games.
"We all need to say “come in, the water’s lovely!” There’s so much women can offer in STEM, or STEAM if you add the Arts. The thing is not to be put off by jargon ..."
I have two PhD students at the moment, but we are recruiting two more doctoral candidates. These doctorates are co-supervised with experienced researchers from other schools within LSBU or other universities. There’s also the need to keep up with my industry colleagues and contacts with whom we often seek funding to try and crack challenges that we believe are of high importance. Currently the key challenges include establishing Virtual Production in the UK, finding out what young people aged 14-16 want from public service broadcasters, how to reduce the carbon generated by the media industry, and how to widen diversity in the Creative Industries.
Why do you believe celebrating International Women's Day/Month is important?
International Women’s Day means a lot to me, and yes, I celebrate it. Here’s why I think it’s important…
I’ve worked in emerging technologies since 1997 when I won a BBC course to be re-trained from being a radio producer to being a ‘multimedia’ producer. A European ‘Media 2’ grant was given to six radio or TV producers from across Europe. We were a mixed group of men and women - which was great!. That led to a job in the BBC’s New Media department being in charge of the development of their social media in 1998, working with a coder and designer. As a team of three we created the first message boards and launched them. The New Media Department at the BBC was pretty evenly split between men and women.
My first presentation on the new BBC ‘online communities’ as they were then known was at the first dedicated international conference on social media, in San Francisco. Five women were there out of a conference of 195 guys. I remember taking a photo of that at the time. This is a pattern that repeats with emerging tech, but it’s getting much better now. Women are coming forward and leading in the blockchain, AI, Virtual Production and so on. This makes sense from a development and economic perspective as the users of the tech will be diverse.
Have you had any challenges in your education or career because of your gender? If that's the case, how did you overcome them?
I have been very fortunate in that I got a job at the BBC and progressed from being a Production Secretary working on live radio to the BBC’s ‘Sound Engineering’ three-year training. This was 50% male intake and 50% female. The guys would lean in to learn the technology first, then stand back to let the ladies have a go. But we all passed our exams at the same time so that was fine. I also got on the BBC’s ‘Women’s Development Initiative’ which trained up 15 women a year to be future senior managers. I got a lot out of that course, a lot of confidence.
"The Creative Industries needs to be more diverse, in all respects, that is having a workforce that is an energetic mix of all types who all have equal access so they can thrive and prosper."
The other thing that gave me confidence was running my own independent radio production company, ‘Soundbites Ltd’ during a mid-career ‘commercial break’ from the Corporation. That was great for knowing how to do a job, do the books, and look for new business concurrently. Very hard work, but my career moved on in leaps and bounds as I could do whatever I wanted. When I went back into the BBC as a ‘new’ media producer it was very hard to be managed by someone though. You get very headstrong. My current job is great as managing a department/area in a university has similarities to running your own business, but with supporting colleagues from your own and other departments.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received?
There’s a saying in the theatrical business - I originally trained in Performing Arts - that you should be nice to people on the way up as you’ll meet them on the way down. My father also said that treating people with respect is the most important thing. I try to do that and always apologise if necessary for any oversight or lack of forethought (or being too headstrong or dominant in a meeting, which can easily happen if you are passionate about what you do). Everybody is of equal importance and the quietest people who have been listening carefully are likely to come up with the genius contribution.
What can we do to encourage more women to enter STEM?
We all need to say “come in, the water’s lovely!” There’s so much women can offer in STEM, or STEAM if you add the Arts. The thing is not to be put off by jargon (ask what words mean) or restricted code (find out what the rituals are … but do your own thing). There are plenty of groups now like Women in Film and so onto join. We started an informal ‘Ladies who Launch’ lunch group when the BBC’s website first started. Join these and other industry networks and get to know people. Whatever industry you are in, it needs you! This is not just flim-flam, but a reality as a diverse workforce produces better stuff and more accessible things. It’s better for everyone.
What is the most crucial message you would like to express to young women considering careers in STEM?
Go for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Get in at the beginning of something. At that point everybody is exploring from a standing start. Nobody knows what’s going on really; some people are just better at blagging than others. Everybody values every contribution highly, whatever it is. People are trying to find out fast at this point how this new thing works. Then study whatever it is, as much as you can. Read what people are writing, go to the conferences and industry meet ups. Listen hard until you’ve got a sense of the ecology; start to make comments and ask questions. Then …. you’re in.
Is there somebody in your professional life who inspires you?
Lord Karan Bilimora, who started Cobra Beer in 1989 in the UK from nothing. He’s an inspirational speaker. I admire people who have just gone for it with not much, or nothing. He created this new beer from an Indian recipe so it was a high quality beer that went with Indian food. Then got into his car and drove samples around from Indian restaurant to Indian restaurant telling them to try the beer with their customers. He spotted an opportunity, created something new, and then had to do an awful lot of leg work afterwards. But it worked.
Why do you believe workplace diversity is so important?
We have rather a lot of women in senior positions in our School so the current issue is making sure we are a bit more diverse i.e. recruiting and promoting proactively to that end. The Creative Industries needs to be more diverse, in all respects, that is having a workforce that is an energetic mix of all types who all have equal access so they can thrive and prosper. Our work is to make sure our students, many of whom are the first to go to university, get the best opportunities to thrive and thereby enrich our industry. We are very conscious of that.
Which inspirational women, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and why?
I’d invite my close female pals from school and university, who I have hung out with since 1979. I introduced them to each other when they were all pregnant and that was that.
Do you want support to enter STEM or to learn skills that'll help increase your access to the Creative and Immersive industries? You could access fully-funded support to develop new skills through our new ASPIRE London programme. Start your journey today at aspire-london.com