Digitally Thinking

Tech for good and growth in Yorkshire

September 2021 saw the latest instalment of Leeds Digital Festival;  with in-person events as well as the online one which we were limited to from March 2020 onwards.  Being able to see people, speak face to face, even hug those we haven’t seen for so long – was a huge relief. All done as safely as we could, with a lot of trust in a community which had grown close before the pandemic and grown closer through it.

Whilst Leeds has just been in the spotlight – and the success of the festival, in which we have been involved from the off, is a phenomenon of which we are very proud – it’s not just Leeds. In Yorkshire, Sheffield Digital and its festival – expected to be back in the spring of 2022, and we’ll be there again – is growing in strength, success and reach; and embracing the wider South Yorkshire scene including some great things in Barnsley.  York has its science park and hubs based around York University, but with the university connecting more closely with the working city later in 2021 with its  new location at the repurposed Guildhall, expect more there. Berwins have close and developing ties with a number of businesses in York – I was educated there, too – and we’re excited to see technology and innovation flourishing in the heart of the city. 

Tech, though, isn’t just about tech; we are all aware that tech does not always appear as a force for good. As its numerical and economic power grows, and with it the influence on the cities in which we live and work, it was positive and impressive to see the Leeds event focus on different aspects of tech for good; there were events on diversity and inclusion, on mental health and physical health (including our Festival Run).  As a festival we are keen to develop the diversity agenda. 

Many longer-standing professions – law and medicine amongst them – have become increasingly diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity; it has been a long journey, and it continues. I’m proud that our board, at Berwins, has been overwhelmingly female for many, many years.  In other ways, it is not diverse.  Diversity mustn’t be about any sort of tokenism.  If a workforce is overwhelmingly male, or white British,  then it lacks the diversity of outlooks, approaches and ideas which can help a technology business succeed.   In basic terms – an all-male workforce is missing half of the available talent.  It may also be repelling that talent and closing off venues to that talent.   Majority groupthink is very limiting, and the extent to which it happens is invisible to that majority.  

As the technology economy continues to develop, in our Yorkshire towns and cities as elsewhere, and as we get together in festivals and events, at last -  can we continue to be dissatisfied with where we are in terms of diversity, and let that dissatisfaction be a driver to harnessing the dynamism of diversity?

At Leeds Digital Festival, working with Leeds City Council and the fabulous WiLD (Women in Leeds Digital), we have tried to make this area a real priority, and it will only grow. We have the motivation, desire and people to make that happen.   With our involvement in Sheffield, York and Harrogate – with populations on varying diversity – we at Berwins will also want to be involved in and encouraging this agenda.

Paul Berwin is Head of Digital at Berwins Digital

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