Managing director, Akari Solutions
Name: Margaret Totten
Role: Co-founder and managing director of Glasgow-based Microsoft partner Akari Solutions
Context: Totten co-founded Akari Solutions in 2019, and within five months it was a Microsoft Gold partner. She won 'Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2020 CRN Women in Channel Awards, and is also a board member for Scotland women in technology.
How did you get into the IT sector, and what led you to occupy your current role?
I originally started working for a small Scottish partner with their events marketing through my own digital marketing company. I then went to work their full time as Head of Sales. I found that I loved the channel and working with technology and seeing how it can be used to help organisation become stronger, more agile and competitive.
I headed up that company through its acquisition and then two years ago, with a small group of like-minded individuals, we saw that there was a gap in the market for using technology to truly drive digital inclusion. So we founded Akari. Our lessons in creating products and solutions using Microsoft Teams helped us equip organisations with the knowledge they needed, particularly through Covid, and I'm now fortunate enough to be heading up a ground-breaking organisation that uses technology to change how people live, learn and work.
Who is your role model?
My Gran and my mum. My grandmother is the strongest person I know and has encouraged me my entire life to follow my dreams. She taught me that nothing I wanted was out of reach and that if you live your life true to who you are and treat people (and yourself) well that great things will happen. We lost my mum several years ago now but she was a driving force in shaping who I am. She never finished school and although a genius with numbers was terrible with reading and writing. A few decades later she would have been recognised as dyslexic but in her generation it was just put down to being slower. She instilled in me a love for reading and learning and always pushed me to do more, to be better.
Do you think the IT industry's gender diversity deficit - and diversity deficit more widely - warrants highlighting? Always!
There can never be too much diversity, the world would be mightily boring if made up of all the same people and the open and honest conversations we are seeing take place, not only with gender diversity, but inclusion as a whole are very much needed.
What are the key business benefits of having a diverse workforce? Having a diverse workforce definitely gives you an edge.
If you are trying to solve a problem and everyone in the room is the same, they will come at it from the same angle. If you have a bunch of different people with different backgrounds, ideas, life experiences then you will find a much larger well of creativity and problem solving.
What's your top tip for tech providers that are serious about tackling their gender or diversity deficit?
Be honest with yourselves and admit where you are lacking. Every organisation can do more, can work harder to ensure inclusion at all levels, but we need to have honest open conversations and we need the ability to hold a mirror up and discuss what we see. You have to identify and recognise the problem before you can change it
What is your advice to women and girls thinking about a career in the channel?
Ask questions, speak to people in the areas you are interested in and ask for recommendations. Use your network and reach out to women already in the channel and ask them for their advice. Look at what truly interests you, is it tech? is it AI, is it marketing, is it development and learn everything you can and reach out for opportunities. Secondly stop being hard on yourself, it is recognised that many women when looking at a job description will focus on all the skills and qualities they don't have rather than the ones they do, stop doing that and take the chance, if you feel you are a good candidate or that you will bring something strong to the role, don't let a job spec change your mind.
Who is your career mentor?
I started in the channel about twelve or so years ago working for a woman named Vivien McKee. She was the MD of a Scottish cloud company and a woman who refused to take no for an answer. She was creative and ever so slightly crazy but she had definite ideas on how to get to where she wanted and didn't let anything stop her. She was my first and to date only) career mentor and I learned so much from her. Now I don't so much have a mentor but I do have a group of female peers both in my own organisation and in Microsoft who drive me forward and who I rely on for everything from advice to a pick me up. I think having a mentor is vitally important but I think it is also just as important to surround yourself with strong peers who can help you grow just as much.
How has Covid impacted the diversity debate?
It has in some ways completely opened up the conversation. When the world had to shift and change, we had to discover a whole new way of working and that opened the market to many people who may have been locked out before as they couldn't fit into a site based, hours set way of working. It has also highlighted that equipping people with the tools they need is not a nice to have but a must have to ensure productivity