Leader's Profile: Elizabeth Akorita, DSIT

As Deputy Director for Digital Delivery at DSIT, Elizabeth Akorita outlines her journey in technology and her methods of digital innovation.


As the Deputy Director for Digital Delivery, DSIT, Elizabeth Akorita navigates the complex landscape of the central UK government, overseeing multiple departments with a focus on science, innovation, and technology. 


Akorita’s career trajectory took an unexpected turn, transitioning from her background in marketing communications and science communication to becoming a key player for digital delivery in the UK’s public sector. 


In an interview with HotTopics, Akorita shared insights into her remarkable career journey, highlighting her pivotal role in shaping the digital landscape within the UK’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)—which has since splintered into the DSIT and DESNZ ministerial departments.


Watch the Leader's Profile highlights with Elizabeth Akorita below:


Elizabeth Akorita's journey from marketing to technology

Akorita says she did not start out as a "career technologist." 


She first pursued a master's degree in marketing and spent over a decade as a science communicator, engaging with more technical and digital areas such as digital content production and digital services at institutions like Barnardos, Macmillan Cancer and the Natural History Museum. 


Despite her experience in discussing complex topics in various formats, including print, digital, and verbal communication, the idea of working in technology never crossed her mind. 


“When I worked at Macmillan, I did wonder at a certain point—I was more interested in the technology that I was using to publish and the website redevelopment project, than some of my data upload,” she said.


Recognising a passion for technology, she actively sought opportunities to engage with technical aspects, volunteering for extra work and gaining new skills in the process. Within 18 months, she had transitioned from this newfound interest to securing her first senior technology role in the UK government.


The Covid-19 response dream team

Providing an overview of her career in the technology sector, Elizabeth recalled one of her proudest achievements: “I’d say the thing that I am proudest of is coming into what was the Department of Business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS).”


Thinking back on her two-decades long technology career, Elizabeth recalled the last six years she has worked for the government, arguing that some of her greatest achievements have been accomplished throughout this time.


When she first joined BEIS, Elizabeth came across a “fledgling” of a digital team. Not long after her arrival, she created the organisation’s first user-centred design and delivery team. Starting with a small digital team, she was able to build a substantial team from the ground up—and in a short period of time.


Akorita commenced this transformation of the organisation in November 2019, just months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, the department, now enhanced with the new user-centred design and delivery team, played a crucial role in the Covid-19 response.


“We had as little as one, two, three, four weeks to build certain things from scratch that came down from the Prime Minister, Secretary of State, etc… and we were able to then duplicate that success in response to the Ukraine war as well.”


Championing diverse representation in technology

What inspired Akorita to pursue a career in technology?


“One of the things that I had hoped when I'd gone into government… I had hoped to progress because there's quite a lack of [diverse] representation.”


Akorita raised a pertinent issue in the technology sector—the disproportionately low representation of women, specifically black women, which currently stands at 0.7 percent. In stark contrast, she reports that these figures are different within her organisation.


With the representation of this demographic at BEIS falling between six and 10 percent, she explained that the steps taken towards diversity are attributed to their thoughtful approach to sourcing talent.


“We take people from all kinds of backgrounds, not just technology backgrounds. If people have a willingness, a propensity to learn, that's the more important thing,” she said.


Going into detail about the organisation’s efforts to diversify the hiring process, Akorita made it clear that careful attention is given to the narrative and language in the job adverts they send out, ensuring it is welcoming to all demographics and not influenced by any form of conscious or unconscious bias.


“We look very closely at the language to make sure it's not coded or gendered or exclusionary,” she said.


She recalled research showing that women, more often than men, refrain from applying unless they meet 100 percent of job criteria. Her response to this is that they are not expecting to hire someone who possesses all of the qualifications. 


“We want someone who wants to be part of the team—excited about the work you want to deliver. And if that's you, if you meet some of the qualifications, just go for it. And that's now in every ad.”


Advice for future technology leaders

“One of the things that slowed my career was the absence of role models who looked and sounded like me.”


For those looking to get ahead in the technology industry at the starting point of their career, Akorita argued that mentorship can go a long way in shaping the journey to senior technology roles.


Reflecting on her personal experience, she had to navigate her career by learning from mistakes and overcoming challenges independently. 


Emphasising the lack of diversity in senior leadership positions within the industry, she said: “I was almost 15 years into my career before I met a single senior technologist who looked like me.”


Fast forward to the present day—Akorita is a senior technology leader with a myriad of responsibilities for the government’s digital service, embedding the overall mission, vision and working values into the current workplace.


When it comes to scouting new innovations or ideas, Akorita challenges herself to build her network outside of the government as well as inside. “I think at this point, actually, my network is quite a bit bigger outside of government”. 


Attending different conferences and speaking to people of different seniority backgrounds and levels is another way she learns new ideas. 


“I do try to make sure to get out in industry, because government is big. It's almost half a million people. But it's half a million people who are kind of wearing the same hat, with the same value system.”


Quick fire questions 🔥

  1. Dream job growing up? As a child, I always assumed I’d grow up to be a veterinarian. 
  2. What keeps you up at night? I’m fortunate to have a job that I love, but I also believe in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. So, I try not to let work-related issues keep me up at night.
  3. What excites you about the next 12 months? There are a lot of exciting things happening this year, including the next general election, which may mean big changes for my industry.
  4. What do you do outside of work? I’m more of a homebody and enjoy spending quiet time at home listening to music or watching movies. Recently, I’ve been redecorating my flat, which has been a fun and rewarding project.
  5. Best advice you’ve ever received? Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
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