Women in Digital: Julie Dawson

Julie Dawson, director of policy and regulatory at digital identity provider Yoti, on the influences on her career and why you should always grasp opportunities to widen your horizons

Posted 13 September 2021 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Yes! In particular I enjoyed going on exchange visits to France and Germany – something that many young people have missed out on during the pandemic. It gave me a passion for learning languages which remains with me to this day. I try to keep practising my French, German, Spanish and Italian.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a BA Hons Modern Languages & Management Sciences, ESCP (France) International Business Studies, Executive MBA London Business School and a Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma (CIM). I’m also qualified to teach languages to adults and took a part time PGCE. After being a trustee for a local charity, I was keen to take a trustee role with a national charity (Youthnet, now themix.org), so I undertook a BTEC course in governance.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both?

Mostly likely a combination of the two! I would say that I’ve embraced new challenges and sought out opportunities to span out and gain experience working across a number of sectors and across functions. Working in a consulting company at an early stage exposed me to clients across a wide range of industries. I was fortunate to be sponsored by CSC to undertake a two-year Executive MBA at LBS which introduced me to professionals from all fields and helped me to broaden my skills. Up until then, I’d worked mainly in marketing and project management roles. Following the MBA, I took on roles in strategy and operations. 

Seven years ago I came across the founder of Yoti, Robin Tombs, who was backing the two founders to set up the first sixth form college focused on tech skills – the ADA Lovelace National College for Digital Skills. At the time, I was running an edtech social enterprise delivering combined digital making and onward bounds camps to kids. I could then and still now see great potential for a platform tackling the issue of trust online. How do you prove who you are online and in person and how do businesses trust who people are? ‘Know your customer checks’ were quite antiquated and fraud was spiralling so I joined Yoti where I took on the role of figuring out how a consumer, an NGO or a regulator can trust what Yoti as a company is doing and I lead on the development of our ethical framework. Key policy areas for us include looking at how our tech can prevent fraud, safeguard the vulnerable online, support inclusion and how as a company can we be transparent. I also liaise with our internal ethics group and our external Guardians Council – experts in human rights, consumer rights, online harms, last mile tech and accessibility and I work closely with regulators and look at which accreditations in the areas of data responsibility and cybersecurity Yoti should adopt. 

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?

Be flexible, grasp opportunities to widen your horizons and keep learning. Put yourself forward and volunteer to take on new areas of responsibility. This doesn’t necessarily need to be within your current role – look within your community too – whether that’s as a trustee, school governor or local councillor. 

Another idea is to try out being self-employed or setting up a business alongside your job to better understand what’s involved and to develop new skills. I’d also highly recommend reading: ‘What Colour is your Parachute?’ by Richard Bolles and consider if you are harnessing all your talents in your day job or your out of work activities. 

If you had to pick one mentor who has had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

It would have to be Joleen Rowe who was a great mentor at Madge Networks, inspirational, supportive and great fun to work with. She was a polymath, previously at Arthur D.Little and was living in Wiesbaden, Germany.

From where do you draw inspiration?

I am inherently curious which I think helps. I also practice yoga and through lockdown to further ground myself, I have become a learner gardener. 

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

Juggling support for the younger and older generation and managing a dual career family has posed a fair few challenges.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

Humility, empathy and importantly, serving and leading by example. Those who want people to reach their potential and develop leadership in others. Being prepared to ask the stupid question and being able to collaborate to find solutions.

From a work viewpoint what has 2021 been like for you so far?

Many governments around the world are waking up to the potential for economic growth and streamlining offered by digital identity; so at Yoti we have been incredibly busy. Personally, it has been easier to support my children and older members of my family whilst working remotely. We have been fortunate to have enough green space and indoor space to work and study away from the office.

What is the biggest digital identity challenge we face today?

There needs to be a parity of acceptance of digital forms of identification with physical forms, in legislation – when proving your right to work or age to buy alcohol for instance.

Aside from border control, few staff in organisations are trained to undertake robust checks of physical documents from over 190 countries around the world and they do not have sophisticated kit needed to distinguish fake from real documents. We have to accept that pure document theatre is happening today and that it needs to change to better protect young people and businesses. 

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

The Scouting & Guiding movement means a lot to me and I am delighted to see my children also becoming leaders.