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The Policy Ask with Laura Foster: “Why aren’t we doing everything we can to empower women to thrive?”

The policy lead at TechUK on reforming childcare, quantum technologies and being inspired by Chi Onwurah.

By Spotlight

Laura Foster is head of policy for tech and innovation at the technology trade association TechUK. Previously, she worked at the publishing company Informa as a researcher in emerging technology, and in the constituency of City of Durham for the former Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods. She studied history at Durham University, then did a course in economics for public policy at Oxford University.

How do you start your working day?
Coffee, always coffee. Then it’s about what the tech and innovation team at TechUK are working on. That normally includes a lot of events, working with members, hosting working groups and more! We are a very busy team so no two days are the same. We recently launched TechUK’s innovation hub, convening technology leaders, the government and stakeholders to support a strong innovation ecosystem which can make a much-needed and long-lasting impact on the UK’s economy and society.

What has been your career high?
TechUK’s quantum commercialisation report, which we published last year ahead of the expected UK quantum strategy. It was the culmination of events, roundtables and discussions with TechUK’s Quantum Working Group. It showcases what the tech sector believes we need for the UK to remain at the forefront of quantum technologies – something the country pioneered with the establishment of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP) in 2014. The report makes recommendations across skills, international collaboration and responsible innovation – all critical to the development of a flourishing quantum ecosystem.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?
Launching TechUK’s supercharging innovation campaign, although it has been a rewarding challenge. I am really excited to see how all the work TechUK does across multiple emerging technologies comes together to build substantive and long-term policy recommendations which support a strong innovation ecosystem. Instead of focusing on individual technologies, this hub has three core areas: enabling innovation, to ensure the UK can invest in emerging technologies that have the potential to drive growth; accelerating innovation, through a strong foundation of infrastructure, skills and investment; and applying innovation, which involves the right mechanisms to apply this technology to create real-world change and drive forward the UK economy.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?
Find people who support you, and support others in turn! Strong mentors at the same “level” as you, where you experience the highs and lows of work together, has been so crucial! It’s about having that supportive voice that reminds you to advocate for yourself, or offer different perspectives on a challenge you might be facing.

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Which political figure inspires you?
There are so many formidable and awe-inspiring women in politics who, in turn, have advocated for better opportunities for women. From the feminist campaigner Dora Russell, to the former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle, and the first female speaker in the Commons Betty Boothroyd – we could do much more to raise awareness around the impact they have had on British politics. Today, I am inspired by Chi Onwurah, the shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, and her work as a north-east MP to bring tech jobs and skills to regions outside the south-east.

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?
The UK has pioneered world-leading research and innovation in quantum thanks to the UKNQTP, with more quantum start-ups coming from this research than anywhere else in Europe. However, we cannot be complacent: while we wait for the UK’s quantum strategy to be published, other nations are producing their own forward-thinking national strategies, and backing this up with permissive approaches to procurement. Long-term and forward-thinking support is needed to move innovation from research to application, and then to commercialisation.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?
Personally, I think the slashes in the R&D tax credit are undercutting confidence in the government to deliver a UK where innovation is welcome.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?
Maternity pay and childcare reform. We are still waiting for reform despite it being very clear that inadequate maternity and childcare policies are key drivers of the gender pay gap and the main reason why families struggle financially. It’s 2023 – why aren’t we doing everything we can to empower women to thrive?

[Read also: When the government fails mothers, it fails the economy]

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