HeForShe: Wil Benton | Venture & Ecosystem Director, ATI Boeing Accelerator

Wil BentonWil is the Venture & Ecosystem Director at ATI Boeing Accelerator. It's a 3-month programme for world-class startups building industry 4.0 and sustainability enabling technologies, with the potential to bolster the growth and competitiveness of the UK aerospace industry.

Prior to becoming Venture & Ecosystem Director at the accelerator, Wil delivered similar programmes at Ignite, directly supporting 38 companies in accelerator and pre-accelerator programmes. Wil is also a former co-founder and CEO of Chew, a music-tech startup that was acquired in 2017 after scaling to ~400,000 global users, and alumni of Ignite [Prog. 5, Winter 2014].

Wil is an active angel investor (15+ investments to date) and startup mentor. In his free time, he manages a chart-topping record label and DJs around Europe and the US.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign? For example – do you have a daughter or have witnessed the benefits that diversity can bring to a workplace?

As the only man in a team of two to four other women, I’m a firsthand witness to the benefits diversity can bring to our workplace. Without diversity of thought, background, gender, race - whatever - you will struggle to create a meaningful environment for growth.

I have also seen the struggles my partner has faced as a women in a male-dominated industry and am therefore doing my small part in trying to change that.

That’s why I support the HeForShe campaign.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

If only one part of the workplace is driving for change, change will never happen. The fact we’re having to have this conversation in the 21st century is beyond me - but it’s clear there’s a huge amount of work still to be done. Thankfully the conversation is now more front-and-centre than it has been historically, but it’s critical that men play their part to support gender equality so we can all make it happen.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

In my experience, men are welcome - I think it’s important to reflect on everyone’s experiences but provide a place for sharing ideas for change and improving the situation. If only one side is having that conversation, we’re not going to make much of a change! But yes, I think the conversation is open to and happening with both men and women.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

I don’t know - it’s not something that makes me feel that way and I can’t speak for others! I think it’s great that there are these groups/ networks that provide the opportunity for this dialogue to happen, but I also think that - as a community - we can do better, and create more inclusive opportunities in  mixed groups/ networks as well as the individual/ disparate ones. It shouldn’t be hard!

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

I think the first step is to flag that the debate is happening, and that it needs/ should be something we’re all consciously aware of. There are a number of initiatives pushing this forward (shout out to 50:50, Lu Li, Diversity VC and everyone else doing the good work!), but it needs to be part of the business values to really lead to any positive difference. It’s not a tickbox exercise, and so if treated as such it’s just window dressing. And that’s not good enough.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

I do what I can to share my experience as a founder, investor, advisor etc and mentor anyone I connect with that I think I can help. At the moment I’m mentoring and advising a few startups, some of which are female-founded. It’s a really rewarding process and one that’s worked for me (as a mentee) in the past. Mentoring should be something everyone does - you’d be surprised at what providing a second opinion on things (or receiving one) can do for personal development!

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for? 

The amazing women I’ve mentored (or am working with at the moment) are driven, keen to speak up and ask for help - but yes, there are occasions where confidence and trusting in ones’ self can take some time to come forward and be as established as the bare-faced swagger that some of the male founders I’ve worked with have!

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of HeForShe interviews, including Christian Edelmann, George Brasher, Stephen Mercer and many more. You can read about all the amazing men championing gender equality here