Girls in Tech Catalyst London: Meet Avid Larizadeh Duggan

Girls in Tech’s flagship event is making its way to London on March 28! The one-day event will be packed full of authentic presentations from some of the most revered female leaders in the world. Hear revolutionary speakers tell the story of their journey to the top, share career advice, tell you how they make tough decisions—and, most important—pass on sage advice to you, the next generation of women in tech. Grab your ticket while you can.
In the meantime, meet Avid Larizadeh Duggan, SVP Group, Chief Strategy and Business Officer for Kobalt. She is just one speaker in our rock star line up.
Kobalt Music at Girls in Tech Catalyst LondonWhat’s the top career highlight for you to date?
One of the professional achievements I am most proud of to date is getting over 20 million people in the UK to try an hour of code. In the fall of 2013 my cousins, who had just founded the non-profit organization, in the US, were preparing to launch the first Hour of Code. It was going to be focused on the U.S. with the ultimate goal of changing the U.S. educational system to introduce coding in the curriculum.
I remember asking them why they weren’t launching the Hour of Code in the UK to which they responded that they were only 5 and didn’t have the bandwidth, but that if I wanted to take it on me to do it, they were all for it. So, I did. In the UK, the decision had already been taken by the government to introduce coding into the curriculum for September 2014. However, the biggest challenge was the fear of the unknown and lack of training for teachers and the perception by many that coding was a difficult skill reserved for male geeks in a dark room. I thought the Hour of Code campaign could play a critical role in helping demystify this perception and encourage the adoption and teaching of coding in UK schools.
While I was running my startup, I put together a virtual team of about 8 people from business, government, education and PR to drive the campaign in the UK. We had no funding. But over 3 years we managed to get over 20 million people to try an hour of code. The page is still up at It changed the perceptions of teachers, students and parents and made coding fun. In 2017, its fourth year, the Hour of Code passed over 500 million people served globally. To have played a part in this incredible endeavor to prepare children for the future is incredibly rewarding.
How can men support women in STEM careers?
Men can hire more women and help create an inclusive environment where diversity thrives and everyone feels they have the same chances to succeed. Often women feel on the periphery. To prevent that, men should be open to rethinking some of the processes they have been used to and to re-evaluating some of the cultural norms in their organizations. I believe that introducing a mentoring or buddy system whereby any newcomer, whether man or woman, gets someone accountable for their success to guide them for the first year, is a great way to support helping all genders integrate in a new company culture.
What have been the three things that have helped to get you to where you are in your career?
If I had to name 3 things only I would say, hard work, people, and perseverance. Let me briefly explain each of these.
By hard work, I mean going the extra mile, putting in the extra hours to make sure that I get things done to the best of my ability. This may involve doing more reading, research, meetings, analysis, to get not only the big picture but also understand the details that will make a difference. It may also involve spending more time with my team or other stakeholders to understand their views and needs.
By people, I mean my close personal and professional network. I make it a point to surround myself with great people: people who will constructively challenge me and who will build me up; people who will support me in the tough times and keep me grounded; people who will inspire me through their actions and who will be examples of leadership. This also means that if I find myself in an environment where I am surrounded by the opposite type of people – and where despite my attempt to effect change I am still unable to move the needle enough – I extract myself from it. The stricter I am with this rule, the happier and better performing I become.
By perseverance, I mean dusting yourself off and getting back up again. I have learned with time that no life or career grows linearly. There will be dips and plateaus. Be patient and think strategically. I also try to remain positive because one’s mindset is very important, this is where the people around you make a difference. Having the ability to think clearly, strategically and positively even in the toughest of situations is a huge advantage and leads to the best outcomes.
What qualities are critical in a leader?
Strength of character and integrity.
The ability and desire to listen, inspire, and take decisions quickly.
The ability to create an inclusive and equitable society, community or company where its members are all driving towards a common vision.
The maturity to acknowledge when he or she gets things wrong, fix it and continue to learn.
Who inspires you and why?
Right now, my daughter inspires me. She is 1.5 years old and she inspires me to be a better person. She inspires me to do my best so that when she grows up she never has to question whether she can be a woman, a leader, a mother, a wife and a daughter and be great at all of them.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is to be positive and confident, but not arrogant. The world around you changes when you are positive and confident because people react positively to you. It doesn’t mean don’t ask questions when you don’t know something, on the contrary have the confidence to ask as many questions as you need to get to the answer.  And remember that your will is just as strong as anyone else’s.