Businesswoman working at desk in office, woman in tech, woman in digital

By Alex Miljus, Founder and CEO, Wise & Zeal

My technology career started in the 90s. I worked for Microsoft at a time when no-one had heard of them. I remember my reaction to seeing the colour screen displaying bright graphics and my first use of a ‘mouse’.

That day fuelled my love of, and a long career in, technology. I’ve witnessed the start of email, broad use of the internet and experienced how it has transformed daily lives.

Understanding the potential of what technology can do is important to me, but not everyone is like me. Not all women are comfortable using technology, let alone working for a technology company which is typically fast-paced, full of jargon and complicated by product portfolios that are mostly unrelatable to our daily lives.

The invisible talent pool

The movement to bring diversity, and encourage more women, into technology and STEM has made great progress but effort is still needed to tackle underlying digital fear. Many women would like to work in technology but are concerned that they don’t understand it or know how to talk about it. I know because I’ve helped lots of women to successfully make the switch.

To level the playing field to entry, there are some important steps that both the employer and the candidate can take. Let’s start with some fundamentals that employers can do:

  • Tech experience not required: Focus on responsibilities instead of job descriptions, which attract people with core skill sets from other sectors.
  • Look inside before going outside: Actively target individuals in your workplace that can transition to other roles; and enable them to do so with training and support. If recruiting externally, consider your culture fit – look beyond those that have done the same job, in a similar environment.
  • Make it relatable: Talk about technology in a way that we can all understand.
  • Inspire people: Share real life stories about your products, talk about why customers love working with you, the impact on their company – and them personally.

Once onboarded, there are also ways you can work with your new hires to build confidence:

  • Empathetic leaders: Drop the outdated ‘tick box’ approach to on-boarding. Ask the right questions to help understand (rather than assume) what individuals need to break down fears and build confidence.
  • Empower self-leadership: On the job, how-to-guides and virtual help sessions are effective and they will soon build muscle memory. Feeling independent and able to self-problem-solve is very empowering.
  • Working experience, not theory: Assign individuals to project teams to deliver specific improvements within the business. Encourage use of new technologies, giving them time to test it and how it could help achieve improvements.
  • Mentors: A great way to learn is time with like-minded others. Coaching sessions should be jargon free, promote open conversations and not be task orientated.

For the candidate I appreciate it may seem like a stretch to move from a niche sector to a broader role. As someone who has worked across multiple sectors, but also recruited multiple people into technology, my advice would be as follows:

  • Securing your role: Ignore the things that make you different and focus on the things that make you the same. There will be more than you think.
  • Learn and embrace challenges: Give examples of work and personal experiences that took you out of your comfort zone, how you learnt new skills or overcame obstacles.
  • Why you: Whatever sector, the business will look for those that can make a positive impact. Explain how you help the company grow, what improvements you would implement – and share examples of what have you successfully changed elsewhere. Data to support these examples is always invaluable.
  • Understand the customer: Watch videos of customers explaining what they achieved with the employer’s technology; the outcome and the benefits are the key takeaways – focus on those and learn the tech speak later.
  • Be transparent: If you are concerned about working in technology be sure to understand why. A good employer will support you to make sure you can be successful, but they can’t guess what you need – tell them.

Become part of the community

Attitudes in tech are shifting in a positive way and more light is being thrown on the value and skill sets of those looking to return to the sector after a career break. There are still gaps (and some old-fashioned mindsets) to bridge, but I’m certainly seeing a more collaborative female-empowered and supported approach to get women working in technology.

I’ve recently been inspired to do more to help women return to work; to be confident in talking about their successes and to know that they can hold senior roles. I’m using my experience and learnings to build an academy which will train people to work in today’s world with access to, and understanding of, the new technologies in play – and which will give them industry references, by working on live real-world projects.

I appreciate that there will always be more support that can be offered in the technology sector, but I do hope these thoughts have allayed some of the initial fears that women faced before reading this article. Anyone interested in knowing more about a move to tech is welcome to reach out to me – I’m always happy and able to help.