Ceejay Momoh featured

From operations to agile delivery: Solving problems for citizens

Ceejay MomohCeejay Momoh is an agile delivery manager in the integrations team at DWP Digital. She’s based in Manchester, and joined DWP Digital in March 2018.

She says: “I’m an agile delivery manager, which entails leading on agile and lean practices for my team, removing impediments and just ensuring team health. I make sure my team can get on with building great services.”

Ceejay has been a civil servant for a few years, but only recently moved into delivering digital services.

“I studied microbiology at university,” she says, “and went on to a career in the health service in the laboratory. I dabbled in teaching, then joined the civil service.

“I actually worked on the front line in operations for about five or six years, then joined the Digital and Technology fast stream. I wanted to build great services, and to make life and the experiences of my colleagues on the front line easier. I thought ‘we can do this better’ and, hey, why not volunteer and do that?”

Scale and variety

Ceejay was already a civil servant when she joined DWP Digital, and she knew the challenges facing colleagues and customers at the front line of services.

“I’d worked in operations, so I knew the impact our services have on people’s lives. All of us are going to use DWP services at some point, so the scale is massive, and there’s a lot of variety of projects. In just over a year of being in DWP Digital, I’ve already worked on infrastructure, building software, and agile delivery.

“Initially I was worried about not having the skills. But the team were so welcoming, and I had the support of senior delivery managers, and a whole community of delivery managers.

“Agile is a mindset. If you come from any other background, it takes some adjustment to get into that mindset. I don’t have formal authority in the team structure, but I need to influence them.

“That was a difficult challenge, but I eventually got there.”

Delivering for impact with the integrations team

Although Ceejay was completely new to agile, she was given a project, along with the support of mentors, coaches, and self-led learning. She trained in agile methodology, including Scrum, Kanban, and sprint planning.

“I love applying learning to my work, so that was really interesting for me,” she says. “I set about learning as much as possible in a short space of time, using the 70-20-10 rule of formal and informal learning.

“I was networking at agile meetups in Manchester, watching videos about Scrum, going to community of practice meetings. Just talking to other delivery managers – I found that really helpful.”

Ceejay’s team – integration services – has nine members. As well as an agile delivery manager, there’s a digital delivery manager, product owner, business analyst, software engineers, Dev Ops engineers, and a user researcher.

“We’re currently working on the strategic API exchange platform, which is a solution for the whole of DWP,” says Ceejay.

“Our overall aim is to improve the experience for our end-user. For example, one of the projects I worked on reduced the average application process for claimants from two hours to 20 minutes, though a simplified triage process.”

Using innovations and technology to solve problems

Working with new innovations and technology is one of the things Ceejay finds interesting and rewarding in her role. Particularly when there’s a positive impact on the end-user.

“Sharing and reusing technology and systems is a key thing for us,” she says. “We’re currently exploring the Mulesoft Anypoint Platform, in order to migrate our API gateway and API portal.

“Ultimately, the benefit of that will be that people in DWP Digital will be able to log on to the API portal and look for something they can use, instead of building their own APIs from scratch.”

Life in the Manchester hub

DWP Digital delivers its services from six hubs across the country. Ceejay works in the Manchester hub, which she says is a fantastic collaborative space.

“I remember walking in here and thinking how big, bright, and open it is,” she says. “There are loads of shared spaces, big meeting rooms, and it’s flexible, so it lends itself to collaboration.”

Ceejay says she’s still enjoying life in the civil service, and the move into digital has given her new and varied experiences.

She says, “I’ve gone from software engineering to infrastructure during my time at DWP Digital. There’s a huge breadth of work to get involved in, and lots of opportunities to do different things.”

She’s also enjoying “working from home, which had me re-thinking wellness and wellbeing. I was now in a position to take advantage of the 24 hours in a day. I took up running good for my mental and physical health, created time for self -development and fully took advantage of the day. The resultant productivity in terms of time management has been truly liberating. I have found working more fun with less pressure.”

“I have 24 hours to do it and the autonomy within reason to do it at a pace that works for me.”

DWP Digital’s specialists use their digital skills to play a fulfilling and meaningful role in the future of our society. To join us, visit DWP Digital Careers site or subscribe to their newsletter to keep up to date with the latest roles and information.

Inspirational Woman: Hanan Harhara Al Yafei | CEO, Hub71

Hanan Harhara Al YafeiHanan Harhara Al Yafei is the Chief Executive Officer of the Abu Dhabi based global tech ecosystem - Hub71, where she is responsible for driving its vision through sound strategy development and strengthening ties between public and private sector, multinational corporates, government agencies and strategic partners.

Hanan is a seasoned and enthusiastic Emirati leader with a track record of leading teams and initiatives across multiple sectors with expertise in building successful organization structures and managing corporate change.

Throughout her career as a communications and human capital expert, Hanan intuitively drives positive change within teams, identifies areas of opportunities to align them with the vision of an organization while building solid grass root corporate culture.

Working across multiple industries all underpinned by investment in technology and innovation Hanan worked cross functionally with organization leaders to drive business goals and build strong brands.

Having spent multiple years at Mubadala, Hanan’s latest role has been as Executive Director of Human Capital at Mubadala Investment Company responsible for all people matters for its Alternative Investments and Infrastructure Platform.

Hanan holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Media Sciences from Zayed University and a Masters in Coaching and Consulting for Change from HEC Paris in partnership with Said Business School at Oxford University.

Tell us about yourself, your background, and your current role

As Hub71’s Chief Executive Officer, I am responsible for translating the tech ecosystem’s vision of accelerating the capital’s digital transformation and attracting global startups to Abu Dhabi into clear-cut, efficient plans and strategies, and working with the wider team and our extensive network of partners to turn those strategies into tangible actions. I am also committed to expanding Hub71’s network of multinational corporations, government agencies and strategic partners, specifically focusing on expanding our cross-border collaborations.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, but not in the traditional way of positions and stature. Instead, I always consider what it is I enjoy doing, and what I want to do more of. Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to be in a role that supports people’s growth – I like the elements of nurturing, coaching, guiding people to reach their goals. Throughout my career, I’ve cherished roles that have allowed me to be a part of a business growth journey.

I am attracted to those roles that will challenge me and force me to step out of my comfort zone – not only on an intellectual level, but also from a perspective of creativity. I don’t only want to be in a traditional 9-5 job but I want to be able to push my boundaries, bring new ideas to life, and deliver meaningful impact.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Absolutely – challenges are a natural part of any career journey and can encourage growth and development. I am a passionate person that commits entirely to the responsibilities of the job that I carry. It is because of this sense of ownership that I tend to lose track of my identity away from the role I represent at work. My initial response to challenging situations is to surround myself with mentors, both personally and professionally and ask for guidance, support, point of views. The network I have around me is one that is filled with people I trust and look up to, who provide me with invaluable support and direction to navigate any hurdles I face.

I have also learned to not be afraid of feeling vulnerable and asking for help. As female professionals, sometimes we feel like we have to be strong all the time, or else those around us won’t take us seriously. This is not true – it takes remarkable strength to acknowledge the need for reflection, self-awareness, and time to reset.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I see my achievements in how my work and relationships have affected positively people around me.  Whenever I witness people who I have supported in some way, shape or form, reach their objectives and success, I am filled with immense pride at their commitment and dedication. Seeing the impact of my passion for supporting people translate to positive results is incredibly satisfying.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The UAE is blessed with plenty of female role models to look up to for inspiration. Those include ministers, frontline workers, business leaders, engineers and medical doctors whom have served as examples to me. Today, the UAE Cabinet comprises 32 ministers, including nine women making up 27 per cent of the cabinet, with the youngest minister being a 22-year-old woman. Also, within government institutions, women constitute 46.6 per cent of the labor force. They also make up 66 per cent of the public sector, with 30 per cent in leadership roles and 15 per cent in technical and academic roles. Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father, said “nothing could delight me more than to see the woman taking up her distinctive position in society,” and our current country and business leaders have stopped at nothing to make his inspirational words a reality.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Believe in your product, your skills, your vision and yourself. We attend a multitude of pitches every year that tend to be quite similar, but founders who exude passion when they’re talking about their innovation and the impact they hope to achieve really resonates with us. It isn’t only about building a profitable business, that is necessary for sure for any investor, however technologically innovative products have a real chance to disrupt sectors, streamline processes, and make a difference – if you believe that, and believe in your and your team’s ability to make that a reality, you will succeed.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The reality is that the tech and VC industry is largely dominated by men – posing the question: what are the systematic barriers for women getting into the tech sector and what are the things we can address quickly and easily and be mindful of, as well as how can we support individual needs?

To be able to change the outcome, we must first accurately diagnose the challenge and truly understand the unique needs of every individual. We must create an environment that is female founder friendly, supportive, and meritocratic, that openly tells women: “we welcome you, we celebrate and support your ideas, and we have plenty of female founders just like you!”

At Hub71, around 20 per cent of the startups in our community are female-led, with many more female colleagues. Females who wish to be entrepreneurs and wish to be part of a thriving community feel at home in an environment that encourages diversity. Diversity in gender, nationality, background, etc. is a huge resource for us in terms of knowledge, cultural nuances, and real-life experiences and learnings.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of women careers working in technology?

To future-proof our businesses and attract more women into technology and senior roles, we need to ensure managers and decision makers understand women. They should be able to understand that some women may not be comfortable with self-promotion but are just as capable when given the opportunity to take the next step in their careers. This includes understanding their unique individual family situations whether it’s childcare, flexible working, or overseas travel.

In the tech world – there are still too few females who venture into AI for example and the world needs more diversity (ethnicity and gender) to embed fairness and reduce unconscious bias in AI and machine-learning algorithms.

At Hub71, we actively encourage more women participation in management roles and board positions. On the selection committee for example, we have women on the panel to help balance startup choices; all the way to our supply chains to influence and balance supplier choice.

Still too few women are willing to become entrepreneurs and promote themselves as leaders because it may not be in our nature to boast or celebrate wins (or failures, which is more to the point in the tech world). But my message to women at ALL levels is to celebrate, share and commiserate your wins and your failures with others so that other women and girls can see your real journey, and be inspired to embark on their very own.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Eradicate the double standard. In my opinion, every opportunity is looked at through a gender-centric lens, and by default, women are held to higher standards. This needs to change – we need to begin looking at the person and evaluating their ideas, pitches, strategies, etc. depending on the value of their content and their objective, instead of their gender.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I strongly recommend attending networking events that will expand your circle of mentors. Surrounding yourself with bright minds and communities who can give you wisdom, advice, and direction, is integral to success. I also believe in the power of Ted Talks – even if they aren’t directly technology-related, listening to people’s journeys, failures and learnings inspires me to shape how I respond to certain challenges – it’s a great learning tool for me.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

Nicola Brown

Inspirational Woman: Nicola Brown | Sales Director, Central Networks and Technologies

Nicola BrownI’m Nicola Brown and I’m the sales director at Lancashire-based IT solutions provider, Central Networks and Technologies (Central).

I have over 20 years’ experience working within the technology and public sector industries, during which time I’ve worked in all kinds of roles – pre-sales support, account management, and director level. And this breadth of experience has culminated in where I am in my current role at Central, heading up the sales team and leading the company’s commercial strategy.

In addition to my love of tech though, I’m also a director of WISH (Women in Social Housing) – a community interest company that champions women working within the sector – as well as co-chairing the North West WISH network. If you’ve already guessed, I love being busy!

I enjoy helping businesses to grow, and having been in my current role at Central for six months, I’m really enjoying working with the team to help drive the business forwards.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all. I sort of ‘fell into’ the industry after leaving education. I studied law at Durham University – originally wanting to be a lawyer – however during my work experience I found that this wasn’t really the route for me. I found something I truly loved when I landed a job in sales – selling all-things IT related.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When starting out my career in tech in late 1990s, one of the biggest challenges was working as a female within the industry. In fact, when I attended my first event aged 23, most of the delegates were men, and women had had a harder time ‘earning their stripes’ and demonstrating their expertise.

This has significantly improved over the years, with more women gaining a seat at the boardroom table and being recognised for their capabilities. It was only in a recent BBC News article, that it stated the number of women on boards has increased 50% in five years.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One of my biggest achievements was starting a job in a tech firm as a sales support and leaving two decades later as a director with a board seat. This was a pivotal moment in my career, as I really put my sales, business management skills, and ability to translate technical jargon into everyday language into action — and progressed through the company as a result.

Like many parents across the UK, one of my biggest, most recent, achievements has been juggling home-schooling with work – that’s been an experience like no other!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Honestly, I think this is deeply rooted in my family and life experiences. My father died suddenly and tragically when I was 27 – he was 56. Life is too short not to strive to do the things you want to achieve.

This same ethos is also something which I translate into business, and it’s the way I approach my job – it’s like it’s my own company and I want to support it and see it thrive every day.

I think that’s why I love working with small to medium-sized enterprises, that I can have a real impact on. I’m a very personable individual, so being a part of a sales machine in a large multi-national firm wouldn’t’ suit me – I’m all about driving a positive customer experience and being able to witness this first-hand.

As a person, my nature is also to be resilient and positive – I try to take a positive out of every day – and I think that’s important not only for progressing professionally but personally, too.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

To be flexible and open your mind to change and new opportunities – that’s often how the greatest things happen!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Unfortunately yes. There are many well-known major tech firms which are struggling to recruit women and have dedicated support groups to try and attract and retain their talent.

But we shouldn’t need these groups in the first place.

To help combat this, companies across the board have to be more forward thinking, diverse, and inclusive in not only their recruitment processes, but the whole way they operate their business – from HR to culture and marketing. Also, women need to champion other women to help propel positive change forwards.

As part of my work with WISH – aimed at all women, at all levels, within housing – I’ve found that this sector is much further ahead than big tech companies, so there’s clearly some work to be done.

The gender pay gap is also a massive topic of relevance here. And while “78% of large organisations have admitted to having a gender pay gap in tech”, it’s not solely this industry that’s affected. And this needs to be addressed across the entire corporate world, to help bridge the divide effectively.

The pandemic has also had a huge effect on the progress made surrounding workplace gender equality and pay gap disparity. Last March, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suspended the need for companies to report their gender pay gap data – and this is now the case until 5th October 2021.

This, coupled with the added pressures many women have experienced around home-schooling and childcare closures, are more examples of the barriers we’re continually faced with and need to overcome. There’s no doubting that more definitely needs to be done to keep gender pay gap reduction high on the agenda of both the government and workplaces alike.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

They need to implement a genuine inclusivity and diversity agenda across their business – ensuring that all of their employees are supported equally in their career.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

For me, it starts with the early years provision and how children are taught about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at school. In fact, I’ve recently spoken at my daughter’s own school as part of British Science Week, leading a discussion on innovation and how exciting technology can be.

There is also a ‘This Girl Can’ programme – led by Sport England – which aims to encourage women to be physically active, regardless of their shape, size, and ability, and a similar concept applies to inspiring women to enter the world. Gender doesn’t matter when it comes to getting a job in the tech world – all you need is a passion and drive for the sector.

How we speak to our children and the language we use is crucial in normalising females entering these career fields, too.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

It’s not technology specific, however I really recommend Anthony Taylor’s book, ‘Mental Toughness Metaphors’. It’s a great read about thought-leadership and building resilience.

How will the pandemic and its aftermath affect businesses and their technology?

There’s no doubting that Covid-19 has shaken up the way businesses operate – not only across the UK but the world over. Also, life – both personally and professionally – has become more digitised and will likely continue to follow this trend as we look ahead to the future.

For organisations, the rate of adoption of remote and hybrid working models has risen drastically over the past 12 months, and as we look ahead to life ‘after the pandemic’, business transformation programmes will undoubtedly remain a priority. We expect to see even more investment in tech infrastructure and telephony projects, to enable personnel to seamlessly ‘work form anywhere’.

For us here at Central, this means we’ll likely be seeing continued demand for cloud-based software solutions – such as Office 365 – intranet solutions, and file storage systems

It is clear that because of everything that’s happened over the last year, we’re going to witness more diverse and progressive workplaces, and some may continue to be home-based – scrapping the ‘traditional office’ model completely.

For these businesses, they will be focusing more on how to safely access and store their company’s data – looking towards cloud-based storage infrastructure and telephony systems, to help their operations remain effective and connected.

Business change projects have happened and will continue to evolve as we enter the next phase of the ‘new normal’, and more businesses increase their reliance on digital solutions.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

How Ireland is improving gender diversity in its technology industry

By Laoise McCluskey –VP Europe Content, Consumer & Business Services at IDA Ireland

group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company cultureTackling the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industries has received international focus in recent years.

In February 2021, Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Chief, announced: “Advancing gender equality in science and technology is essential for building a better future.” In Ireland, this issue is proactively being addressed.

With one of the highest numbers of software developers per one million inhabitants in Europe, Ireland has one of the highest levels of female representation. According to the European State of Tech Report 2020, 32 percent of software developers in Ireland are women compared to an average of 30 percent in Europe. This is a promising figure that will hopefully increase and be reflected in other areas of industry thanks to Ireland’s Minister for Education and Skills’ plans to make Ireland best in Europe in STEM by 2026 and to increase by 40% the number of females taking STEM subjects for Leaving Certificate.

In addition to government plans and funding, Ireland boasts several initiatives aimed at inspiring women to pursue STEM subjects in an engaging way, encourage them to remain working in industry, return after time off and help them progress to senior levels.

Attracting female talent

In Ireland, the government, industry and academia are interlinked in a collaborative environment.  Across the country, academic institutions are eager to produce graduates with the skills and calibre that industry needs to increase their students’ employability and industry readiness. In that context, Universities and Institutes of Technology in Ireland regularly engage with industry on syllabus content. Viewing technology as a pivotal area for economic growth, the government continually analyses the future of industry and ensures education can fulfil industry requirements too – Ireland’s first master’s course in AI was created in response to demand for AI skills.

This collaborative effort linking education and industry in Ireland extends to encouraging girls to study STEM subjects and empowering them to pursue scientific careers. By involving children and young adults in an engaging, welcoming way, Ireland’s numerous initiatives – including free coding and computer science workshops, women in STEM careers events and investigating the science behind global facts and issues – can help to open girls’ minds towards studying sciences at an advanced level. These programmes help young women to develop the self-belief that they can succeed in science or technology careers, so that they don’t close doors for themselves at such an early age.

Supporting women from non-scientific backgrounds who want to make the move into technology, is also critical. After all, if we have to wait for today’s teenagers to study and move up through the ranks to senior leadership, it will take much longer for the gender gap to close. Ireland offers excellent opportunities for professional women to upskill and cross-skill through Skillnet Ireland, Springboard and other programmes, in multiple areas relevant to technology. Combining both new and existing soft skills they have honed during their careers to date makes for a compelling competitor.

Retaining talent

After women have studied, developed skills throughout their career in the technology industry, how do you ensure they progress in their career or are able to return and develop following a gap in employment? So often, women only advance their careers to a certain point due to a variety of reasons including the opportunity to progress and care-giving commitments.

These issues come down in part to having an enabling leadership and culture. Leadership teams that aren’t representative of a current or future workforce, in the context of diversity, is unlikely to recognise all the challenges and supports needed to enable ongoing participation and progression – for example flexible hours, remote working, training and benefits. To attract and retain female talent in technology, increased promotion of women into leadership roles is needed so that women have appropriate representation, a supportive female culture and role models to pave the way for them to succeed.

The 30% Club Ireland, is helping this issue by promoting women’s representation in senior management and supporting female talent with a selection of programmes. Women Mean Business is another organisation that celebrates and publicises female entrepreneurs and businesswomen, connecting women and recognising their contribution to the Irish economy and society. While TechLifeIreland annually highlights female founders and investment into female led start-ups in Ireland – this year crossing the target of €100m in a single year.

It’s also important that women receive the support they need via mentoring to elevate their own careers. Ireland offers some excellent networking and mentoring opportunities for women working in technology, in addition to further training and returner programmes. Women ReBoot and Women Returners are brilliant examples of the initiatives available in Ireland that help develop women’s skills, competence and confidence to re-engage with technology businesses after a career break.

Towards a gender diverse future

Leadership is a key enabler to change, and organisational leadership should reflect its teammates, the communities in which it operates, and the customers they aim to serve and win. Everyone has a responsibility to strive for a more inclusive society and working environment. There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made to improve gender diversity, but with its multi-pronged approach to supporting businesswomen in STEM, Ireland is on the right course to supporting greater diversity and setting the right example.

About the author

Laoise McCluskeyLaoise is VP Europe & UK in IDA Ireland’s Content Consumer and Business Services Division.  IDA is the Irish government’s inward investment promotion agency with responsibility for attracting and developing foreign investment into Ireland. As VP for Europe & UK, Laoise oversees a client portfolio of more than 60 international companies with operations in Ireland; and has responsibility for driving new business development across the region. Prior to assuming her current role in January 2016, Laoise spent over 6 years managing corporate client relationships with key strategic IDA clients in technology, digital media & games from West Coast, US. Prior to that, Laoise spent 3 years managing key relationship with global business services clients.


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Girls in tech, STEM

Showcasing technology’s creative side will empower the next generation of female leaders

Article by Nerys Mutlow, Evangelist in the Chief Innovation Office at ServiceNow

Girls in tech, STEMThe technology sector has made improvements in gender representation in recent decades.

There were 326,000 women working in IT roles across the UK in 2020, according to analysis from BCS, meaning that more women are making up the specialist IT workforce than ever seen previously. Yet despite years of progress towards workplace equality, women continue to be woefully underrepresented. A mere 19% of employees in the tech sector are women.

In fact, getting women into technology or STEM careers in the first place continues to be a challenge. According to the latest Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data, fewer than 1 in 5 computing and engineering technology students are female. These figures indicate that the industry still has a long way to go. Getting more women on STEM courses has been a hot topic in the technology industry for the best part of a decade, with public and private sector initiatives aiming to increase numbers. But, the industry, and the people in it, need to do more.

An open-minded approach to recruitment

All companies have core values that lie at the heart their business, but it’s important to continuously introduce fresh perspectives. If the tech sector is going to improve workplace representation, employers must ensure they give both male and female candidates equal opportunities. Also, if they are going to develop a diverse and modern workplace, they must embrace an open-minded approach when it comes to hiring. Rather than simply going through the motions and hiring the same types of candidates, employers should look to bring people from different backgrounds with a variety of different perspectives into the office.

Not only will this create a more inclusive workplace, but it will also drive innovation and creativity, leading to a greater chance of success. According to a McKinsey report, companies with more than 30% of female executives are more likely to outperform businesses with fewer women. Adopting an open-minded recruitment approach will also widen the talent pool for employers as it will encourage them to hire based on potential, rather than relying on proven experience. This approach subscribes to the belief that talent can come from anywhere, regardless of background.

It’s not just about STEM skills

Once an open-minded recruitment process has been implemented, tech companies will begin to feel the benefits of a workforce with a more varied set of skills. Traditionally, companies implementing STEM initiatives have often placed too much emphasis on maths-based skills, such as coding and programming. Whilst coding is still important, today’s technology has made it easier than it’s ever been. Polished teaching methods and universal access to development tools have made it much more accessible. On top of coding, the modern tech industry is crying out for empathetic and creative skills, such as user experience design and critical problem solving.

Creativity and problem solving have never been more crucial to technology than they are right now, with concepts like design thinking requiring us to empathise and understand the challenges faced by end users. Once you truly understand the end user’s perspective then you can design solutions to meet any challenges at hand which will undoubtedly require technology in some shape or form. However, if you start with the technology, then you can become constrained by it when solving complex challenges. By contrast, starting with the problem, leveraging strong domain business skills, communication skills and empathy can lead you to design truly innovative and market leading solutions.

Showcasing creative and design thinking, as opposed to traditional coding, will challenge the outdated stereotype of technology as the domain of the male coder. By dispelling the archaic narrative of a mathematical, male-orientated environment, young women will feel empowered to choose STEM subjects at school and embark upon careers within the technology sector. And by showcasing the creativity and collaboration within today’s technology industry, we can bury the stereotypes and inspire more women to enter the sector. Perhaps we should all be widely adopting the term ‘STEAM’ now to put an equal emphasis on the artistic skills needed for a career in technology.

It’s time for tech employers to take heed and address the gender divide that continues to persist within the industry. Adopting an open-minded approach to recruitment will create the platform for an inclusive workplace that incorporates a diverse set of perspectives. This will introduce a new, modern way of working that places empathetic skills at the forefront of technology. Only then can we begin to smash down the male-dominated stereotypes of what it means to succeed in the industry and pave the way for the next generation of female leaders.

About the author

Nerys Mutlow Nerys Mutlow works in the Chief Innovation Office at ServiceNow and covers the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions. She has a breadth of technical, business and leadership experience gained over a 20 year+ career with variety of companies including Xerox, Thales and Fujitsu. She has held senior EMEA business, consulting and technical roles and is consistently recognised for her technical aptitude, business understanding and focus on driving value and innovation for her customers. Nerys also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems Management. She is a recognised thought leader and has published and contributed to a number of digital publications and blogs. Supporting women into technology is particularly important to Nerys and she actively supports many STEM initiatives.

WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Digi Leaders Book Club event, Caroline Criado Perez featured

Recommended Event: 13/04/2021: The Digital Leaders Book Club Meeting: Caroline Criado Perez - Invisible Women

Digi Leaders Book Club event, Caroline Criado Perez

The Digital Leaders Book Club is a community for Digital Transformation Leaders who enjoy nonfiction books, networking, and author Q&As.

Held on the second Tuesday of the month, our ethos promotes thoughtful discussion and meaningful connections about leadership and digital transformation. 

This month's book: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez

Our March book will be debated and discussed by guests Professor Sue Black OBE and Jacqueline de Rojas CBE. Professor Sue Black OBE is a Professor of Computer Science at Durham University, a digital skills expert and social entrepreneur; and will discuss the book with Jacqueline de Rojas, President of techUK. Sue and Jacqueline will host your questions in what promises to be an informative investigation into the world of data. There will be networking time as well to meet your fellow members and to discuss the book on your tables.


Professor Sue Black featueredAbout Professor Sue Black OBE

Sue Black is a leading academic, campaigner, and advisor to the UK Government.

Black is a Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University with more than 40 publications behind her as well as a PhD in software engineering.

Her academic career has seen her hold leadership posts at London South Bank University, University of Westminster and University College London.

A champion for women in computing, Black founded BCSWomen, the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and #techmums, a social enterprise which empowers mums and their families through technology. The activist is also widely known for her successful campaign to save Bletchley Park, the wartime campus where more than 5,000 women served as codebreakers.

Jacqueline de RojasAbout Jacqueline de Rojas CBE

Jacqueline is the President of techUK and the President of the Digital Leaders board.

She sits as a Non-Executive Director on the board of UK technology business Rightmove plc; on the board of Costain plc, which is committed to solving the nation’s Infrastructure problems; and is also on the board of the technology consultancy and skills business FDM Group plc. An advisor to fast moving tech businesses and a business mentor at Merryck offering board and executive level coaching. She is the co-chair at the Institute of Coding, advises the board of Accelerate-Her and is especially delighted to lend her support to the Girlguiding Association for technology transformation. Passionate about diversity and inclusion which informs where she places her support.

In 2016 she entered the @Computerweekly Hall of Fame after being voted Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Woman in IT 2015; she was listed on Debretts 2016 500 People of Influence – Digital & Social and named in Europe’s Inspiring Fifty most inspiring female role models for 2017. She was presented with the 2017 Catherine Variety award for Science and Technology and the 2018 Women in Tech Award for Advocate of the Year acknowledging her contribution to diversity. 2018 brought a nugget of acknowledgements including @womenoffuture Fifty #KindLeaders; 2018 @Inclusiveboards 100 BAME Leaders; 2018 Faces of Vibrant Digital Economy; 2018 @Computerweekly Most Influential People in UK IT.

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Rebecca McKelvey featured

Inspirational Woman: Rebecca McKelvey | Founder & CEO, In2ScienceUK

Rebecca McKelveyPrior to co-founding in2Science, Rebecca was a Teach First teacher and Head of Science at an East London-based school for four years.

Her experiences during this period brought to her attention the extreme lack of information on and opportunities to pursue STEM careers for students who come from poor backgrounds.

In 2010, Rebecca decided to set up in2Science to bring this issue to light in the UK, with the intention of supporting young people from low income backgrounds to progress to university to study STEM degrees and ultimately progress into a professional STEM career.

Since its inception, in2Science has supported thousands of UK students. Each year, Rebecca receives 1,000 student applications to join her programme. To date, 75% of her participants progress onto STEM degrees.

Looking ahead, Rebecca has ambitious plans to expand across the UK in the next five years. Her ultimate goal is to bring diversity to the STEM sector, enabling children from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue their academic and professional dreams, as well as support the country’s growing problem of a lack of STEM professionals.

Rebecca holds a PhD in neuroscience from the University College London.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the CEO of In2scienceUK, a charity with a mission to improve social mobility and diversity in STEM. Following my degree, I completed the Teach First graduate programme, taught for two years at a school in Walthamstow and then progressed to Head of Science at the same STEM specialist Academy.

I taught young people from year 7 to A-levels; many of who were from low income backgrounds and despite being very intelligent, weren’t progressing to university or realising their potential.  I subsequently left teaching after four years and began studying a masters in neuroscience. Seeing the lack of diversity in research and the fact that some of the amazing students I’d encountered were never going to access such a career compelled me to set up in2scienceUK during my master’s, and I ran it as a side project during my PhD.

The programme works by enabling 17-year old students from poor backgrounds the opportunity to gain work placements in a STEM setting, working alongside STEM professionals and in turn, increasing the likelihood of them being interested in attending university and a career in STEM. Participants also get access to high quality information and guidance on university and career pathways as part of the programme. We support over 350 young people a year from low income backgrounds, predominantly in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter. In 2020, we are expanding to another region which we’re incredibly excited about and will be announcing soon.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not. Planning out your career is something that’s incredibly difficult for anyone, particularly in this day and age. You’re still learning about yourself, what you enjoy doing and what you really excel at, on top of a thousand other things. Plus, there are jobs that exist today and probably in the future that weren’t a consideration years ago; the world of work is moving very quickly.

There are limitless jobs in technology and the broader STEM sector for example, and quite often, students I encounter are completely unaware of the diversity of STEM careers, so the need for constant education and awareness is crucial.

I initially believed a career as a teacher would be my path. However, the realisation of the lack of opportunities for students from low income backgrounds to gain high quality information and STEM opportunities has taken me in a completely different direction as the Founder of a non-profit. My focus now is on driving more awareness of STEM and helping students believe in themselves and follow a path that may not have been previously accessible to them.

Most importantly, following your heart and passions tends to steer you in the right direction of your calling; certainly in my case, but also for the students I see go through the programme who may not have realised they have an interest to be a video game designer, automotive engineer, or perhaps go in to space one day!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

At the end of my PhD I was at a career crossroads and unsure if I should follow a research career or take a leap of faith in setting up in2scienceUK. I followed my heart as I really wanted to make a change in the UK and help bright young people from low income backgrounds achieve their potential and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Thankfully, the desire to make a difference in this area is shared by so many others, and I was blown away by the appetite from research volunteers, academic institutes and corporate partners to be involved. Even programme alumni have come back to volunteer during their studies because they’ve experienced first-hand, the benefits this experience can afford. It’s that collaboration which has seen us grow so exponentially and the success stories coming out of the programme seek only to inspire wider participation. So, despite the initial hard work, it’s very rewarding to want to go further in making this programme as accessible as possible.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Expanding in2scienceUK outside of London. There are a lot of charities operating in London which is great as there is a clear need, but research shows that poverty is worse and opportunity less outside the capital. Facilitating over 1000 STEM placements for our students was also an amazing feat for us and a milestone we want to keep building on through continued regional expansion.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

It’s hard to say. There’s always more than one factor as to why something or someone becomes successful. We wouldn’t be a success if we didn’t have the passion and hard work of the research and STEM community and volunteers who have come together to support our cause. Since 2011, we have worked with over 800 volunteers from STEM researchers in academic settings.

Our charity really made the leap when we started to partner with the likes of Roche, UCL, and NESTA. The support and engagement from a variety of organisations has been incredible, and as we continue to grow, we’re continuing to lock in more and more partners to support even more students across the UK.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

The obvious thing is to build your professional network. There is such a wealth of information and expertise available through industry events, mentoring programmes and membership organisations, to name a few. Beyond this, staying on top of the latest trends is important, particularly for such a fast-moving sector which continues to revolutionise the way we work and live. Following businesses or individuals on social channels such as Twitter or LinkedIn is a great way to get short, snappy insights on particular sectors or themes. LinkedIn is also great for group conversations whereby you can often pose questions or prompt debate among like-minded individuals and start a conversation. Finally, never stop learning. I don’t think anyone, regardless of how established they are in their chosen profession, ever gets to a point whereby learning new things isn’t valuable.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Women make up 49 per cent of the British workforce, but just 19 per cent of the digital tech workforce, so there is still work to be done. That said, I do think we are generally more aware of this shortfall and better at understanding the barriers to entry. We’re seeing more proactivity from the sector as a result, such as Mastercard’s Girls4Tech STEM education platform, which aims to reach out to one million girls globally by 2025. Ultimately, we need to get young women to be motivated and excited by the professions that a career in tech affords. Encouragingly, the recent A-level results demonstrated the number of girls taking science A-levels has overtaken boys for the first time in history, suggesting that we are seeing a shift in uptake among girls.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

They should do two things. First, promote women. Be deliberate. It is likely that when two individuals attend an interview, they will both be very smart and hard working. If you are an organisation where men outnumber women in the top jobs, promote the women.

Second, as a mother of two children under the age of five, flexibility is king for me. I would only work in a role where I can be flexible regardless of the salary or other perks. I work hard, I put in the hours, just not always between 9-6. I’m writing this at 22:15 on a Wednesday night and I think flexible working is becoming the increasing expectation from people in the modern age.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Technology in early years primary education needs to improve. I would have every primary school teacher trained to deliver a creative and engaging technology curriculum which includes coding. Then every young person (regardless of gender) would be engaged and skilled.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

LinkedIn is fantastic for connecting with like-minded individuals in the tech space, as is the likes of Tech City UK and Tech Nation. Codefirst:Girls is a social enterprise which delivers free education to young women across the UK to increase the number of women in tech. I think it depends on the stage of your career and your preferred method of getting information, but the reassuring thing is there is an abundance of information and a vibrant community out there dedicated to ensuring the number of women in tech continues to prosper.

Tamara Littleton featured

Inspirational Woman: Tamara Littleton | Founder & CEO, The Social Element

Tamara Littleton is founder and CEO of The Social Element, a consultancy-led social media agency advising some of the world’s biggest brands on how to use social to solve business challenges.

Tamara LittletonShe founded the company in 2002 before the explosion of social media with the ambition of challenging the conventional agency model; pioneering and building her global business (now 300+ strong) predominantly through a remote working model that to this day is truly innovative in the agency market.

In 2013, Tamara also co-founded Polpeo, a crisis simulation platform for brands and their agencies so they could prepare for how a crisis would affect them online.

Tamara is a tech pioneer, a champion of the diversity, LGBTQ and female entrepreneurial agenda and passionate about keeping children safe online.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?

I’m Tamara Littleton, CEO and Founder of The Social Element and Co-Founder of Polpeo. The Social Element is a social media agency I founded when social media was in its infancy and has been going for 17 years. In 2013 I co-founded Polpeo, which helps brands rehearse a reputational crisis breaking on social media on our bespoke simulation platform.

My Co-Founder, Kate Hartley, and I kept seeing big brands getting their crisis communications so very wrong on social media and by combining her PR and crisis background and my social media expertise, we joined forces and created a tool that allows brands to fail safely so they can be better prepared.

I’ve always been in pioneering technology and I’m unashamedly geeky. My early career included working with an academic publisher to create the first online journals being downloaded on the web, and my other seminal job was running the Webmaster Team at BBC Online in 1999 when the BBC was at the forefront of digital. It was truly an incredible time.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career planning is probably best described as a series of unusual events. I studied Psychology at Manchester University and threw myself into the sports scene whilst I was there. I was a goalkeeper and represented the University, Manchester County and England Universities too. I won trophies and got my colours but along the way forgot to really focus on my studies. It’s fair to say I scraped a 2:2 in my degree and when I left and went to London, my plans to be a criminal psychologist came to a brutal end as the competition in the job market was too strong. I was unemployed and so I went back to my geeky roots instead.

I’d always loved computers so I taught myself to touch type using a computer game, and was lucky enough to get a publishing secretary job with my Hockey Captain as I was still pursuing my Hockey career. Being able to touch type ended up being the single most important thing I’d done. I progressed in publishing and ended up moving to Chapman & Hall and eventually taking on the new online publishing project with a then small start up called Adobe as my predecessor got head hunted and I was the only one who’d been shadowing his computer work. It was the mid 90s and it was all very exciting.

At 25 I was put in charge of the entire department and got to fly around the world working with people who were the driving force of digital publishing.

I was an internet consultant for a brief period before making myself redundant by accidentally falling off a ladder and breaking my right wrist and left elbow. Finding myself once again unemployed, I landed an amazing role at the BBC and that was the springboard for me starting The Social Element (called Emoderation at the time) and building it into a 300 person strong, global agency.

What was your motivation in setting up your agency? 

One of my key motivations was seeing the rise in online communities such as forums and virtual worlds. I predicted that brands would want to move more into this area of community and social media and I had a vision that they would want to protect their reputations and their users online. I am also passionate about child safety online and was shocked at how bad the early virtual communities were - to describe it as being akin to the wild west wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

Anyone could setup a virtual world without moderation or guardrails in place and children were exposed to harmful content, bullying and grooming by pedophiles as a result. The industry was very young so in the early years I was helping to educate industry, charities, schools and parents on the potential dangers that such a cavalier approach to digital communities could bring . I ended up being part of the original Internet Taskforce for Child Protection on the Internet which led to guidance being published in 2005 that set the standards for the world. That commitment to child safety is still at the heart of The Social Element and we've been honoured to work over the years with like minded clients such as LEGO, Disney and PlayStation.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

The main challenge has been building my own confidence. I was always very happy in a leadership role and creating teams around me. I’m a natural communicator but I suffered from low confidence when it came to selling. I had to really work on what was holding me back and how to overcome it. I’m an ambivert and often have very introverted days so networking and public speaking were far from my comfort zone. Again, I had to work hard and get training to push through this and two years ago I gave a TEDx talk - something I would never have believed I could do. I’m now a big fan of pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Running two companies at the same time makes me incredibly proud and having one of them still growing and adapting after 17 years is a big achievement. I’ve worked hard to surround myself by brilliant people who allow me to focus on the vision and driving the agency forward.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

I would say that I am driven by a dual approach of passion and tenacity. To build a company takes grit and you have to be able to navigate a lot of anxiety and dark moments, then huge waves of excitement as you win new clients, take on new staff or change direction. I’m hugely passionate about business, growth and my industry, and I think that rubs off on the team. Tenacity allows me to get up every morning and keep going even when it’s not easy.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I belong to various groups focused on entrepreneurs and I’m committed to helping other women scale their businesses. As an out LGBTQ leader, I’m particularly focused on LGBTQ entrepreneurs and I’m part of Series Q which is a group that supports that vision. I also run a group called Evil Genius locally in East London which helps female entrepreneurs. It has been incredibly rewarding and I get a thrill when people take the plunge and start a company.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I’ve been championing the use of a remote workforce for 17 years and I see the impact that flexible working has on gender parity. Having the choice to choose your hours and your place of work has a major impact on women returning to work or juggling family commitments and their career. To me it’s such an obvious way to work that has a positive impact on diversity. I would like more airspace given to why this is the work model of the future.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

It’s ok to be different; in fact it’s an advantage - embrace it.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’m on a mission to prove that creative collaboration is possible using a mixture of the traditional agency model and the remote working, agency of the future model. I’d also like to write a book on remote working models, company culture and I wouldn’t mind launching a business networking club centred around karaoke too.

Inspirational Woman: Wendy Johansson | Global Vice President, Experience Transformation Lead, Publicis Sapient

Wendy Johansson headshotWendy built her 25-year career on leading UX teams as an early employee at successful early-stage startups.

She was the first designer at Loopt, Sam Altman’s YC-funded startup that later sold for $43 million. As the UX manager at Ooyala, she helped build the marketing, videography, and UX teams before the company were sold to Telstra for $400M. Wendy also led the global UX team at AppNexus, sold to AT&T for $1.6B, before joining Wizeline.

Wendy studied Cognitive Science with a specialization in Human-Computer Interaction at UC San Diego. She has also received executive education in product management at U.C. Berkeley. During her time at UCSD, she led the Society of Women Engineers chapter and Society of Automotive Engineers. She is the winner of the regional .NET challenge in 2004.

In 2019, Wendy was invited to become an investment committee member of CompuSoluciones' Corporate Venture Capital fund. She hopes to use her new position to mentor women entrepreneurs and identify overlooked startups in Mexico that have the potential to disrupt industries.

Wendy is passionate about felines and females in technology –in no particular order. She volunteers at the San Francisco SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in her spare time. As part of the Society of Women Engineers, she mentors young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and speaks at SWE’s regional even

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I studied Cognitive Science with a specialization in Human Computer Interaction at UC San Diego. During these years, I was painfully shy and quiet, but found a purpose in my university chapter of Society of Women Engineers. Serving our community of women engineering majors while being mentored by professional women engineers in industry, I found my voice leading and facilitating a group of amazing young women. I continued to find opportunities to foster and grow my voice early in my career as a UX designer, then UX manager, and later as a co-founder of a global product startup, Wizeline. During my time at Wizeline, I led our UX team and created Wizeline Academy, our community initiative to teach tech skills to emerging markets for free. After 6 years growing a product design and development team of nearly 500 people worldwide in San Francisco, Mexico, Vietnam and Thailand, I left to seek my biggest challenge to date – as Group VP of Experience at Publicis Sapient, which is nearly 40 times bigger than my startup!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

It’s difficult to plan your career when there’s no “industry standard” or role models to refer to! I graduated university and became a web designer before tech design was a popular field. So I’m at the forefront of my discipline, which has gone through so many iterations of job titles – web design, User interface design, User experience design, product design, CX design… It’ll continue to change, but now as a GVP of Experience, I try to make myself visible and available to younger folks in my industry so they see a path and a role for themselves in the future.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Early in my career in the 2000s, I was always the token woman on every product engineering team. At my second job, one of the male engineers made a point to tell me he was required to shower daily and wear a shirt now that a woman was on the team. I don’t think I realized how uncomfortable I was on my teams at the time, as it wasn’t a time and place in society where gender equality or diversity were topical or even discussed amongst friends.

As my career progressed and inclusion has become more of an open topic in recent years, I’ve used my power and my voice to be a role model for my team members - showing that I am a leader, but also a person. I let my personality shine through my leadership style, so people know they can grow into these roles and retain *themselves* and their values in a corporate environment.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

By my measure, my biggest career achievement has been impacting the lives of the many people who have been on my teams and coaching them to grow into new skills, new roles, and new opportunities. I’ve never been prouder than when my team members are too big for the challenge my team can offer them, and can go flex their new skills in a new role!

By the measure of industry, co-founding my own company and working 24/7 for 6 years to grow an amazing culture and team. I’m proud of this learning experience for myself, but the tangible value is still measured by the success of the people who have grown with me on that journey.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Success never comes without massive failure. I have a great support system around me in terms of family and friends who are always there for me without judgement and don’t treat career as a competition. Without this support system, I couldn’t get through my personal and professional hardships.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

It is not your skill alone that will help you excel. You need to learn to contribute to the natural communities that form in the workplace and socially. Only when you have meaningful skill-based and community contribution can you master your own career.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Aboslutely! There are biases against women that exist in all levels of tech, every single day. The barriers can only be overcome when we have normalized what is typically characterized as female. Today, male traits are normalized and we’re challenged to be more like men, but we need to turn the tables and challenge our male colleagues to be more like women. Only then can we come to the table equally.

What do you think companies can do to progress the careers of women working in technology?

If companies want more gender equality, they need to foster an environment where they can hire for those ratios no matter what career level. It’s easy to highlight a near equal ratio of young women in junior tech roles, but what about manager and director level women? Are there policies in place to support women with families to stand as role models in mid-manager positions? Are there women in the C-suite who can have a voice in ensuring these policies are designed, by and for women? Without a range and ratio of female voices across all career levels, we can never close the gap for women in tech.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Magic swap to make it 17% men in tech. Let’s see how that works out.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

If you like to spend your downtime on social media like I do on Instagram and Twitter, go follow some empowering women accounts rather than the usual influencers. Get empowered even in, especially in, your downtime. @17.21women, @ladiesgetpaid, @elainewelteroth, @rupikaur_, @girlsatlibrary

Didem Un Ates featured

Inspirational Woman: Didem Ün Ates | Senior Director, AI Customer & Partner Engagement, Microsoft

Didem Un AtesFollowing her Electrical Engineering and Management studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Didem started her career with management consulting at CapGemini and Motorola.

After graduating from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 2005, Didem continued her career at Greenwich Consulting (now part of EY) and British Telecom in London, UK.

Her passion for technology led her to join Microsoft’s Information & Content Experiences Group where she and her team signed c. 1,500 partnerships across 60 markets. She held other business development and partner management roles as part of Microsoft Accelerators and the Business AI teams. In her current role, Didem is focusing on scaling Microsoft’s SaaS AI solutions such as Dynamics Customer Service Insights and Virtual Agent.

Didem has 20+ years of multinational leadership experience in business development, management consulting, and product management in executing international roll outs, implementing new market entries, and building new revenue streams from disruptive technologies in EMEA, APAC, and LatAm.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Following my Electrical Engineering and Strategic Management studies at the University of Pennsylvania, I started my career at CapGemini and Motorola. After graduating from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 2005, I continued at Greenwich Consulting (now part of EY) and British Telecom in London, UK.

My passion for technology led me to join Microsoft’s Information & Content Experiences Group where my team and I signed c. 1,500 partnerships across 60 markets. I held other business development and partner management roles as part of Microsoft Accelerators and the Business AI teams. In my current role, I am focusing on scaling our SaaS AI solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service Insights and Virtual Agent.

As part of my Diversity & Inclusion and STEM related social impact work, I have been leading a global volunteer team to host ‘Girls in AI’ hackathons and bootcamps to increase female participation in AI/ML technology sector worldwide. I am including a few videos and blogs for those who might be interested in replicating these events or collaborating in future ones:




Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Of course. With every job or team change (which happens roughly every 12-18 months), I re-evaluate my path and potential career options following my latest move. I check my thinking with my mentors and trusted advisors every 3-6 months.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

As a diverse talent and immigrant working mother in tech sector, ‘career challenges’ have simply been part of life. As such, I do not even label such situations as ‘challenges’, ‘problems’, etc. I visualize the lotus flower during these periods – it grows in the smelliest, muddiest, most disgusting waters but is still able to be beautiful and to radiate positivity to its surroundings.

So whenever I face such a situation, I ask myself: “How can I raise a lotus flower in these circumstances? How can I turn this situation upside down and make it an advantage (as opposed to a hurdle) for me and my career so I land in an even better place?” I think of these incidents as potential spring-boards rather than handicaps or crises. If one takes the time to look inside and think creatively, there is always a solution.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have been fortunate to make notable financial and business impact to all my employers and teams in terms of scaling disruptive technologies, generating new revenue streams, launching new products and markets, expanding partnership ecosystems, etc.

All of these achievements, especially when they involved building new teams and creating win-win solutions, have been fascinating and extremely meaningful for me.

The most fulfilling and rewarding achievement in my mind though, has been with my recent volunteer work on ‘Girls in AI’/ ‘Alice Envisions the Future’ bootcamps and hackathons, where I lead a phenomenal team of volunteers at Microsoft to host these events globally. We have successfully demonstrated how effective and impactful these hackathons and bootcamps are, so now numerous teams in the company are scaling these efforts worldwide. If we can improve that terrifying – and declining - %12 diversity figure in AI/ ML to a more acceptable figure, I will be a very happy person. 😊

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Perseverance combined with hard work.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Think of the Lotus. See challenging situations, people, projects, etc. as opportunities for growth and think about how you can use them as spring boards, as advantageous opportunities to progress in your path.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Sadly, the answer is ‘of course.’ I would strongly recommend the book Brotopia for a comprehensive study of these barriers and potential mitigations. My humble view is we should start by enhancing diversity in our sector so that barriers can actually be un-earthed and acknowledged. If 90% of the workforce does not ‘see’ any barriers or ‘feel’ any of the pain, you have a much steeper mountain to climb. Sadly, 10%’s pain and the negative consequences in the business are misinterpreted are ‘just noise.’

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

We have to work on both sides of the diversity and inclusion equation.

On the diversity side, the key is to ensure diverse talent has hope of career progression and plenty of job opportunities. On the inclusion side, we need to ensure they feel included and treated fairly when faced with discrimination, bias, etc. so that they can survive and stay in the organization.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Education system – inspiring girls, especially 7-18 year olds, to embrace and make the most of technology regardless of their passions. In the end, even if you want to be a dancer or artist, you will be a better one if you know how to use technology. We have to land this message and enable girls to be digital natives as well.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?


  • Public speaking training – the best quality you can afford…
  • Coding trainings, AI hackathons/ bootcamps, online courses (Please see the blog for details)


  • Brotopia, Emily Chang
  • Playing Big, Tara Mohr
  • A Life of My Own, Claire Tomalin
  • Inferior, Angela Saini


  • Women in Tech, Marie Wiese