Inspirational Woman: Wendy Thomas | President, Secureworks

Wendy ThomasI’ve held a number of strategic, operational and financial leadership roles in the last 25 years, including Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Product Officer.

Currently, as President of Secureworks, I support multiple functions, including product and engineering, operations, customer experience, and Secureworks’ threat intelligence-focused Counter Threat UnitTM (CTU).

Right now, my number one focus is leading Secureworks’ transformation of our vision, strategy and business model. We’ve been securing customers for nearly 20 years now, but the way we’re doing that has been evolving, as the industry and our customers’ security needs to beat the adversary are changing.

Siloed detection was noisy and insufficient, and customers weren’t spending their time wisely on the events that posed the greatest risk to their organisations. Increasingly, customers and channel partners have told us that they would value our guidance in building the skills, capabilities, and resources needed to run their own SecOps (Security Operations). This enables them to leverage the same software that our experts use on behalf of our customers, with continued access to the benefit of the broad threat intelligence we gather each day across a global ecosystem.

To solve for these opportunities, we invested in a world-class team of engineers and product developers to take everything we’ve learned, with an eye toward customer pain points, to build Secureworks® TaegisTM, our cloud-native security analytics platform, taking prediction, detection, and investigation and response to the next level. We’re also investing heavily in the customer experience, embedding the Voice of the Customer in everything we do, and expanding how we go to market with channel partners to protect more customers globally.

This is a multi-faceted transformation with a single, clear purpose to outpace and outmanoeuvre the adversary at scale. I’m really proud of everything teammates across the company are doing to keep us moving forward and to protect our customers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I did. However, I’m afraid my forecasting success rate is pretty low! Most of the technologies that underpinned the industries I’ve worked in didn’t exist when I graduated from college.  And I’ve held roles in functions that, not only were outside my major, but were functions that I probably could not have described with great fidelity.

My career plans were always around the attributes of the career I wanted, versus titles or specialties. I sought organisations with a global footprint, in industries that would always force me to keep learning, and companies whose products and services were beneficial to the world. I wanted roles early on where my performance could be more objectively measured, ensuring my contributions and performance could be mine to own and control.

I also was very comfortable that my titles and even my compensation did not have to be linearly up and to the right. There were times, I stepped back in ‘title’, or shifted to a lower base with more compensation at risk, in different roles over the years because I saw that it added another, proverbial arrow to my quiver that was important to me in terms of my own development.  While some may not recommend a ‘non-traditional’ career approach, I think that mindset is what made me more open to taking on roles that weren’t pre-prescribed for me. That meant there were more opportunities open to me.

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

Everyone faces challenges – professional, personal, and unfortunately sometimes both at the same time!  The question is how you respond. Early on, I spent too much of my time thinking through a problem by myself – all the angles and permutations – and then simply taking a deep breath to keep fear of failure at bay, putting one foot in front of the other, and powering through.  Later, I learned to seek advice and a sounding board from someone I trusted.  Too often, I tried to figure things out on my own, thinking that’s what I was supposed to be able to do. But even when I was successful, net/net it simply took more time and energy than it needed to, versus if I had asked for counsel sooner.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m most proud of the number of people on my teams who have since gone on to even greater “greatness” – as they defined greatness.  For some, they’ve moved up the traditional career ladder to executive leadership, C-suite or Board roles.  But I’m equally proud of those who’ve sought counsel and support for major career path changes (both functional or industry), or how to embark on a new working model (e.g., job sharing, starting their own business), and forged their path accordingly.

From a more traditional career perspective, I’m most proud that I’ve landed in an industry that helps to make the world a better, safer place.  At Secureworks, we say our purpose is to “secure human progress,” and that truly reflects what we do each day. Whether keeping hospitals and vaccine makers safe from ransomware or making sure your financial information stays secure within your bank.

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

Looking back, it was my willingness and drive to take on stretch roles where I might not be wildly, perfectly successful.  I’ll admit to feeling a concern, especially later in my career, that if I put myself in a position to fail, and did, that I’d make it harder for other women (or another ‘non-traditional’ candidate) to get a shot at a similar senior opportunity.  That was an unfair burden to accept, and I often talk about that now with mentees who have similar concerns with respect to their race, veteran status, sexual orientation, etc.  It’s a very real, but not obvious, impediment to highly qualified people from accepting stretch roles that could accelerate their career path and personal development.

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

Three things to keep in mind in when looking to excel your career: feedback, mentors and sponsorship.

Seek feedback proactively, with an open demeanour. While not all feedback and advice will be useful, or even right for you, making people who care about you comfortable enough to share their observations and feedback will help you be more aware of how you’re perceived and enable you to grow beyond measure.

Seek mentors proactively and ensure that you have the foundational elements to make the relationship mutually beneficial.  Because a great mentor is also seeking knowledge, be equally thoughtful about what you bring to the relationship and what you specifically hope to gain.

Understand who your sponsors are (or are not) at your organisation.  Mentors are important, but careers rarely progress without strong sponsorship inside your organisation.

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

There are some interdependent phenomena that create a bit of kinetic friction to women (and others) in technology career paths, but I sincerely believe we can make a significant dent in that friction with the consistent application of a handful of practices over time.

  1. Pay consistency for qualified candidates regardless of race or gender. Lower pay for women means that, on average, family trade-off decisions more often result in career gaps for women, simply based on the math of income. I’m not talking about paying more regardless of the candidate’s qualifications. I’m talking about paying similarly valuable candidates (and similarly high performing employees) consistently, rather than opportunistically. That means ending the practice of offering compensation based on ‘what do you make now?’  The cycle starts early in a career and gets perpetuated over and over again across underrepresented groups.
  2. Recruiting practices. We’ve been scrubbing our job description postings around pre-qualifying requirements that are nice-to-have vs. must-have, to ensure we consider non-traditional great talent. Some of our greatest talent doesn’t have a traditional education. In fact, their proactive approach to being self-taught and obtaining certifications is a sign of drive.  And with coding challenges, internships, and other forums to do more objective assessments, the path to quality hiring is navigable.  We’ve also worked to be more conscious of how we recruit via ‘networking’ and employee referrals, particularly in situations where our employee base doesn’t reflect the diversity we see in the market.
  3. Flexibility. Particularly in technology roles, the quality, throughput, and impact of work very rarely must be done completely during traditional business hours and, as COVID has taught us, don’t always have to be done in an office building either. Presence may provide managers a false sense of control, but hours in the office do not equate to impact. They do, however, create barriers to recruiting great talent that needs any amount of flexibility. A flexible approach can benefit everyone, but women tend to be sensitive to signs of flexibility when considering a career choice, so don’t implicitly encourage them to self-select out.

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

I’d ask if you’ve not only identified which of your high performers are also high potential, but have you also proactively had a meaningful dialogue with that talent around what will help them progress and be successful in your organisation?  Underrepresented groups, who don’t see someone like them in a leadership role, tend to be more hesitant to ask for mentorship, feedback, or support.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

If I had a magic wand, Hollywood would make movies with flattering portrayals of technologists who are diverse AND the heroes. If COVID taught us anything this year, it’s that science can save the world.  What could attract more, desperately needed, talent to technology than showing the powerful benefit a career in STEM can have?  Helping young people visualise the variety and impact of STEM careers is so important to building a pipeline of talent that self-selects in.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The resources I’d recommend for tech professionals is similar for both men, women and trans professionals. However, in terms of gender-specific events, I do enjoy opportunities to network with women in the cybersecurity space as a session at broader industry events like RSA.


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Beyond bias: Is it time to fall in love with AI systems again?

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft

A couple of years ago, AI seemed the ideal solution for remedying those temporary lapses in good judgement, unforced errors and gut instinct impulsiveness that are part and parcel of the human condition.

As AI adoption accelerated, it seemed as though high stakes decisions were increasingly being delegated to AI systems. Suddenly, AI algorithms were determining everything from someone’s suitability for a job role, to whether or not they’d be selected for a university course, or if their application for credit was accepted.

Before long, however, a growing awareness of bias in AI systems began to raise some disquieting concerns. The resulting soul searching led to heated debates about whether organisations using AI systems were actually trading fairness for consistency or comprising social justice in their pursuit of streamlined efficiencies.

Suddenly, it seemed like we had all fallen out of love with AI.

The problem with technology bias

AI systems are versatile, accurate, reliable, autonomic (self-correcting), fast and affordable. Which is why some 64% of today’s businesses now depend on them for productivity growth. But in the rush to take advantage of the benefits this technology confers, organisations have learned the hard way that it’s a risky business proposition to depend exclusively on AI systems if bias isn’t checked.

The problem is that AI applications can be just as unfair, prejudiced, or discriminatory as the humans who create them. An issue not helped by the fact that the development community is still, by and large, predominantly composed of white males. And when AI systems make mistakes, the scale and scope of their operation means the consequences impact a significant number of people.

Awareness is growing that the machine learning (ML) used to train AI systems represents a key entry point for bias. For example, the data sets selected for ML training can create an echo chamber that amplifies bias. Similarly, historical data used to train AI systems will reflect the prevalent thinking and cultural mores of an era.

With experience comes wisdom

AI systems have proved highly successful at tackling a variety of complex workplace and public safety challenges - whether that is handling hazardous situations using AI-guided robots to fight fires, disable bombs or clean up chemical skills. A more recent example is helping millions of people access digital banking services during the coronavirus pandemic.

To successfully harness the potential of AI, however, organisations will need to ensure that their AI systems do not repeat the mistakes of the past. In other words, applying the lessons learned about the disruptive impact of bias to achieve fairer and more equitable outcomes for all.

For example, back in 2015 Amazon was forced to ditch an automated AI recruitment screening tool that favoured men for technical jobs and penalised women. The in-house programme had been developed using data accumulated from CVs submitted over the past decade, which reflected the dominance of men across the tech industry. The firm now uses a much watered-down version of the recruiting engine to help with some rudimentary chores like culling duplicate candidate profiles from databases.

Restoring trust in algorithms and AI systems: the top steps to take

Delivering on the promise of AI starts with the creation of fairness metrics and measuring fairness at each step of the technology development process: design, coding, testing, feedback, analysis, reporting and risk mitigation.

This should include creating design models that test AI systems and challenge results, using approaches like counterfactual testing to ensure that outcomes can be repeated and explained. Performing side-by-side AI and human testing, using third party external judges to challenge the accuracy and possible results biases will also be crucial.

Re-aligning cultural thinking across the organisation is another mission-critical task. Alongside educating employees that driving out bias is everyone’s mandate, diversifying the organisation’s software development community will mitigate against the ‘group-think’ mentality that introduces bias into AI systems.

Falling in love with AI - again

Realising the opportunities offered by AI means that the way systems are developed, deployed, and used must be carefully managed to prevent the perpetuation of human or societal biases. That includes thinking carefully about the fairness of any underlying data attributes used, ensuring everyone has access to the tools and processes needed to counter unfair bias, and boosting the diversity of the AI community. On occasion that may include crowd-sourcing opinions from the widest number of interested participants to address unconscious bias and assure mass acceptance and uptake.

Understanding how bias in data works is a critical first step to controlling bias in AI systems. This is why some forward thinking organisations are utilising new tools to tackle bias. For example, LinkedIn is using LIFT, an Open Source toolkit, to identify bias in job search algorithms. It has now joined forces with IBM and Accenture to build toolkits that combat bias in business. Similarly, an app that enables rapid DNA testing of wastewater for COVID-19 is an example of an innovative AI system that can detect a coronavirus hotspot without any community bias. Once COVID-19 is detected, hospitals and first responders can gear up for an increased caseload.

Armed with the right tools, processes and determination to ensure fairness is a design characteristic built into every aspect of algorithm and AI system development, there’s every indication that the love affair with AI is set to flourish once again.

Agata Nowakowska, SkillsoftAbout the author

Agata Nowakowska is Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft, where she leads the field operations, to include enterprise and small & mid-market, as well as channel sales/strategic alliances across Europe, Middle East and Africa.


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Inspirational Woman: Helen Simpson | Director of Inside Sales EMEA, Poly

Helen SimpsonHelen Simpson is a high-performing director-level sales professional, operating within the unified communications sector.

Key to her success is her ability to influence at strategic level in support of enhanced profitability, performance and competitive advantage. Maximising opportunities and exceeding targets are of paramount importance to her, and she is particularly proud of her entrepreneurial flair.

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

I’ve always been interested in data analysis, presentation, and communication, which is why I decided to undertake a degree in Linguistics at the University of East Anglia. My knowledge of different branches of linguistics such as sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and computational linguistics led me to the tech industry, and I was fortunate enough to secure a position at PictureTel straight out of university.

Working for one of the first commercial video conferencing product companies made it clear to me that this was the industry in which I should forge my career. The audio and video industry was exciting, highly innovative and a space in which I felt confident I could make a positive impact.

From there I continued my career in tech and moved to technology giant Poly (formerly Plantronics and Polycom), working my way up to EMEA director of inside sales and renewals.

I head up a team of sales and channel account managers and renewal reps (with a 50/50 male and female split), driving the sales activity across Poly’s entire solutions range and supporting the company’s partner ecosystem, which is a critical route to market.

Working at Poly has given me the leadership skills and confidence to advocate for women working in tech.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. Career guidance at university centred around the idea of a “five year” plan; the notion being that it promised certainty and if we followed a linear path to success, happiness would follow. I think there’s merit here, but I felt that trying to predict my future career based upon a rigid fixation of planning could backfire, closing me off from other opportunities to grow.

I also felt I could easily become so preoccupied trying to perfectly execute the details of my plan that I’d get trapped in analysis paralysis, missing new directions where I might otherwise thrive. How right I was. My first career step was in contracts administration, and while I did find it challenging, it didn’t end up as my chosen path. I quickly re-routed to a career in sales and flourished!

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

Challenges will always arise in working life, but my top tip would be to change your perspective and view them as privileges.

For example, at one point in my career there was a decline in the services revenue stream, I was challenged by the business to rectify this. It was a pivotal moment in my career to prove myself as a trusted advisor and someone who can deliver results.

I had to in-source and build a new EMEA renewals team, which was a big undertaking and could have been overwhelming had I not tackled it head on with a positive perspective.

I built a rigorous and detailed plan and hired a whole new team of renewal reps. The hard work paid off — in our first year we delivered $10 million of incremental bookings and secured significant cost savings to the business.

Additionally, in 2019 when Polycom and Plantronics merged to become Poly, I had to deliver a rigorous and detailed integration plan to bring together a centralised EMEA inside sales teams from two distinct $1 billion companies. I created extensive onboarding programs and am proud to have developed a defined career progression programme to ensure inside sales became a destination career at Poly.

I’m also privileged to say that my amazing team achieved stellar results, exceeding sales expectations for FY20 by achieving 122% of our target.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In 2011, Poly shipped its 4 millionth conference phone and that was a huge milestone in our history of innovation in the unified communications market, and I remember feeling so proud to be part of the company.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have been recognised in the industry and been awarded some prestigious accolades. Most recently, I was awarded the CRN Role Model of the Year Award in 2020 that one of my kind colleagues nominated me for, which I’m so grateful for.

Another personal stand-out was winning a prestigious President Club award, which recognises top salespeople for overachievement of their goals and quota. The win got me a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Puerto Rico and Maui and memories I will treasure forever — from trekking through the El Yunque National Rainforest and experiencing a traditional Hawaiian lūʻau, to snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea.

However, the achievement I am most proud of has been the process of becoming a global mentor that sponsors female talent at Poly. I really enjoy helping women to develop their skills and competencies and advocating for them throughout the business.

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

For me, its always been about creating and maintaining a strong sense of self-worth. I’ve always believed you’re your best self-advocate. Having a positive sense of self-worth lends itself to self-confidence, which in turn allows me to trust in my abilities, qualities and judgement. There should be no shame in recognising your self-worth. It’s allowed me to make better decisions, advance my career and be successful.

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

Think like a scientist and experiment. I know that might sound strange, but bear with me. Rather than setting yourself daunting long-term plans with set timeframes, try and imagine yourself one year from today. Ask yourself what will be different? What will stay the same? Where do you want to make your biggest changes or learnings? I’ve always asked these questions through the lens of my personal priorities as well. By adopting a more experimental mindset and making smaller goals that you can adapt, build, or expand upon is less scary and easier to change.

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

One big barrier for women in tech is the one we set for ourselves. When working with my female colleagues, I challenge them to resist self-limiting behaviours and ask them, “If you knew you could not fail, what would what you do?”

I’m proud to be a role model at Poly and lead by example because when women see other women represented at senior levels, they are more likely to feel they have a place here.

It’s also really important for me to be an authentic role model, like anyone else, I’m multi-dimensional and I work hard to show this in all areas of my life. I have to multitask as a businesswoman and a parent, shifting roles between sports day and presentation preparation, and networking and parents evening. There will always be trade-offs and I think showing vulnerability allows me to dance between the different areas of my life while being true to who I am and encouraging other women in tech to do the same.

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

Allies and advocates that encourage and empower self-belief are so important. Companies need to embrace gender diversity and create a safe space for women to experiment and innovate without fear of repercussions.

I feel very lucky that Poly embraces diversity through its Inclusion, Diversity, Education and Awareness (IDEA) programme that maintains a diverse, inclusive and accessible workplace where all people are welcome, respected, accepted and valued.

From a personal perspective, I’d also say that mental health is key to supporting the progress of women’s careers. I’m a Mental Health First Aider for Poly and am incredibly passionate about the wellbeing of my teams. Sales is very high energy, target-based environment and this can lead to increased stress. Being able to spot symptoms of poor mental health in my team and signpost them to areas of help is key for a happy working environment and also allows me to nurture talent; people who feel overwhelmed are more likely to give up. This is especially important for women working in tech, as we may feel added pressure to achieve more or not show perceived ‘weakness’ when stress is affecting us.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

Every organisation needs to ensure that its hiring policy safeguards the fair and effective hiring of the most suitable talent who support them in meeting their business objectives. This means a standardised process, where candidates are selected based on merit, by a diverse interview panel.

Inclusion and diversity practises also need to be an integral part of every organisation’s culture to ensure every voice, including women’s voices, are heard and valued. A commitment to creating a diverse workforce of talented individuals, who are confident enough to bring their authentic selves to work is crucial to accelerate the pace of change. At Poly we currently have a ratio of 53:47 male-female employees, including our manufacturing sites.

Estelle Jackson, global diversity, inclusion and belonging lead at Poly, has championed the IDEA programme that sits at the heart of everything we do. This diversity and inclusion ethos is woven through corporate, CSR, HR and culture strategies to ensure that all employees are exposed to IDEA during every aspect of their working lives, both internally and with our partners. It involves constant education and awareness and feedback sessions and gives us all a sense of belonging and empowerment I wish upon other organisations.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One of the most impactful recommendations I can give is to find yourself a great mentor. Mentors can help you pursue opportunities, tap into resources and create a feedback loop that is essential for your career journey and progression. Don’t forget your mentor will also have a network of business professionals that you can lean on for different perspectives. From there you can apply your learnings, build allyships in the right places and make your strengths visible.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a number of great mentors throughout my career who have helped me to give my goals real clarity.


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Inspirational Woman: Lorina Poland | Enterprise Lead Technical Writer, DataStax

Lorina PolandLorina Poland is a technical writer at DataStax, an open, multi-cloud stack for modern data apps based on Apache Cassandra.

Lorina’s passion lies in decoding technical topics to ensure anyone from a geek to a luddite could understand. She holds Bachelor Degrees in Electrical Engineering and Chemistry, as well as a Masters in Electrical Engineering. Lorina spent the first half of her career with the U.S. Air Force and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel before first becoming a schoolteacher and later specialising as a technical trainer and writer.

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

I’m one of the lead technical writers at DataStax. My background is originally in engineering and I spent a lot of my career working for the US Air Force. Throughout my time with the military, I worked on aircraft avionics and I was one of the first people to work with GPS technology. I also analysed how lasers could be used in the atmosphere - some of that technology we now see readily available in the Hubble telescope.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, my path has been quite diverse. I started out as a dual Theatre Arts and Biology major, later choosing to focus on Chemistry. I was always interested in computers and worked as a computer programmer alongside my studies. Once I got to graduation, jobs were quite scarce, so I joined the Engineering programme with the US Air Force and spent nearly 25 years in various roles within the military.

After military retirement, I wanted to focus on computers so I worked at the University of California in Santa Cruz as one of the first webmasters for the School of Engineering. Before I found my niche as a technical writer, I also spent ten years as a maths and science teacher.

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

There was such a lack of diversity when I was beginning my career. I’d often be in meetings with over 200 people where myself and the secretary were the only females in the room. Working in such a male-dominated environment, I learned how men interacted and chose to adjust my style accordingly. I tried to be more direct and assertive, but this often backfired where I’d be accused of being too aggressive. At that time, it was more important to me that the idea was heard than getting credit, so I’d pass ideas to colleagues to raise on my behalf. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to be myself, ignore that behaviour, and just focus on my work.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been a lot of achievements; retiring from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel is the most obvious one. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a number of ground-breaking technologies. Yet I’m most proud of the work I do today.

I sometimes wonder whether I should have pushed myself further to become a CIO or CTO, but I hear how stressful those roles can be and I had enough of that endless workload during my days as a teacher. Maintaining a good work life balance is more important to me now than the job title and I’ve found my stride with technical writing which is very gratifying.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech?

It has improved, but there’s still a problem. It’s not an issue of attracting women to the industry, it’s retaining them. Most tech companies can place a lot of demands on your time, which doesn’t balance well with a woman trying to start or raise a family. Many companies also operate on hiring by peer recommendation, so you get men recommending their friends who happen to be just like them, and so the cycle continues. Even women that do overcome those barriers have to work so much harder to prove themselves, which can be exhausting.

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

Mentoring can have a significant impact on someone’s career and their motivation to keep pushing. As I was coming up through the ranks, mentoring wasn’t that common but that has improved now. That support can be incredibly beneficial as they navigate the industry.

Companies also need to think about diversity further afield too. There’s not just an issue with a lack of women but LGBT, ethnic, and neurodiverse people, too. Most importantly, I’d ask companies to encourage and facilitate one-on-one interaction. As an LGBT woman, I’ve had colleagues struggle to comprehend my orientation. I’ve taken the time to interact with those people and found that has been hugely beneficial in breaking down barriers. That personal understanding has a far greater impact than a lengthy corporate presentation about diversity policies. We’re all just people with the same fears and concerns as one another – if we can take the time to speak to those who are different to us, we can achieve a mutual understanding. I believe in a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ ethos so it’s not about negatively impacting heterosexual white men, it’s about how better diversity in our industry can benefit everyone.

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

Try to be true to yourself and avoid re-modelling just to fit the environment. Make sure you’ve got a really technically sound understanding as it’s a sad reality that you will need to prove yourself in order to be taken seriously. Developing strong relationships with colleagues is key too; that has served me really well here at DataStax when I need help with a project or in a moment of conflict.


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


Career in STEM

How robotics competitions can help get girls into STEM

As the Competition Support Manager for VEX Robotics in the UK, Bridie Gaynor has witnessed first-hand the positive impact educational robotics can have on primary and secondary students.

Bridie’s role requires her to travel frequently around the UK to facilitate the smooth running of local and regional events, with the competition season culminating every year for the VEX UK National Finals in March. These events are comprised of the VEX IQ Challenge (VIQC) and the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC), designed respectively for schoolchildren at Key Stage 2 & 3 and Key Stages 3 to 5. Whilst VIQC robots are created by teams of students using plastic, snap-together parts, and VRC robots are built with metal & steel parts, both platforms feature impressive control systems, including a brain that can be programmed using VEXcode IQ Blocks (powered by Scratch Blocks) or VEXcode Text.

What is perhaps most striking about the competitions that Bridie attends is the increasing number of young females who are participating. At the 2019 VEX UK National Finals, more than 50 per cent of the 700 students competing were female, a highly promising figure considering the current STEM shortage and the level of engineering, programming and design skills required to compete. Bridie hopes that she can inspire even more females to take part in the future, as the events continue to grow in stature:

“It’s amazing to think just how many female students are getting involved in VEX competitions and at such a young age, particularly when you consider the lack of gender diversity in STEM industries."

"What makes VEX stand out from the crowd is the perfectly balanced practical and theoretical aspects of both the VEX IQ system and VEX EDR system."

"We need to be showing girls that engineering, coding and tech isn’t just for boys, it’s for everyone and there’s so many different avenues in STEM to discover.”

Having worked at VEX Robotics for over six years, Bridie has been part of the journey of several all-girls teams who have been successful in serving as ambassadors for STEM in the wider community, including East Barnet’s Girls of Steel and Welwyn Garden City’s Microbots, both of whom have shared their experiences with tech-industry heavyweights form across the globe.

With the growth of the VEX community and the increasing uptake of female students competing overall, Bridie says it’s important to have more women in leadership roles like her to inspire the future generations:

“What’s fantastic about my job is that I get to serve as something of a role model that girls can look up to."

"It’s great to be in a position where aspiring STEM students can see that women can really succeed in these industries and take charge of what is typically a male-dominated environment."

"I truly believe that robotics systems like VEX give females a chance to get involved in STEM in a fun, exciting and engaging capacity, whilst setting students up for future careers in STEM”.

About the author

Bridie Gaynor is the Competition Support Manager in the UK for VEX Robotics.

She is responsible for supporting VEX events and teams across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.


Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee featured

Inspirational Woman: Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee | Senior Flight Systems Engineer, BAE Systems

Krystina Pearson-RampeeareeI am a Senior Flight Systems Engineer at BAE Systems, based in Warton as part of the Air business.

In my seven years at BAE Systems, I have worked across a wide variety of aircraft projects and have been involved in the design and development of a range of flight-critical systems.

Currently, I’m working on Tempest, the project aiming to develop the UK’s Future Combat Air System. To be involved in the planning of the various flight possibilities of the future is incredibly exciting and something I’m very proud of.

I am also a mother and I had my first child in 2019, which inspired me even further to show young girls that they can be both great mothers and great engineers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve definitely had an idea of what I wanted to do for a long time and have been lucky enough to have built a career in the field that interests me.

I always really enjoyed maths and physics at school, but it was an air show I went to with my family when I was younger that really sparked my interest in what I do now. The speed and sounds of those jets amazed me and I knew that I wanted to be involved in that somehow, so started to look into a career in aerospace when I went back to school the following term.

My school was very supportive and from there I went to university, where I graduated from the University of the West of England in Bristol with a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering.

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

The biggest challenge has probably been the realisation that there are not many people like me in the field I love. At university, for example, I was one of only two women on my course. This was quite daunting initially, and although it turned out to be a great group of people once I got to know them, it can be an intimidating atmosphere for women to face.

I overcame the challenge because of the people on that course – I even went on to marry one of them – but the issue of a lack of diversity across the engineering industries is one that persists. My  personal experiences have galvanised me to push for change, particularly when in comes to encouraging young women into an engineering career.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud of so much that I’ve achieved already – I’ve worked on some fantastic projects, including Tempest, where we have the opportunity to collaborate with engineers from across the globe that are the best in their field. I’m also proud of the way I have balanced my life as a mother and an engineer.

Another achievement would be the launch of my own side business, AviateHer, during the first lockdown last year. The initial idea was to sell a range of pin badges I designed to celebrate and promote diversity in engineering, but this has since expanded to various careers in STEM. In just a few short months, I was shipping these pins worldwide.

Part of the proceeds from each sale is donated to charities working towards improving diversity in STEM. So far, the business has raised over £1,000 for these charities. As a personal achievement, I couldn’t be more proud, but more importantly it is spreading the message that STEM is changing and is open for everyone.

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

I think it’s important that I followed my passion. As someone who has been interested in maths and physics from a young age, as well as engineering and then specifically aerospace, I wasn’t going to let the barriers or negative stereotypes about my chosen career route affect my thinking.

I know you only asked for one thing, but alongside this, despite a lack of diversity in my sector, I’ve received plenty of support from those around me – from my family to my school, to those on my course at university and in my work at BAE Systems. After giving birth, I was able to keep ambitiously pursuing my career by returning part-time and working flexible hours to help balance work and home life. This level of support should be the norm – women should never have their careers suffer for just being a woman.

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

First and foremost, as the AviateHer badges try to express, anyone can be an engineer, a pilot, a scientist, a coder or anything else in STEM – don’t think you don’t belong just because you don’t fit into the stereotype of what someone in these industries looks like.

I also think it’s incredibly important for young people to evaluate all the options available to them. My school was very supportive of my career ambitions, but there wasn’t much guidance available on the different routes available in aerospace. So, do your reading and try and get as many different points of view as possible. Higher education worked out perfectly for me, but for others, apprenticeships might be a better option. Make sure not to pigeonhole yourself and explore which of the various options available are best suited to kickstart your career.

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

Absolutely, there are still barriers for women in tech. Things might be slowly improving, but there’s still a long way to go. There are plenty of misconceptions about what an engineer should look like and what we do and that probably scares off quite a lot of people right at the start

One of the main challenges is changing these misconceptions and making it clear that careers in engineering, and tech more generally, vary greatly and there are roles that suit all sorts of people and skill sets. If we highlight the diversity in STEM and champion the voices of successful female tech workers, we can hopefully change the narrative.

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

One of the ways companies can support women in technology is to provide mentoring programmes. I’m a big advocate of mentoring, having been a mentor and mentee myself. Support for women when they return from maternity leave would also be hugely beneficial, to help prevent women from having to choose between career or family.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

If I could wave a magic wand I would make sure that women were involved in the decision-making. By bringing women to the table, giving them a voice and empowering them, we will create a more inclusive environment that will benefit everyone.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Podcasts I’d recommend are Women Tech Charge hosted by the inspirational Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon and How To Own The Room for some great tips on speaking!


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


Inspirational Woman: Kamales Lardi | Global award-winning Digital Transformation Thought Leader & Expert & CEO, Lardi & Partner Consulting GmbH

Kamales LardiMy name is Kamales Lardi and I am the entrepreneur behind Lardi & Partner Consulting GmbH.

I have been described as a bold and strategic thinker in digital and business transformation - since establishing Lardi & Partner Consulting GmbH in 2012, I have advised many multinational companies across various industries in Europe, Asia and Mauritius, providing them with smart digital transformation strategies. Recently my company was awarded the Business Worldwide Magazine 2020 Global Corporate Excellence Award for 'Digital Business Transformation Firm of the Year'.

I aspire to make an impact with my work not just within industry but in society as well. Lardi & Partner Consulting is not my first start-up venture, I’m also the founder of  BloomBloc, providing strategic advisory support for blockchain implementation. This has allowed me to use digital tech solutions to help tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. During my days with BloomBloc, I worked with the Malaysian government, implementing a blockchain-based solution to enable the traceability of palm oil through the supply chain.

Outside of consulting, I am a Teaching Fellow and Chairperson of the MBA Advisory Board at Durham University Business School, where I also gained my MBA in 2004. I’m also a lecturer for Blockchain Application in Supply Chain Management at HWZ Zurich University of Business Administration.

I am a strong advocate for diversity in the tech sector. I believe that diversity of knowledge, culture, gender, sexual orientation and experience plays a critical role in developing technology solutions that have a transformative impact in business and society.

It helps to have established a platform from which to further this cause; I was recently recognised as Top 10 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers in Digital Transformation (Thinkers360), made a member of the Forbes Business Council, and Chair of the Forbes Women Executives group.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always had a clear vision of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve in my career, however, the actual journey has been very different! I had always planned to have an extended corporate career, and had successfully pursued this path within top management consulting firms – rising through the ranks to become Head of Deloitte Digital Switzerland. However, once I became a parent it seemed I was expected to take a step back in my career. I said “absolutely not”. If I wasn’t going to be offered progression within a large firm, I’d secure it for myself. I decided to take control of my time and career path by starting my own firm instead. Maybe brave, maybe crazy! Fortunately, it worked.

I like to believe that the obstacles and changes in our lives are all detours in the right direction. Although my initial plans did change, I have stayed true to my vision and core values and could never have imagined the range of experiences and successes that I have achieved over the past 21 years.

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

Definitely, and I believe that challenges and failures are an important part of the journey. There is a learning in every experience, and I would encourage women to focus on failing fast, learning fast, and moving forward. Admittedly, this was much harder for me to do earlier in my career, however, as a business owner I found I could not afford to dwell too long on failures, if I wanted to ultimately succeed. I needed to keep myself motivated, learn from missteps and focused on the end goal.

Some of the challenges I have faced relate to the learning curve after moving from a corporate job to being a business owner. For example, as a business owner, I had to cover a broader scope of work (marketing/PR, business development, brand building, client management, team management, engagement management & delivery etc), compared to a corporate role. To overcome them, I had to build new skills as well as learn to manage my time and prioritize effectively. Other challenges relating to bias in tech and women in leadership were a little harder to manage. I had to learn not to take unconscious bias too personally, but address it boldly rather than diminish myself in the face of it. Another constant lesson was to treat every experience, good and bad,  as a learning opportunity, for myself as well as for others.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been many significant milestones that I have been proud of, including establishing an award-winning consultancy firm, building my profile as a recognized global thought leader and influencer, as well as delivering transformative initiatives in important areas - such as the blockchain-based traceability solution for the palm oil supply chain. However, I would say the one achievement that stands out for me is to be recognized as an authentic and passionate leader and advisor by clients and teams that I work with. The is the highest recognition for me, as it shows that the vision and values I live by have left a lasting impact and inspired other people.

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

I believe that the major factors for my success have been staying true to my core values – authenticity, passion, and a focus on delivering high-quality value. Also, as technology is developing at an accelerated pace, I have embraced continuous learning by making sure to stay up to date with key trends and developments in the market, as well as upskill myself in the latest technology developments. As an entrepreneur, I’ve also found that it’s important to learn when to ask for help. I've had business coaches and business mentors over the years who’ve helped me to build my profile and to grow. Knowing the value of that mentor support drove my decision to become an MBA mentor at Durham University Business School. Mentors and mentees have a lot to offer each other – so it’s been mutually beneficial.

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

One tip that I would offer based on my own experience is not only to build deep expertise in technology, but to also build a deep and thorough understanding for application of technology across industries and business areas. The ability to combine deep expertise with pragmatic application is a sought-after skill, and can help one stand out in the highly competitive technology space.

Another tip would be to connect and network with the top global thought leaders in this space to stay informed on latest developments and learn from their experiences. Thought leaders and global experts are active and easily accessible on social platform such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

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

I do believe there is still as certain level of bias, conscious or unconscious, in the field of tech, and related issues that come with that bias. This could relate to a range of challenges such as women getting less opportunities in the field, not receiving the credibility or recognition that they deserve for their work, or even manifest in the technology solutions being developed because of the lack of diversity in the development teams. This challenge should be addressed at various levels in order to be effective, including education, support and deliberate actions and policies to enhance diversity – not just across gender but in every area.

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

I believe the first step for companies would be to create awareness and acknowledge that the issue exists, as well as identify where the specific challenges lay in relation to their business environment. Companies could also represent the topic of diversity at the strategic level, recognizing its positive impact in commercial business value. In addition, prioritizing diversity as part of the corporate culture by instilling key behaviours in the company, measuring, and incentivizing positive outcomes. This process, like any transformation, will take time, effort and commitment, however it is critical for companies to drive this change.

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?

I believe there are many initiatives that have been already put in place, as well as champions for change who are working hard to drive change in the technology landscape. If I had a magic wand, the one thing I would change would be mindsets and unconscious bias. There are still some deep-rooted beliefs and misconceptions about the abilities of women in the tech industry, which can be a barrier to progress for businesses as well as technology development. I believe that in order to leverage emerging technologies to build sustainable, transformative solutions that can benefit the world, we need diverse teams of people involved.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?


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


Bridie Gaynor featured

Inspirational Woman: Bridie Gaynor | Competition Support Manager, VEX Robotics

Bridie Gaynor

Bridie Gaynor is the Competition Support Manager in the UK for VEX Robotics.

She is responsible for supporting VEX events and teams across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

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

My name is Bridie Gaynor, I’m 29 and I work for VEX Robotics as the Competition Support Manager in the UK. My role involves working closely with schools and students, running robotics competitions up and down the UK with the help of Event Partners. The aim of my work is to inspire and engage young students into STEM education pathways and STEM careers in the future. Our VEX IQ & VEX EDR platforms are designed to help students explore the possibilities of STEM through design, building and coding robots! Whether it’s in the curriculum or through our extracurricular VEX IQ Challenge and VEX Robotics Competition, it’s motivating to see students react so positively to VEX.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wanted to be a teacher once I’d finished college but became more interested in having a hands-on educational role upon completing my course. VEX has provided such a wonderful opportunity to couple both my passion for helping and educating students, as well as involving a practical approach through travelling Europe, Asia and the US to support resellers and schools run their competitions.

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

The biggest challenge for me when I started my journey with VEX was most definitely overcoming the programming aspect of the job. As the role required me to understand different elements of coding, I realised that with most things, the best way to learn is to throw yourself in at the deep end and be prepared to make mistakes – everyone does! Now I have a complete understanding of a multitude of programming software and I put this down to perseverance and commitment.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date has been to successfully run the first stand alone VEX UK National Finals event in 2018. This was made even more remarkable by the fact that more than half of the VEX IQ teams in attendance had more female robotics students than male students – smashing the current statistics surrounding women in STEM. The event was attended by over 1000 students and 120 teams from the around the UK, marking it as a huge success.

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

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my team and their belief in me to succeed in this role. I have overcome confidence and self-esteem issues, and this is down to their continued encouragement and support in me. Now I have full confidence in my abilities and leadership.

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

It’s so important to have the right attitude and not be afraid to explore new ways of doing things. We are now living in such exciting and interesting times to be involved in tech! Hard work, creativity and an open mind in this industry can take you a lot further than grades alone can. It’s also essential that you stay ahead of the curve by researching the latest tech trends and keeping on top of current affairs in the STEM industry.

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

I do believe there are still barriers, we need to change our perceptions of technology and STEM altogether to see real change in the industry. Initiatives like Girl Powered, which focuses on gender equality in robotics and STEM for students can change this. It’s about adopting the view that tech is for everyone, male or female, it doesn’t matter. Once we achieve this, barriers will be significantly reduced and we will begin to achieve our full potential as a society.

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

Tech organisations need to be more inclusive overall and provide equal opportunities to everyone. The most important thing that can be done is to ensure that no matter what gender, age etc., is that people are hired and promoted through businesses based purely on merit. This approach will change the landscape of the tech industry for the better.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

It’s important that we educate young people on the achievements and success women can have in the industry. I believe that by educating young females that STEM is for everyone, we can change the way the world views technology, engineering and science. It would be great to offer day trips or placement to female students at large tech organisations so they can see for themselves that the tech and wider STEM industry has so many different avenues to offer.

 What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I usually read up on the latest publications and online sites such as Wired, TechRadar and TechCrunch. The Register also has a lot of information on the newest emerging tech. Podcasts like This Week in Tech are also very enjoyable.


Leah Ujda featured

Inspirational Woman: Leah Ujda | Director of Research & Design, Widen

Leah UjdaLeah Ujda is Director of Research and Design at Widen Enterprises. She leads the User Experience and Service Design teams in providing actionable research insights that inform design vision and strategy throughout the company.

A librarian by training, she brings her curiosity about people and passion for sensemaking to all that she does.

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

I’m Leah Ujda, Director of Research and Design at Widen Enterprises, a marketing technology software company with headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin USA, and London, UK. I lead the User Experience and Service Design teams, both of which focus on bringing a human-centred, research-     driven approach to the software platform and accompanying service experience that Widen provides to its customers.

Prior to working at Widen, I was a Design Researcher at an innovation and strategic consulting firm. I worked with clients in a wide range of industries – ranging from medical devices, to financial services, to consumer good– to build empathy and understanding of user needs, and then generate insights and design recommendations based upon that knowledge. I’m academically trained as a      librarian; I earned a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin– Madison, in 2007. Early in my career I worked in the libraries at The Art Institute of Chicago, University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Centre, and the Wisconsin Centre for Education Research.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I tend to make plans and generate a vision in approximately five year blocks. This gives me a comfortable balance of goals to shoot for, and freedom to go after unexpected opportunities. One of the biggest changes in my career path came when I moved away from the academic librarian path       and took a risk on a job as a consultant doing research for a design firm. A friend asked if I would be interested in joining a growing team. She told me a bit about the work I would be doing, and after taking a bit of time to think about how to apply the skills and experience I had at that time in a new context, I decided to go for it. I figured I could always go back to being a librarian if it didn’t work out. However, that risk really paid off and helped me discover a type of work that I didn’t even know existed. I think my approach to career planning boils down to having a vision but be willing to crumple it up and create a new one if new information comes to light!

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

A lot of the work I’ve done over the last few years has been new to the organisation I’m working with. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to be a pioneer, but it can get exhausting to constantly explain what it is you and your team do and how you provide value to the organisation. Being a transformational leader is really inspiring to me, and I’m proud that it’s a type of leadership that I’m good at. But the flip-side of that inspiration is the occasional feeling that you’re Sisyphus, pushing that rock up a never-ending hill. And it’s hard to predict when that feeling will pop up. The challenge to overcome this when the feeling does rear its head, is to re-find the spark of inspiration and energy that comes from successful communication moments to the wider team. Seeing teams have light-     bulb moments and understanding the impact of human-centred design on products, experiences, and organisations keeps me going even in hard times.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m very proud of my influence on the way we explore problems from a user centred point of view at Widen. The UX team already existed when I joined the company, but the underlying philosophy of how we do the work of human centred design was still struggling to gain wide adoption and understanding. By the middle of this year, we’re on pace to expand the team by 50% since I started. We no longer work exclusively with product managers and engineers, but also with marketing and customer success. The emerging leaders on my team teach university courses on UX and are recognised for their contributions to the design community at large. We no longer find ourselves explaining what we do to sceptical internal audiences, but rather enjoying opportunities to share knowledge with enthusiastic colleagues.

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

Curiosity! Genuine interest in the experience of others and the world around me led me to a job in an art museum, and an advanced degree studying the way people organise and interact with information. Curiosity has led me to a career path rooted in continuous learning about the way people incorporate products and services into their lives, and it makes me a good listener. It makes me a thorough, patient, analyser of qualitative insights. And it keeps me open to evolution.

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

Keep a focus on the humans who are engaging with the technology you create. The way to make something special, memorable, and enticing is to make sure it’s well aligned with the needs of your users. Seek feedback early and often. Be generous with your time and expertise. Make sure you feel connected to what you’re doing in order to stay motivated and excited!

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

Yes, there are still barriers to success. A lot of the challenges I find myself dealing with are connected to unconscious biases; people don’t even realise that they’re bringing assumptions or ‘old baggage’ to a situation. Overcoming something that you don’t even realise that you’re doing is truly difficult! As the underrepresented person, it required energy to call out when it happens, and that level of energy is hard to maintain. What I expect from my male colleagues is effort to hear me when I tell them about my observations or experiences, and what I offer them in return is space to learn, grow, and move forward. People deserve credit for evolving the way they think and making different choices when they gain new knowledge. Forward together is the philosophy I’d like to see across all individuals working in technology embrace.

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

Emphasise diversity in recruiting to make sure you have a wide pool of candidates to evaluate for opportunities. This can help make sure women and other underrepresented groups have a chance to demonstrate that they’re the best fit for a job.

And offer flexible schedules and consider part time roles or job sharing to make the logistics of balancing work with all the other aspects of a person’s life, whatever those might be, possible.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

I would use my wand for two things. First, I would make sure that girls are encouraged to explore their interests in development and engineering early and often. They should feel as confident as boys that a career in technology is something they could achieve if they want to. Second, I would expand the concept of what working in tech means. It’s not just about writing lines of code. It’s also about understanding the market value of your company’s offering. It’s about designing an interface that makes sense to the people using it. It’s about providing support and guidance to the customers who have purchased the product. Technology without humanity is pointless.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Michelle Obama’s Podcast - Michelle Obama is one of my most admired role models. To me, she represents authenticity, grace, and strength. The guests she invites to have conversations on her podcast help tell the story of her life as an ambitious and successful woman who has overcome obstacle after obstacle. I appreciate the humour and passion for music that she brings to these conversations as well!

“Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown- My top takeaway from this book was the section on the paradoxes of leadership. To be an effective leader, you must be able to hold and balance tension between:

  • Letting chaos reign (building something) and reigning in chaos (scaling something)
  • Humility and resolve
  • Velocity and quality

Being a leader is hard because there are rarely black and white answers. Concepts that seem to be in conflict with one another can both be true. These insights have helped me worry less about making the “right” choice because there probably isn’t a “right” choice in most of the situations I’m dealing with. I need to be confident in the choice I make, and brave as I lead teams and colleagues into grey areas.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott- Both the book and the podcast of this title have helped me move beyond tendencies to sugar coat things or avoid difficult conversations. Building a team environment with trust as the foundation makes it easier to express when things aren’t going well and need improvement. The ideas that Kim Scott and her team share have helped me see that candour is a gift you can give someone. Clear communication that doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation seems hard at first, especially for a person like me who doesn’t want to seem “mean” or “bossy”. I’m much more comfortable giving constructive feedback and offering coaching thanks to this book.


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


Felicia WIlliams featured

Inspirational Woman: Felicia Williams | Director of Design & Research for Emerging Businesses, Twitter

Felicia WIlliamsFelicia recently joined Twitter as Director of Design & Research for Emerging Businesses, as well as the regional Design & Research leader for the UK.

 

The team and leadership at Twitter are incredible, smart and passionate about how they can grow their platform, and bring even better services and experiences to users. Her remit is to develop and scale products for small businesses and individuals looking to start their business.
Felicia is part of This is Engineering Day, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate the world-shaping engineering that exists all around us but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers who make this possible. As part of This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering has announced plans to create a new virtual museum named The Museum of Engineering Innovation, which can be accessed through QR Codes dotted around the country as well as by visiting Google Arts and Culture. To view the first collection of exhibits, which include Jonnie Peacock’s running blade, visit https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/museum-of-engineering-innovation. #BeTheDifference.

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

Well, first, I’m a woman. But you already knew that :) Digging in, I grew up in Oklahoma, in a small town (at the time), headed to upstate New York to attend Cornell University, where I played around with video games, oil painting, 3D animation and VR before nabbing my first job at MTV in NYC as a game designer and producer. I went on to work and/or live in some of the greatest and most diverse places in the world including Paris and Montreal as a Creative Director for Ubisoft, Tokyo as a pro gamer and manga artist, and Seattle as a hologram designer and patent holding mixed reality inventor. I would go on to London as a design leader, boosting teams and building zero to one products on a multitude of platforms including virtual reality, augmented reality and social media surfaces. Currently I am a Director at Twitter, leading teams and building products to support emerging and small businesses.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I certainly tried to! At about 12 years old, I knew for certain that I wanted to be a best-selling children's book novelist or possibly a best selling manga artist. I would have even taken being a famous painter as I loved to draw as much as I loved to write. I certainly didn't see the path that I've now traversed which has led me to a career in building and imagining amazing things using technology! Looking back now, I can see the desire to invent and the passion to build, which I expressed through small and large experiments at home (with many thanks to my father who is a scientist, and my mother who is a teacher). I wanted to make a big impact on the world as an adult, especially through the medium of storytelling, creativity and imagination. I'm happy to say that that's exactly what I get to do every day on the job; it's just a little different then what I imagined back then.

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

The biggest challenges I faced along the way were mostly related to my desire to blend in (or rather, to not stick out amongst my peers) when in actuality, there was no possible way for me to really do that being a woman and a woman of colour. Throughout my career, I have consistently found myself surrounded by people who do not look like me or come from my background. In every environment, there are the norms when it comes to culture and communication. Everything else is curiously strange at best or vehemently rejected at worst. Early in my career, after finding myself on the receiving end of multiple rebuffs and admonishments for being too much like myself (“It’s a cultural thing, Felicia, you just don’t quite fit in”), I worked hard to be like “everyone else”, taking special cues from the leaders whose success I wanted to emulate. Unfortunately, what I didn't realise was that I was going to stick out anyway! The exhaustive, never ending energy it took to “blend” would have been better utilised honing my strengths and shoring up the growth areas that would put me over the top. Today, I cherish the things that make me unique. It's something that I embrace and I encourage it in others.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I often answer this question by referencing the work that I did as one of the original product designers and design leaders on Microsoft Hololens, a holographic personal computer that has transformed the space of head-mounted displays, and helped usher in a new wave of VR, AR and mixed reality products. However, as I step back and look at my career holistically, the biggest achievement that I’ve gained as a leader and as a person, was breaking from a rigid, fixed, results only oriented leader to a more compassionate, flexible, resilient and adaptable leader. There is a style of doing business that places a strong value on top-down communication and top-down leadership. I found that while that certainly gets you part of the way, and can deliver passable results, it's impossible to achieve true greatness and indeed, carry the day, without placing trust and ownership in the hands of your team. As a leader, the greatest testament to achieving this, is when people are willing to leave their comfort zone and follow you, because they know, trust and respect you. I’ve had the good fortune of working with smart, capable people across multiple companies, and in many cases, people who have joined my team multiple times. I am grateful for their trust and grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow and learn through our shared experience.

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

I'm going to cheat and say two things; Resilience and passion. It's impossible, especially when we consider how difficult this past year has been, to understate how important passion is when it comes to my work. It is equally important to recognize that disruptions can and do happen and that things can go wildly sideways at a moment's notice. That can put a major dent in passion, and so growing and developing my capacity for resilience has been vital to my success. Alongside the work, I’ve been steadfast in taking needed time for healing, for reflection and for growth. It’s the only way I or any one can do their best work and be their best self.

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

My top tip is to find a community of people who have a passion for the technological space you're passionate about and get involved in the conversation! You're gonna want to start experimenting and building things, whether in software or simply drawing them up as a storyboard on a piece of paper (and you should). You should also get into the habit of collaborating and discussing your ideas with others; to stretch your thinking by getting fresh perspectives. You can do that as easily as messaging people that inspire you or reading amazing articles, tweets or threads from people who are working in spaces that bring you joy.

As technologists, we are inspired by the world around us, so it's important that you engage as soon as you can, even if it means just saying hi!

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

Unfortunately, there are many barriers for women in and outside of tech. And it all boils down to trust: can her team (up and down the org chart) trust her? Do they believe she is competent and has the skills to perform a job well. Unfortunately, women still find themselves measured by factors that have nothing to do with their core competencies and everything to do with just not looking or sounding the part. How often is a woman’s ethnicity used as an excuse for poor treatment because cultural bias has taught those in the majority that their style of communication, or their way of seeing the world is not equal to their own. These gender paradigms which regulate how others calculate the value of a woman has no place in a work environment. Period.

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

Companies can support women by making sure that the women in their company are fairly and accurately evaluated in accordance with their peers; that they are given ample opportunities to lead and contribute and set up for success with mentorship and guidance where needed; and to call out bias and remove it when it rears its head. They need to believe in women and trust women. And women need to believe and trust that their companies have their back.

There is currently an average of 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?

Immediately, I would make half of the world's CEO's who lead the largest and most impactful technology companies women. Leadership opportunities and the opportunities of women and people of color are directly affected by the leadership priorities set from the top. With women at the helm, more women will find open pathways and feel more supported, seen and celebrated in their workplace.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are too many to choose from, but if I had to pick a handful, I would definitely recommend classic like The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Make It Bigger by PAULA SCHER, Hidden Figures (the movie) and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, AfroTech - an incredible tech conference oriented for black and brown engineers and inventors, SXSW, any Ted conference, and finally lots and lots of Star Trek. Star Trek Discovery is pretty great :)


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