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


100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science’

Join Professor Sue Black OBE, President Obama’s tech tsar, Alan Turing’s nephew & a search engine pioneer in a new podcast series

100 Moments That Rocked Computer Science podcast

Join Professor Sue Black OBE, President Obama’s tech tsar, Alan Turing’s nephew & a search engine pioneer in a new podcast series from Durham University.

The series, ‘100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science’, examines some of the most important advances and developments that have shaped the world we live in.

Professors Sue Black OBE and Gordon Love, from Durham University’s Department of Computer Science, are joined by a host of special guests as they discuss everything from the birth of the internet search engine to the very first computer programme and the dawn of the information age.

Experts from the technology sector provide their views and expertise including Stemettes creator Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE sharing her passion for inclusivity in tech, mathematician, teacher and broadcaster Bobby Seagull, internet search engine pioneer Alan Emtage – and his battle with Netscape, and Professor Dame Wendy Hall, one of the world’s leading computer scientists – talking about her work with Tim Berners-Lee and the development of the world wide web.

Megan Smith, former Head of Google X and Chief Technology Officer to President Obama, and Sir Dermot Turing, nephew of Alan Turing - part of the British team that broke the Enigma code during the Second World War make up this incredible guest list for the first six part series.

LISTEN HERE


“Computer science is such an exciting field and one that affects everything around us today."

Professor Sue Black featueredSpeaking about the podcast, Professor Sue Black OBE said, “At Durham University we have innovated and adapted in so many ways to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our students, from virtual sessions with leading technology figures such as Dr Neil Hunt, former Chief Product Officer of Netflix and Durham graduate, to this new podcast series."

“Computer science is such an exciting field and one that affects everything around us today."

"We are delighted to share our knowledge and enthusiasm, and that of our prominent expert guests widely, and get all of our listeners celebrating the wonderful events and advances in computing that have helped transform our world today.”

The 100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science podcasts, featuring the voice of TV’s Ortis Deeley, will be released weekly and will be available through all major streaming services from 9 June. You can follow the podcast on Twitter (@100momentsCS) or by the hashtag #100moments.


Watch Professor Sue Black OBE in action at our 2019 WeAreTechWomen conference.

Our Hall of Fame Q&A panel was hosted by Ortis Deley, Host and Presenter of The Gadget Show and also features Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Founder, Stemettes; Dorothee Schobert-Sargent, Managing Director, Credit Suisse and Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, President, techUK.


Technology-community-feature

Overcoming bias in the tech industry

Technology-community-feature

Article provided by Emma Sayle, Founder and CEO Killing Kittens, Safedate and Sistr

It is a stark fact that the tech industry – like so many industries linked to science, technology, maths and engineering (STEM) – remain disproportionately represented by men.

Just 16 per cent of computer science undergraduates in the UK are women, which means there is an automatic gender bias on graduates reaching the big tech companies. This bias continues deep into the economy, with only one fifth of UK businesses currently run by women and only a third of all UK entrepreneurs are female.  Balancing the books on gender is one of the most important challenges facing our society today because without equal opportunities, we put creativity, growth and diversity at risk.

The lack of female business owners and entrepreneurs is not due to lack of talent or aptitude.  Sistr – an all-female dedicated networking site for women in business – is proof that there are plenty of exceptional and talented women who have launched careers and defined new businesses with phenomenal success.  The long-standing bias towards men in the tech industry makes the achievements of these female-led ventures even more remarkable, especially when you consider only one per cent of investment funding goes to women.

But times are changing and whereas women still are very much the minority in the tech and STEM world, more women than ever before are taking advantage of the digital economy and the fact that anyone can start a business from anywhere, anytime.  The traditional playing field has already changed beyond recognition and the old rules no longer apply, which can only mean more opportunities for women as they start to populate male-biased industries and deliver new business models.

Whilst it will take a long time for more equal representation in tech industry and STEM, there is now a wealth of talented and influential female-led communities that are committed to helping women access all areas of business, as well as launching their own ventures.  This support and inspiration is key to helping today’s business-women push past attitude and gender barriers to reach their full and rightful potential.  What is remarkable about these communities, like Sistr, is the number of qualified mentors who have willingly agreed to give up their time to talk to women and share their own experiences of female leadership in business, helping them to navigate the challenges and bias they face in their careers today.

Perhaps one of the most obvious bias that many women will face is that of parenthood, a bias that is prevalent not just in male-dominated sectors but from society as a whole.  Subconsciously or not, there is an assumption that younger, childless women will want to have children and will therefore stop working at some point; whereas women with children are doubted on their ability to manage their career successfully alongside their parenting role.  For older mothers who have decided they want to launch a business, there is an undercurrent of it being seen as little more than a hobby now that they have children and are not in full-time work.

Taking on a male-led industry requires grit and determination because the fact remains that women continue to be unfairly judged on many variables that have nothing to do with their competency and ability to lead a business.  Re-balancing the gender equation in tech is key to creating a work environment that celebrates and supports diversity, rather than making women feel they have to be more ‘male’ in order to succeed.  Women need to have more self-belief in their ability to succeed and this is where a supportive mentor and access to like-minded female-networks can make a powerful difference.

Ultimately, in order to really tackle gender disparity, we need to start from the grass roots up to help educate the next generation that gender is not a barrier to any industry.  There has to be a deliberate and conscious change in dialogue, from the earliest of ages in our homes and schools, to stem the flow of gender-bias reaching the workplace, because if a young woman starts to doubt if she has got what it takes to launch her own business, the damage has already been done.

Emma Sayle featuredAbout the author

Emma is the Founder of Sistr, a platform that enables professional businesswomen to network, offer advice and mentor each other.

Find out more at sistrapp.com. You can also sponsor Emma and the rest of the Sisterhood for their Channel Swim.


female data scientist, woman leading team

The world needs more data scientists

female data scientist, woman leading team

Dr Anya Rumyantseva, Senior Data Scientist at Hitachi Vantara

Data science is often referred to as a ‘dark art’.

As a data scientist myself, I don’t think the field is that mystifying. But for those outside of the profession, there is some lack of awareness of what a data scientist actually does, and what pursuing a career in the field entails.

This can be a real problem – because today, data makes the world go around.

Most companies, regardless of industry, are seeking new ways to leverage the vast amounts of data at their fingertips as a tool to drive efficiencies and transform their business model. But like any tool, data is only useful if it’s in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. It’s easy to forget that digital transformation is as much about people as it is about technology.

The talent deficit 

The UK has been struggling with a skills shortage for some time now. As digital transformation influences every sector, businesses are turning to experts who can help them harness their data. Companies are on the hunt for data engineers, machine learning engineers and data scientists. One study found that in the UK, the demand for people with specialist data skills has more than tripled over the past five years, while another projected the data scientist role will account for 28 per cent of all digital jobs by next year.

It’s a case of supply and demand – but unfortunately, many companies are encountering a sparse talent pool to recruit from. Some estimates even suggest that Europe needs around 346,000 more people trained in data science by 2020. That’s a big gap to fill – and it’s only going to get wider unless the industry takes action.

The data landscape is getting increasingly complex – how much data we’re generating, the types of data and how we’re storing it is changing. To put this in perspective: I’m working on a project right now that uses a petabyte of data. I’m able to work with this huge amount of data because today we have the infrastructure to store it, process it and apply machine learning models. Rewind to the 80s and it would have cost around $600 billion just to store that much data.

Now that we have the tools to work with such large data sets, we’re able to leverage data in exciting new ways. However, this also means we need more people capable of doing so. Considering that IDC forecasts a massive 163 zettabytes of data will be generated by businesses every year by 2025, it’s no wonder UK businesses are worried about a deficit in data specialists.

So, how do we mitigate an impending skills shortage? Well, a good place to start is by changing perceptions of what a data scientist actually is and what they do.

Demystifying the ‘dark arts’

I’ve been a data scientist in Hitachi Vantara’s Solution Engineering team for over two years now. When people ask me what I do, the answer may not be what they expect. My role is to understand the business challenges of our customers, consider potential analytical approaches to solving these challenges and prototype solutions by using advanced analytics, machine learning and deep learning techniques.

In short, I leverage data and mathematical techniques to solve business problems. It’s an exciting field to work in – and can have a significant real-world impact.

As an example, consider the UK rail system. It’s one of the busiest in the world, ferrying thousands of people from point A to B every single day. When you’re a passenger, you probably don’t think about the intricate and nuanced system that keeps your train running. That is, until something goes wrong. Like when a train door gets jammed and is prevented from leaving the station on time. One seemingly minor fault can have a huge knock-on effect further down the line, causing delays and disruption for thousands of passengers.

That’s one real-world problem that I’m trying to help to solve right now. Leveraging data collected from thousands of sensors on the trains themselves and working directly with rail engineers, as a data scientist on the project I bridge the gap between engineering and mathematics, uncovering insights that can drive efficiencies and reduce delays.

Diversity matters

Hopefully now you’ll think of a data scientist as more than just someone who sits behind a computer screen doing equations all day! But the tech sector needs to work hard to build a more inclusive environment where young people – regardless of their background, gender or race – consider data science as an attractive career option.

At Hitachi Vantara, we run a data science internship programme in our London office for talented and intellectually curious young people from diverse backgrounds. Our interns roll up their sleeves and get stuck into analytical projects. They are an important part of the team and their opinions matter. We challenge them to think creatively, asking them to leverage publicly available data to uncover insights into real-world problems – like using data from the Department of Transport to think up new ways to reduce carbon emissions from private and commercial vehicles in the UK. It’s not just a fun thought-experiment – it’s an accurate glimpse into the life of a data scientist.

Data science is a diverse, interesting and constantly evolving field – so it needs people who can think differently, bring new ideas and offer fresh perspectives. If we’re going to tackle the skills shortage, the industry must hold the door open for people from all walks of life.

Anya Rumyantseva, Senior Data Scientist, Hitachi VantaraAbout the author

Anya Rumyantseva is a Senior Data Scientist at Hitachi Vantara. Anya received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Southampton and BS/MS degree in Physics from Lomonosov Moscow State University. Anya is also a fellow of the Nippon Foundation (Japan). Her PhD thesis was focused on using IoT data obtained from marine robotic systems for improving our understanding of phytoplankton blooms and their impact on the global climate. At Hitachi Vantara, Anya is working on projects that use advanced analysis and machine learning techniques to improve business operations in the railway, manufacturing and other industries traditional for Hitachi group. 


The business of diversity: Building a better tech industry

Article by Maya Gershon, Chief Revenue Officer at Vade Secure

DiversityDiversity is a word you hear a lot in the tech business - but you don’t see enough of it.

I’ve spent my entire career striving to be the very best I can be, working hard and climbing the ladder whilst holding down a very demanding second full-time job: motherhood. I’m a huge believer in the positive power of diversity and unlocking the talents of people from every gender, ethnicity and background. But the IT industry needs to do better. How are we going to get to where we need to be?

As an engineer, business school MBA, researcher, developer, sales leader and public speaker, I want my story to inspire others to try. When advising others, it’s a good idea to set a good example. How can we lecture other industries about efficiency when we squander so much of our talent pool? We need to be more diverse and inclusive if we are to show others how to make the most of themselves. As an  example, in sales presentations, I have always found that stories create a much better impact than statistics. So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Military discipline

After university, my career started at Unit 8200, a top-secret cyber intelligence unit of the Israeli Army. Obviously, I can’t tell you exactly what I did during my time in the Army, but I can say this: it was more egalitarian than the IT industry. I was one of thousands of people who took an entry exam to get into this elite unit. I wasn’t chosen because I was a woman - I was selected on aptitude alone. The Israeli Army is very practical and makes the fullest use of its resources. Under those circumstances, it selects the best person for the job. The general in charge said we were doing a job that was given to adults in equivalent agencies in the rest of the world. There was gender parity because it was vital to get the best possible outcome from the human resources we had.

This points to an important truth. You don’t achieve diversity by fixing the game. You build it by opening up the playing field so anyone can compete. Women don’t need help to get to the top. They just need an opportunity to succeed. Closed doors and sealed networks are no longer acceptable in business. Neither are they likely to be profitable. Open up and you will soar. Close down and you will sink.

Early years

I believe the problems with diversity start early, particularly when it comes to encouraging women to take a job in the tech world. It’s a problem of education and expectation. I was lucky because I grew up with an older sister and two older brothers I was close to. That meant I could be who I wanted. I played with boys’ toys, learned about electronics and I liked building things. My parents encouraged me to develop my interests and I was not restricted to dolls and dressing in pink.

However, when I went to college, I was one of only five women among 250 men. Things have changed a little and Israel is more progressive than a lot of the world but the change is still painfully slow. I was shocked when I went to give a lecture at my son’s school. My talk, which was designed to inspire entrepreneurs, was entirely attended by boys. Meanwhile, the girls were all packed off to dancing class. That lack of expectation is the essence of the problem with our industry. If you can see it, you can be it. Girls should be given role models from the get-go, showing them why tech is a great industry for young women to join.

Education is a priority and it takes a generation to achieve change. To that end I am passionate about encouraging more young women to have the confidence to study technology. We need to instil that self-belief. Meanwhile, there is a more short-term fix. I would train more women to work in the IT industry, even if they have no technical foundations. There are many positions they could make their own in sales and pre-sales. If you take people that are smart and have an aptitude for learning they can thrive. Women can be very ambitious and effective without the ‘right’ background. They can build a bridgehead.

Supporting working mothers

It’s not easy to juggle children with a full-time career. At one stage in my career, I was working by day, studying for my MBA at night, reading to my children at bedtime and then attempting to stay awake while answering my customer’s queries. Meanwhile, my husband had been called up by the army to serve his country and there was footage of the war being beamed onto our televisions. I was so exhausted that one day, when my son fell over and started crying, I joined in. I phoned my sister and she gave me some stern but great advice: be strong and get help. That is the advice I would give to all working mothers. Don’t be afraid to pay for help or even use anything the state can offer you. It’s not easy to get to the top, so make sure you’re using every resource at your disposal. We can build a better tech industry - but we need to work together.

About the author

Maya Gershon featuredMaya Gershon is the CRO at Vade Secure, where she is taking the lead in efforts to grow the company's footprint in the U.S., UK and Japan. Maya has 25 years of experience in the technology sector, including time with Unit 8200 where she trained with the Israeli defence team and progressed to Staff Sergeant. Over the years, Maya has held a variety of engineering, sales and marketing roles at industry-leading organizations such as WeWork, Intel, Cisco, Amdocs, Keysight Technologies and more. Maya is a computer and electrical engineer with a strong technical background in R&D and product strategy and a Kellogg Business School graduate.


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Bruna Capozzoli featured

Inspirational Woman: Bruna Capozzoli | Head of Creative Content, On the Edge Conservation

Bruna Capozzoli

Bruna Capozzoli is Head of Creative Content at On the Edge Conservation, a digital not-for-profit working on the preservation of our natural world.

She is also a digital specialist who directs, produces and develops content that resonates with audiences in meaningful ways

Bruna has shifted her activities by engaging in purpose-driven projects committed to deliver positive impact on and off screens. She joined On The EDGE Conservation as Head of Creative Content and is the creator of the new On The EDGE YouTube series.

Bruna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ+ community. Her continuous interest and engagement in social and political issues resonate across all her professional activities.

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

I’ve been a digital content creator for over seven years and my day-to-day role is to find ways to engage young audiences on the online platforms where they hang out, such as YouTube.

With OTEC, I have created the world’s first virtual YouTubers for kids. Each character is a lesser-known endangered species who vlogs weekly about their life, just like a human blogger, but at the same time they engage kids about the importance of biodiversity and the protection of our natural world.

I’ve had a varied career – from starting as a theatre actor in Brazil where I was born and grew up, through writing and directing short films, until now managing and developing my own content series. Each role has been creative in its own particular way.

Within the digital kids and family arena I have worked with well-known brands such as Angry Birds, Talking Tom & Friends and Playmobil, as well as smaller IPs that were starting to build an online presence. My main responsibility was to translate each brand’s identity into engaging, original YouTube content.

In January last year, I decided to leave my position as Creative Director at the commercial production company CAKE / Popcorn Digital, to focus instead on helping purpose-driven projects and organisations.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For sure! As a foreigner entering the UK’s highly competitive creative industry, the challenges were huge.

Understanding what it is exactly you want to do in this sector is also tough – there are so many avenues to go down. I was fortunate enough to experiment and work in fields that really matter to me.

When I started out, the digital space was new and evolving. In each of my roles I learnt a new skill which opened up fresh opportunities.

Overall, I definitely plan my career, but this doesn’t mean that things always go the way I think it will. I knew the field I wanted to work in was very competitive and that I needed patience and hard work to constantly improve my craft.

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

The virtual influencer project I am currently working on at OTEC is probably one of the most challenging I have ever done because it really explores uncharted territories in digital and animation.

In creative content production you need to monitor and understand consumer trends, while also staying on top of the most cutting-edge technology and emerging digital platforms. It’s extremely challenging, but you have to be comfortable with not knowing everything and instead having the drive to learn.

Good communication and the confidence to ask questions are important skills to have.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Measuring career achievements is always about perspective. At the time, each little step was such a big accomplishment. From getting my first job in media, all the way to being responsible for an entire content series. It’s important to celebrate every phase.

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

I am very conscious that I had a privileged start to my career. My parents supported me during my studies in Brazil and the UK. Without their help and loving support, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

When my career started, instead of not understanding something and making mistakes, I’d always ask questions, do extensive research and learn more – never having the mindset that what I knew was enough.

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

For women specifically, I would say that it is important that we own our space, feel comfortable speaking up and add our point of view. Tech isn’t always a field that is particularly welcoming to women or designed to help us succeed, but that is changing.

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

I think that it would be fair to pose this question to the male counterpart instead and ask them to reflect on what they can do to eradicate the ‘Boys’ Club’ culture that can be quite pervasive in this sector.

It can be exhausting for women to take on the responsibility of educating men on this matter, on top of the ownership and challenges of the job itself.

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

It’s very important that the actual decision-makers - those in positions of power - are representative of different genders, ethnicity, social backgrounds, disabilities and sexual orientation.

Sometimes, the lack of representation in top positions is a deliberate choice, which perpetuates bias.

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 definitely make sexual harassment and discrimination vanish once and for all, so women could feel comfortable to exist at their fullest in the workplace. This would be an important first step to allow female professionals to achieve their complete potential.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There is an amazing book which really changed my perspective on the tech world and added so many new questions and points of view to my experience: Lean Out, edited by Elissa Shevinsky.

This book helped point out a lot of issues and systemic barriers which I was experiencing and keeping inside  me – almost as abstract feelings. I could only overcome them by identifying them and understanding that my experiences were shared by many others.

I also follow Lesbians who Tech, a community of LGBTQ women, non-binary and trans individuals working in the world of tech, they are a great resource.

Click here to see On the Edge Conservation’s Virtual YouTubers in action


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 


Karina Vazirova and Katia Lang featured

Inspirational Women: Karina Vazirova & Katia Lang | Co-founders, FemTech Lab

Karina Vazirova and Katia LangKarina Vazirova and Katia Lang are the co-founders of FemTech Lab Europe’s first independent accelerator that helps rising stars of FemTech take their products to market.

Katia is a serial entrepreneur; she’s founded four companies, and was named one of the Top 100 Women in Fintech in 2018 and 2019. On top of being a business strategist and an international expert in technology and business growth, she’s also a professional artist and graphic designer.

Karina is a product strategy expert and has led the development of over 30 digital products in the US, Australia, UK, and Europe. She is the founder of KV LABS, a UX design, AI and robotic automation agency. She is also an International Chess Master.

Together, we’ve launched FemTech Lab, the first independent femtech accelerator, headquartered in London. After speaking with both early-stage and accomplished founders, we saw that most companies in the femtech sector needed help with fundraising and market access, and that’s exactly what we want to do at FemTech Lab. This 12-week program is designed to provide tailored support to startups to help them reach their objectives in terms of funding, market entry, and product design. The program is supported by prominent advisors in healthcare, technology, law, business, and finance. It also includes a unique mental wellbeing module for founders.

Our program will run twice a year. Our program will run twice a year. We launched our first cohort in February and it’s been very exciting to see these projects bloom! We can’t wait for our next cohort to commence in the later half of this year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

We’re big believers in career diversity and spontaneity, as long as the chosen career is in line with your values. The idea that we need to stick to one type of career is, in our opinion, outdated.

With the current pace of change in the world - especially in terms of technological development - it is totally possible, even essential, to try out a number of different things! Just because you were in the same position for the last five years doesn't mean you can't make a u-turn to become a UX designer, a teacher, an AI specialist etc. It is said that it takes an average of  5 years to feel like you've advanced enough doing one thing. It’s important not to get stuck.. Try new things if you feel like it, no matter what your age is or which stage of your life you’re at. This is especially valid in the tech sector, where so many new jobs and training opportunities are available.

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

The COVID crisis has definitely been a challenge, especially as it took everyone by surprise. We used this time where everything came to a standstill to take a step back and reflect. The global pandemic disrupted both our professional and personal lives, but it gave us the opportunity to reevaluate where we were at.

Katia had always wanted to build an accelerator and was interested in mental health and longevity, while Karina was fascinated by new emerging trends around female empowerment and female healthcare. We decided to use our time proactively to turn this never-faced-before challenge into something productive that aligned with our current interests.

Women have been getting more vocal about reclaiming their health and bodies, and many shortfalls in female healthcare have come to light in the past years. More pressure has been put on companies to produce, promote and deliver female-centered solutions. Meanwhile, the pandemic acted as a sort of accelerator, with healthcare innovation and investment becoming more needed than ever. Building FemTech Lab therefore seemed very well-timed and necessary. We believe that femtech is going to be the new normal for any innovation in health and consumer product design in the near future.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Coming together and building FemTech Lab has definitely been a career highlight and is one of our proudest achievements.

We’re very happy to have now united more than 40 advisors from varied sectors to support the program. They mentored our first cohort of startups during the 12 weeks of the program. We feel exceptionally proud of our startups’ achievements, how they’ve grown and developed while being part of the FemTech Lab. Hoping to hear more and more success stories from our alumni!

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

As you can see, there’s two of us here. we’re not doing it on our own!

We firmly believe that success is determined by who you surround yourself with. FemTech Lab has been built according to this conviction; it’s a joint initiative, and we’ve brought a large network of partners and advisors on board to help us make it the best experience possible for everyone involved. We also added to our team early on, bringing in Tatiana, our Program Manager, and Terri, our Head of Community.

We hope to lead by example and make the Lab a reference in the field of femtech and in the tech sector. If we do, it will be thanks to all of these amazing people that helped make it come to life.

Whatever you’re aiming at - do not aim for it alone!

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

As we said, it’s easier together - so the best advice we can give is to build your circle. Do not sail on your own. Find partners, find a co-founder if you have a brilliant business idea. Don’t be intimidated and use all existing support networks, especially in your community. If you’re curious and proactive, you will be surrounded by the right people!

If you’re trying to launch a tech product and are new to the field, there are also a few tips that we can share.

Start by addressing the market’s needs, just because your friends think that your idea is groundbreaking doesn’t automatically mean that your product will be largely bought. Plus, look for funding early on. Make sure that what you’re introducing really is  innovative and, once you are certain of your product and who’s going to buy it, focus on execution, calmly and rationally. Do not jump into frantically hiring straight away.

Lastly, always believe in yourself and in what you’re doing! This will always make all the difference. And remember - we are always here to help!

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

Barriers do exist for women in tech. Women are largely underrepresented in the tech sector and have to face many hurdles on their path to success. There are enduring barriers coming from society, such as the gender pay gap, sexism and gender bias, which lead to a  lack of women in tech and startup teams. There are also barriers we build for ourselves; as a result of these exterior obstacles, women tend to hold back when contemplating a career in tech.

However, inclusive networks and companies do exist. This is what we love about the femtech sector; it’s open, welcoming and diverse - a great place to start! We need to provide more of these support networks for women so that they don’t shy away from taking a step into the tech world. Tech companies also need to show women they’re welcome, and investors must take a step forward in supporting women-led initiatives. On a broader scale, we also need to make sure that more is done as early as primary school to engage girls in studying STEM subjects and pursuing careers in tech.  In short, these barriers can be overcome by education, investment, and open-mindedness.

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

There is an incredible amount of potential out there. Our main piece of advice would be to hire women. Not just to tick your diversity box, but because you acknowledge their skills and abilities. Not just on your advisory board, but at every level, and especially in your management team. This is particularly important in the femtech sector. We've seen a lot of male founders and all-male teams in the femtech space. Coming from traditional industries, many think it's enough to have female advisors on the board to be able to create a female-focused solution. But we say it's not. As an all-male team, you will lack the understanding and the end-user perspective, and you're less likely to succeed.

As for investors - you have the power to support womens’ careers by investing in companies led by women and supporting women. When it comes to femtech, don’t be scared to get involved! It’s a growing and very dynamic sector tackling largely overlooked issues - so don’t be discouraged by not being able to relate! Rest assured, it is very relevant to the other half of the world’s population.

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?

Most industries are now "tech" industries. You don't need to be a nerd or a math genius to work in tech anymore. The variety of jobs available in this sector is huge, whether they’re creative, analytical, or business-focused. We think that a change in mentality is needed; we need to stop seeing the tech industry as a scary, unattainable sector for women. We need to shift the narrative and promote its accessibility. Girls need to be aware of it as early as possible; they must be taught that they can do anything they want, especially in sectors that are traditionally male-dominated. A lot is being done about this currently, but there's still a lack of understanding of the tech industry and its accessibility. We need to educate people about it, adults as well as children from primary school upwards, and tear down the walls that were built on wobbly foundations in the first place.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There’s a ton of inspirational content and people out there, which is why we’ve decided to launch a platform compiling it all: FemTech Live. On there, you’ll find the latest news, events, and innovations in femtech and healthtech, and more broadly in tech and science. You’ll also find out about the latest developments in the startup world when it comes to science and health.  It’s a great opportunity to educate yourself and find inspiration!

You can also check out our board of advisors and partners to get insights from a wide variety of crucial sectors, from medtech to marketing or finance.


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: Olivia Sweeney | Aroma Chemicals Creative, Lush

Olivia Sweeney

Olivia, from Reading, has always been interested in sustainability and wanted to work for a company passionate about the environment.

Working for Lush and sourcing and creating their chemicals in a sustainable way has given Olivia the power to make a difference. Olivia is now an Aroma Chemicals Creative Buyer, sourcing and creating the natural and synthetic chemicals for fragrances of Lush’s soaps, bath bombs, shampoo bars… and everything else! She still gets to travel abroad, across Europe, Brazil and the USA to find the best materials and ingredients.

One of Olivia's projects is figuring out the best way to process waste banana skins, not only getting the perfect banana smell, but in a sustainable and responsible way. She has helped to created a banana facial cleanser that will now be on shelves worldwide! She looks for ways to save energy and water in the making process while also making sure that the ingredients she works with are ethically sourced and cruelty free. For Olivia, chemical engineering means you can end up creating anything based on your own curiosity. Engineers are part of the modern world and help make dreams become reality with their problem-solving skills.

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

I am from Reading originally, and after changing school to study my A Levels in Double Maths, Chemistry, English Literature and Music, I attended Edinburgh University to study an integrated in masters in chemical engineering. I have always wanted to work and contribute to the green sector and been interested in science. These two streams came together during my studies from internships when I looked at membrane carbon capture, investigation into the possibility of a production site becoming energy neutrality and researching biofuels for my masters thesis.

Since graduating I have been working at Lush helping to maintain and improve ethical and environmental standards of the aroma chemicals we purchase.

Since 2017 I have been working to increase diversity in Engineering – I was selected to be part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s This is Engineering campaign, aimed at encouraging young people, from all backgrounds, to consider engineering careers, and since then have had a lot of great opportunities. I have spoken on Woman’s Hour, Radio 5 Live, spoken at UK Black Tech events, and Edinburgh and Nottingham University events, been part of a Make the Future event with Shell and managed an interactive workshop at New Scientist Live. I am hoping to continue this work with the support of the Royal Academy of Engineering and other bodies.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never really formally planned my career, I am just starting though, so that might come. University was just something that I was always going to do, it wasn’t really a choice. I knew I wanted to study something in the sciences and something practical to help build a career, and Chemical Engineering fitted with both that as well as my A Level subjects – it was not planned. Again, my first job was not a ‘plan’ - I needed a job after graduating, I have student loans! And after the drudgery of a few graduate scheme interviews I decided that wasn’t for me. I always wanted to do something in the field of sustainability, so looked for companies who were working in that field and found my current job. I think I should try and do a little more planning for my career going forward – I have been given so many opportunities in the last two years and I want to make the most of them.

I would love to be able to strike out on my own one day, and that takes planning!

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

I am relatively fresh into the working world, so haven’t faced too many challenges yet. I think the first hurdle was getting a job, which is always a hard, horrible, stressful time leading up to graduating. I overcame this by taking a little bit of a different approach. I decided not to be funnelled into a graduate scheme. I chose to look for companies that I agreed with and believed in and then find jobs from there, and I ended up with the role I have now.

I think the next challenge I am facing is wanting to run before I can walk. A lot of things come with time and experience, and those are two things that I am currently limited in. I am struggling with itchy feet, having been ‘stationary’ for two years. Throughout my life everything has been done in year chunks, this is first time I have been in the same place for two years, and without a plan dictated to me by academia – it is a funny feeling, and it is hard to know whether it is something to overcome or give in to!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I developed a banana ingredient from our waste that went into a globally launched facial oil.

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

That is hard to say! I think a passion for my work. I want to be part of building a regenerative future for all. It is an urgent, exciting goal that allows me to be creative and think like an engineer, but also engage with social issues.

I have got to meet people from all over the world who are doing much more amazing work than I could ever dream of so that drives me to keep pushing forward.

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

I think being a little bit stubborn is always a good thing. Hard work is always important, but I think that should be tempered with the pursuit of other passions.

Finding what you are passionate about and pursuing that is a great way to excel in a career, listening and learning from the world and your peers is important, but that doesn’t mean that they are right, or there is not a better way – having the confidence to challenge and build something new and your own is vital to keep progress diverse and representative.

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

I think there are still barriers, they are different for different groups of people and they have changed and moved in the last 20 years. Continued engagement is key to overcoming these. Building confidence and belief in younger generations is one method of attack, but also changing minds of establishments to allow the new wave to have a clear upward trajectory. Ultimately, we need to work to build a society where the childlike belief that anything is possible never disappears. At the moment we are focussed a lot on data and outreach, but that is not where we want to be in five years’ time.

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

I think at the moment a lot of companies are really working to get a diverse group of people in the door. But it is really important to provide effective support within a company to allow women to continue to grow, learn and reach whatever goals they have. If women come in and then leave disheartened this could do more harm than good for encouraging others into the field.

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?

I would create a better support system for women within the industry so they have a better sense of belonging, acceptance and are afforded the best opportunities to grow and develop in conjunction with there personal life to prevent the loss of great talent. And to provide a great image reflected back to younger generations to encourage yet more uptake.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Finding your community, support network, mentors and peers is really important for success.

This is Engineering Day (6th November) was launched by the Royal Academy of Engineering to raise awareness of what an engineer is and showcase the breadth of careers available in the profession. Visit www.thisisengineering.org.uk


Embracing inclusive leadership - three key principles

Article by Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President, Skillsoft

DiversityWith diverse companies more likely to win top talent, improve customer orientation and employee satisfaction, the benefits of building inclusive workplaces are endless.

But how do leaders embed inclusivity into their thinking and behaviour, and by extension, the thoughts, words and deeds of their organisation as a whole?

The challenges are significant, but leaders can set out their approach to embracing inclusive leadership by adopting three important principles: 1) leveraging power and privilege to enable inclusion, 2) becoming a thoughtful and effective ally for underrepresented groups and 3) embedding inclusive behaviours as a way of doing everyday business.

  • Understanding power and privilege is crucial to enabling inclusion

Put simply, power and privilege are the rights, benefits, and advantages exclusively granted to particular people. They manifest themselves in every workplace, and in a wider sense, are part of a much larger system that exists to protect the majority systems and power across society.

The challenge leaders often face in relation to power and privilege is that they are unaware of the role it plays in their thinking, behaviour and in the management processes they establish - both formally and in ‘unwritten ground rules’. Equally important can be the negative reaction of those with power and privilege to the personal impact of change, even in the pursuit of equality. It’s an issue perhaps best summed up by the widely used phrase: “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.

But acknowledging power and privilege are vital points on the journey to inclusive leadership, and getting there is about self-awareness, growth, and empowerment. It’s only when leaders recognise its existence and impact — in the many ways it manifests itself — can they leverage it to truly empower others who are underrepresented, and deconstruct embedded and divisive norms.

  • Allyship means taking positive action for underrepresented groups

Allyship is the practice of promoting social justice, inclusion, and human rights by members of an ‘ingroup’, to advance the interests of an oppressed or marginalised ‘outgroup’. Everyone has the ability to be an ally, as privilege is intersectional. For example, white women can be allies to people of colour, men can be allies to women, and cis people can be allies to members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Becoming an ally requires active, consistent, and determined commitment to a process of unlearning and reevaluating, during which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalised group. In practice, allyship requires those with power and privilege to engage at the systemic level to redefine policy. They must speak up about issues of inequality even when they feel uncomfortable, and then use their privilege to benefit underrepresented groups. And leaders should acknowledge that even though they might find change uncomfortable, the discussion is not about them - it’s about the holistic development that is part and parcel of building workplace equality and inclusion.

  • Enabling everyday inclusion is a permanent commitment

As we have seen, mindset and attitude play a central role in the emergence of inclusive leadership. Inclusion should not be addressed as a special interest or a side project - it needs to be embedded into every phase of the employee lifecycle: from recruitment to retirement, including training, rewards, and recognition. Only then can it become a ‘given’ - an automatic and natural part of working culture and interpersonal behaviour.

Those in leadership roles must set the tone for building an enduring and respected inclusive culture, and must drive the conversation. They can enable meaningful, everyday change by allocating adequate budget, personnel, and resources to increase inclusion and belonging across the organisation. Sponsoring an employee resource group (ERG) or Inclusion Council to proactively assess systemic policies and practices are proven ways to support the wider process.

Inclusive leadership requires genuine commitment and an open-minded approach that welcomes change. Lacklustre attempts face the very real risk of being judged as virtue signalling, and could justifiably be called out as such from people within the organisation or beyond. Instead, leaders must always have their eyes on the benefits, because building an open, honest and fair organisational culture where opportunity and reward don’t discriminate isn’t just good for every stakeholder, it’s also good for business.

About the author

Agata Nowakowska, SkillsoftAgata Nowakowska is Area Vice President at Skillsoft, where she leads a team of field based, enterprise-sales Regional Vice Presidents for UK, Benelux and DACH regions.  Before embarking on her 17 year career at Skillsoft, Nowakowska held leadership roles at SmartForce and Tulip Computers.


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The importance of female leadership within cybersecurity

cybersecurityI am Anna Chung, Principal Researcher at Unit 42, Palo Alto Networks’ global threat intelligence team.

For International Women’s Day, I am sharing my thoughts on the importance of women leadership and employment within cybersecurity through personal anecdotes, as well as advice  for other women interested in joining  the technology and cyber industries.

My day-to-day role at Unit 42 requires me to evaluate the global cyberthreat landscape and provide intelligence assessments to enable customers to make strategic decisions. I spend a lot of time as a threat hunter and dark web expert researching new malicious tools, tactics, and procedures discovered by the international security community. My job not only involves tracking the latest threats and attacks, but also understanding cybercriminals’ motivations and methods to then assist      organisations to be better protected and prepared. This will allow business leaders to prioritise their actions, time, and resources. My cybersecurity career spans across fraud in financial technology fields and network security – there is some crossover, but they are fundamentally different, the solutions and strategies are quite diverse.

It might seem very scientific and technical at first, but there is so much more to a career in cybersecurity. Many people associate it with mathematics, coding, and engineering. However, this can lead to the assumption that there are high entry requirements. Now I, for one, was awful at maths during high school and had once received 50 out of 100 in a national entrance exam but I was still able to pursue a career in information security.

Do not be afraid to challenge yourself and stereotypes - pick your own obstacles to overcome.  By doing so, we can move one step forward in making workplaces and society as a whole more inclusive and diverse.  At the same time, it is also so important  to engage with others, ask questions, learn, and celebrate diversity. Stay openminded and take the first step in making yourself part of the changes you want to see in the world.

When I offer advice to women who want to enter this industry or further their cybersecurity career, I  share my experiences, insights, and professional networks with them, so they are well equipped in navigating  through their career progression. They will know how to handle situations better and what  to do next to realise their dreams, goals, and to reach their desired  destination. There is no ‘right way’ to achieving your dreams. I recommend picking the challenges that interest you, rather than those that are imposed on you - remember to always take time out to be kind to yourself.

As a mentor, I see one of my main coaching goals as empowering young women to respect all elements of the cybersecurity industry to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses, because we all have our own attributes as individuals – that is what makes us unique.

To me, a career in cybersecurity develops appreciation for a niche combination of technical abuse and malicious human behaviours. It is both an exciting and demanding role as a very wide range of skills and knowledge are required, which are then harnessed for good purposes.

Anna ChungAbout the author

Anna Chung is a Principal Researcher at Unit 42, the global threat intelligence team at Palo Alto Networks.

 

 

 


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

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