Elena Rodriguez-Falcon featured

Inspirational Woman: Elena Rodriguez-Falcon | President & Chief Executive, NMITE

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is President and Chief Executive at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering.

Before that Elena was Professor of Engineering at Sheffield University whilst leading various strategic priorities. Elena has received numerous awards for her work on education and diversity and is Principal Fellow at the HEA and Fellow of the IET and CMI.

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

I'm originally from Monterrey a very industrial city in Mexico. I was one of the first members of my family to go to university and therefore I didn't have role models, only a distant relative who was a cardiologist. And so initially my inspiration or my aspiration was to be a doctor. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good with blood, so that didn't work out. So, when I was due to decide what degree to choose, I looked around and I thought, "What's going to get me a good job.?" So, given the fact that I come from an industrial city, I decided to study mechanical engineering.

That was the why. The how I actually fell in love with our profession and then with education was due to many other things including the fact that through my career I met some inspirational people, including people who have very severe disabilities, who helped me to understand the value of engineering. I came to the UK wanting to improve my training – both in business and engineering - and I found that the way I had learned in Mexico as an engineering student wasn't very different to the way people learned in this country.

I found myself with an opportunity to join the University of Sheffield where accidentally I became an educator finding finally my real vocation, my real passion. And so, brought these two things together: the potential of engineering and love for education.

But I also wanted to help and get my students to not just be students but also true engineers by the time they graduated.  I brought problem-based learning into the classroom. That worked very well and gave me a reputation in this area which then attracted the interest from NMITE, a project where we are aspiring to be a new provider of higher education that aims to deliver a transformational programme, one that allows engineers, aspiring engineers to be just that, engineers.

I joined as a Chief Academic Officer, but circumstances changed and I took the role of Chief Executive Officer last year (2018), which I've been doing now for more than a year and a half. It's a challenging role, but an extremely worthwhile project to work for.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, absolutely not! My career has been one happy accident after another. I don't know whether it is skill or luck but I have been able to spot opportunities and take them. I do not fear failure as much as other people do and that's possibly because I had a boss who helped me develop that confidence in taking risks.  So, no, I haven't planned my career. I have spotted opportunities and taken them.

But I think the one thing that I would say is that in order to progress in your career, planning is a good thing, and if I had done more, maybe I would have gone faster. But also what I have done, and I would advise anyone to do, is to actively seek mentors, people who can help you understand how to move through the ranks or your aspirations, who can champion you, who can coach you, who can maybe just support you when it's a bit hard. So, mentors all the way.

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

There was a point in my academic career where I, not being a traditional academic, realised that I wasn't going to be able to progress as much as other academics. When I realised that I had reached the ceiling in academia because of my different background.

There was a period between 2007 and 2012 where I was determined that my practitioner background and my sort of different background to the traditional academic was not going to stop me from becoming a full professor in academia. So, I set out to become a professor. And that's perhaps the only time that I planned what I had to do. I looked at the criteria. I realised that the criteria wasn't right for me and I worked with the university to develop criteria that helped individuals like myself with different backgrounds to be able to progress in our areas.

I overcame this by being really very clear about what I wanted to achieve,  bringing different stakeholders to the table, i.e. the human resources department, my heads of department, my mentors, all the people in the same situation as me and we put together the argument and a plan to overcome those challenges.  I was determined to not let failure affect me because I tried time and time again to get a promotion until I finally cracked it. We found the best way to change the system, to recognise educators who were specialists in education but not necessarily in research.

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

I would say determination, perseverance. I don't give up no matter how hard, how difficult, how painful, how tiring, how much work you need to do, how scary it is. I keep going. I think perseverance and resilience are some of the most important things in any aspect of life. But if I were to just bring it down to one thing, it would be perseverance.

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

My top tips would be the same for any individual, in technology or not. The first came from my parents. Work hard. Never treat anyone badly. Be kind to others, but never allow anyone to treat you badly.

The second from a previous boss.  Make mistakes, make as many as you can. Don't be afraid, just never make them again. Take risks.

And the third is something someone said to me just recently that the opportunity of a lifetime has to be taken during the lifetime of the opportunity.Alongside those, ask for help. It is super important to ask for help. Be grateful, be gracious. Get yourself a coach which can be very helpful in many ways. And ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen when you are trying to do something and trying to excel in your area of expertise?"

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 two types of barriers. There are the barriers that exist in processes and systems where there is still bias towards different groups and I think many organisations are working hard to remove those barriers. Some of this is process driven such as how you advertise for roles and what kind of criteria you have for promotion, how you take into account various types of care and responsibilities that individuals have, not just women.  I think there are also the unconscious biases of individuals and those are difficult to remove because they require training, they require self-awareness and having real processes and systems in place to call these out when they happen.

There are also barriers that we ourselves impose on our own careers. Namely not applying for promotion because you don't think you are ready yet, whilst our counterparts would apply for promotion even when they are far from being ready. Being brave, being courageous, having the determination to try, even if you think it's going to go wrong, and those are self-imposed. They are the ones that require us to be trained in being able to take risks, being able to learn from failure and being able to have those fierce conversations with our organisations, with our peers, and to know that that makes you a better professional rather than a bad person, for example.

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

I think it is important that we all, not just companies, educators, government, have a huge, huge, huge permanent campaign, to raise awareness about the power of engineering and technology. We have to be talking about, we have to show what technology can do to help people and what it can do to revert the problems that we have caused to the world ie Sustainability, climate change, all of those things is so important that we really, really get through to families, parents, young children, teachers and so on. So that when it comes to young people making choices about their lives and their careers, they have informed decision making about what they are going to do later on in life.

Success breeds success. The more young people and young women who do the right GCSEs, the right A levels, will mean more women in higher education. If 50% of the population are women, 50% of the engineers should be women, simple as that. The more women you have, the more inequality will be banished from our systems because we will have the right expertise in place to identify where the barriers are, what kind of systems need to be put in place to enable progress and success of everyone. And I think that that's going to make a big difference.

Even though I have lived in England for such a long time I still find the A level system peculiar.  It forces young individual to make decisions very, very early, decisions about whether to be an engineer or a medical doctor or whatever it is, have to be made far too early in our lives. Given the that things are changing and we are going to change careers five or six times in a lifetime or even more, I don’t think it’s reasonable to have a system that forces you to specialise so early on. NMITE's future entry requirements will support this more flexible approach - whereby GCSE (or equivalent) Maths and English at Grade 6 will be compulsory, but pigeon-holing young people according to specific A Level requirements will be avoided.

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?

Remove A levels and let people learn about the wider topics that are required for life. So, when they come to make a decision, they are wiser, older in terms of understanding of what a discipline entails. And ensure that education is more inclusive, that education is reflective of what happens in society and perhaps it's time to revolutionise what education is or what it reflects.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Getting to meet people, talking to people, learning from people is my preferred option. I actively engage with different mentors, with different colleagues. I love networking because that's where opportunities arise and you can spot them and take them and people can give you advice. And make sure you are memorable and that you communicate what you are doing.  Shout about what you have done and what you have achieved and don’t be embarrassed for doing it. Someone said to me once, "If you don't communicate it, it doesn't exist." And they were absolutely correct.  Whether you use podcasts or you go to conferences or you study from books or websites, it doesn't matter. But make sure that whatever you achieve, communicate it.

I wish everyone good luck and I’m always here to helpl

female data scientist, woman leading team

Women in tech: How to progress to the c-suite

female data scientist, woman leading teamAli Palmer, Partner and Head of the Consumer and Telecommunications Practice at Odgers Interim, offers 5 top tips for female tech leaders looking to secure a c-suite position 

In 2017, PwC published their Women in Tech report. It found only 5% of leadership positions in the UK technology industry were held by women – a statistic that is unlikely to have changed much in the past three years.

For female technology professionals in senior management positions, it can mean having no female peers to turn to for support, suffering from a lack of role models and reporting into all male leadership teams. In short, the woeful underrepresentation of fellow leaders means breaking into the c-suite will be an uphill battle.

It is however, far from being unachievable. With the right approach, c-suite positions can be attained. Here are 5 key practices that successful female technology leaders use to progress their careers:

1. Join professional networks

Building relationships with technology leaders and influencers is a key step in generating career opportunities and developing your own knowledge of what is a rapidly evolving industry. This could be anything from a technology forum to a CIO network. It’s a simple move that will not only build your profile within the industry but will also lead to you becoming recognised within your own organisation as someone who works at bringing external relationships into the business. Make the effort to maintain this network and continuously make a note of who you do and do not know; your next opportunity could be one conversation away.

2. Break into workplace networks

As a senior manager in the technology industry, you’ll be working alongside, and managing, some highly technical individuals. If you’re a non-technical manager, then you’ll need to bridge the technical/non-technical divide that can often exist between management and the front-line. It’s a lesson in resilience made that much more difficult by the gender divide you’re likely to come up against. However, in overcoming this obstacle you will be able to break into the informal groups around the business and get key individuals on your side. This is an important step; securing the respect of the right people will make your transition to the top that much easier.

3. Work with a mentor

A mentor or executive coach is a guiding hand; there to steer you in the right direction and help you progress to the next stage of your career. Their position affords them an objective and more accurate perception of the colleagues and contacts around you; a perception they will share with you. It means they can connect you with the right people and point out colleagues you need to build relationships with, who you shouldn’t build relationships with and who you might need to manage differently. If you’re struggling to find your voice or contribute in senior management meetings, then a mentor that works in the same company can be a critical boost of confidence. They will also have their own networks and personal contacts and as a result will open doors to other opportunities.

4. Become a female role model

If you’re a senior female figure in a technology company then it’s likely you’ll quickly become a role model for other women in the organisation, and possibly the wider industry. This should be embraced; by supporting your female colleagues you will build your own relationships and gain a better understanding of the business you’re working in. Whenever you meet someone new, you should be thinking, “who do I know that it would be good for you to know?” Helping others build connections in this way is one of the best methods of building your own network as people tend to remember those who have created an opportunity for them. What’s more, when it comes to the technology industry there can often be an environment of isolation for female employees which only increases at the senior leadership level. Many successful female leaders have overcome this by championing women in the workplace, leading female leadership programmes and creating female only career groups.

5. Have a voice at the table

Senior management meetings are where you want to be recognised by your peers for the quality of your ideas and your vision for the company. However, you might be one of the only women in the room, putting you at risk of being outspoken by your male counterparts. It’s a challenge that can be overcome with preparation, ensuring you come armed with an opinion for at least one of the points on the agenda and that you’ve done enough prior research to offer an intelligent contribution. You should also cultivate your allies carefully; build a relationship with a fellow senior manager who you know will ask for your opinion or provide support for an idea you have.

In an industry dominated by men, career progression for women is a journey littered with hurdles. However, by adopting these practices, the transition to the c-suite can be made that much more possible. Yet the future of women in technology depends on more than just individuals; it requires an industry-wide effort to address the gender imbalance by encouraging more women to work in technology, championing women in the workplace and supporting more females to take on senior leadership roles.

Ali PalmerAbout the author

Ali Palmer is a Partner and Head of the Consumer and Telecommunications Practice at Odgers Interim – the UK’s largest interim executive headhunting firm. Ali works with tech industry giants including Avanade, Smiths Detection, Colt Technology Services and Nominet UK to place senior leaders across the c-suite and senior management levels.

Ali previously worked in retail banking, specialising in fund and risk management. Prior to joining Odgers Interim, she was a Vice President of a large European Investment Bank. Ali is just as successful outside of the working environment, being the Chairman of her school’s Old Girls’ Society and has recently been appointed as a School Governor at St. Paul’s Boys School.

Roni Savage featured

Inspirational Woman: Roni Savage | Founder, Jomas Associates

Roni SavageRoni, is a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist and SiLC (Specialist in Land Condition).

A graduate of University of Portsmouth with a BEng(hons) in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics, she also holds a Masters’ (with distinction) in Environmental Management. She has worked on many major construction schemes, including the widening of the A406 and M25. She received the highly prestigious presidential invitation to Fellowship of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2019.

She was formerly Associate Director of one of the UK’s largest Engineering Firms.

In 2009, after gaining several years of industry experience, she established Jomas Associates, serving land developers across the UK, and achieving a turnover of £2m in 2017, with further plans for growth. Jomas undertake site investigations, engineering and environmental surveys on construction projects across the UK.

Under Roni’s stewardship, Jomas focus on providing their clients with high quality, high value, expedient, engineering solutions, with emphasis on delivery.

In 2017, Jomas was acknowledged as a high growth company by Goldman Sachs, and Roni took part in the 10kSB business programme run with University of Oxford, Said Business School.

A mother to three boys, Roni is extremely passionate about gender diversity and social mobility, volunteering her time to mentor and coach others.

Roni has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, with a passion for success and business growth. While acting as sole director of Jomas Associates, she simultaneously co-founded Turner Jomas, a multi-disciplinary civil engineering practice.

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

Jomas Associates undertake site investigations, land contamination and geotechnical engineering assessments, for construction projects across the UK.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not initially. When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor, but as I grew older, I realised I had a phobia for blood, but a love for mathematics, and solution finding, and that Engineering was a far better fit for me. I didn’t have a plan initially, but I always wanted to be better than I was yesterday.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Where do I start? I work in the construction industry that is pre-dominantly male dominated, where only 12% of the workforce is female. I am aware that I am challenging the status quo, and no two days are the same, but I thrive on breaking down barriers, and tackling challenges.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am extremely proud of the company that Jomas is today, the team I have working with me, our values and focus on customer satisfaction, as well as the growth we have enjoyed. Furthermore, I have been honoured with several awards in the last two years, including being named Black British Business Person of the Year 2018, Natwest Athena Inspirational Woman 2018, Women in Construction and Engineering Best Consultant 2019, Construction News – InspireMe Award 2019, amongst others. I also provided expert advice to Lord Sugar during the BBC’s 2019 The Apprentice finals.

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

My parents, my family. They have always believed in me and encouraged me to be the best version of myself.

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

I am a huge advocate of mentoring. Irrespective of where one is in their career, it is extremely important to have somebody else to act as a sounding board, advisor, coach, sponsor, or whatever capacity is necessary. I have been mentored, and also partake in several mentoring programmes, and find it very rewarding.

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

I would make all companies publish their gender parity procedures, from recruitment to internal promotion.

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

It doesn’t matter if no one else in the room looks like you – be the trend setter!

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

Further growth for Jomas

Women in Engineering: How Can We Make The Sector More Inclusive?

Women In EngineeringIn 2016, Engineering UK released its ‘State of the Nation’ report, which highlighted a severe recruitment crisis in the engineering sector.

More people are leaving than entering. And while the estimates vary by quite a large margin — from between 69,000 and 186,000 — what is certain is that the current flow of 46,000 apprentices and undergraduate students is nowhere near enough to fit the demand.

For some time, the UK has leaned heavily on human capital from Eastern Europe. But rising wages back home, and uncertainty over Brexit, has weakened this EU labour force.

In order to solve this crisis, it seems more important than ever for the UK to tap into its abundant pool of natural resources. I am of course talking about women, who actually outnumber men in the British Isles.

UK engineering is woefully failing the female workforce

Britain, historically and now, is a hugely successful country. In many instances, it has been the British who have introduced to the world radical and key new ideas in the name of ‘progress’. Which makes it all the more remarkable (and strange) that the UK lags behind so many other countries when it comes to equality in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

The UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering out of any European country at 11 per cent. Indeed, even many North African countries, such as Algeria and Tunisia, have greater gender parity, and far to the East, India and Malaysia also welcome more women into their ranks than the UK does.

What are the reasons for this disparity? Many theories have been proffered. Some blame the UK government’s previous arms-length relationships with business (which is now changing thanks to the requirement of gender-pay gap reporting); to the cultural differences abroad (for example, some scholars will argue that women are less likely to choose engineering when they have more personal freedoms).

The most popular cause of the problem, however, is thought to be a cultural one; and a particularly Anglo one. That includes the United States, too.

Is culture really the problem?

As mentioned above, as little as 11 per cent of the engineering workforce is female. That means 89 per cent of engineers are male — despite women making up 51 per cent of the population. This is a slight increase for women of 2 per cent over the past two years, which is almost statically slow. Currently, it is estimated that 14 per cent of women are taking STEM subjects at A-level or higher. So things are improving, but what’s been holding women back?

Sarah Peers of the Women’s Engineering Society thinks stereotyping, and an outdated, pro-masculine work structure may be to blame. According to Peers, this problem could be rectified men were given more time off for child-centric duties, such as child-rearing, and not just women. Traditionally, major roles, such as that of CEOs, have not been kind to expecting mothers, or newly mothers, who cannot be available twenty-four hours a day, unlike a male colleague — a disadvantage that, in recent times, has come to be identified as sort of mothering ‘penalty’.

Peers also thinks there is a disconnect between the well-intentioned campaigns from the HR and PR world, meaning their messages are not permeating into the company hierarchies above.

A manifest part of the culture could also lie in the way we broach the topic of engineering to our girls, of which we could look abroad for some positive solutions. For example, the president of Ashesi University in Ghana has achieved an almost 50-50 split in men and women on its computer science programme. One way the University did this was, it claimed, by reframing engineering to mean talking about problem-solving, and how engineering can help to improve the lives of others and the environment.

It has long been suspected that women have subtle innate differences that favour people, whereas men traditionally have favoured ‘things’. Talking about engineering as a way to help people, even by proxy, seems to resonate more with the minority sex.

Are we creating a welcome environment for women?

There is another issue that we may not be entirely comfortable talking about — that is, if men have essentially “shut the door” to female colleagues, either with subconscious biases, or plain old sexism.

It is not unusual for a female engineer to find herself almost alone in her world of work. There may never be a queue for the women’s toilet, and understandably, there is a lack of like-minded individuals to talk to.

This lack of a female presence can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, men might wonder, if there are almost no other women present — then what are these few women even doing here? This can conjure up prejudices or harmful stereotypes that can undervalue, undermine, and overlook female colleagues.

In fact, in one study, 40 per cent of female engineers thought they weren’t treated equally in the workplace. And 60 per cent said they thought male engineers got an easier ride and progressed further.

Perhaps more shockingly, 63 per cent said they had overheard or experienced sexism directed towards them. One engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, posted on Reddit that her male colleagues would inappropriately touch her, and even talk about her sexually when she was in the room.

Old habits die hard and are passed along from one generation to another, but they can be altered. Echoing Sarah Peers, another challenge would be to educate all engineers of the dangers of stereotyping, for a better and more understanding workplace.

Encouraging girls in the school

If one key discovery has been uncovered in the march for engineering gender-parity in recent years, it is that you have to inspire children young.

This goes for girls and boys, of course, but even from very early on, societal structures can send mixed messages about what girls can and cannot do, and what they are expected to do.

It all starts with reframing the study of engineering to that it encourages girls, too. Previously, local campaigns have targeted teenage girls at 16, or when they are doing their A-levels, but it needs to start much earlier. Some campaign groups are employing women engineer role models to give talks to children eight years of age. One organisation, Early Years Engineer, even talks to girls as young as three.

At the moment though, something needs to be done about the presentation of the sciences altogether, for all disciplines; for boys and girls. Just under 1 hour and 30 minutes of science is dedicated to scientific studies in primary school, which is, of course, woeful and needs to change immediately.

The benefits of gender parity in engineering, and the economy at large

To reiterate again how large the gender divide is, consider this shocking fact: there are more CEOs in corporate America named ‘James’ than there are women CEOs altogether.

If there is anyone still hesitant about opening up the engineering world to more women — even despite the current crisis in recruitment —  then perhaps they might want to consider the economic benefits.

It has been found that companies with women on the board perform 54 per cent better than without, which suggests that gender-parity does benefit from some diverse thinking in the upper echelons.

And a World Bank study in May 2018 reckoned that gender pay equality would enrich the global economy by £120 trillion. Currently, it is believed that the inequalities in gender pay, enrolment, and visibility, might even be sucking the UK of as much as 14 per cent of its wealth. A McKinsey report also found that, once women make up a third of a business’s board room members, a trickle-down effect warms the rest of the working culture to women — and there is a financial boost in this instance, too.

One final word…

We should not shy away from doing all that we can to make engineering a welcoming place for women. But we must also not ‘overcorrect’ and alienate men. That could be a ticking time-bomb for the future. We must ‘socially’ engineer a comfortable balance between the gender lines, and open up the sector for everyone, no matter their identity and background.

This article was written by Jayne Fielding of Weldwide, an architectural steel and structural engineering company based in London. 

diversity, boys club featured

Why the software sphere is crying out for diversity

diversity, boys club

Article provided by Daniela Aramu, Head of User Experience, Thomsons Online Benefits

Just 16.8 per cent of people working in the UK tech sector are women.

Addressing this imbalance should be a priority for businesses. And not just to reach gender parity – which is a worthy goal in and of itself – but because it’s a commercial imperative, particularly when it comes to software development.

Does it matter who develops tech?

End users’ own experiences will shape how they engage with software and technology. For this reason, all good technologists should place audience demands and preferences at the centre of their designs.

If customers are struggling to use a product or feel that its functionality isn’t up to scratch, they’ll stop using it and go elsewhere. And there’s so much choice available to consumers now that if they don’t like one option, there’ll be half a dozen more to try, with new products launching all the time.

So, unless software is really tailored to their needs, people will likely move on.

Having people on board who can relate to different users and understand how they think and operate will help these considerations to be weaved into the earliest stage of the development process.

For designers, empathy is second nature. The role is all about understanding user needs and working with developers to transform that idea into a real product with real code. For developers, empathy is not such a prerequisite, but it is an incredible advantage, as they will be more willing to change their code structure to reflect user mental models.

When considering the above, it becomes apparent why there’s such a dire need for greater gender diversity in tech – and particularly on the development side. Developers do not have that much exposure to the needs of users, nor are they really taught to empathise. Increasing gender diversity in teams is one of the simplest ways to ensure the needs of women are considered in the development process.

But is it just women?

Of course, gender diversity is not the only thing that makes software development stronger. Different backgrounds, experiences and specialities all contribute to a richer development process and better end-product.

For example, my background lies in psychology; something which I regularly apply to developing the user experience of Thomsons’ software. In fact, studying people’s behaviour and perception turned out to be the perfect fit for my job in tech.  And my team is full of people with a range of backgrounds – everything from interior designers to border control. Each one can bring new perspectives to the design process.

We’re all united by logical thinking and a real curiosity about human behaviour, but crucially, our experiences and backgrounds mean we approach problems in very different ways.

Building cohesion in a diverse team

Having a diverse team is fantastic for getting the job done – we have people from all over the world working together. But it’s really important to be conscious of people’s backgrounds when communicating with them. For example, the world of software often comes with its own, complex language and shorthand. When people are new to the field, or new to tech in its entirety, you must take the time to give proper explanations and technical descriptions.

Bringing people on board can therefore be a fairly time-intensive task, but it’s a small price to pay for the diverse ideas and perspectives you get in return.

Bringing the best on board

For those in charge of hiring new tech talent I would urge them to broaden their candidate criteria. Of course, they need to have the skills to get the job done. But beyond that, should what university you attended, or if you even attended one at all, be a deciding factor in shortlisting prospective new recruits? Should your background or prior work experience?

I would say, no. In fact, it’s not something I particularly consider when recruiting for my team. I’m more interested in how people problem-solve and what their drivers are in building a product. This naturally leads to a more diverse workforce, where women are better represented, and teams are much more representative of the people that will use their products.

Woman on Laptop

Building your future and the foundation of resilience

By Gemma Allen, Senior Cloud Security Solutions Architect at Barracuda Networks

Woman on LaptopMy first exposure to cybersecurity began when I attended a school workshop on touch typing.

This was of course a very different time, in which anything to do with the internet wasn’t considered as a viable career option and writing code in international databases or architecting modern data platforms in the cloud wasn’t an issue. Computers seemed so vast at the time, and I became intrigued by the internet when I was 13. What could I learn from this? How far does the internet reach? What new possibilities are there?

As it turns out, the internet opened up countless possibilities. My passion and curiosity for tech expanded, alongside my thirst for knowledge. This has allowed me to explore different career paths, from network engineering and IT consultancy through to my role today as a Senior Cloud Security Architect at Barracuda Networks.

What can I say about my experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? I think it’s certainly obvious that there is a large disparity between male and female roles in tech, and I think that giving a voice to this discrepancy is the first step.

From my perspective, we need to give serious thought to the potential for gender bias’ from a diversity quota viewpoint. The issues with this is that it has become a major contributor to the false narrative that women in technology have inferior technical competencies compared to men in the industry, due to the increasing need for organisations to fill a diverse workforce. This ‘positive’ discrimination can start to work against the women it's meant to empower. If people start hiring based upon gender quotas, then there is a risk of employing individuals who are unsuitable for a role. This is counterintuitive and threatens to make the hiring process a box ticking exercise which could ultimately reinforce the notion to co-workers and management that women are inferior. Not only can this could discourage the hiring of a suitability qualified female candidate in the future, but it can also widen the gender disparity in tech. So, how can women navigate this tricky landscape?

Let’s start with the discourse around women being criticised more for making mistakes. What women in tech should realise is that everyone makes mistakes. Learning from your network as well as having this support in place can, in fact, really help with your personal development. Take my first major screw up for example. I was working with a third party support engineer and made a programming error, resulting in a shutdown of the database and consequently, the systems went down during the working day. This taught me numerous valuable lessons including the importance of backing-up your data correctly, testing before implementing and learning to roll back, but also the importance of resilience in the face of unexpected difficulty.

This was something that I also experienced when it came to the increasing need to network using social media. For someone who isn’t active on social media, honing these skills was an important factor for me in order to gain a support network through mutual respect and word of mouth. Before the prevalence of social media ‘techies’ had relied on building our skills up before we were confident to network. Social media is a good tool for networking, but in following trends you might not be working to your best skills or discovering new ones. It is important to remember that in discovering new skills, mistakes will happen (such as wiping an entire database on your first job) and this is just a part of being human.

The cybersecurity field is vast and, with the increasing skills shortage, there is no time like the present to flex your knowledge or sharpen your expertise. Utilising free resources, such as Microsoft Learn and AWS Resource Hub, in conjunction with attending breakout workshops and tech conferences are all valuable to career progression and self-improvement. Don't let anyone stand in your way.

As I’ve mentioned before, your strongest allies in starting out in the tech world are your skillset and the internet. The great thing about modern technology is that you don't need a library to learn - there are plenty of free programmes available online and you can access great research for free.

You will be faced with knock-backs, but you have to live with yourself and your decisions at the end of the day. So, take the plunge - you never know where you might end up at the end of your journey.

women in tech, soft skills featured

How do we encourage more women into the tech industry?

women in tech, soft skillsFor an industry that prides itself on breaking boundaries, technology’s gender disparity is a contradiction which demands resolution. 

Research compiled by Datatech Analytics shows that only 27% of jobs in data and AI are held by women, and if you think this a symptom of historical gender differences in the uptake of STEM subjects and City jobs, think again: this figure is a 20-year low.

Tech needs to diversify: employers are currently underutilising 50% of the potential workforce while women are being excluded from well-paid, creative and rewarding jobs in an industry that will shape the future for generations to come. So, what are the key barriers to women in tech, and how can we overcome them?

Barriers to women in tech do not begin at recruitment: the national curriculum embeds tech within STEM subjects, so that from the age of four children start to view tech as an industry of hard science, analysis, and fortnightly ICT lessons. Restricting tech to STEM subjects narrows an industry defined by its growth potential: while logical and analytical skills are beneficial in tech, so are creative thinking and the ability to reason. The child who scored 100% on their French vocab test might one day become fluent in several coding languages. Children who do well in history might have a particular talent for trawling a wide range of sources to find solutions to problems. What about the budding artists who show great attention to detail, or the music students who memorise complex pieces with high accuracy? How can we nurture these skills which might one day be invaluable in a high-tech company? Conceptualising tech in an interdisciplinary way makes it more accessible to everyone. The education system would benefit children and the tech sector by re-addressing how tech can be integrated across the curriculum.

Changing how tech is taught in schools would go some way to opening it up as an industry, but it’s clear that the industry’s gender disparity problem won’t be solved from one side. A push for women in tech needs to be matched by a pull. Employers need to be proactive in hiring - and that starts with being conscious and well-versed in the barriers to women’s recruitment, and understanding why they exist. Generally speaking, EdTech is one of the better sectors for gender equality, and at Atom we are over 50% female - but this is unusual. Across the tech sector, only 17% of roles are filled by women and this is reflected in the predominance of men at the panels, events, and pitches I attend on a weekly basis. The figures at the highest level are even more extreme: only around 5% of senior leadership positions in tech companies are filled by women. To attract women into the industry this needs to be tackled - you can’t be what you can’t see. Managers have a responsibility to encourage engagement with this issue - whether sharing female-led tech events or connecting female leaders with their team.

My own experience in tech proves that the industry is more than ones and zeros, giant monitors and Silicon Valley, and that a non-STEM background does not exclude you from it. After graduating with a degree in English Literature, I moved to Malaysia to work in Arts and Education tuition. I was working full time as a private tutor when I met the Atom Learning co-founders, Alex and Jake, who told me about their idea for an AI-driven EdTech platform that they thought could help reduce inequalities in access to personalised education. Though I’ve always been interested in EdTech, a lot of my learning has been done on the job. I completed online coding courses which equipped me with the basic knowledge of the language of tech, enabling me to contribute to  conversations about the development of the Atom platform in a fuller way - benefitting myself, my team, and our product. I have learnt other valuable lessons without the help of online courses. In a startup, mindset is as important as skillset. Grow a thick skin to those who want to keep tech defined as a realm unknowable and inaccessible to anyone without a computer science degree. Technology is innovation, which, to the shock of some technologists I’ve worked with, is genderless.

As employers, as recruiters, as teachers, as students, as women and men in tech, developers and users of technology, we all have a role to play in diversifying the workforce that will develop the tools for our future. If you were surprised by the stats on women in tech in this article, others in your professional or social networks might be too. Share these stats - for collective action, everyone needs to be informed. If you teach, know anyone who teaches, or indeed is a student at primary or secondary school, think about whether you could reframe your conversations around tech and coding. A career in tech is within the reach of anyone interested in a fast-growth industry, and should be introduced to pupils as such. If you are a woman considering a career in tech - learn the skills, but remember, you will learn the most important lessons on the job - so go for it.

Within the industry, we need more women in senior leadership roles, and we must tackle this proactively, rather than simply pay lip service to the sentiment. This is a cause that all in the industry, whether for commercial or social reasons, should be interested in championing. Technology is set to become an even more dominant feature of our lives, and it is in the interests of all to ensure that the architects of that future represent those who will be impacted by it.

Flo SimpsonAbout the author

Flo Simpson is Head of Product for Atom Learning, a Key Stage 2 online teaching and learning platform. Atom Learning combines high-quality, teacher-made content with sophisticated technology to keep students on their individual, optimal learning paths. 
Flo graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in English Literature and is a former private tutor. Her role involves product design and development, content, and international expansion. She works closely with teachers and schools and manages a team of six.

Gita Singham-Willis featured

Inspirational Woman: Gita Singham-Willis | Co-Founder, Cadence Innova

Gita Singham-Willis PhotoGita Singham-Willis is one of three founders of Cadence Innova, a multi award winning digital and business transformation consultancy operating in the UK.

Cadence was at the forefront of digital transformation with Gita and the other founders working with Government to set up cutting edge innovations in digital;  Directgov (predecessor of GDS), NHS Choices and the first back office shared service in central Government providing the infrastructure for the new world of digital services.

Delivery of the UK Government’s first ever Gender Pay Gap (GPG), digital-by-default reporting service, is one of her career stand-out achievements. This award-winning project has propelled gender equality to levels where economic differences through pay, can be really tackled and make a difference to the lives of women from all backgrounds across the UK.

GPG is making a significant contribution towards understanding the prevalence, locations and causes of the gender pay gap in the UK, with multi-national and global companies in the UK addressing the pay gap divide annually.

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

As a female British Asian manufacturing engineer, travelling around the world, managing factory operations, I gained a solid foundation in understanding a wide variety of different cultures and approaches to work!  The age of ERP implementations led me into consulting and finally into building digital services and embedding digital culture. After a few moves across consulting firms I finally set up Cadence Innova with my business partners as a way of providing a different brand of consultancy with a different ethos – one of collaboration and diversity, nurturing skills and expertise, and working with our clients to have a beneficial impact on our society. As such we have grown our workforce from 3 to over 40 and have attracted many experienced female colleagues, into the industry, giving opportunities in the expansive digital world, whilst supporting modern and flexible ways of working.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did not plan my career at all.  As a ‘good’ girl of Sri-Lankan heritage, I did what was expected, to an extent, at the beginning. I focused on getting to Cambridge to do something in the sciences…. But after that it all became much more organic.  After a couple of years in engineering there, I realised that I hadn’t planned for anything past university… and didn’t really know what I should be doing with my life. I went into manufacturing in the 3rd year at college as it seemed to be a more practical application of science, and thus fell into manufacturing operations. After that it was more about taking opportunities as they came my way and jumping in! Starting my own business was never something I thought I would do growing up!

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

My career has always been about challenge. Being the only women in a manufacturing environment, and a woman of colour to boot, travelling from place to place, working in a foreign language environment, with just two weeks of being on an intensive course for each country, and no social network to fall into… It was very much about making it happen by myself and building inner strength and resilience.

In each country I had to get used to the way of life, the culture, find a social life, learn a language, and make a success of whatever job I was doing with little guidance. This experience made me realise that there was no reason to be afraid.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Starting Cadence. Creating and growing an organisation that is values driven and embraces a diverse culture, delivering projects which have a positive impact on society.... I am incredibly proud of our employee owners, and how they commit to our values.

Delivery of the UK Government’s first ever Gender Pay Gap (GPG), digital-by-default reporting service, is one of my career stand-out achievements. This award-winning project has propelled gender equality to levels where economic differences through pay, can be really tackled and make a difference to the lives of women from all backgrounds across the UK.

GPG is making a significant contribution towards understanding the prevalence, locations and causes of the gender pay gap in the UK, with multi-national and global companies in the UK addressing the pay gap divide annually.

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

There are a few things that helped me in my journey. Realising that success can be defined in different ways, and that success and happiness are not mutually exclusive, gave me the freedom to change career after 10 years in manufacturing. After this, working across multiple organisations led me to realise that the values I have and the work I wanted to do were not always in line with what I ended up doing. I wanted a more rounded approach to work, a team ethos built on support and collaboration, and a desire to do positive impactful work. And so, Cadence began.

And I do have to shout out to my business partners, colleagues and my husband – who are all very good at keeping me focussed on those things that really matter in life.

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

Keep learning and exploring. Challenge yourself and push the boundaries surrounding you. Don’t worry about taking a few wrong turns...

Understand if what you are doing resonates with your values and what you really love to do.

Find good support mechanisms – networks to help you, resources to help you learn, people to mentor and coach you

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

Yes – sadly many sectors are still male dominated and working within that environment is challenging. A level of resilience is necessary for individuals, along with a healthy use of mentors and coaches. Luckily there are more and more networks for women in technology to provide support. Companies need to really work hard to expand the talent pool when searching for resources. Positive attempts at integrating women in at an early stage and investing in keeping them interested and engaged are essential. This has been the ethos at Cadence where 57% of our employees are female and many are leading tech work in the central and local government sectors, as well as in private and health sectors too. The company supports all employees work life balance needs, from their child to adult care responsibility needs to working flexibly to meet everyday life situations.

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

I can speak of my own organisation to demonstrate this best... We at Cadence support women through a very flexible approach to work. We have employed many women returners who have family commitments which we understand and value, and some work part-time.  We provide challenge for our people, but they have the support of the whole organisation as this enables people who come from diverse backgrounds to find their feet quickly and start exploiting their strengths. We also are more concerned, when recruiting people, about their values, their fit with the organisation and their aptitude and attitude. Looking outside a ‘traditional consultancy profile’ has helped us grow and develop talent from within, enabling those who are interested in technology at all levels to learn.

Inspirational Woman: Mary Rinaldi | Co-Founder, Simone

Mary RinaldiWith a background in fintech and investment banking, Mary Rinaldi, based between London & NYC, is a brand and product advisor, helping organizations and individuals center their stories and products in user research, analysis and contextual thinking.

She’s worked at UBS, Man Investments and Connu and OppenheimerFunds. In addition, she co-founded Simone in 2018, a company that helps employees, especially women, reclaim their agency at work and build financial, emotional and structural power in their workplace. Having herself recovered from a professional crisis, Mary wanted to help other women going through the same workplace discrimination and realise the importance of a strong, personal and professional network. The Startup matches individuals in bad employment scenarios with professionals able to provide guidance or services. She also is a passionate female mentor, especially to young women in the tech sector and is a regular thought leader offering advice to professional women and those starting out in their careers.

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

I grew up in Portland, Oregon where you would have found me with my nose buried in a book at the top of the Sycamore tree in my family’s front yard, or shooting hoops with my siblings. My upbringing was a combination of self-determination and unbridled imagination. I studied literature and history at university and then found myself in the never-ending energy of New York City. I worked in law, then in product development at an investment firm, picked up and moved to London to work at an investment bank, then left finance and started exploring new directions, remotely advising my friend as she built her start-up. Eventually, I plunged into start-ups and building tech products full-time.

It’s only now, after three countries and multiple careers, that I finally see the vista that would occasionally peak out above my path in my twenties and thirties. In the past year I co-founded Simone, a company dedicated to helping employees build more equitable relationships with their employers, began consulting as a product management expert, started writing PSST, a newsletter about work, and kicked off mentoring at an incubator for people working at the intersection of art, design and technology, called NEW INC. I have a few other ventures in the works, and it finally feels like I have the right irons in the fire.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not at all! I knew a few things I really wanted out of life, and they orbited around knowledge and learning in the real world -- meeting different people, living in new cities and countries, and trying new things. I wanted to learn deeply about myself and the world. I began in earnest by moving to New York City with a few hundred dollars and a place to stay for a few months.

My first concern was getting my feet under me financially. With a good academic record, managerial experience, I thought I had a good chance at a well-paying job in an industry I was considering long-term. And I did, I took a good role for a new university graduate at a respected law firm. Not surprisingly for someone who grew up in a financially precarious household, I looked to professions like law and finance as my only options. But secretly I longed to work in creative fields. However, the frequent instability of the types of roles I wanted did not correspond with the constraint of needing to help support my family whilst carving out a career.

After two years working in law, I jumped into investment finance. I had a theory that if I knew more about financial markets, I would figure out how to amass capital, find the logic of the system, and quit worrying about financial security. In my five years of investment product work I learned there was no logic, just a lot of ladder rungs to climb, and golden handcuffs to strain against. It turned out, that wasn’t a payoff I wanted to live with.

So I began experimenting and found rewarding work by designing and building tech products with a team of talented people. I thrived creating a space for teams of designers and engineers to collaborate and work on experiments with people who wanted someone to solve a real problem they faced. With my investment and finance background, I naturally moved to fintech. There I worked hard to put people at the center of the work -- whether customer, partner, or teammate. And with Simone, empowering people to reclaim their agency and build a more equitable relationship with their employer, this work of putting people at the center, had space to grow and flourish. Today, Simone is going through changes, but the work I began there, I continue as a mentor and consultant.

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

Yes, definitely. I’ve had a winding career path, and along the way I’ve taken leaps of faith. Mid-career I moved to London for a role at an investment bank. However after a few weeks, I knew it was the wrong fit. I struggled with investment bank culture. It was daunting to accept that the company was the wrong place for me, and that perhaps I made the wrong move. Sometimes you make a decision that takes you on a path that just stops. I finally threw in the towel at a year. Overcoming that feeling of failure and setback took a lot of faith, and telling the story truthfully -- I experimented, took a big risk, and learned that the life of an investment banker or financier unfortunately, wasn’t for me. A hugely important learning, that if I’d refused to accept could have kept me from a career transformation -- from building investment products to building tech products.

A few years later, I was responsible for a complex redesign of the marketing stack for my company’s investment products. The chance to work across the tech stack and collaborate with a cohort of software engineering specialists -- back-end, services/ops and front-end etc. was really exciting, but not without its challenges. Despite the odds, we built a protocol for successful collaboration between multiple tech and operations teams; it was one of the most beautiful examples of cross-functional teamwork and leadership that I’ve experienced.

That lesson has never left me -- that designing a workspace, a project, or a collaboration around relationship-building marked by generosity, trust, and optimism will produce results beyond your expectations.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Taking back my voice after experiencing gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and then building a service to empower others to do the same. Helping other women reject tropes like being called “difficult,” “unlikable,” or “not technical enough;” combatting bogus PIPs (Performance Improvement Plan) because of rebuffed advances or sexual harassment experiences, and refusing a myriad of other tired reasons women get told for why they’re not “the right fit” has been the most rewarding work.

Often it only takes one voice to validate a person’s experience, help them reclaim their agency at work, and strike out on a new path from a place of strength. When we tap into this energy as we make work and life decisions, our communities become happier, stronger, and more generative. Who knows what kind of companies, projects and ideas this kind of personal power can engender?

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

I care that what I build is an expression of my principles, and I don’t spin to win. I believe that the means are just as important as the ends, maybe more important. In this context, experimentation  becomes an adventure and produces a positive pressure to succeed. When we are trying to heal our customers’ pain and also do no harm, our approach has to be thoughtful and precise.

Perhaps that seems counter-intuitive to entrepreneurship, but following the organizing principle of becoming, that we are all “on the way” and therefore how we make decisions, how we build and how we care for the customer drives both the result and the nature of the result, is really powerful.

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

Remember that technology is not new. Discovering and building new tech has been a function of human communities since the beginning of time. Keep this in mind as you vet companies and their business models, it will help you get to the heart of the matter -- does this company need to exist and can you articulate their value proposition? This exercise might require a little industry and market research, but it will be worth it.

Evaluate company culture. You’ve got to go beyond a company’s story and their glassdoor reviews and do your best to backchannel what it’s like to work there. The best sources are current employees and former employees. Read between the lines -- if a slew of people of color, LGBTQ people or women leave the company after a short period of time, take note. You want to take a position at a company that values you, because if they don’t, the work you’ll have to do to rebuild your confidence will outweigh anything else they offer.

Vet your would-be manager. The most important person to your career is your manager. So it’s essential to understand how your manager leads, if and how they support their direct reports and how different people who have reported to them have fared under their leadership. Ask questions that test personal authenticity, like what books they love, or how they recharge after a stressful day, or what they would do if they didn’t work in the tech industry -- an ability to answer these kinds of questions can signal that they’re the real deal.

Build your personal brand. You need to be able to tell the story of who you are -- what specific abilities or skills you always bring to the table, so that even when you’re not in the room, your value is undeniable. The skills and approach you’re known should be authentic to you, because external elements, like your manager, C-suite leadership, or your company’s goals can change, so only tailoring your story to them doesn’t work for you long-term. Learning how to build an authentic personal brand and communicate it well is one of the most important steps you can take to turbo-charge your career.

Join communities and professional groups outside your company. Today more than ever, it’s important to establish yourself not just at your current company, but across your industry or practice. It’s also necessary to find like-minded people, a crew you can learn from, develop friendships with and work on projects or side hustles together. In tough times, the support of other professionals, especially women in your field or practice, can help you bounce back quickly and cull key learnings from your experience.

Build relationships with people who inspire you. Inspiration can come in many forms; and building relationships with people who motivate you or who you respect in your workplace, industry, and in various practices is one of the most important ways you can invest in your future.

Remember your career is yours. It is important to make sure that while your company and manager are holding you accountable for meeting goals, you are also holding them accountable to you and your career. If you and your manager agree on a path to promotion, and when you hit milestones and goals, your company repeatedly fails to deliver on their promise, it might be time to consider a different way to achieve your personal career goals.

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

Yes, I do. I think there are barriers to success for women in every industry, although in tech the issue is particularly prominent. Until we overhaul structures that leave women out of full and equal participation in tech, those barriers will continue to block women from success.

However, that doesn’t mean building the kind of life and work experience women want is impossible or something to feel defeated about.

Your experience is your power, your story is your power, so do things you want to do, take on the big challenges, double-down on every opportunity to learn, and when you experience setbacks, figure out what outcome you want from your situation and make strategic decisions to get there. Most importantly, take the time to build relationships and care for people you admire and respect along the way. This cohort you’ll build of supporters, friends, once and future colleagues, employees and bosses is one of the richest communities you’ll find.

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

Companies should do all the things diversity and inclusion experts have suggested -- actively fill the top of the recruitment funnel in a truly representative way; ensure levelling is fair both in title and pay, interrogate any patterns that reinforce inequality during the recruitment process and build internal tools to reverse those patterns; and finally, ensure that at every level in the company women are equally represented, from junior professionals and senior managers to C-suite leaders. If there is a drop off at any level, research what is happening at the company and take decisive, strong action to educate people or to eradicate behavior, and remove those who resist equality from power. Companies that truly care about equality and representation will do this work.

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?

If I had to choose one thing to magically change, I would flip the entrepreneurship investment table on its head, and put investment capital in the hands of WOC and non-binary people. I think putting that power in the hands of those who have been systematically excluded from wealth creation or punished for it, who are kept from exercising their fundamental creativity to solve thorny problems, would dramatically change the nature of the tech industry -- what companies we found, what problems we tackle, and what tech we build or don’t build.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I love podcasts, some favorites: Design Matters with Debbie Millman is fantastic. Debbie is a consummate interviewer and her guests are endlessly interesting and different, they’re the outliers we can learn the most from. I also recommend Call Your Girlfriend, which is not specifically a tech podcast, but one of the hosts, Aminatou Sow,  is a tech consultant and business owner, and she often addresses how to meet the specific challenges of the tech industry. I love books even more than podcasts and there are some really good ones out there. John Maeda’s new book “How to Speak Machine: Laws of Design for the Digital Age” is a thoughtful guide to building good tech in the digital age. Another classic tech product book is “Inspired” by Marty Cagan; he and the SVPG team also write a thoughtful product blog. Both resources provide valuable maps to building truly great tech products. Check out Ellen Pao’s Project Include, a non-profit dedicated to giving everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech -- they are a rich resource for company and culture building best practices. Joining women-only tech communities like Elpha (US) and Ada’s List (UK) is a great way to build knowledge, meet other women in tech, and get support when you need it. Finally, I recommend reading “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” by Carlo Rovelli, it’s the single book I would give every person in the world to read. Understanding our real capacity for generosity, greatness, and change can transform the way we approach building a purposeful life and career.

How diversity has the power to unlock innovation

Dan Bladen, CEO and co-founder of Chargifi

DiversityDiversity is a superpower. Brands that have a diverse workforce foster creativity and become a melting pot of ideas.

Employees from different backgrounds, makes a company unique in its own skin.. But even beyond that, if diversity does not exist amongst those who are building our tomorrow, we will find ourselves with a world that does not resonate with the people living in it. What an unimaginable catastrophe that would be. This makes the notion that diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is just about brand reputation or – even more detrimentally – a compliance issue rather than a huge business asset, a monumental mistake.

The world is going through a dramatic technological change and for many businesses, that means breaking the glass ceiling and launching a ship into new waters, just as we are at Chargifi in the wireless charging industry. Whilst this is an exciting endeavour, it requires someone to dare to be the first, to challenge conventional ways and to step outside of a comfort zone to create new opportunities.

When we launched Chargifi in 2012, people were sceptical about wireless charging. Chartering in new territory requires a test and learn mindset and it’s this very way of thinking and learning that has been the critical foundation to our culture. Innovation requires someone to be brave, whether that means convincing a local neighbourhood cafe to prototype the trial of your product or service (as we did at Chargifi) or sparking conversations with some of the world’s biggest enterprises’. Courage in culture is the key to unlocking this brave nature.

There is no doubt leaders are the principal architects of an organisational culture that will stand as a firewall against exclusivity. A deeply embedded and established culture, one that is expressed in member self-image, expectations and guiding values – to the extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas and personal expression – is so vital to a thriving and progressive workforce.

Culture is not and should not be treated as a tick-box exercise. There is no one-size fits all model and it’s vital leaders appreciate their role in spearheading its evolution. Diversity has genuinely been a foundation of making the Chargifi brand and product what it is today. Even when we were a 10-strong team, we were a creative mix of nationalities from across the world, and for some, joining the team meant committing to a courageous relocation to the UK, a feat in itself. We have always chosen people who are the best at what they do and the best fit for the company. Needless to say, experience has taught us that those who do not recognise the need to adapt, fail to bring together a diverse team with different skills, ideas and experiences. In doing this, a company will ultimately fail to understand different viewpoints, make informed decisions and drive solutions.

Dan Bladen, CEO and co-founder of ChargifiAbout the author

Dan Bladen, CEO and co-founder of Chargifi

Chargifi was born as a result of Dan spending six months traveling around the world in late 2012. He realised that he made strategic decisions about the venues we visited because of the availability of power sockets, so he could recharge and reconnect with friends and family back home. If he had gone traveling in 2006, he would have a connection problem: WiFi wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. Now, the problem is power – simply staying charged.