Sharon Einstein featured

Inspirational Woman: Sharon Einstein | VP (EMEA) Robotic Automation & AI, NICE

 

Sharon EinsteinSharon Einstein is VP (EMEA) Robotic Automation and AI at NICE.

NICE is a billion-dollar technology company – headquartered in New York (office in Israel and London (Blackfriars)) that provides customer experience and employee engagement technology for the likes of BT, PayPal, Thomas Cook and Metro Bank.

Sharon joined NICE in 1997 as a system analyst and during her time at NICE has been on both sides of the fence: CIO – deciding on the technologies to grow and transform the business, and now VP EMEA Robotic Automation and AI – selling and implementing automation solutions to customers embarking on their digital transformation journeys.

Tell us about yourself, your background, your current role

I’m Sharon Einstein, VP EMEA Robotic Automation & AI at NICE. NICE provides customer experience and employee engagement technology for over 25,000 organisations in more than 150 countries, including over 85 of the Fortune 100 companies.

I joined NICE in 1997 in a temporary role as part of the MIS and IT team (Management Information System and Information Technology) and since then have worked in multiple roles. First, as a CIO, deciding on the technologies to grow and transform the business, and now leading our Robotic Automation and AI efforts in EMEA – selling and implementing automation solutions to customers embarking on their digital transformation journeys.

I’m from Israel, married and have two beautiful children – boy (9) and girl (7).

Do you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I was at university, I wanted to be a developer and planned a career in a R&D (research and development) industry. But just before I graduated, I got a temporary position at NICE in MIS & IT and haven’t looked back since.

When I started my career I set myself a clear goal – to become CIO – knowing the impact technology has in business. The path to getting to this point wasn’t mapped out for me – but I knew where I wanted to end up. It helped stoke the fire and drove me to be at the front end of technology development and implementation.

In came NICE. As a company known for its innovation, it led me to the role I have now. This leads me to my first bit of advice - to have a sense of where you want to go but to be flexible with your plans. A calculated risk and a willingness to seize a good opportunity, even if it’s unexpected, can pay large dividends.

Have you faced any challenges along the way, and if so have how you dealt with them?

Challenges make us all stronger. I know they certainly have for me. For me there are two buckets I place those challenges into. One is very much aligned with the business. The other is how I manage out-of-work hours. Fortunately, I have benefited from a strong support system in both of those areas. I have learned that risk is inherent in the DNA of an innovative organisation and to not take risks will inevitably lead to failure. It is also how I approach my personal life. You must be open to where the road leads and sometimes be willing get your hands dirty and chart your own path. My second bit of advice: be daring.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace what would it be?

Women should be able to be their natural selves without apology. We all should be our authentic selves in the workplace and be ok with that.  This goes for men and woman. If you are aggressive by nature, so be it. If you are sensitive and emotional, so be it. We should be able to express ourselves just as we are, instead of being concerned that we’ll validate a stereotype.

I have seen it time and time again – women try to be less ‘emotional’ and more aggressive because that’s what we perceive others expect of us. Early in my career, I found myself questioning how emotion impacted my brand. I thought somehow, if I showed my feelings, I would be seen as weak by other colleagues. But in my opinion, showing a bit of emotion in the workplace is not a bad thing at all. It makes you more human and relatable. And my goal is to create an environment for my team where everyone can be their authentic self - regardless of gender.

How would you encourage more young women and girls into a career in STEM?

First off, I will say loudly that a career in STEM is very rewarding. The fact that you’re a woman shouldn’t hold you back. If you like technology, mathematics and science, then I’d highly recommend a career in STEM. Some might see a glass ceiling but from my perspective I see a lab floor.

I was exposed to IT from a very young age and was able to spend time with many intelligent people who taught me how their systems worked and encouraged me to innovate. I went on to study computer science and then I got the temporary job at NICE that got me started on this journey. It’s been a great career for me and I’d love to see more women in the industry.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I find technology an inspiration. Being a change agent for our MIS and IT teams,  transforming them from back-office/cost-centre functions where their real value recognition fell short, to strong business enablers is one of those moments.

A second achievement is the transformation of our EMEA Services division. As VP of Services and leader of an amazingly talented team of innovators, we delivered a three-year profitable customer loyalty programme. This effort was driven through a shared objective to deploy value at every customer interaction. We exceeded profitability and customer satisfaction targets, resulting in significant impacts to the overall business results in EMEA.

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

The question I always find myself asking is what’s next. It’s important to always be future thinking. I expect my team to constantly uncover opportunities to influence how technology impacts the way we live and work. I have an expectation that we are each there for each other. I could not be prouder of our team. It is equally important that we constantly seek new talent to disrupt our norms. In that is the next big idea.

As a female and as an executive in an organisation like NICE, I feel a sense of responsibility to find ways to give back. We must spend time in our community, support causes we believe in and pave the way for the next generation. For me, personally, I look forward to what’s next and to mentoring the next woman or man who can step into my shoes.


Female Virtual assistant featured

More work needed to ease digital divide

transgender woman holding mobile phone

Article provided by Eleanor Bradley, COO, Nominet

How many ways have you engaged with digital technology so far today?

These interactions will likely be second nature and largely effortless for many of us, but there are 11.3 million adults in the UK without the basic digital skills to enjoy such accessibility to the digital world.

This isn’t a new issue nor conversation. The importance of training everyone in basic digital skills has long been recognised and impressive efforts are being made to this end. Unfortunately, there seems to be something of a productivity crisis. Despite all the funding, campaigns and initiatives of the past 12 months, only 450,000 people have been helped. That isn’t to diminish the success of helping – likely transforming the lives of – almost half a million people, but it barely scrapes the surface of 11 million. How do we make a bigger impact with the enthusiasm and support available?

Guidance comes annually from the Lloyds Digital Consumer Index 2018, the largest measure of financial and digital capability of people in the UK. It’s an insightful approach to assessing the digital divide and provides us with an accurate summary of the landscape so we can recognise the wins, appraise less successful activities and make informed adjustments to supercharge next year’s efforts. After this annual stocktake, effective plans can be made to create change and respond to the needs of those who need us.

It is becoming clear that we must to refine the way we target people to help them in a way that best suits the individual. One-size does not fit all, as the report shows us. We are making progress with those who actively seek training, but less well with those who struggle to access support in a way that suits their situation and needs.

For example, people with a disability are four times more likely to be offline despite the benefits it could give them. Many of these people may struggle to attend training sessions, or find that the tools and products trying to help them aren’t created in an accessible way. Refining the approach by being led by people with disabilities to find out what would work for them should increase uptake and chip away at the looming figure of 11 million.

The report also showed that those without any basic digital skills benefit from engagement in their own environment, while those looking for a refresh or some additional skills benefit from the outreach projects in spaces facilitated by campaigns and initiatives. Being agile and flexible in the approach to upskilling for the coming year is another way in which we can better serve those in need. Content and context are the cornerstones of meaningful change.

Another key takeaway is the importance of collaboration across public and private sectors. We shouldn’t assume that those in work automatically have basic digital skills: 10% of the workforce lack basic digital skills and only 14% of those using the internet at work have improved digitally through their work in a year. Organisations have a role to play in ensuring they recognise and prioritise digital skills training for their own staff, and more effort in this area is a win-win for all. Investment in digital skills training will bolster performance and productivity for the organisation and allow the workforce to gain key skills and an incentive to stay where they feel valued.

Organisations also need to be aware of how much their customers value privacy and security – we must all take the protection of customers’ data and the clarity of communication seriously. The report found that 80% of people have concerns about online safety, with identity theft a particular concern. With so many data breaches and misuse of personal information stories being splashed across the media, customers live in a climate of fear. They need trusted organisations to meet their concerns and reassure through process and communication.

These are just some of the conclusions to draw from the recent report and will serve as clear guidance for all those committed to helping the population feel included in the digital transformation. At Nominet, we fervently believe that inclusion is one of the three most crucial areas if we are to deliver a vibrant digital future that benefits all. As a company we will continue to refine our outreach and digital skills training programmes to meet those in need, based on the learning from this new index. If we focus on optimal content and context, we can help make the coming year one of real progress and ensure more people begin to find interaction with technology is second nature.

About the author

Eleanor Bradley heads up Nominet’s business continuity and risk management work - key areas of focus in a company operating at the heart of the UK Internet.


Sue McLure featured

Inspirational Woman: Sue MacLure | Head of Data at Psona Data, a Communisis sister agency

 

Sue McLure

Sue Maclure is Head of Data at Psona Data, a Communisis sister agency.

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

I have spent my entire career in data, sometimes pure-play data agencies, sometimes as part of a creative agency, sometimes on client side.

I have held senior positions in teams that have, on occasion, been very male dominated but just as often female dominated. If I had to determine which drove that split I would have to say that the larger and more corporate the business the more male dominated it tended to be. But I don’t judge an organisation by its gender divide at the top, the overall business culture is the main driver and I believe that women are just as capable of buying into a specific culture as men are – be that one you admire or not.

In my current role I have a team of 25 split across two sites – Leeds and London – not spending lots of time together can be challenging but we speak often and get together as a whole team quarterly. We’re going through some change at the minute with new starters and looking for new propositions to take to market – it’s exciting times and they’re a great bunch.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at the beginning. The only times I have written five year plans is when I’ve been unhappy in a position and knew I wanted or needed a change.  That has happened twice in my 25 year career, and the first time resulted in me moving cities and jobs within the first 12 months.  I’m four years into my current five year plan, this one resulted in me first going part time (although I’ve backed off from that more latterly) and moving back to supplier side. I refer to it occasionally to see if I’m heading in the right direction or getting side-tracked. I suspect the five years will come and go without me noticing if I’m content in what I’m doing.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Yes. I got promoted beyond my capability – something which I’m sure happens to us all at some point if we’re always pushing for change and ‘something new and interesting’. How did I deal with it? Not well at the beginning to be honest – none of us like to admit we’re out of our depth. But I did seek and receive external support and now, having made some changes (not all of my choosing at the time!) I realise just how much I learned from that experience.

Looking back I probably wasn’t quite as bad as I thought as now feel I could be great at that original job. Sometimes it’s just about timing and the surrounding factors – that was probably one of the most painful professional periods of my career, but without a doubt the one I apply the most learnings from now, at a senior level.  The most important one being that you need to make the tough decisions and act on them – no matter how unpleasant it might feel at the time, it will be work out best in the long run. I’m also a firm believer that however you feel about yourself at any point in time, as long as you stick to doing the thing you enjoy it’ll all come good in the end. Don’t chase the money – that’ll come if you chase doing the thing you love.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Remove the need to talk specifically about “women in the workplace” as if they are in some way a completely different species, especially as we don’t refer to “men in the workplace”.  Why can’t we all just say “people in the workplace” and apply the same rules to both? I am fortunate in the sense that I don’t have special professional needs because I’m a woman, so I expect to be treated and rewarded in exactly the same way as everyone else.

I know it can be difficult for some, but I don’t buy the “what about those with children” question, as men are just as capable of caring for children as women are (in fact it should be encouraged far more) – it’s a family choice and there should be equal rights for men in that space as women. For me it’s about equality, not dominance of one gender over another.

What I would change for women themselves is to take a leaf out of the male modus operandi. We hear stories about women who won’t apply for a role if they are only confident in 8 out of 10 specifications on a job description, whereas a male counterpart would look at the same 10 and if he can see 3 he’s confident of, he’ll decide that he can wing it on the rest. I think us women could learn a lesson or two from that self-assurance!

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

I have only formally mentored once and I found it incredibly valuable and enjoyable – both in terms of my own learning and building personal relationships.

Informally though I have several people that I think of as mentors and mentees, depending on where we’re at in the relative stages of our careers. Over time, some of them switch between the roles of mentor and mentee and that’s great.  I’m a big supporter of talking things through to find the right solutions for you.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In my work life my biggest achievement is that I believe I’m seen as an equal in my male peer group as opposed to the girl they invited along to keep the numbers up. I’ve worked hard to be seen as a valued member of staff and my team, and I will continue to work on that throughout my career. I hope it will always be as rewarding as it is now!

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

My organisation is going through a period of change as everyone else in the sector is – how to use data, where to use it, what is good use, what is bad use, how do you keep up with the Joneses whilst not copying everyone else but innovating in your data use, and how do you sell that to clients whilst keeping your own team (that you’re asking for increasing amounts of effort from) happy. Defining our direction and attempting to take the team with me is fun!

My mantra my whole life has been ‘achieve something every day’ and every morning I ask myself what today’s achievement will be – I never want to lose that sense of purpose and being master of my own destiny. I should say, a day’s achievement task for me can be “You’re tired and stressed, so today you will relax and do something for yourself and your family so that you feel ready to take on the world tomorrow” – life is not all about career progress!


Young-girls-learning-STEM-featured

How to encourage more women to get into STEM

young girls learning STEM
Image provided by Shutterstock

Article provided by Laura Hutton, co-founder of Quantexa

When I talk to young girls about their future careers, they’re all too often held back by the same belief that a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) isn’t suitable for them because of one reason: they’re female.

There are several factors that could contribute to this lack of confidence in pursuing a job in STEM; maybe it’s because they believe it’s too male dominated or that they don’t believe they are equipped with the right skills? Either isn’t good enough. Girls shouldn’t be prevented from reaching their full potential due to a lack of solid careers advice or a misunderstanding of their own capabilities, and it is our responsibility to give them this guidance.

Currently, just 24 per cent of the overall STEM workforce in the UK is female and it’s time that parents, schools, businesses, and professionals play a larger role in encouraging more young women in to these specialities every step of the way.

Parents

The gender divide begins at birth. When looking at toys and clothes targeted to young boys and girls the narrative remains the same; girls are pink and playful whereas boys are illustrated as educated and heroic. One major clothing brand launched advertising campaigns to girls as ‘the social butterfly’ and to boys ‘the little scholar’ – it’s no surprise that girls feel a sense of inadequacy when it comes to STEM professions.

Parents should be able to buy toys that equally target boys and girls to inspire their young children from the start. Mattel Inc. are leading the way in this mission after recently launching a ‘Robotics Engineer Barbie’ to dissipate young girls’ perceptions of the engineer being a predominantly a male profession.

In late 2017, illustrator Adam Hargreaves revealed the 36th Little Miss character, Little Miss Inventor, created as a ‘positive role model’ for girls. The blurb of the book describes this ‘intelligent, ingenious and inventive’ addition as a girl with a brain ‘full of ideas, which she turns into extraordinary inventions in a shed at the bottom of her garden.’ As a result of eliminating these rigid definitions of job roles, young girls and boys alike will aspire to STEM roles before they even get to school.

Schools

At school, more girls need to be encouraged by their teachers to take subjects like maths and science. A very clear chain of cause and effect can be traced back to cultural perceptions around these subjects, instilled in both men and women at a young age. From day one, teachers need to eliminate the ingrained stereotype of the male scientist, data scientist or engineer. Founder of STEM Women, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, reiterates the responsibility schools have in encouraging the equality of STEM professions, stating that interest drops from girls at the age of 16 because they aren’t ‘able to picture themselves as a scientist.’ In fact, just 21 per cent of all physics A-level students in 2016 were women.

Demonstrating to young girls the value they have in the sector and that they are equally suitable for any job they desire and work hard for, is imperative at this young age.

Businesses

A greater level of visibility in to the potential job roles that young women could pursue in the future is incredibly important. As a teenager and a mathematician at university, the options always seemed rather limited to me, whereas in reality, there are a huge number of fascinating jobs available.

For businesses, hosting work experience schemes for young girls is a brilliant way to get girls to learn first-hand how exciting it can be working in STEM and reassure them of the skills they possess. At Quantexa, we want to inspire girls to get into I.T. by offering girls-specific work experience, giving them the opportunity to put their passions into practice.

Apprenticeships also must play a more significant role in encouraging equity in STEM professions. Yet, male students outnumber women by 25 to one on engineering apprenticeships, and in construction there are 56 men to every woman.

Become a role model

Mentoring is essential for career development, regardless of whether you’re male or female, or what sector you’re in; speaking to someone who has gone through the ranks will always provide you with sound advice. Male and female experiences in the workplace are fundamentally different so becoming a mentor for young women is extremely important to help inspire young girls into STEM. I didn’t have a female mentor to guide me so I’m really passionate about encouraging women to become mentors to help guide young, talented girls into a career they truly want to be in. The young women at Quantexa have walked different and diverse paths to get to where they are today, not all by traditional routes. In turn, I hope young girls can be inspired by and look up to these successful young women as role models and see that it is possible for women to be successful in technology and leaders in innovation.

The gap is closing between male and female representation in STEM industries but it’s clear there is still much further to go. Women are consistently choosing not to pursue a career in these fields despite no evidence of biological differences in aptitude. There is no simple resolution to this deeply rooted divide that exists in our society, but equality will eventually be achieved by helping girls at each stage of their development understand that a career in STEM is not only possible but a fascinating career path well within their capabilities. Education, businesses and individuals must work together to accomplish an equitable gender distribution in STEM.

About the author

Laura Hutton is Co-Founder and Head of Fraud and Financial Markets at Quantexa - the start-up solving financial crime and terrorism through data analytics, AI and machine learning.

Laura has over 12 years’ experience using data and network analysis to tackle fraud and financial crime. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, Laura pioneered and implemented the technology subsequently put in place by Société Générale to prevent similar from occurring again. She has since headed up teams at Detica and SAS, before co-founding Quantexa in 2016 where she uses sophisticated networking technology to help their clients such as HSBC, and Shell.

In an industry where only one in seven of women are executive committee members & only 17 per cent of start-ups were founded by women, Laura is passionate about inspiring girls to work in and establish companies like Quantexa. Laura runs work experience programs for 16/17 year old girls to encourage them to get into STEM subjects.


Women in Fintech

Go where it's hot: Advice to women looking to advance their career in Fintech

fintech
Image via Shutterstock

By Mandy Killam, Group President, ACI On Premise at ACI Worldwide

One of the most valuable pieces of career advice I ever received was from one of my former bosses who once told me: Go where its hot! 

And by that he didn’t mean relocating to sunny Florida but taking on roles in demanding areas that require change. And he was right: Those environments offer women fabulous opportunities to accelerate their professional and personal growth.

I followed that advice and arrived in payments 23 years ago, by way of engineering. When I joined the industry, “payments” weren’t nearly as cool a topic as today, and the technology environment was reactive and cumbersome. But I could see the great potential for change.

Today I sit on the executive board of ACI Worldwide, a global Nasdaq listed payments software company which operates in 80 countries. I manage over USD 600 million in annual revenue, and look after more than 700 talented employees based around the world.  Together we support over 450 customers in the banking and merchant retail sector with our range of Universal Payment solutions.

The payments and fintech industry is in the middle of a major disruption. Global payments revenues are growing rapidly and the payments ecosystem is going through tremendous changes. New players are challenging old ones, old ways of doing business are being replaced by new ones. We at ACI Worldwide are part of this disruptive movement. The industry is inclusive, diverse and global, and I see opportunities for women to advance all around me!

My advice to someone just starting their career in payments and fintech? Keep moving!  It can be a tough industry, especially if you are working in an environment at the start of a transformational journey.  But in an industry in the middle of a disruptive change women have opportunities to reinvent themselves.  As I moved to business roles, I’ve relied on my technical background to help address challenges facing leaders in the industry.

Education is crucial in breaking down barriers for women looking to enter fintech and payments.  We have a responsibility to teach girls about about the opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) related professions. It is also important for those already in the industry to share their experiences and help those looking to get a foot in the door.  At ACI we are passionate about nurturing and mentoring and have set up WIN, a global networking community which aims to inspire, educate, connect and recognize women at ACI and in the payments industry.

My three top tips for those with ambitions for a C-level position? Top of my list: Learn the business, from all angles; this greatly enhances your ability to add value! Secondly, spend time thinking about what needs to change today to remain relevant and prosperous three to five years on. And finally, hire the best team possible - the team that can make those changes happen!

About the author

Mandy Killam leads the On Premise P&L for ACI Worldwide, the global payments software powerhouse. In her role, she is accountable for ACI’s on-premise business, which includes delivery and support for all customers that choose to operate ACI’s solutions within their own premises (vs. hosted at ACI).  As part of this role she manages over 700 employees based around the world, supporting over 450 customers from the banking, financial intermediaries and merchant retailer segments.


Women in STEM

How to succeed in your technology career

Emma Maslen, UK MD at SAP Concur

It’s no surprise that 95 per cent of recruiters viewed a competitive personal brand as a key differentiator for attracting the best applicants in today’s workplace.

Personal branding is hugely beneficial on many levels: it makes you look connected, authoritative on a particular area and can help you build a strong network of like-minded contacts.

So not making the most of this opportunity and using it to your advantage to further your career would be a mistake. Especially in the fast-moving and competitive world of technology where the importance for you to be distinctive is even more critical.

Unfortunately, doing a good job and getting the recognition you deserve isn’t always the case in businesses. But, one way of helping you progress in your career and to stand out is by developing a personal brand.

For me personally, working in the technology sector for many years, building a personal brand has been an essential approach that really helped me to drive my career in the direction I wanted.

The good news is, it’s not rocket science and anyone can do it. Below are my four tips for getting started on nailing your personal brand.

Step one: Get your thinking hat on

Do you know where you want to be in one, two and five years’ time? It might sound far ahead but having some long-term goals set can keep you focused.

Working in the technology sector, it’s easy to think in the moment and not give too much thought to life later down the line. But without planning where you want to be in the future, how can you expect to ever get there?

No one is going to invest in your future but you. So, it’s time to take control of your future by giving it some serious thought. No one else will do it for you.

Step two: What do you want to be known for?

Once you’ve got your goals in place, select three words you want to become known for. A good place to start is thinking about what differentiates you from everyone else; don’t just opt for words that you think sound good. Most importantly, they need to be authentic.

For instance, if you want to be known as a ‘doer’, or a ‘closer’, don’t just start declaring yourself as that. Actions speak louder than words. You need to show people you are and prove it to them. One simple way of doing this is aiming to go to every meeting and show what you bring to the project at hand. This means no more shrinking in them – you won’t get that recognition as someone who has their act together otherwise.

One example of a techie who has built a sterling personal brand for herself is the computer scientist and academic, Dr Sue Black. She campaigned to save Bletchley Park – home of the World War Two codebreaker and now The National College of Cybersecurity – building a following of supporters and making a real change. She was genuinely passionate about it and people bought into that.

Step three: Start engaging

Once you’ve pinned down what you want to be known for, it’s time to start working towards building that perception.

Whether you like it or not, everyone has a digital footprint. Whether its photos on Facebook with your friends, you ranting on Twitter about public transport or sharing what Spanish tapas meal you had last week on Instagram. And this probably isn’t the sort of content you’d want potential employers, prospects or indeed your network to see.

So this next step is all about starting to create, share and engage with content which ties into the personal brand you’re looking to build for yourself – LinkedIn Pulse blogs and Medium are fantastic places to voice opinions. Or if you’re not a strong writer, there will plenty of communities whether that’s on LinkedIn or face-to-face networking meetups you can become part of.

Step four: Be patient

Whatever it is you want to be perceived as, make sure the tone of voice you select also suits your overall personal brand, whether that’s authoritative, engaging or concise. But the real secret in building a successful personal brand that sticks is all in consistency.

It takes a long time to build a personal brand – in fact, studies reckon it takes people five to seven times to remember a brand – and it requires real tenacity, but the benefits you’ll get as a result are certainly worth the initial effort.

The advantages of an individual investing in their personal brand and how they are perceived are obvious. But, why should companies be incentivised to encourage their employees to establish personal brands? It might, after all, lead to a head-hunter spotting and poaching your top talent.

With levels of trust towards businesses at an all time low, and statistics showing 92 per cent of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over companies. The benefits for employees being active on social media and crafting a credible personal brand for themselves are clear. In addition, 77 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy when the CEO of the business uses social media. This makes it a clear win-win for individuals and companies alike.


Sophie Deen featured

Inspirational Woman: Sophie Deen | Founder, Bright Little Labs

 

Sophie is a former lawyer, techie and school counsellor, she is the founder of Bright Little Labs - a media startup on a mission to create Sesame Street for a digital age.

Starting her career in law (Herbert Smith), Deen worked on internet strategy for regulators worldwide (SamKnows), learning about the transformative possibilities of technology and the growing digital divide. Deen also volunteered as a play therapist in a London primary school and this experience led her to pursue a career in edtech. She then joined Code Club, and worked with Google and the Department for Education, to devise a nationwide CPD training programme for primary school teachers in the new computing curriculum. She also worked on Code Club’s international strategy in over 80 countries.

Her first story, Detective Dot, is about a nine-year-old coder and agent for the CIA (Children’s Intelligence Agency). The idea is to help teach kids - especially girls and underrepresented groups - to code. Detective Dot provides a low-fi and accessible route into coding by using stories. Starting as a Kickstarter, it’s now in 30 countries, with Cabinet Office backing. She has a 3-book deal with Walker Books and Detective Dot has been named the Best Coding Toy in the UK by the Independent (against amazing competitors like Lego and Hasbro). Later in 2018 they are launching curriculum in 22,000 schools with the support of EDF Energy. Detective Dot. Sophie is now creating an interactive world to edutain - games, animations and on-demand content.

A regular speaker at conferences on technology and education, the empowerment of women, and social impact, Deen also consults on all things edutech, including how to communicate tough concepts to a tough audience (kids under 12!) and teaching children to code.

Deen encourages women into technology through outreach work and has been awarded Start-up Founder of the Year by FDM Everywoman, EDF's Pulse Award for inspiring children into STEM, and named as one of Computer Weekly's 'Most influential women in UK IT' 2016 & 2017.

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

My unlikely mix of experiences working as a lawyer, techie, and primary school counsellor inspired me to set up Bright Little Labs - a media startup on a mission to create Sesame Street for a digital age. Sesame Street was amazing - it was accessible to kids from all backgrounds (in its heyday, it reached 98% of US families). Kids who watched it achieved the same standards in numeracy and literacy as they would in pre-school, at a fraction of the price ($5 per child, compared to pre-school which was $7,000). I believe digital skills are as important in this digital age as reading and writing, and that we need to create ways to make it accessible to all kids.

In my most recent role, at Code club, alongside Google and the Department For Education, I helped to introduce the new coding curriculum in schools.. That’s when I first started thinking that a narrative led approach to digital skills would be really cool. I love cartoons and stories, and believe wholeheartedly in the power of creativity, toilet humour and stories to inspire the next generation.

With that in mind, I launched our first story on Kickstarter. It’s about Detective Dot, a nine-year-old coder and agent for the CIA (Children’s Intelligence Agency). The idea is to help teach kids - especially girls and underrepresented groups - to code, and it’s working! Starting as a book and a kids club, Dot has reached over 30 countries, has Cabinet Office backing, and is launching in 22,000 schools later this year with the support of EDF Energy.

Bright Little Labs is widely recognised for its story-led approach to 21st Century skills (recipient of EDF Stem Pulse Award 2017, named ‘Top Coding Toy for Kids’ by The Independent in 2017 and the Evening Standard in 2018). I’ve had a lot of support along the way too. I was named one of Computer Weekly's 'Most influential women in UK IT' 2017, Barclays/Everywoman ‘Startup Founder of the Year’ 2017, the British Interactive Media Association's ‘Innovator’ in 2017 and London Tech Week ‘Changemaker’ in 2018 for my work to inspire children into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). As well as making my mum happy, the recognition has really helped us to open doors and grow the company, and it’s also so encouraging to see so many people get behind our social mission.

We’re now building an interactive world for kids to enjoy - games, animations and on-demand content.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No! I never imagined myself running a children’s media start up when I graduated from University. I was always running into trouble at school and rarely attended lectures at University. I was going to be a lawyer - I’m a from a third-generation East London family, and my brother and I were the first to go to University so it was a big deal. Becoming a doctor, accountant or lawyer was the holy grail and I didn’t really question that until later on. I’d never even heard of engineering or considered a creative path - we didn’t know any engineers, artists or writers.

That said, I am very lucky to have supportive parents and they’ve backed my many career moves. After I left law, I retrained as a child psychologist, and started working for a technology start-up. We helped governments all over the world monitor their countries’ internet performance: I worked in America, Europe, Brazil, and Singapore That’s when I became really interested in technology. It made me think about what it means for these countries and the people living in them to have access to the internet - and what it means for those who don’t. The digital divide is exacerbating existing inequalities and I wanted to do something to address that.

My next move was to Code Club, to help introduce the computer science curriculum in primary schools in the UK. This married my passion for kids and education with my love of tech. One sleepless night while I was still at Code Club, I came up with Detective Dot, and the ball has been rolling and gaining in momentum ever since - and is usually way in front of me. So while I’m extremely happy to be in my position now, I never set out to run a media company, or work in a startup.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

It might sounds obvious, but doing something for the first time is really challenging. I’ve worked in tech and with kids, but building a global media company is brand new to me, and so is being the CEO. I’m learning about the industry as I go along and often feel like the new kid on the block. Fortunately we are backed by Turner (which owns Cartoon Network - SWOON), have a very strong team, experienced advisors, and a lot of grit. What we don’t know, we learn, and we don’t mind failing because we just dust ourselves off. It works to our advantage too. Being a blank canvas means that we can approach problems without any preconceptions about what can or should be done, so we’re reshaping what a media company looks like in 2018. We apply the principles behind building good technology across the wider business. That means we’re iterative, agile, and user focused. It also means we make plenty of mistakes, but we value progress over perfection!

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Harassment takes on many subtle shapes and forms. I think we need to work on how we deal with the less obvious forms of harassment. I’ve seen so many women struggle with insidious or snide comments and behaviours that are subtle and nuanced. That’s what culture is - it’s in the detail. The onus is so often put on women to recognise and report incidents that make them feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or compromised; and whether we like it or not a woman has to then weigh up the consequences on her own career or bringing something up. Often we are made to doubt ourselves - we’re made to believe we are over-sensitive or imagine things. I think if we educate everyone to spot the signs and to take action too it would help make the workplace more inclusive and welcoming for everyone.

However, if I could do one thing tomorrow, I’d change maternity law and force parental leave to be shared equally, like in Iceland and Norway. I think this is great for the child, and great for equal opportunities at work too.

I’m not sure if this is the silver bullet. There’s no one size fits all and any moves to improve equality for men and women are welcome!

How would you encourage more young girls and women into a career in STEM?

Girls are intrinsically as curious about the world as boys - science, technology, engineering and maths are all disciplines which seek to understand and to build the world around us. But girls are conditioned over time to think that STEM is not for them. I think media portrayal is the biggest issue - the images and language we are exposed to in movies, on TV, in adverts, in the way kids toys are marketed (science kits for boys, toy kitchen for girls). This filters down into the classroom and in the home and serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes around gender. The underlying message is that STEM is for for boys - it’s not ‘feminine’ or ‘normal’ for girls to like science. Stereotypes are set early on: research has shown that by the time kids are 8, they think science is ‘more for boys’.

At Bright Little Labs we make stories so ALL children can imagine themselves in a STEM career. We use positive and diverse role models so children can see themselves in a range of careers.

The issue with STEM education is wider than gender. There’s too much emphasis on memorising facts, and insufficient focus on encouraging enquiry and inquisitiveness in the classroom. Science is all about discovery - creating and creativity is a skill. At the moment, STEM education can feel like an exam factory with the sole purpose of getting into University. We need more creative approaches to teaching STEM.

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

Mentoring has played a huge part in my life and helped me in all sorts of ways. Starting with my parents, who remain my biggest mentors, I’ve been privileged to have had mentoring at every step of the way in Bright Little Labs. My mentors have helped me navigate a new industry, new responsibilities, and emotional difficulties around starting a business too (it’s really hard and can be very lonely!).

I also mentor people, from children in a local school to other startup founders at the start of their journey.

It’s a real privilege to work with my mentors and mentees and I would encourage everyone to get involved. You don’t need to be working in a startup, everyone can benefit from a mentor. Find someone you admire either at your own company or in the wider world and reach out to them and explain what you want. Be clear about what you expect (e.g. a meeting every quarter with a clear agenda) and pay it forward - mentor other people too.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Signing a deal with Turner (who own Cartoon Network)! Our dream to positively challenge stereotypes and make 21st century skills mainstream through an accessible medium is within reach.

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

Our next challenge will be expanding our small but passionate team. Team is everything, so building the right and creating the right culture is our most important task and it takes time. We’re committed to finding people who care about our mission, and we value diversity and smart people over experience and qualifications. Currently we’re looking to hire developers, creatives and operational people. We offer a fun and inclusive environment and it’s a really exciting stage for the business.

Looking ahead we’re focused on developing our core IP and developing our interactive platform to bring our spy-world to life. We are building a world for kids that exists wherever they are, whether it’s on a tablet, TV, in their back garden, the supermarket, or at a live event. Going forward, the investment lays the foundation for further leverage across Turner’s wider animation, licensing and merchandising portfolio, and we’re looking forward to scaling operations globally.


virtual-reality-warm-technology-featured

The emergence and importance of warm technology

 

 virtual reality, warm technology

Technology has developed a bit of a bad reputation - and with good reason.

‘Techlash’ has dominated the news agenda, with more and more people finding that they are inundated with gadgets, social media and the constant ‘on’ culture - but this is about to change. First of all, it is important to remember that technology itself was never to blame. The problem lies in the fact that most engineers and designers have been striving to make as much money as possible by making companies and people as efficient as possible. By making technology unforgiving and demanding of its users, these companies inadvertently caused techlash.

If the team is good, then technology does what it is created to do; so, if you make a `social network` where the users are encouraged and helped to reach a lot of people and gain a following, follow others for updates, plan events and get plenty of people to come… Well then, that will be what the users use the network for.

However, if you would rather try to design a platform that encourages long conversations with a select and carefully chosen few, or maybe tried to create an online space that facilitated new, long-lasting, friendships, you might then create something that is truly social. Unfortunately, this kind of platform won’t carry a lot of ad-money, the more people use it to form real relationships, the less time they will eventually spend on it, choosing to socialise in real life instead. The more efficient your idea becomes, the fewer people will need to use it.

So what reason do I have to believe that the emergence of ‘warm technology’ is about to change the game completely? Because people are looking for technology that makes sense for them, and will want to invest in these solutions.

The key principle behind warm technology is that it doesn’t aim to replace our most basic human needs, such as contact with our loved ones, a feeling of belonging and the desire to feel needed. What warm technology does instead, is harness the plethora of technological advancements to meet these needs, solving an emotional and often completely invisible crisis. For example, it is estimated that in the UK, 1 in 20 adults reports feeling lonely often or always (Office for National Statistics 2017). To these adults, the existing technology does not solve an emotional need, it doesn’t enhance their existing relationships. In my company’s bid to eradicate the entire concept of loneliness, we were aware that we couldn’t and shouldn’t, try to replace existing human bonds, which is where other technologies have failed. So instead, we focused on utilising technology to make these needs more prominent and more easily accessible, creating two warm technology products as a result.

Our first product, AV1, was aimed at helping children and young adults suffering from ill-health, remain in contact with friends and continue with their education. Our second, KOMP, was a communication tool designed for the elderly, helping them stay in touch with family. With both of these, we didn’t strive to create technology that would impress. Our focus was to create technology that would only assist, help and solve. While we aren’t at the point where we have solved the loneliness epidemic, we have placed the effected and the vulnerable at the centre of the creation process, giving them a voice. Something that isn’t always factored-in by tech giants looking to create the next ‘it’ thing.

While for us at No Isolation the focus is on loneliness, it isn’t the only crisis that warm technology can and should, solve. Warm technology could be used to help victims of PTSD, it could improve the lives of the homeless, with leaps and bounds being made by companies like Action Hunger. The main element that unites companies and makes their technologies ‘warm’ is their dedication to putting the vulnerable at the heart and soul of each project - from the inception, through to testing, execution and later, improvement. We hope that some of our work serves as an inspiration for technology companies to do more, to move away from chasing the elusive consumer and the next cheque, towards forming a happier society, where no one has to struggle because their voice is ignored.

About the author

Karen Dolva is CEO and co-founder of No Isolation (www.noisolation.com), an Oslo-based start-up founded in October 2015, with the goal of reducing involuntary social solitude. Its first product, a physical avatar called AV1, was designed to help children and young adults, forced by illness to take extended time away from school, to maintain a presence in the classroom, communicate with friends, and socialise.

Before co-founding No Isolation, Karen studied Computer Science and Interaction Design at the University of Oslo, the highest ranked institution for education and research in Norway.

During her studies, Karen began her career at StartupLab Oslo, and went on to co-found UX Lab - a user experience consultancy, created to help companies with user testing and the designing of digital user experiences.

Karen identified the need for No Isolation when she met Anne Fi Troye - a mother who lost her teenage daughter to cancer. Through learning about Anne Fi’s continuous efforts to improve the lives of children in hospital, based on her own child’s experience of social solitude while unwell, Karen was inspired to use her personal knowledge of user experience and computer science to develop a tech-based solution.


Beckie Taylor featured

Inspirational Woman: Beckie Taylor | Co-Founder, Women in Tech North

 

Beckie Taylor

Beckie Taylor is co-founder of Women in Tech North and has recently founded Tech Returners, an initiative designed to support people harness their transferable skills by providing training and personal development to enter, or re-enter, the technology sector or set up their own business.

Beckie also began her own consultancy, CLOS, the success of which has allowed her to start the Tech Returners initiative.

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

I have worked in HR People and Talent for the past 15 years, with the last 10 years spent in tech. My most recent role was Global Head of HR for a high growth SaaS business in Manchester, my role focused on scaling the business through the importance of people.

Having had a career break myself when I had my son Ethan, I felt I lost my network and lost my skillset – both impacting my confidence – and I thought I couldn’t be the only one who was going through this.

I co-founded Women in Tech North in 2017, which is a community meet-up group where we now have over 750 members. I was being asked to regularly talk about my experiences that people felt they could relate to and this led to Tech Returners being born. It started off as a personal passion which has grown into a successful business and support network for those returning to work.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not really. I left college and decided not to go to university, which was frowned upon at the time as I was the only one in my year who had decided not to go, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I then had an aspiration to join the mounted police, however I couldn’t pursue it further as I am partially deaf.

From there I sort of fell into recruitment and HR, and I found a natural skillset for people development and talent management. From starting out in the tech industry and becoming a coach and mentor, I do take my own advice and try to plan what success looks like to me and how I can create the best path to get there.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Yes, when I decided not to go to university, also redundancy, lack of confidence, conflict with male colleagues, and having to choose between my career and family in my last senior role.

However, I am a great believer that things happen for a reason and you need to acknowledge these challenges and make a plan to adapt. It’s not always the right plan but that’s OK – it’s how you learn and grow.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

My day always starts with taking my little boy to school – it is really important to me to have the time to do this. I then always listen to a podcast or a Ted Talk on my hour’s commute to gear me up for the day ahead. When I get home I spend time with Ethan and try to leave my phone alone in the evenings – even though it’s hard sometimes! Then once he is in bed I might catch up on a few bits of work or watch some TV to unwind from the day.

How would you encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

That’s part of what I currently do within my various roles. I demonstrate that there isn’t just one journey in tech, there are different roles and paths you can take and you can absolutely use skills from previous jobs to help support you on any new route you want to pursue.

I share my story and try to educate groups by word of mouth through meet-ups with Women in Tech North, the Tech Returners community and attending as many networking groups and events as I can. I think it helps to lead by example, so I try and be as active as I can in the tech community to show others what’s possible.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

Yes, I have had a few mentors. I think the most important thing is finding one that’s right for you and to not be afraid to say if they aren’t. It’s not that you’re saying you don’t get on with the person, it’s just their style or approach isn’t right for you.

Yes, I do mentor people as well which I find very empowering, not only to support others but to learn from them as well.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Even though we have made enormous, encouraging steps forward in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Ultimately, I would like women to be seen as equals in every role, in every workplace.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Having my son is a personal one for me, and a professional one would be making it as a finalist in the Northern Power Women Awards for Tech Returners just six months after the project had started.

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

I want people to understand the power of the returner and how we need to support people who are about to embark on, as well as coming back from, career breaks.

A report released by PWC in 2016 found that returning women are generally underused in the workplace, paying a penalty for having a career break. This includes highly skilled professionals.  There is also research which highlights that there is a £1bn potential of women returners to the marketplace, yet businesses are not even close to making the most out of this.

Empowering returners is especially crucial in the tech sector – we don’t want to be filling the talent pipeline and then losing people. We need people to know there are opportunities once they’re ready to come back to work, and to help businesses facilitate returners more effectively.


Laura Hutton featured

Inspirational Woman: Laura Hutton | Co-Founder & Head of Fraud & Financial Markets, Quantexa

 

Laura Hutton is Co-Founder and Head of Fraud and Financial Markets at Quantexa - the start-up solving financial crime and terrorism through data analytics, AI and machine learning.

Laura has over 12 years’ experience using data and network analysis to tackle fraud and financial crime. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, Laura pioneered and implemented the technology subsequently put in place by Société Générale to prevent similar from occurring again. She has since headed up teams at Detica and SAS, before co-founding Quantexa in 2016 where she uses sophisticated networking technology to help their clients such as HSBC, and Shell.

In an industry where only one in seven of women are executive committee members & only 17 per cent of start-ups were founded by women, Laura is passionate about inspiring girls to work in and establish companies like Quantexa. Laura runs work experience programs for 16/17 year old girls to encourage them to get into STEM subjects.

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

I help the world’s largest organisations to drive more intelligence out of their vast data assets. My role is to innovate, using cutting edge analytical techniques to develop new solutions to business-critical problems.

I have helped banks fight and financial crime for over a decade through the use of sophisticated analytics and I’m passionate about the power data can provide to create a good society. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, I built the solution that Société Générale subsequently implemented to prevent unauthorized trading.

In 2016, I took a huge jump and founded Quantexa with a team of six colleagues, with a global mission to empower large, international companies to truly understand their customer networks. By understanding such networks, they can fully understand who they are doing business with in turn prevent fraud, money laundering, rogue trading, terrorist financing and human trafficking. Two years later, we have enabled 13 of the world’s biggest institutions (including bank, insurers and oil and gas companies) onto our technology and are growing internationally at an unprecedented level with offices in Sydney, New York, Brussels and Boston.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I am a planner by nature, I like to know where I’m going and what I’m trying to achieve. However, as the only girl in my year to study further A-Level maths, and one of just three women in my intake at Durham University to complete a masters in maths, I was shocked by the fact that there was no clear path for me to go down to achieve my goals.

At university, the options presented to me were the same and uninspiring, with teaching being the default suggestion rather than any positions that allowed me to innovate and to develop technology itself. I am always so proud that I was confident enough to walk my own path and pursued my dream of using my mathematical brain to create new things.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

One of my biggest challenges has always been my own desire to do something new, something interesting. I am an innovator at heart, yet I know that I must always balance that up with the needs of the businesses I have worked for and now run. I have become more aware of where my skills lie and have therefore been able to craft roles that best suit me. In doing so, my input and value to the business has grown significantly.

Interestingly, being an innovator within technology has led me in to a role that isn’t commonplace for women. It is a very male dominated environment, and at times, it’s been a fight for my voice to be heard. When I was 26, I built a world-first solution that would detect rogue trading, but when I was presenting my work to prospective customers, it was difficult to get ‘air-time’. I didn’t fit the typical mould of someone in investment banking, never mind, someone offering a new technology solution! In the early days, I brought an older gentleman with me, just to get in the door. This, as you can imagine, was incredibly frustrating but I learnt that knowledge would shine through, and in time, I became recognised as the leader in that space.

I strongly believe that if you face challenges with adversity, you will become a stronger person inside and outside of work. What I have learnt about myself more recently, is that I am at my best when I am challenged. It’s when I come up with the best solutions!

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

When I talk to young girls about where they envisage their future career, they are often held back by the same belief that a career in science or technology isn’t for them because they are female. Is this a lack of confidence and because they don’t believe they are equipped with the right skills? Or it is a lack of desire to work in a male-dominated environment? I’m not sure.

I don’t want girls to not reach for their goals and fulfil their aspirations because they’re nervous the company or even sector is too geared towards men. I am proud to have co-founded a successful technology business, I took a risk and it’s paying off.

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

Mentoring is absolutely critical for everyone’s career development, no matter what sector you’re in. Speaking to someone to get advice on how to best reach your full potential will always give you the confidence to strive to achieve your absolute best, making you aware of opportunities that you may have not considered or even been aware of. The young women at Quantexa have all been on different journeys and all possess different skills which puts them in great stead to become mentors for young and aspiring girls who want to work in I.T. I aim to be a role model to them and indeed, others; it really is possible to be a woman with a young family in technology and to be leading the way in innovation.

I didn’t have a female mentor to guide me when I was younger which is probably symptomatic of a shortage of these. Yet over the years, I have developed a network of like-minded women from lots of different industries who guide me through challenges and with whom I can celebrate successes.

How would you encourage more women and girls to pursue a career in STEM?

The problem lies in the lack of awareness of the opportunities that are available for these young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM. It’s imperative that schools target jobs to everyone, ridding the classroom of the stereotype of the male scientist, data scientist or physician. Many girls finally realise that they are capable of pursuing these jobs whilst heading to university, when it’s often too late.

Work experience is vital, so I’d encourage businesses to launch work experience schemes for young girls aged 16/17 to make them aware of the career opportunities open to them and to have the chance to meet leading women in the industries they are passionate about. At Quantexa, we are launching a work experience program for teenage girls aged 16 and 17 to learn first hand how exciting it is to work in I.T. Hopefully, this will inspire these girls to pursue a role in I.T. because they’re passionate about it, rather than dismissing it because it’s ‘too male dominated’.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Without a doubt, my biggest achievement to date is following my dream and starting Quantexa, leaving a position of stability and comfort. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a planner at heart and this was a huge risk to take; my plan was entirely thrown out of the window! Nevertheless, with such a great team of fellow founders with a passion for our solution, it was the best decision I have ever made. Within two years, we have a team of over 95 people, who each have a personal story and journey around what brought them to Quantexa and I have no doubt that we have a collection of future CEOs and CTOs sitting among us.

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

I want to become a role model for women in technology and STEM. I’ve been fortunate enough to challenge myself every day, have a great and varied career; creating and implementing innovative solutions, leading global teams and pursuing my ultimate dream: creating my own company. I want to inspire girls to get into STEM, I.T. and technology and for them to know that they are not held back because of their gender, they are empowered by it.