Inspirational Woman: Sheree Atcheson | Tech Business Consultant, Deloitte; Founder of I Am Lanka; Global Ambassador at Women Who Code

Listed as one of the UK’s Top 35 Most Influential Women in Tech 2017 by ComputerWeekly, one of the Belfast Business Top 50 2017, and a finalist in the Women in Business NI 2017’s Young Business Woman of the Year category, 26-year-old Sheree Atcheson (@nirushika) is a tech business consultant at Deloitte, founder of I Am Lanka, and UK expansion director at Women Who Code.

As well as her day-to-day life in the industry, Sheree is a tech outreach leader across the UK.

As a passionate advocate for gaining and retaining women in the tech industry, in 2013, she brought Women Who Code to the UK. Women Who Code is a global non-profit, working to eradicate the gender bias through free hack nights, tech talks and career trainings. The UK cohort (Belfast, London, Edinburgh and Bristol) has featured in several publications, such as HuffPost, Wired, ComputerWeekly, The Guardian, Marie Claire and many more.

The aim of Sheree’s career is to ensure people are aware of the fantastic opportunities the tech industry has to offer, and that
everyone – regardless of gender, race or social stature – is able to benefit from these and reach their full potential in their careers.

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

Currently listed as one of the most influential women in technology across the UK, I am a 27 year old, Tech business consultant at Deloitte and a board appointed global ambassador at the world’s largest non-profit dedicated to women excelling in technical careers, Women Who Code.

I have launched and led WWCode’s award-winning UK expansion since 2013, taking their UK membership from zero to over 8,000 members. I am a thought leader in the tech outreach space, speaking regularly at global conferences, pairing women with mentors, seeking jobs for minorities and showcasing the diverse nature of the tech industry to the next generation.

At Deloitte, I am the “middle-man” between clients and developers. As an ex-developer, I am able to easily traverse the technical space, whilst being able to discuss technical efforts in a non-technical way for clients. I have worked on several high-profile, public digital transformations, of which I am very proud of.

At WWCode, my role is now focused on showcasing the global diversity work of WWCode, empowering our current leaders and mentoring when required, creating and seeking new partnerships between tech companies and the non-profit.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no. I have always had a view that I would be in technology, however I never imagined I would have the responsibility or impact that I have had on the tech industry. I actively know I will do something else in technology that will shape my career and bring me to the next level – I’m still figuring out what that is, which is exciting to me.

I always say I never turn down opportunities, and it’s hard to plan for unexpected turns – which is fantastic and stressful all at once.

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

Of course. I began the WWCode UK outreach at 22 – a fresh Computer Science graduate. I certainly received friction from those who “didn’t get it”. Negativity is always offputting however, disruption never comes easy. I was here to make a difference, I persevered and here we are today, with several successful WWCode UK branches, many new connections being made and new leaders being empowered every day.

Dealing with it was a case of seeing the bigger picture – yes, some people won’t get it, however my goal is bigger than them and that attitude.

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

That middle-management fully understand the benefit of having a diverse team. Middle-management have primarily the most contact with women in technology, with more women being in junior/mid-tier positions than senior. With that in mind, middle-management are crucial in any company’s diversity initiatives being successful. Having a more understanding middle-management workforce will directly affect inclusion of women in the workforce and ensure that we do not just hire diversity, but simply promote conformity.

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

I actively mentor/sponsor around 25 women and men. I am privileged to be in a position of leadership and now, it is my turn to pass it on. Mentoring is crucial in supporting people, providing growth opportunities and providing useful feedback on assignments.

I am mentored/sponsored with 3 people – 2 senior leaders within my business unit in Deloitte and one entrepreneur in the UK tech scene, Mary McKenna. These are the people I actively seek advice from – those who I bounce ideas off and expect an honest response, not just positive “pat on the back” feedback.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Empowering many women to take the next step in their career – if a 22 year old, adopted from Sri Lanka and raised in rural Ireland can make a difference – so can they.

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

I am going to do something in my career that is going to be a shift for me. I don’t know what it is yet, but it’s coming. My career will eventually focus much more on diversity and inclusion and I look forward to figuring out what that is. I do not like resting easy and I strive to be challenged every single day.


Anisah Osman Britton featured

Inspirational Woman: Anisah Osman Britton | Founder & CEO, 23 Code Street

 

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton runs 23 Code Street.

In 2012 Anisah won the Young Entrepreneur Festival in London, which brought together 150 of the best young minds in the country.

Since leaving school, Anisah has pursued internships around the world, learnt to code, worked as ops director for a corporate accelerator and started 23 Code Street.

Anisah believes there are multiple routes to success, and that students need to be shown all possibilities.

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

I’m Anisah, and I am the CEO and Founder of 23 Code Street, a coding school for all women where for every paying student, we teach digital skills to a woman in the slums of India.

After doing the International Baccalaureate at college, I interned in businesses around the world- an upgraded gap year, so to speak.

I then ran a company, which allowed students to earn some extra cash by doing odd jobs for individuals and companies. This is when i started to get into technology and began learning how to to code.

When I finished with that company, I went to work for a corporate accelerator called The Bakery. I learned loads about startups and corporates, and was lucky to be sent on a coding course which cemented my foundations and my love for web development.

I started 23 Code Street out of frustration at the lack of women with technical skills and understanding, and the effect this had on products and services. We need more representation across the board.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Ha! No. I thought I was going to be an actor/director/pilot/translator...I fell into tech. I didn’t plan it.

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

Of course! The biggest challenge I am currently facing is my health. I have Myasthenia Gravis which literally means grave muscular weakness, is a rare long-term condition that causes muscle weakness that comes and goes. It’s sometimes hard for me to get to work, and sometimes my eyelids are droopy which means I don’t want to be seen by anyone which is something I’m trying to overcome. I’m dealing with it by listening to my body, cutting out sugar, sleeping, and being more active.

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

Across the board equality. Simple. And technical skills. OK, I cheated.

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

I would show them the vast range of things you can do in STEM- it’s not just about white coats, it’s not just about “hacking”, it’s not just about being a math professor- you can be a fashion designer, make up creator, an inventor, a games maker, a marketer, a business owner, a superhero...My point is, especially from my tech perspective, that having technical skills is relevant no matter what industry you are in. To encourage them, I would show them and tell them the stories of women and non binary people doing amazing work right now.

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

I think mentoring can be incredibly powerful. I am currently formally training as a mentor with the incredible organisation Creative Mentoring Network,  and have a brilliant mentee called Adora who wants to get into computer science which brings me so much joy.

I have a few people who I’d consider my mentors, but it’s not a formal thing. They have taught me tonnes and opened up doors for me, so they deserve that status. To their faces though, I call them friends.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Getting 23 Code Street past year 2 and having our own lovely office space in Clerkenwell.

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

My next personal challenge is to have a tech column. I’d love to write from inside the industry about what is currently happening in an accessible way. I’d love to interview people who work in the industry who are not necessarily the founders so there are different roles to aspire to.

In terms of 23 Code Street, we are going online and we are going global. Our next webinar course, which can be taken from anywhere in the world as long as they speak English, is a daytime course. I’m so excited to see who that brings through our (virtual) doors.


Maria Quevedo featured

Inspirational Woman: Maria Quevedo | Director, Code Club & Raspberry Pi Foundation

 

Maria QuevedoMaria has over ten years’ experience in senior leadership positions across the charity and private sectors.

In her role as Director of Code Club, she has focused on implementing innovative strategies to grow Code Club’s community of volunteers and venues, expanding beyond the tech sector to engage new and diverse audiences.

She leads a team with UK-wide and global capacity, encouraging them to explore creative approaches to increase and widen the programme’s reach.

Maria is also a Director at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity, leading Code Club. Code Club is part of the Raspberry Pi family and is a worldwide network of free, volunteer-led coding clubs for children and teenagers. The mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. In 2019, the Raspberry Pi Foundation aims to raise £4.25 million to pursue its educational initiatives including online coding projects, free coding clubs, and volunteer support. They are only able to do this important work thanks to the generous support of their partners.

Please contact amie@raspberrypi.org to get involved.

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

My name is Maria Quevedo. I’m Code Club Director at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Code Club is a global network of 12,000 coding clubs for 9- to 13-year-olds. These clubs are led by teachers, often with the support of volunteers, and we provide training, teaching materials, and support so they can help club members learn how to code and make their own games, animations, and websites. I lead a team of very talented people, working with them to develop the strategies for growth and engagement our community of volunteers and teachers.

Previously, I led educational programmes at a social business, and community projects in a charity working in one of the most deprived areas of London.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I didn’t! I trained to be a translator and for many years interpreted for refugees and asylum seekers in London. Then I worked as a journalist, became a researcher at a think tank, and soon ended up managing the team. It was in this job that I realised how much I enjoyed leading teams, and later I decided to use my skills in programmes I really cared about. Education is key to helping people in challenging circumstances, and I see tech education as one of the main drivers against inequality in the future. We should make sure all young people — whatever their gender or background — have access to learning how to make things with technology, as this will open up lots of opportunities and improve their life chances.

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

Almost three years ago, Code Club merged with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and it was a very exciting and challenging time for everybody. It was great to join forces with another organisation so deeply aligned with our values and mission, but we had to navigate a huge amount of change. Both organisations brought amazing teams of people who supported this process with an open mind, and we all worked through it together, and very successfully.

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

We need to fight the stereotype that STEM is only for men, and increase the visibility of women who are already working in STEM. There are women from all backgrounds working in tech who could be great role models to encourage young women to explore STEM and pursue a career like they’ve done.

My heart sinks every time a woman says that tech is not for her! Why not? I was already in my forties when I joined Code Club, and my coding experience consisted of editing HTML text on a website 15 years previously. I’ve learnt so much alongside children and colleagues at Code Club, and now I can have a lot of fun with my son by coding  games and making animations. Everything is possible if you set your mind to it, so why not STEM?

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

I’ve mentored a social entrepreneur for the past four years. I supported her in developing the idea and in setting up and establishing a charity that provides cultural experiences to kids of low SES. The experience was very enriching for me, and I very much enjoyed supporting my mentee’s personal and professional development. I have also been mentored and found the experience really useful.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Settling in the UK. I came here from Argentina when I was 19, I spoke very little English and didn’t know anybody. It took a lot of determination to settle here and to grow professionally, and I’m very proud of everything I’ve achieved.

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

It’s been six years since Code Club started. We continue to grow steadily, and currently there are clubs registered in 25% of UK schools. There are over 5,000 clubs in the rest of the world, we’ve tested different approaches to expanding our reach, and my next challenge is to establish the right model to scale. We want a Code Club in every community in the world!


Diviya Devani featured

Inspirational Woman: Diviya Devani | Systems Engineer, Teledyne e2v

 

Diviya DevaniDiviya Devani is a systems engineer who works in the Quantum Technology department at Teledyne e2v.

She has previous experience as a Product Engineer on European Space Agency projects including the ESA Sentinel 5 project which monitors air quality, climate and solar radiation.

Diviya is currently overseeing a two year, world-first project, managing a six strong consortium from both industry and academia to deliver a small satellite system that will demonstrate a Quantum experiment in space.

She has been eager to work in the space sector from a young age and is passionate about encouraging more women to pursue careers in STEM industries. She feels that our education does not detail the wide range of careers STEM offers and would like to help raise awareness of the opportunities that there are out there for women.

Her role model is Sunita Williams the first person to complete a marathon in Space and she is currently the treasurer of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Essex network and one of her key objectives is to increase engagement with young professionals and female engineers within the engineering field.

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

I completed my Masters in Physics in 2014 at the University of Nottingham, after which I joined the Space Imaging Engineering Graduate Scheme at Teledyne e2v in 2015. During the two year scheme I worked in different functions across the business including; bid management, development engineering, product engineering and a continuous improvement project. I worked as a Product Engineer on a European Space Agency (ESA) project – Teledyne e2v supply Imaging Sensors for the Fluorescence Explorer (FLEX) mission which will map vegetation fluorescence to quantify photosynthetic activity. Since completing the scheme I am a systems engineer developing a shoe box sized satellite with a quantum experiment on-board.

My current role requires me to maintain the integrity of the design, bringing together five different subsystems of the satellite which are being delivered by external industrial partners. I ensure that when the components of the satellite come together they interface correctly, mechanically and electrically.  I also have to keep on top of the original aims and requirements specification of the system, ensuring the end product is not completely different from the initial requirement. A key part of the role is ensuring the satellite meets the European Space Agency’s standards which include environmental testing, functional testing and adhering to the allowed materials standards. The satellite needs to survive launch conditions and be able to operate in a radiation environment for at least six months.

I like to keep busy outside work as work life balance is important to me. I have a grade eight in classical singing and enjoy keeping fit by running.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always had a target goal which has been to be in the heart of a Space mission on a large programme. So the focus has always been on Space. I haven’t defined in detail what the path in between the beginning and the end is, but I’d say I’m right on track and in my dream job right now and on my way to the end goal.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Challenges always appear, but I see them as opportunities to become stronger and better at what I do. I have been in roles where I have been responsible for championing a change that isn’t supported by all parties. In this instance the challenge is understanding what motivates the person/people and showing them how the change could potentially benefit them.

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

The Job application process, and job adverts in particular. I don’t believe job adverts/specifications are tailored to appeal to a wide audience. It has been shown that women will apply for a job once they meat 90 percent of the criteria and men will apply after fulfilling 60 percent. Simple changes such as reducing the number of non-negotiable requirements could lead to more female applicants. Changes in language could also have a big impact, as words such as ‘negotiation’ can put females off in particular, but also men. In addition I think there is a big lack of females in senior leadership roles. The middle management roles seem to have plenty of women, but the further up you go the less women you see. Reassessing job adverts and making them more friendly and appealing to both genders could make a big difference. Having realistic requirements that are flexible would attract more females and also mean the right candidate gets the job.

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

I think it is important that there are opportunities for young women and girls to have first-hand experience of STEM careers, inspiring role models and once in the field continued support throughout their careers potentially via mentoring schemes. Having work experience opportunities in STEM companies is invaluable, but it is important that there are inspiring role models on hand to support and guide them. I recently organised a visit for a group of girls from a school, where they spoke to a range of STEM professionals on site, had a tour and also carried out hands-on activities such as wearing a cleanroom suit which looks like a space suit, but keeps our manufacturing areas clean from particles as once our sensors are in space there is no one there to clean them.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date has been getting a job as a systems engineer working on a small satellite, despite not having previous experience as a systems engineer. I have since then been able to present the project at a European Space Agency conference in Italy in front of nearly 300 people.

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

My next challenge is to take this project from the lab and get the satellite into space. As for the future, I still have a secret ambition to be an astronaut so I’ll be working on this.


Inspirational Woman: Michelle Roberts | Director of Partners, Ensono

 

Michelle Roberts colour headshot

Michelle is the Director of Partners at Ensono, where she is responsible for the Hyperscale Cloud partner relationships, as well as the management of its market strategy globally.

She has a wealth of expertise in sales and relationship management, having previously worked for Attenda and Rackspace.

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

I’m the Director of Partners at Ensono, a leading global provider of managed hybrid IT. I am responsible for the development of Ensono’s Hyperscale Cloud partner relationships, as well as the management of our market strategy globally.

Outside of work, I have three children, and I’m an Olympic weightlifter!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In short, no – it’s nothing like I imagined. I think there’s a select few who have their career mapped out from an early age – most of us follow a number of twists and turns to get there.  I actually wanted to be a graphic designer or an architect, but my career now couldn’t be more different. However, I really feel that the “artistic element” of my personality has helped me a lot!

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

Being a female in a technical role can sometimes be a bit lonely. As I’ve moved up and across into more technical roles, my network of fellow-female colleagues has diminished, and it’s been a while since I’ve worked in a team with women. Quite often I’m the only woman in the room and it can be daunting. However, most of the time there are bigger challenges to deal with, so it’s not something I expend much energy on.

The transition from individual contributor to a management role has been another notable challenge. I’m a proactive do-er and letting go of tasks can be quite difficult. Delegating them out isn’t second nature, particularly if I don’t see things moving forward.

But really, I think that my greatest challenge has been combining my career with motherhood. Juggling three children with a full-time job is tough and I’m not sure many people understand the constant pull in every direction and what it takes to give 100% to your job and your family. It takes resilience, drive, and lots of late nights to perform well. There’s always this underlying guilt that you haven’t given enough to one or the other – even though you have – so you work twice as hard. That’s why I think that working parents are an untapped resource, which some organisations are just not attuned to.

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

While the progress over the last few years for women in the workplace has been beneficial, some of that progress has actually been detrimental. Salary disparity and the difficulties of promotion for women are now being recognised – and I applaud that – but the presence of women in the workplace has now become slightly contrived. For instance, are women being invited to those senior meetings for their contribution, or the impact they will make? Or is it because they are the token woman in the room, or because it will make the company look more diverse?

I want things to be normalised to the point where #WomeninTech is no longer a debated topic, and frankly, I’m bored of hearing it myself. Let’s accept that there have been problems in the past and move on. Simply, businesses need to have a plan for how to address the diversity issues and how to counteract cognitive biases. Yes, there are still pockets of inequality in wider society, but that takes time to eradicate.

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

When I was younger, I didn’t realise the value in mentoring – in someone analysing your behaviour and your methods. But, I’ve realised more recently in my life just how critical mentoring is to the success of your career. Having someone there who wants to help you – someone who is willing to talk critically and honestly – is enormously beneficial. Mentors can equip you with tools and tactics to deal with situations differently or help you get the most out of your work relationships by viewing them from a different angle.

I also believe life skills and experience can be far more significant than your education in your career, and I’d like to see more organisations delivering mentoring programs in the workplace and schools to build on the exposure people get outside of academic training.

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

It is crucial to start from the ground up, by nurturing talent. School-age is where we can start to make the greatest impact on young women’s choices. Girls are sometimes not aware of technology career choices and can fall into the belief that science and technology are male domains. However, that perception can be changed quite easily.

Identifying skills that young girls have and helping them to understand how to apply them to different environments is one way forward. Giving children different experiences and letting them choose those that they’re most interested in, or comfortable with, is another.

Educators should champion the status of women in STEM professions to give real-life role models for the next generation. Schools could invite successful women in technology to speak in front of children, and teachers could celebrate the achievements of female pioneers and female leaders in every day lessons.

Social media is also worth considering. For teenagers in particular, it’s something that can be used to foster interest in different careers and to normalise STEM careers for women. Youngsters are spending more than 70% of their time online, so we need to get the popular role models vlogging! The more successful women we have talking publicly about their journey – whether in real life or online – the more confidence young girls will have to enter the field.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Every day is an achievement. I’m becoming everything that I wanted to be. I’m not sure I knew what went on behind the scenes for a successful businesswoman, but I guess I am one. I’m a Director at a successful company that’s going places and I have achieved a lot in my time. As Ensono continues to grow, hopefully I will follow, and help lead its trajectory.

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

At some point, I would like to give something back on a personal level, using everything I have learnt. I have been very fortunate in my career, but I have also worked very hard for it, which is something I can share. I want to offer my knowledge and advice to women with personal challenges and women who are yet to start their professional careers. Women have something major to offer the workplace.


Inspirational Woman: Louisa Spicer | Software Engineer, Echo

 

Louisa Spicer is a Software Engineer at Echo.

Echo was founded just over three years ago and already has 100,000 patient downloads so far and a Net Promotor Score of 83. Echo is on the NHS Digital app store, one of the approved digital tools available to patients, and is an NHS GP Systems of Choice, which ensures GPs and practice staff have access to the best technology to support patient care. Echo were also recently awarded the Best British Mobile Startup 2018 at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and won the 1st Mayor of London MedTech Business Awards last month.

Echo is a prescription management app which empowers patients in the UK to take control of their health and has the potential to significantly ease the strain on health services. In the UK, 40 per cent of patients do not take medication as directed, costing the NHS billions each year and leading to approximately 20 million unnecessary GP appointments. Echo is on a mission to transform the future of healthcare, and is the first app to improve lines of communication between GP, pharmacist and patient.

On the app, patients are able to order repeat prescriptions when stocks are running low- and will also receive reminders for when to take medication and when to order more. Echo also seeks to improve communication lines between GPs and their patients, making sure that information is clear and informative without being either patronising or too clinical and therefore hard to understand.

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

I’ve grown up loving anything and everything to do with the Creative Arts. Finding it difficult to choose what career path to take, I just went with what I was most intrigued about at the time - the theory behind the cinematic arts. I graduated with a degree in Film Studies and went on to become a Digital Producer at a media agency. This involved helping to oversee Film and TV asset deliveries to various digital platforms like iTunes and Netflix.

I soon started to miss being able to express myself through some form of creativity though, so I started looking for other career paths that would satisfy this. That’s when I discovered the world of coding and haven’t looked back! Just over a year and a half ago I wrote my first line of code and attended an intensive 3-month coding bootcamp, Makers Academy, where I learned the very basics of Software Craftsmanship required to land a job as a Junior Developer.

I am now a Junior Software Developer at Echo; part of a team building many exciting developments of an internal software application. There’s always something new to learn and that’s what I love the most!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I found it hard to pin down exactly what I wanted to do, but the various careers I thought of always revolved around creativity. Unfortunately I didn’t realise a career in Software Development was even a possibility for me until a couple of years ago.

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

A major challenge of mine was having the wrong mindset. It’s a typical story but it was/is hard to get over that “imposter syndrome” feeling and thinking that I’m not the right kind of person to be “good” at coding, due to many factors including not having the typical Mathematical or Technical background that a Computer Scientist graduate would have. This cloud was at its peak when applying for my first job as a Developer, carrying over well into that job too.

What really helped me to overcome these thoughts was being told about the Growth Mindset. In the most basic terms, this is just about realising there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you’re persistent and open to putting the effort in.

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

To always be treated with fairness and equality. What more can you ask for?

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

Show young girls (and boys) how creative and fun a career in STEM can really be. As much as I appreciate that I was free to choose whatever subjects I wanted to do at secondary school, I’m sure I would have been willing to learn more about STEM fields at an earlier age if I had more guidance from teachers on the exciting range of things you can do and build.

There’s an amazing amount of free or cheap online courses to learn and play with code - this means that it’s now easier to develop skills in your free time, at whatever age.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Believing in myself enough to commit to learning to code and not stopping when it gets tough.

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

To gain more confidence and keep growing my coding skills to the next level so that I can pass on some knowledge in the future. It would be amazing to build up enough confidence to get out there and be more active in the movement to help inspire and guide more girls and women into STEM.


Olga Adamkiewicz

Inspirational Woman: Olga Adamkiewicz | CEO, Synthrone

 

As a female CEO within the technology industry, with extensive experience in various marketing and product roles at companies such as Procter & Gamble, Olga believes that the last few months have been revolutionary, with women’s voices finally being heard like never before.

Olga believes that the future is bright for women in the technology industry, which will ultimately dramatically change the context, empowerment and social perspective in the industry.

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

I am the CEO of Synthrone, an ecommerce content management platform that offers a fully integrated, end-to-end solution for brands wanting to streamline their ecommerce offering. At the beginning of my career I spent almost nine years at Procter & Gamble, successfully working in all marketing departments, from brand management, product development and design to new business and media and communication.

I have been based mainly in Central Europe throughout my career, but I have managed projects on a regional and global scale.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say I necessarily sat down and planned my career. I have a passion for brands and marketing which formed from my experience whilst working for global businesses in several different areas.

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

There are many challenges, big and small, that I have faced during my career, and as a CEO you face challenges every single day. I always deal with them by thinking of the positives, but I am very lucky to be surrounded by such a fantastic team that help me along the way.

How would you encourage women and girls into a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths)?

It is very important for women and girls to firstly, know that they too can have a career in either science, technology, engineering and maths. These industries are not just for men. Secondly, I would encourage all girls and women to follow your heart, follow your dreams and to never be put off by thinking it is a man’s world, when it is far from it.

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

In the technology sector I can already see a change in the level of female empowerment. Women are no longer following men; they are increasingly creating their own paths in the workplace and aren’t afraid to voice their own opinion.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am extremely proud to be a female CEO and one of my biggest achievements to date has to be the amazing team I have built around me who help me run Synthrone. I am very proud that the team and myself have made a dream come true with the creation of Brand New Galaxy, which is home to Synthrone alongside other sister brands.

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

I am currently spearheading Synthrone, building it into the primary content developer for ecommerce, delivering an unrivalled end-to-end process for its users.

We have identified a gap in the market for a fully-integrated management solution, which compares favourably when benchmarking against competitors, that can only offer one aspect of the ecommerce management process.


Sinead Bunting

Inspirational Woman: Sinead Bunting | VP Marketing Europe, Monster

 

Sinead Bunting is the VP of Marketing for Monster in Europe, the global jobs website.

She is responsible for all marketing in Europe, specialising in digital marketing and brand transformation.

Sinead is passionate about encouraging diversity in business which has resulted in a number of initiatives that champion groups, who need an extra helping hand in their career. This has included nationwide ‘Monster Confidence’ tours, working with Stemettes to help female school children and uni students feel confident to achieve in their STEM careers and realise their potential.

She is the author and co-founder of the Tech Talent Charter, an industry-wide collective, whose aim is to deliver a more diverse tech workforce. The charter is supported by the UK government and currently has over 170 signatories such as Monster, Cisco, Vodafone, HP and Global Radio, all working together to move the dial in this critical area.

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

I grew up in Belfast, having arrived in London in 2000 from a year-long stint in New York at my first proper job. My plan was to stay a year, save some money to go to Australia and live and travel for a bit. But save money in London? On an entry-level salary? And being the less than frugal person that I am......tsk, what was I thinking? Needless to say, here I am 17 years later, having never made it down under. But it’s all good, I absolutely love London and think it’s one of the best cities on earth.

I’m the VP of marketing Europe for Monster, the jobs and careers advice website (which happens to be the website on which I found my first job in London in the year 2000).

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I studied law and fancied myself as a human rights lawyer helping folks overcome the injustices they encountered in this world. Unfortunately I didn’t quite fancy putting in the required amount of study to ever make that a reality. Winning a scholarship to study business in an American college for a year only compounded my predilection for hanging out in the student union rather than the law library!

It was here that I did an internship in marketing at the Pittsburgh Civic arena (home to ice hockey team the Pittsburgh Penguins!) and caught the bug for all things creative and marketing. Before graduating from my final year in Law I was lucky enough to secure an NYC marketing job and then my first job in London in 2000 was in digital marketing at an advertising agency. Back then the internet was seen by most clients as a fad that would fade away, and so my raison d’etre was passionately convincing folks internally and externally, that this Internet malarkey was the future and was here to stay. I guess being Irish I like a cause.

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

I’ve encountered a few dinosaurs in my time but also have been blessed with working with some amazingly supportive and progressive men and women. I recall a male CEO at one of the advertising agencies I worked for hosting an anonymous Q&A for staff circa 2003 to ask whatever they wanted. We were asked to write a question on a piece of paper and deposit it at the front of the gathered group and he would unwrap each one and answer candidly.

As we sat there a few of my colleagues (females) were saying, ‘we should ask him why there’s no women on the management team!’ None had the confidence to go up to the front and submit a question for fear of being identified, even under the auspices of supposed anonymity. I thought sod it, l’ll do it, it’s a bloody good question that deserves an answer! So off I trotted to front to deposit my piece of paper with the question on it. We waited patiently in the audience for him to unwrap the question. Eventually he read it out and the first thing he did was to look straight at me in the audience and demand pointedly ‘did you write this question’ (so much for anonymity!). I shrugged my shoulders and pleaded ignorance. His answer to the question was he promoted people purely on merit and there had been no women who made the grade.

After the stress and worry of realising I had marked my card in his eyes, by challenging the status quo, I digested what he said and realised what a load of utter tosh! I knew lots of women in that agency who were great and his was just the boys club in action.

Countering that was a year or so later the agency M.D., Phil, taking the time to mentor me each week and giving me the confidence and tools to believe in my own abilities. To him I will be eternally grateful.

I have found that women tend to be overlooked and have to work twice as hard to get ahead. I do believe there is a tendency for men get promoted on potential (and confidence) whist women tend to get promoted only on evidence. However, I love the quote by the comedian Steve Martin “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. With lots of hard work, tenacity, a sense of humour and support of amazing colleagues and of course a bit of luck, I’ve managed to overcome any issues and challenges I have faced.

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

For young girls, have the confidence in your abilities to study STEM subjects, don’t rule yourself out and listen to the myth that we are all destined to remain in the arts and languages arena. As part of our Monster Confidence programme which we created with Stemettes, we have visited various cities across the UK & Ireland for the last two years, encouraging young female students to have the confidence to study STEM and believe in themselves and know that their voice matters. We have had some amazing STEM female speakers and role models join us (including of course Dr Anne Marie Amafidon, CEO & Founder of Stemettes) who have been the inspiration that the girls need to see. If they can do, then the girls can do it too.

For women, know that you have so much to offer employers and organisations. Your skills and talent bring a way of working that makes organisations have you across all levels (including senior level of course) much more commercially successful. You deliver the competitive edge and diversity of ideas and approach that makes companies successful. Never forget that and have the confidence to know that you will and you do make amazing things happen.

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

So many things, but if I were to choose one that would really move the dial, perhaps it would be for shared parental leave to be fully embraced by organisations so that both genders get a fair crack at the whip in the workplace and at home being a parent.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

It would be the Tech Talent Charter, which I wrote and brought to life in collaboration with a number of amazing inspirational women in the world of tech. Women like Amali de Alwis, Debbie Forster and Susan Bowen. It’s funny, for many years I had heard of this Queen Bee phenomenon, yet when I reached out to all these women in the world of tech to help do something to address the lack of females in the tech workforce and later to launch the Tech Talent Charter, every single women I spoke to, bent over backwards to help and to make it happen. It was incredible and showed me what women (and of course, the much needed supportive men) could achieve working together. As a collective, the Tech Talent Charter has secured the support of the UK government and over 170 organisations such as Monster, Cisco, Codego Peer1, HP and Global Radio but we have a long way to go still, but I’m confident we’ll make it happen and effect real change, especially with Debbie Forster at the helm as our CEO.

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

I’d like to widen our Monster Confidence programme to women in business/work and to help to tackle specifically the issue of unequal pay. Money is the currency of power and until we have equal pay, women will not be on an equal footing and it will be incredibly challenging for the genders to achieve true equality.


Debbie Forster featured

Inspirational Woman: Debbie Forster MBE | CEO, Tech Talent Charter

 

Debbie Forster is a recognised figure in the areas of diversity, tech, innovation and education, first as the UK CEO of Apps for Good and now as CEO for the Tech Talent Charter, an industry collective which aims to deliver greater gender diversity in the UK tech workforce.

Signatories of the charter make several pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention. Debbie was awarded an MBE in January 2017 for “Services to Digital Technology and Tech Development” and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) named her Woman of the Year for 2016, describing her as “an exceptional and inspirational woman... an extraordinary role model.” She has also been named on Computer Weekly’s list of “25 Most Inspirational Women in UK IT” in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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

I am originally from the US, but have lived in the UK since 1989 and have dual nationality—the UK is definitely home for me. Like many women, I “fell into tech”, but quite gradually; it had happened before I realised it. I began as an English teacher of all things, but in the 90’s if you used a computer in schools, you rapidly became an “expert” and I found myself involved more and more in technology. I was not a “natural “ techie; I didn’t love the tech per se, but I loved what it could do, the creativity it unlocked.

When I was a headteacher, I was one of the first to adopt a scheme called Computer Club for Girls. As a result of this, I was becoming more and more involved in working with business people and government around tech in education. I eventually left the school and worked for 2 years as Head of Education for e-skills UK (now Tech Partnership). While working there, I came across the founder of Apps for Good, fell in love with the idea and joined just as we began reaching out to schools. I became the Co CEO there and we grew from 40 students in 2 centres to reaching over 75,000 young people in 5 years, 50% of whom were girls.

Then last year I decided it was time to start a new chapter. I left Apps for Good as CEO (though I’m still on the Advisory Group) and soon became CEO of the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). The TTC is a not-for-profit organisation which brings together companies from across industry to move the dial on diversity in tech.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Good heavens no, not in any long-term way. At the start of my career, I just took whatever seemed the next step whenever the opportunity arose, working my way up the ladder. Then after being a head for 6 years (and therefore at the top of that ladder), I realised I didn’t want to just keep doing that role again and again.

To some people, my choices were crazy—leaving a set career path and a steady job made no sense. But I loved learning new skills, connecting with industry and policy makers. Then after 2 years I left that to join a start-up charity, some thought I was mad. But the great thing with age is learning what makes you tick, what makes sense to you. Each jump was scary but I loved it. I know now that at 3 years, I get an “itch” in a job, and if there isn’t a significant new challenge, by 5 years, it becomes a rash! I like doing things I am passionate about, taking on new challenges and I’m happiest in “start-up mode”, taking a great idea or concept and just making it work. So now that is how I “plan” my career—I understand what I need, what I’m best at and try to never be afraid to take that chance or make that leap when opportunities present themselves.

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

Absolutely, every step of the way! And like many women, I suffer dreadfully from imposter syndrome. But now I recognise that I actually thrive when facing a challenge and am at my best when I am a wee bit terrified! And one of my mantras is, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and always have 2 back up plans.”

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

My day generally starts early but slowly, and with lots of caffeine—I am a night person trapped in a morning person’s world! I usually get up, put the kettle on for a ridiculously large cup of tea and hit my emails. Then by the time my other half is up about a half hour later, I’m ready for some civilised conversation and then off for meetings or on my laptop to tackle the day’s work.

It typically ends with a long hot bath and if I’m being virtuous (and decadent) reading before bed. Though I have to admit I am terrible at going through my inbox before I turn the light off. It’s an awful habit and I’m trying (with mixed success) to break myself of it this year.

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

At the moment, that is actually part of my job! The reason I’m at the Tech Talent Charter is that it is such a huge problem now that no one person, company or initiative can solve it in isolation, it is going to take joined-up work. There is some great work out there at all parts of the broken pipeline, from inspiring young girls in school, to changing how we recruit, to offering more re-training routes, etc. But to date, they’ve not been joined up and there has been too much overlap and replication. Our mantra is that we are determined not to re-invent the wheel but to connect the dots. And we are making progress--more companies are joining every day, more initiatives working and collaborating with us (including We are the City). There is a huge amount to do, but I genuinely believe together we can make a difference in the UK

Why is it important for companies to join the Tech Talent Charter?

Because no one company can solve this themselves and even if you come up with a great strategy, it is like buying a great new fishing rod but still fishing in the same leaky barrel as everyone else. The TTC members are committed to sharing ideas, trying new things and working together. And we have the full range of companies, not just tech but broadcasting, transport, food and leisure, not for profits; we have start-ups, SMEs and big multinationals. So it is the place to be if you want to learn, collaborate and share, not just with your type of company but across sectors and sizes.

It is also a great way to show publicly that your company is committed to doing things differently, to take action rather than just talking about it.

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

Mentoring is fantastic, I’ve had great mentors and mentees. For women in particular, having someone to share and learn from, to offer perspective, encouragement and challenge is invaluable. And I love mentoring, because you always up learning more about yourself as well as others.

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

Greater flexible working for all, not just women, for it to be the norm. I think flexible working is a great way to have not just a more diverse workforce but a healthier, more rounded one. I think this is equally important for men, because while it is often seen as a weakness for women, it can be seen as career suicide for men in some companies. In my experience, I’ve got so much more from my teams when we’ve offered flexi working. It isn’t easy, but it can be transformational.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Tough question! I should probably say my MBE, but it isn’t. On one level it would probably be my fearless 20 year old daughter, but I can’t really take credit for that. I’d like to say my greatest achievement hasn’t happened yet. There is much I am proud of, but I’m far from finished!

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

Getting TTC really growing and sustainable and showing genuine impact. There is so much to do, but I’m seeing more and more amazing people and companies getting involved so I am incredibly optimistic about it. I want to be able to look back on this in 2 years and really be able to see and to say this year was the year we genuinely started moving the dial on diversity in tech.

Oh, and work-life balance. I’m utterly rubbish at that. But this year, I really want to make a breakthrough on this.


Jillian Kowalchuk featured

Inspirational Woman: Jillian Kowalchuk | Founder, Safe & The City (SatC)

 

Jillian Kowalchuk is the founder of Safe & the City (SatC).

Safe & the City (SatC) is a London-based software technology company that uses geolocation tech and Met Police data in its app with the aim of preventing sexual harassment against women and girls on the streets - from wolf whistling to serious crimes such as rape. The app will be launched on 8th March.

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

I was born in Canada but spent my early years in Yemen, where my family was based until the Civil War of 1994. Spending time abroad and away from my native country as a child propagated this type of nomadic lifestyle throughout my life. I am an avid solo traveler and visited over 50 countries to date. I've also worked in various countries, including Uganda, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and now the UK. During these travel and work experiences, I was exposed to the different situations and living conditions of people. These immersive experiences also made me familiar with serious issues to these countries or cultures not always open for discussion, but still profoundly impactful.

This is where my passion lies to improve equality and address difficult topics. It was because of that I pursued my MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and utilised my psychology degree to advance behaviour change programmes to prevent infectious diseases, like HIV/AIDS. After my studies, I worked as a global public consultant at various private and public organisations, as well as a researcher at UCL London.

I am now the Founder and CEO of Safe & The City, an active advocate for gender equality, and on a mission is to eradicate a different kind of epidemic, and one usually invisible to many – sexual harassment.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career path has been a windy one. After my second year of University, I lost several close family members, including my Mother and Father, which made me determined to dedicate my life to a field I could be passionate about and fulfilled by, but this experience also left me feeling confused in where to begin as a young adult. After finishing my Psychology degree, I knew a few answers to this puzzle, that I needed to be equipped to positively impact and help others. I decided the best course of action was to immerse myself in a multitude of fields to gain invaluable life experiences, travel the world and ultimately to learn about myself and find my dream career. I experimented in various fields and countries spanning social work in New Zealand, sales in Australia, teaching in Japan, to a business analyst in Canada. This hit an apex when a close friend graduated from Public Health and the knowledge I accrued, led me to focus my career aspirations in this field.

However, like many things in life the plan doesn't always go to plan and soon after graduating from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with a focus on HIV/AIDS prevention and behaviour change campaigns, and moving permanently to London when Brexit happened, many of the public jobs were cut.

With London rich with data and support for innovative businesses, I started to learn how I could structure my diverse skillset into a field where I could realise the impact I wanted to have.

Tell us about the Safe & the City app?

Safe & The City is a GPS safety app, which aggregates annoymised open data on crimes, street lighting, business opening hours and crowdsourced experiences of sexual harassment, violence and potential environmental /urban instigators to these (i.e malfunctioning street lighting, dark passageways, etc) to provide alternative routes where women feel safer. We display this data to our users and provide data-driven insight on problematic streets, how to mobilise resources and create a safer community by everyone walking through it.

As a socially-driven enterprise we will use data to prioritise individuals’ safety starting in London. From our learnings here, we will develop a minimum viable model (MVM) to scale to other global cities to quickly and effectively respond to the dynamic, demanding and challenging nature of metropolitan cities. We are in our early stages with a small team need so in need of funding/investment, strategic partnerships and supporters who are aligned with our vision that every woman and girl has the right to feel safe while walking.

Do you think campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp can actually bring about change?

Absolutely, I think sharing and storytelling our experiences through different mediums, like social media, can raise awareness, educate and spur conversations on the topic. However, it can be a fine line and we've seen many campaigns quickly come and go so the key is to find tangible everyday solutions, like Safe & The City, where it is no longer the trending topic but we can relate to the environments we walk through or locations we know to understand sexual harassment are everyday realities for many people.

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

This is a challenging question, in part because of a lot of the barriers women face in the workplace, like sexual harassment, are masked, hidden or dismissed. My hope would these could be front and center to the discussion so solutions could emerge as a collective.

How would you encourage other women and girls into STEM careers?

It makes a very small impact to focus energy, resources and time to encourage individual women and girls to move into STEM careers. I believe we need to profile other women in STEM so diversity is early on recognised to children and create policies, incentives, and targetted efforts, to not only encourage the study of STEM subjects but maintain and grow into leadership positions in their career to bring their perspective to solve difficult challenges we all face.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

It's hard to qualify one achievement as I appreciate the journey that's gotten me to where I am today. However, I would have to say launching Safe & The City has been my greatest achievement to date because it is a unique concept I developed, inspired others to join me on this journey and putting it into millions of people hands to start to see the difference it will create.

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

The launch of Safe & The City will be a milestone of achievement, but one with many unforeseen challenges as well. Our aim is to create an impactful, successful and scalable business to move into the Global South and other vulnerable communities to start tackling social issues that affect our safety in public and workplaces we have the right to feel safe.