Having entered into the tech industry somewhat by chance, I wasn’t aware of the lack of gender diversity within the sector.

But having previously owned my own cleaning business, I guess I unwittingly swapped one gender dominance for another. I’d like to say that it didn’t make a difference to my journey, but the reality is – as in any situation where you’re in the minority – a lack of faces that look like your own, can prove a little unsettling.

Thankfully, prior to taking my first steps in the world of technology, at just 23, I’d already built a small business from the ground up. What started out as a job just for me, over time became successful – enabling me to get a taste of what it’s like to run a team, while managing the day-to-day responsibilities that come with it. As we expanded, I found HR processes had started to consume my time. Recognising that technology held the solution, I set about finding someone to make it happen…

Fail to plan, plan to fail

I’ve always had a plan set out, a timeline of ideal scenarios that would help me to build a family while not sacrificing a career. Ultimately, I wanted children and marriage, and then to leave enough years to build the future I dreamed of. And perhaps it’s no surprise by now, that I also knew what I sought in a partner. And so, it was fitting that the man I chose, also had the technology background to help.

Having created the solution to remedy my HR needs, Jason and I put the software online for free. But as momentum grew, we saw the opportunity to monetise the platform and create a business of our own. This marked the birth of Natural HR, and what a journey it’s been ever since.

Experience = confidence

Those early days could be a little intimidating. When we came to raise investment, I became acutely aware of the fact that the room was full of older men. Still, in my early twenties, I took a step back during the process —letting Jason take the lead in presentations. Being older than me, and male, I felt that he had more in common with the investors, and therefore a higher chance of success.

Truth be told, it also impacted my confidence to walk into a setting where I didn’t seem to fit. But the more we presented and the more experienced I became, I started to take on an increasingly active role. Having stayed true to myself, only taking on responsibilities when I felt able, I naturally adapted to this, more prominent position – eventually becoming the face of our brand, speaking up around relevant issues and helping to raise not only the profile of our business but of women in the tech sector as a whole.

A problem shared 

Building a business while raising children was hard. The juggling meant I had to sacrifice a lot – but I knew we couldn’t have it all without some element of struggle. At times, it took a huge amount of drive to keep doing what I was doing; but thankfully, today, family life is much easier to manage. New routines, delegation, and the growing independence of our children have helped. Ultimately, I knew that the harder times wouldn’t last forever and that in the bigger picture, it would be worth it.

One of the things missing in my earlier career was a support network of women at a similar level in business, who understood some of the stumbling blocks – from both a work and family perspective. I finally found this in a local ladies’ business group. Between us, we share our experiences and offer advice to others facing similar challenges. It’s something that has helped me tremendously, and I would advise others to seek this out.

Pay it forward

If we want to see women succeeding in tech become more commonplace, we need to champion that change. Being visible, and letting girls see what they too could become is important. It’s one of the reasons I enter awards, to own my achievements – and show that others can too. I’ve now won and been shortlisted for several awards, it’s something I’m immensely proud of.

Hold talks about your experiences and share advice at events, both on a small and a larger scale. Personally, I’m passionate about supporting local-level activities. Consistently working within one location means you can begin to see progress, which is incredibly rewarding.

Look to the future

One of the things that’s become apparent for me, during my career, is a lack of awareness that building a tech business requires more than just technical skills. Between me and my husband, he has the technical abilities, while I’ve always used my skillset to head up different functions – such as HR and operations. Women can play a huge role in the tech sector, even if they choose not to take a traditional tech route.

My advice for those wishing to start their own venture:

  • If you can, start early – I started my cleaning business at 21. And even before that, I was learning about stocks and shares. It helped build my confidence and abilities early on.
  • Have a clear vision – Focusing on your future at a young age is advantageous. The choices you make can each be focused to help you to build your career.
  • Seek out a support network – Without many women in the industry, those relationships may need to be found externally. Believe me when I say this is so important.
  • Know it won’t be perfect – We can have it all, but not without sacrifice. Know that, in the scheme of things, it’s short term and longer term you’ll prosper.
  • Use your experiences to shape the bigger picture – Give others the help you need and let’s change the gender balance, one step at a time.
  • Have self-belief – Technical skills or not, we all have something to offer in the tech space. Believe in your vision. The rest will follow.

About the author

Sarah Dowzell began developing her entrepreneurial spirit while trading on the stock market at the age of 18. By 21, she’d purchased her own cleaning company — an experience that saw her hone the skills that would, one day, prove invaluable. However as the company progressed, she found herself bogged down by HR processes. 

Looking to technology, Sarah recognised a gap in the market. Determined to fill it, she instigated a solution via her technology-savvy husband, Jason, who built brand-new software. Having proved helpful for Sarah, the couple shared the programme online for free. But, as utilisation increased, the duo saw an opportunity to monetise the platform — and it’s from here that Natural HR was born. 

Now a wife, mum of two, founder and chief operating officer of Natural HR, Sarah oversees the wider operations of the business while retaining a key role in customer success — a unique selling point for the brand.

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