Inspirational Woman: Lisa Moss | Co-Founder, QuestFriendz

Lisa MossLisa Moss is Co-Founder of QuestFriendz, a STEM educational children’s book publisher on a mission to create the next generation of future innovators.

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

I’m originally from Canada but I’ve spent the past 20+ years living in Europe, of which the majority of time has been spent in Amsterdam, NL.  I originally arrived in Europe as part of the international management program I was participating in at my university in Canada. This involved studying in Denmark combined with several internships abroad (England, Scotland and NL).

I spent 20 years in a corporate career where I worked across numerous industries and where I was fortunate to have opportunities to develop and grow into leadership roles across diverse disciplines ranging from product management, marketing, business development, brand strategy and general management. At a certain point I felt it was time to take the leap of faith to pursue an entrepreneurial adventure.

I founded QuestFriendz several years ago together with my husband Dr Thomas Bernard, pursuing a lifelong dream to build and grow our own business linked to a mission we are very passionate about. QuestFriendz is a new children’s book publisher, with a mission to produce expertly designed and inclusive books that will inspire and equip the next generation to pursue STEM education and careers. In turn, reducing the STEM skills shortage and increasing female representation and ethnic diversity in STEM.

The inception of QuestFriendz was initially back in 2018 when our twin daughters were three and a half years old, we were looking for books and toys that would nurture and develop their curiosity and foundational STEM skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. We looked across toys, games and books but found very limited options for this younger age range. And most were limited, depicting stereotypical lead characters or role models such as young boys in white lab coats. At the same time there was growing media coverage regarding the increasing STEM skills gap around the world including limited diversity in STEM which we also experienced first hand in the workplace. We saw an opportunity in the market which we decided to pursue and created SuperQuesters: The Case of the Stolen Sun, which is the first instalment in a unique new series which inspires a love of STEM learning through interactive play and stories, expertly designed to develop children’s STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) publishing on 3 May 2022, written by myself and my husband Dr Thomas Bernard (illustrated by Amy Willcox).

The SuperQuesters books are also a great screen-free way to help young children develop basic coding skills. The QuestFriendz website (www.questfriendz.com) features a wealth of STEM activities and resources for use in the home or school setting.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

At certain points in my career, especially as part of my corporate career, I’ve taken time for some career planning in terms of mapping out what I wanted to do as next steps and creating a rough plan to achieve mid term career goals. However, along the way my career planning has evolved many times and has remained fluid, taking many unexpected twists along the way. I’ve always tried to remain open to the opportunities that have come my way together with the desire to build/shape new initiatives and to drive change, rather than to follow a traditional corporate career progression.

I realized that it’s ok to change course and readjust career paths along the way and to follow your intuition as to what feels right personally for you. At a certain point in my career, I had the feeling that I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful and impactful based on my personal beliefs and passion. This helped to spark the transition from corporate to entrepreneur.

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

I have faced many challenges along the way both personally and professionally. As a woman (and mother) having held various leadership positions at times in male dominated industries and organizations, I have like other women experienced gender stereotypes, the unconscious bias and sexism in the workplace at times. For example, with women being viewed as less competent or valuable than men or the same behaviour of men and women being evaluated differently.  With this worsening further when women have children and as women age. Being a female in a male dominated environment has sadly been tough at certain points in my career, with times where there was clearly a lack of support system for women and where HR could have played a stronger role in creating a more inclusive workplace.  However, on a positive note, these experiences have helped to fuel personal growth and the desire to drive change for future generations, as well provide the nudge needed to take the leap into the entrepreneurial world.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I consider making the transition from an established corporate career to an entrepreneur in the book industry (a new industry for me) has been one of my biggest achievements. A lot of people underestimate just how big a transition this can be, moving from a ‘comfortable’ situation where you have plenty of support and resources at your disposal, an established way of working and industry knowledge/network to a situation where you need to build everything from the ground up in a new industry, expanding your network and building up industry knowledge and expertise as quickly as possible.  It takes a lot of hard work, belief in your overarching mission and vision and relentless perseverance.

Group of children reading SuperQuesters book at home

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

I believe this has been a combination of factors including my desire to drive change and make an impact, love of taking on new challenges and perseverance in everything I do.

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

I believe these tips can be applicable across any industry.

First of all find something that you love to do, that stimulates your personal passion and drive. Find (or create) a company with a mission that you believe in and is aligned with your values and beliefs. Look for career opportunities outside of your comfort zone, by taking on roles that allow you to continuously grow and develop. This can mean sometimes not always taking the expected and traditional next career step. These are often the assignments where you can learn the most. Find good mentors and role models, who really ‘see you’ and your potential, and who are willing to go to bat for you. This is both crucial in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur.

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

I believe there are still many barriers today for women working across different industries, not only in tech and there are also barriers not only for women but for those who are different from the majority of the workforce. Whether this is linked to gender, ethnicity, disability or neurodivergence the barriers are still there and often leave people feeling discriminated against and like an ‘outsider’.

I believe there are several ways to work towards overcoming these barriers both at the beginning of the Tech/STEM pipeline and further along. It starts with education from a young age, opening up children’s views that everyone can have a role to play in the Tech/STEM world regardless of gender, ethnicity, or abilities and creating a diverse pipeline of people to fill these roles.

Companies have a critical role to play in hiring and developing a diverse workforce. Creating a diverse workforce starts at the top, with a representative leadership team, setting the standard and providing the role models needed to attract and retain diverse talent. An inclusive culture needs to go hand in hand with this.

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

One critical way to support the progress of women and minorities in tech, is to make sure they are set up for success when they are hired. Some ways to do this include ensuring that diversity and inclusion is driven from the top and embedded in the company culture where diversity in people and ways of thinking are valued and celebrated. As well as ensuring that there are relevant role models and mentors in place throughout different levels of the organization, with a safety system in place to monitor and evaluate along the way.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would encourage girls to get involved in Tech/STEM from an early age as well as encourage parents and teachers to look at the role they can play in helping to accelerate the pace of change by helping all children to see that tech/STEM careers are for everyone and that everyone can have a role to play. Helping to build an inclusive mindset, as well as encouraging girls and building their confidence in STEM from a young age can help to make significant strides.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are so many resources available these days it’s often hard to decide where to spend your limited time. LinkedIn is a great place to start. I recommend connecting and interacting with a diverse set of people depending on your interests, scheduling 1-2 virtual coffees per week. This is a great way to connect on many different topics and areas of interest.

In terms of networking groups and organizations for women in tech, I recommend Women in Tech and WomenTech Network to name a few. They host some great global and regional in person and virtual events.


Inspirational Woman: Pavla Munzarova | Chief Financial Officer, Mews

Pavla Munzarova

Before coming to Mews, Pavla had a wealth of experience operating hotels, working for almost six years in the Mamaison Hotels & Residences group.

She worked her way up from the reception to the financial controller and thus gained a deep insight into the hotel operations fundamentals. After that, she worked in various financial and data positions in several corporations for a few years.

Pavla joined the Mews team in the fall of 2016 as the fifteenth employee and the first woman. In five years, she has built an entire finance department with 50 employees from scratch. She was present in all the investments that Mews has made so far and in all acquisitions and expansions into new markets. In addition to finance, Mews finance department is also in charge of risk management, the legal division, M&A, and business operations.

Pavla is an enthusiastic athlete. She grew up playing tennis actively and still loves to play matches. In addition, she also lifts weights – her deadlift PR is 160 kg. She can thus carry the finances of the global scaleup on her shoulders without any problems.

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

I am Chief Financial Officer of Mews – a rapidly growing hospitality tech startup. My role covers the finance, risk, business operations, corporate development and legal department.

I started my career in hospitality as a front desk agent, rising through the ranks and working at a hotel chain’s headquarters. It was here where I landed my first job in data analysis, later moving into the finance team.

I spent several years at large corporations, in various finance roles, where I learned that fast paced companies suit my working style much more. Pardon the cliché, but every day was different to the previous one and I loved the excitement this brought. I was also extremely excited about technology and automation, never truly understanding why so many jobs are reliant on manual processes, which is what led me to this great role at Mews.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never – I always took things step by step. My focus in every role was to do to the best job I could. However, my passion for automation meant I was constantly pushing for elements of the job to be automated, while looking for the next thing to improve or fix – which diversified my role incredibly. This was always extremely welcomed by my employers, and I was rewarded for this proactivity and forward-thinking attitude. This passion for automation has led me to join Mews – a company looking to digitally transform the hospitality industry, helping hotels to move to the cloud in a bid to improve both guest and employee experiences.

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

I think the biggest challenge is changing people’s mindsets. Not everyone enjoys change, but it’s crucial to improvement and progress. I love challenging the status quo and rebuilding elements of a business, which isn’t always welcomed by everyone. People often worry about change when they don’t have information on how this impacts them, or they don’t trust those making the changes.

However, maintaining good relationships with co-workers helps with this and opens that two-way trust. Once they see the change is working, their perception changes – starting with small steps can help to build this trust.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Playing a part in building the incredible finance team we’ve built at Mews in the past five years! With the added challenge of navigating a hospitality business through a pandemic, that as good as shut the industry down, has so far been the most difficult, but rewarding, experience of my life.

As I speak, there are 45 employees in the finance team but that number will no doubt have grown by the time you’re reading this. In our department, we are taking care of much more than the financial compliance – supporting the overall company-wide process, driving efficiency and growth.

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

I’d say it’s my curiosity. I can’t let stuff that I don’t know go. This curiosity has led me entering the tech and finance industries. I have a desire to know and learn as much as I can, which helps when working in a fast-paced, growing startup.

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

There’s so much great advice out there but there are three key things I’d highlight.

Firstly, read as much as you can. There are now so many great, easy to access resources to solve several business and tech problems. It’s likely someone somewhere has encountered the same problem as you at some point. However, I also wouldn’t discourage people from rolling up their sleeves and jumping into problem-solving – it’s the best way to learn.

Second, ask for feedback as often as possible. Look back at your previous reviews and examine where you’ve improved and where you can develop further. Every experience you have can be twice as helpful if you look back, take learnings from it and apply these in a structured way.

Finally, talk to people. Absorb information and advice from both co-workers and peers at other companies, or even in other industries. Find a mentor to help guide you through your career. You never know who is going to give you an interesting point of view to help you improve at your job or find a solution to a problem you’re having.

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

Yes, there are barriers, but I think the market is significantly more supportive than it was five years ago. I think the best advice for women today is do not give up. You’re capable of getting around these obstacles, and there’s an incredible community of supportive women to lean on for advice. If we all gave up, we’d be lowering the barrier for the next generation of women.

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

I love seeing the number of women in tech communities these days, and love how much support they’re receiving from male peers too. I think companies need to take advantage of this and ensure they’re providing opportunities and pathways for women to succeed. It helps employees do the best job possible, brings new ideas to the table and sets an example to new talent looking to join the business. The benefits are too good to not support women!

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

I spent a couple of years of my career being hesitant about tech  and worrying about my own abilities to work in the industry. From personal experience, I would wave a magic wand to give every woman the self-esteem to break down barriers and jump into the tech industry without any doubts.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Become part of your local tech community – there are an array of them across Europe. This doesn’t just have to be in person too, the beauty of social media means platforms such as LinkedIn can be a great source of information, education and networking opportunity.

When it comes to podcasts, I love listening to ‘Equity’ by TechCrunch, ‘The Knowledge Project’ hosted by Shane Parrish and HBR’s ‘Idea Cast’.

I also use learning platforms such as Datacamp, Harvard’s online business courses and Coursera to help brush up my knowledge on a variety of topics.


Inspirational Woman: Rebecca Bivona-Guttadauro | Senior Market Researcher & Global Chair for Women in Tech, Xperi

Rebecca Bivona-GuttadauroBecca Guttadauro was born and raised in Southern California and moved to the Bay Area in the fall of 2006, to attend Santa Clara University.

She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and went on to earn her Master’s degree from San Jose State University. As an advocate for research and data, Becca strives to execute high-quality, unbiased research to help Xperi’s teams make smart business decisions. She joined TiVo (now Xperi) in February 2015 and is grateful every day for the opportunity. Becca serves as the Global Chair of Women in Tech at Xperi Employee Resource Group. She values the networking and connection with women she has found within this role. She also serves on Xperi’s Diversity & Inclusion Council.

When Becca is not researching or organising programs for Women in Tech, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters – Penelope (6) and Julia (3). She is an avid reader, aiming to read 85 books by the end of this year. She loves cooking and baking with her daughters and can often be found dancing around the house and teaching her girls about Classic Rock.

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

I studied sociology at Santa Clara University in California, as I was interested in social justice and wanted to be of service to others. After getting my master’s degree in sociology from San Jose State University, I took a job working for a syndicated research organisation in the digital consumer field, which was what initially introduced me into the tech industry.

In 2015, TiVo reached out to me and offered me the role of market researcher, which has now led to my current role as manager of market research. In between my roles at TiVo (now Xperi), I was constantly looking for ways to advocate for myself and other women, and the Employee Response Group (ERG) seemed like the perfect opportunity to help me achieve this.

I volunteered to be a part of the women in tech initiative, which not only gave me the platform to carry out intersectional work, but also enabled me to talk to other tech leaders about the lack of female visibility in the tech industry and what more could be done. As the Global Chair, it is important that I am looking for opportunities where we can have open conversations to make Xperi better for its female employees and to make sure they feel included and considered for new roles.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say I planned my career or planned to work in the tech industry. I was originally interested in politics and wanted to work with the United Nations in some capacity. I remember having a TiVo DVR growing up, but apart from that, I was not too interested in technology. After graduate school, I knew I wanted to do research for a living, and while I envisioned doing non-profit work, I landed at an organisation focused on the digital consumer space.

Following that, I became well versed in analysing how consumers consume technology through different services and devices, and how new services were expanding. I am currently not in a tech-facing role at Xperi, but it has helped me to identify the lack of women in tech roles, which fulfils my desire to work towards social justice and gender equity.

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

Earlier on in my career, I had a manager who was quite inappropriate with some of the comments he made, which he got away with, as I did not understand that they were unacceptable. I have also felt, at times, there were instances where I did not feel heard or given the appropriate credit when due.

I think many women experience this unconscious bias that comes into play, especially at work, but being able to identify the microaggressions is important. Through identifying these problematic behaviours, I believe there has been a shift in attitude and, whilst gender bias still happens, having a platform where women can speak freely about their experiences can help tackle the issue.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For myself, becoming a manager was a big step for me and, although I felt a certain level of imposter syndrome at first, I soon learnt to look forward to my promotion and leading the team. From a woman in tech perspective, receiving testimonies where someone expresses how they stood up for themselves, or had that difficult conversation, feels like a win for me as well.

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

By choosing to believe in myself, rather than doubt my abilities, I have been able to put myself out there more and open myself up to new opportunities.

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

I would say something as simple as changing how you word emails is a big step for advocating for yourself, especially in a male-dominated industry, such as tech. It is important to communicate in a way that shows you are an expert.

Finding a community of other women where you feel comfortable sharing your experiences and learning from one another is also important, as it gives you that sense of support and helps you to not withhold how you may feel about certain situations. Uplifting other women and maintaining a pay it forward mentality I find very important too.

Lastly, try to catch yourself when you are being critical about yourself! Instead, it’s important to think about what you have already accomplished and challenge the inner critic that is in all of us – but that is a lot louder in women.

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

I believe there are still barriers in the sense that women need to constantly come in and advocate for themselves if they want to be considered for a certain role. We still have to make ourselves seen in the industry, in comparison to men, because we are not part of the male dominated conversation.

I think these barriers are slowly being broken down in the Western world, but we still have strides to make in different global regions.

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

From a cultural perspective, we need to do better to support women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). From a young age, men are encouraged into these fields, whereas women are often trapped in fields that are not as technical, and these stereotypes are still being perpetuated today.

Investing in programmes that propel women forward, as well as give them the chance to see if they like engineering, for example, directly impacts the presence of women in the tech industry alone. Investing in education is also important, because if we keep looking in the same pools, we will not be investing in women. It is important to note that working in tech is not just working with software and coding – there are a lot of hybrid tech roles and if we broaden people’s experience, we might attract a wider range of people.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would increase representation of women in leadership roles at tech companies, primarily in the C-suite. There is a serious lack of diversity for many tech companies and, while strides are being made, we need more female representation on boards and executive teams. As a woman, it is important that I see women at the top – this shows me that the organisation I am working for values women at the top. We believe what we see and if we see more representation of women, diverse women, I think it will help inspire more women in the tech field.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Anything by Brene Brown is great for learning how to be a great leader, especially her book Dare to Lead. She talks about vulnerability and the importance of bringing your authentic self to work every day. She also has a podcast on Spotify that is great to listen to, as it carries her work forward into conversations with thought leaders across industries.

I recently read Radical Candor by Kim Scott, which is another example of how, as women, we need to understand the importance of giving and receiving feedback in a way that shows that you care for and respect others.

AnitaB.org, the organisation that puts on the Grace Hopper conference, is a great resource for women in tech. Their mission is to connect, inspire, and guide women in computing, and organisations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative.


Tzvete Doncheva

Inspirational Woman: Tzvete Doncheva | International Investor Relations Lead, PropTech1 Ventures

Tzvete DonchevaTzvete Doncheva is leading global investor relations at PropTech1 Ventures, one of Europe’s first ESG compliant PropTech venture capital funds.

She leads on fundraising and platform activities in non-German speaking markets, fostering connections with property investors, who seek to better leverage technology in their portfolios. Through her work, she helps to strengthen the fund’s brand across the continent. Her experience in VC includes being on the investment team at a supply chain-focused fund and in a platform role at the VC spin out of multinational real estate investment manager Round Hill Capital. Tzvete is a firm advocate for bridging the gender gap in venture capital and technology, a non-exec trustee at Girls in Charge and founder of a project, that aims to help tackle the issue of closed networks in VC and help increase female representation at founder and funder level.

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

In one line – I’m a former journalist, ex startup operator, who’s now leading investor relations at an ESG- compliant venture capital firm, focused on real estate innovation. Following an International Relations undergrad degree in London, I joined the first (and possibly largest) private national TV channel in Bulgaria, BTV. There I got to be exposed to a working style of ‘learning on the go’ – a great experience to have early on in my career. As one of my favourite senior reporters (who in time, turned into a mentor) used to say – ‘if you can’t swim, you drown’. It’s an expression and a way of thinking that has stayed with me ever since.

So.. what brought the switch to tech/VC? During my reporter days, I did a couple of tech-focused pieces – i.e. former classmates of mine had launched and successfully raised venture funding for a resume building platform. The more I got to know the startup scene, the more interested in it I became. Who wouldn’t want to be close to the visionaries, building businesses that can change the world? 😉 Slowly, slowly I started to realise computer skills are in fact not a prerequisite to work in tech (a big misconception I held for a while!). As it often happens in life, opportunities come when you actively start looking for them. Or in other words – the path does indeed appear with taking the first step. So I joined the (Prop)tech world as a first employee at an alternative coworking startup. We had the vision to help hospitality operators in London and beyond monetise the underused spaces in their venues by turning them into a flexible work environment. It was during and thanks to my operator days that I started to become ‘immersed’ in the UK tech scene and how I got to begin building my network. I’d like to think this was in part due to natural ability (of bringing people together, ie as was the case with the ‘Founders Breakfast’ series with British think tank The Entrepreneurs Network) , but I have to be honest – a driving factor in this network building thing has certainly been a relentless attitude (at some point I was going to as many as 3-4 startup events per day!). Through all these initiatives I got to know many more stakeholders in the ecosystem (including the groups an ‘ecosystem’ is made of). VCs (venture capitalists/risk capital) were a key group. And this is how I began to get more familiar with the VC world. It fascinated me to a point that I wanted in. And little by little, I oriented my approach towards switching the side of the table I was on – and moving over to VC

Fast forward to now. As mentioned, I am leading Global Investor Relations at PropTech1 Ventures, one of Europe’s first early stage PropTech venture capital firms, investing in the untapped potential for innovation in the real estate industry. We are ESG-compliant, strive to a nearly 50% gender equal management team, and have a truly unique LP base – representing some of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the continent’s startup/business angel scene (ie Christian Vollmann), as well large institutional players with an interest in property innovation such as German banks Aareal and Berlin Hyp. My role focuses on capital raising (we recently closed a 50M euro first time fund) and the expansion of our shareholder base/growth of our reach beyond our ‘home’ DACH region ( if you/your organisation is interested in finding out more about the benefits of partnering up with a sector-specific venture vehicle, happy for you to get in touch :)).

Landing a role in VC as an ‘outsider’ gave me a ton of insight on how difficult this industry is to break into for those who are not part of existing circles (ie in the UK, over 20% of investors are graduates of just four colleges) – as founders, investors, managers, even LPs looking to get allocation in really high performing funds. That’s only one example of educational network exclusivity – but it can of course impact proposition sourcing, and have a play on assessment, overall decision-making and even fund hiring. The desire to contribute towards a change in the industry and its ‘opening’ to outsiders inspired me to create #EcosystemGiants, a series that aims to from one side shed light on how the sector operates, and from another enable the connections between various stakeholders in the ecosystem. They started during the pandemic as webinars and have featured some of the most well-known investors in Europe such as Oliver Holle (Speedinvest), Reshma Sohoni (Seedcamp), and the first in-person guest of the format, Cem Sertoglu of Earlybird – Digital East Fund. They’ve been a resource to get to know such leaders, and also connect with a like-minded community. Given that the community I care most about are women – investors and entrepreneurs, especially in Eastern Europe, since the start of the year, these events have been taking place in a roundtable setting, and in Bulgaria – gathering a couple of the local leaders from various innovation sectors and positions (entrepreneurs, corporates, public sector), all looking to make a further impact with their work.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Not as I was starting out – which is probably obvious to observers. My goals and ambitions changed and developed, in line with my personal growth (or at least I’d like to think that). You’ve to be aware of an opportunity to go after it – and I hope my less than ideal career planning serves as an example to young girls (and why not guys), reading this interview – make yourself aware of what you can achieve. It would have been great to have been more strategic about career goals and have had a better planned work trajectory when (or even before) entering the workforce.

Reflecting on my own experience, I can say it is really important to have a bigger focus on career planning in school, prior to children/teenagers deciding on the subject they are to pursue further into their studies. I do hope when my 14 year old sister is to make her career choice, it is a result of more elaborate planning, with the support of family, educators, and thanks to being inspired by relatable role models around her. I think from the moment I realised I wanted to be in VC and contribute to create a multigenerational wealth for a community, my approach became more systematic, but still – it is an evolving journey. Work in progress. As is life 🙂

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I’m a big believer in the notion that everyone makes their own destiny. There are serendipitous moments, and certain things can only come together due to luck, but.. ultimately the harder you work, the luckier you become. In this line of thought, some of the biggest challenges we typically are presented with are self-created – such as for me, getting out of my comfort zone, expanding upon the limits set by both myself and society. It has been a journey to get to the point of having enough self-belief to go after the opportunities I don’t necessarily feel quite ready for. It may not look like it from the outside but I am actually not that confident in myself. For the longest time I did feel incredibly insecure, in the world of finance, fighting a near daily imposter syndrome. I shrugged everytime someone brought up the fact that I’d won a beauty pageant title. I was feeling nearly embarrassed to admit I didn’t study business/economics or thought my lack of an Oxbridge degree was a big deal. It did take me a while to get comfortable with the fact that I don’t actually need to fit into anyone’s perception of both what a VC is, or how those working in venture capital should look like. It’s only recently that I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that I should not downplay my identity to be taken seriously in the industry or be able to build authority. This has been possible both due to an increased self-awareness but also thanks to being able to be around incredible woman leaders and understanding male counterparts (which in VC land make up about 90% of the decision-makers), who are willing to enable the growth of the juniors around them. I can credit Gilda Perez-Alvarado, Sadie Malim, Mariana Peressini, Samantha Rush, Deepali Nangia as some of the women whom I feel inspired to learn from, and who (either directly or by observation) have been incredibly influential in helping me build my own self confidence.

By no means do I want to disregard system challenges related to underrepresentation and the difficulties of getting a foot through a door that’s so ingrained with exclusivity of networks. However we do have a huge role in making our destiny. Our response to challenges sometimes carries more weight than the challenges themselves.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Each accomplishment that has been previously considered unachievable. Moving to and making one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world home at 19. Helping to build a tech business from the ground up. Getting into a very relationship-driven industry without the necessary prerequisites  (network, educational/family ties) and succeeding. Landing a role in an investment bank, without the typical background for it. In short, succeeding against the odds. And this has many faces 🙂

I also think most recently the speedy developments we’ve had at the VC firm I work at, PropTech1,  across all fronts – from raising an oversubscribed first-time fund to overall market positioning and expansion have been significant. A result of a great team effort but I can’t deny it makes me proud to have been part of it!

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

I think there’s a few.

  1. Not giving up when things get hard. It sounds so simple but when compounded, it truly makes a difference.
  2. Being adaptable. The path to your goal may change, get disrupted or destroyed. As long as you’re clear on where you want to get to, flexibility and creativity will enable you to build a way even when no way exists.
  3. Knowing what you want. The above two do not hold any weight if you can’t set your priorities straight and don’t know what you’re aiming for.

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

Have we not all heard Jim Rohn’s quote about how we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with? While I cannot say I am a firm supporter of ‘mentoring’ per say (the term is a bit too vague for my liking – and it’s lately being thrown around for any and all initiatives in the ecosystem – with impact that’s difficult to measure); I do very much support knowledge exchanges between senior/junior representatives of a firm, organisation or industry-wide. It’s a great way to transfer experiences and it really helps if the impact or result of those interactions can be tracked. As an example, more recently I am very excited to be taking part in ULI’s Young Leaders Mentorship Program, which has the vision to support the Young Leaders of the organisation (which is the world’s oldest, largest multidisciplinary real estate forum) to get to know and learn from more senior members.

I’m a non-exec trustee at Girls in Charge, an organisation helping young women gain the skills needed to succeed in life and business through gamified workshops. Our exchanges may be adhoc, but they both proactively seek my help when advice is needed, and have taken the initiative to update me and the other trustees in structured quarterly updates. It is rewarding to have witnessed their growth and development, even if the main drivers for that are their own grit, talent and ambition 🙂 Even though our relationship has never been labelled as mentor – mentee, why the knowledge exchange works in this case is because there’s engagement and willingness to learn from both sides (they’ve also gone out of their way to do things that may be helpful to me). And I hope they are learning as much from me as I am from them 🙂

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

Start the conversation early. It will take over 135 years to close the Gender Gap globally. The World Economic Forum annually issues a report aimed at measuring the progress towards gender parity, comparing gender gaps across countries in four broad buckets – economic opportunities, education, health and political representation. The average income (men/women) is still off by over 50%, and less than ⅓ of manager positions are being taken by leaders, who are female.

Raising awareness about the issue should start at the very base level – in the family, it should be spoken about at school, so that men and women can both go into the workforce with a sound knowledge of the scope of the problem, and perhaps even suggestions for possible solutions. There is hope that the next generation will be more aware and equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to fight the inequality challenges previous generations failed to.

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

Trust your instincts. At least in my experience, ignoring my intuition has brought me more harm than good.*

*When I was filling out those interview answers for the first time, I had put down ‘Lead with kindness’. I would love to believe this is still the case, but I’m also increasingly becoming aware it’s not in everyone’s nature to be kind and to respond to good with good. So.. in line with trusting your gut, be selective of the people you spend your time with. We only have a finite amount of energy – ensure it’s spent well!

And of course, last but not least – only take advice from people you’d trade lives with (or aspire to be like!) 😉

What are you hoping to achieve in the future? 

I think it’s good for us to set goals and aim towards new challenges in any aspect of life – health, work, personal achievements – also mindful of speaking of the future in present tense. As mentioned before, I do feel very strongly about having my work lead to a positive impact and an improvement to the dire statistics in the VC industry. Is it really that surprising that less than 3% of venture funding goes to teams, who have a woman founder if the number of women in senior VC roles continues to be shockingly low (2020 stats show 65% of US VC firms are still lacking a woman partner, and only 13% of UK partner-level investors are female). To have more capital flow to businesses, started by diverse, out-of- ordinary outliers, there should be more outliers of diverse backgrounds managing this capital. I’m hoping to one day be in a position to support talented, extraordinary founders I can relate to with more than soft skills advice and a couple of intros.


Dina Elsokari

Inspirational Woman: Dina Elsokari | Sales Director UK & Ireland Enterprise, Databricks

Dina ElsokariDina Elsokari is currently serving as Sales Director UK & Ireland Enterprise at Databricks, managing a team focused on new business and high velocity selling in the UKI region.

She’s been working in software sales for fourteen years, with the goal of progressing the careers of her direct reports by managing in a safe environment driven by enablement, teamwork and growth. Prior to working at Databricks, Dina was a cloud sales specialist at Informatica.

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

I’m a mother of two and have been working in software sales for about fourteen years now.

I am currently leading a team of around nine account executives at Databricks covering the UK & Ireland market and supporting our business to grow the market share in the region.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?  

I always knew I would eventually want to be in leadership but I was always flexible on when this would happen. I had two children during the course of my career, so I knew timelines were always going to be impacted by that as my priorities were changing. One goal I’ve always had is to be the best in my career while being an amazing mum too. Quite the balancing act!

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

Definitely! The day before I started my first role in sales I found out I was pregnant with my first. Being so new in my career and facing this unplanned yet wonderful change in my life was quite scary. I knew that I needed to be laser-focused on overachieving in my role to prove that I could manage both. We’re certainly moving in the right direction as an industry, and hopefully in the near future, soon-to-be mums won’t feel like they need to prove anything.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There are a few things I could focus on. In 2021 I built a team from scratch that was mostly made up of account executives with little to no experience selling and some people who had never held a quota. That team meshed together so well that we set the bar for culture and overachieved where the majority of the team went over quota. The attainment was great but really the best part was how the team came together.

Another big achievement for me was when I was finally able to shake off what other people perceived of me. As soon as I was able to be honest about my strengths and weaknesses, it gave me more freedom to work better with my team, focus on my goals and grow as a leader.

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

Find your niche. Look for something you enjoy, that you excel at, and that you can obsess over. This isn’t going to be the only thing you’ll be good at, but it’ll be the thing that you’ll build your brand with. Speak up about it, be the expert, be proactive on it, and ultimately gain exposure for yourself, having built your brand and niche.

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

It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, me being a woman doesn’t stop me from doing anything in my day to day job. But thinking of the tech industry at large, I look around and don’t see many female leaders. We are still a long way from where we need to be.

I’d also love to see way more female candidates when I’m hiring, and that’s an industry-wide opportunity. To get more women into tech, we need to be more proactive as leaders. For example, if you know women early on in their careers, offer them some mentorship. Take a chance with candidates that have potential but may not have all the experience just yet. Finally, we all need to bridge that gap and make a conscious decision to proactively support the development of women in our organisations.

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

Give women a voice to speak at events or represent your organisation. Offer enablement programmes for anyone who might have the potential but lack the experience in years.

Offer flexible working for people who have competing responsibilities. The wonderful thing about making an environment that’s good for women to work in, is that you’re making it an environment that’s great to work in for everyone.

There are currently only 17 percent of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

I’d offer training and enablement to girls and women that are relevant to them and their interests. I’d also look at ways we can change how we present jobs and offer flexibility for someone with potential.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I really enjoy meetups – they’re the best way to network, create relationships and build your brand.

I watch a lot of TED talks for men and women and look at ways I can develop my public speaking skills. If we want to grow the number of women in tech, we need to be the inspiration that attracts those women into tech.

I also love training courses on psychology and how to manage your relationships – often confidence is a big blocker to starting something new, so understanding how to interact is really helpful. I recently did a course with Bogdan Manta from “The Essential Workshops”, who ran a session on the dynamics of mentoring. It’s all about honing in on skills around emotional intelligence and how communication and charisma are qualities that are valuable in mentorship.

Last but by no means least, I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s podcast series and some courses that his organisation runs around better leadership.


Amy Featherstone

Inspirational Woman: Dr. Amy Featherstone | Innovation Lead, Kensa Contracting

Amy Featherstone

I’m actually very new to the world of renewables, and have only been working in the field for two years.

I was a climate scientist before my role with Kensa Contract Ltd, working on reconstructing what climate was like in the past so we can more accurately predict the future. I started off in Kensa as a Grant Administrator for the Energy Superhub Oxford project before being promoted to Innovation Lead and helping establish a new research department. As part of this role, I’m helping develop the next steps in achieving net zero and carbon reduction, while also being able to speak to the people who have switched out their old inefficient systems with new Kensa systems. I get to not only see the benefits through models, data, and design changes, but I also get to speak to residents who are warmer over the winter than they have been before and are saving money on their bills, giving them a better quality of life.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did sit down and plan my career. I’ve had the same career plan since I was 8 years old. When I achieved my PhD, however, that was where the planning ended. I follow the expected academic route for a bit, but I felt a bit adrift and uneasy with my personal development. I felt like I wasn’t changing anything, about myself or the world around me. That’s when I applied for my first and only industry position, which was completely off-piste of any plan that 8-year-old Amy could have dreamed.

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

I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced is going from being highly knowledgeable and skilled in my field of choice, and having to take a step back and adapt those skills into a new position. Learning what a heat-pump was, how they work, and how to make them better, was a big leap compared to the work I did before.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I was recently promoted to Innovation Lead at Kensa Contracting LTD. As this is a blossoming department in the company so I get to build it, and the team, up from the ground. I think this will be something I look back on with pride, throughout my career.

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

I have a fantastic support network, both in Kensa and out of it. My family and husband are always pushing me to be the best of myself, and my colleagues are the same. In Kensa, we all seem to have the same drive, so there’s a lot of support to achieve the next big project or personal goal.

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

I think my number 1 top tip is that if you feel uneasy, whether that be because of the workplace itself or because or the work you’re doing, don’t rest on it. If you feel like you’re stagnating, push yourself to change it up.

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

I do believe there are still barriers for women in tech and until more women are promoted to positions of power within tech companies, prejudice will always be there. Women are still more likely to be paid less than their male counterparts. Maternity leave is still holding people back from professional growth. However, the gap is closing and we’re gaining ground. It’s not all doom and gloom, but the fight isn’t yet over.

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

All women want is equality. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can speak to my boss and my colleagues as a person, rather than a woman. They talk to me the exact same as they do each other. I get the same workload and I’m held to the same accountability. I’m not given work that falls out of my job scope just because I’m a woman, such as planning events. These are all things that other companies can do to ensure they’re treating women the same as their male counterparts.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

It’s not just that there are less women working in tech, but also studying tech (or being apprentices) before entering the workplace. In 2017/2018, only 35% of STEM students in higher education were female. For both computer and engineering scientists, only 19% of students in the UK were female (UCAS data provided by HESA). A CSU study found that 1.5times more women than men dropped out after studying calculus due to a ‘lack of confidence’ (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0157447).

I think there’s just less support for women to be in these positions, and that starts from university or even earlier. Almost every person I know who was AFAB, at one point, has been assigned to a gender role, whether that be told about ‘boy and girl toys’ or told by their teachers to pursue a more traditionally feminine career. I like to think this is changing, but it will take time for the figures to reflect that. If I could wave a magic wand, it would be to give every woman who’s thinking of studying a STEM degree, or taking a STEM-related apprenticeship, the confidence to go do it.


Inspirational Woman: Zeinab Ardeshir | Co-founder & CEO of PillSorted

Zeinab ArdeshirZeinab Ardeshir co-founded PillSorted, a personalised pharmacy service, nearly three years ago with the aim of disrupting the traditionally transactional pharma experience and instead delivering a compassionate, more relationship-focused experience.

The healthtech – which works with a number of NHS services to deliver medications – uses technology to get medication dispensed and delivered to patients in a timely manner, which in turn means that pharmacists are able to optimise their time consulting patients.

Zeinab holds a Doctor of Pharmacy from Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences and a Postgraduate diploma for Overseas Pharmacists from Aston University and prior to Co-founding Pill Sorted, spent nearly 11 years working as a pharmacist at Boots and Tesco.

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

I’m Zeinab Ardeshir, the Co-founder, CEO and Chief Pharmacist of PillSorted. I’m a qualified pharmacist and worked as a community pharmacist for 17 years before starting PillSorted, in various countries.

I’ve always particularly loved community pharmacy, because it’s such a rare blend of science and human relationships.

I set up PillSorted in November 2019, right before the pandemic hit, to deliver a pharmacy experience that combined compassionate care and technology. PillSorted is a product of my love for community pharmacy and my desire to ensure pharmacists are providing the best care possible. Pharmacists are often seen as glorified retail assistants, however I believe their potential is untapped and they could be delivering more holistic care. We provide a completely personalised pharmacy service for people who are on multiple medications, delivering their medication and dosage information to them each month and reviewing their medications constantly. Many of our patients are elderly people who have different medical prescriptions, so our service is designed to provide ongoing support and make managing their prescriptions easier for them.

There are many manual and repetitive tasks in community pharmacy, which is where companies like PillSorted can help. In the same way that we can get groceries delivered on-demand, I  wanted to create a company that could provide something similar for antibiotics. I want PillSorted to play a role in providing preventative healthcare for the community, which is so important given the NHS staff shortages we’re currently seeing.

As the CEO, my focus is on customer care and the clinical side of the business, where my Pharmacist background helps. My co-founder Mohammad ensures that the operations run smoothly and together we make sure all teams work in unison.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I made a very conscious decision to move from being a pharmacist to an entrepreneur pharmacist, as I’ve always prioritised taking care of patients – it’s been my north star in all my career decisions.

Moving from a clinical focused background to being a Founder of a healthtech has definitely been a big change and a learning curve! I enjoy the multifaceted aspect of leadership, from marketing, finance, people management and moving the business forward and towards a common goal.

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

Starting a company was one of the pivotal changes in my career and definitely hasn’t come without its challenges. I started from thinking I wasn’t good enough, to realising that there are many questions that no one knows the answer to, and that it’s okay not to know everything.

I’d like to think I’ve embraced all the challenges as learning opportunities and am always asking questions.

And, having a great mentor helps too.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Growing PillSorted from zero to where it is now is my biggest achievement to date, but it’s just the beginning. It has given me the chance to take care of patients more than any other time in my career and has been truly rewarding. I feel very lucky to have an amazing team of people in all aspects of the company.

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

The obsession with delivering the best care possible has always been at the heart of my career. I’m also brutally honest with people around me and more importantly, with myself. Being true to oneself is absolutely key in making consistent decisions. I also have an incredible support network, particularly my children, who motivate me and are in my corner.

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

Go ahead, be brave and ask questions! We have an amazing female software developer who is incredibly detailed in her work and has a positive attitude. She has been brave to join a sector that is completely new to her. She has been the only developer in our organisation for a while, has asked lots of questions along the way and has pioneered the creation of our operating system as a result. There will always be people in your corner.

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

I think like many male dominated industries, it is challenging to find the right career advice at the right time. Becoming a founder, venturing into business, or asking for investment can all feel like daunting tasks just as being the only female tech developer in a team can be daunting. We need to think of ourselves as pioneers and feel confident that mistakes are learning opportunities and nothing more. Barriers become much easier to overcome when they don’t stem from a fear of failure.

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

Creating a culture of nurture and mentorship enables women to flourish.

Companies need to provide training, to create career progression pathways, to proactively offer them to women and to encourage women to keep these decisions in their forecast.

Our employees trust their time and careers with us and we need to enable their career progression and the feeling of success being part of a winning team.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry

It starts in school. Educating girls to flourish in STEM topics and showing the excitement and impact that science brings to people’s lives is important. Women are naturally nurturing characters, so showing the impact that the STEM sector can have is especially important.

During their careers, encouraging women to consider choices that include learning and stepping up to the opportunities, are of utmost importance, as they would never know if they enjoy a new profession/ skill until they try.

For women who have been fortunate enough to succeed in their careers, holding the hands of the younger generation, helping them envision different perspectives so they make informed choices, is the most important contribution.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I have used Coursera for my learnings and would recommend using any of the notable online courses. It is a true blessing to have this wealth of knowledge at your fingertips and being able to learn at your own convenience. I’ve learned a lot from YC Startup School and also following thought leaders in the industry. I prefer a mix of learning methods such as podcasts, well written subjects, and short videos. There’s a plethora of knowledge and I’d advise making it a priority to block time out of the day to learn and think.


Tenni Theurer

Inspirational Woman: Tenni Theurer | Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Spring Free EV

Tenni Theurer

Tenni Theurer leads product expansion efforts as Chief Product Officer of Spring Free EV, a financial technology company built to accelerate the adoption of EVs opening the doors to hassle-free financing for all.

Theurer has 20+ years of leadership experience in tech, media, telecom and fintech, and previously served as GM and VP of Product at Yahoo, where she managed 130+ person teams and $1.6B/year businesses with over 300+ MAUs. Tenni also served as Sr Business Leader at Visa and launched their first digital wallet solution from conception to market with 50+ participating issuers and 35+ merchant partners.

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

I am an outdoor lover with a deep passion for creating climate solutions. During the pandemic, my family and I visited nine national parks in a travel trailer. On one of our journeys, we were forced to reroute to escape wildfires and smoke. For the first time in my life, I witnessed some of the devastating results of climate change. I knew I wanted to do everything in my power to protect our beautiful planet, which was a part of the catalyst behind my joining Spring Free EV.

As Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Spring Free EV, I lead product expansion efforts. Spring Free EV is a financial technology company built to make EVs accessible for everyone through flexible financing. We are accelerating adoption of EVs with a goal of reducing one gigaton of carbon emissions by 2030.

Coming into my role, I bring 20+ years of leadership experience in tech, media, telecom and fintech. I previously served as GM and VP of Product at Yahoo, where I managed 130+ person teams and $1.6B/year businesses with over 300+ MAUs. I also served as Senior Business Leader at Visa and launched their first digital wallet solution from conception to market with 50+ participating issuers and 35+ merchant partners. 

One of my goals now is to make EVs accessible beyond the top 1% of earners. To make that happen, most recently at Spring Free EV, we launched a new product called the “Free EV” that brings the upfront costs of EVs down to $0. This is an industry-first product aimed at helping high-mileage drivers — think ride-hailing and last-mile delivery drivers — who are the backbone of the American economy make the switch to electric.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Life has gifted me many surprises, and my career path has certainly been full of them. When I was studying computer science at UC San Diego, I never thought I would one day be leading a fintech startup. While I was focused on computer science in school, I always remained curious, and curiosity eventually led me to manage teams at Yahoo and drive innovation at Visa. One thing I promised myself was that with any twist and turn in my career, I would always remain humble and try to help those around me.

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

Absolutely. Fresh out of college, I got a painful, though essential, lesson in failure. After graduation, I was lucky enough to be fielding a few different job offers. I ultimately chose the riskiest option, and after only a few months in the role, a large group of employees and myself were called into a room and laid off. Getting fired from my first job stung, and it was scary. How am I going to pay rent? What do I tell my family? However, being laid-off taught me a crucial skill: resilience. Getting knocked down did not mean I couldn’t get back up.

I got up, brushed myself off, and explored my options.

Challenges often help you find a few important things: the strength within yourself to lead to new opportunities and the network of support you have around you who is willing to help.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Helping to co-found the Spring Free EV team has been among the most rewarding, important achievements of my career to date. According to the EPA, road transportation is one of the largest contributors to global CO2 emissions. Despite widespread interest in EVs to curb climate change, cost remains a critical barrier to sales – particularly the higher upfront cost of driving an EV, which is a deterrent for most people. We aim to break down those barriers and make EVs widely accessible. I am so happy to be a part of something that is so much bigger than myself and critical to the survival of our natural earth.

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

The main trait I would highlight is soliciting frequent feedback.

Do not wait for a quarterly or yearly review to talk about expectations for your role.

Asking for continuous feedback helps you quickly improve and empowers you to set new goals. I have had over a dozen managers, mentors and coaches throughout my career, and I learned invaluable lessons from each of them. They taught me valuable lessons like slowing down to avoid mistakes and how to lead and manage high performers. I also learned to play to my strengths to be more effective and successful and to identify the pitfalls of being too collaborative. Over the years, I have found ways to keep in touch with many of them and know that they are only a few keystrokes away when I need them. Take the time to cultivate and develop the relationship, and it will pay dividends down the road.

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

The technology world is full of flashy successes, and I think it is important to remain humble and stay focused in the midst of that. Avoid being swept up in the daily grind by simply focusing on how each day impacts your overall career. I have spent over 20 years in Silicon Valley working on technology products, and every day I still jot down notes, ideas, and learnings in my notebook. On a day-to-day basis, my notebook helps me stay organized and focused in the present moment. Longer-term, my notebooks help me reflect, learn and draw upon my experiences. At the end of each day, write out a few things you accomplished that you were proud of, or things you need to work on, to connect your experiences.

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

A former colleague of mine at Yahoo turned out to be one of my biggest supporters. She was direct, honest, and extremely passionate about women in tech. At the time, I wasn’t aware of all her efforts to advocate for me in the background. One day when I was promoted to Vice President, I found out how much she had worked to champion my success. When I went to thank her, she told me that the way to repay her is to make sure I used my new position to pay it forward for other women. That simple request has stuck with me ever since.

To this day, I continue to look for opportunities to “pay it forward” and make the same request to others.

As women in the tech space, we should take every opportunity to lift each other up and celebrate each other’s wins. When we empower other women around us, we create more opportunities for other women to join us in the tech community.

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

It is crucially important to the success of any company to hire great women. Developing any new technology requires a diverse network of people who care about a common goal and are dedicated to the work being done. Once you have those women around you, do everything you can to value, honor, and respect their work and contributions. At Spring Free EV, we do everything in our power to find and hire great women and support them once they are on our team. If you are interested in applying, we would love to hear from you here.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I have dedicated a lot of time to developing mentor/mentee business relationships throughout my career.

I think the more women that take the time to mentor and build up others in the tech industry, the more interest and success we will see in the next generation joining us in creating the great innovations that will power the future.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

My top three podcasts to listen to for inspiration and education are: 


Inspirational Woman: Dr Femi Olu-Lafe | Senior Vice President, Culture & Inclusion, Kinesso

Dr Femi Olu-LafeAs the Culture and Inclusion leader at Kinesso, Femi leads the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for Kinesso and its sister IPG agencies, Matterkind and Acxiom.

Her responsibilities include extending the impact of existing DEI efforts, identifying opportunities for new programs, and championing the companies’ focus on ensuring their data and technology products serve all people in a respectful and inclusive manner. Femi’s passion lies in ensuring employees have meaningful ways to engage so they can continue co-creating the diverse and inclusive culture that is core to each company’s values and culture.

Prior to joining Kinesso, Femi was a Senior Consultant at YSC Consulting, where she used her expertise in cognitive psychology and applied data analysis to provide leadership insights, executive coaching, and partnership to organizations wishing to develop and execute bespoke DEI initiatives. Before that, she was part of Catalyst’s Diversity and Inclusion practice. Femi earned her PhD in Psychology at Boston University, her MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology at University College London, and a BA in Psychology at Cornell University.

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

As the Senior Vice President of Culture and Inclusion, I lead the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies for Kinesso and its sister IPG agencies, Acxiom and Matterkind. My responsibilities include extending the impact of existing DEI efforts, identifying opportunities for new programs, and championing the companies’ focus on ensuring their data and technology products serve all people in a respectful and inclusive manner. My passion lies in ensuring employees have meaningful ways to engage so they can continue co-creating the diverse and inclusive culture that is core to each company’s values and culture.

Prior to joining Kinesso, I was a Senior Consultant at YSC Consulting, where I used my expertise in cognitive psychology and applied data analysis to provide leadership insights, executive coaching, and partnership to organizations wishing to develop and execute bespoke DEI initiatives. Before that, I was part of Catalyst’s Diversity and Inclusion practice. I earned my PhD in Psychology at Boston University, my MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology at University College London, and my BA in Psychology at Cornell University.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never planned anything out in a lot of detail, but I knew early on that I was very curious about others and wanted to help others grow, but what that looked like has evolved with time. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind!

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

Like most people, I have faced various challenges along the way, but I have been fortunate to have allies along to way to support. At moments when things felt particularly challenging and there was a lot of things piling up, taking time out to reassess, breathe and prioritise what’s most important has been helpful for long term resilience, and being able to overcome challenges.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For me it was my PhD, which I’m incredibly proud of having seen through to the end, but it was a difficult journey. It’s still hard to believe I finished!

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

For me it has been predominately three things. The first one has been learning and staying aware of myself and how I operate, as well as being mindful of what I need to feel rejuvenated and stay as able to do the best work I can, as much as possible.

The second has been not being too rigid in thinking about my career journey and where I might end up. I think it’s important to be flexible when interesting opportunities arise, but there’s also something be said for ensuring there is some broader goal or purpose that you are actively working towards at the same time.

Finally, it’s been wise counsellors and the guidance that I have picked up from them along the way that has really helped me. Sometimes you need other perspectives and points of view to help you make decisions and having some trusted people you can count on as mentors or even just a quick sounding board can be invaluable.

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

The first would be to not give up at the first hurdle. This kind of thing can be a long, gradual journey, but one that rewards persistence and patience. It can be tough to stay on course and maintain morale. It’s difficult, but use the resources that you might around you in terms of support and resilience. You might have colleagues for example that are particularly inspiring or helpful, or get involved with external mentoring programmes.

You also need to celebrate your own accomplishments and take the time to appreciate the progress you’ve already made. I’ve observed that it can sometimes be quite common to downplay strengths or successes, and focus instead on areas of development.

There’s also something to be said for the way you approach and think about future career moves. It pays to not be too rigid in where you see yourself, and while others can serve as inspiration, it can be limiting to only follow the paths of others. Finally, carve out time regularly to reflect on what’s working, examine potential alternate approaches to do things, and to leverage resources around you such as team colleagues, sponsors and mentors.

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

I believe so, and I think a big part of resolving that would come from companies actively listening to the women in their workforce, and taking action in response. Many companies recognise there is work to be done in this area, but it’s really in the doing – the policies and programs – where they will be able to make a difference, instead of just talking.

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

One part of this is in being flexible with how work happens, and where it might take place. There has been a lot of progress in this area over the past year, and I think if companies are smart in how they retain the elements of remote working that are beneficial, they’ll be able to support a more diverse array of candidates and bring them on board. But it’s also about retention, and recruitment and review processes alike needing to have clarity, transparency and equity as foundational principles if they’re going to be successful in any way.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

We need a lot more empathy within the typical workplace. Again, I think the pandemic’s effects have humanised us a lot more, and made us aware of individual’s own situations and the challenges they’re facing alongside work, but efforts to respond to that need to continue.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m a big fan of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead Podcasts.


Inspirational Woman: Sandrine Pons | Regional Vice President, Head of Solutions Sales & Innovation, SAP

Sandrine PonsWith a career spanning 30 years and a variety of sectors, Sandrine Pons is an award-winning and inspirational female leader at the world’s largest business software company. 

Since joining SAP 15 years ago as their first female Senior Manager, Sandrine is now Regional Vice-President Head of Solutions Sales & Innovation where she is responsible for driving customer success, innovation and profitability in the EMEA North region.

A passionate advocate of Diversity & Inclusion, Sandrine won the D&I Regional Champion award in 2021 and aspires to be a positive role model for women in technology.

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

I began my career in management and distribution roles in the fast-food industry, before jumping into the world of tech with BAAN – the world’s third biggest tech company at that time. My career spans over 30 years in many industries including pharma, retail and – after managing several start-ups – I joined SAP, the world’s largest business software company, 15 years’ ago, as their first female Senior Manager.

In my current role as Regional Vice President, Head of Solutions Sales & Innovation, I lead an award-winning team who drive customer success, innovation and profitability in the EMEA North region and help midsized companies run efficiently, through the delivery of innovative, end-to-end, integrated solutions.

Recent career highlights include my team winning the SAP Global Innovation Award for delivering the first ever virtual SAP Midmarket Summit for EMEA North in 2020. I’m also a passionate advocate for Diversity & Inclusion and recently celebrated winning SAP’s own D&I Regional Champion award for 2021.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

From an early age, I always wanted to learn, and keep learning so that I could give myself as many opportunities as possible. I never wanted to stick to one particular area. I was always eager to push myself beyond my comfort zone so I could be ready for anything. I think that approach defined my career, initially.

In hindsight, I started planning my career much more later on, especially in my 40’s, when I had acquired more knowledge and skill. I’ve always known what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do. I have my criteria. I love to innovate, so I always work for companies that allow me to grow. As a woman, I also need to take certain aspects such as family and children into account when it comes to planning my career

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

Yes. I left my hometown in the South of France, without much support, and embarked on a career spanning many industries. And yet, despite these achievements, I experienced some difficulties being the only woman on a team or feeling that I was being judged simply because of my gender.

How did I overcome these? Well, I worked harder than those around me. I have been working since the age of 19 and have learned to adapt to different cultures and situations. And I believe I know what I need to focus on, no matter how challenging the situation may be.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Delivering value to management, the stakeholders and, most importantly, to the customer. If I can contribute to their success, that is very satisfying.

I also lead a diverse and multinational team that includes both tech & non tech people. 60% of my team are women and we have 15+ nationalities of different ages, cultures and career backgrounds. Each team member is happy and fully supported which means a lot to me.

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

I am driven by the belief that diversity and inclusion lie at the heart of not only my team’s success, but also my personal growth as a leader and the business we work for.  I strive to promote D&I through every aspect of my work because I view it as the engine behind our innovation and success. No single person can know everything, but together – our collective differences and intelligence builds a strong proposition which makes us powerful.

I also believe that if you want to truly understand your customers properly, you need to have respect for their diversity.

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

  • Don’t let others decide things for you, but do listen to their feedback.
  • When an opportunity comes to you, think about it, think about what you want to achieve, and then seize the opportunity.

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

Yes. And the best solution to that problem is to have more women in leadership roles within the industry. When we do that will open doors for other women. When you have experienced something yourself, you have a better understanding of what women have to go through and you can look for solutions.

Education is also important. More women in STEM means more possibilities for people to thrive.

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

Give women equal treatment and equal opportunities and if you are presented with candidates with equivalent qualifications, promote the woman if you want to improve the gender balance.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

It’s always about equal treatment. I want women to get the same treatment as men; to be judged on their qualification, not their gender.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are also many conferences and awards ceremonies where women in tech are recognized and female success is celebrated. These events are great for connecting with peers and hearing different voices and I’m delighted to be speaking at two events this summer (Women in Tech Global Summit in Paris and the virtual / hybrid Women in Tech Global Conference 2022).

There are also many associations that support women who work in tech as well as mentorship & coaching opportunities, and I am more than happy to be a mentor and coach women so that they can succeed in this industry. I actively support the programme “DesCodeuses”, which aims to promote female presence in tech, and have personally hired two of my software developers via this programme.

Within SAP I’d recommend the  SAP Business Women network and the SAP Next Gen Mag – A Magazine that is specifically aimed at students.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrinepons/