Anna Yukhtenko featured

Inspirational Woman: Anna Yukhtenko | Senior Games Analyst, Hutch

Anna YukhtenkoAnna has always been into data and numbers, and it was the switch from the retail industry to gaming that helped her fully realise her potential.

Her career in gaming started at Next Games as a marketing analyst, later transferring to Hutch, a mobile racing games developer and publisher known for free-to-play mobile games such as F1 ClashTop Drives and Rebel Racing, to be a full-time games analyst. Anna loves talking about analytics and strives to do so in a fun and easy way. 

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

I’ve been working as an analyst for the last eight years, moving into the mobile games sector in 2016.

I was born in Russia and moved to Finland to study when I was 20, learning Finnish and working as an analyst in consulting, retail and games, before moving to London three years ago.

I entered the mobile games industry from a retail background, and this is my favourite thing about being an analyst; it’s very rare to find yourself pigeon holed, as the skills are so transferable.

I’m currently working as a Senior Games Analyst at mobile developer and publisher Hutch, where I work on F1 Clash and Top Drives. I’m also a huge advocate of making data easy to understand and accessible to everyone. 

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t sit down and decide that I was going to become an analyst, but I chose my path because I like economics and maths, and I love a good head-scratcher.

I definitely wasn’t thinking about the mobile games industry in the beginning. I didn’t even know that being a game analyst was a real job that I could do. But I enjoy a challenge, and I wanted to stimulate my brain with something new, so when I saw a job ad for a Marketing Analyst at Next Games, I decided to apply. And the rest is history.

I make it more of a point to plan my career goals now, but make sure I leave room for plenty of adventures along the way.

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

Building any sort of career is always challenging, and the world of an analyst is no different.

Finding a job in a foreign country without being fluent in the language was difficult, but I constantly worked on improving my skills. Starting my first and second job right before or during my boss’ holiday was also tough. As was my first presentation to non-analysts, but I embraced the challenge.

There are some challenges that can be really fun as well. For example, I applied for a job in the mobile games industry that I wasn’t fully qualified for, but I nailed the interview. After that, I learnt the SQL programming language after work while serving my notice period with my previous company.

Overcoming all of these hurdles gave me a huge confidence boost, and meant I was able to develop my skills incredibly quickly.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

It’s really hard to name just one, so I’ll share a few.

First of all, switching from being a marketing analyst to a full-time mobile games analyst and nailing it was a great achievement, and proved that I could do anything I wanted to do if I put my mind to it.

Working as a lead analyst on some of Hutch’s biggest games, such as F1 Clash, Top Drives and the Hill Dash series, has also been hugely rewarding as I’ve been able to influence the development strategy, suggest improvements and see the results pretty much right away. Also, working closely with the Product Managers makes the lead analyst role very hands-on.

Finally, I’ve been able to unleash my creativity and write articles about how to make analytics easy to understand, alongside hosting some of my own speaker sessions. I believe that analytics should be spoken about in an interesting, simple and engaging way, but there aren’t many easy to read resources or articles on analytics. With my articles and presentations, I feel like I’m contributing to the popularisation of the idea that analytics is fun and meant for everyone.

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

Taking risks has definitely been one of the main things that’s helped get me where I am today. I joined an industry that I’d never worked in before, or even considered applying for. I moved to a new country. Twice. I applied for a job that needed experience in SQL, which I didn’t have, and confidently told them that I would learn it.

It’s not easy to take these risks, but it definitely pays off in the long run.

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

At Hutch, one of our core philosophies is ‘Test, Learn, Repeat’, and this can be applied to any career in technology. You should never stop trying new things and learning from them. If you think you’ve learnt everything you possibly can in your field, ask your peers for recommendations on other areas you can explore.

If you’re interested in entering the world of analytics specifically, take up SQL, Python or R (Python preferred to R), brush up on your statistical knowledge and work on your storytelling and presentational skills. Stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends, attend conferences, virtual talks and join various communities and Slack groups. Finally, stay curious and never be afraid to ask questions. 

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

Unfortunately, yes. The main challenge is that society has taught women to not take risks or believe in themselves. Even to this day, I still sometimes find myself doubting my own skills and worth.

There needs to be more encouragement from the industry for women to apply for technology careers that are typically considered to be male dominated. Things are definitely changing for the better, but I would love to see more female analysts, developers, artists and marketing specialists in tech, especially in the games industry.

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

I strongly believe that the key to success is information. Anyone who wants to build their career in technology needs to be better educated about the sheer variety of jobs that are available. Whether that’s a developer, analyst, artist, financial analyst or user acquisition manager, there are plenty of roles out there, and none of these are reserved for men.

Businesses themselves can also support the careers of women in several different ways.

They can run career events and forums at schools, explaining the different occupations available, and the different ways of gaining the relevant experience or degree. There might be some instances where you do need a degree, but when it comes to the games industry it’s not always a requirement.

Even organising events, panels and mentorship programmes for women who want to get into the technology industry will go a long way to demonstrating the breadth of opportunities available.

Descriptions in job adverts are also something that need to be paid closer attention to so that they appeal to a wider audience, including women. This includes carefully thinking about what is actually essential for the roles (women are less likely to apply if they don’t meet all requirements) and using a gender decoder when writing job ads. A gender decoder can help both recruiters and candidates identify any wording that could unconsciously influence the type of people who apply for the job, for example if they use words that are stereotypically masculine or feminine. I hope we won’t have to use them at all in the future, but for now they can help identify ways to make ads more open and accessible to everyone.

Finally, we need to nurture more female talent. Women suffer from impostor syndrome far more than men, and this needs to change.

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 would make it so that more able-minded women studied subjects like computer science, maths, economics (the analytical and mathematical side of it in particular), finance and engineering. Then, I would make sure that all of these women applied for a job in the technology industry that they find interesting, regardless of whether they are 100% qualified for the position.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

From an analyst perspective, I would encourage anyone interested in the field to brush up on their skills in SQL, Python or R. There’s plenty of different places you can learn these, including W3 Schools and Code Academy. Coursera and Data Camp also have specific R courses, while Eric Matthes wrote the brilliant Python Crash Course book. You might want to focus on Python, actually, as it is more widely used and is more versatile than R.

Outside of learning different programming languages, you should also take a look at sites like Gameanalytics.com, DeltaDNA.com and Deconstructor of Fun to learn more about the industry itself.

From a broader technology and games perspective, make sure you’re reading the latest news on websites such as Gamasutra and GamesIndustry.Biz, and keeping an eye out for events like the Game Developer Conference.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Dolly Gulliford featured

Inspirational Woman: Dolly Gulliford | Head of Operations, Passenger

Dolly GullifordDolly Gulliford is Head of Operations at UK public transport app and website provider, Passenger. Passenger delivers scalable technology to public transport operators of all sizes, including mobile app ticketing, travel information apps, and websites.

Dolly is a highly experienced business leader in the entertainment, media and travel industries, across both public service and corporate environments. She worked for the BBC for 8 years driving a dedicated gender equality initiative known as the 50/50 project, which championed the increased use of female expert speakers and presenters in the news. Dolly has also been at the forefront of major campaigns including managing an operational marketing exercise for P&O Cruises, where her team arranged for seven ships holding 40,000 passengers to sail down the Solent in formation as a fleet. Having joined Passenger in April 2021, Dolly plays a crucial role in supporting the company’s rapid exponential growth she leads on day-to-day operations of the business, including HR.

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

As Head of Operations, I look after the day-to-day running of the business in terms of HR, finance and contracting. I was brought on to support Passenger’s rapid exponential growth, as the company has won a lot of new business and contracted multiple new clients over the past year, as well as expanding its teams. My role is very hands-on and diverse, and I’ve learned a huge amount in a short space of time already.

Prior to Passenger, I worked for a couple of large companies and after several years, I wanted a change of scenery, and I was keen to find an energetic, dynamic company which had ambition. Although I don’t come from a tech background,I realised it was an industry with huge potential. It’s fast-moving, driven by creativity, and continually relevant in our modern world.

I now know that working for a tech company is what I needed to keep stimulated and engaged in my career. I love to keep abreast of new technology and new ways of communicating, and Passenger is a great example of a company which invests in platforms which help improve people’s lives – both for clients and its own employees. I’ve had to learn the functionality of between 12 to 15 platforms just to do my job every day, but they’re very simple to use and help me work as efficiently as possible – so I would never want to be without them now!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

At the beginning of my career, I did plan a different path to the one I’m on now but in retrospect, it wouldn’t have suited me. I’ve taken many risks in my career, including living and working abroad, and they’ve all produced amazing opportunities which have given me great adventures and memories.

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

One of the biggest challenges was holding down a full-time career and following my ambitions while raising a family as a single mum 24/7 for 10 years. Sadly, there’s still a stigma in our society associated with single working mums who commit to high-powered jobs, and I didn’t quite realise how challenging it would be until I started doing it. I had to ignore the judgement from others and just get on with it, and by doing so I managed to achieve things I never dreamt of before, like being offered a senior role in the BBC. I didn’t tell anyone senior I was a single working mum at first because in a way, I felt it made me look weaker – but in retrospect, I wish I’d been more open about it and shown others in a similar position what they could achieve. Regardless of this, I’m proud to be a role model to my children and they’ve grown up to be incredibly independent, well-rounded individuals with strong career aspirations of their own.

More recently, another hurdle has been having to learn the different terminology and functionality of different systems that come with working in tech. However, not coming from a tech background hasn’t been a hindrance – my mission is to get closer to this different language and make it more relatable and understandable for others. To be truly successful, it’s vital that tech companies employ people who bring fresh perspectives, and a diverse workforce to cut through the jargon to help them connect with the ‘real world’.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I helped the BBC drive a dedicated initiative I was particularly passionate about, known as the 50/50 project, with the aim to gain an equal gender balance across content. My role involved inputting into a database of female experts, which journalists could go to when needing commentary for news stories and features. There was a significant disproportion of women used as speakers for tech-related topics, for example, even though they did exist! I was always pushing journalists to actively seek out female experts and use them, to gain an equal balance of voices across stories. As a result of our work, the project was picked up and is used now by many internationally recognised establishments like Forbes and Harvard Business School.

I’ve also led on some really exciting campaigns in my career, such as managing an operational marketing exercise for P&O Cruises, where we arranged for seven ships holding 40,000 passengers to sail down the Solent in formation as a fleet. It was a massive logistical challenge as it had never been done before, but it paid for itself, as the response we got was incredible. I also previously worked  as one of the department heads of the Live Music & Events Team  for the BBC and in 2018, I led on the financial planning for a huge music event, hosting live events in the four nations for several different radio stations, broadcast live on television.

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

Taking risks in a role where I wasn’t sure of the outcome was key to getting to where I am today. I’ve experienced so much as a result of taking those risks and it’s given me the confidence to aim higher, and achieve things I never imagined before.

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

Don’t be intimidated by the language or requirements listed for a job role. Too many women only apply to roles where they align with every single criteria stated on a job post, but it means they miss out on so many opportunities. If there’s something that interests you, don’t be intimidated by the language of a job post, and don’t limit yourself to one type of industry either. Just because you don’t have a specific qualification doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing a better job than someone who does!

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

In the past, there was a perception that some tech companies had an almost ‘frat boy’ mentality which would certainly put many ambitious women off working for that company. However, I think this is a perception which is changing. Passenger is certainly working hard to change this perception and to attract a more diverse workforce.

Having a football table in the break-out room, for example, is not enough of an incentive for many candidates to be attracted to within a business. In addition, the more we demystify the understanding of tech products and how they can enrich our lives, and work collaboratively across all functions in a business, the more we’ll attract the right talent across the whole demographic in society.

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

I think there’s more the industry could do to make technology a more appealing career choice. Companies need to promote women’s interests and show other women leading by example, to inspire others.

A lot of tech mediums, such as video games, portray women in an unrelatable way because they’re developed by men. To help women progress in their career and see what they could achieve, companies need to show them examples of successful women - whether that’s encouraging them to attend webinars or corporate events featuring female speakers, or giving them relevant reading materials written by women.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would increase the awareness of how tech companies actually operate, demonstrating how they deliver products in a similar way to more traditional businesses.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Before I started my current role, I was advised to look at a few reading materials including two books, which I found fascinating and champion the roles of women working in tech and transport. They were  "Invisible Women - Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men" by Caroline Criado Perez and "Door to Door" by Edward Humes which details an organisation called LOL - Ladies of Logistics - set up by a group of dynamic women in the States who couldn't find a networking model to suit them and has grown massively. I found that very inspiring.

What are you excited about in your role, and what are the elements you feel most passionate about?

I’m most excited about the potential growth for Passenger and playing an instrumental role in enhancing and expanding the business on a larger scale. A key mission for Passenger is to help speed up the UK’s journey to  help combat climate change, and this really aligns with my belief that as a society, we all have a collective responsibility to do what’s right for the benefit of our planet and future generations. I’m proud to be part of a company which is genuinely committed to making a difference, through making shared sustainable transport more attractive.

Why do you think it’s important for more women to work in the tech/transport industries?

We need to represent society equally, across all industries – that way, we can serve our customers best. We need to remember that our end users are both women and men, so our products and services should appeal to everyone.

From a personal perspective, I believe it’s important that my children and other young women are exposed to others they can aspire to, through everyday mediums like the TV and internet. My daughter says she wants to become a businesswoman when she grows up, like me, and that makes me incredibly proud because I’ve shown her what she can achieve if she puts her mind to it. She doesn’t have a fear of aiming high, and neither should anyone else.

What are your thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in the transport/tech industries right now?

One of the biggest challenges is the perception of buses in this day and age. On a national scale, buses aren’t deemed an appealing mode of transport compared to cars. London is slightly bucking the trend as everyone uses public transport, however it’s more out of necessity than anything else – with more efficient and frequent systems in place. Rural areas are behind but improving – especially now the National Bus Strategy has landed. All of us in our industry, alongside the government, have a role to play in improving public transport capabilities and making it more attractive in every part of the UK.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

 


Inspirational Woman: Tess Cosad | CEO & Co-Founder, Béa Fertility

Tess CosadTess Cosad is a femtech expert and CEO and co-founder of Béa Fertility: a fertility tech startup focussed on democratising access to safe, affordable fertility treatment.

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

I’ve always enjoyed building businesses and supporting founders, starting in 2014 when I founded Emberson Ventures, a B2B marketing agency specialising in launching new products and producing creative campaigns in technology-led sectors. In 2018, I created Hers By Design, a female-led, female focussed FemTech brand, and later that year was the first woman to lead a digital marketing-focussed accelerator program in Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the Growth Velocity Academy.

Today, I am a co-founder and the CEO of Béa Fertility. Béa Fertility was born of a shared vision for a world in which everyone is able to access the care they need to start their families. We are building the first at-home fertility treatment of its kind in the UK, which will empower anyone who cannot conceive naturally to carry out ICI (Intracervical Insemination) at home, on their terms. Our treatment kit will deliver everything users need to carry out one cycle of ICI straight to their doors: including insemination devices, ovulation tests and pregnancy tests. The ICI treatment method is proven to increase chances of conception by 60% if used over six months. Our treatment will launch in early 2022 and you can sign up to our waiting list to be the first to hear when it’s available.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Having worked with lots of inspiring women in tech throughout my career, I’d always hoped that one day I’d have the opportunity to build something myself that would change women’s lives. I’ve always been really interested in femtech; and have long championed women’s health solutions designed by women, with women’s needs in mind. I was never set on entering the fertility sector specifically, but as soon as I started to recognise the gaps in our fertility provision in the UK, I knew this was a sector I wanted to transform.

Today, I’m actually quite structured about goal setting, but this didn’t start until I was 26, when I was at an interesting juncture in my life. I met an entrepreneur who taught me how to look ahead and dream of the career I wanted in 5 years, then walk it back to what would need to happen each year to make that dream come to life. Now, each year between Christmas and New Year’s, I take time to plan out the year ahead, always referring to the (now very crumpled, scrappy) piece of paper with that 5 year plan on it. I believe there is so much to be gained from knowing where you want to end up in life, and I credit where I am today to that goal setting system.

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

I think the most significant challenge I faced earlier in my career was getting on a flight to Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) as the first woman to teach a startup bootcamp out there. I’ve always forced myself to ‘say yes’, and accept challenges I’m not sure I can tackle. This was definitely the most significant challenge I’ve said yes to, and taught me that when I set my mind to something, I can do it. It helped me immeasurably when fundraising for Béa Fertility, a process that also was pretty challenging, and took determination and grit. I heard a mentor once say that he has more respect for the founders who get told ‘no’ 200 times rather than the founders who get told ‘no’ only 20 times. To his mind, getting through a tough round without giving up is a sign of true determination. I couldn’t agree with him more, and think that the challenge of raising our pre-seed shaped how I operate as a CEO today.

Building a medical device is also not without its challenges. It took nearly two years of prototyping and ideating before the Béa device as we know it today came to life, and even longer before we could begin fundraising. We went through nearly 90 iterations of the early prototype to get to the device we have today, and we’re still iterating.

Particularly in fertility, there is also a huge responsibility to build safe, clinically validated, effective treatments, and the regulatory hurdles that come with this can present challenges. We’ve had to practice patience, acute attention to detail and perseverance. But we’re almost at the stage where our product is ready to launch - and it has definitely been worth the wait.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m incredibly proud of securing Béa £800k in pre-seed funding, through both an equity round and an Innovate UK Smart Grant, which has enabled us to finish building our product and prepare to launch. It was also incredibly important to me that we had female investors on board, so it means a huge amount to me that the angel investors on our cap table are a 50/50 female-male split.

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

I truly believe the 5-year/1-year goal setting system I talked about above has played a role in my success – not the system itself, but the act of writing down on paper what I want to achieve in life. Just by writing it down it becomes something tangible, something that you can reach for, even if just a little.

As women in the workplace, we’re often told we need to get better at saying ‘no’, setting boundaries, protecting our time or our inboxes more. Whilst I believe this is true, somewhat paradoxically, I think my success today comes from taking the opposite approach: saying yes. When asked to do something I am not sure I can deliver, I’ll say ‘yes’ to the opportunity and then figure it out later. This forcing myself into accepting these challenges has actually allowed me to prove to myself, time and time again, that I can achieve brilliant things if I set my mind to it. This is the other key driver I credit my success to.

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

Persevere. You will be told ‘no’ many times, but there will be people in the world whose lives will be changed by the tech you envisage. You have to persevere to find those people and bring your idea to life.

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

There are definitely prohibitive barriers to success for women in tech. The biggest barrier is access: access to education, to capital, to mentors and leaders providing representation. Even today, the statistics on the venture funding that goes to female-led teams vs. male-led teams is depressing. But every new woman-led product that secures investment and comes to market helps pave the way for other female entrepreneurs.

The first thing we need to do to overcome some of these barriers is to offer women a seat at the table in tech-led sectors. Currently, there aren’t enough women on boards, in C-Suites or in VC firms. Women need to be included in conversations about tech from the very beginning, to ensure new products being brought to market include women’s perspectives. When we are involved in tech from conception through to launch (and beyond), we can set an example, lead from the front and build products that work for everyone. We can also start to normalise the presence of women in tech-led sectors - whether it’s femtech, fintech, hardware or software - setting a precedent and creating role models to inspire other women to enter the sector. When women are not at the table, Pinky Gloves happen. When women are at the table, intelligent solutions to problems that affect all humans are far more likely.

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

I would say that support is needed at every level, starting right at the very beginning - as a company, sponsor opportunities and education programs that encourage girls to get into STEM. Provide mentorship to young women seeking STEM careers, and support those students through their education if you can. Companies can also provide internships to female scientists and graduates – the critical idea here is promoting and supporting opportunities that empower young women to go into technical education programs.

It’s not just about getting women into technical careers – it’s about supporting those same women throughout the course of their career. Too many women leave the workforce when it’s time to start a family, and this is seen across all industries. Champion better shared parental leave policies, welcome breastfeeding in the office, support women as they come back to work, and make the workplace something that complements and supports their family time, rather than something that competes with their family time.

At Béa, our company handbook expressly welcomes breastfeeding in the office – in meetings, in a private room, at your desk. Wherever you feel comfortable. Small changes like this make an enormous difference to the women reading your HR policies, and show a commitment to supporting women throughout their entire career.

On a more tactical level, it all starts with hiring. As a tech startup, you have a responsibility to ensure your hiring processes are free from bias and are attracting a range of candidates. You should review the language you use in your job descriptions to ensure you’re not alienating women by using typically ‘masculine’ language. You could also put processes in place to root out gender bias in the way you shortlist CVs and assess candidates at interview.

When women take their seat in the C-suite, it adds to the blueprint for every other woman seeking to reach the top in their career. It’s tough to reach for what you can’t see, and for this reason, representation is critical.

There are currently only 15% of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

For everyone who says these changes take time, I say: look at how the world of work responded to COVID-19. Look at how quickly we all went online, working virtually, even taking board meetings online. When there is a clear need, change can happen quickly. I think there is a clear need to better support women as they enter and remain in technical careers.

Transparency is key: I would urge companies to publish their percentages: the % of their engineering team who are female, the % of their board who are female, etc. If it’s low, publish a plan to improve it. If it’s high, champion it so others can see that it is possible.

With a magic wand, I would want to undo the many years of damaging narrative so many girls heard back in school: ‘girls can’t do math’ and ‘engineering is for boys’ are two I heard too often. When we unpick these narratives and instead tell girls that they can do anything, they often do, going on to achieve the most amazing accomplishments. It’s our responsibility to re-write the stories girls hear. Things are beginning to change, and I truly cannot wait to see what the next generation of women achieve, reclaim, redefine and conquer.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech? 

I am obsessed with reading and learning, and believe that the best way to accelerate your career is to constantly seek to improve yourself and your mind. To this end, there are some classics that are on my shelf and that feature in every Béa new starter’s induction:

  • Radical Candour, by Kim Scott
  • The Great Unlearn, an education platform built and led by Rachel Cargle
  • Leadership and Self Deception, by the Arbinger Institute
  • The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
  • Everything Below the Waist, by Jennifer Block
  • Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup
  • Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
  • Burnout, by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski
  • Difficult Conversations, by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone
  • Brené Brown – her podcast, TED Talk, basically, anything she does.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Yewande Akinola featured

Inspirational Woman: Yewande Akinola MBE | Chartered Engineer, Innovator & Speaker

Yewande AkinolaYewande is a chartered engineer, innovator and speaker. Her engineering experience includes the design and construction, innovation and manufacture of buildings and systems in the built environment.

She has worked on projects in the UK, Africa, the Middle East and East Asia and has been named the UK Young Woman Engineer of the Year by the Institution of Engineering & Technology. She has also been awarded the Exceptional Achiever Award from the Association for BAME Engineers and the Association of Consultancy and Engineering, U.K. (ACE). She is a Visiting Professor at the University of Westminster. She is passionate about STEM communication and has presented Engineering programmes for Television. In the 2020 New Year Honours list, Yewande was awarded an MBE for services to engineering innovation and diversity in STEM.

She has recently been appointed the UK's Innovation agency (Innovate UK) Ambassador for Clean Growth and Infrastructure.

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

I am a chartered engineer, innovator and speaker. I am passionate about the role of innovation, creativity and engineering in our world today. My engineering experience includes the design and construction, innovation and manufacture of buildings and systems in the built environment. I have worked on projects in the UK, Africa, the Middle East and East Asia and have been named the UK Young Woman Engineer of the Year by the Institution of Engineering & Technology. I have also been awarded the Exceptional Achiever Award from the Association for BAME Engineers and the Association of Consultancy and Engineering, U.K. (ACE). I am a Visiting Professor at the University of Westminster. I’m passionate about STEM communication and have presented Engineering programmes for Television. In the 2020 New Year Honours list, I was awarded an MBE for services to engineering innovation and diversity in STEM. I have recently been appointed the UK's Innovation agency (Innovate UK) Ambassador for Clean Growth and Infrastructure.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Growing up in Ibadan, Nigeria, I spent my time building models of my ideal home with whatever materials I could find. But it wasn’t until my mother, an artist, made a suggestion about my university studies that I considered pursuing a career in engineering over one in architecture. Also crucial in my decision was finding an engineering degree at Warwick University in the U.K. that focused on developing countries—using little resources and lots of creativity. As I soon discovered, engineering is indeed the practical tool for creating a better world.

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

As I have progressed in my career, it has sometimes been a challenge being black and female, but I have found ways of navigating it. I’ve learned to feel comfortable as myself and stay true to who I am. It’s a work in progress.

What is more frustrating for me is seeing other young people like myself come up against these same challenges – challenges of not finding as many opportunities in the industry; not progressing up through the ranks as quickly as they should because of issues around unconscious bias. It’s a shame that when young people speak to me, it’s one of their worries. I wish for them that they could just enjoy being engineers.

As a result, the industry has lost out on a lot of talent, whether gender or diversity based.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have had some amazing opportunities in my career so far. I still feel there is a very long way to go still but I am very, very excited about the future. The highlights range from the design of iconic buildings in London to the design of a huge hotel and waterpark resort in Asia. The last couple of years have been very humbling. Winning the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the year, AFBE’s Exceptional Achiever Award and Management Today’s 35 under 35 awards have inspired me to continue to ‘raise the game’. Daring to dream, having tons of fun and challenging myself help keep my engineering interests alive. So whether it is a primary school in the countryside or a 300m tower in East Asia or water supply scheme for a remote village, it is always my hope that my contributions have a positive inspiring impact.

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

I believe in huge possibilities, and I’ve discovered that there is no lack of possibilities and opportunities out there. Yes, whatever challenge you’re faced with may seem difficult, impossible even, but remember that, as the saying goes, “difficult does not mean impossible”. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the very fact it is not impossible is all you need in terms of a mandate to be able to solve it. It’s a question of taking the challenge to bits and then dividing it up into manageable chunks.

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

First, I tell my mentees to focus on learning as much as they possibly can. I want them to enjoy their experience in industry. I don’t want their early years in this profession to be scarred by challenges of being in a minority.

I think they should find ways to enjoy and learn, be creative, meet new people, express oneself and obtain the global perspective that engineering offers. One should never compromise on what is good for others.

How do we encourage more diversity in engineering and STEM?

There is nothing more terrible than feeling as though you are only there because you ticked boxes. Having the knowledge and qualification to back yourself up immediately puts you in a strong position with everybody around the table.

Engineering is collaborative, so it is essential to have fair representation of the people you’re designing for. Bringing expertise, experience and learning to the drawing board inevitably leads to better solutions.

The next generation of engineers will be change-makers. They will want to create progress. They will want a better, more sustainable planet, where we consume less energy, live better, eat more nutritiously and generate less waste. To them I say, continue to stay true to that dream and passion.

It’s my hope that organisations see the role they also need to play in a more sustainable planet, and they give these change-makers the support they need.

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

University – business collaboration is very important. There are lot of things that seemingly get in the way of such collaborations. Organisations are sometimes worried about the financial implications and as such unwilling to take on ‘risks’. Businesses are however in the advantageous position of making long term potentially very profitable investments by attracting females into STEM courses. Schemes such as shadowing experiences, sponsorships, internships go a long way. They help sow the seed of STEM courses in students and help them see the practical day to day aspects of STEM professions. We live in an extremely visual age where real time interactions go a long way.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in STEM, 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?

Organisations – educational through to industry – need to fully support and empower the next generation of female engineers. These engineers will want a better, more sustainable planet, where we consume less energy, live better, eat more nutritiously and generate less waste. To them I say, continue to stay true to that dream and passion. It’s my hope that organisations see the role they also need to play in a more sustainable planet, and they give these change-makers the support they need.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I go wherever there are inspiring Women. I follow Dame Stephanie Shirely on instagram and she is a wonderful source of inspiration. Some of my favourite 'go to places' are the Women Tech Charge Podcast- hosted by Anne- Marie Imafidon, How to Own the Room Podcast by Viv Groskop, and Create the Future Podcast- hosted by Sue Nelson. I feel very fortunate to be able to look up to some brilliant women-a few of whom are Dame Anne Richards, Hayaatun Sillem CBE, Dervilla Mitchell CBE. It is super important to find someone you can be inspired by. I would also recommend AccelerateHER! They run absolutely fantastic events!

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WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Inspirational Woman: Inge De Bleecker | Vice President of CX, Applause

Inge De BleeckerI am a user experience (UX) professional. I design and evaluate digital products to make sure they are easy to use for everyone.

I currently lead a team of global UX researchers as the Vice President of CX at Applause, the worldwide leader in enabling digital quality. I’ve also written a book on UX -- Remote Usability Testing: Actionable Insights in User Behavior Across Geographies and Time Zones -- and created a benchmarking score system called USERindex with my friend and colleague Rebecca Okoroji. I grew up and went to university in Belgium, then moved to Southern China and now live in Texas in the United States.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did not sit down and plan my career, no. I think it’s difficult for young people to plan their career unless they are focused on a traditional profession such as physician, lawyer or teacher. Not all that long ago, the term “user experience” didn’t exist and the subject matter itself was barely a thing. I tumbled into the field, just like everyone else at that time did. I’ve worked in technology my whole life. Funny thing is that, in high school, I hated computers! I really didn’t plan this…

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

Everyone faces challenges along the way, and I wouldn’t say that I’ve encountered more challenges than average.

A challenge I’ve encountered is burnout. Most jobs are demanding as is, and it is all too easy to put even more stress on oneself. I regularly coach people in the field on avoiding burnout. It’s tough: user experience is a happening field these days, which means there is competition for choice roles. Many UX professionals hold advanced degrees, and it has become more important to fill your resume with household technology company names. For many, burnout is just around the corner.

Negativity from co-workers or your work environment can be a real challenge as well. There are two ways to deal with this: prove these people wrong and turn them into fans, or cut toxic people out of your life and make the conscious choice to get something better for yourself.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

That’s a good question.

Over the past 15 years I’ve built and fixed UX teams. Those are certainly career achievements. On a more personal career-oriented level, co-writing and publishing a book was a great experience and something I’m proud of.

But perhaps career achievement, when we look at it from the satisfaction angle, is not so much about one or a few big achievements, but more about many little things. Becoming proficient at all aspects of my craft, and continuing to work on improving, is what I would call my “biggest” career achievement.

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

Success can rarely be achieved in a vacuum. Instead, work with others. For instance, at one point, I had a small team and no budget. I evangelized the value of UX and asked teams to help out, effectively creating an ecosystem with many teams cooperating and providing some of their budget to make things happen.

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

My three top tips: work hard because nothing comes for free in life, stay curious because every day there’s so much new to learn, but bring balance in your life so you don’t get overwhelmed.

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

I think most people will perceive barriers of sorts in their career, whether social, economic, gender-based, or other. One way to overcome barriers that I’ve used throughout is to ignore the barrier. If you don’t acknowledge it, you’re not playing into it.

If there is a barrier, it’s because someone or a group of people put that barrier in place. Don’t acknowledge those rules, just do what you see as best. People will start seeing you for the person you are and the value you bring, rather than seeing you as a woman first and foremost.

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

We’re seeing some positive changes that help make it easier to combine life and the workplace. I believe it is very important for companies to continue that trend.

What do you wish you had known when you started your career?

Early on in my career I struggled with whether I wanted to get a Ph.D. I waffled and waited and finally went ahead…about 6 years later than would have been ideal. When my Ph.D., part-time job and starting a family all happened at once, it was too much. The Ph.D. had to go…It was the right choice (I went back to a full-time tech job) and I learned a lot but I will always regret not finishing something I started. Had I known that the Ph.D. would be challenging to combine with other parts of my life, I would have started it much earlier.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Inspirational Woman: Stephanie Cullen | Head of Manufacturers, IRI

Steph is Head of Manufacturers for IRI, a leading provider of big data, predictive analytics and forward-looking insights that help FMCG, health care organisations, retailers, financial services and media companies grow their businesses. 

She joined IRI from Britvic where she spent five years as head of business insight.

Before that she worked in several client leadership roles for dunnhumby after initially beginning her career on Unilever’s Future Leaders Programme.

In 2018, Steph was named by Women in Data as an inaugural member of the ‘20 in Data & Technology’ which set out to discover stories of inspiring women in data science, to tackle the issue of gender imbalance and to inspire the next generation of data science leaders.

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

After leaving Bury Grammar School with four A-levels, I later went on to study chemistry at the University of Oxford and obtained a master’s degree (MChem). From the age of 19, I became interested in rowing and I went on to represent Great Britain in the women’s senior rowing team, winning a gold medal in the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Slovenia.

In 2018, I was named by Women in Data as an inaugural member of the ‘20 in Data & Technology’ which set out to discover stories of inspiring women in data science, to tackle the issue of gender imbalance and to inspire the next generation of data science leaders.

I worked in several client leadership roles for dunnhumby after initially starting my career on Unilever’s Future Leaders Programme. I then spent five years with Britvic as Head of Business Insight before joining IRI as Head of Manufacturers. Essentially, my current role is all about relationships. My team looks after the manufacturers that sell fast-moving consumer products, such as Kraft Heinz, Mondelez and Mars Confectionery. We help them understand the performance of the market, their products, promotions, media, etc. to optimise performance and improve the offering to their shopper.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about the work we do with our clients is to allow them to make decisions faster based on the data we provide. We give them a competitive edge that allows our clients to spot opportunities faster than their competitors. Double digit growth in this industry is rare, so as in high-level sporting competition, it’s all about marginal gains and having the skills and knowledge to win.

Current projects include working with manufacturers to help them understand the impact the soon-to-be-implemented high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) legislation will have on retail space, in-store promotions and media planning, which includes online and TV. The data we have provides real insights and allows manufacturers and retailers to make informed decisions such as whether to reformulate product ingredients or change media buying plans. Through scenario planning we can help de-risk decisions for our clients, allowing them to spend their budgets more effectively and efficiently.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

If you had asked me at 18 years-old, what I’d end up doing, I would never in a million years believed it would be working in data and technology for one of the world’s leading providers of big data, analytics and insights. I honestly had no idea that this sort of career existed. I went to an excellent all-girls school which provided the usual sixth-form careers advice, but this was limited to traditional careers and didn’t cover the wide expanse of roles available.  Clearly this was back in the 1990s and the world has changed significantly since then, so I see a much broader spectrum of careers in the schools and colleges I visit. My career has progressed when, if ever I’ve felt that I wasn’t being challenged or I wasn’t adding value to a role, I would make a change and look for something new

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

Career challenges, or ‘mistakes’ will happen all the time but you learn from them. The way I’ve dealt with these in the past has been to face into these mistakes immediately. You have to deal with them quickly. In the world of FMCG, businesses need to be aware of the latest competitive landscape and to do that they must be agile. Being agile is also about acknowledging when you’re heading in the wrong direction and being able to change course quickly; something I’ve certainly learned from performing at high level sport. Also, having self-belief and being resilient has helped me overcome career challenges.

These skills can help you feel grounded, reveal your true capabilities and reinforce the fact that you have a voice that is worth listening to.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

That would have to be balancing a full-time, client-facing role alongside training for the GB rowing team. When I was in the team, I was also doing a full-time job in 20 hours. I was fortunate that the company I was working for at the time, allowed me to continue in the same job without changing it. Of course, there were some difficult days, but they allowed me the flexibility I needed to be successful in both my sport and my day-to-day job. I see some very talented women in FMCG but the thing that often holds them back are inflexible employers.

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

Probably learning and acknowledging when I’m operating at my best. For example, I perform well when working under pressure and I’m most productive the early morning part of the day.

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

There will always be parts of any job you don’t enjoy. Find out what you enjoy doing most and do what you can to allow you to do more of that.

It’s not necessarily what you know, but how you think and your experience that matters. Recognising that ‘you’ are the most valuable asset is key to success, and knowing that you can undertake training for areas that you don’t know. If the job feels too big, too demanding or you think it might be too overwhelming – go for it! After all, there’s no opportunity for growth in your comfort zone.

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

I do. Both schools and certain industries such as FMCG, can do more to promote the wide range of jobs available in data and technology and to encourage young women to apply for them. I think there tends to be a view that these sorts of careers in technology are heavily focussed on data science; that these jobs are ‘geeky’ and that you need to be incredibly intelligent to succeed. But of course, we are all intelligent in different ways. Schools could perhaps do a better job of explaining that there is a need for people with a variety of skill sets that would be suitable for a career in the FMCG data and technology industry.

We need to encourage more girls to take STEM subjects at school, particularly those from underrepresented groups and diverse backgrounds. For example, the STEM worker shortfall is estimated at 69,000 each year and less that 6% of UK students studying STEM subjects at university are black. There is still much work to do to attract the next generation of diverse, bright young talent into the industry.

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

Companies, particularly those in the FMCG industry, have an important part to play in attracting more numbers of young women into the technology sector. One of the simplest things they can do is to be more open minded and offer greater flexibility in terms of working hours. I see some really talented women in FMCG, but they are often hindered by inflexible working practices. The industry could also be more supportive and encouraging towards those women that are thinking about applying for senior roles, otherwise they risk being passed over. Possessing a lack of confidence can be a big issue for many women when faced with such decisions. Companies could do more to address this such as offering supportive peer networks and mentoring programmes. I think there’s still a considerable amount of unconscious bias within the industry which no doubt can be off-putting for large parts of the potential candidate pool.

Also, the data and technology sector has historically been portrayed as being very ‘data heavy’. Certainly, within the FMCG sector what we’re ultimately talking about is people. We analyse how consumers behave; what purchases they make and why; where they shop and their reaction to media advertising.

There is 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?

Gender is the most obvious diversity factor because it’s usually fairly visible. Whether it’s your ethnic or social background, age, sexuality, having that diversity is crucially important in any modern workplace. Certainly, within FMCG, having a female voice at a senior level is important. In data and technology, women do think and behave differently. These should be seen as positive attributes and employers in technology should embrace and promote these differences as much as possible. The importance of gender parity and diversity that seeks to understand the lives of millions of people cannot be overstated. Having more women employed in data and technology industries can, for example, be extremely useful when creating research algorithms, building models and generating insights, all of which take into account the experiences of over half the population.

But also, according to research, women are statistically far more likely to put their hand up and ask a question that men in the room don’t particularly want to ask. For lots of reasons I think having a gender balance and therefore encouraging more women into technology is really important even just for that difference in thinking and adopting a different approach towards problem solving.

Women need to challenge businesses on how different job roles can be delivered by working more flexibly. What the global pandemic has demonstrated is that flexible, remote working does work. With many employers now offering this as a permanent benefit, the playing field is become more level. A flexible, more inclusive and diverse organisation helps future growth and prosperity and it’s one that partners, investors, consumers and employees have come to expect.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Women in Data UK is the UK’s largest female data professional network and event.  It provides a platform for female and gender diverse data professionals to share their technical knowledge and experiences and aims to encourage more diverse representation in the industry.

The Female Lead was founded by Edwina Dunn OBE. She is a data science entrepreneur who co-founded Tesco's Clubcard, so she knows first-hand what it feels like to work in a male-dominated industry and what it takes to navigate the many obstacles women have faced.  She set up The Female Lead to celebrate women's stories, and showcase the lesser-known successes of women, in order to support and encourage the next generation.

There’s a wealth of knowledge in TED Talks, so dive in and explore.

Grab yourself a Spotify account and search through their podcasts for Business & Technology – there’s something for everyone in there!


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Lotus Smits featured

Inspirational Woman: Lotus Smits | Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Glovo

Lotus SmitsI’m the Global Head of Diversity and Experience at Glovo, one of the world’s leading multicategory, on-demand delivery platforms.

In this role I get to combine my personal values like fairness and respect, alongside my skills to engage people, build impactful programs and drive organisational change.

My biggest focus at this moment is working with the leaders at Glovo to increase their knowledge and awareness on the topic of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (DI&B) and to explore how as a company we can be leading the charge with a culture of inclusivity and equality at its core.

I was born in Amsterdam, one of the most liberal cities in the world that celebrates the uniqueness of all its inhabitants and it's proud of its diversity. I wish more places were like that.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For me, it wasn’t about sitting down and planning my career step by step, but rather being proactive in expressing my ambitions to the people around me, so they could help me grow and involve me in the right opportunities. If you’re not clear to others about your ambitions and the direction you want to go in, how are they meant to know? Only you can be your biggest champion.

When I graduated from school I went on to study psychology because of my curiosity for human behavior. At that time I wasn't aware roles in DI&B existed but I always wanted to work in a role that helped people reach their full potential, and ensure the organisation I worked for helped them get there.

Some important milestones, like the topic of my Master’s thesis and my graduation internship at Vodafone HQ in London, slowly moved me into the DI&B sector. After leaving Vodafone I joined Booking.com HQ as a Learning & Talent Advisor. From the outset I made it clear I wanted to be a part of the journey when Booking.com started building a DI&B team. One year later this happened and I helped Booking.com to build the DI&B team from scratch - a catalyst for my career.

Reflecting on the last five years, the most important lesson for me has been to proactively try and explore new opportunities that come your way. Approach anything new with an open, curious mind and figure out interests and strengths along the way.

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

Most of us can be our own biggest enemy, myself included. When I am really hard on myself, I always wonder: would I say this to my best friends when giving them advice? Most often, probably not!

If I give space for my doubts and insecurities and let them take over, this will hold me back. To help tackle this, over the last few years, I've started a very conscious journey to train my mind. Every morning I meditate, reflect via journaling and listen to podcasts to overcome doubts and live with conviction.

It's an ongoing process but I am definitely making progress in the right direction. By both taking challenges by the horns and learning to train your mind to be your biggest advocate cannot be underestimated.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Leaving my comfortable life behind in the Netherlands during the pandemic to take on my next challenge at Glovo! I enjoyed my previous job at Booking.com, had a lovely house and my friends and family were nearby. But life was quite predictable.

Rationally I said to myself it was better to stay in the Netherlands to see how the pandemic would evolve, but all my instincts said I should make the jump and join  Glovo’s HQ in Barcelona.

Reflecting back on the first few months of my relocation, was it always easy? No. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

Relocating to a new country, starting a new job with fresh faces has been such a tremendous learning experience. I would never have wanted to miss this. I’m excited for what’s next to come at Glovo and lead its exciting pipeline of diversity and inclusion initiatives in 2021 and beyond!

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

I have learnt not to shy away from new challenges and opportunities. Research shows that most people don't achieve what they want because they don't take the initial jump for a fear of failing. Getting started, just with little steps, is half the job done.

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

Find people around you who see your value, potential and can support your growth. Where possible, always say yes if mentorship opportunities arise. Be proactive in asking your manager for projects that stretch you so you can both show your ambition and enhance your knowledge. Ultimately, work with people that empower you to do your best work.

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

Progress for gender equality in the workplace is under scrutiny like never before, which is great, yet the technology sector is lagging behind. With an average of 17% of women in technology, it continues to be a heavily male-dominated sector that in turn can put some women off pursuing a career in the space.

But the more women we champion and raise into senior positions, the more young women will see a greater level of role models and hopefully feel more inspired to pursue a career in STEM. This is a core focus for us at Glovo and we are actively recruiting some of the most talented female engineers to our global growing tech team.

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

Crucial is making DI&B the responsibility of every single person in the company. Everyone should approach their daily activity with an inclusion lens so they understand what they can do to play their part in driving a healthy, inclusive culture.

DI&B is sometimes seen as a tick-box exercise but if you want to do this well, every company must take a hard look at the roots of their company culture, systems and processes and ask themselves, what barriers could women at the organisation possibly be facing? Then do the utmost to remove those barriers to provide everyone with access to equal opportunity.

There is 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 would make coding the coolest course in high-school for all genders,. It would be compulsory and everyone would want to get involved. The hope being that pupils would be jumping at the chance to involve themselves in such innovative courses and the teachers would be the motivating, encouraging role-models helping them to succeed.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

My recommendations are not only for women but for everyone. Changing the tech industry to become more diverse and inclusive is the responsibility of all of us. It is imperative to have a widespread understanding of the individual roles we each play in changing the dynamics of our current working environments.

My current top recommendations are:

Podcast: when women stopped coding

Documentary: CODE: Debugging the gender gap

Film: Hidden figures

Harvard Business Review: How men can become better allies for women

Event: WebSummit - aside from being one of the biggest tech events, it is also a brilliant opportunity to connect women in tech and focuses strongly on DI&B


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Debby Leisner featured

Inspirational Woman: Debby Leisner | Vice President of Business Operations, Widen

Debby LeisnerDebby’s focus on people, process, and potential have guided her 20+ year career in technology to help make a positive impact on transforming businesses.

She’s passionate about helping people see the possibilities in the work they do, the talents they bring and the advancement that can be made on all fronts.

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

In my current role at Widen Enterprises, I am the Vice President of Business Operations, leading the teams that support all our Wideneers to provide great products, support and service to our customers. My areas of responsibility include Business Process & Systems, IT, Continuous Improvement, Human Resources, Talent Development, and Central Operations. I came to Widen in 2018, in part to be closer to home and travel less and in part to experience a different vertical in tech. My experience at Widen thus far has been fun and challenging in different ways than I expected.

I started my career in tech in 2000 at a technology startup in Madison that provided software to the automotive industry. That organisation was acquired by a Fortune 500 company based in the Chicago area, where my career options expanded dramatically as I was able to advance by working hard and using a practical application of problem-solving to help advance multiple teams and the company. I took on roles that were progressively building upon one another, and I was gaining great new and unanticipated skills. During this time, I was provided with the opportunity and challenge to establish and grow a large offshore office. I became a business champion of 3 acquisitions (responsible for execution and integration into my areas of responsibility), spearheaded project management activities to drive operational agility practices that would align with the R&D transition and development practices, as well as grow into a role with direct P&L responsibility for seven growing product lines. My own career was transforming as a part of this; I was worked to become more aligned with general management functions and overseeing large groups of employees, working more on strategic activities and significant financial oversight.

Beyond providing software to our customers, I found a love for using technology to solve everyday issues in house. I honed in on how to streamline and optimise how work was getting done so we could bring value to our customers more expeditiously. This is still something I really enjoy, looking at a process and envisioning a faster, more optimised way to get it done.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really. I knew early on that I wanted to lead people; that always felt natural to me. I figured I would wind up in some type of financial or accounting role though. I gained some team management experience in a few roles, and I always took whatever I was doing with a ton of zeal and excitement. I was going to change the world…. somehow.

That energy and those entry-level leadership roles came in handy and were ultimately what got my foot in a door at a tech start-up. My technical aptitude and organisational skills helped as well. But I really just enjoy leading and helping to make an impact which the CEO of that company saw, and needed that while in start-up mode, so the stars just seemed to align. I was very fortunate.

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

Of course! One of my biggest early challenges was having my voice heard ‘round the table’ as a reasonable perspective versus an emotional perspective. I often equated that type of feedback as being targeted because of my gender; there were no tears shed during these meetings, yet, as a female, I recall hearing those words from my male superiors. Over the years, I have learned to change my tone and stylise my message while remaining authentic to who I am and what I am trying to convey. Additionally, a challenge for women in tech (maybe all industries) is having a direct communication style, this is still something that I have found to be a challenge in how it is received. That being said, there is more openness to different voices and perspectives today than there were years ago.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think my greatest success has had less to do with profits and process and more with the people I served while in a leadership role. The growth of the company and profits did enable this to be possible, of course. I travelled extensively and spent a great deal of time in India for work in the early 2000s. During this time, I was provided with the opportunity to help create a mentorship network for women in technology. Many of these young women were the first in their families to work outside the home. They had no understanding of how businesses functioned or had practical business experience and often were disregarding the wishes of family members by getting a job in technology. To be able to sit down and explain business issues, or to talk about their career aspirations and maybe more personally to discuss how to overcome the adversity they were facing in their lives was what I consider a success. Maybe more of a blessing to have been able to be a part of their journeys.

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

One, wow, that’s tough. I don’t think I can say only one thing. For me, it’s all about resilience and my faith. Life is not easy for anyone; we all have a story, the good and the bad. Being able to progress forward on my journey despite challenges and being grateful in all situations (and that is not always easy) are the most significant factors in my life.

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

Be authentic first and foremost. Be a sponge, learn not just about the technology from a technologist’s perspective, learn about the business, about the customers you serve, about how the company runs. If you have an opportunity to listen in or participate in strategy discussions, do it. There is so much more to the business than the application of technology that is being delivered. This will serve you well in your career in tech later.

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 in every industry. Some of this is driven by external forces and biases, and some are self-imposed to a degree.

The barrier of bias can be overcome with knowledge and awareness. We all have biases, and if companies invested time and energy in helping all employees (from the top down) learn about their unconscious bias, I feel many of the barriers could be alleviated in the workplace.

As for self-imposed barriers, I have found women who really work to build self-confidence and articulate what they need is so important.

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

Create a mentoring program or get engaged in a mentoring network. I believe this single thing could really help any employee get a different perspective and feedback and to feel supported.

I am a huge fan of mentoring programs that do not place limits on who should be mentoring as well because my best business mentors were all male. I think matching the needs of a mentee with the skills and knowledge of mentors is imperative. Companies can take a greater role in asking senior leaders (men and women) to engage informal mentoring relationships; there is nothing more supportive in my mind than providing your time and attention to help someone on their journey.

There is 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?

I think the wand I would wave would focus on getting young girls more interested in technology and the sciences without feeling ashamed that they have an interest. This might change the perceptions within our communities, schools, or in our homes to be more accepting of girls who engage in activities traditionally seen as activities for young boys. When any young person shows an interest in something positive, we should all be encouraging them to pursue whatever that may be. Who are any of us to place limits on what someone can achieve?

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • PEX Network (Process Excellence Network) – articles, conferences, blogs - a nice blending of business and technology topics.
  • Boss Files with Poppy Harlow
  • The Disruptive Entrepreneur with Rob Moore
  • I enjoy Lean In circles; they are always great in building my network.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here


Inspirational Woman: Racha Sibai | VP of Strategy & Business, Wahed Invest

Racha SibaiMy name is Racha Sibai and I am the new VP of Strategy and Global Partnerships at Wahed Invest, the world’s leading Islamic fintech company. 

My experience has been in research and investments for a big part of my career, but I also worked in institutional sales, which gave me exposure to different types of clients and products.

My current role with Wahed came after I realised that women want to invest but don’t have the necessary tools readily available or the knowledge to start. We need to address the financial literacy gap that exists in society and get everyone - including women - to take care of their finances in a healthy and judgment free environment. I joined Wahed to play a part in solving this problem.

Leveraging the best fintech technology and industry expertise, Wahed has become a world leading mobile financial investment platform that improves financial inclusion and social responsibility through accessible and affordable faith-based investing.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Good question! Yes and no. I’ve spent hours exploring different paths and trying to understand what skills I need to acquire to progress in my career - and to do so in a way that aligns with who I am and what I believe in.

However, I have also realized that although planning for what you want years down the line is great, but as we grow and our career progresses, the planning becomes just a guideline for what you want to achieve and it’s okay to deviate from the original plan. We live in a continuously evolving world and we cannot anticipate where the next opportunity is going to be.

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

Of course, but it’s part of the journey. Those challenges will probably always continue to exist. I think challenges come in many forms and it’s up to us not to take them too personally, but rather as part of the journey and as ways to develop further.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think it is like a moving needle. The next achievement is always the biggest until there is one after.

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

I think it’s about believing in myself and having a wonderful support system while always aiming to achieve more yet still working on the now. I also try to continuously realize my shortcomings and to keep an open mindset to learn and develop. Remember to Always be true to yourself! I believe the more you know who you are and what you want while aligning with your values, the stronger is your definition of success.

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

In general, look out for what are the crucial technical skills needed, try to network and meet people, ask more questions, be hungry to learn and curious to explore more!

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

We’ve come a long way but I believe we still have more work to do to eliminate any barriers. Being more inclusive and embracing diversity is one of the ways to overcome those barriers. I think we’re seeing progress.

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

The support needs to be internal and an integral part of the company’s DNA. Establishing processes embedded at early stages of women’s careers to progress as well as providing a healthy environment for that. Also encouraging young girls in school to take more STEM courses.

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? 

Ensure coding and math is compulsory from a young age so it becomes second nature to women. Encourage women to embrace what others have to say and to accept praise and feedback, as this will help to plant confidence in them. Women don’t realize that they know more than they think!  Finally, provide the tools for women to gain the necessary skill set to shape their careers.

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

There has been plenty of amazing work being done by women and men to support us in our careers.

I like the Vestpod podcasts- its founder, Emilie Bellet, is always hosting great guests and thought-provoking conversations.

Investopedia with Caleb is also an excellent series that focuses on market updates, new trends in investing and financial education.

Finimize has been hugely impactful when it comes to having a community I can rely on for support, or to gain knowledge on anything new that is shaping the investments world relevant to us retail investors.

Lean In circles, plenty of I&D conferences as well as relevant initiatives and associations can also be explored. I think getting involved, learning to share insights and trying to meet and connect with people can be quite critical. There is always something to learn and you never know who is the one who can open doors for you and you help open doors for them. It is a two-way relationship, as life is give and take!

I am currently participating in a couple of working groups with CFA UK, a society of global investment professionals. This is a great opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions that can help shape positive outcomes for financial services and the fintech sector and the customers we are meant to serve.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.


Inspirational Woman: Carmen Ene | CEO, 3stepIT

Carmen EneAs CEO of 3stepIT and BNP Paribas 3 Step IT, Carmen is focused on one single objective: to take care of the world’s technology by helping businesses to manage IT more sustainably. 

Since 2015, Carmen has made it her mission to work with businesses across Europe to tackle the issue of corporate e-waste, with the two companies preventing more than half a million IT devices from being dumped or destroyed every year.

In 2019, she led 3stepIT’s joint venture with BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, the strategic alliance which now provides sustainable technology lifecycle management services in France, UK, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, with further market openings planned over the next 12 months.

Carmen also has more than 20-years’ worth of experience working in international IT and Finance, having held several positions at IBM including Vice President of Global Financing in Northeast Europe and Vice President of Enterprise in the Global Business Services.

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

I have over 20 years of experience working in international IT and finance. This includes holding senior executive positions at IBM including the role of General Manager of Global Financing in Italy, Vice President of Enterprise in the Global Business Services division, and Vice President of Global Financing in Northeast Europe.

After working at IBM for many years, in 2015 I was given the opportunity to join 3StepIT. I could see that 3Step was a company that had real ambitions to transform the way that their customers optimise the returns from their IT spending and maximise the lifecycle of IT equipment. Since then I’ve led the company’s growth across Europe, as we set about helping businesses to manage IT more efficiently and sustainably in a more cost-effective way. Each year we save thousands of  IT devices from being dumped or destroyed, while boosting business performance through our technology lifecycle management (TLM) solution.

Businesses across Europe use our service model to access, manage and refresh their IT devices, through our simple, secure and sustainable solution. This lowers the total cost of ownership of IT devices for organisations and ensures that when devices come to the end of their performance cycle, they have a sustainable way of replacing their old IT with newer models.

Over the past few years, we’ve experienced huge growth and demand for our services, and in 2019 we signed an ambitious partnership with BNP Paribas to take our TLM solution into new markets across Europe such as Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and France.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?   

Did I have ambition, yes, did I plan every step, no. You have to understand my background. I started my career as Romania was coming out of being trapped physically and economically in communism. After the company I had helped to create was bought by IBM my first objective was to discover the outside world and see where I’d be able to have impact. I moved with IBM to Vienna and after that I had the simple ambition to prove myself by doing the best I could in every job. There was no chess board, but I think I always managed to make the right moves!

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

The most difficult moment was when I left Romania to take on a job in IT in Austria, where I had to deal with multiple layers of prejudice: firstly, I was a woman in a male dominated industry, and secondly I was coming from Eastern Europe into a Western European world, and people judged me for that. This was the case in London too, where being a woman was less of a barrier, but being an Eastern European working in Finance and IT meant I was still considered by some as an outsider.

Operating in such an environment is difficult, but I’ve always trusted in myself and my abilities. And this confidence has meant I’ve been able to prove initial doubters wrong. Humour has also been my biggest friend along the way. When somebody laughs with you, half the battle is won. This is something I have taken with me throughout my career.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Striking the strategic alliance with BNP Paribas, a banking giant, was a great achievement for 3StepIT.  It has given us the opportunity to develop our capabilities and presence across Europe, positioning the company and its TLM solution as the go-to option for businesses to reduce e-waste while maintaining an organisation’s performance and productivity.

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

Resilience and determination. My father always showed me how important it is to be able to bounce back when you’re down. After a bad day at school he used to tell me: “Carmen, one kick in your back, two steps forward”. He would also always remind me to keep working hard, saying “Don’t give up, persevere and you will become so good that they cannot ignore you”.

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

Always think that something wonderful is about to happen. Dreaming and having the discipline to act on it helped me become what I am.

You also need to ensure you surround yourself with good people. I have had at least two inspirational managers that believed in me, encouraged me, gave me the right visibility and experiences that shaped me to who I am today. I still speak to both of them and seek advice from them from time to time.

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

We need more women in senior roles. All of my bosses have been men – which speaks volumes about how many women there are in senior positions in Finance and IT. If we have greater visibility of women in senior roles, more women will be encouraged to choose these industries as their careers.

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

For a long time, I did not agree with quotas and targets being the solution to helping women progress. I wanted to be seen as a person who can contribute, not as someone who counts towards a quota. Now I am changing my perspective. Overall quotas may not work, but I think companies should be looking at the position of women at a more granular level. Setting themselves a target for how many women they have working in IT will both support the progress of women and improve the returns they receive from IT investments.

There is 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 would wave my wand and women would not be frightened of entering this industry and instead understand how much they have to contribute by bringing different skills, perspectives and energies. When women believe that men will believe it too and this will also filter down into education and career advice.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would recommend the same approach to anybody working in tech. Stay as close as possible to all sources of ideas that will drive your imagination and talk to as many people as possible who are faced with your own challenges.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here