Elena Rodriguez-Falcon featured

Inspirational Woman: Elena Rodriguez-Falcon | President & Chief Executive, NMITE

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is President and Chief Executive at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering.

Before that Elena was Professor of Engineering at Sheffield University whilst leading various strategic priorities. Elena has received numerous awards for her work on education and diversity and is Principal Fellow at the HEA and Fellow of the IET and CMI.

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

I'm originally from Monterrey a very industrial city in Mexico. I was one of the first members of my family to go to university and therefore I didn't have role models, only a distant relative who was a cardiologist. And so initially my inspiration or my aspiration was to be a doctor. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good with blood, so that didn't work out. So, when I was due to decide what degree to choose, I looked around and I thought, "What's going to get me a good job.?" So, given the fact that I come from an industrial city, I decided to study mechanical engineering.

That was the why. The how I actually fell in love with our profession and then with education was due to many other things including the fact that through my career I met some inspirational people, including people who have very severe disabilities, who helped me to understand the value of engineering. I came to the UK wanting to improve my training – both in business and engineering - and I found that the way I had learned in Mexico as an engineering student wasn't very different to the way people learned in this country.

I found myself with an opportunity to join the University of Sheffield where accidentally I became an educator finding finally my real vocation, my real passion. And so, brought these two things together: the potential of engineering and love for education.

But I also wanted to help and get my students to not just be students but also true engineers by the time they graduated.  I brought problem-based learning into the classroom. That worked very well and gave me a reputation in this area which then attracted the interest from NMITE, a project where we are aspiring to be a new provider of higher education that aims to deliver a transformational programme, one that allows engineers, aspiring engineers to be just that, engineers.

I joined as a Chief Academic Officer, but circumstances changed and I took the role of Chief Executive Officer last year (2018), which I've been doing now for more than a year and a half. It's a challenging role, but an extremely worthwhile project to work for.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, absolutely not! My career has been one happy accident after another. I don't know whether it is skill or luck but I have been able to spot opportunities and take them. I do not fear failure as much as other people do and that's possibly because I had a boss who helped me develop that confidence in taking risks.  So, no, I haven't planned my career. I have spotted opportunities and taken them.

But I think the one thing that I would say is that in order to progress in your career, planning is a good thing, and if I had done more, maybe I would have gone faster. But also what I have done, and I would advise anyone to do, is to actively seek mentors, people who can help you understand how to move through the ranks or your aspirations, who can champion you, who can coach you, who can maybe just support you when it's a bit hard. So, mentors all the way.

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

There was a point in my academic career where I, not being a traditional academic, realised that I wasn't going to be able to progress as much as other academics. When I realised that I had reached the ceiling in academia because of my different background.

There was a period between 2007 and 2012 where I was determined that my practitioner background and my sort of different background to the traditional academic was not going to stop me from becoming a full professor in academia. So, I set out to become a professor. And that's perhaps the only time that I planned what I had to do. I looked at the criteria. I realised that the criteria wasn't right for me and I worked with the university to develop criteria that helped individuals like myself with different backgrounds to be able to progress in our areas.

I overcame this by being really very clear about what I wanted to achieve,  bringing different stakeholders to the table, i.e. the human resources department, my heads of department, my mentors, all the people in the same situation as me and we put together the argument and a plan to overcome those challenges.  I was determined to not let failure affect me because I tried time and time again to get a promotion until I finally cracked it. We found the best way to change the system, to recognise educators who were specialists in education but not necessarily in research.

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

I would say determination, perseverance. I don't give up no matter how hard, how difficult, how painful, how tiring, how much work you need to do, how scary it is. I keep going. I think perseverance and resilience are some of the most important things in any aspect of life. But if I were to just bring it down to one thing, it would be perseverance.

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

My top tips would be the same for any individual, in technology or not. The first came from my parents. Work hard. Never treat anyone badly. Be kind to others, but never allow anyone to treat you badly.

The second from a previous boss.  Make mistakes, make as many as you can. Don't be afraid, just never make them again. Take risks.

And the third is something someone said to me just recently that the opportunity of a lifetime has to be taken during the lifetime of the opportunity.Alongside those, ask for help. It is super important to ask for help. Be grateful, be gracious. Get yourself a coach which can be very helpful in many ways. And ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen when you are trying to do something and trying to excel in your area of expertise?"

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

I think there are two types of barriers. There are the barriers that exist in processes and systems where there is still bias towards different groups and I think many organisations are working hard to remove those barriers. Some of this is process driven such as how you advertise for roles and what kind of criteria you have for promotion, how you take into account various types of care and responsibilities that individuals have, not just women.  I think there are also the unconscious biases of individuals and those are difficult to remove because they require training, they require self-awareness and having real processes and systems in place to call these out when they happen.

There are also barriers that we ourselves impose on our own careers. Namely not applying for promotion because you don't think you are ready yet, whilst our counterparts would apply for promotion even when they are far from being ready. Being brave, being courageous, having the determination to try, even if you think it's going to go wrong, and those are self-imposed. They are the ones that require us to be trained in being able to take risks, being able to learn from failure and being able to have those fierce conversations with our organisations, with our peers, and to know that that makes you a better professional rather than a bad person, for example.

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

I think it is important that we all, not just companies, educators, government, have a huge, huge, huge permanent campaign, to raise awareness about the power of engineering and technology. We have to be talking about, we have to show what technology can do to help people and what it can do to revert the problems that we have caused to the world ie Sustainability, climate change, all of those things is so important that we really, really get through to families, parents, young children, teachers and so on. So that when it comes to young people making choices about their lives and their careers, they have informed decision making about what they are going to do later on in life.

Success breeds success. The more young people and young women who do the right GCSEs, the right A levels, will mean more women in higher education. If 50% of the population are women, 50% of the engineers should be women, simple as that. The more women you have, the more inequality will be banished from our systems because we will have the right expertise in place to identify where the barriers are, what kind of systems need to be put in place to enable progress and success of everyone. And I think that that's going to make a big difference.

Even though I have lived in England for such a long time I still find the A level system peculiar.  It forces young individual to make decisions very, very early, decisions about whether to be an engineer or a medical doctor or whatever it is, have to be made far too early in our lives. Given the that things are changing and we are going to change careers five or six times in a lifetime or even more, I don’t think it’s reasonable to have a system that forces you to specialise so early on. NMITE's future entry requirements will support this more flexible approach - whereby GCSE (or equivalent) Maths and English at Grade 6 will be compulsory, but pigeon-holing young people according to specific A Level requirements will be avoided.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Remove A levels and let people learn about the wider topics that are required for life. So, when they come to make a decision, they are wiser, older in terms of understanding of what a discipline entails. And ensure that education is more inclusive, that education is reflective of what happens in society and perhaps it's time to revolutionise what education is or what it reflects.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Getting to meet people, talking to people, learning from people is my preferred option. I actively engage with different mentors, with different colleagues. I love networking because that's where opportunities arise and you can spot them and take them and people can give you advice. And make sure you are memorable and that you communicate what you are doing.  Shout about what you have done and what you have achieved and don’t be embarrassed for doing it. Someone said to me once, "If you don't communicate it, it doesn't exist." And they were absolutely correct.  Whether you use podcasts or you go to conferences or you study from books or websites, it doesn't matter. But make sure that whatever you achieve, communicate it.

I wish everyone good luck and I’m always here to helpl


Roni Savage featured

Inspirational Woman: Roni Savage | Founder, Jomas Associates

Roni SavageRoni, is a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist and SiLC (Specialist in Land Condition).

A graduate of University of Portsmouth with a BEng(hons) in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics, she also holds a Masters’ (with distinction) in Environmental Management. She has worked on many major construction schemes, including the widening of the A406 and M25. She received the highly prestigious presidential invitation to Fellowship of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2019.

She was formerly Associate Director of one of the UK’s largest Engineering Firms.

In 2009, after gaining several years of industry experience, she established Jomas Associates, serving land developers across the UK, and achieving a turnover of £2m in 2017, with further plans for growth. Jomas undertake site investigations, engineering and environmental surveys on construction projects across the UK.

Under Roni’s stewardship, Jomas focus on providing their clients with high quality, high value, expedient, engineering solutions, with emphasis on delivery.

In 2017, Jomas was acknowledged as a high growth company by Goldman Sachs, and Roni took part in the 10kSB business programme run with University of Oxford, Said Business School.

A mother to three boys, Roni is extremely passionate about gender diversity and social mobility, volunteering her time to mentor and coach others.

Roni has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, with a passion for success and business growth. While acting as sole director of Jomas Associates, she simultaneously co-founded Turner Jomas, a multi-disciplinary civil engineering practice.

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

Jomas Associates undertake site investigations, land contamination and geotechnical engineering assessments, for construction projects across the UK.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not initially. When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor, but as I grew older, I realised I had a phobia for blood, but a love for mathematics, and solution finding, and that Engineering was a far better fit for me. I didn’t have a plan initially, but I always wanted to be better than I was yesterday.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Where do I start? I work in the construction industry that is pre-dominantly male dominated, where only 12% of the workforce is female. I am aware that I am challenging the status quo, and no two days are the same, but I thrive on breaking down barriers, and tackling challenges.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am extremely proud of the company that Jomas is today, the team I have working with me, our values and focus on customer satisfaction, as well as the growth we have enjoyed. Furthermore, I have been honoured with several awards in the last two years, including being named Black British Business Person of the Year 2018, Natwest Athena Inspirational Woman 2018, Women in Construction and Engineering Best Consultant 2019, Construction News – InspireMe Award 2019, amongst others. I also provided expert advice to Lord Sugar during the BBC’s 2019 The Apprentice finals.

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

My parents, my family. They have always believed in me and encouraged me to be the best version of myself.

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

I am a huge advocate of mentoring. Irrespective of where one is in their career, it is extremely important to have somebody else to act as a sounding board, advisor, coach, sponsor, or whatever capacity is necessary. I have been mentored, and also partake in several mentoring programmes, and find it very rewarding.

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

I would make all companies publish their gender parity procedures, from recruitment to internal promotion.

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

It doesn’t matter if no one else in the room looks like you – be the trend setter!

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

Further growth for Jomas


Gita Singham-Willis featured

Inspirational Woman: Gita Singham-Willis | Co-Founder, Cadence Innova

Gita Singham-Willis PhotoGita Singham-Willis is one of three founders of Cadence Innova, a multi award winning digital and business transformation consultancy operating in the UK.

Cadence was at the forefront of digital transformation with Gita and the other founders working with Government to set up cutting edge innovations in digital;  Directgov (predecessor of GDS), NHS Choices and the first back office shared service in central Government providing the infrastructure for the new world of digital services.

Delivery of the UK Government’s first ever Gender Pay Gap (GPG), digital-by-default reporting service, is one of her career stand-out achievements. This award-winning project has propelled gender equality to levels where economic differences through pay, can be really tackled and make a difference to the lives of women from all backgrounds across the UK.

GPG is making a significant contribution towards understanding the prevalence, locations and causes of the gender pay gap in the UK, with multi-national and global companies in the UK addressing the pay gap divide annually.

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

As a female British Asian manufacturing engineer, travelling around the world, managing factory operations, I gained a solid foundation in understanding a wide variety of different cultures and approaches to work!  The age of ERP implementations led me into consulting and finally into building digital services and embedding digital culture. After a few moves across consulting firms I finally set up Cadence Innova with my business partners as a way of providing a different brand of consultancy with a different ethos – one of collaboration and diversity, nurturing skills and expertise, and working with our clients to have a beneficial impact on our society. As such we have grown our workforce from 3 to over 40 and have attracted many experienced female colleagues, into the industry, giving opportunities in the expansive digital world, whilst supporting modern and flexible ways of working.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did not plan my career at all.  As a ‘good’ girl of Sri-Lankan heritage, I did what was expected, to an extent, at the beginning. I focused on getting to Cambridge to do something in the sciences…. But after that it all became much more organic.  After a couple of years in engineering there, I realised that I hadn’t planned for anything past university… and didn’t really know what I should be doing with my life. I went into manufacturing in the 3rd year at college as it seemed to be a more practical application of science, and thus fell into manufacturing operations. After that it was more about taking opportunities as they came my way and jumping in! Starting my own business was never something I thought I would do growing up!

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

My career has always been about challenge. Being the only women in a manufacturing environment, and a woman of colour to boot, travelling from place to place, working in a foreign language environment, with just two weeks of being on an intensive course for each country, and no social network to fall into… It was very much about making it happen by myself and building inner strength and resilience.

In each country I had to get used to the way of life, the culture, find a social life, learn a language, and make a success of whatever job I was doing with little guidance. This experience made me realise that there was no reason to be afraid.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Starting Cadence. Creating and growing an organisation that is values driven and embraces a diverse culture, delivering projects which have a positive impact on society.... I am incredibly proud of our employee owners, and how they commit to our values.

Delivery of the UK Government’s first ever Gender Pay Gap (GPG), digital-by-default reporting service, is one of my career stand-out achievements. This award-winning project has propelled gender equality to levels where economic differences through pay, can be really tackled and make a difference to the lives of women from all backgrounds across the UK.

GPG is making a significant contribution towards understanding the prevalence, locations and causes of the gender pay gap in the UK, with multi-national and global companies in the UK addressing the pay gap divide annually.

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

There are a few things that helped me in my journey. Realising that success can be defined in different ways, and that success and happiness are not mutually exclusive, gave me the freedom to change career after 10 years in manufacturing. After this, working across multiple organisations led me to realise that the values I have and the work I wanted to do were not always in line with what I ended up doing. I wanted a more rounded approach to work, a team ethos built on support and collaboration, and a desire to do positive impactful work. And so, Cadence began.

And I do have to shout out to my business partners, colleagues and my husband – who are all very good at keeping me focussed on those things that really matter in life.

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

Keep learning and exploring. Challenge yourself and push the boundaries surrounding you. Don’t worry about taking a few wrong turns...

Understand if what you are doing resonates with your values and what you really love to do.

Find good support mechanisms – networks to help you, resources to help you learn, people to mentor and coach you

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

Yes – sadly many sectors are still male dominated and working within that environment is challenging. A level of resilience is necessary for individuals, along with a healthy use of mentors and coaches. Luckily there are more and more networks for women in technology to provide support. Companies need to really work hard to expand the talent pool when searching for resources. Positive attempts at integrating women in at an early stage and investing in keeping them interested and engaged are essential. This has been the ethos at Cadence where 57% of our employees are female and many are leading tech work in the central and local government sectors, as well as in private and health sectors too. The company supports all employees work life balance needs, from their child to adult care responsibility needs to working flexibly to meet everyday life situations.

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

I can speak of my own organisation to demonstrate this best... We at Cadence support women through a very flexible approach to work. We have employed many women returners who have family commitments which we understand and value, and some work part-time.  We provide challenge for our people, but they have the support of the whole organisation as this enables people who come from diverse backgrounds to find their feet quickly and start exploiting their strengths. We also are more concerned, when recruiting people, about their values, their fit with the organisation and their aptitude and attitude. Looking outside a ‘traditional consultancy profile’ has helped us grow and develop talent from within, enabling those who are interested in technology at all levels to learn.


Kerrine Bryan featured

Inspirational Woman: Kerrine Bryan | Award-winning engineer & founder of Butterfly Books

 

Kerrine Bryan

Kerrine Bryan - an award winning black female engineer and founder of Butterfly Books.

Kerrine has gone on to smash many glass ceilings to become respected in her field.

She was shortlisted in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 for notable women in business and, in 2015, she won the Precious Award for outstanding woman in STEM. Kerrine is a volunteer mentor for the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET) and is an avid STEM Ambassador. It was while she was undertaking talks at various schools across the country for children about engineering and what her job entails that she became inspired to set up her independent publishing house, Butterfly Books.

In response to this, Kerrine published a series of books (My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer and My Mummy Is A Plumber) as a means of communicating to children a positive message about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers, that are suffering skill gaps and diversity issues. The fourth book in the series, My Mummy Is A Farmer, launched last month - August 2018.

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

I’m a chartered electrical engineer.  I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry for 12 years in London, after which I took a two year career break to have my daughter before returning to work 4 months ago into a new role, new company and new country. I’m now a lead electrical engineer for WSP, a global engineering and professional services consultancy. Based in New York, my role is a mixture of technical, project management and business development work. I’m currently working on some exciting power generation projects including cogeneration, energy saving studies and renewable power.

Alongside my brother, Jason Bryan, I’ve also set up Butterfly Books, a children’s book publishing company. Together, we have co-authored a series of picture books targeting children aged seven and younger, which communicates positive messages about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers that are suffering a skills gap. I think it’s important to provide diverse and positive role models for children at an early age where misconceptions about jobs can develop early. With the books we’ve created, like My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer, My Mummy Is A Plumber and My Mummy Is A Farmer, we want to challenge gender stereotypes and instil in children a belief that they can be anything they want to be, irrespective of sex, race and social background, if they work hard enough to make these dreams come true.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I do sometimes set myself five-year career goals, but this can be restrictive. Personally, I like to take on opportunities as they arise and try out new things. Over the years, I’ve learnt that you might discover that there are areas of work you didn’t previously know much about, but – after gaining a bit of experience – you find out that you actually enjoy it, and this in turn can then change your goals. I think it’s always good to plan, but you have to be amenable to flexibility and change because life can be unpredicatable. So long as you are heading in the right direction of your career and personal goals, the path in which you take – which may be wrought with challenges and set backs – can equally develop you with the skills you need to become a better business person.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Working in a male dominated environment brings its challenges.  My first role as a lead electrical engineer a few years ago proved to be a steep learning curve; my team comprised entirely of men, all of whom were older than me. I definitely felt like I had to prove my competency and worth more than a ‘typical’ (read ‘male’ and ‘senior’) engineering team leader would, but the experience helped me to grow professionally as a manager, team leader and person within a short space of time. Ultimately though, I received a lot of support from my male peers who respected me for succeeding in a career in which there are very few female engineers. They understood that the career journey for women like me couldn’t have been easy, and to make it through the barriers was an achievement worth acknowledging. Given that there is still a lot of work to be done to stamp out bias and prejudice in the workplace, not just in male dominated careers but also in all kinds of workplaces, I’d say I’ve been quite lucky. Of course, it shouldn’t be about ‘luck’. In order for these challenges to dissipate, society needs to reframe notions about what work equates as ‘a man’s job’ and what work equates as ‘a woman’s job’.

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

I think that mentoring is essential for professional development. To receive guidance and support during your professional journey – not just from the outset – but even as you become successful and more seasoned in your field is hugely valuable. I think it’s easy to buy into the idea that we’re the finished article, as there’s always room for self-improvement. Even CEOs need mentoring to a certain degree.  I’ve been a mentor to many early career professionals for over 10 years, and have also been a mentee, so I understand both sides of the dynamic. It’s important to have someone who can challenge your thinking, encourage you to self-reflect and bring out the most in you so that you can fulfil your potential. With this new stage in my career, I will now look for a mentor to guide me in achieving my new career goals.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

I want to see an increase in the rate of change of diversity within careers and particularly within STEM careers where there is a huge skills shortage. I hope to eventually see diversity at all levels that is proportionate to the diversity of the society. Progress is being made, but the job will be an on-going one. It starts at the grassroots – encouraging children through education to believe that the world is their oyster and that they can work to be whatever they want to be – and it ends with responsible employers doing all they can to diversify their workforce, not necessarily just for moral gain (although that’s important) but because the figures show that it makes economic sense.

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

Providing flexible working arrangements for parents (and that means granting this to both the mothers and fathers) after they have had a child is so important in positively changing the opportunities for women at work. For too long, motherhood has often been a choice that professional women make to the detriment of their careers. This is reflected in the way many corporate organisations shape maternity and paternity leave arrangements; these inherently infer that it is the woman’s job to stay at home with the baby (at least for the first year anyway) while the man brings home the bacon. This ingrains further misconceptions and prejudices, which sees working mothers demonised for putting their careers ‘first’ and stay-at-home or flexibly working dads as non-committal and unambitious. Motherhood is one of the keys reasons why we don’t see as many women entering male dominated work, and that includes STEM careers. Until parental leave is seen as of equal importance and a job that requires the presence of both mother and father, and so long as employers continue to remain inflexible in supporting employees who are parents, we will never see progress in equality happening half as fast as it needs to in order to invoke meaningful social change.

For me, the ability to work flexibly was a huge factor in me deciding to go back to work after having my daughter. Creating flexible working arrangements also strengthens the respect between the employer and employee. Work is important, it can give us a sense of worth and purpose, but an individual should never be made to feel that they have to choose between success in career and paying the bills versus bringing up the family when both are so important.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

This year I became a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).  IET Fellowship recognises the high level of experience, knowledge and ability attained during an individual’s career. The appointment will now provide me with the opportunity to shape the future of the engineering profession through the IET’s expert panels, events and discussions.

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

I hope to be able to help shape the future of engineering in a positive way and also do all I can to encourage diversity in professions, with my children’s books being one of the resources to help make that change.


Michelle Dickinson featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) | Award-winning nano-scientist, co-founder, Nanogirl Labs & author

 

Michelle DickinsonDr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) is a passionate researcher and teacher with a love of science and engineering.

Author of No 8 Recharged and The Kitchen Science Cookbook, Michelle has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all.

Her background in Biomedical and Materials Engineering have combined her interests to give her a unique insight into how nature and technology can learn from each other for scientific developments.

Currently you can find her as founder and Director of the social enterprise Nanogirl Labs Ltd, she is also an honorary academic in Engineering at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Awarded Member of New Zealand Order of Merit Michelle was winner of the Women of Influence award for science and innovation in 2016, was awarded the Sir Peter Blake Leadership in 2015 and was winner of the Prime Ministers Science Media Communication Prize and the New Zealand Association of Scientists Science Communicators Award in 2014.

Michelle strongly believes that science should be open, transparent and a topic of conversation over the dinner table, not just the lab bench, and her vision is to create positive role models in the world that our children can aspire to be like.

With this belief she is passionate about creating new ways for the public to interact with science including her television appearances, live Theatre Science Shows, science comedy podcast “Stupid Questions For Scientists” and science communication videos.

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

I’m currently the co-founder of Nanogirl Labs, a social enterprise designed to empower young people to increase their confidence around science and engineering.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, from the moment I sat down with a careers advisor at school I’ve always had a plan – yet I don’t think I’ve ever followed that plan in my actual career.  Instead I’ve taken opportunities that have come up, many of which I didn’t even know existed when I was writing my plan.

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

Being a woman in engineering has often meant that I am the only female in the room, and career wise that has felt lonely and like I was always having to prove myself.  It’s taken me a long time to believe in my own abilities and my confidence has been thanks to great mentors who have helped me to believe in myself more.

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

Imposter syndrome – for some reason many women struggle with it and it prevents them from applying for promotions at work or bringing up issues when engaging in a team.  If we could teach women about what it was and how to work on some of the challenges that can hold them back I think we would see much more diversity in senior leadership.

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

I think we need to break down some of the stereotypes around what jobs in science and technology are like.  It’s not all hard-hats and greasy overalls but instead the field is full of oppurtunities where women get to be creators not just consumers of new technology.

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

I think mentoring and being mentored is so important.  I love mentoring others and helping young women to figure out what their strengths are while opening as many doors as I can for them using my networks.  Being mentored has helped me to focus on my own goals and use the lessons learned by others more established in their careers to gain a different perspective on things.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Quitting the stability of working as an academic for a university and setting up my own company.  Our STEM programs are taught in 5 different languages around the world and it’s amazing to see how building an organisation that provides positive female role models can break down some of the barriers that prevent young people from pursuing technical careers.

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

I’m launching my new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook, which presents science in a recipe book to try and show people that science is everywhere and can be done with ingredients commonly found in the kitchen.  I hope that by bringing science home to the kitchen it will help parents to learn together with their children as they go on a science journey of discovery and curiosity.


Dr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) – prize winning nanotechnologist, researcher and educator – has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all. Her new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook is packed full of fun ‘recipes’, each teaching an important scientific principle in a format that is perfect for parents and children to enjoy together.

Available on Amazon.  Find out more at https://uk.kitchensciencecookbook.com/


Inspirational Woman: Mary Rinaldi | Co-Founder, Simone

Mary RinaldiWith a background in fintech and investment banking, Mary Rinaldi, based between London & NYC, is a brand and product advisor, helping organizations and individuals center their stories and products in user research, analysis and contextual thinking.

She’s worked at UBS, Man Investments and Connu and OppenheimerFunds. In addition, she co-founded Simone in 2018, a company that helps employees, especially women, reclaim their agency at work and build financial, emotional and structural power in their workplace. Having herself recovered from a professional crisis, Mary wanted to help other women going through the same workplace discrimination and realise the importance of a strong, personal and professional network. The Startup matches individuals in bad employment scenarios with professionals able to provide guidance or services. She also is a passionate female mentor, especially to young women in the tech sector and is a regular thought leader offering advice to professional women and those starting out in their careers.

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

I grew up in Portland, Oregon where you would have found me with my nose buried in a book at the top of the Sycamore tree in my family’s front yard, or shooting hoops with my siblings. My upbringing was a combination of self-determination and unbridled imagination. I studied literature and history at university and then found myself in the never-ending energy of New York City. I worked in law, then in product development at an investment firm, picked up and moved to London to work at an investment bank, then left finance and started exploring new directions, remotely advising my friend as she built her start-up. Eventually, I plunged into start-ups and building tech products full-time.

It’s only now, after three countries and multiple careers, that I finally see the vista that would occasionally peak out above my path in my twenties and thirties. In the past year I co-founded Simone, a company dedicated to helping employees build more equitable relationships with their employers, began consulting as a product management expert, started writing PSST, a newsletter about work, and kicked off mentoring at an incubator for people working at the intersection of art, design and technology, called NEW INC. I have a few other ventures in the works, and it finally feels like I have the right irons in the fire.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not at all! I knew a few things I really wanted out of life, and they orbited around knowledge and learning in the real world -- meeting different people, living in new cities and countries, and trying new things. I wanted to learn deeply about myself and the world. I began in earnest by moving to New York City with a few hundred dollars and a place to stay for a few months.

My first concern was getting my feet under me financially. With a good academic record, managerial experience, I thought I had a good chance at a well-paying job in an industry I was considering long-term. And I did, I took a good role for a new university graduate at a respected law firm. Not surprisingly for someone who grew up in a financially precarious household, I looked to professions like law and finance as my only options. But secretly I longed to work in creative fields. However, the frequent instability of the types of roles I wanted did not correspond with the constraint of needing to help support my family whilst carving out a career.

After two years working in law, I jumped into investment finance. I had a theory that if I knew more about financial markets, I would figure out how to amass capital, find the logic of the system, and quit worrying about financial security. In my five years of investment product work I learned there was no logic, just a lot of ladder rungs to climb, and golden handcuffs to strain against. It turned out, that wasn’t a payoff I wanted to live with.

So I began experimenting and found rewarding work by designing and building tech products with a team of talented people. I thrived creating a space for teams of designers and engineers to collaborate and work on experiments with people who wanted someone to solve a real problem they faced. With my investment and finance background, I naturally moved to fintech. There I worked hard to put people at the center of the work -- whether customer, partner, or teammate. And with Simone, empowering people to reclaim their agency and build a more equitable relationship with their employer, this work of putting people at the center, had space to grow and flourish. Today, Simone is going through changes, but the work I began there, I continue as a mentor and consultant.

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

Yes, definitely. I’ve had a winding career path, and along the way I’ve taken leaps of faith. Mid-career I moved to London for a role at an investment bank. However after a few weeks, I knew it was the wrong fit. I struggled with investment bank culture. It was daunting to accept that the company was the wrong place for me, and that perhaps I made the wrong move. Sometimes you make a decision that takes you on a path that just stops. I finally threw in the towel at a year. Overcoming that feeling of failure and setback took a lot of faith, and telling the story truthfully -- I experimented, took a big risk, and learned that the life of an investment banker or financier unfortunately, wasn’t for me. A hugely important learning, that if I’d refused to accept could have kept me from a career transformation -- from building investment products to building tech products.

A few years later, I was responsible for a complex redesign of the marketing stack for my company’s investment products. The chance to work across the tech stack and collaborate with a cohort of software engineering specialists -- back-end, services/ops and front-end etc. was really exciting, but not without its challenges. Despite the odds, we built a protocol for successful collaboration between multiple tech and operations teams; it was one of the most beautiful examples of cross-functional teamwork and leadership that I’ve experienced.

That lesson has never left me -- that designing a workspace, a project, or a collaboration around relationship-building marked by generosity, trust, and optimism will produce results beyond your expectations.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Taking back my voice after experiencing gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and then building a service to empower others to do the same. Helping other women reject tropes like being called “difficult,” “unlikable,” or “not technical enough;” combatting bogus PIPs (Performance Improvement Plan) because of rebuffed advances or sexual harassment experiences, and refusing a myriad of other tired reasons women get told for why they’re not “the right fit” has been the most rewarding work.

Often it only takes one voice to validate a person’s experience, help them reclaim their agency at work, and strike out on a new path from a place of strength. When we tap into this energy as we make work and life decisions, our communities become happier, stronger, and more generative. Who knows what kind of companies, projects and ideas this kind of personal power can engender?

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

I care that what I build is an expression of my principles, and I don’t spin to win. I believe that the means are just as important as the ends, maybe more important. In this context, experimentation  becomes an adventure and produces a positive pressure to succeed. When we are trying to heal our customers’ pain and also do no harm, our approach has to be thoughtful and precise.

Perhaps that seems counter-intuitive to entrepreneurship, but following the organizing principle of becoming, that we are all “on the way” and therefore how we make decisions, how we build and how we care for the customer drives both the result and the nature of the result, is really powerful.

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

Remember that technology is not new. Discovering and building new tech has been a function of human communities since the beginning of time. Keep this in mind as you vet companies and their business models, it will help you get to the heart of the matter -- does this company need to exist and can you articulate their value proposition? This exercise might require a little industry and market research, but it will be worth it.

Evaluate company culture. You’ve got to go beyond a company’s story and their glassdoor reviews and do your best to backchannel what it’s like to work there. The best sources are current employees and former employees. Read between the lines -- if a slew of people of color, LGBTQ people or women leave the company after a short period of time, take note. You want to take a position at a company that values you, because if they don’t, the work you’ll have to do to rebuild your confidence will outweigh anything else they offer.

Vet your would-be manager. The most important person to your career is your manager. So it’s essential to understand how your manager leads, if and how they support their direct reports and how different people who have reported to them have fared under their leadership. Ask questions that test personal authenticity, like what books they love, or how they recharge after a stressful day, or what they would do if they didn’t work in the tech industry -- an ability to answer these kinds of questions can signal that they’re the real deal.

Build your personal brand. You need to be able to tell the story of who you are -- what specific abilities or skills you always bring to the table, so that even when you’re not in the room, your value is undeniable. The skills and approach you’re known should be authentic to you, because external elements, like your manager, C-suite leadership, or your company’s goals can change, so only tailoring your story to them doesn’t work for you long-term. Learning how to build an authentic personal brand and communicate it well is one of the most important steps you can take to turbo-charge your career.

Join communities and professional groups outside your company. Today more than ever, it’s important to establish yourself not just at your current company, but across your industry or practice. It’s also necessary to find like-minded people, a crew you can learn from, develop friendships with and work on projects or side hustles together. In tough times, the support of other professionals, especially women in your field or practice, can help you bounce back quickly and cull key learnings from your experience.

Build relationships with people who inspire you. Inspiration can come in many forms; and building relationships with people who motivate you or who you respect in your workplace, industry, and in various practices is one of the most important ways you can invest in your future.

Remember your career is yours. It is important to make sure that while your company and manager are holding you accountable for meeting goals, you are also holding them accountable to you and your career. If you and your manager agree on a path to promotion, and when you hit milestones and goals, your company repeatedly fails to deliver on their promise, it might be time to consider a different way to achieve your personal career goals.

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

Yes, I do. I think there are barriers to success for women in every industry, although in tech the issue is particularly prominent. Until we overhaul structures that leave women out of full and equal participation in tech, those barriers will continue to block women from success.

However, that doesn’t mean building the kind of life and work experience women want is impossible or something to feel defeated about.

Your experience is your power, your story is your power, so do things you want to do, take on the big challenges, double-down on every opportunity to learn, and when you experience setbacks, figure out what outcome you want from your situation and make strategic decisions to get there. Most importantly, take the time to build relationships and care for people you admire and respect along the way. This cohort you’ll build of supporters, friends, once and future colleagues, employees and bosses is one of the richest communities you’ll find.

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

Companies should do all the things diversity and inclusion experts have suggested -- actively fill the top of the recruitment funnel in a truly representative way; ensure levelling is fair both in title and pay, interrogate any patterns that reinforce inequality during the recruitment process and build internal tools to reverse those patterns; and finally, ensure that at every level in the company women are equally represented, from junior professionals and senior managers to C-suite leaders. If there is a drop off at any level, research what is happening at the company and take decisive, strong action to educate people or to eradicate behavior, and remove those who resist equality from power. Companies that truly care about equality and representation will do this work.

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?

If I had to choose one thing to magically change, I would flip the entrepreneurship investment table on its head, and put investment capital in the hands of WOC and non-binary people. I think putting that power in the hands of those who have been systematically excluded from wealth creation or punished for it, who are kept from exercising their fundamental creativity to solve thorny problems, would dramatically change the nature of the tech industry -- what companies we found, what problems we tackle, and what tech we build or don’t build.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I love podcasts, some favorites: Design Matters with Debbie Millman is fantastic. Debbie is a consummate interviewer and her guests are endlessly interesting and different, they’re the outliers we can learn the most from. I also recommend Call Your Girlfriend, which is not specifically a tech podcast, but one of the hosts, Aminatou Sow,  is a tech consultant and business owner, and she often addresses how to meet the specific challenges of the tech industry. I love books even more than podcasts and there are some really good ones out there. John Maeda’s new book “How to Speak Machine: Laws of Design for the Digital Age” is a thoughtful guide to building good tech in the digital age. Another classic tech product book is “Inspired” by Marty Cagan; he and the SVPG team also write a thoughtful product blog. Both resources provide valuable maps to building truly great tech products. Check out Ellen Pao’s Project Include, a non-profit dedicated to giving everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech -- they are a rich resource for company and culture building best practices. Joining women-only tech communities like Elpha (US) and Ada’s List (UK) is a great way to build knowledge, meet other women in tech, and get support when you need it. Finally, I recommend reading “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” by Carlo Rovelli, it’s the single book I would give every person in the world to read. Understanding our real capacity for generosity, greatness, and change can transform the way we approach building a purposeful life and career.


Ellie Burrows featured

Inspirational Woman: Ellie Burrows | Train Services Director, Southeastern

Ellie BurrowsEllie Burrows is the Train Services Director for Southeastern, operating 2k trains and 640k passenger journeys per weekday and the UK’s first domestic high speed train service.

She has over 20 years’ experience working in the Rail industry and has worked in a wide variety of roles across the UL for Network Rail and more recently as Train Services Director for Southeastern.

Ellie is also the Executive sponsor of Southeastern’s network colleague group ‘W.I.R.E (Women in Rail Empowerment)’, a group that are working hard to drive the development of a better balanced organisation and she is also championing Gender Diversity issues across the industry.

Ellie is working hard to increase the awareness for women drivers and has been on Women’s hour Radio show and has had a piece published in the Independent.

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

My name is Ellie and I’m a 39 year old mum of three, aged 3, 7 and 9. I’m the Train Services Director for Southeastern – which essentially means I oversee the operation of over two thousand trains, carrying around 620,000 passengers on their daily commute. I have my amazing team of around 1400 staff supporting me across the various areas I’m responsible for, which can again be very varied on a daily basis – covering anything from how we drive continuous improvement, planning services and delivery of significant projects and infrastructure works. I’ve worked in the rail industry now for over nineteen years, however I actually studied a degree in Applied Economics and Business. It just goes to show, nothing is fixed in terms of where you want to go with your career – after University or just simply as your career move.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest – I had a keen interest for working with people, love a role that challenges me and I was always commended for my natural leadership skills. Though I never sat down early on in my career I suppose I took a lot from the great mentors who I have been privileged enough to work with and talk through how I can progress my career. With regard to working in transport -  I always had an interest in rail, I remember sitting in an A Level Economics lesson and talking about the impact the introduction a new train service would have on the economy, it feels like a role that has a broad impact and societal impact and that’s important to me.

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

I’d say one of the hardest obstacles I’ve had to overcome was returning to work after having my children – not just the separation element but adjusting myself to be able to work again and having confidence in my role after such a lifechanging experience. In the first few months back, establishing a rhythm and managing a balance between my work and my family was really difficult, as both require so much time and focus. The advice I would give to any other new mums, carers or perhaps  those working more than one job, is to make sure you try to surround yourself with a strong support network, people who can help you prioritise the important stuff and lend a helping hand when you need it. There’s so much strength sometimes in just asking for help.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The day I found out I was going to be trusted with operating one of the biggest rail businesses in the UK, as a woman, was definitely up there. The railway industry itself has a very poor gender balance – out of 85,000 employees across the country, only 14,000, or 16 per cent, are female.

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

When you work in a job that requires you oversee the operations a role as important as the journeys people are making on a daily basis, whether this be someone’s commute to work or a perhaps a trip they are making to go on holiday – if we get something wrong, it disrupts that persons plans entirely. Being resilient is a core skill you need to have when working under pressure – if something goes wrong its crucial to keep a cool head and not let it shake you. Resilience doesn’t just apply to my outlook in regard to coping with the stress of my job, but also in navigating me to where I am now. Being resilient to the boundaries keeping women like myself from accessing such positions within companies all over the world.

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

I’d start by saying, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take a job on the front line – whether this be in operational roles like my own or more generally speaking managerial roles, the experience will be invaluable to you later on in your career. In a role that requires you to manage it team, it’s really important you listen to and engage with what your team are telling you – your team are often your greatest asset, so learn from them and let them empower you and themselves. I’d finish by echoing what I said earlier, don’t be afraid to seek mentors and support in your journey to progress. Everyone has had to work hard to get to where they are, and most senior people are willing to help others, because they were afforded some level of assistance along the way too – whether this comes from their family, their employer or any other channel of support. As women I also feel it’s important we focus on supporting each other as much as possible.

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

 Women remain significantly under represented at senior levels in the Rail industry – in part I believe this is because Rail isn’t something Women necessarily instantly consider as a career. This goes back to a point I made recently where a colleague told me what her daughter had said, “I can never be a train driver because in books, they’re all boys.” I found this to be such a profound moment as the point she made, and at such a young age, was entirely true. Career perceptions, at an early age, are vital. If we want to close the gap in pay and career attainment between men and women, we need to begin at a young level. I also think that the pressure of operational roles can be hard for anyone and can put some people off, after all, it’s a lot of pressure sitting on your shoulders. In the end though, the sense of achievement makes it, for me, the best job in the world.

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

I think it’s important we see more role models for women, so they know they can break through to those more senior positions of influence and decision making – really impacting change. Within the rail industry, a lot has been done around mentoring and coaching programmes for young women and I support the various networking and support groups, like Women in Rail. Their annual awards celebrating the most influential or impactful women in rail, provide an opportunity for many women to connect with ‘role models’, create relationships and engage with a network of support.

What is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the rail industry?

Southeastern already has a number of things in place to attract and draw in top female talent; they offer recruitment days, exclusively for women and have had a total rethink of their approach towards engaging women in their recruitment campaigns. I think it’s important not to overlook the importance of retaining women within the industry – as the more women are retained, the more we see them rise to higher level positions and catching the eye or more women not just internally who see a path for their own career, but women from the outside looking in. More policies around flexible working would definitely make women considering joining feel more comfortable. Should they wish to have children, their work can accommodate them spending time working different hours to suit their childcare arrangements.

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

Employee groups have been great when it comes to navigating my career in rail, meeting women in a similar place as you can be invaluable for both support and confidence. At Southeastern, we have a women’s group called WIRE and there are a number of groups operating in the industry that provide both career support and networking opportunities.


Anne Lillywhite, Honeywell featured

Inspirational Woman: Anne Lillywhite | Director, Aerospace Engineering, Honeywell

Anne Lillywhite is Director, Aerospace Engineering at Honeywell.

Anne Lillywhite, HoneywellHoneywell is a global technology company, whose aim is to make air travel safer, more efficient and reduce costs.

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

I grew up in the French Riviera, in the beautiful city of Cannes – where I got my first degree. I then moved to Lyon, where I studied to become a research and development engineer. My first job was in Paris, but I soon moved to Toulouse to work for Motorola – my beginnings were in telecoms engineering. I decided to make the move to aviation in 2008, and I haven’t looked back since.

I have been at Honeywell for almost three years now as director of engineering for Europe, based in the Czech Republic, and I currently manage around 300 engineers. We work on cockpit systems, as well as navigation and sensors technology for international aviation manufacturers. Every day is different at Honeywell, which is something I really enjoy. I get to meet and work with interesting and diverse people. I could never work in a company that has just one kind of person – this is one of the reasons that Honeywell is so great to work for.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In short, no! It’s an interesting question, because it’s always what you would like to do. You think that you’ll sit down and make a rational plan, which isn’t always what happens. Having said that, I have made my big career decisions based on mature thinking. For example, when I decided to leave telecoms for aviation it was something that I really thought through. Although it was still engineering, it was as if I were changing from one industry to another. When you leave one company for another, it’s something that needs careful consideration. However, when it’s within a company you tend to go with the flow a bit more and can’t always plan what’s going to happen.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I was very young when I began my career. I got my degree at 21 years old, and I wasn’t always taken seriously. It took me a while to build my credibility. At the time I felt that, especially in the tech industry, you had to work a bit harder to be taken seriously as a woman, whereas for a man it seemed by default they were credible. Luckily, at Honeywell I feel very respected – I don’t feel any less credible for being a woman. They truly believe in the importance of diversity. Also, being a mother of two can present challenges! You really do need to be very organised. I think that this has actually made me a better engineer – my time management has improved massively, which is so important when you’re taking on a big project. This is also something that is valuable for managing a big team. You need to be able to have oversight of what everyone is doing and where that fits into the bigger picture.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At one of my previous jobs, there was a project that my boss didn’t want me to take on. In the end, we compromised and did it – but with much fewer staff than I had envisaged. I was proud of our success, as I felt that I had proven my capabilities. It also taught me that the biggest challenges build the biggest team bonds!

At Honeywell, I am proud of the results I’ve helped drive as part of our team. So far, we have reached every milestone that we have set. However, what I would say I am most proud of is bringing diversity to the team. I feel like I am shaping the landscape a bit here! We hire a range of people from different backgrounds, which I feel has improved the team. In the last year for example, I have hired engineers from all over the world – America, Greece, Italy, India and France, and we are constantly expanding and looking to improve the diversity of our team. Diversity of people is key to diversity of thought. Diverse teams generate better ideas and enable innovation.

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

I take inspiration from Apollo 13 – failure is not an option! My mindset is that I never fail, I learn. I am very passionate, I believe that you can always reach your goal, even if there are obstacles along the way. Every step is simply a learning. I think that my energy and dedication have been instrumental in my success, and I also believe it’s important to be inclusive. Get help and engage people, if and when you need it, to get the best results.

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

I think that mentoring is great. I mentor a lot of people, from employees in Czech Republic to students back in France. I think it is a valuable way to learn. I’ve always had mentors that contribute in different capacities to my growth, which I think is fantastic.

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

I like to think of it in this way: we need to make a sandwich. We must build on equality from the bottom up, but we really need it top down as well. From the top, what could make a great difference is if we had the female equivalent of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos. We have a lot of great C-suite women, but the day that we have a female equivalent of these figures, that would make a tremendous difference. To change things from the bottom up, I think that it is important for organisations to diversify their hiring practices. This is what Honeywell has done, and I can see such a difference in the diversity of thought. There is no doubt that this is the best way forward.

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

My greatest piece of advice to my younger self would be to not leave anyone behind. It’s so important to take the time to make sure everyone on your team is on board and up to date with what you’re doing. I found that I could sometimes get caught up in how great an idea was that I didn’t take the time to make sure everyone understood and was included. Sometimes it is very important to slow down.

Something else that I have learned with time is to acknowledge and act upon feedback. When it is constructive, feedback is a vital way to learn and grow within your career.

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

I love being at Honeywell, and I think it is a truly fantastic company to work for. I feel trusted as both an engineer and a leader. As for the future, I am looking forward to continuing to bring success to the company. Whether it’s as the leader of this team, or in the next role that remains to be seen. Although I am very focused on results, I also care very much about people and think that our drive for diversity is, and will continue to be, a key effort for the future.


Kate Koehn featured

Inspirational Woman: Kate Koehn | Program Manager, Amazon Web Services

Kate KoehnKate Koehn successfully retrained as a Program Manager for Amazon Web Services.

Despite her love from a young age for the scale, ambition and complexity of engineering, Kate had assumed that a technical role would be too difficult for her to access. But after working in recruitment and teaching, Kate has flourished in her current role at Amazon – thanks in no small part to a supportive working environment, a natural passion for technology and a flair for building professional relationships.

Kate Koehn is based in Seattle as a Program Manager for S3 Index, Amazon Web Services, where she is responsible for driving programmes for capacity management. Kate is passionate about technology, engineering, automation – and she loves to bake.

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

In my current role, I’m responsible for driving programmes to scale server capacity to stay ahead of customer demand for data storage on the Cloud. However, my career started out very differently. I studied psychology and then taught English in France, before working in restaurants and even a motorbike repair shop. I always had a passion for maths and engineering – in fact I used to do my friends’ maths tests for fun and with help I re-built my own scooter engine – but I had assumed that a career in tech or engineering would not be accessible for somebody like me because I didn’t have the degree or the experience.

Thankfully I was wrong about that – and I love my job at Amazon. Working closely with a fantastic team of innovators and builders gives me energy every day, and I’m excited to see how far I can progress within the company.

Tell us about how you retrained into your current role.

I started out as a recruitment co-ordinator for Amazon, so I was working closely with engineering teams in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to support their resourcing needs. I knew this wasn’t a job I wanted to be doing long term when I took it, but it was a foot in the door and it meant I was constantly in touch with specialist teams doing exactly the kind of job I had dreamed of.

Over time, I knew that Amazon S3 was where I wanted to be. Thanks to my time in recruiting, I had a desk in the office of the Senior Manager of Engineering for Amazon S3. Listening in on their meetings, I was fascinated by the scale, responsiveness and complexity of the challenges when working on a distributed system as large as Amazon S3. I still didn’t know exactly how I could be there given that I didn’t have any technical training – so I asked!

Eventually I was able to apply for a position as a Programme Manager where I could demonstrate my passion for technology while also identifying which additional skills I might need. I knew this role was a step in the right direction, but not the long-term goal. Again, I made my desired career goals known to management, and shortly thereafter I transitioned into my current Technical Programme Management role. Outside work, I’m also studying Computer Science and getting a certificate in Python programming which has given me the fundamentals in key areas – that’s taken about 18 months to complete, and I’m nearly there!

For anybody who is looking to retrain but doesn’t know where to start, I would say that it requires perseverance, broad industry knowledge and a clear idea of what you want. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want, take some time to research careers that speak to you. There is nothing wrong with saying to your manager or senior contacts in a different department, ‘I want to work for your team, but I don’t have the right credentials – how do I make this happen?’ After that, it’s about getting the right skills through continuous learning and a long-term approach to career planning.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not initially, no! However, I now have a much clearer idea of where I want to go and there are clearly defined career paths for me within Amazon should I choose to pursue them. One of the benefits of working for Amazon is that it is a bit like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

The biggest challenge so far has been staying focused and being extra judicious about where I spend my time and energy. Coming from a non-tech background, there is a lot of information I don’t know. The more I learn, the more I discover how much I don’t know. It is very easy to try to go down all the rabbit holes of unknown information that exist at every turn in this complex industry, and get completely overwhelmed by the volume of things to learn. No one in this industry knows everything, and it’s important to remember that and focus on learning the things that matter to be able to do my job well. After I’m done with my current course, I’ll spend more time in those rabbit holes for fun.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’m really proud of my career to date and I consider that progress a huge achievement. I want to continue to take on new challenges, solving problems and facing situations that I’ve never encountered before.

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

Those early experiences in different industries really helped to develop my transferable skills. Working in recruitment for Amazon also meant I understood the bigger picture. In hindsight it was a privileged position that allowed me to watch and learn before getting involved myself.

In general, I love making colleagues’ lives easier, supporting them every day and showing my value within the organisation. I think that quality has been invaluable so far and will continue to be important throughout my development.

In terms of transferable skills, being able to build and maintain positive working relationships has been a key theme. I’m really lucky to work within a collaborative, inclusive culture at Amazon where colleagues understand the benefits of sharing their ‘tribal knowledge’.

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

I currently run two mentoring programmes at Amazon. We hold tech talks, build networks and provide mentoring both formally and informally. I also mentor a few people from recruiting who are looking to make a similar career jump to mine, and I really enjoy helping others navigate our culture and internal relationships.

In my opinion, Amazon does mentoring brilliantly. Sharing ‘tribal knowledge’ is second nature – all you have to do is ask, be considerate and set some time aside if you have a particular question. I’ve always found that colleagues are excited to tell you what they know because it improves the entire business. This is the reason why in addition to my official mentor, I have several unofficial mentors. Mentoring also plays an important role in helping identify gaps in my own knowledge and thinking about ways to fill them.

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

In hindsight I would have studied for a technical role from the outset. I would tell myself to believe that I was smart enough to pursue a technical career!

I would also have looked for more inspirational role models and examples of women working in technology, which is partly why I want to help promote the accessibility of these roles to other women and girls who are interested in tech careers but may not know where to being.

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

Amazon never ceases to surprise you with new opportunities, so you never know!

In general, I want to make as much of my day-to-day role as productive as possible, and then move on to the next layer of challenges. I’m already in the process of automating aspects of our capacity management so engineers are less reliant on me and better able to access quick tools that save time and energy.

Further down the line, I want to help engineering teams deliver invaluable features by embedding with software development teams and getting a detailed understanding of their challenges – and the potential solutions we could provide.

Outside of my own career, I’m passionate about promoting tech roles to women and girls. Although colleges in my native USA, for example, are now seeing more women than men entering STEM degrees at undergraduate level, the gender imbalance across the industry globally is still pronounced. At Amazon we understand the link between diversity, inclusion and innovation – which is why I was pleased to see the company launch Amazon Amplify in the UK which is a series of initiatives designed to further increase the number of women in technology and innovation roles across our UK business.


Cheryl Laidlaw featured

Inspirational Woman: Cheryl Laidlaw | Founder of Website in a Day & London Web Girl

Cheryl LaidlawI own and run a creative design agency Website in a Day in London.

I’m passionate about design and the importance that brand awareness can have, whether you are building a personal brand, small business or a global company. I’ve seen first hand the impact that a consistent brand message can have.

As a Web and a Graphic designer I also become increasingly aware of how social media plays such a critical part in establishing a brand’s presence. In a unique move I extended my services to include Social Media. Offering not just social media set up but also training and consultancy.

My alter-ego, London Web Girl, was officially launched in 2017. Originally something I created in my spare time it has, like Website in a Day, grown into its own brand. The idea originally focused on me, a woman in tech, and all the issues and insight that goes with tech and web, but gradually grew to me talking about lifestyle topics and I am so pleased to say that my current Instagram following is more than 27k. Through London Web Girl, I have been invited to work with amazing brands and individuals and establish myself as a leading light in the tech and web world with a huge passion for helping women in the industry.

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

I took the leap to start my own business at the age of 26 and formed creative design agency, Reyl Design Group. Myself and my collaborators offer first class website design, logo creation, brand vision and branding strategy, social media marketing and email marketing work, among many other digital and creative services.

As part of our offer, we had the Website In a Day concept and it was so successful that it subsequently spawned an individual brand and business.

Website In a Day has grown and developed thanks to great networking, social media and word of mouth – all of which have been invaluable. The simplicity of the offer: one day, one price, one website, appeals to a lot of clients and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic clients to bring their brand to life digitally.

I feel my value lies in the fact that I make web design human and really listen to my clients’ objectives and vision and design sites with those elements at the centre in order to create a site that they envisaged and more. I am hugely passionate about making technology accessible and enjoyable. Digital can be a scary word for a lot of people and my main aim is to make it less so, by offering an organised and insightful experience with great before and after care to enable my clients to really enjoy and benefit from their digital experience.

My alter-ego, London Web Girl, was officially launched in 2017. Originally something I created in my spare time it has, like Website In A Day, grown into its own brand and I am really proud to say that I currently have more than 27k followers on Instagram.

The idea originally focused on me, a woman in tech, and all the issues and insight that goes with tech and web, but gradually grew to me talking about lifestyle topics.

Through London Web Girl, I have been invited to work with amazing brands and individuals and was recently invited to an exclusive reception at 10 Downing St on International Women’s Day. I have established myself as a leading light in the tech and web world with a huge passion for helping women in the industry. I am currently gearing up to host my course on growing your business through Instagram stories on the Thursday 9th May.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t sit down and plan it as such, but I always knew that I wanted to be a leading light in the tech world in some way.

Due to the growth of both London Web Girl and Website In a Day, I have been offered amazing opportunities and been lucky enough to be rewarded for my work (I recently received the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award, was named one of the top #ialso 100 in the recent f:Entrepreneur campaign, I was awarded highly commended in the recent Women Of The Future Awards and am a finalist in The Small Awards in the Digital Star category.

I plan my career and business by setting small, achievable weekly goals (as well as having the huge scary ones on the horizon!) and that has really helped me. Things such as connecting with people on Linked In, writing a blog, setting up a course, meeting someone in the industry for a coffee – it all counts to achieving the big goal.

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

Loads! When I started (and to some extent still now) a huge challenge is getting paid on time and managing these expectations to try and pre-empt it. It always astounds me how fellow business owners take such a long time paying you when they know themselves how it is.

Other challenges have included getting my work/life balance in order as when I first started, I was working 24/7 which isn’t conducive for anyone. I have now learnt to take a break when needed and know when to say no. Also learning your value is a huge learning – that can be in terms of prices, time and energy. It has taken me years to be able to produce things quickly, accurately and of a premium quality – and I often need to remember that that is what clients are paying for, not the time it has taken me to do something.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been a few. Seeing the growth of London Web Girl has been hugely rewarding and not in my wildest dreams did I think that I would get more than 27k followers! This drives me to produce great content and engage with this audience more and more.

Alongside this, it was a huge honour to be one of the small number of business women invited to Downing St recently for an afternoon tea hosted by the Prime Minister where I met some hugely inspiring contacts (including Tech Women!) and it was such a privilege to be invited. I was also hugely honoured to be highly commended in the recent Women Of The Future Awards and to be one of their current ambassadors – the organisation hugely inspires and empowers women so I am so proud to be part of the team.

But the main achievements are the number of websites I have created which are servicing wonderful businesses all over the UK and seeing their success and being a small part of that feels fantastic.

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

Having no limiting beliefs. Once you work on getting rid of the all ‘if’ ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ you open yourself up to achieving more and more.  Anything is possibly when there are no limited beliefs. I try to say yes to most things and see everything as an opportunity and a learning and I think having this mindset has really helped me achieve my success so far.

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

I think this goes for any industry, but as long as you have a genuine passion for your sectoryou will find ways of opening doors and sharing your skill set, thoughts and expertise. As someone getting into tech, I would say make sure you make time to network and get out there and meet other people, engage online through social media and forums and target and speak to people who inspire you in the industry. Always ask questions, be open to listening and learning and just immerse yourself.

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

Absolutely as it is to some extent seen as a male industry and a bit dull and boring – which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s all about education and speaking to these young women when they are making their choices and decisions and encouraging them to learn more about the reality of working in tech as a woman and speaking to women who are in their about their careers and experiences and get an honest and insightful impression. I think there is an onus of everyone in tech to educate, inform and share our knowledge with the younger generation and support and grow them.

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

It’s hard for me to say as I don’t work in this world, but I think the onus is definitely on management to recognise, reward and encourage women in tech and ensure that gender equality is paramount in their offering and values as a company.

There is currently on 15 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 it needs to go back to education and ensuring that tech is fairly represented in schools with real-life examples, insight and examples which educate all kids and make tech a serious and accessible option to be encouraged and grown.

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

Sheryl Sandberg has a created a great community for women called ‘Lean In’ which has many groups called ‘circles’ worldwide. Its available to everyone and its free and I feel that is such an inspirational hub to be part of and she is such a great female leader in tech.

There are loads of tech conferences to attend too. I recently went to the web summit in Lisbon which is one of the biggest tech conferences in the world, this year’s attendance was 48% females which was SO encouraging.

I’m not much of a reader but I love to listen to books on audible on my commute. I listen to all types of podcasts on tech, marketing and design.

Some of my favourites are:

Audible:

• Gary Vee: Crust it, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, #AskGaryVee, Crushing it
• They Ask you Answer
• Purple Cow
• Extreme You

Podcasts:

• Goal Digger
• Being Boss
• Ted Talks Daily
• Marketing Companion