Chirpa Santhanam featured

Inspirational Woman: Chirpa Santhanam | Head of Performance, Programmes & Quality, GBG

Chirpa SanthanamAs Head of Performance, Programmes and Quality at GBG, the global identity data specialist, Chirpa is responsible for ensuring that the best performance in our products and services is delivered both to our customers and for internal operations.

GBG offers a series of solutions that help organisations quickly validate and verify the identity and location of their customers, and detect and prevent fraud. Through the fundamental belief that the digital economy relies on everyone having access to data they can trust, GBG enables companies and governments to fight fraud and cybercrime, to improve the customer experience and help to protect the more vulnerable people in our society.

GBG works with over 20,000 clients in 72 countries including some of the best-known businesses around the world, ranging from US e-commerce giants to Asia's biggest banks and European household brands.

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

I’m Head of Performance, Programmes and Quality for GBG, a group-wide role responsible for ensuring that the best performance in our products and services is delivered both to our customers and for internal operations.

With a wide range of experience in science, engineering and management, I have always been inquisitive and have never been satisfied when I hear “that is the way it is”.  I’ve always strived to get answers for how things work and how we can make them work better – and I won’t stop until I get one.

10 years ago, when I came across the job opportunity in GBG, I knew the company was embarking on a growth plan and quality would be an integral part of it. I instantly knew I could make a difference.  Although I knew it would be challenging, as it entailed setting up everything from scratch, that challenge and the value it could bring really appealed to me.

I was not wrong.  A decade later, GBG has QA engineers acting as quality assurers, analysts and ambassadors, and the team ensures to deliver high quality, working software to customers. They are also breaking boundaries and reaching new heights, with notable achievements including being finalists at the 2019 European Software Testing Awards under two separate categories.

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

When I joined GBG in 2010, there was no dedicated Quality Assurance (QA) team. QA existed and was highly valued, however there were no formal processes or consistency across the business. The company was growing at an incredibly fast rate, so they hired me to establish and develop a team that focused on QA and the needs of customers. This was an exciting challenge and prospect for me, but I never anticipated how big the project would be.

When it comes to People, Process and Tools (PPTs), building all three from scratch within an incredibly fast-growing organisation was a challenge in itself.  Tasks ranged from recruiting, training and developing talented and motivated graduates, to instilling new processes, and designing and implementing tools for test automation. To then bring all of these elements together while meeting the continuously growing business demands required a strong focus and hard work.

However, the biggest challenge of all was aligning the QA functions from all our regular and periodical acquisitions and establishing the community of QA.  Although having well-established foundations massively helped here, the building up of the QA community and creating GBG’s centre of excellence wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the incredible QA team.

Since 2010, the team has rapidly expanded and we are currently located in UK, Turkey, Spain, Malaysia, Australia and USA with 40% females – leading the way for women in tech industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement during my work with GBG is how I have balanced the establishment between people, process and tools. Identifying and developing talented individuals, designing and implementing Quality protocols, developing tools for quicker deliveries and, above all, establishing the QA centre of excellence in GBG.

Of all, I personally take pride in developing people. I’m proud of the role I played in helping my team build their knowledge base and then go on to achieve internal promotions, or move on to another area of the industry, armed with their experience at GBG.

I’m also proud that I have achieved what I set out to do for GBG. Over the last few years, the company has acquired and integrated a number of acquisitions, and I have been a crucial leader in ensuring their success.

What do you think companies can do to encourage more women into the IT sector?

When it comes to encouraging women into the tech sector, I think we need to reflect on journeys and success stories from all levels of the industry. For example, highlighting the valuable work that a junior role is contributing to business operations shows that you don’t need to be the CEO to make an impact. People should be able to see how the work they do contributes to real life technology solutions – for example, tech used to predict disasters, or to create lifesaving apps for paramedics.

Companies should also reach out to local schools and encourage working in the sector from a young age. While speaking in schools would be a great way to reach out, making videos of women in tech at various levels and having available representatives to answer questions and offer support would also be good. This type of initiative can progress onto senior schools, colleges and local universities to promote graduate programmes and internships. Ultimately, the sector should aim to encourage young women by providing insight into the industry and exploring the opportunities open to them.

There’s often the misconception that working in tech is a very demanding career path. It’s important that we assure women that a career in this sector doesn’t require more hours than any others, and that they can still have a work-life balance. Using employee testimonials and feedback from workers in the field would be a good way to encourage women who are unsure.

What is your top tip for anyone looking to start a career in IT?

Remember, it’s just a field like anything else and there should be no difference between men and women looking to start a role in IT. Working in technology requires a combination or analytical skills, technical skills and problem solving – and there is no difference between men and women when it comes to this. If you have the right skills, you should seize the opportunity and run with it!

If you can do your best, enjoy what you’re doing and understand the value you bring to your work, you will automatically be successful and engaged in your role.

Perseverance when it comes to gaining value from what you do is also key. I always strive to find value in my learning, to add value to the organisation, wherever I am working, and to share valuable insights with my team. If I’ve done these three things, I am both growing my team and contributing to the business, and I see that outcome as automatic success.

Any final advice you’d give to people in the industry?

There is never a full stop on continuous improvement and continuous growth. Whatever you do, you should look at what is next and think about how you can take what you’ve learnt into the future. If you embrace a continually seeking, adventurous, thriving attitude, there will be no hindrance to growth. Growth has to come from your mentality, and adopting the mindset of continuous improvement will be the driving factor for progression in everything you do. It’s important to understand that there is always room to learn and grow as we progress in our careers!


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


Sharmadean Reid

Inspirational Woman: Sharmadean Reid MBE | Founder, WAH Nails & Beautystack

Sharmadean Reid

Sharmadean Reid is the founder of globally renowned brand WAH Nails and breakthrough beauty booking startup Beautystack.

Entrepreneurial from the start, Reid first launched WAH (We Ain’t Hoes) as a fanzine about girls in hip-hop while she was still at university. Reid later worked as a stylist and opened the WAH Nails salon in London as a place for the WAH community to gather.

Over the next decade, Reid expanded WAH Nails into a product line, with nail polishes and nail art tools stocked in Topshop and Boots. They created pop up nail bars for brands such as Marc Jacobs and Nike and celebrity fans including tennis champion Serena Williams and film star Margot Robbie.

Keen to empower other women through knowledge, Reid also is an advisor to charity Art Against Knives (to train women from disadvantaged backgrounds to be professional nail artists) and published her own nail tutorial books (with some 70,000 copies sold). In 2016 the entrepreneur cofounded Future Girl Corp, an online platform with advice, events, and information for future female CEOs and published an online course.

Today, Reid is bringing beauty booking software into the social media age with Beautystack, an image-led network for beauty professionals. Founded in 2017, this has raised $6.1 million to date and closed its latest £4 million round from Index Ventures this spring.

A recipient of numerous awards, Reid was presented with an MBE in 2015.

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

I come from Wolverhampton but moved to London in 2003 when I was 19 to do a degree in Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins.

The best way to learn is through real projects, so I started making a  fanzine to learn how to use software like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

WAH helped me communicate what I was feeling at the time: that hip-hop music was becoming a big deal and that the women within it were being marginalised. I didn't really know what feminism was at the time, I just knew that it felt weird and I wanted to change that.

After I graduated, I was travelling around for styling and decided to open a nail salon because getting your nails done was very much part of hip hop culture and I thought it would be an amazing physical space for all the girls who read the magazine.

It was through this I realised the services in the beauty industry were so old school. I felt compelled to solve those problems with Beautystack. Before we raised earlier this year, we had a very basic MVP. Our goal this year is to finish our development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never had a grand master plan. Although, before Beautystack, I did a lot of thinking.

Putting the plan together requires you to step away from your day-to-day stuff, and I don't think I would have had that clarity if I hadn’t spent 18 months back in Wolverhampton.

As a founder, it’s critical to work through what you're passionate about—to ask yourself what do you know, what you can win in, and where you can build a business model.

I knew I loved beauty services, being in that environment where you're with (usually) another woman, for at least an hour, that’s a rare 1:1 customer interaction. I knew I loved building technology—I’d already built a VR app for nails and a chatbot for our booking systems. So I decided to do services and technology and a business model that allows women to be economically empowered.

Going back home gave me the freedom to go deep. I did a lot of writing about my thesis for the future of work and the future of beauty services. That cemented my thoughts and meant the business has a theoretical unpinning to it, it wasn't just an idea that sounded cool.

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

Definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had has been finding and hiring the right team.

If I  don’t understand how to build a strong team, I can't build a business. It's really easy to be a CEO who doesn’t delegate, but the reality is you can’t build a long-lasting business alone.

Today I read a lot of books and ask people for their advice. I surround myself with people who've done it before and get their perspective. If I'm not good at something I try and find all the experts who are good at it and learn how they did it, and what will work for me.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The thing that's made me proudest has been working with Art Against Knives to help bring women from disadvantaged backgrounds together to run a nail bar. The charity has trained over 500 young women with my books and my nail products.

People shouldn't think of charity as a tag-on to their business activities, they should think about how their business could do good for everybody. It’s good business sense.

What Art Against Knives are doing means everybody wins: the girls get training, they’re working towards economic empowerment, from a community point of view they're not in crime and I have a future pipeline of supply for the Beautystack app.

Where does Future Girl Corp fit in?

If I'm learning, I always feel compelled to share it. With Future Girl Corp, I was inspired by the Harvard i-lab and wanted to build something like that for me and my friends.

The whole point is to essentially help women 10x their businesses: if you have a passion for flowers, rather than just have one flower shop on the corner, could you run a flower marketplace?

There’s a need for places like us that are non-BS. I won't ever get someone on a panel and say, ‘Tell me your inspirational story’. You can Google that.

I will say, ‘You’re a food business and you had a partnership with Waitrose, how did you do that?’ It’s about providing step-by-step actionable advice on how people actually achieve things.

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

I’ve learned that I am incredibly resilient. If something’s hard, I’ll wake up the next day, and think today is a new day. If there are bumps in the road , it doesn't stop me, I'm just like, 'Oh well, I’ll figure this out.'

I don't know where it comes from, I don't even know if you can train it. Sometimes on the rare occasion I feel things are never going to get better, I almost feel it's a chemical imbalance, like it’s not natural to me

I’ve just got this strong instinct to survive. No matter what, I'm always going to figure out how to survive.

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

People assume that to be in technology, you have to have a tech background when actually that’s the biggest problem. Technology is for everybody, we're all consuming it, so why shouldn't we all be building it?

More people who study humanities, who study philosophy, and art and design should be involved in tech because it has the same type of feedback loop and criticism process.

We need different voices, especially female voices.

So be curious. I went to every single workshop that was related to what I was interested in.
If you want to work in tech and you're interested in it, you should find faults in things that satisfy your interests.

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

There are so many different barriers to success, not just for women.

If you're introverted, you're less likely to like climb to the top of the ladder than someone who's brash and wants to be powerful, but introverts are just as important to your business environment as anyone else.

We have to think about creating work environments that welcome people who don't fit the stereotype mould of an ambitious, young man.

At Beautystack we do lots of personality testing to make sure that no one personality type is dominant, otherwise you become an echo chamber. But unless you're going to start your own business, it’s up to leadership teams to make this change. All parties have to come together to acknowledge the old way hasn't been working and create a new future.

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

I would like to see companies having better transparency on how you can progress in your career.

At Beautystack we do continuous feedback loops, not just an annual performance review or a six-month performance review. We talk a lot, but we also listen. When we do our Org Chart, we also write under someone’s role their future scope.

You have to make sure you’re building a good working environment for all types of people and what they need, whether that’s better parental leave, flexible working or anything else.

There is currently on 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? 

Make government subsidised childcare available full-time from age one.

Right now, you get a couple of days a week from age three. That means that until children go to school age five, the caregiving of the child is always an issue that sadly often falls  on the woman to take care of.

How can women possibly go and work in a startup environment, which is typically long hours with a frantic pace, knowing that? Instead, they’re forced to have this five-year gap where they get out of the loop.

I’m a parent who’s coparented 50-50 since my son was one. But even then I never really stopped having anxiety about childcare until our son started full-time school. That means for five years, my head wasn't able to fully focus because I was always thinking about childcare.

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

You should look at Future Girl Corp obviously. I would also recommend that anyone building a business in tech read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Even if you're not in tech, it will help you understand how to iterate, how to build things with speed and how to test.

I actually have a whole list of book recommendations on my website so you can see everything 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.


Hilary Mine featured

Inspirational Woman: Hilary Mine | Vice President & Market Unit Leader, Nokia

Hilary MineI am Vice-President & Market Unit Leader for 11 countries across the Nordics, Baltics & Benelux at Nokia.

In this role I lead sales, delivery and operations across the region ensuring our customers, stakeholders and employees are as successful as possible. I am also deeply honoured to have been elected the first female President of Digital Europe earlier this year, a role I hope will inspire women exploring a career in tech.

It was while completing my bachelor’s degree in Economics that I developed an appetite for technology. I was the editor of my college newspaper and I drove the transition to a digital format.  It was 1981, so this was on punch cards and a DEC mini. It was the beginning of my love affair with technology and the impact it could have on our everyday lives.

My first management job was as an Administrator at UC Berkeley in an engineering research institute.  My parents were starving musicians and I did not even know the word “engineering” before that. During the day I managed a pool of technical typists, edited technical papers, ran the budgeting, helped raise money and so on, but in the evenings I worked on completing my MBA. It was around that time also that someone explained the concept of fibre optics to me, and my eyes lit up.  This was going to change the world.

From there I carried on building my expertise in techno commercial modelling, traffic engineering and market forecasting and ran my own analyst and consulting company for several years. I was subsequently recruited by Alcatel to run marketing and strategy for North America, and over the course of the next seven years was given more and more responsibility. That included running the business in Australia, New Zealand and eventually North Asia as well. I left Alcatel to become CMO at Thompson which I helped rebrand as Technicolor, took a short break to care for my family, and then came back to Alcatel-Lucent in 2010 to develop its cloud strategy. Following that I ran the consulting business worldwide which is now part of Bell Labs.  After Nokia acquired ALU, I moved to Amsterdam to run sales and delivery in Nordics, Baltics and Benelux.

Now, at such a crucial time for telecommunications I am focused on growing the business as well as harnessing the power of 5G to create new and exciting opportunities. The current pandemic has demonstrated the critical need for high speed connectivity in safeguarding business continuity. The shift, almost overnight, requiring us to all work from home saw a dramatic spike in the capacity needed on the networks. Our industry managed well but this has underlined the need for next generation fibre optic and 5G networks to provide better video quality and higher levels of security.

Fully integrated, end-to-end networks are essential for building a safe and futureproof system guaranteeing better connectivity.  The ongoing development of new technologies such as AI, robotics and machine learning will enable complete, seamless connectivity that is so important to our customers such as Telia and Elisa in Finland and Proximus in Belgium with whom we have collaborated on numerous Industry 4.0 trials and early implementations, including automated factories, port operations digitisation, and consumer applications including e-gaming.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My only plan was knowing my career would be my life’s work, I wanted to be sure I chose something enjoyable and engaging. I didn’t ever sit down and plan my career, but I have always been aware of the opportunities available to me. I am a big believer in having the courage to take risks and to avoid closing doors. At one point in my career I left a senior, well paid job to start my own consultancy. It was terrifying at first, but I doubled my income within a year and learned an enormous amount. I have also demoted myself three times to achieve a better quality of life or to learn new things and have never lost sight of the bigger picture. For example, when my mother became ill I knew I wanted to be there for her and my daughter. I took a 40% pay cut and left the company to do what I needed to do for my family. I have never been afraid to take risks or take career breaks and it has always paid off. If anything, I should have done it more. My favourite quote comes from the American actress Ruth Gordon who said: “Courage is like a muscle; we strengthen it with use.”

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

I like to be liked but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so the first challenge was to learn to be successful as a manager – to not micromanage, but to also drive for great results.   Another key challenge was learning to give clear, concrete and fact based feedback and to have difficult conversations.  Not my strength as a young woman for sure.  But it helped to go into  sales where you have to lose your ego to be successful and learn to listen really effectively, and then it helped to manage large projects and have to face customers with every hiccup,  You learn quickly that it’s always best to give bad news fast, and always with a plan.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I used to talk about big project wins and delivery, but at this stage in my career, for sure my greatest achievement is having supported many amazing people into broader roles. Seeing so many people whom I have managed, mentored and encouraged to blossom, has been extremely satisfying.

I am also really proud of the work we have undertaken at Nokia and Digital Europe in promoting diversity. At Digital Europe, 40% of the board are now women and at Nokia we have pioneered programmes to accelerate the number of women in our leadership team. Our outgoing CEO, Rajeev Suri has been instrumental in this and set up a programme called Panorama to personally support the careers of promising leaders in the organisation. He pushed for 30% to be women which for our industry, where just 7% of top leaders were women, was unprecedented. The programme has been a huge success and has personally inspired me to improve diversity within my own team.

We also invest in encouraging women and girls into STEM education by fostering programmes that develop and nurture talent – hopefully driving the interest of 11–15 year-old girls. We collaborate with Greenlight for Girls, a non-profit organisation focusing on driving girls’ interest for STEM through interactive and fun workshops, including coding. The girls get to participate for a whole day in workshops designed for them, and importantly talk with women who have been in their shoes.

In addition, we pursue pay equity by closing the ‘unexplained pay gap’ in 2019 and achieved a perfect 100% in the ‘equal pay / gender pay parity’ category of the  Bloomberg Gender Equality Index (GEI) for 2020 – well ahead of the average, which was 50.12%.

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

I’d put my success down to three key areas:

  • Courage - having the mettle to push boundaries and challenge myself has helped me get to where I am today. It doesn’t come naturally to me but is something I’ve worked at and has paid dividends in the long run.
  • Listening to people and learning from others - this has really helped to develop my judgement and is also a great way of building a network.
  • Working hard – put simply, you cannot excel unless you put in the time and effort needed to do a great job.

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

I think my top tips would fall into three main camps:

  • Breadth is important. If you are only ever looking down a narrow path you will always follow that track. Seek out new opportunities where you can add value.
  • Curiosity is king. Never be afraid to learn more about the way things work, especially in tech!
  • Define what success means for you and don’t be afraid to make changes in your career to achieve it.

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

Overall, I think the sector is progressing, but some barriers still exist. As I see it, the first is confidence and self-belief. Regardless of ethnicity, research finds that women are more likely to be unsure of their own abilities in computer science than their male counterparts, with their confidence level at roughly 70% of that of men. This tech confidence gap of 30% is much higher than in other fields – 11% in business, 7% in humanities, and 5% in the social sciences. This lack of confidence is the primary reason more women are not participating in the tech industry.

The second is personal networks. While young girls and boys have similar levels of formal access to computer science classes and programmes as those people who work in tech, a gap emerges in college and beyond. Between the ages of 18 and 25, young men’s social circles develop in such a way that they are 1.5 times more likely to know someone working in the field than young women. The social and professional circles of young women are more likely to be filled with people working in fields other than tech.

The third is a negative perception of the industry and the tech culture: Given the poor perception of their own computer science abilities, it’s not surprising that females are 2.5 times more likely than males to say that people who work in tech are “nerdy” or “not like me”. Women also drop out of pursuing computer science at every stage of the journey, at rates 1.2 to 1.7 times higher than their male counterparts.

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

Companies can offer initiatives for inspiring future engineers and computer scientists either in partnership with existing education-related programmes like CODE2040 or Black Girls Code, or by developing their own programmes. Initiatives to encourage computer science education in local schools is also worthwhile - perhaps you have staff who could volunteer to help tutor students or donate equipment to schools in need?

Then there is the topic of how to change the perception of technology. Children and students know that taking biology classes potentially puts them on a path toward becoming a doctor or medical researcher and at a very young age they can see that this impacts society and people directly. No such line of sight exists between taking algebra, calculus, computer science or engineering and how those subjects result in a career that clearly impacts society, friends and family.

It’s important to try to reshape the perception of computer science and engineering among young women and girls, so at Nokia we encourage our employees to be role models or mentors for tomorrow’s technologists. We have a programme at Nokia Software called IdTech, which combines leadership development of women leaders with mentoring of young women with an interest in STEM and with socio-economic challenges. This enables our Nokia female employees to gain an education on what good mentoring looks like, how to transfer their knowledge to others in a digestible manner and how to support young women. They then use this knowledge to support other young women.

In general, better education is necessary, not just for women but for men too. Unless we have male advocates championing the roles of women as well as men, we won’t achieve genuine parity.

Currently only 17% of women work 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 you look at STEM degrees, 51% of students are now female but if you look at engineering degrees in isolation only 10-15% are women. We need to start within schools as we lose girls at roughly age 10. They don’t see the power of engineering in changing lives in the same way they see biology as paving the way to a career in medicine with a clear and obvious impact on society. If I had a magic wand, I would encourage all girls everywhere to see engineering as a way to change the world for the better, and as an approachable and family friendly career path.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

My one piece of advice would be to read everything you can about your industry. Knowledge is power!


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


Jaime Pearse featured

Inspirational Woman: Jaime Pearse | Game Design Lead, Clipwire Games

Jaime Pearse

Jaime Pearse is the game design lead at fast-growing mobile game development studio, Clipwire Games.

Jamie has been working in the gaming sector for five years after initially working in healthcare. At Clipwire games she designs features for Bingo Story, the top grossing game in the app stores by a Canadian developer.

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

I’m Jaime Pearse, Game Design Lead at the fast-growing mobile game development studio, Clipwire Games. I kicked off a career in games after leaving the healthcare sector in 2015. At Clipwire Games, I design features for Bingo Story, the top grossing game in the app stores by a Canadian developer. Our audience is primarily women, and I’m very proud to have the opportunity to share my love of games and advocate for women who play games.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Definitely no plans here. When I was younger I wanted to be a nurse, so I set off down a path in healthcare but eventually realized it wasn’t for me. Prior to joining Clipwire Games I was in a customer service role and saw an opportunity to improve our marketing and event content, which led me to connect with the content team manager. I asked for extra work from that team whenever it was available. Soon enough, a position was created and I jumped into it and it took off.

I feel especially lucky with synchronicity and that things happened at the time they needed to happen. I didn’t go to school for game design but I knew that I had an ability and talent. I was looking for something else and it felt like my creative potential was being underutilized and so I started looking for open doors.

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

When I started in games, I started at “zero”. I came from a different sector, work environment, and I hadn’t worked in an office before. There was a steep learning curve in my first job for both soft and technical skills and without mentorship, I was left to figure stuff out on my own.

I approach challenges as part of my own growth. I’m learning things along the way, and recognize where I have an opportunity to grow, which in some cases means learning to get out of my own way. I’m also very fortunate that I work in an environment where it is possible to be successful. I am so very grateful to the amazing leadership team at Clipwire Games. They are supportive in not only my professional development, but my personal development as well.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The journey itself and totality of my career is an achievement. I am especially proud to work at Clipwire Games, I’m very proud of my team and the work that we do. We have a really great atmosphere of collaboration and creation and to be a part of this rapidly growing team is part of my achievement. Working at Clipwire Games has produced a real feeling of accomplishment. The work that my team and I do makes a real impact and at the end of the day I am a necessary component to this operation. Our main title Bingo Story has climbed up the top grossing charts by leaps and bounds since I started with the company, and the climb is only just beginning.

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

There’s definitely an element of synchronicity involved, but taking the time to be aware of my successes and areas of growth as they arise has been essential in my success. Perseverance on the path through the challenges is the way for me. As cliche as it may be, really recognizing and deeply understanding that there is no final destination. There’s no finish line to cross, no “Ahh, finally I’m there” moment, it’s all about the experiences and lessons on the journey. There is no there, there’s just an ever changing now.

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

My top tip is to embrace change. Don’t be afraid of it. In tech (and in all things) it’s definitely going to happen, and sometimes pretty frequently. Be brave in the face of discomfort, embrace it and learn from it. There are lessons to be learned in everything you do.

And, take on roles when you’re interested in them and don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves. My career in games has been very fluid and experiential. There’s been several pivots into different positions and that’s okay...welcome it.

What advice would you share for finding the right culture fit? 

To be able to find a place that encourages the personal and professional development plus offer the company/office perks and benefits is a bonus. I knew Clipwire Games was the right place for me because I really felt heard, valued and there was no ceiling -- it’s actually encouraged here not to see one. For me, culture is not just about company perks and benefits but about the development and learning of the one thing that you work on everyday...YOU. The development and constant iteration of every individual’s learning, adds to the company’s culture.

What overall lessons are you sharing with direct reports and/or people on your team? 

I’ve learned lessons the hard way, sometimes learning the same lesson a few times. Games are an ever changing landscape, so being quick to change is important. Being an ever cautious over-planner and synthesizing multiple viewpoints was not a particularly ingrained skill of mine, so it took some shifting to be able to allow and welcome that flow. The role of a designer includes listening to feedback, welcoming ideas and suggestions and then being able to take all those ideas and the meaning behind it and bring it all together. It’s tough to know how to do that when you’re still learning and gaining experience.

What have you learned from working with other women?

In my experience here at Clipwire Games, women are seen as absolutely equal to men. I recognize that while game design and development can typically look like a boys’ club, Clipwire Games is leading the way with a more diversified team. Women here have total equality, we are talented people and that’s all that really matters.

I’m fortunate that I work and can learn from other females and from their experience.  My manager has been in the industry for the last 15+ years and her discipline has also been in design -- she’s been extremely instrumental for me. My direct report is also female and a wonderful talent who is newer to the industry. Together we are proud to be working on our top games and have a fair amount of influence in the games we work on and in the studio.

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

I think there’s still a little bit of catch up for women working in games. The games we create are played by women and we need women who play the games to make the games. Companies should hire women as there’s magic that happens when the “audience” who plays the game influences the creation of it. Ultimately, the real enchantment happens when you’re making the game that you love to play.

What resources do you recommend for people working in tech? 

I highly recommend Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear as it has helped me improve my own time management, and building better habits overall. PocketGamer.biz covers our industry and is another good source for news and upcoming events for those who are in mobile gaming development. I’ll also listen to “Deconstructor of Fun” from time to time because the hosts cover a wide range of gaming topics and companies on the show.


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


Lisa Krapinger featured

Inspirational Woman: Lisa Krapinger | CMO, breathe ilo

Lisa KrapingerI was born and raised in Vienna, and have been ambitious my whole life. In fact I was a professional diver at the age of 8! 

I started working in marketing at Red Bull, leading the sampling and promotion team, in order to combine my passion for sports with my career. Then I moved to Heineken, where I was responsible for promoting the cider brands in Austria through  sponsorships and events.

What I realised from these two roles was that I loved working to build new brands and products up from scratch - hence why Carbomed Medical Solutions GmbH was the perfect next step in my career path.

Tell us more about your current role

I took on the role as CMO so I could share the news about breathe ilo and its benefits with women all around the globe. breathe ilo is the world’s first fertility tracker that uses breath analysis to identify ovulation patterns -  whether you want to track your cycle or increase your chance at conceiving.

At breathe ilo, my key responsibility is to lead the entire sales and marketing team while helping spread the word and raise awareness of the product by using various channels such as social media, influencers, PR, trade fairs and events.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Believe it or not, I actually do have a five years career plan and a more detailed one year career plan with small steps and goals. I believe you can only achieve success when you always have it in front of your eyes.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I face challenges on almost a weekly basis but I continue to stay positive, focused and never lose my passion. The main challenge at breathe ilo is that we are talking about a “taboo” topic. Word of mouth is not as easy as women who get pregnant easily with breathe ilo don’t want to admit that they initially needed help. Therefore we feel it’s important to go back to the root and speak about the overall topic of fertility and pregnancy in order to break the taboos and make such conversation normal.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement has been receiving the testimonials from women since the inception of breathe ilo; this continues to be a huge achievement for the entire team. We are continuously receiving emails from women sharing stories of how they got pregnant now with breathe ilo, after months or years of trying. Reading messages like these gives me all the energy and motivation to try to do my best everyday. As we have just launched into the UK market, I believe that the more people know about the technology, the more people we can help.

What excites you the most about your industry?

The world has been focused on men’s health, and it’s sad to see that  the depth in which the health industry has been explored the  female body is around 300 years behind. However, I love the femtech industry as we can see that several startups are emerging to change that.

Most of them have one goal: understanding the female body better and empowering women. This is something I also want to stand for and it excites me everyday, as with every new user we get, we are one step closer to filling the void in the gender data gap.

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

The support of my friends and family has been a major factor in achieving success. Above all my sister and fiance always believe in me and help me to stay one step ahead. I am very thankful to have them both on my side, discussing ways I can progress in the future, helping me to set goals and working out how I can achieve them.

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

I would give myself a lot of advice if I could. Most importantly, however, is to learn to take a more relaxed view of difficulties. You can’t change an issue unless you take one step back and see the bigger picture. Also, another piece of advice I would give myself is that each challenge will ultimately teach you something.

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

My primary challenge now is making breathe ilo a global brand. We want to provide our technology to the whole world, help every woman in need and make fertility tracking as easy as breathing!


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


Hazel Savage

Inspirational Woman: Hazel Savage | Co-Founder & CEO, Musiio

Hazel SavageWith 15 years experience in the industry, Hazel is a music-tech lifer, guitarist and CEO/Co-Founder at Musiio.

She started her music-tech journey as an early employee at Shazam and spent time understanding the pain points of the industry at Pandora, Universal and HMV before launching Musiio in 2018.

Hazel travels the world speaking at conferences and educating catalogue owners about the value of artificial intelligence integration and digital transformation in the music industry. As a female CEO in the heavily male-dominated industries of music and tech, Hazel offers a breath of fresh air and insight, with interesting and humorous anecdotes, as well as easy-to-follow explanations and digestible use cases of artificial intelligence technology.

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

My name is Hazel (Savage) (it’s my real name!!) and I am the CEO and co-founder of Musiio an Artificial Intelligence company working in the Music Industry. I’ve been working in the Music Industry for over 14 years. I started at HMV record store as a weekend job whilst at University and from there moved to Shazam, Pandora, UMG and a handful of startups along the way.

I play guitar and used to be in an all-girl 3-piece punk band in London. Music is a pretty all consuming part of my life… I’ve got tickets to a show in Nov 2021… I’m banking on live music being back by then!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t. Growing up I didn’t know anyone that worked in the music industry and when I started you had to ‘know someone’ or have an “in” and I didn’t think that could happen for me. What couldn’t be foreseen when I was growing up was the launch of the iPhone in 2007 that opened up a world of Music Tech companies and music startups and that is where I found my “in” and my niche. I also figure that one day I’d grow up and not work in music anymore, but I started in it and then I just kept moving from job to job and next thing you know I have been in the music industry 14+ years. So it wasn’t a plan… but it was definitely a hustle.

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

Plenty of times! In fact I read a great quote the other day that said “If you do everything right, it will look like you did nothing at all.” And it might look like my career just happened, or that it was easy. But I’ve had my fair share, or possibly slightly more than my fair share, of bad managers and unfair treatment. But it’s my personal belief based on experience that you learn more when it goes wrong than when it goes right… and how you handle the situations is far more important than avoiding those challenging situations. *I looked up the quote, it’s from Futurama, great show! And the complete text is: When You Do Things Right, People Won’t Be Sure You’ve Done Anything at All.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Tough one! There have been some really great achievements such as ‘the first keynote speech I gave’ although the reality was decidedly less glamorous than whatever you are picturing!  Or ‘raising over one million dollars in investment’  these things have elements that are hard to do, so I am proud of the work. I try to celebrate all the wins… big or small, I was quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine for an article about Tik Tok earlier this year, and that was a total life goal.

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

Resilience. It’s been my experience that grit and resilience have been the core to my successes. I didn’t give up when people told me I couldn’t do things, or that because something ‘wasn’t for girls’ such as guitar playing… I just kept going, and the fact I didn’t know anyone in music, didn’t matter… work hard, take the knocks, get back up and keep going. No matter who you are, it will be hard at some point, that’s the nature of life, how you stick with it and handle difficulties can dictate the outcome, or it certainly has for me, perhaps more than any other factor.

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

I think it depends if you want to be on the commercial side or the developer/tech side of technology. There are people much better suited to giving advice from a pure coding perspective, such as https://codefirstgirls.org.uk/ set up be Alice Bentinck. But on the commercial side, I feel you can’t go wrong with some solid networking, although it’s harder these days with COVID to get out to all the conferences, it’s worth doing the online events and webinars. Make connections and build your network.

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

There are barriers. It’s known that less women get VC investment, and I know from personal experience at Musiio how hard it is to find female developers to join the team. I’d say I am not an expert in addressing the complex reasons behind what I see but what I personally try to do is to make changes in my own world, hiring with diversity, to include as many women or non-binary folx in leadership and the company as a whole, I like try to keep the demographic of our team non-monolithic.

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

I think there are a few things, but the ones that jump to mind are: Fair pay. Equal opportunities for promotion. Mentorship. Offering training where possible. I think all of these things can have an impact.

I’d also be really open to hearing from young women in tech what THEY think support looks like, especially on the developer side. What are the gaps? What could be done better? I think I learn more from asking this question than I would just looking at my own take on it.

There is currently on 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?

Oof tough BUT GOOD question… this is a real thinker. Ok so since I have magic wand I get to have caveats as well I hope! I say that because I would love to see a women on every board of directors. It is shocking how few women there are, and this is a real position of power, something that can (if done well) lead change for entire organisations. That said, I ask for the magic wand, because if it was simply a quota to fill, we would see token appointments to ‘fill a seat’ with no impact or effect, it would become a box to tick. But since this is magic, in my vision these are genuine impactful appointments with equal voice in the discussions.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Check out https://elpha.com/ it’s an online tech community for women, it’s a great place for all levels experience to learn and ask questions.

Also I have to recommend the incubator where I met my co-founder, Entrepreneur First. https://www.joinef.com/ if you ever thought about having your own company, this is a great place to start.

Also, I love to follow Arlan Hamilton on Twitter, she has a background in entertainment but is now an investor. She’s boss-goals for sure!  https://twitter.com/ArlanWasHere


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: Debra Danielson | CTO & SVP Engineering, Digital Guardian

Debra DanielsonAn experienced senior technology engineering executive and advisor, Debra provides the technical vision and strategic direction for product innovation while overseeing engineering strategy for the Digital Guardian Data Protection Platform.

Debra’s roles also oversees the engineering function including product development, quality assurance, and sustaining engineering operations. Debra has held technical, strategic, operational, and managerial leadership roles over her 25+ year career. An expert in acquisition-focused technology evaluation and technical due diligence, prior to joining Digital Guardian, Debra was a Distinguished Engineer and SVP, Merger and Acquisition Strategy at CA Technologies, where she was responsible for identifying opportunities within emerging technologies, markets, and products. Debra led and managed 20 acquisitions totalling in an aggregate $3B+, managed a globally distributed team of more than 500, and provided consultation to executive leaders on advances in technology, engineering strategy, and domain expertise. In 2006, Debra was named a Distinguished Engineer, a role that recognises the highest level of technical expertise with the greater CA Technologies community.

Debra holds 18 patents in IT management and security disciplines and serves on several technical advisory boards. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in economics and applied mathematics from Boston University.

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

My background and career path are fairly atypical even though my career started in a fairly traditional way: five years as a developer, ten years of development leadership, and five years of strategic technical leadership. Then, I went lateral for a while. I had an elected position as the head of an internal technical think tank for a global 500 ISV. I did a stint as a strategic relationship manager. I ran engineering operations. I spent ten years doing M&A. Today, I am working as the CTO and SVP for Engineering at Digital Guardian. The really cool part of this progression is that for the ten years prior to DG, I was able to create a blueprint for world-class engineering execution by looking at hundreds of tech companies and digging into their engineering processes and organisational tools. I was also able to identify common characteristics in the most successful tech companies, and the commonalities in those that struggled. Ever since, I’ve been applying that blueprint to engineering here at Digital Guardian – moving from theory to practice! As the weight of the old process is lifted and replaced with best practice, it’s been really satisfying to watch the team transform.

Hire adult professionals and then let them do their jobs, that’s my leadership philosophy. I have many different metrics that I use to monitor and manage the health of the organisation. Change in engineering engagement and satisfaction continues to be my favorite metric. The team understands the value of what we do (protecting the intellectual property of companies whose IP is their lifeblood) and how their daily work contributes to our customers’ businesses. They feel respected and heard by management, and they like where they work.

One of the things I learned from my “Ph.D.” in tech diligence was that while nothing beats great talent to get things done; even great talent can get bogged down in bad processes and high levels of un-remediated (and ignored) tech debt. Seeing teams shed resignation and cynicism so that they can return to their greatness is the greatest feeling and keeps me coming into the (now virtual) office every day ready to win the day.

But my passion lies in increasing the participation and impact of women (and other underrepresented communities) in the tech ecosystem. I’ve volunteered at many levels, from Tech Girls Rock (secondary school girls learning to code) to coaching and mentoring tech founders on how to get access to the capital that they need to grow.

I’m currently working with the CEO of an Australian company that builds software to manage electric vehicle charging. I have gravitated towards the top end of the spectrum because, while many people can coach a middle schooler and be a mentor, the number of people that can work with the c-suite is much more limited. I can, so I do.

I also love the energy and the passion of startup CEOs, particularly women start-up CEOs. Working with them is like a double espresso for the day. They energise me and help me see the opportunity in my own sphere.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not initially. However, I have learned over the years that having a ten-year goal is important. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there. People sometimes err in their career planning by focusing too much on the next step on the ladder. That’s why I like the ten-year goal. If you’re only looking at the next step, you’re limited in the direction you can go. For example, you can’t have your next job as a physician (assuming you haven’t been to medical school). You’re not qualified, and there’s nothing you can do in the short term to get there. But, if that same goal is your ten-year goal, then you know your next step is to apply to med school.

So, pick your ten-year goal, then figure out what’s preventing you from getting it. Your next step(s) should help you fill those gaps. Throughout my career, I’ve taken the less usual roles for just this purpose.

But although planning is good, you shouldn’t allow your plans to prevent you from capitalising on an unanticipated opportunity. I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s just being awake to an opportunity. You can be agile in your goals and change when the goal no longer fits. It’s ok sometimes to just take a weird leap.

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

Oh. Yeah. Sigh.

Early in my career, I turned down an internal “offer” to relocate and take a new job within the company; the alternative I was given was essentially career purgatory. After a few months, I realised that I had made a terrible mistake, but by then the position was gone and I was stuck. I was returned to a growth path through the assistance of a mentor turned sponsor, who looked out for the next opportunity for me (and I said YES to that one).

A sponsor is a really valuable asset for anyone looking to grow their career. The key characteristics of a good sponsor are:

  • Not in your direct management chain (or at least not your manager)
  • Capable of identifying opportunities and influencing the selection for those positions
  • Has direct and personal experience with you and knows your skills and capabilities well enough to stick their neck out or spend political capital for you. (This doesn’t happen overnight, so you can’t expect to try and find a sponsor when the job opens up!)

Don’t forget also that today’s colleagues and peers can become sponsors – as can previous managers and even previous employees.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The transformation of Digital Guardian engineering. When I arrived at DG, the engineering team was running waterfall methodology and was just about to push out their next major delivery date from beta in a month, to beta in six months. The team was pretty demoralised. The customers were losing faith in our ability to deliver, and other teams no longer trusted what we said. It’s been now sixteen months, and we’ve entirely transitioned to Agile, and are well into modernising our toolchain and infrastructure. We’ve constructed an effective quality strategy that’s really showing results. More importantly, the team believes again. They believe in themselves; they believe in the company; they believe in our mission – to protect the world’s most valuable intellectual property. Woo ha!

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

Dogged persistence in solving the problem. I am not faint-hearted. When I hit a roadblock personally, professionally, or organisationally, I’m going to find a path through, over or around, or I’m going to figure out a better destination and go there.

I had a lot of people wonder why I stayed at one company for such a long time, particularly when we struggled in so many prolonged ways. My philosophy of dogged persistence is why I stayed. The struggles allowed me to continue learning and growing and to try new and cool things. Whenever I was stalled in growth and ready to go look elsewhere, a new opportunity emerged that was pretty much exactly what I was looking to do next. So, I just kept doing new and fun things and growing.

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

Ignore the voice that says that you can’t do “it,” that you’re an impostor. That being said, learn your stuff.

Be prepared.

Be fearless.

If you’re a woman, learn how to interrupt. I heard Madeleine Albright speak once about interrupting, and the essence was captured well in this famous quote of hers: “There will be those who perceive you’re [a b*tch]. But you have to interrupt. At a certain stage, you realise it doesn’t matter what they call you. You have to overcome your personal qualms.”

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

Of course, there are barriers. Just look at the numbers. Why aren’t men and women equally represented in tech at all levels of the organisation? Either you buy that women just aren’t as smart or aren’t capable of doing tech work, or you believe that women just don’t want good jobs with great pay that are meaningful and powerful; or you are resigned to the fact that there are headwinds that women face (and by the way, women aren’t the only underrepresented community facing headwinds in tech).

The challenge here is that there isn’t a single thing to “fix”, and all will be well. My experience has been a patchwork of things, each of which is “no big deal”. Altogether, it’s a big deal.   Here’s a sampling of some of them:

I’d love to see some research on what happens to the women who do apply with only 60% of the qualifications met. My intuition says that they wouldn’t fare well. Women are smart. We don’t do irrational things. We’re not driven by timidity or lack of confidence. We optimise our outcomes. It’s time to stop putting the onus on women to change a system by being more “confident”, while the system itself biases against assertive women.

Women are penalised for leadership success unless they exhibit mitigating “communal” behaviours e.g. nurture the organisation. This is the problem of "likability", where women who are not assertive and fit the gender stereotype of a woman as being gentle and caring are liked more, but not considered as leadership material. On the other hand, women who display traditional "masculine" qualities such as assertiveness, forcefulness, and ambition are labeled as "bitchy", unfeminine, and aggressive, and are hence generally disliked. In both cases, women are then less likely to be promoted than a man. Men do not face the same problem, because the traits that are considered "bossy" in a woman are considered leadership qualities in a man.

I remember a call with CA Board Members, Laura Unger, and Kay Koplovitz, where they discussed their personal (and recent) experiences at the board level with this phenomenon. At the time, I was shocked that they didn’t call their male peers out when it happened, and when asked, they answered that the most important thing was that the idea was heard.

They’re only penalised for negotiating for themselves, not for others, or “the team.”

  • Women are still paid less. Promoted less. Hired less.

I could keep going on this. The research out there is massive, and frankly, sometimes overwhelming. It’s hard to carry both the weight of the job and the weight of damaging the chances of other women if you fail. We aren’t there until we stop using “woman” as an adjective in business. I’m not a “woman” CTO.  I’m a CTO. Not a “woman” distinguished engineer. I’m a distinguished engineer. I’m not a “woman” in tech. I’m in tech.

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

First, if you use the term meritocracy, stop and take a hard look at your numbers. We all have biases, and these societal gender roles are deeply, deeply ingrained into all of us. It’s not just men that discriminate (consciously or unconsciously) against women. Women do it too.

Create a framework identifying established biases backed by empirical science. Shine a light on them so that when subtle (or not so subtle) bias behaviour is exhibited it can be called out.   Enroll men in the calling out process too. Some of the greatest proponents for increasing the participation and success of women in tech have been men. Fathers can be deeply committed allies, as they work to ensure that their daughters get a fair shot at the success they’ve had.

Think about how you change the system to balance the bias. Be really clear that this isn’t giving a “leg up” to a less deserving woman (to the disadvantage of a man), but it is a way to level the field and flatten the “leg down”.

And… stop thinking that there’s something wrong with women that have to be fixed. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that we need to “teach” women how to negotiate, how to speak up/interrupt, how to get a seat at the table, how to ask for the promotion, how to be more assertive, …we behave the way we do because it’s optimal to act this way within the system.  If you have a system that penalises women for negotiating, then don’t try and tell them that they’re underpaid because they didn’t negotiate.

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’d magically change the distribution of Fortune 500 CEOs and top 100 Venture Capital Firms’ partners to reflect the community. If we can change the image of leadership in tech, then we have a good chance to change the culture – or at least make it explicit.  Digital Guardian has 75% women in the c-suite. We’ve got Strategy/Marketing, Technology, and Finance.   

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’ve been coaching, mentoring, and guiding women in the industry by supporting and participating in some really great organisations dedicated to leveling the playing field for women in tech, including Springboard Enterprises, Tech Girls Rock, WITI (Women in Technology International), and the Anita Borg Institute. Digital Guardian is also a big supporter of Boston’s STEM program.

I also love Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk “Your body language may shape who you are”.

If you haven’t had a chance to go to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, this is your year. It’s gone virtual. But do try and make it in person sometime. The impact of 26,000 (mostly) women in tech in one place is an experience. I really recommend that men attend too. The technical sessions are outstanding, but it’s even more valuable to experience being the only one in the room.


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: Bernie Marolia | Sector Director for Enterprise, SSE Enterprise Telecoms

Bernie MaroliaMy introduction to a career in tech is likely different to most in that I entered the sector through a sales role. The early part of my career was spent selling mobile phones and related services for BT Cellnet (who soon became 02).

I then moved on to Vodafone where I held seven different management roles over 15 years, all based on selling into larger enterprise organisations, something that has served me well since. And from there, the leap to Head of Major Corporate at Vodafone was a natural one.

As of June this year, I’m Sector Director for Enterprise at SSE Enterprise Telecoms. As such, technology has very much been a part of my introduction to the company as I’ve been reliant on video conferencing and IM in order to communicate my ideas. My responsibility now is to implement a strategy to grow market share and oversee the launch of some great cloud-based services. I’m loving it so far!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The honest answer is ‘no’. What I would say though, is I’ve always had a strong idea of what I would and would not do in a job and that’s the advice I give to people starting out in their careers. Be clear in the types of things you want to do even if you’re yet to nail down the exact job title.

I’ve long been interested in tech as a consumer. In fact, very early on in my career I worked as an Ad Director at a Hi-Fi magazine. Technology and in particular telecoms is an industry that interests me, so when those opportunities have come up I’ve been quick to take them. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes another one opens, so you have to be aware of what’s out there and pursue what interests you.  Networking and sponsorship is a great way to build that understanding and gain that insight

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

I would say my biggest challenge early on in my career was having a sense of imposter syndrome, for want of a batter phrase. In those days, the telecoms sector was heavily male-dominated and everyone I crossed paths with seemed so self-assured. It took time and great mentoring from others to help me find that self-belief I needed to progress and show what I was always capable of. That’s why I make a point of helping people in a similar way when I can.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’d have to say that being appointed as one of the first female major channel heads at Vodafone was a significant milestone for me, personally. It was a first for the company and it felt great to be trusted as a strategic lead.

What’s more, I’d have to say becoming Sector Director for Enterprise at SSE Enterprise Telecoms is something I’m really proud of. To deliver projects during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown is a challenge but I’m delighted with the progress we’ve been able to make, even in this most difficult of times. I’ve had great access to the c-suite here, stakeholder engagement has been excellent and I’ve already built a solid network of people.

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

I am a strong advocate for coaching and mentoring; I think it can do wonders for people’s careers. My career really started to take off once I had the encouragement and advice of mentors. The benefit of that lived experience and a reliable sounding board was invaluable. And mentors can come from inside or outside the business.

In my previous role, I made a conscious effort to offer that support to others, whether they were in a similar role to me or doing something completely different, like engineering. The key thing is to nurture self-belief and for some people, that comes from others.

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

Everyone’s career will be different, so it does come down to the individual. However, some universal pieces of advice I would give would be: don’t be shy, ask questions, and build your network.

Particularly early in your career, shyness can be a roadblock for some but even the most fearsome people are generous with their time if you ask them in the right way. Try to be as inquisitive as you can and get an understanding for what other people in your business do. What’s more, look outside your business when you can. LinkedIn is great as are physical STEM events when you get the opportunity. It’s about investing in yourself.

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

I think the stats speak for themselves. There’s no question that companies need to be doing more to create a pathway for women in tech. We need to see businesses going into schools and universities to put on STEM events that lay out what the potential career options in tech are and showcase why it’s a career women can go after if they want to.

Once that pathway is there, the recruitment process is important and there needs to be an effort to appeal to women at this stage as well. You often find, with current staff, too, that women on extended maternity leave come back to find their role no longer exists. If that’s the case, they need to be trained into a different role, not ostracised.

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

Sponsorship is absolutely crucial. Spotting women within the industry, normally early in their careers, and helping them to realise their potential is vital. Whether its job shadowing or regular catch-ups on progress, this goes a long way.

Again, it’s also important that tech companies are looking to engage students at different age groups to foster that interest. Having regular touchpoints through the education system where you can stagger the messages you give to pupils is necessary to build that interest.

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?

How many companies do we know that practice a 50/50 split around the boardroom table? I think a top-down approach is needed to ensure that women are represented at the c-suite level and that lens can then be applied to make decisions that impact staff across the company.

And if I were to get a second wish, it would be at the entry level. I’d love to see more effort to engage school leavers with STEM apprenticeships. A clear plan of action for bringing through this talent would be fantastic.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

First of all, your network is a great resource, so take the time to build a group of professionals you admire and trust that you can learn from. Talking to people outside of your area of expertise within the business is good practice, too.

Additionally, I do enjoy podcasts. When I get the chance, I enjoy the BBC Earth: Science, Tech and Nature series. It’s a broad spectrum of tech and very snackable. The STEM Learning podcast is another good one, hosted by a group of physicists from Cambridge University – very high concept but interesting nonetheless.

In terms of events, there’s lots of great ones. My advice would be to take the time to find a mix of industry-specific ones as well as broader events for women in industry.


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: Gemma Steel | General Counsel, SVP Financial Product Innovation, Project Imagine

Gemma SteelI’m a go-getting, positive and creative lawyer. I work hard so that I can play hard (I’m very into scuba diving and techno gigs!).

Despite my traditional background in banks and asset management, I’ve always been careful not to blend into the crowd – I’ve never owned a suit, and have bright pink hair. I’m also an early bird and a late bird, which really helps in my current role as General Counsel at fintech Project Imagine (PI).

I was part of the founding team at PI, and feel passionately about wanting to help people have a better financial future, whether that’s through our B2C financial wellness app Dozens, or through our B2B “bank-in-a-box” tech solution Pi1. My role is pretty broad, but current projects involve looking at how fraudster data can be used to keep down Dozens’ financial crime figures, to how Pi1 can provide card issuing services and other card services to its clients.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest, no I didn’t. I was very determined to qualify as a lawyer with a big law firm, and after that have just jumped at opportunities as they have arisen. I’ve tried to vary the type of work I’ve had at each business, and that’s stood me in good stead to take on a General Counsel role at a start-up fintech. The name is in the job title – you have to be a “generalist” as you get involved with everything, from how our products are created and launched, to how we raise funds and make money for the business.

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

It’s taken a while to build my confidence that I’ll have the right impact. For example, early in my career I used to worry about when to speak up in meetings, or whether my opinions were valid. In former roles I was regularly the only woman in board meetings, and in a few instances the men asked me to make tea (I can make a dreadful cup of tea...). But I persevered, always trying to speak up even when I felt uncomfortable. I’m now a director and run (happily more diverse!) board meetings, and feel a lot more confident that I’m coming across in a positive way, but also helping other people build their brand and have a positive impact in the work setting.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Being part of the Project Imagine founding team, where we not only have 50,000 customers for Dozens, and a super tech platform in Pi1, but have also created a unique culture where our employees feel like family members. This has really been evident during the Covid lockdown of the past few months: as a tech firm we can work anywhere, but it’s the strength of our culture that has kept us feeling like a team, and morale lifted.

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

Learning how to explain things clearly, to any level of listener. If you have succinct, straightforward answers this usually gets people coming back to you again and again for help or guidance. That helps build your reputation in your team and wider business, which has definitely helped me progress as a leader.

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

Always ask questions, whatever level you’re at. No one knows everything, particularly if you are starting out in your career, and you will only learn by asking, and being interested in the answers you get back. But do have empathy when asking – so if you get to chat to the CEO, spare him your detailed product questions on “how does XYZ work” and instead ask “why did you choose to do XYZ”.

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

Yes, women can still be seen as a bit of a novelty in some tech environments. A lot of the traditional tech roles (ops, devs, engineers) are still male-dominated, but this isn’t surprising when the majority of those entering higher education for computer science, engineering, coding etc. are men. We’re past the first step, which is acknowledgment of the problem, and many fintechs (in particular in the tech space) are making strides in ensuring good representation of women in senior positions. I don’t necessarily agree with quotas – the best person should be taken for the job – but I do believe that companies reap the benefits of different ways of thinking with more women at senior levels. Senior women can then act as role models for others wanting to join, and a positive upward cycle of increasing female representation in tech is then reinforced.

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

Companies can start by supporting a strong culture of inclusivity and diversity – this shouldn’t just be female-focused, but should ensure that all individuals are seen as just that, individuals – not lumped into a group depending on their sex, age, colour, background, where they went to school or where their parents managed to get them work experience. At Project Imagine 70% of the workforce is made up of women, and a large portion of those women represent the most senior layer. We didn’t try to hire only women, but there are a few differentiators for us that mean that women might do better than men in our hiring process – particularly that we don’t look at CVs. This means we interview people for who they are, and are not influenced by firm/project/people name dropping on a CV. Women seem to understand this well, but men we interview are often bemused by this, and keep referring back to items on their CV.

We also know that women are often disadvantaged when it comes to pay – by their nature, women are often less likely to ask for a payrise. As a method of combating this, we ensure that all salaries are completely transparent internally, and we pay in fixed salary bands (so an individual can either move up to the next band or not – there is no scope for negotiated pay rises in between bands).

There is currently on 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?

More senior positions filled by women, who act as role models for the next generation. It will take time for women to fill those positions, but I think that will have a big impact on the industry. I already see some conferences in fintech ensure that they have a 50:50 men/women speaker ratio, and think this has a great influence on more junior female (and male!) attendees of those conferences.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would recommend any woman in a senior (or aiming for a more senior) position to read Ben Horowitz “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”. This is a good insight into some of the harder decisions that need to be made in senior positions (and how a successful man has considered what to do), and could be really helpful for a woman that also needs to make some hard decisions.

I’d also really recommend attending as many conferences as you can. It’s a great place to learn, network, and get your opinions heard. It can feel intimidating to begin with, particularly if you’re in a room full of men, but your opinion is valid and you never know what might come of speaking up – but what you can guarantee is that it’ll help build your confidence.


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


Kristel Kruustuk featured

Inspirational Woman: Kristel Kruustuk | Founder & Chief Testing Officer, Testlio

Kristel KruustukI began my professional career as a software tester, but quickly became frustrated with the shortcomings of traditional quality assurance (QA) and crowdsourced testing.

Despite my recognition as a top-level tester, I didn't feel valued. I realized that the pay-per-bug model didn't incentivize testers like myself to dig deep into the product, work collaboratively, and identify the most frustrating user issues. At 23, I quit my job as a QA tester, and along with co-founder Marko Kruustük (who is also my husband!), entered one of the world's largest hackathons: AngelHack. We took first place and used the prize money to build Testlio.

Today, Testlio is the originator of, and leader in, networked testing, supporting clients like Microsoft, Amazon, CBS, Etsy, Hotels.com, and the NBA (who collectively power over 1.5 billion users worldwide). The company has 80+ full-time distributed employees (Europe & US) and powers a network of 10K+  vetted, expert, professional testers in over 100 countries.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never. In fact, when I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But thanks to my sister’s invitation to spend time with her in London that summer, I got to discover the tech industry. Namely, many of my sister’s friends were working in the IT sector and they influenced me to explore possibilities as well. They all told me that technology is the future and I’ll definitely find a role that would suit my strengths. I was also drawn into the industry because I knew that it would most likely allow me a measure of financial security.

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

Absolutely. I believe that anyone who has ever wanted to succeed has faced a lot of challenges. The only way to overcome them is to just keep experimenting and moving forward. You need to accept that you will make tons of mistakes and not everyone will always like your decisions. Over the years, I’ve learned not to punish myself when something doesn’t go as expected. I tell myself that I’m the best possible version of me at this point in time and my intentions are genuine – I always want the best for my team and our customers. Challenges make us better and stronger.

I’ve also been underestimated. There were people in the beginning of my career who doubted my ability to lead Testlio successfully. Well, I proved them wrong. Even though I eventually decided to transition from CEO to the Chief Testing Officer role, I am very proud of what I was able to achieve. Now, I can fully focus on the things that I love the most - working with our global network of software testers.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I can’t just go with one. So here are a few: winning worlds largest hackathon Angelhack. Being accepted into the best tech accelerator program Techstars. Being recognized in Estonia as Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Getting to work with inspiring testers from all over the world. Serving Fortune 500 companies.

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

Not giving up. Moving forward despite setbacks. Going against fears. Listening to our customers feedback and providing value.

I constantly hear people making excuses like for example constantly postponing their product launch because they are afraid that the first feedback will somehow impact their future or ruin their reputation. It’s important to understand that your product will never be perfect and ready, it’s just a constant process of improvements! If people give you negative feedback, it means that they care and want to see your product succeed. There’s a reason why they’ve come to you and not to your competitors.

So, don’t ever let that fear to fail hold you back.

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

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find smarter people around you who are willing to support you when you go through this journey called life. :)

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

Unfortunately, there are still some very strong gender and racial biases in tech. Until companies consciously start focusing on hiring more women and minorities in leadership roles, and make their workplaces more inclusive, this will not change. In that regard, Testlio stands in stark contrast to most tech companies with more than 50% of our employees and leadership team being women and minorities. This is something I’m really proud of!

As a consumer, it’s also our duty to make sure there is more diversity around us. So for example when considering buying a product or service, I urge people to take a look at the companies’ websites and stories first – if there are only white men on the board or leadership roles, I would prefer to turn elsewhere and find a company that embraces and embodies diversity in all its shapes and forms.

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

Hire more women. Companies need to build more inclusive workplaces where women feel respected and appreciated. For me as a woman founder, diversity has never been a goal in itself, but I do feel that women feel more welcomed in a company where there are already a lot of us changing the world!

There are currently 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?

Have more women in leadership roles and have more women out there actively sharing their success stories. Too often, I’ve seen women with really cool success stories and backgrounds think their experiences don’t deserve any attention – they are either too modest, or afraid to put themselves out there. I think this also has to change. If we want change, we need to go out there and actively show the world that we are as powerful as any other person.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One of the recent books I‘ve read and loved is “It’s about damn time” by Arlan Hamilton. A tech investor who went against all odds and has now invested into more than 100 tech companies. Her story is so awesome. She also has a podcast ‘Your First Million’, where she’s interviewing entrepreneurs.


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