Matabe Eyong

Inspirational Woman: Matabe Eyong | Research Chemist, BP

 

Matabe has an impressive academic career – she holds three university degrees, including a Bachelor of Science in Physics, a double major in Chemistry and Biological Science, and a Master’s degree in Physical Chemistry.

Matabe gained experience in various different industries – she worked for cosmetics, food and beverage  and oil and gas companies. Following the birth of her son, she decided to go into research and joined BP.

The main reason for her to pursue a career in science was triggered by the surroundings of her childhood. Growing up in Africa, where science was perceived as a man’s role, and being the only girl of a family with five brothers, she always tried to bridge the gender gap within her family and her surroundings.

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

My name is Matabe Eyong and I’m a Research Chemist at BP’s Naperville Research Centre. I’m super proud to say I have my dream job. I wake up every day and I am excited to go to work. I joined the company eight years ago and I’m now responsible for designing experiments, operating small pilot plants, training entry level engineers, scientists, and technologists, and ensuring that all our applications on vessels and valves are safe.

I love science. I like the exploratory nature of my job, developing hypotheses and doing experiments. Even if the end result shows you something else than expected, it is always a useful finding.

Outside of work, I love rock-climbing and sky-diving. I go sky-diving every fortnight, and since my son is tall enough, I have started taking him along as well. I also love to cook - I find that recipes are just like chemical formulations.

I’m originally from Cameroon, in West Africa. When I moved to the United States, I enrolled at the Northern Illinois University and graduated with high honours with a double major in Chemistry and Biological Science. I also recently finished a Master’s degree in Physical Chemistry, while I was working at BP.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

There has never been a career plan per se. I believe people should pursue a career in a field they are really interested in, stay true to themselves but always look for new opportunities to grow. My motivation to pursue a career in STEM was triggered by my surroundings. Where I grew up in Cameroon, it was a common belief that women are less likely to pursue a career in science or engineering. Growing up among five brothers, who all went into engineering and science, I knew that this was what I wanted to do as well. I just wanted to have the same opportunities in life as the men in my family.

After university, I worked across different industries until I found the sector I really enjoyed working in; I started off at a cosmetics company, then joined a food and beverage company until I decided to try out working in the energy industry. After the birth of my son, I decided to leave the refinery environment behind and joined the research team at BP.

So for me, it was more of ‘trial and error’ until I found my dream job, instead of having a perfectly manufactured career plan.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Moving from one position to another is never easy. I would say the biggest challenge was moving to a catalyst discovery lab doing process engineering and analytical chemistry, while managing the equipment. I had to understand the technicalities of engineering and operate small pilot plants. It was a challenging transition for me because I had to learn a lot of new things that engineers do. But every time I went through a challenging time, there was always a positive outcome.

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

I believe women need to help and uplift each other more. Women can be very critical of each other at times. I do not believe in competing for what I want, I believe in creating what I want. Abraham Lincoln once said: “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. In order for me to be successful I don’t have to take away from anyone. Of course, there are advantages in looking at your peers for inspiration, but being competitive can bring out fears and insecurities that can end up holding you back, so wish other women well and celebrate their successes with them.

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

I am a STEM ambassador. I want to encourage girls to be curious, persistent, ask a lot of questions and never be afraid to fail. It’s okay to not know the answer right away. I believe there is still a real mystification around STEM jobs – it’s not all hard hats and overalls. We need to be more vocal about our roles and showcase how STEM is all about solving real world problems. I also think that we need to broaden our audience. If we want to attract more girls into science, we should not only focus on this particular audience, but also on educating other key influencers, such as parents and teachers who play a crucial role in a young person’s career choice.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I would say that my biggest career highlight was my development over the past couple of years at BP. I moved from a research technologist to a research chemist. I have also had the opportunity to work on high profile projects where I helped to expand production in our refineries and looked at BP’s long-term interest. I have also had the opportunity to work with diverse teams in the UK and China, and got the chance to connect with academics to develop a large number of research and development projects. On a personal level: I’m very proud of having raised my nine year old son on my own.

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

On a professional level, I’m planning to continue developing new skills to become a technical project leader, broadening my scope in terms of research and development. I also want to continue inspiring and guiding more girls into STEM careers in the US, and am planning to go to Cameroon to educate and encourage young girls in both primary and secondary schools on careers in STEM.


Lauren Kisser featured

Inspirational Woman: Lauren Kisser | Director of Alexa AI, Amazon

Lauren Kisser | Director, Amazon Web ServicesLauren Kisser is Director at Amazon’s Development Centre in Cambridge, the U.K and Director of Alexa International Q&A.

In this role she leads a globally diverse team of knowledge engineers, product/program managers, business and data analysts to ensure Alexa can answer any question ever asked in any language. She is a prominent sponsor of projects promoting women into STEM and up the ladder, such as Amazon’s Future Engineer Program and Code Club.

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

Last time we spoke I was the Director of Engineering at Amazon Web Services (AWS S3) focused on building cloud storage. I’ve since moved to be Director in Alexa AI based at Amazon’s Development centre in Cambridge. In this role I lead a globally diverse team of knowledge engineers, product/program managers, and business analysts working on making Alexa smarter.

My team ensures Alexa can answer questions in a range of languages. Quite the task and one I’m relishing! I really enjoy working on Alexa because the technology is always getting smarter and new features are continually being added. I’m motivated by Alexa’s goal to make life easier and more fun for everyone. I’m particularly inspired by how technology can transform life for people with disabilities. Like how voice assistant technology is helping the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

One major challenge and opportunity facing anyone working in science, technology and engineering fields is how to inspire and engage young people so that we have more people joining these fields, particularly from more diverse backgrounds. Research shows that the UK needs 21,000 more computer science graduates each year and one of the best ways to ensure we have a pipeline of talent is by taking steps to inspire kids to get involved in technology. If I want to hire the next generation I should help build it too.

In addition to my role on Alexa I’m an executive sponsor of Amazon’s Future Engineer Programme. Amazon Future Engineer is a childhood-to-career programme aimed at inspiring and educating students from underrepresented and underserved communities each year to try computer science and coding.

A recent Amazon Future Engineer programme is the Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize in partnership with NESTA which is all about helping the leaders of tomorrow and the next generation of innovators. The challenge for young people was to find new ways to use technology to make the world a better place; this year’s list includes innovations like sea-cleaning robots and AI to help teach sign language.

There are so may yet to be invented solutions and we need a diverse workforce to help invent on behalf of all customers. Recently, I was named one of the 20 Amazing Women Leading Europe’s Tech Revolution by mindquest talent for my efforts. I’m incredibly honoured to be occasionally recognized for my work on improving diversity in technology. More importantly, I hope to inspire others to do the same.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’m a big believer that you own your own career. You can’t wait for a manager or the company to identify development opportunities. In order to get the most out of what you do you need to be intentional about what you focus on. But how do you determine where to spend your energies?

The best career advice I was given was to plan for the role after the next role. As you plan your career don't immediately think about the next role but envision the role after that. Think about where you want to be. Where do you see yourself? What is the role that you're interested in? Envision your future self. Not in this role or the one after that, but the next role. Think two roles down the line. What are you doing in that role? What are the skills required? What will you have accomplished in that role?

Once you’ve identified the role after the next one then you can research qualities that make someone successful in that role. Can you think of maybe somebody that's doing something similar? What’s in their job description? What are the skills and qualifications required? Does it require communication skills? Are you going to have to be presenting your ideas to others?

Once you’ve identified those qualifications assess where you are against that list of qualities. Do a self-assessment. Do you need to take a class? Learn a new skill? Find a mentor? How proficient are you? This will give you a rough idea of skills you need to build to get the role after the next one.

I use four key words for this career planning:

Role. Qualifications. Skills. Plan.

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

The challenges I have faced in growing my career are not unique. It’s tricky to navigate a growing family and career that’s going places. One of the most difficult transitions I had to make was returning to work after maternity leave. The timing of my departure coincided with a re-organization of my team, which worried me.

In retrospect, I wish I had let go more and recognised that when you step out of the working world for something so life changing as having a baby you’re not going to be the same person when you return (if you choose to return), so it really is a chance to reinvent yourself. One of my mentors once told me you don’t have to be the same person tomorrow you are today. That is a very freeing feeling that you can continually redefine who you are and how you operate.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There is so much that I’m proud of in my 25+ year career in the tech industry. Working for Amazon for the last 15 years has given me many opportunities. I’ve navigated five major career transitions – starting in information security, then moving to ecommerce, to leading teams in robotics, cloud computing and now in voice forward technology. I’ve collected four patents and been recognized in industry as a diversity champion and successful leader. But what I’m most proud of are the leaders I have helped shape along the way. I see my primary skill as growing and developing future leaders and there is nothing better than helping someone else achieve their dreams.

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

I can attribute my success to three things – resilience; a growth mind set; and an amazing partner.

My resilience was heavily influenced by playing sport in my youth. I played team sports such as basketball and lacrosse but also individual sport like swimming and horseback riding. Later in life I got into mountain climbing. I’m a big proponent of getting girls into sports early. There is a strong corelation with sport and leadership that I think needs more attention. According to a recent study by EY and ESPN “94% of women executives have a background in sport, and over half participated at university levels”. I’m a testament to this, the skills I developed playing team and individual sport has definitely shaped me into a better leader.

Another of those skills is a growth mindset. A growth mindset focuses on skills development and turning failings into learnings. When playing sport you envision what the match or game is going to look like and train for various scenarios. This helped me see that skills can be developed over time and it’s important that you don’t get tripped up on thinking you’ve failed. More on that below.

And finally, I couldn’t have done any of this without a supportive partner. It is so important to choose a partner who is supportive and encouraging. In my case, my partner took a step back in his career to become a full-time parent as we navigated my growing career and a relocation to a new country. It hasn’t always been a comfortable path. He had to navigate being the outsider when we moved to a new country and introduced our kids to a new school system. I recognise that having a stay-at-home partner isn’t always an option for people, but I firmly believe that we need more support for families and partners who equally share the load of domestic tasks. It’s not easy to go against societal norms but the more people that make the change the easier it will become.

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

Two things come to mind. First, find a mechanism to fight the imposter syndrome. It so easy to listen to that inner voice that says you’re not good enough or you don’t belong. When that happens for me, I take a step back and assess why it is happening. I become stubborn about telling myself that I do belong and that my voice matters. A trick I use in meetings when I may not be comfortable sharing my own personal opinion is to take the view of our customers. I’ll chime in and express my own opinions through the lens of our customers.

Secondly, get your elbows on the table. By that I mean don’t take a back seat in meetings. Find a way to be at the main table and don’t be afraid to speak you mind (use the above tip if you’re not comfortable). In today’s virtual working world this means turn on the camera and let your work be seen – don’t hide yourself.

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

At Amazon we partnered with WISE two years ago for a UK study, and found that the top two barriers for women working in STEM careers identified were a lack of confidence (84 per cent) and having to adapt to a male dominated environment (75 per cent). It’s going to take a lot of effort at all levels of society to break down these barriers. I think it comes down to getting more diversity into all levels and roles. Women need to be in senior roles, on boards of directors, they need to be at the front lines, and innovating new products. Equality in leadership should be expected and when it’s not visible we should challenge the status quo.

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

Companies can have a major impact on the career progress of women. The role of employers in providing an inclusive culture which encourages innovation from all employees is reinforced by that research we conducted with WISE two years ago. The evidence shows that there is a serious and significant gap in support for women who do not feel accepted by their colleagues. It was also evident that employers must be much more aware of the importance of flexible career paths and influential opportunities if they are to encourage more women innovators.

Three recommendations stand out for me:

  1. Make returning to work easier - Our research showed that for women in STEM Innovation the ability to return to work easily after maternity leave was ranked highly amongst the factors that companies could influence..:
  2. Be intentional about giving women exposure on new initiatives and building new skills. Our interviews highlighted that, for many women, their involvement in true innovation came first through some type of special project or assignment, not as part of their day job. This is a low risk option to increase confidence and build skills.
  3. Provide training on manging diverse teams - Organisations that invest in training employees and line managers in how to lead diverse teams ensure everyone has the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability.

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

Change needs to occur on so many levels – with policies that inspire and enable people from all backgrounds and experiences to engage and contribute to research and innovation and show that science is for everyone that support; and in education with improved science and technology curricula to encourage the uptake of STEM skills and subjects. Individuals can play a big role in being the change we need to see.

On the individual level I do have some tips to share;

  1. Apply, apply, apply
  2. Make time to learn
  3. Find a mentor, be a mentor
  4. Plan with intention
  5. Don’t dwell on mistakes

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m a big believer in continuous learning, so I really try to find the time to read, watch and listen to things that’ll help me. Warren Buffet’s quote resonates with me “Read 500 pages every week. That's how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

One thing I realized when I finished my two master’s degrees was how little I really knew. You have to dedicate time to learning for it to pay off. These books have shaped my thinking and I still rely on them many years after I’ve read them.

  • Getting Stuff Done (Allen)
  • Crucial Conversations (Patterson & Grenny)
  • Leadership on the Line (Heifetz & Linsky)
  • Getting to Yes (Fisher)
  • The Medici Effect (Johansson)
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement (Goldratt)

I am lucky to work at Amazon where we have a strong writing culture. There is no shortage of projects to catch up on by reading project updates. Also, I hold a regular dive deep session with our engineering team. In these sessions, I’ll ask for an overview of a particular technology or system where I can get an overview of how the system works this helps connect what’s really happening at the system level.

Learning doesn’t always have to be a huge time commitment. I keep up with what’s happening in the industry on my LinkedIn feed; better understand leadership tools and techniques by skimming articles in the HBR monthly magazine; and read the latest science applications on a few blogs like the Amazon Science Homepage.


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


Zeinab TomTom featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Zeinab Bakhtiarinoodeh | Senior Data Scientist, TomTom

Zeinab TomTomWith a six year working background in Mathematics and Computer Science, Zeinab has been in a male dominated industry for the majority of her career.

 Alongside qualifications in Neural Networks and Deep Learning, Regularization, Optimization and Structuring Machine Learning, Zeinab also speaks English, French, Persian and Turkish.

Today, at TomTom, Zeinab leverages Computer Science, Machine Learning and Mathematical modelling to turn data into a story, a fascinating feature for the users of TomTom products. She is passionate about science and technology, with the aim of using both to make the world a better place to live.

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

It’s safe to say I have wanderlust in my blood. I was born and raised in Iran, moved to France in 2014 to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Logic, and in 2017 moved to Netherlands to chase my dream of becoming a data scientist. Now I can proudly say that I have a BSc in Applied Mathematics and a MSc in Pure Mathematics – two degrees that have in one way or another contributed to getting me to where I am now. So, yes, I’m kind of a nerd – and I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Now in my current role as a Senior Data Scientist at TomTom I can honestly say that I love my job. Every day I have the opportunity to help my colleagues make better decisions that are driven by data. The core of my role is to foster the data-driven culture at TomTom, from training to building infrastructure for data products.

Ultimately, I am passionate about making a difference and having an impact. When I am challenged, I am happy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When you have a goal-oriented mindset, setting clear goals and objectives for both the short and long term is a way to make sure you are continuously moving forward. I actually sit down and plan my future quite often. The first time I did this, I must have been around 10 years old. I was fixated on becoming a scientist - working in a lab with a computer and wearing a long white coat. At that age there was more dreaming going on than planning, but this taught me the difference between a dream and a goal – this being the level of effort that is put into actually making a dream a reality.

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

Being underestimated is one of the most prominent challenges I have faced as a female in STEM. I can vividly remember being misjudged by a manager, and in that situation, it was important not to lose faith in myself – but this hasn’t always been easy. In moments like those, I used to think , “Lets prove them wrong!”

It took me several working years to realise that no matter how hard I work or how good I am at my job, there will always be people who will underestimate me. This spurred on a change of tactic. Instead of convincing them I am capable, I now focus on myself, do my best and most importantly, shift aside the fear of failure.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Going through high school, my goal was to become a professor and teach students in the best universities. With that in mind, I started my Ph.D. to become an academic. Towards the end of my Ph.D. studies, I sat down to think about my future, and that moment spurred a change of heart. I didn’t want to stay in academia anymore. I wanted to be a problem solver instead of a theory builder.

I prepared myself for a sharp pivot in my career path, one that I had spent almost 10 years building. And I did it. Successfully pivoting, whilst still completing my Ph.D., has been my most significant achievement to date.

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

Working hard towards clear-cut goals and not giving up along the way. There have been times throughout my career, despite working hard, where I didn’t achieve the results that I wanted. My mantra is that the efforts we make will always pay off, even if it isn’t in the way we had originally expected. The key is to not give up!

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

The world of technology is a fast-moving one, and I’m well aware that sometimes this can look scary. But luckily, where there’s rapid growth, there’s lots to learn. So, absorb information, keep learning and develop the transferable skills that will take you forward in your career. This is what will drive you forward in the tech world.

Technology-based industries are full of opportunity. This means your career path does not have to be a ladder, instead you should hop around, try new things and as a result – grow.

It may sound cliché, but networking is a great way to excel. Finding a mentor within the community helped me to navigate my way through challenges and gave me something to aspire to. Even now, talking to my mentor gives me confidence that everything will be okay, no matter how hard things are now.

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

Compared to my mother’s generation, there are less barriers for women entering tech industries. Global initiatives have also helped to uplift the representation of females in tech. However, I do believe gender bias and stereotypes still exist and are taking away opportunities from women at all stages, from hiring stages to leadership. We all know that these issues are multifactional and will not be easily addressed by diversity leaflets dotted around the workplace alone.

I urge every woman in tech to be bold and talk about her achievements. For some, gender bias may go unnoticed, so we should speak loudly. If you notice stereotyping in your recruitment process, or noticed a significant imbalance, address it with HR.

We deserve to be acknowledged for our success, and these baby steps alone will lead to big changes. As a result, more women will join us in the tech industry, and we need more women to design the world.

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

Create space for women to grow. It’s evident that women will find barriers if they work in an environment where there is no or few women in management and leadership roles. Recruiting more female leaders, mentors and role models will provide women with an avenue for progression through aspiration.

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 believe we are currently dealing with a male-led industry which is daunting for women to break

through. By putting more women in leadership roles at the top of their fields, we will foster

hope and encourage younger women to pursue a career in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Absorbing information is a great way to excel as a woman in the tech industry. I’m a

huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg books, particularly “Lean in” and “Option B”. I would recommend these

to any young professional with a hunger for tech.

The ‘Women in Tech show’ is an excellent podcast for learning about a variety of projects conducted by women – it’s simply inspiring. Similarly, Women in Tech conferences and webinars are great for networking and learning. Getting out there (whether physically or virtually) and connecting with some of the best women in the industry, will leave you with a spring in your step and the aspiration to drive you forward.


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


Joy Nazzari featured

Inspirational Woman: Joy Nazzari | Founding Director, dn&co. & Co-Founder, Showhere

Joy NazzariTell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born in Brazil to Argentinian parents and later moved to the US where I was educated and received a degree in economics. My first job was in equity research at a boutique tech investment bank before I started working in Silicon Valley. I began my career during the dotcom boom, helping to bring technology companies to the stock market.

I then moved to London and started working with architectural visualisation pioneers Hayes Davidson to help them launch a company making software for large-scale property developments. The firm’s founder, Alan Davidson, put me in charge of the software firm as well as his emerging branding agency.

Eventually I decided to strike out on my own with a colleague to found a branding and design consultancy, dn&co. We specialise in place and culture branding and have been behind the reinvention of some of the UK’s largest neighbourhoods and developments including Broadgate, St James’s and the Royal Docks.

Mid-pandemic I co-founded a new proptech business, called Showhere, on the back of years of digital transformation projects for real estate clients. It’s a presentation platform that enables property businesses to manage and deliver compelling presentations to help them sell and lease space. Our current clients include Knight Frank, British Land and Royal London.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. Throughout my career I have spotted interesting business opportunities and let them take me in new directions. It’s been really fantastic that the pieces of the puzzle have come together to create something coherent. Along the way it didn’t feel like it ever would.

I do plan now. I’m very interested in how the businesses that I work in can grow and adapt into new markets, and how I can continue to grow within them. I’m also very involved in other people’s career development, so much of my role now is helping to develop other people.

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

Plenty, and they have all ultimately added to my overall career experience — I’m obsessive about nurturing challenges and mistakes into learnings, chewing them over sometimes for years before I think, “Oh! That’s what happened, and now I know that, I’m better”. Perhaps my biggest challenge was channelling passion - passion has an ugly alter ego, and it’s important to bring people along with you, not beat them over the head with what you think is best.

I remember in the early days I would ask clients questions and they would turn and direct their answers to my (male) colleague. This drove him more crazy than me, but eventually that stopped. Any other barriers were mostly my own perceived limitations — when I let go of those success was easier.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m most proud of having advised central and local government and some of the UK's biggest landlords and developers – including British Land, Stanhope, The Crown Estate and Argent Related – on positioning narratives for places, firstly with dn&co and now with Showhere. It has meant I've been a part of some of London’s most significant regeneration projects.

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

I’d say it’s down to two things: optimism and creativity. Together these can get you out of most challenges and bring others along with you.

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

I’m a fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which talks directly about women in technology but really is relevant for people everywhere. One of my favourite ideas is about “sitting at the table”. Women have a tendency to sit on the fringe and be less likely to get involved in discussion or offer an opinion – we need to move away from that.

If you know what you want to become, I recommend finding people like that and surrounding yourself with them. Mentors are invaluable, and I have been lucky to have a handful through my career. Ultimately though, a mentor will not make you successful: they can advise you, but you have to put the work in to be successful. Discipline is important.

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

Some progress has been made encouraging women to study STEM subjects but the drop-out rate of women in tech jobs needs careful analysis. There is definitely more work that to be done to promote gender diversity and tackle pay gaps in the sector.

Racial diversity is even more alarming – looking at the past 20 years I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I’ve worked with on the client side who were not white. We need to question why this happens and educate ourselves against bias. It’s vital we change our built-in behaviours that lead to this.

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

I’m not convinced by quotas, but I do think managers should have bias training. It’s incredible how much we don’t realise we’re affected by unconscious bias. I also think it’s the moral duty of business leaders to address pay inequality. I was at an all-male industry dinner with senior leaders once when the table bemoaned how difficult it was to interact with female colleagues now for fear of criticism of their behaviour. Asked for my opinion on what they should do, I said they should all focus on equal pay. The table went completely silent.

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

I’d love to see a really solid study that shows us at what point we are failing to convert girls from school into tech jobs, and I would direct a ton of private and public funding at that exact moment in a career path.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Linkedin is an incredible resource, and an easy way to self-publish and build your profile — I wish I had taken it more seriously earlier in my career. I also like listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast or his audiobook Tools of Titans which introduces you to the habits and routines of some amazing 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


Vanessa Quansah featured

Inspirational Woman: Vanessa Quansah | Senior Civil & Structural Engineer, Lendlease

 

Vanessa Quansah

At the age of 29, Vanessa Quansah is a Senior Civil & Structural Engineer at global developer and construction company Lendlease.

Studying Civil Engineering at Surrey University, Vanessa went on to work for Swanton Consulting, an in-house design temporary works specialist consultancy for a demolition company. In just four years, she was promoted from a graduate engineer to a Senior Engineer, and then joined Lendlease as Senior Civil & Structural Engineer.

Doing her bit to promote females working in a very male-dominated industry, she is a STEM ambassador, regularly visiting schools to promote engineering to young females and mentor students. In addition she is an Associate Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers (one of approximately 10 females of 400+ members), a Chartered Member with the Intuition of Civil Engineers (ICE) and was also a finalist of the WICE Best Young Woman Engineer 2017.

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

My name is Vanessa Quansah, I’m 29 years old and was born and raised in inner city London. My engineering journey began at Surrey University where I studied Civil Engineering. I hadn’t always wanted to work in engineering – I initially wanted to be a hairdresser - but my friend, who I met during an opportunity to study in the Netherlands, introduced me to the industry and I’ve never looked back since. I graduated with an MEng in 2012 and went on to work for Swanton Consulting, a temporary works design consultancy for a demolition company. After almost four years, I went from Graduate Engineer to Senior Engineer before joining Lendlease in 2016 as Senior Civil and Structural Engineer. In my current role I focus on designing and approving temporary works. Temporary works is a specialist branch of civil engineering, which provides safe access, protection or support during construction or demolition. Most people recognise this as scaffolding and site fencing, but it’s much more than that! I’ve been involved in projects that have included everything from designing retaining walls for a 12m deep basement excavation on a site containing unexploded bombs; to having to hydraulically lift an entire 20-storey building to install bearings after the building was already in place.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Apart from working towards my industry qualifications, I did not have a particular plan. Early on, however, I knew that designing temporary works was something I wanted to continue. As a result, I set out to take on challenging projects so that I could propel my experience and learn quickly so that I can work towards being an influential person within the industry.

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

Being a female in a male dominated industry, I sometimes feel quite conspicuous and people question what I’m doing. This is particularly the case when I’m on a construction or demolition site. This isn’t a negative thing though, as it provides me with the opportunity to open a discussion, talk about what I do, and demonstrate that I have the necessary knowledge, skills and capabilities. This job involves a lot of thinking on your feet to develop a quick, but safe and cost-effective solution, which for me is what I find most exciting in the job. For instance, I worked on a project where an 18th century brick wall had to be retained during the demolition of the remaining the structure, but after working on the project for 6-months it suddenly partially collapsed overnight. I had to get to site at 6am to ensure the rest of it remained intact and managed to devise a solution that both the site team and the client were satisfied with. As my experience and confidence in such a technical role has grown over the years, I see that I am becoming the ‘go-to person’ for devising suitable solutions to some very challenging problems.

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

Diversity is increasingly high on many agendas. I think it’s important that while still ensuring more females get into senior roles, this is based on merit rather than appearance, who someone knows, and certainly not to just make up the numbers. It has to be based on ability.

I believe that Lendlease has the right balance with this and with numerous initiatives to address issues of gender equality it’s not surprising that it was named one of The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women, so we’re taking big steps in the right direction.

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

As a STEM ambassador I regularly visit schools to promote engineering to young females and mentor students. I provide them with an insight into the industry, and for those who are not particularly interested in engineering, I provide support with exam revision and career advice. In addition, I’m their sounding board to discuss any other issue they may be having, which I believe they find beneficial from an older person who is neither their parent or teacher. Furthermore, as a Chartered Member with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), I support my peers with their journey into chartership.

I have had mentors over the years who have not only provided me with technical support but also helped me build my confidence by volunteering me for various presentations and industry events. I believe that in technical roles such as this, particularly as a female, mentoring is so important. It’s comforting to know that there are people that support you and want you to do well and are there to talk to when dealing with difficult projects where a much more experienced person can provide guidance.

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

I think the biggest barrier isn’t that women and girls aren’t necessarily interested in STEM, but the fact that they aren’t aware of the career options it presents. As mentioned earlier, I hadn’t personally known about civil engineering let alone considered a career in the industry until my friend told me about it. It’s so important that we work to raise awareness of the industry, and what jobs and career options it offers, encouraging as many people as we can to consider further education options, apprenticeships and the many roles that are available.

Construction in London is a particularly exciting prospect. We’re part of adapting the London landscape, and with that comes a lot of constraints that have to be considered. For instance, I have designed supporting structures that had to sit on top on live tunnels with people walking just 2m below; worked on a method than involved simultaneously constructing upwards while excavating downwards; and once even donned a fireproof suit to inspect a high voltage switchgear space. I never anticipated the sheer variety of this role when I was studying.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I have had the opportunity to work on several high-profile projects, including the refurb of the Imperial War Museum and Tate Modern, and the construction of Victoria Nova, Westminster’s Rathbone Place and the Elephant Park Development. It is really gratifying to say that I have contributed to the built environment around me and helped to develop these iconic buildings. In addition, one of my temporary works design solutions involved supporting a ‘floating façade’ where a single skin 20m high brick wall needed to be supported after the building interior was fully demolished and the ground beneath it was excavated 14m. This design was a finalist for the British Construction Industry Best Temporary Works Award. On more personal achievements, I was a finalist of the WICE Best Young Woman Engineer 2017, and am an Associate Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers. I am particularly proud of the latter, as I am one of only ten females out of the 400+ members.

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

Eventually, I would like to be in a leadership position where I can be an influential person within the business and shape how engineering is delivered on our projects. I would also like to have the opportunity to work overseas and hopefully learn from the methods used in other major cities to see how we do things better here. I’m currently working on achieving one more industry qualification, as well as working towards becoming a member on an expert panel which maintains and shapes best practice within the construction industry.


Inspirational Woman: Amira Bouguera | Cryptographer & security engineer, ConsenSys

 

Amira Bouguera

Amira is a Cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys.

She co-founded the HellHound project, which allows developers to implement privacy by design in dApps.

Amira is at the center of the movement to create awareness about the value of privacy, put us in charge of our digital private data, and promote blockchain technology amongst enterprises and governments.

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

I am a cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys. I co-founded the HellHound project, which allows developers to implement privacy by design in dApps (decentralized applications). I’m also at the centre of the movement to create awareness about the value of privacy, to put us in charge of our digital private data, and promote blockchain technology amongst enterprises and governments.

I graduated from engineering school and specialised in cryptography and cybersecurity, and I hold a Master’s degree in applied math.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Several times actually. When I was little, I was always interested in problem solving and math, I just wasn’t aware of all of the career possibilities available for those who are passionate about math. I had a lot of ideas, but young people do not always receive a lot of guidance or information on the types of careers that are available in math and in the exciting area of technology. However, I always knew that I wanted to develop my own project and work in an international environment. My advice for young people is that it’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do later in life, and it’s important to experiment and follow your dreams. Even at university, it’s OK not to plan everything ahead, but if you are ambitious, determined and work hard you can succeed in whatever you want to do. I believe that in pursuing their career paths, women can achieve their goals. Traditional ideas are just an obstacle in the mind, and women are not obliged to follow them. I have always dreamed about the future and wanted to be independent in my career path. Your professional dreams can come true if you work hard to achieve them.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, I have faced a few challenges. For example. I realized I had to study abroad because, in my home country, the options were limited for studying the subjects I was interested in such as math and cryptography. Therefore, I knew I had to travel to learn more in these fields. To explore new opportunities and to follow my dreams, I had to study away from my family and that was one of the hardest challenges for me.

Several people tried to discourage me and one example was a math professor, but I listened to my heart and trusted my capabilities to succeed. I was fortunate to be surrounded by those who supported me, and especially my parents. During my studies, I had to prove that I was good at what I do. On occasion, I still face that challenge today at conferences. I enjoy working with men and most of them respect me and my expertise. However, there are some men who can underestimate me at the beginning until they develop trust and see that I have the skills in my field. I find that as women, we sometimes have to work even harder to prove ourselves.

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

During my studies, I helped teach others and I have always been open and willing to answer questions and provide guidance or advice to others. I have not yet had the chance to mentor someone in a formal way and I would love the opportunity to be able to do that.

My parents and several others in my network have been helpful and supportive to me. My mother and father have been inspirational and great mentors, always encouraging me to not give up and to follow my dreams.

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

What I see and what excites me in the blockchain field are people from different backgrounds, cultures, races, and genders working and collaborating together and it’s so positive. I would like to see even more of that in the coming years. Decentralized organizations allow the flexibility for people to work when they are most productive, from wherever they are located, and even though the collaborators are not in the same place, they can all work together on their projects. I would like to see more inclusive collaboration not only within ConsenSys but also in other organizations.

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

Organisations should not put barriers to women at any stage of their career. There should not only be more encouragement for women to advance in their career, but also the flexibility to enable women to achieve a work-life balance. There are also inequalities in the workplace that need to be addressed. For example, it’s frustrating as a woman when you have the same skills and work experience as a man, and yet you face pay gaps based on your gender.

How would you encourage more girls and women into STEM?

Math and technology are beautiful fields, they are not scary, these are areas where everyone can excel. Girls and women should not be intimidated and think that these fields are only for men. When women want something, we can achieve it! Many successful women are professors and engineers and have fantastic and stimulating careers. My advice is not to listen to others with traditional views and to those who are negative and who tell you that you cannot do something, or that you are not good enough. If you really want something and work hard, you can achieve it. Having a vision of what you want to achieve for yourself, combined with hard work and determination are the most important things you need to reach your goals. You can achieve a lot by following your dreams!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’m proud that my career is on the right path. My project HellHound is advancing well and it’s one of my biggest achievements so far.

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

My goal is to make HellHound successful and to make it used by every dApp in the world. HellHound is a blind computation platform that allows developers to use cryptography tools to achieve privacy by design in their applications. I want to not only educate people on the importance of privacy and the right to keep your data private but also help make privacy by design used in every application.  If we can achieve this, that would be great!


Nazma Qurban featured

Inspirational Woman: Nazma Qurban | Chief Revenue Officer, Cognism

Nazma Qurban is Cognism’s award-winning Chief Revenue Officer, leading the company’s sales and marketing departments.

Nazma QurbanShe has been instrumental in creating Cognism’s predictable revenue process and building a successful sales team. Managing the entire sales process, Nazma is credited with overseeing a 600% growth in revenue in 2018 and building a base of over 200 clients, all in just 18 months.

Nazma’s previous roles before joining Cognism were Senior Business Development Manager at Lanyon and Business Development Manager at Red Wolf Recruitment. Nazma has an LLB in Law from Nottingham Trent University.

Last year, Nazma was included in the Top Women Leaders in Saas of 2018 by The SaaS Report.

From gaining work experience in sales at the age of 15 to becoming Chief Revenue Officer at Cognism and being recognised as one of the TopLeaders in SaaS and Top Women in Tech globally, Nazma Qurban is a successful professional driven by her own motivation to develop and grow. Nazma leads a high-performing team of millennials at Cognism and is a firm believer in mentoring, not managing.

Tell us about yourself and your current role

My career didn’t start in sales. I actually studied Law at university, but then I decided it wasn’t right for me. I saw sales as an area where I could grow and develop in quickly, so that was where I set my aspirations. I joined Cognism two years ago as Head of Business Development and played a key role in the setup and running of the London HQ. Now I’m the Chief Revenue Officer at Cognism, leading the sales and marketing arm of the business and driving long term growth.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t intentionally plan my career, but I used my experiences to inform the direction I wanted to take. For me, work experience was invaluable in highlighting what careers I didn’t want to pursue. I believe it’s important to gain experience in multiple professions, so that you can figure out which one genuinely excites you. I found that the environments I strived in, fast-paced and challenging environments, were the ones I enjoyed the most.

I wanted a career that pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and a career in sales definitely does that.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, but most of the challenges I’ve faced are those I’ve imposed on myself. In moments of self-doubt, I’ve set myself goals to help me overcome any obstacles standing in the way of my growth.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date isn’t anything tangible; it is my dedication to my own personal growth. When I started at Cognism two years ago as Head of Business Development, I hadn’t managed anyone before or been in such a senior position. Today I’m Cognism’s Chief Revenue Officer, managing a busy and growing team of salespeople and marketers. I dedicate a lot of time to my own personal growth, and I think more than anything else, that’s helped me to skyrocket my progression professionally as well as personally.

One thing I’m very proud of is helping others to grow in their careers. At Cognism, I’ve had a policy of hiring recent graduates and giving them the very best start to their working lives. Many of them have been promoted quickly and won awards for their work. That’s always been a motivation for me – giving other people a chance and inspiring them to achieve their best.

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

My commitment to being the best version of myself has definitely been the major factor behind my success. I’ve always been focused on my own growth, in both my professional and personal lives. How do I do this? By constantly learning, studying and challenging myself. If you have the confidence that you can succeed, as well as having a great team behind you, I believe that nothing can hold you back.

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

I recently held a talk on motivating millennials, and the primary focus of the discussion was that in order to motivate millennials you need to become a mentor, not a manager. Although I manage when it comes to tasks and things that need completing, I see my primary role as a mentor.

The key to succeeding as a mentor is to create an open relationship and friendship, so that people feel free to talk about their professional and personal challenges. That’s exactly what my mentor, James Isilay, Cognism’s CEO, has done for me. The process of mentoring should be about personal and professional growth; managers look at getting the task done, whereas mentors work with people to help them grow. One of my biggest achievements is helping the graduates I’ve hired to grow personally and professionally, going on to get promoted and receive awards for their contribution to SaaS.

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

We are the people who can make changes in the world. I believe having confidence that you can achieve anything is at the heart of this change; instead of viewing my gender as a barrier, I focus on my own strengths, and how I can use them to keep on achieving.

The pace will change when people realise it can change. All we have to do is view ourselves as equals. Women are more likely to achieve what they set out to do if they don’t focus on what could hold them back.

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

 I wrote this quote for International Women’s Day and I love it – it’s genuinely the one piece of advice I would have given to my younger self:

“Aspire to become your own role model. Think, is she strong? Does she own the room? Would your younger self look up to her and, most importantly, does your vision give you goosebumps? Create a vision of the role model you aspire to be and focus on becoming it.”

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

I’m constantly thinking about the next step and the next thing I want to achieve. My next challenge is opening Cognism’s US office. The plan is to replicate what we have built in the UK, but within a larger and more competitive market.

Generally, I’m not the type of person that has already planned out the next five years. Instead, I like to focus on executing my short-term goals. I’ll plan three months ahead and ensure I’m working on a daily basis to achieve those goals.


Neta Schreiber Gamliel featured

Inspirational Woman: Neta Schreiber Gamliel | CEO & Co-Founder, SafeUP

Neta Schreiber GamlielWhen Neta Schreiber Gamliel (30) made her first steps in the technological world, she recalled an incident she went through as a girl.

"I went out with some friends to a party at the villa, when one of my friends disappeared from us. We went to look for her and after a few minutes we found her in one of the rooms with two men, half naked, half conscious," she recalls. "When they entered the room, the men ran away and we realized that we had saved her life. From that moment on, we created a system of internal laws between our friend group that was designed to protect each other."

About a decade and a half later, this event ignited the creation of SafeUP, a social network for women that allows them to help each other in real time to feel safer and prevent incidents of harassment and sexual assault.

In August, Schreiber Gamliel and partner Tal Zohar launched the app together with the Tel Aviv Municipality. Within three months, they had reached 11,000 users and six local authorities paying for the service. Today, the company is taking its first steps in the United States, with the goal of expanding worldwide, and is just before the seed fundraiser, after raising $700,000 for pre-seed.

Schreiber Gamliel, a mother of a two-year-old child, describes herself as someone who has been involved in social entrepreneurship ever since she can remember. "As a girl, the most significant project I initiated and led was Scouts of Hadassah, an affiliate of the Scouts movement at Hadassah Hospital." In the army, she served as an IDF officer and later studied economics and psychology at Ben-Gurion University, and was part of a cadet program for local government. After graduating, she worked as deputy director of the education department in the city of Harish, before its establishment.

“In my personal journey I realized that this was not the place for me to enact change and make an impact, especially regarding the pace at which things moved and the results that were obtained,” she says. "That's how I became an entrepreneur."

Her first step in the world of start-ups was in the Bookit app, which connects customers and providers in the areas of lifestyle for women. "In doing so, I discovered the world of technological entrepreneurship, learned about it and fell in love with it, and realized it was my destiny in life," she explains, adding that she participated with Bookit in the "Sharks" program and won the investment, but preferred not to pursue it in order to focus on SafeUP.

"The goal is to change the current reality, to make the world a safer place," she says. "I'm part of a big movement of women who are willing to tackle the culture of rape and patriarchy. We have no patience for it any longer."

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Actually no! Though from a young age I always aspired to be a leader and make a big change for good in the world with joining communities through tech. So, my dream came true with Safe UP.

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

Of course, yes. I was previously part of a few negative organizations that kept me down and I experienced toxic work environments that led me to opening my own company. One door closes another one opens!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

SafeUP! Building from an idea with an amazing partners and tiny team into a global organization – I often have to pinch myself but I know it’s real. Please join us and send to any female in your network

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

My home and upbringing always gave me the confidence to aim to fly high, no barriers, no limits of what you can do and of course the incredible people in my community and strong female mentors.

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

If you believe you can do – go with it. Be determined, don’t take no for an answer. Surround yourself with people who support and believe in you.

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

Unfortunately, yes is the simple answer. The statistics are clear to us that women are not receiving enough support, networks and funding.

Barriers are overcome by supporting each other without a question. Not what in it for me. Just do and help the women in your community connect and succeed. Be their champion at every junction and open your rolodex.

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

HIRE MORE WOMEN, give them a platform to grow – we are you best employees, innovators, creators and management. Make your board rooms equal and or more diverse.

There still a lot of work to empower women who don’t believe they can be in tech and we know they can.

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

Self Belief, confidence, build it in from day one and if you lack it, you can learn it.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

https://nadersabry.com/

https://www.myconfidencematters.com/

http://www.clarejosa.com/

https://chutzpahcenter.com/


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


Siobhan Clarke featured

Inspirational Woman: Siobhan Clarke | Operating Partner, bp Launchpad

Siobhan ClarkeSiobhan Clarke is now the Operating Partner at bp Launchpad, having graduated from the MBA at Alliance Manchester Business School and spent a number of years working all over the world.

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

I’ve always been at the commercial end of tech, driven by a curiosity of what it has the potential to do. Unlocking potential in people and technology is where I’m happiest.

My current role is Operating Partner at bp Launchpad, where we invest and scale digital companies that are addressing the net zero challenge. Taking an idea from MVP - minimal viable powerpoint - to a business that is delivering for customers, employing hundreds of people and creating financial and broader stakeholder value is a multistage journey with different inflection points. I’ve just published a book on the first stage of that journey - The Founder Handbook - Getting to your first ten Enterprise Customers – it’s available on Amazon here.

On a more personal side, I’m lucky to call two places home, my family home in Northern Ireland where I grew up and my mum still lives, and secondly London, the city of vibrancy and energy and almost limitless possibility. I live with my partner - a CrossFit and Nutrition Coach and, in other times, I love to travel and challenge - mountaineering, triathlons, treks across the world to get closer to landscapes, people and cultures different from my own.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

From a young age, I’ve always been curious about what new technologies can do to solve human problems and so I moved from Northern Ireland where I grew up to Manchester to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), home of Alan Turning and the suffragette movement, so I could get under the surface of what it meant to design micromachines, to write computer code, to design safety into large scale electrical systems, where I knew I could take that learning everywhere I went.

My career strategy has been to follow the areas that I’m interested in and be part of creating movements, such as working at Cisco after my MBA at Alliance Manchester Business School in their move from a hardware company to software and services, or choosing to live in Singapore and work across all of Asia Pacific to capture the essence of economic growth at pace, or moving back to London in mid 2017 as venture investing was beginning to ramp up seriously in Europe. Now, I’m helping to shape the future of net zero through the work at Launchpad. Careers are a story of one person’s interests and passions - my advice for anyone is to follow those.

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

The most common has always been the knowledge loop - to choose to enter a new country, understand and sell a new product, be part of a new industry - there is a knowledge loop which begins with confidence that I could learn and understand it, to realisation that I knew nothing, to engaging with others to bring collective knowledge, to realising that I’m then giving back and sharing that knowledge. Understanding where I was in that cycle helped me to believe in the process, to believe in myself and to build on the shoulders of giants.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Getting to this point, where I have a position of influence: to choose to angel invest in female entrepreneurs addressing tough industrial and technical challenges, to ensuring we address any hidden biases in recruiting within our teams - enabling underrepresented individuals and groups to have a voice. Helping others to unlock their passion and coaching them to grow gives a quiet proud satisfaction.

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

Backing myself. Believing that no matter what happens, I will learn and grow as every perceived setback was just a stepping stone on the route to success. Incredible mentors and mentees, people who have opened by eyes to opportunities, to help me understand myself, to positions, to areas that I’d not considered at first and yet when considered closer, they aligned fully with my interests.

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

Always follow your interests, your gut instinct, your passion and contribute - bring your unique perspective into the conversation, into decision-making and shape a better world through your voice.

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

Yes, although I believe the barriers that exist apply to all those who seek to balance their work and their personal lives - or rather the whole human at work.

Ensure shared parental leave policies - for kids, for carers, for balance. This is still one-sided today across a lot of companies. Ensure we talk openly about mental and hormonal health as part of the overall career journey, e.g. it’s still taboo to talk about menopause inside companies. The key question is; do we give enough time and flexibility to enable those going through miscarriage, IVF, adoption, or choosing to support a family in a non-conventional sense? By enabling flexibility we’ll see a broader workforce engagement.

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

Quotas. I’ve been an advocate for this for a long time, we need quotas and strong targets to get us moving and shifting the balance. When a system is out of balance, it takes extraordinary and dedicated effort to bring it into balance and that effort can then shift to address other imbalances. Deliberately put more diversity into company boards, the culture is crafted from the boardroom into the business areas.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Recommend WearetechWomen of course, Power Women network, Lean in Energy, ICE for all entrepreneurs and Chasing Excellence - a podcast by the CrossFit Coach Ben Bergeron who through coaching the world’s fittest athletes engages with guests on resilience, mental toughness, reaching goals and the use of targets to set and rest mindset and expectations. Encourage all women in tech to talk with their partner - it was Juan, my partner, who helped me to grow the most and believe in myself as he is always there to listen. The most powerful resource is someone who has your back, who will also listen and enable you to understand your own truths.


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: Cheryl Stevens | Director for Shared Channels Experience, DWP Digital

Cheryl StevensI have been a proud civil servant for 20 years, undertaking a variety of leadership and transformation roles in both HMRC and DWP.

I have been in my current role as Interim Director for Shared Channels Experience since April 2020.  Shared Channels Experience is an exciting addition to DWP Digital. We aim to lead the transformation of simplified experiences for colleagues and customers driven by life events and other user needs, regardless of channel or service line. This will enable safe, efficient, inclusive and consistent journeys across DWP. What a mission that is!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t plan anything until I came back to work after my first baby, about 10 years ago. Up until that point, I’d had a number of roles within the Civil Service and whilst I enjoyed almost all of them, I couldn’t have said what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be other than I wanted to remain in the Civil Service. When I had that break I think it gave me the opportunity to focus a bit more and I decided that I had 3 passions in a work sense:

I had to truly believe in the mission of the department that I worked for. I believed in lifting children out of poverty in HMRC Tax Credits and now in DWP, the biggest welfare reform in a generation with a compelling mission to support people back into work quickly, improve the quality of people’s lives, and provide a vital safety net through difficult times. I’m proud to be part of that.

Leadership is very important to me. I thrive when I can make a difference to people around me, lifting people up, watching them excel and creating an environment where everyone can be at their best.  Of course you can do this without having a big team of colleagues, but I think you can truly be the difference in a senior leadership role.

Finally, the subject had to be interesting to me. There have been so many times I could have thrown my hat in the ring for a promotion but didn’t because the role just didn’t excite me and I knew that would destroy my soul.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Lots, but not as many as others. I will always be hugely grateful to those women in technology that went before my generation. I was thankfully at the tall end of that real wave of change, though was still tough trying to be heard and listened to sometimes and often being the only young female in the room was a bit daunting. Believing in myself to keep going was probably the first real sense of resilience for me. We have come a long way but we are not quite there yet.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At work, it has to be my MBE. I was awarded it for my work in lifting children out of poverty by redesigning the processes for vulnerable customers and encouraging take-up of tax credits. As a new ‘benefit’ administered by HMRC it wasn’t always clear to those that needed us most that they were entitled.  They were also often our hard to reach customers, so we set up a programme of outreach, literally standing in supermarkets and attending galas and events to make people aware that they were entitled.  It was amazing to see the relief on their faces when we were able to help. That time in my career was really special and the MBE recognising the effort just topped it off for me. I also learned so much about what it’s really like for the most vulnerable in society. Trying to make that better has been a theme throughout my career.

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

Mentors and sponsors. I have a massive drive and believe I am capable but I know I would not be where I am without those 5 or 6 people that have really guided my career and really championed me – lifting me up when it mattered.  I took opportunities because they gave me the confidence and provided assistance. That kind of help was invaluable and without it I’m not sure I would have taken some of the opportunities.

I mentor and sponsor a number of people, it’s really important to me. Someone described it as ‘not pulling the ladder up behind you’ and I think that’s a brilliant analogy.

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

Attracting women into tech roles needs much more effort because as a nation we haven’t quite moved away from ‘boy and girl’ jobs. Don’t get me wrong we have come a long way and I know a few female teachers of tech that really encourage that take-up, but there is more to do. I can only speak for where I work but DWP Digital is pretty gender balanced, with more women in senior roles than ever before so those barriers are lowering in some sectors certainly.

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

Authenticity, empathy and realism will be your most powerful leadership traits.Be yourself always.

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

My next challenge, albeit an exciting one, is delivering the ambitions we have in DWP Digital and Shared Channels Experience. We have so much already that is making a big difference and the plans we have for the coming year or so just excite me. I can’t wait to see what difference we can make to citizens and colleagues; it will be an amazing achievement for all involved.


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.