Chloe Colliver

Inspirational Woman: Chloe Colliver | Head of Digital Research and Policy at ISD

Chloe Colliver

Chloe Colliver is a leading voice against disinformation and online hate speech.

The Head of Digital Policy and Strategy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Chloe studies extremist messaging and conspiracies online, to equip organisations with an eye for disinformation.

Via The Motivational Speakers Agency, we interviewed Chloe to hear her insight into how Covid-19 messaging, and political campaigns are influenced by disinformation. Build resilience against online harassment and manipulation with our latest interview.

You talked on disinformation and the Covid-19 vaccine, what was the biggest cause of disinformation?

When we talk about disinformation, we’re specifically thinking about intentional false information. So, that’s separate from the general false information you might share with your friends and family, or you might see on your social media from people in your social networks.

With disinformation, it’s quite hard to draw a comparison of the reach of disinformation from say, foreign states like China, or politicians, celebrities or influences that might be shouting it from their own accounts or profiles. There’s some research this year that shows, particularly around the Covid-19 pandemic, that disinformation was disproportionately shared by celebrities online, which is a very interesting finding.

It shows the importance of public figures in disseminating false narratives and conspiracy theories around really important issues like public health.

Why are unfounded conspiracy theories so quickly believed, is there a social or psychological element to it?

Conspiracy theories are as old as time, really, and they’ve always thrived in times of crisis and social upheaval. And that is partly due to the way that our brains work, showing curiosity around conspiracy theories.

There are a few reasons for this. People are drawn to conspiracy theories in part to try and satisfy a psychological motive. So, the need for knowledge or certainty – we sometimes see that low education rates can correlate with people who are susceptible to conspiracy theories.

That’s not because those people are silly. It’s because they’re actually in search of knowledge, often in places that aren’t reliable, and they don’t have the tools or the people around them to help them know where reliable and trusted sources of knowledge might come from.

But then there’s also a psychological need to feel safe and secure in the world. That’s also part of why people seek out, and believe, conspiracy theories. [Covid-19] is a really good example on this one because a genuine external threat can affect how people interpret information.

And then finally, the other psychological aspect to this is the science suggests people have a desire to feel good about themselves as individuals, but also the groups that they’re part of.

So there’s a little bit of an inner dynamic that conspiracy theorists often promote to enhance the sense of belonging to a community or opposition to a supposed ‘bad guy’. And we see that a lot with conspiracy theories that overlap with extremist propaganda, for example.

How can organisations ensure clear and concise communication with their consumers, to avoid disinformation?

So, our team at ISD have done quite a lot of work, both with businesses but also in schools and youth communities, to think about building resilience against disinformation and other kinds of online harms. Transparency and clarity of communication with peers and networks is really critical to that.

We’re really thinking about getting ahead of the curve on these issues, building resilience, helping people understand critical thinking about information, rather than debunking information after the fact, which can often be counterproductive or really difficult to achieve success with.

The advice that I would give to businesses or organisations working with large audiences or consumers is to always consider transparency and clarity in your messaging, and to make sure you’re directing people to sources of information about your products or your organisation that are clear and trustworthy.

That’s really the first step we can take to make sure we’re all taking part in a much more open information system that doesn’t promote these kinds of disinformation or conspiracy theories.

What role does disinformation play in political campaigns, like Brexit?

Disinformation is often most heavily publicised around elections or referendums. We saw this in a big way during the Brexit campaign, as well as recent elections like the US presidential election in 2020. Disinformation has always been part of the toolkit of political operations, and that’s no different these days.

But what we see now, is that the social media revolution means it’s much more accessible to many more people, so the bar for creating, promoting and targeting disinformation is much lower than it’s been in the past.

We no longer rely on leaflets or TV campaigns to get those messages out, instead very cheap, targeted ads on Facebook do the job for you. So we see this information at a much greater scale and also at a hyper targeted level, which means people are receiving very personalised disinformation.

How has the digital revolution increased hate speech, and what more must social media sites do to clamp down on online bullying?

It’s difficult to tell whether social media has created more hate or more hate speech, but what it’s certainly done is make it much more accessible to many more people. Visibility and accessibility of hate speech means that the victims of this kind of content are manifold, and they’re receiving [hate] not just in the streets, but also in their bedrooms, on their phones and all around them. So, we really need to be able to apply existing laws better when it comes to hate and harassment in the online space.

That’s one aspect of this. We’re not really set up very well to deal with existing legal parameters in a very fast paced informational world. But we also need to adjust those laws and those expectations better, given that we have a whole new way of communicating with one another.

There are a number of developments looking at whether online platforms should take responsibility for some of the content that is on their sites, including hate speech, terrorist content, disinformation. There’s a really fine line between censorship and expectations of censorship from these platforms, but keeping people safe and secure at the same time.

What we can see, is platforms need to impose their own existing terms of services much more effectively to protect people from hate speech and targeted harassment.


Inspirational Woman: Khyati Sundaram | CEO, Applied

Khyati Sundaram

Khyati Sundaram is the CEO of Applied - a tech platform de-biasing hiring.

Their tech removes gendered words from job ads, anonymises applicants, and rates candidates for their skills rather than what they look like on paper, or how they come across in interviews. 60% of people hired through the platform would be missed by traditional hiring processes, with ethnic minorities 4x as likely to be hired. Their clients include Comic Relief, UK Govt. and Penguin.

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

My CV is pretty varied. I started out in finance, and worked for years as an economist and an investment banker. I then entered the world of startups and ran my own business using AI to create sustainable supply chains. I started out at Applied as Head of Product in 2019, and in March last year I took over as CEO. Whilst the roles I’ve held have all been hugely different, I’ve gained valuable skills from each which I draw upon to this day.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

The short answer is no. I think my unusual career trajectory is probably a giveaway there! The experiences and interests I’ve gained from each of my jobs have led organically from one to the next. Having said that, I’ve always been passionate about tech for good and data science has remained a pretty constant theme throughout my career.

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

The interim period between closing my startup and joining Applied was a pretty tough time. Despite the skills I’d gained by that point and the extensive experience I’d accrued, I applied for countless jobs and went for eight months without getting so much as an interview. Time and time again I was told that my CV didn’t ‘fit’. Looking back, I’m certain that my gender, name, and less than conventional CV played a role in this. Employers were seemingly unable to look through these things to the skill-set and experiences I was bringing to the table.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Getting promoted to CEO at Applied within 12 months of joining the company is a definite career highlight. Especially since a recruiter once told me that I couldn’t do a C suite job! My own experience of the bias which Applied is working to fix is what first led me here. So being able to lead our talented team to build a fairer and more transparent future for hiring is a very personal mission, and a huge honour.

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

I was hired by Applied’s own tech. So I have a debiased, skills-focused hiring process to thank for the role I’m in today. Had I still been relying on employers using traditional CV sifts and interview questions, I might be in a very different position today. I’m also very aware that the majority of job candidates are still subjected to these processes, which are riddled with bias and are poor predictors of performance. I’m passionate about changing that. Everyone deserves a fair chance at success.

Khyati Sundaram

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

Think carefully about what company you want to work for. Women and ethnic minorities are still far too under-represented in the tech industry, but you can normally tell which companies are genuinely trying to promote authentic diversity and inclusion. Those making proactive changes will probably have the best cultures and offer you the best environment in which to thrive and where your skills will be properly recognised and valued.

Focus on applying to companies who use structured interviews centred around tasks and skills, rather than focus on candidates’ backgrounds or interests. You can also check out company websites and Linkedin profiles to assess whether existing teams are homogeneous, and dig through social media to get a sense of a company’s culture and values. If they aren’t prioritising diversity and inclusivity, working for them may well make it harder to excel your career.

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

Women make up just 17% of the UK’s tech workforce. Looking at programmers and software developers, that figure drops to 13%. The outlook is more bleak still for ethnic minority women, and the stats have lain stagnant for a decade now. We’ve got a long way to go before the playing field levels out. The single best thing that tech companies can do to accelerate the pace of change is to debias their hiring processes.

We know from extensive research that women are disadvantaged by traditional recruitment processes from the point that they read a job ad, right the way through to the final selection stages. When job ads are stripped of gendered language, CVs are anonymised, hiring managers stick to structured interview answers, and candidate scores are peer reviewed, success rates for female job candidates shoot up. Having worked as a woman in tech for years, I know just how badly we need to overhaul the ways we recruit and support women in this sector.

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

Women make up less than a quarter of directors in the tech industry. To empower more women to gain the recognition and senior positions they deserve, again, we must first root bias out of hiring processes. It’s not uncommon for those in charge to have picked out the person they want to award prominent positions to - often a personal connection, or someone who looks and sounds a lot like themselves - before anyone else is given a fair chance.

Besides that, we need to create dedicated training and development programmes for women in tech companies. Given just how far the gender gap has grown, we need to actively lift up female workers, and give them the support and confidence they need to succeed.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

‘Something Ventured’ (hosted by Kent Lindstrom) is an awesome podcast to get inspiration from female role models working in tech. They specifically focus on Silicon Valley. Another favourite is the ‘She Did It Her Way’ podcast (hosted by Amanda Boleyn), which shares advice on how to launch your own business.

For an inspirational read about leadership, and women in STEMM, I’d recommend ‘Road to Power: How GM's Mary Barra Shattered the Glass Ceiling’ (written by Laura Colby). It’s the story of how Mary Barra started out as one of a select few female electrical engineers, and progressed to one of the most powerful roles in the corporate world.

One of my favourite speakers is Vivienne Ming. She’s an expert in AI, behavioural science and neuroscience, and explores topics around the future of work and tech for good.


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


Dr Kerry Baker featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Kerry Baker | Strategic Initiatives Lead, STEM Learning

Dr Kerry BakerDr. Kerry Baker is a leading authority on science communication and getting more girls studying STEM.

As the Strategic Initiatives Lead at STEM Learning Kerry Baker supports cohesive working, collaborations, new initiatives and dissemination of good practice and success stories. She is an engineer by education and completed a PhD on why women study engineering. Her focus has been STEM education, outreach and promotion.

She is a passionate supporter of promoting STEM knowledge and skills because knowledge, understanding and manipulation of these subjects and skills will empower the next generation of scientists and engineers to solve the big issues this world is currently facing

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

I am an engineer by education and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) communicator by career (if I was trying to describe it in one phrase). I think STEM subjects offer young people so many advantages for jobs, careers and life skills that I find it sad when many miss out or give up on it. I don’t want everyone to be a STEM person, but I want everyone, when making choices, to have all the information they need to make informed decisions. Currently I’m working at STEM Learning and support CPD for teachers, STEM Clubs and most frequently the STEM Ambassador programme - a programme that supports volunteers from all sorts of industries and organisations to volunteer in schools and with young people, to bring them face to face with the realities of what STEM is and what STEM does, ultimately helping them to make those informed decisions.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Nope! Never! I think the phrase ‘always looked for a new opportunity’ is the best way to describe my career. I’ve had nine roles in 21 years of working and each new one has been because I had learnt everything I could from the previous one and wanted, no, needed, a new challenge. With each job I learnt new things, developed new skills and generally collected a breadth of knowledge and confidence. All my jobs have been aspects of education and promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) so I definitely have a specialism but my career has been extremely varied. And probably because I’ve moved about and tried lots of things and said yes to opportunities I am now formulating more of a ‘plan’ – teaching in higher education at some point in the future and having STEM as my research specialism.

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

I’ve definitely had blockages and things to get past or problem solve in my career but they don’t feel like a challenge – I’m a problem solver, so any challenge is just another opportunity for me to find a solution. Perhaps my biggest career challenge is the one facing me now, now that I know what I want to do - it’s finding one place for me to do all the things I love (and think I’m pretty good at) - I want to teach at university, do research on STEM outreach, deliver STEM outreach, work with companies, help to evaluate impact of outreach all while making a difference ot the lives of young people. And if there were some travel opportunities thrown in as well that would be perfect!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I feel like my answer should be my PhD - I completed it part-time while doing a full-time job and being a subwarden in a university hall of residence so life was pretty busy. Plus, it’s probably technically a sociology PhD but my undergraduate degree was in engineering so I also had to learn an entire new skill set for it. But actually I think the thing I am most proud of is the development of the Engineering Colouring Book and the Engineering Colouring Wall that went with it. A book of 17 colourable images of what engineers do and who they are. This was accompanied by a 1.7m tall, 12m long wall of image that people can colour in. The last time we did it we were at Birmingham New Street station on a Saturday and we had engineering STEM Ambassadors supporting us. We got to talk about and showcase the reality and importance of engineering to all sorts of people and it was awesome!

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

Perhaps it’s the utter confidence I have in my knowledge of my subject area, added by my willingness to learn more and ask for greater information if there’s something I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I completely believe in the purpose of what I do – my passion and enthusiasm for showcasing STEM subjects and opportunities to young people appears to have no limit. I have learnt that I want to add value and make a difference, they drive me, so as long as I am doing both then, as far as I’m concerned, I am achieving success.

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

I think you have to own who you are and what you can do. Believe and be confident in your skills and abilities but also be okay acknowledging what you can’t do, or what you don’t want to do. I have a very clear understanding of my skill set – I know where I can excel and add value, but I also know my weaknesses and where I’m not interested. I think in knowing that, I have been able to direct myself to the right roles and the right organisations to utilise the skills I have and enjoy using in order to make a difference. For me, doing what I’m good at to make a difference equals absolute job satisfaction.

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

I believe there are still all sorts of barriers, for all sorts of people, for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. But I think it’s up to you how much credence you give to them. I don’t feel that I have come up against barriers but I acknowledge that maybe I have and maybe I’m just unaware of them. Perhaps I see them as just another problem to solve? Perhaps in moving jobs as frequently as I have that’s how I’ve dealt with barriers? I don’t think I can give a definitive answer to this but I wish I could.

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

I think this comes down to honesty and equality. Companies need to look at their entire process and organisation and activity and ensure it is fair in every way to everyone. Writing a manifesto for gender inclusivity won’t do it, unless the particulars of the manifesto are adhered to by everyone at all times. I think there are companies that can genuinely see the benefit of a diverse workforce and will organise themselves to make the most of it, and that is where I would expect to find more women joining and more women remaining within the organisation.

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?

Female-targeted apprenticeship programs open to those aged over 21. Still open to under 21s as well, but I think there are a great deal of women out there that could really excel at an opportunity to enter tech at a later age. Maybe they chose the wrong career path, maybe their current career path is uninteresting, maybe they knew nothing about tech in school but now that they’ve done some coding, or found out more about tech, they want to give it a go. I find that our society focuses so much on determining your ‘forever’ career path at 14 it can leave a lot of people unsatisfied. Offering female-targeted (targeted is the key point, not ‘only’ females) can immediately make changes. I’ve seen it happen at Zoopla. Seven out of ten software engineering apprenticeships in 2020 were taken up by females, not because they prioritised females, but because they made sure they clearly referenced females in the adverts. Other companies have used the same principles in advertising some of their roles and have seen a rise in female applications as well. The apprenticeship route has the potential to have an immediate impact on the gender split in a company but it also offers a second chance to women, that for whatever reason, may have been wary or unaware of tech roles in their school years.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I don’t really use podcasts or anything like that. Well, the ones I like are not really for work purposes (BBC’s ‘50 things that made the modern economy’ and Sara Pascoe’s ‘Sex Power Money’)! I’ve used the articles on Psychology Today (website) quite a lot over the years, for personal stuff as well as professional. I think what’s worked the best for me is only thinking about or trying to understand my own behaviours, my own actions and my own feelings as they’re the only things I can change or control, and definitely the only things I have more chance of knowing for certain! But what I definitely do, and have always done, is build up a collection of people (women and men, professional and personal) in my life that I have a huge level of respect for and who can challenge or advise or encourage me - podcasts in real life!


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.


Rayna Stamboliyska

Inspirational Woman: Rayna Stamboliyska | VP Governance and Public Affairs, YesWeHack

Rayna Stamboliyska

Rayna Stamboliyska is the VP Governance and Public Affairs at YesWeHack, a global bug bounty and coordinated disclosure leader.

She focuses on EU cyber diplomacy and resilience including issues related to cybersecurity, strategic autonomy and data protection. Rayna also manages the EU-funded SPARTA research and innovation project, which is a pilot for the EU Cyber Competences Network. An award-winning author for her most recent book “La face cachée d’Internet” (“The dark side of the Internet”, Larousse 2017), Rayna is also an IoT hacker and a staunch proponent of open source, data and science. Prior to joining YesWeHack, Rayna has served in various Directorship and security-related foreign policy positions: she has consulted for international organisations, private companies, governments and non-profits, interfacing with public sector actors and guiding them through innovative policy-making processes. Energetic and passionate, Rayna has grown to become a recognised information security speaker committed to educating those outside of the industry on security threats and best practices. She writes up the cybersecurity expert column “50 shades of Internet” at ZDNet.fr and tweets under @MaliciaRogue.

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

My path into the cybersecurity world was far from orthodox but a natural one nonetheless. As a graduate with two masters (one of which is in International Relations), I understood the importance of leveraging technology to address scientific and social questions while being conscious of its uses. I also hold a PhD in evolutionary genetics and bioinformatics, which has instilled in me how crucial it is to make research data, publications, and code open and accessible to everyone.

Whichever the field of activity or the assignment, I came to realise that we – as professionals but also as a society – were failing to protect what matters: personal data, strategic assets, etc. My professional journey and this realisation have led to my current position as Vice President of Governance & Public Affairs at YesWeHack, a role that makes me incredibly excited to come to work each day.

At present, I am focused on identifying sound approaches to preventing digital risks and advising political actors on how to proactively counter threats – essentially, expanding the strategic operations between ethical hackers and policy makers to protect our most valuable assets.

My main task is to build a bridge between the YesWeHack community (consisting of 22,000 ethical hackers) and the needs of an increasingly networked, digital society. To this end, I am primarily interested in tackling issues around digital governance and diplomacy, with the handling of vulnerability disclosures being a key responsibility.

Before YesWeHack, I was the Deputy Chief Information Security Officer and Data Protection Officer at the Oodrive Group, a solution provider for secure cloud and virtual data rooms. I have also worked as an expert and consultant in risk and crisis management for international organisations such as the World Bank, the OECD and UNESCO.

In addition to the technical experience I bring to YesWeHack, I am also passionate about increasing diversity in cybersecurity and tech. That is why I have joined the Women4Cyber Foundation as a Board Member.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have indeed thought about how to build my career. It is far too easy to just get another job, which is not what matters to me. The way I envisage a career is by being involved into an activity that aligns with my core values: justice, equity, social good.

So, from cutting my teeth as a young international consultant to accepting increasingly senior positions, my ambition has been to contribute to producing something with a whole-of-society impact. It is not always easy, to put it mildly. But I like to think that it is working so far.

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

Like most people, I have faced career challenges.

There is a prevalent culture in STEM whereby leaders have pre-determined their own criteria for inclusion to define who can be part of the community. With so much navigating to do between meritocracy-motivated team leaders and the silent doocracy-driven ones, no wonder many candidates find it a challenging environment. Testimony to how rife this is can be gathered from the coining of the term ‘doocracy’ – which has arisen for hackerspaces and open source software communities to indicate that responsibilities (and thus power) are for the individuals who ‘do’ – rather than for those who hold a diploma or social status but may contribute very little.

What is a new challenge, and one I have witnessed first-hand, is for newcomers to be dismissed as candidates who are included just because they come from a minority group. This is potentially harmful to minorities in STEM and undermines the individual. It’s for this reason that I am always careful about being singled out as a “woman in STEM”. My skills matter, not my gender. I’d rather be acknowledged for my contribution, not because I have ovaries.

We as an industry, as a community of individuals, also have a clear and decisive responsibility to avoid artificially creating a skill gap. What I mean there is that we struggle in designing meaningful career progression paths. That struggle maintains a leaky pipeline: we all know of mid-level professionals with remarkable skillsets who wish to go into a different industry. But just because they are young in the field, we tend to treat them as young, underpaying them and making it harsh for them to grow and shine as professionals with unique expertise.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am extremely proud of my latest book, “La face cachée d’Internet” (Larousse, 2017). I wrote it at a special time in my professional life, when I myself was at crossroads trying to figure out how my unique skillset could contribute in a meaningful way. It has resonated with so many people which is the best gift I could receive.

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

Perseverance will get you anywhere. It is, obviously, so much nicer to also benefit from support and well-meaning individuals you can rely on when in doubt. That, I believe, is what has helped me greatly: to be able to turn to people with a question, a request for guidance or simple discussion over lunch. Mentoring and coaching are beneficial as they help build a richer perspective of our environment and ourselves, and mobilise our resourcefulness in constructive way.

Seeing myself through the eyes of others, who appreciate me enough to not be complacent, is what has given strength to my perseverance.

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

My main tips would be to do your job with transparency, to be modest — and to hold your ground. Ideas matter, as does introducing positive and constructive change. There are still many challenges and obstacles ahead of us which we can sometimes overcome by being assertive. So, be true to yourself, strive to learn and exercise your talents to create a world where you can thrive.

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

I do, and the barriers are multiple. Some women remain stuck below the glass ceiling because they work for a self-centred manager. For other women, it may be a case of being disengaged with the work or valuing their free time more, while for another it may be a feeling of insecurity about their expertise – all of which may or may not be influenced by management. The list goes on.

From a more global perspective, there are plenty of other obstacles: family pressure, salary negotiation issues and a persisting pay gap, harassment in the workplace. Not to mention the stereotypes associated with the field, such as it being run by the “ol’ boys club” and requiring a skill set that is tough to obtain. These are still true. The good news is that culture change is also under way.

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

Over the years we’ve seen different initiatives to support and progress the careers of women in tech come and go, but none have had the desired effect. We have yet to reach equality. Which means that we also need a more comprehensive approach to tackle that issue.

Overall, we need to stop tokenising people. There is a diversity problem in STEM; gender is one of the issues, but not necessarily the main one. We need to stop thinking about gender through a prism and instead need to address the critical issues at hand.

We need to do better at communicating why technology matters to society so that it inspires women to want to shape its development, not just enter, but also remain and prosper in the field. Encouraging career development with mentoring and leadership programmes would go a long way to support this. We also need to address professionals from all genders: culture change is a systemic change; it won’t work if done in a vacuum by addressing only women.

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

To start to readdress this imbalance we need to push for equal pay between different roles, from entry-level to the boardroom. We need less gendering to create opportunities that make a difference and don’t rely on stereotypes. Finally, we need more mentoring to provide women and minorities with the industry insight and expertise needed to put them in a position to be able to secure the roles they deserve in the fight for equality.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’ve learned a lot from Tarah Wheeler’s “Women in Tech”, William Ury’s “The Power of a Positive NO” and from a number of podcasts such as Freakonomics. More generally, GenPol is also a great resource. For the UK more specifically, the Women in Public Affairs community is really cool and helpful.


Inspirational Woman: Mukta Tandon | Head of CX and Digital Product Delivery, bp

Mukta Tandon

Mukta Tandon is a leader in digital transformation at bp and has put her own unique stamp on work to drive digital transformation across the business.

Last year bp committed to transitioning to net zero by 2050 or sooner and Mukta believes digital transformation sits at the heart of reimagining energy. She and her team are focused on changing existing ways of working, by shifting how bp connects with its customers and how they connect with bp through digital and online platforms

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

I joined bp 16 years ago having previously worked in various communications and branding roles in New Delhi, New York and Chicago with multiple advertising agencies. For bp, I worked in the brand and communications space for 10 years and then moved into Castrol, to lead the digital marketing excellence team six years ago. At that time, we identified a gap at Castrol between the relationships that we were developing with our customers and the service we were providing. In essence, we recognised that the world was changing, and that digital was fast becoming the most effective way for us to connect with customers through our digital and online platforms.

My role quickly developed, and I began driving the digital transformation and innovation agenda across the Castrol business. It was my job to be the connecting bridge between business needs and our various digital teams. This involved a lot of strategy work; thinking through how we develop our digital capabilities so that they can be adapted and localised to suit each market. Everything we did was about making life easier – for our people and the people using our products – our customers.

My priorities in my current role, as head of customer experience and digital product delivery for bp’s fleet and B2B portfolio, are much the same. I’m still striving to find the digital connections that can improve how we interact with our customers. When we are building digital products across bp’s business units, my role is to ensure that the customer is always front of mind. What we’re trying do is ensure that we find the connecting points for customers across every business group, and subsequently create an integrated customer experience. We want them to have the most seamless relationship possible with bp and this means challenging ourselves to make sure everything we do puts the customer first.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. Well, not this career anyway! In fact, I started out on a very different path and studied architecture in India at the TVB School of Architecture. I come from a family full of architects, but I was a bit rebellious so I made plans to do something different. After graduating I started working with an exhibition, design and ad agency before completing a Masters in Brand and Design Management in the UK.

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

The biggest career challenge has been balancing family life and a career. It’s been a constant struggle to manage both aspects of my life and ensure I give my best to each. For me, it’s never been a ‘balance’ but more of a ‘mix’ as I don’t believe someone stops being a mother or a wife or a daughter when they’re are at their desk. Typically, balance means taking from one side and giving to the other, which I’m not prepared to do. To tackle this challenge, my mindset has always been to remember that what makes me whole is all aspects of my life not one or the other.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

A highlight would be putting my current digital transformation team together. It was an under the radar project for a long time. But now some of the projects that we’re working on, whether it’s helping the rest of the organisation adopt agile ways of working or bringing the customer to the centre of design thinking to build products that are focused on the end user, are things everyone at bp is talking about. I am quite proud that we were the early adopters of some of these ways of thinking. It reaffirms that we were on the right track.

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

Being completely passionate about what I do. No two days are the same and there is constant opportunity for growth that makes every day an opportunity to learn. I don’t feel close to the point where I can say that I know everything about digital transformation, and I don’t think anyone ever could.

I derive a lot of inspiration from thinking about human interactions, psychology, behaviours and relationships. Digital transformation is about changing how we work because understanding people, the end user, is a critical part of ensuring that we can create the right customer experience for them. We need to understand how our customers think, what motivates them, and the needs that they have so that we can pre-empt their pain points and solve their problems. I find it fascinating that digital is enabling a lot of these shifts to happen so that everyone can become more efficient and productive.

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

On a personal level I’d also say “never settle for less than you are worth.” If you sell yourself short the people around you will always look at you that way. If you know what you’re capable of then hold yourself to those standards, because if you value yourself, others will take notice.

When it comes to a career in technology, a growth mindset is really important. As the world is changing and new technologies emerge it’s up to organisations like bp to hire the right people; people who have the right attitude and are willing to take the measured risks needed to help the organisations they work for grow. You can teach anyone to do anything, but you have to have a person who’s willing to learn, change and give up what they know in order to see things from a different perspective. That’s what technology companies need as they grow and evolve.

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

While there are certainly barriers that remain, I think the situation as a whole has dramatically improved. I can only speak for myself and my experiences at bp but I’ve felt supported here as a working mother. For nine years after my first son was born, and up until both my boys started at school, I had the flexibility I needed to work from home five days a week; running teams, working with agencies and working with remote teams. That opportunity was phenomenal and meant I could give my best to my home life while managing my career. I never felt like I had to make a choice between being a mother and having the career that I wanted.

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

For me mentorship is the most important thing. I’ve had some managers who have been extremely supportive – they could see what I was capable of and made sure I had the support I needed to advance my career. They provided me with opportunities to prove myself and encouraged me to fight for the roles that I wanted. In my experience it has been the leaders who are willing to trust in people rather than in pieces of paper or qualifications that have helped me grow in my career.

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

The one thing that I truly believe could accelerate the pace of change for women in technology would be a shift of the mindset to one where women are not simply compared to male colleagues and measured to standards set by an outdated system. A mindset that treats everyone fairly, respectfully and appreciates what they bring to the table regardless of their gender. A mindset that allows everyone to grow, contribute and make a difference at their own pace and in their own way, and recognizes that this approach will enable there to be more equity in the system overall.


Linda Mabhena featured

Inspirational Woman: Linda Mabhena | Founder & CEO, DLO Energy Resources Group

Linda Mabhena

Linda Mabhena is the Founder and CEO of DLO Energy Resources Group, a wholly owned black female Independent Power Producer (IPP) based in South Africa.

Formed in 2011, DLO Energy Resources Group develops, owns, builds and operates renewable energy power plants by generating electricity from clean natural resources such as the sun or wind. It comprises of an energy investment arm with a wide-ranging portfolio in the renewable energy sector including wind and solar Photo Voltaics (PV) technology. DLO currently owns one of the largest wind farms in Africa operating at a capacity of 244MW (megawatts), meaning 160,000 homes in South Africa are receiving carbon free solar power.

Linda resides in Johannesburg, South Africa with her husband and three daughters aged 6, 3 and 1 years. Her personal interests include travelling, reading, watching documentaries, movies, cooking and spending time with her family.

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

I am the Founder and Group CEO of DLO Energy Resources Group, we are a 100% black female own energy company headquartered in South Africa and operating on the African continent. We currently own and operate one of Africa’s largest wind farm projects. We recently also acquired Conco Energy Solutions which was part of the CIG group which was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange the company has since rebranded as DLO Energy Solutions and the company is a leader in engineering technology and innovation in the energy space.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Definitely I consistently plan my next steps in my career. From the age of 6 I knew roughly what I wanted to do but that only concretised at the age of 23 after studying law .I felt entrepreneurship was a concrete was of making a real change through employing people, creating smaller companies through the supply chain and contributing to the economy.

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

I have faced a number of challenges in my career the most obvious one being racism. Whilst South Africa is politically transform since apartheid we still experience economic exclusion as the black majority in our country with black people owning/managing less than 2% of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange for a country where the majority is black, this is abysmal to say the least. It is this economic exclusion that led to the recent riots in our country.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There are two developing and having equity in our wind farms and acquiring Conco Energy Solutions as this makes it the first black and majority female owned automation and protection engineering company in the country.

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

I have a strong work ethic , I am one person that is willing to put in the hours required to reach this level of success, however I think my key wining factor is that I am authentic and reliable people resonate with that. When I commit to a goal or outcome I make sure its done.

Linda Mabhena

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

I would say focus on technology that is not a nice to have but a must have. I would say that across business actually. As economies globally try to recover from the economic setbacks the companies that have had resilience are those that serve primary needs whether it be food, shelter, energy and fin tech. So when I decide what to invest in I always look at what people will always require regardless of the economic circumstances and for me electricity is in that top 10 of basic human needs. I would also say look at global trends always be a step ahead of where the world is heading in your area of interest.

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

Definitely. I am always the only female in most meeting with our clients, that has a lot to do with the number of women studying technical subjects. I don’t think the broader career spectrum is clearly presented to women, most times the perception is that if you study engineering you will always be on the field and you won’ t have the opportunity to achieve your personal goals such as family, but I am a firm believer in designing your life and career and making it work for you. I made the sacrifices earlier in my career so that I could also be a hands on mum later in my life. I think it is so important that women see more examples of what is possible.

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

Inclusion. Women need to be part of the key decision making however women also need to raise their hands for these opportunities. I think we tend to fear being under qualified and under estimate the art of learning on the job. Men don’t seem to struggle with this.

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?

People cannot become what they do not see for me it starts with showcasing the women in the space, further those women giving their time to educate and inspire the next generation. Women need to be intentional about opening the door for other women, often we are too preoccupied with being the only woman on the board and that serves no one.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

For me engineering new in South Africa is a good publication to keep up to date on what is happening in the sector. Globally I enjoy the Bloomberg New Energy outlook publication.


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


Sarah Ennett featured

Inspirational Woman: Sarah Ennett | IOT Manager, Digital Isle of Man

Sarah EnnettSarah joined Digital Isle of Man in September 2020 to manage the Isle of Man Government Accelerator​ Programme for IoT (Internet of Things), the initial aims of which are to promote the use of IoT for the social and economic development of the Island. 

She has worked in telecommunications for nearly 25 years in several key business areas; Product Management, Business Development, Head of Retail Operations, ISP Operations and HR.  Specialising in Manx Telecom for the last 9 years on developing global M2M (Machine to Machine) and IoT solutions, she was initially business development manager then gained her product management certification with responsibility for IoT product development strategy.

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

My name is Sarah, I am 45 years old and from the Isle of Man.  I’ve loved technology from a young age thanks to my Mum introducing me to Science Fiction books/TV and computer programming on our Vic 20.  I felt privileged to join a telecommunications company at an exciting time in 1996, when mobile phones and then internet services were first being sold to the mass market.  Technology advances came at such a fast pace each year that I got used to continuous learning and I feel blessed to have never been bored at work.  I now work for the Department for Enterprise, part of the Isle of Man Government, as Internet of Things manager.  It is a dream job for me, still being involved with assessing and deploying tech, but looking to see how we can grow our local economy at the same time as solving societal problems, with a big emphasis on education and collaboration.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I really didn’t, I had a bit of a turbulent time in my private life when studying for GCSEs then A Levels, so didn’t meet my potential at that time.  If we did get any careers advice then I don’t remember it, and there was also an assumption that if you got enough GCSEs then A Levels and university were your only option, in hindsight I think a more vocational approach would have suited me much better.  I managed to scrape together enough points to get a place on a HND course through university clearing, but it wasn’t a course I liked so after completing the first year I decided that I’d be better off entering the world of work.  As I was staying in Bristol during term time and coming back to the Island for summers and Christmas for a few years, I signed on at a temping agency.  It was the making of me really, I hadn’t felt very confident in myself but I had a strong work ethic and a curious mind and found that I was able to learn quickly and make myself useful in turning paper based processes into databases, which in turn built up my confidence and showed me that I did have options.

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

We all face challenges and the worst ones that spring to mind are when you’ve messed up something, being able to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them, no matter how hard, is usually the quickest path to getting support from those around you and allowing others to help you get back on track.  My favourite piece of advice in how to overcome adversity is to always remember there are three ways to look at an issue; you can either fix it, change how you are thinking about it, or move on from it.  It applies to many things, and I’ve often been guilty of spending too long on the first aspect of this, but when you aren’t able to change the issue itself then you can choose to downgrade how you perceive it or if that isn’t possible then you can take the initiative and find a way to move on.  Life is too short to be unhappy, ask for help and take responsibility – we all need support from time to time, and most people who have received it are more than happy to reciprocate to others, it’s a virtuous circle.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve had so many highlights but as a product manager I was proudest of the period when we launched a new IoT focussed product set and saw our revenues double year on year and for the four years it was my key focus.  There is something really special about working with a small team of passionate people who are all striving to beat targets and make your product and support processes the best they can be, but who have your back when things aren’t going as well.

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

It is hard to choose just one, I’m a fast reader and a fast learner which is probably one of the biggest reasons I have been successful, the fact that I can and do digest a lot of information on many different topics to challenge myself and continually learn from others.

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

Always be learning, and realise that doesn’t always mean a specific training course, though I’ve always grabbed those with open arms when they are offered!  A really good way to keep fresh is to follow as many thought leaders as you can think of on Linked In, and read the articles they write and the thoughts they post, and push yourself to get involved in a conversation about them too.  If you look at the comments you often see people disagree, and sometimes that is the best way to learn that for a particular topic there isn’t just one ‘correct’ way to do things.  Aside from keeping an eye on future technology trends I also love to read up about the future world of work and best practice management and organisation design, they are fascinating topics and very useful if you are looking to grow as a leader.

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

I like to be optimistic, and I certainly don’t want to put anyone off getting into tech, it is such an exciting and rewarding career.  There has been a huge change in attitudes over my career to date and I’d like to think there are very few, if any remaining barriers for success now, once you are in a tech career.  The main thing that springs to mind is recruiting people into a tech career in the first place.  We need more representation, the fact my Mum liked computers made it normal in my mind, but even so I didn’t know what that could mean career wise for me.  We need to talk more about the types of careers that exist, and how creative they can be, we need to showcase women who are thriving and inspire the next generation to join us in even greater numbers.

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

If companies are really serious about equality, then I think they should invest in initiatives like training about unconscious bias. We are starting to attract more women into tech which is great, but when you look at the more senior levels and especially the boardroom, then the gender balance can still be pretty poor in a lot of companies.  I think as a society we need to understand and respect the differences in style that being raised in a very gendered way, which I don’t think has changed very much (hello pink themed girls toys), can mean to you as an adult, and which are really hard to change the older you get.  I know I tend to be very honest, to a fault, and the style of language that is my natural style is very different to the majority of men at a similar point in their career.  I’m not saying that women should be given any advantage, but I am saying that our default view of what is a strong and effective leader, needs to be challenged and changed.  Sometimes a little more honesty or humility or humble language is needed in a boardroom conversation, it doesn’t mean the person with that style is any less talented or hungry for success, just they have a different way of achieving it, and we need a diverse group of opinions and different ways of looking at problem solving to be really successful.

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 do think careers advice is key to this, and it isn’t just a responsibility of schools to do this in a more exciting and structured way, it can be all of us as employers and parents and mentors.  Help make a careers hub in your local spaces, bring together lots of case studies and examples of the types of jobs that are exciting and well paid and in demand for your particular area and demonstrate real example pathways for people to gain the skills they need.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

If there isn’t a local networking group for professional women, then I recommend you start one, because having the ability to talk to your peers, to seek mentors and to offer to mentor others, is one of the most empowering and supportive things you can do.  Hopefully in another generation or so it won’t need to be a gendered thing!


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


Keeley Crockett featured

Inspirational Woman: Keeley Crockett | IEEE Member & Professor in Computational Intelligence, Manchester Metropolitan University

Keeley CrockettI am a professor in computational intelligence at the School of Computing and Mathematics Manchester Metropolitan University.

In addition to this, I lead the machine intelligence theme in the centre for advanced computational science. I am currently chair of the IEEE Task Force on Ethical and Social Implications of Computational Intelligence and the academic co-lead for the Greater Manchester AI Foundry.

I’m passionate about practical based artificial intelligence ethics. One recent project I have been working on is with small businesses and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which has been in evaluating The Turing and the Information Commissioners Office guidance on explaining AI decisions guidance.

I teach on undergraduate, masters and degree apprenticeship programmes topics such as data management, machine learning, databases, data and AI governance and AI ethics. I am also a STEM ambassador and love engagement activities and school outreach at national and international level. I hope to inspire young people and get them excited about STEM.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No! I followed what I enjoyed doing. At school I got my first taste of coding using BBC Basic and robotics. I also realised quite early on that I enjoyed helping others, but I never dreamed I would end up as a teacher or lecturer. I have often taken opportunities that have come by, even if it puts me completely out of my comfort zone. Once in academia, I found that I fell in love the variety of the job, supporting and helping students and conducting exciting research.

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

Rejection is always hard. As a PHD student, my first conference paper rejection was tough, and I cried for a good few days – not getting a promotion and not really understanding why is also difficult.

To overcome these challenges, I took feedback on board and asked for advice from not only my mentor, but other people I trusted in academia, which really helped. When I was ready, I tried again. This is one of the main reasons why building a network is so important.”

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

As a sufferer of imposter syndrome, I never expected to be awarded a chair in computational intelligence last year. I had applied for this a few years previously but was unsuccessful. I sought feedback and tried to work on my weak points. Being a professor is a privileged position, but fundamentally I’m still the same person as I was before and always will be.

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

If you don’t succeed, try, try again’ is my motto. I have never been a straight A student, and it always seems to take slightly longer for me to find a bug in a piece of code. Despite this, I have never given up and will always ask for help if needed. Sometimes the road to success is not straight, but all those small adventures and setbacks build character and determination.

The second and equally important factor is having a good mentor. Having an informal mentor has been a great inspiration to me, especially when faced with career choices and challenges. Finally, respecting all people and their opinions. In my current work on building trustworthy ethical artificial intelligence products, solutions, and services, I need to listen and communicate with all stakeholders, including the public!

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

Put yourself forward to lead projects that are out of your comfort zone. You will face new challenges, but you will be able to apply existing your knowledge and expertise in a new way. I always believe you learn more by doing!

Join a professional body such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer (IEEE) and get involved with the varying initiatives available. These are a great to attend conferences and build a network. In addition to this, you should continue to learn and develop skills in relation to existing trends and learn a new skill through one of the many online courses available.

As mentioned previously, having a mentor is extremely helpful when finding your career in technology. This does not have to be in your own organisation and can be through schemes through your professional body. Lastly, going on some unconscious bias training and promoting yourself through your LinkedIn profile provides an excellent opportunity to meet contacts.

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

There is still a lack of women role models in technology, and consequently, a lack of mentors. Role models need to be visible to inspire others, and unfortunately, it appears that women are less likely to shout about their achievements. There is also the issue of affinity bias, where managers are more likely to employ, promote and socialise with someone more similar to them. Organisations need to create inclusive and engaging workplaces and a culture where diversity in teams is the norm.

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

Companies need to ensure they have good diversity and inclusion polices and practically implement them wherever possible. The benefits of diverse product development teams, especially in AI, is now established, but is it is not always put into practice. A caveat is when you simply do not have enough diversity in the first place. For example, women may be asked to be on interview panels, considerably more than a male, which can lead to a heavier workload.

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 would like to empower all women and encourage them not to have imposter syndrome. Women should be confident in their abilities and be a voice in the strategic direction of a business that can lead to a diverse and inclusive team. They should also feel confident in designing codes, testing software solutions, and building machine learning models, as they are completely equal to male counterparts when it comes to all of this.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) is an international professional organisation which hosts a number of events to promote and support women of all ages from schoolgirls to those in senior career positions in developing their careers in tech and all STEM subjects. One of the annual highlights is the WIE International Leadership Conference.


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


Alexandra Steven-Boniecki featured

Inspirational Woman: Alexandra Steven-Boniecki | CEO, 1080 VMC

Alexandra Steven-BonieckiAlexandra Steven-Boniecki graduated in cognitive psychology with the goal of using software to make learning easier for people.

Having acquired over 20 years’ experience in international broadcasting, business (software) analysis & training, and production technology, her biggest project to date is the production of “Searching for Skylab, America’s Forgotten Triumph”, the first feature film ever made about Skylab, America’s first space station. This multi-award-winning historical document captures the memories of the astronauts, engineers and their families and presents them with rarest NASA archive material researched for over 15 years. If you’d like to know more about this subject, visit skylab.space.

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

At the turn of the century, proudly clutching my diploma in cognitive psychology from one of the best universities in Paris I set off for London with one desire: to figure out how computers could help us learn more efficiently. I had been warned, though. Our teacher’s message was clear from the start: the likelihood of us finding a job in our profession was next to zero.

They were right. I found a job a completely different field, with an American TV broadcaster and thus began a quest for my place within it. It was here that I met my husband.

Though I enjoyed working in broadcasting, I longed to be a teacher. But then reality hit. The proposed starting salary wouldn’t even pay my mortgage. I cried my eyes out for a week.

I did not see it then, but my passion has already pushed me towards training my colleagues on intricate software solutions and as the broadcasting industry was one of the fastest-developing and technology-advanced working environments the need for software staff training and support was also growing. I found my niche.

Soon, I was working for one of the biggest software players, delivering training, traveling the world, thinking up solutions, and analysing software. It remains one of my favoured places to be within the industry.

Eventually, my passion for using computers to learn more efficiently pushed me to launch my own company, 1080VMC Here I assisted experts who wished to share their knowledge in the virtual world and wanted more insight into what digital support already existed.

I was approached then by an expert I did not consider – my husband. Having researched the NASA archives for over 15 years and becoming an award-winning author in the process, he realised that he was probably the only person in the world who knew how to make a film about the story of the Skylab missions, the USA’s first space station. And that he had to do it now, so that the surviving astronauts would be able to tell their stories first-hand. And from this the documentary Searching for Skylab: America’s Forgotten Triumph was born.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no.

I look for tasks that best fit my life and my passion. Building “my thing” is my priority. In that sense, I never planned a “career”. I look for tasks, jobs and solutions that I think are moving me towards my goals. Sometimes, it means accepting necessary work while awaiting that perfect, life-changing role.

My ambition is not to become the leader of some tech giant. My dream is to find answers to tough questions and hopefully make a positive difference to at least some lives.

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

During my university studies I found myself homeless at times. I never had to sleep on the streets, but I’ve been forced to squat. I was also living in a Christian shelter in one room with around 40 other young women. Withoutt enough bunk-beds available I was offered space by a kind girl who worked nights and slept when I was at the university.

This part of my life didn’t fit with a childhood of great schools and caring parents, but Paris was as far as I could get away to make my very own start in life. I saw my friends molly-coddled and yes, most enjoy top positions in their field today, but I wanted to find my own path. I didn’t know how much, much harder this would be, of course, but I like to think I grew as a person and am much happier knowing what I achieved, I did on my own.

During my job career, which began for me in London, I was bullied by my superiors. I saw girlfriends driven to attempting suicide by theirs. I have lived through redundancy. I’ve been subjected to mobbing. I’ve gone through burnout.

All were tough experiences and being a woman with no high-ranking male support doesn’t make a career any easier. Think of Anne Boleyn and her relatively weak support network that, unlike in the case of Catherine of Aragon, could not protect her life against the will of a king. Think of the career of Mileva Marić-Einstein as opposed to Marie Sklodowska-Curie. I don’t think very much has changed today.

Of course, you sometimes get hurt deeply and when you do, you need to lean on your environment to get better. Do you have loved ones or great friends who care for you deeply? Maybe, there’s a friendly stranger? A support group? A helpful professional? Recognising that we also need help can be difficult and yet to me, this is the quickest way to heal. Focus on your problems and healing will be hard. Focus on how to get better and you will be rewarded. The support of others is invaluable. You can grow from it and then give back.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Without a doubt producing the movie Searching for Skylab.

It started off easy. Self shot, self made, self produced – my company could afford a small new project.

I didn’t specialise in movies, but this was about sharing knowledge. I wanted to do a top job and make a movie that would become an enjoyable learning experience.

I have never been hit with so many challenges at so many levels all at once. I’ve never grown as quickly. You make something this big and every weakness you ever had in any area you can think off is likely to hit you.

It’s a miracle the project didn’t crush me. I have no big studio or big money behind me and my marketing is very modest as a result, but I have the support of the astronauts, their families, NASA engineers, experts and fans, all of whom were instrumental in helping me finish the film at all by supporting us on Kickstarter. A vindication of their trust in me and my team has been rewarded with the film winning 11 awards to date.

And then the final challenge we’ve had to overcome in this story of this film was Covid. It’s been nearly impossible for most of us to travel and even more difficult to meet these pioneers of space in person. That’s why we came up with the idea to offer an encounter with the astronauts online, not just being a spectator. The event is for people to spend an afternoon watching our documentary, Searching for Skylab at a digital cinema and then a panel with a rare astronaut reunion. We even have a few tickets for people who want an exclusive opportunity to chat live with one of the astronauts.

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

Resilience, love, trust and resourcefulness are the top factors that come to mind.

  • Resilience – probably a character trait that helps with focusing on your journey and consciously choosing your path.
  • Resourcefulness – what do I still need to learn and where can I find the best teachers? It is to me the ultimate tool finder.
  • Love – in its much broader meaning. Love & understanding of your family, love and support from your friends, love & guidance from various experts. Without them, we would have gone under long before any release of the movie.
  • Trust – possibly the most difficult of them all. Trust in yourself, trust in people, and to trust in life to bring you what you need when you need it. All very tough points when you realise how many skills still elude you, how many people take you for a ride and how many times your ideas about what you need right differ from what life actually brings you.

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

I think that anyone who follows their ultimate passion and is open to take on challenges and grow from them rather than get frustrated and stuck or scared by them, can achieve great things. Two great quotes come to mind: “The path is more important than the destination” and “Aim for the stars, if you fail, you might land on the Moon.".

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

I’ve experienced lower pay than my male and junior colleagues. I was refused promotion for years when I really tried (I only tried that once in a job). I had my ideas presented by my boss as his own, so yes, I believe that many barriers still exist. I think they are mostly due to a power struggle culture. But I’ve been seeing changes around me in the last 10 years, and I work with many skilled women today who are in key tech positions.

I think women deal with business differently to men. They have by nature different priorities and fight differently for their positions. There’s a general lack of understanding between the sexes, especially in business and what you don’t understand you typically reject, right? How do you overcome that? That’s a great subject for a university psychology department to research.

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

There’s a saying in Poland that I like a lot: “A fish always rots from its head.” I’d start by changing the culture at the head of the companies that wish to support progress and introduce an obligatory self-awareness training focused on perceiving, understanding and accepting differences.

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’ve been working with many women in tech jobs, so I’m quite surprised the figure is this low. But if I could, I would start by creating a special self-awareness coaching course and make it a requirement for all heads of the tech companies. Would that be enough? Probably not, but it could be a start.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I probably fit the bill of a tech nerd. Male, female, I don’t think it matters. What I found mattered most was building up self-awareness and personal growth. To get better at business I started a great training in Germany, NLS with Mark Galal, a German NLP and sales expert who mesmerised me by his teaching skills.

I then joined seminars by Tony Robbins, whom I admire greatly. I love to learn on masterclass.com and coursera.org, both offer outstanding trainings on many subjects.

I also am closely following mindvalley.com, Wane Dyer’s teachings and Ekhart Tolle. I find in our world you need to be able to put things into perspective and this is where I find my inspiration.

Last, but not least, I find much inspiration from the story of Skylab itself. Ever since I grasped the overview from the movie, I’ve been mesmerised by the variety of inspirational angles of this incredible NASA project.


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


Vindhya Joseph featured

Inspirational Woman: Vindhya Joseph | Engineering Manager, Unibuddy

Vindhya JosephMy current role is as an Engineering Mentor (Manager) at Unibuddy. We're all very thrilled about our Series B funding and looking forward to the next phase of accelerated growth.

There are a number of interesting and challenging projects that we are working on – many related to enabling our platform to scale massively, others related to new features and capabilities to support new markets that we are entering. (Shameless plug – if you love technology and love solving hard technical problems, Unibuddy is hiring ☺)

I have been interested in engineering since my teenage years, my aunt, who was a senior scientist in DRDO (India's Defence Research Organization) was my inspiration, and I grew up watching her and wanting to be an aerospace engineer. However, when I joined college, I took Computer Science as my major, and I have been hooked ever since. The formative years of my career were spent at Microsoft, in the Windows core kernel team. After 12 years in the industry, I took a 6 year break to raise my kids, then moved along with my family from WA, USA to Bangalore, and re-entered the workforce as a senior engineer in a startup incubator. The tech landscape had changed quite significantly in the meantime, and I had a super fun time learning the LAMP & MEAN stacks, web application programming etc. I also had a short stint as an entrepreneur, which was also a huge learning experience for me.

Other than tech, I love hiking, running and travel.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never formally planned my career. I have always enjoyed working with technology, and have loved solving problems. I always saw opportunities in challenges that others saw as too difficult or mundane. My career strategy primarily consisted of finding interesting and challenging problems to solve.

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

My biggest challenge was taking a 6 year break to raise my children. I wanted to be fully present for my kids when they were little. The decision to take a break from my career was a very scary one to make. I was afraid I would become irrelevant. Afraid it would be difficult to re-enter the workforce. There weren't any programs designed to help mothers re-enter the work force. No support system in place. Especially in the tech industry where your skills can become seriously outdated in a few years, it was a huge risk to take. My strategy to re-enter the workforce primarily consisted of 2 approaches – first was to volunteer my skills and time to organizations that were desperately in need to senior tech talent, the second was to rapidly up-skill myself and bring myself up to date with the latest in technology.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

It is hard to pick any one achievement – for me, every challenging problem solved brings a sense of achievement, and I am constantly challenging myself. So I would say it has been a fun journey so far, and I have enjoyed all aspects of the journey.

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

I would pick 2 factors that I believe have been significant factors in my growth – the first is not focusing on how others see me or what others think of me. I try to be data driven, I stand by my convictions, but am always open to feedback and constructive criticism. The second is not focusing on the career ladder or job titles and focusing instead on learning. By keeping the focus strongly on learning, I have acquired skills, and accumulated experience in various roles and technologies. As the years go by, I find that the skills are transferrable and applicable to various problem spaces, and the experiences have given me an intuitive sense that I often rely on in problem solving.

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

Two tips:

Be a lifelong learner - be curious & inquisitive. A learning/growth mindset is the most valuable asset to build.

Be your own champion – do not rely on external validation or recognition of your abilities. Believe in yourself and pursue your path with conviction.

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

These days, the barriers for success are much lower at the start of your career. It is easier to go up the lower rungs of the ladder. However, it still is the case, that unless you have a strong support system, women have to choose between career and family. I was lucky to have an extremely supportive husband because of whom I did not have to choose – I could have it all. Family friendly policies at the workplace are the first step towards enabling women to succeed. Policies that support flexible working hours, flexible working location options, flexible benefits – these are things that I found helpful.

There is also often a lack of role models and effective mentors for women. Since most people in senior leadership positions are men, women who are growing through the career ladder lack effective mentors who can help them. Women often learn to emulate male leadership styles which may not be their natural style. However, I believe that you don't necessarily have to emulate current leaders to become a leader. Follow your own unique style. And most importantly, believe in yourself – your conviction in yourself makes a huge difference in how you are perceived. Of course, belief in oneself is not a substitute for skills & capabilities. You have to be really, really good at your craft.

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

The most important thing companies can do is to make the workplace equitable to men and women. For this, leadership, people team, managers, everyone has to think empathetically, think deeply about what will make the workplace equitable. Maybe it is ensuring that all meetings take place during core working hours so women can get back to their families in time for dinner. Maybe it is providing transportation options so women can travel safely back home after work. May be it is flexible hours so women can take classes to upskill themselves.

Men need to actively engage in the solution – by asking questions and listening to understand, without filters, and without bias.

Companies also need to encourage budding leaders, give them opportunities and take chances with them.

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 would create more outreach programs where women in tech and tech leadership roles can inspire young girls to pursue STEM subjects. Also more mentorship programs by women leaders to mentor young girls starting their careers in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

    1. Grace hopper celebration
    2. Women in Tech
    3. Career Strategies for Women that Work podcast by JJ DiGeronimo
    4. Accelerate your Impact

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