Tara McGeehan CGI featured

Inspirational Woman: Tara McGeehan | President, CGI UK

Tara McGeehan CGIAs President of CGI’s UK operations, Tara leads a team of approximately 6,000 professionals and consultants who bring all of CGI’s end-to-end capabilities and industry and technology expertise to clients across these regions.

A CGI member for more than 17 years, Tara previously served as Senior Vice-President responsible for the North and Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Business Unit where she developed business across commercial and government industries, including high-profile digital engagements such as the UK smart metering programme. With 20 years’ industry experience, Tara has a detailed understanding of these markets and their implications and opportunities for CGI’s clients.

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

I have been President at CGI UK since January 2018, leading a team of approximately 6,000 professionals and consultants. I have been a CGI member for over 17 years and have over 20 years’ industry experience, including working at the National Grid, where I built up a detailed understanding of energy, utilities and telecoms. I am passionate about encouraging young people and women to enter the technology industry and enabling women and girls to pursue their careers in STEM.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’m not the sort of person to sit down and plan their career out, so I never have. Like many people, once I got my degree, I applied for various jobs.  The first role I took was fantastic at letting me try my hand at a variety of different things which is how I drifted into IT.  I would have limited myself if I sat down and planned it all out. Afterall there’s no one career formula, and by not having a plan I’ve been able to be a part of some incredible projects I might not have otherwise.

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

Looking back, I can see that the biggest challenge I faced was coming out of technical and moving into management, as I struggled to let go of the detail. The move required a massive shift in thought processes. While you might be able to do something quicker or someone might do something in a way you wouldn’t, you have to learn that you no longer have the time to do it and you need to let your direct reports develop and grow their skills. The challenge was learning to offer an end position and let people get there themselves and in their way. I’m sure if you asked them though they’d say I still haven’t let go of the details, so maybe I’m just kidding myself!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

On a personal level, I’d probably say the work I did in the energy and utilities team.  We doubled our team and had an annual 10% growth for the five years I was leading, which has continued to grow. I take a lot of pride in having expanded the team to take on not just utilities but also telecoms, and the smart metering programme they launched a few years ago was the biggest win the team had ever had.

I’m also very proud of the human impact that CGI has as a company. We recently announced that CGI won the DBS appointment, a big win for the government team but it’s also really important safeguarding software which will go a long way in protecting vulnerable people. It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of a company that values human impact to such an extent and actively strives to make sure it’s doing good.

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

Luck! I’m quite lucky as a person. I’ve always been the one you don’t want to sit next to at a raffle because I’ll have the winning ticket. Therefore, because of this, I don’t pretend for a second I’ve earned everything, but I suppose I’ve always valued detail. Making sure you know all the details – no matter how small – increases your chances to get things across the line and notice mistakes before they snowball into failings. I know it’s difficult when you’re inundated, but it’s so worth it because dealing with major mistakes when your busy is even worse.

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

My top piece of advice would be to embrace your curiosity and commit to lifelong learning. In tech, the skills and tools we need to work effectively are changing and developing constantly. It’s vital to stay on top of these advancements by adapting and keeping your skills current.

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

One hurdle that women can encounter is returning to work after maternity leave or a career break. If employees are offered support before, during and after parental leave in the form of remote training, they are able to return to the office confident and on the ball with recent developments in their space, rather than feeling that they have fallen out of the loop. Providing training courses for women whilst they are on maternity leave is a key part of our diversity and inclusion strategy at CGI UK.

A common misconception is that there is only one path to a career in tech, and that it follows a traditional route. Tech companies can work to encourage more people, including women, to follow the best path for them, whether that be through pursuing a degree or choosing an apprenticeship. Our apprenticeships have no upper age limit, meaning that men and women can join straight after school or later in life to gain the necessary experience for a career change.

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

Companies need to support women to advance their careers no matter what pathway they have followed, whether it is traditional or not. Companies should also encourage women to consider more senior roles by offering opportunities to shadow colleagues, so that they are able to find out more about what different roles within the business entails. It is important to support women before, during and after they have been on maternity leave by providing remote training opportunities. This will enable them to return to work feeling that they are still in the loop and confident to resume their roles.

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

I would make sure that anyone considering a career in tech, including women and those thinking about a career change or deciding what to do when they leave school/university, is given full information about the options out there in tech. Tech is a broad ranging sector, with lots of varied roles suitable for problem-solvers and the naturally curious. Companies should empower existing staff to consider aiming for more senior roles or even horizontal moves within companies, as well as encourage young people to consider a pathway that leads to a career in STEM.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Staying current is so important, so I always make sure I’m reading a book relevant to my field, listening to a podcast, or following websites. Although these are valuable, the most significant resource is networking. Women are notoriously poor at networking, so getting better at that would benefit us all. After all, knowing people means you’re more likely to get better opportunities. When I was first starting my career, I made sure to join local women’s networks. There are some great ones out there, either near you or relevant to your role that is worth joining.

I’m also delighted to be on the board with Tech UK, which offers some amazing training courses and networking opportunities, so I would recommend checking out their website.  


Inspirational Woman: Dr. Kiki Leutner | Business Psychologist & Data Scientist, UCL

Kiki LeutnerDr. Kiki Leutner is a business psychologist and Data Scientist at University College London (UCL).

She is Director of Assessments and Innovation at HireVue, where she develops innovative, data driven assessments that are fair and psychometrically valid. Her academic work is published in peer reviewed journals, including work on the intersection of machine learning and psychometrics. She is an expert in innovative psychometric assessment, personality theory, and behavioral analytics.

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

I currently work as Director of Assessments Innovation at HireVue and also as a lecturer in the psychology faculty at UCL. HireVue provides video interviewing and talent assessment solutions used by over 700 organisations globally to transform the way companies discover, hire and develop the best talent. My role at HireVue is to ensure that we build the fairest and most predictive pre-hire assessments possible, using the wealth of technology and science available to us. I believe that the key is bringing together business psychology and data science and machine learning.

I came to the UK for university, studying a combination of Philosophy, Psychology and Computer Science. I undertook a PhD at UCL, sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which allowed me to learn about machine learning and data science, and bring this to my Psychology research. I started focusing on developing new methods of personality profiling. For example, I used free text data to develop personality profiles, and also developed an image-based personality test.

There’s so much discussion around ethics in Computer Science. It’s important to appreciate the context of human behavioural data and the specific implications it has. There is a longstanding tradition in Psychology to carefully evaluate datasets. And specifically, in Business Psychology, to check and evaluate how algorithms affect different groups of people, and to make sure they are fair. By working at the intersection of data science and psychology, I try to bring the two together. It is also the focal point of a class I teach at UCL. I lecture both Computer Science and Psychology students, bridging the gap between methodology and specific concerns in handling human behavioural data, whilst bringing a psychology ethics perspective to both.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never planned my career, but I am always thinking about what I will do next. I am the kind of person who can never do just one thing at a time – I always have several projects on the go.

I feel as though I have been very fortunate in the opportunities that I have come across, and the mentors I’ve met along the way. I try to only pick opportunities that are truly of interest to me, and where I feel good about the people I’m working with. For example, I started working for MindX (later acquired by HireVue) when it was a young start-up because I was very impressed with the fast progress that they were making, and because my work was central to their mission and product.

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

There are challenges in every career, as well as in life in general – it’s important to find a situation in which you are comfortable, working with people who care and are passionate.

In terms of how I overcame these challenges, I strongly believe the answer lies in the people you work with. Having a good team really accelerates your output and shows the value of working with a diverse group of people – everyone brings something different to the table.

Working in technology and academia, a constant challenge will always be the lack of gender parity – you are almost always the only woman, or one of few women. This has meant throughout my career, I’ve had to ensure I’m strategic in how I navigate certain situations. I always wanted to stay true to myself and speak up if I felt something wasn’t right. I believe that being true to my values has worked in my favour.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Learning to trust my own judgement and ability! Especially as a young woman, you probably have more of a clue than people might make you feel. Most people don’t know what they’re doing either!  It’s so easy to become preoccupied by how other people may see you, so empowering myself to trust my own judgement is really important. It’s uncomfortable but it’s totally worth to keep insisting and making sure that people are aware of your background, title, or the work that you do, and to push your own agenda. Do the hard work, but don’t forget to claim your reward for it!

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

Balance! It’s key to have good friends, family and partners in your life, to create a really strong support network. You need to set up a good life for yourself, otherwise you can easily burn out.

I think that this is particularly relevant in the start-up world. You always have to give your most and there are high stakes and high emotions. Having stable relationships and supportive people help to balance this out.

Another key factor is having great mentors – for women especially. Without mentors, I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate things like salary and I probably would’ve said yes to opportunities that weren’t right for me! Knowing that you have someone to turn to when it comes to big decisions helps to build your confidence.

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

Surround yourself with good, supportive people and find mentors you trust and that inspire you. Education, whether formal or not, is so important – I never stop learning and would advise anyone trying to excel in their career to do the same. Trust your instincts with which jobs are right for you and don’t compromise.

One of my mentors always says, “do the job that you want to do – don’t wait for someone to give you permission, just do it.”

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

Of course, there are barriers – not just for women in tech, but for all women. Until women can benefit from the same support from the law, the government, the people around them, they will always be at a disadvantage. Technology is a very competitive industry, so I suppose that often results in people trying to drive out women more – it’s high stakes, both in terms of money and prestige.

I try to lead by example and show that it can be done – it’s important to individually empower women in tech, rather than only speaking about the topic as a whole. One of the best ways to overcome these barriers is to find other women in tech and talk to them! It’s really important to have open conversations – things that we experience in the industry are being experienced by many other women. Shared experiences are valuable and give credence to how you are feeling.

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

I think having structure within the company is key – formal pay structures, for example, have shown to reduce the gender pay gap. Another really important aspect is parental leave – I believe there should be parental leave for both men and women that is normalised and won’t disadvantage any particular individual.

Businesses should see increasing diversity as a great opportunity, as it truly is beneficial – it has been shown by studies time and time again that a diverse workforce makes for a more productive and profitable business. Most of all, businesses need to empower and support the minorities in their company – give them true opportunity and create and inclusive culture that values competence.

I find it really encouraging to work for a company that doesn’t just talk the talk, but also walks the walk! Over 50% of our executive team at HireVue are women, which is quite rare in the tech industry. We were also named on the 2019 Shatter List, which recognises technology companies that are actively shattering the glass ceiling for women in technology, through its programs and culture.

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

I’d give companies the strength to be bold! We know what tools promote competence and diversity- it’s time to implement! Trust the evidence- this will increase profitability. Formal selection, promotion, and pay processes. Flexible working hours and mentor networks. Parental leave provisions that are equal for both genders, and support with childcare.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are loads of great women that you can follow on Twitter, as a start! A couple of my recommendations would be @cindygallop and @NathalieNahai.

Another area of focus for me is competence – this is a great article on why so many incompetent men become leaders: https://hbr.org/2013/08/why-do-so-many-incompetent-men

Events are an important and easy way to meet likeminded individuals and discuss shared experiences – some of the best are run by Future Females.

Education is important to me – and that doesn’t just mean textbooks! It’s key to educate yourself on the history and actuality of feminism and equality. My starting suggestions would be:

Lastly, it’s important to keep a sense of humour… Laugh about it at @manwhohasitall.


Alice Skeats featured

Inspirational Woman: Alice Skeats | Senior PR & Communications Manager, Nextdoor

Alice SkeatsAlice Skeats is the Senior PR & Communications Manager at Nextdoor, the UK’s largest and fastest-growing private social network used by more than 16,200 neighbourhoods in the UK.

With ten years experience in PR & Communications, Alice has a wide range of knowledge and experience spanning both the private and public sector. Prior to Nextdoor, Alice spent five years working in PR & Communications in policing, in roles at the City of London Police and FACT. She’s previously lead a national campaign on fake beauty products to raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit cosmetics and electrical items, which went global.

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

My name is Alice Skeats, i’m the Senior PR & Communications Manager at Nextdoor and was born and bred in Southend-on-Sea. I have over ten years of experience in PR and Communications, the majority of which is in the public sector, particularly policing and crime; including two years at the City of London Police leading PR for a police unit dedicated to combating fake goods and piracy and three years in the film/TV industry protecting the creative rights of film/TV studios.

I’ve always been passionate about where I live and have always wanted to work for an organisation which makes a real difference to people's lives and so when the role appeared at Nextdoor I jumped at the opportunity. Nextdoor encompasses so many passions and values I feel strongly about. Nextdoor’s main aim is to help neighbours build stronger, safer and happier local communities. Having lived in Southend-on-Sea most of my life (minus the three years I spent studying at University in Hull) I have seen how a vibrant community can help a town and its residents thrive. I began my career working in the press team at Southend-on-Sea Council and so I witnessed first hand the amazing people in the community working to bring Southend together. Local communities are at the heart of Nextdoor and I love the fact that every day I am surrounded by inspiring stories of UK neighbours who are using the platform to make positive changes in their communities. Technology, particularly social media, more recently is getting a bad name. We are a nation of smartphones, tablets, and multiple social media profiles - we are more connected than ever, but are in fact more disconnected than ever. What I love about Nextdoor, is that it uses technology and social media to combat exactly this. It is all about creating real human connection. On Nextdoor you connect with your neighbours and can get to know them online, to develop meaningful relationships offline.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I remember being at school and not knowing what career path to follow but I knew I didn’t want a ‘traditional role’ that the careers teacher would have told us about. I have always loved building strong connections and working with people from all different walks of life and different ranks. I am the person who strikes up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. Whether it’s on a train, walking to the shops or in a public loo! Whilst at university I spent one summer working in the press office at Essex Police which gave me my first taste of PR and I never looked back.

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

A large part of my career has been working in very male-dominated environments. As a young woman, this can sometimes seem daunting, however, my advice would be to always remind yourself of your value. You were hired for a reason; your knowledge and expertise. Self-assurance in yourself and your abilities are so important in such environments.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am a strong believer that no matter how old you are or where you are in your career, you are always still learning and so I look forward to many achievements still to come in the future. However, some of my favourites so far have to be landing my dream job at Nextdoor, being a spokesperson for the film/tv industry on the BBC’s The One Show on a piece about piracy, as well as launching and running a campaign on the dangers of fake beauty/electrical goods which hit the front page of the Daily Mail, and was also featured in every national UK paper and national TV and radio.

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

Always pushing myself that one step further. I recently watched Brene Brown’s documentary Call to Courage which is centred on pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I believe not staying within my comfort zone and always striving for success and progression has certainly helped me in my career.

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

Keep yourself updated with the latest tech news and trends. Also be open with your manager about what you want to achieve, where you want to be and how you want to develop. A member of staff who is eager to learn and go the extra mile is always the greatest asset to any team.

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

We’ve come a long way but the STEM/Technology sector is still under-represented when it comes to women. There are some amazing people and organisations championing girls and women to join the tech industry. We need to do more to highlight the exciting and varied roles within the sector at a much earlier stage and continue to push things like internships, women in tech talks and mentorship programmes.

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

I feel really lucky to work for an organisation where women are so well represented. Our CEO, Sarah Friar, is a real champion for women in business and STEM and we also have a high number of women in leadership roles. At Nextdoor we also have a regular speaker series, profiling interesting and inspiring women across all industries as well as women’s network which is always looking at ways to provide additional support and development to staff.

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 think the key is to show people that STEM supports so many sectors. STEM roles can support all industries from fashion to film-making. By raising awareness of the varied roles and pushing this into the education system early on via mentorships, events & special programmes.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I personally don’t stick to tech specific events or resources. I love a good podcast. My favourite podcast is The Guilty Feminist and funnily enough, the latest episode was all about Women in STEM. If you haven’t listened to the Guilty Feminist or that episode go check it out. It’s a great podcast that discusses a wide range of topics from feminist marriage to women in science. Our CEO also holds the most inspiring events for women called Ladies Who Launch. I would recommend anyone looking to network or just simply to be reawoken with ambition and motivation to attend. I went to the Belfast event last year and have come away with a network of mentors, advisors but most importantly friends.


Jennifer Bainbridge featured

Inspirational Woman: Jennifer Bainbridge | Structure Trade Finance Analyst, BP

Jennifer Bainbridge

Jennifer Bainbridge originally started to study Veterinary Medicine, having wanted to be a vet her whole life.

However, she dropped this after a year as she wasn’t enjoying it, and instead chose a liberal Arts and Sciences degree at the University of Birmingham in Economics and Chemistry. During university, she took part in the ‘Women in Trading and Finance’ programme run by BP, which led her to apply for BP’s Finance and Risk Graduate Programme. She’s now a Structured Trade Finance Analyst at BP Integrated Supply and Trading in London, working with emerging tech.

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

My name is Jennifer Bainbridge and I am currently a Structured Trade Finance Analyst in BP’s Supply and Trading division, however I am moving roles to Commercial Development in October. I’m on the graduate rotation programme at BP, which sees me doing three year-long rotations.

I was born in the UK but spent my childhood in the Middle East before returning to the UK where I have been since (except for a year abroad spent in Australia). I graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2017 with a BSc in Liberal Arts and Sciences (Chemistry and Economics).

I would describe myself as a confident, bubbly, and extroverted person, who likes to be challenged and work in a fast-paced, team-based environment. In that sense, my roles have been and are perfect for me as they combine working with people and relationship building with problem solving.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did but what I do now versus what I planned is very different!  I always wanted to be a vet until I went to university and found out it wasn’t for me. So, at the age of 19, I was back to square one, trying to work out what I wanted to do.

I started business and management as they seemed like useful, transferable subjects. Shortly into the course, I realised that business was too easy. I missed the hard sciences like chemistry that I’d studied at school. My tutor at the time, who was an economist, said to me “since you’ve got a maths background, why not combine them and do economics?” So I did, ending up with a double major in economics and chemistry, which led me into Supply and Trading at BP.

What has been your biggest career challenge so far and how did you overcome it?

The learning curve going into trading in the energy industry was extremely steep. I had to learn very quickly and felt like a duck out of water at the beginning.

At times I felt a lack of confidence and was daunted by the sheer scale and sums of money traded in the energy industry. However, my co-workers in my first role were extremely supportive and always happy to answer questions. That support continued into my next role and has helped me to develop fast and become comfortable and confident in what I do.

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

Being able to get stuck in straight away in my first rotation and being given responsibility was key. After some initial training, I had my own book, commodity area and group of traders to manage. I really appreciate the trust I was given by my team; it’s something that has been a huge factor in my professional development. Being trusted is hugely empowering, as it makes you feel good about yourself and that you add value. This was repeated in my second rotation and I think the sense of accountability and job satisfaction has really helped to push me and my development.

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

My main pieces of advice would be to get stuck in, ask questions and take every opportunity to build your network. Particularly for people who are at the start of their careers, it’s important to get involved in as much as possible as the best way to learn is by doing.

Do you believe there are still disparities regarding the number of women working in tech?

Looking at the finance and energy industries where technology plays a huge role, you do notice that the workplaces are male-dominated. It’s particularly noticeable on the trading floor where you see very few women. However, it does vary from team to team and women are becoming better represented in leadership roles. It will take time for the disparity to reduce but I do think it is improving.

The lower number is partly due to the perception of the role. A lot of people make a judgement about whether their personality type would suit a tech, trading or finance environment. Therefore, they may apply to more ‘traditionally female’ roles. I think a lot of stereotypes still exist around the working environment which is definitely one of the reasons for the continuing disparity.

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

Someone said to me once, “do you think that females didn’t make the grade?” To which I said, “no I think that they didn’t even apply in the first place”. That is where the problem lies.

It is essential to encourage female graduates to apply from the offset. Getting girls interested in finance and STEM at a very early age is the only way you are going to support great careers for women down the line and even out the numbers. Getting them into various businesses and showing them what the working environment is really like is very important. I don’t believe you can just show them one office, it’s about proving that many of the stereotypes they believe exist, don’t.

What practical things can we do to support the careers of women in finance?

It is crucial we show women and young girls that there are opportunities for fantastic careers in technology. Holding female-oriented events is one way to do this.

An example is the ‘High Tea at BP’ event that I attended whilst at university. Females from STEM backgrounds came to find out more about BP and participate in assertiveness and body language workshops. It was great for me to network, find out about roles and simultaneously develop key skills for the workplace.

I believe we need to go further still and target the next generation of women in STEM. I think a lot of companies have very good programmes around supporting women once they start their careers, but many fail to attract women in the first place. At BP, we have events which focus on showing women, particularly those at school and university, what a trading and finance environment looks like. They can be mentored, visit the office for an afternoon or a week and get to hear from a range of people from across the organisation. I think it’s important for them to meet people both at the top of the organisation but also those starting out so they can see how their careers might progress. For many, hearing about A Levels, university and first jobs is more relevant, and they see themselves in those people. It can sometimes be hard when you meet a woman in a leadership role to relate to them as they are quite far down their career journey.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I’d definitely say it is important to stay up to date with news in general. I listen to the news every day on the radio and receive newsletters from publications such as the Financial Times and Reuters.  Another thing is to build a network (not just women) who you can go to for advice and support. They don’t necessarily need to be mentors or those more senior, some of the best advice I’ve received are from fellow graduates and those early in their careers.


Charly Lester featured

Inspirational Woman: Charly Lester | Co-Founder & CMO, Lumen

Charly LesterCharly Lester is co-founder and CMO of Lumen.

Lumen is the first app-only dating platform for over 50s.

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

I'm co-founder and CMO at Lumen - the dating app for over 50s. We launched last September, and already have over 1.5 million users worldwide. Six years ago, I fell into working in the dating industry when my dating blog '30 Dates' went viral. I ended up working at The Guardian as their dating editor, then at Time Out as their Global Head of Dating. My first business - The Dating Awards - launched in 2014, an industry awards for the online dating industry. The Awards started in the UK, then spread to Europe and the US, making me one of the leading voices in the sector. After 4 years running it, I had tried and assessed most dating apps and websites out there, so when my co-founder suggested we launch a dating app for over 50s, I jumped at the chance to create a product which directly tackled the issues I knew consumers faced on other apps.

I run all of Lumen's marketing, and a huge part of that is tackling the way society views over 50s. It’s a demographic people haven't designed apps for before and they are extremely undervalued and misrepresented. I spend a lot of time trying to make our brand and our advertising as 'pro-age' as possible.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Haha, never! I did Law at university, a Masters in Broadcast Journalism and then I went into banking (after a few gap years travelling!).  What I love about my career is that it has shaped itself, and I have ended up designing a role for myself which suits me down to the ground. As I look back at what has got me to the position I'm currently in, there are so many skills I picked up from other jobs which are so useful to my role at Lumen. We've launched the app in five countries so far, and every time we launch, I have to do interviews on live TV. Who knew my TV journalism experience would come in so handy?

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

When I launched my first business I didn't have any female friends who ran companies. I didn't know anyone else who had taken on that risk, and I can genuinely remember really doubting my abilities.  There were lots of ups and downs involved with running a business for the first time, but I wouldn't change any of it because I learned so much along the way and realised what I'm capable of. Probably the biggest challenge was other peoples' preconceptions and fears. My own parents died when I was a teenager, but my friends' parents have often worried about my decision to step away from a 'traditional career path' and take risks. There have been many times when they haven't really understood what I was doing, and have told me as much. I had to learn to understand when to listen to other peoples' concerns, and when to take them with a pinch of salt.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Appearing as a judge on the final of The Apprentice when one of the candidates designed a dating app was a pretty big career high. I also spoke at the Oxford Union in a debate about the existence of true love (my debate partner was the creator of Love Island!) - probably the most daunting evening of my life! And thanks to Lumen at least three couples have already married, hundreds live together, and hundreds of thousands of people have met - that's a pretty amazing feeling to know you have quite literally changed someone's life.

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

I always break things down into small steps. In my spare time I run ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons, and a huge part of that is breaking something huge and unmanageable into small steps. I know how to pace myself, and I never let the final goal daunt me. That's the same attitude I apply to business. No matter how slowly I'm moving at times, I'm always moving forward.

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

Find mentors you admire and trust. When I first started working in the technology team at Time Out, Ellie Ford was Head of Innovation. She is one of the most inspiring women I know, and about 10 years older than me - Ellie is so intelligent and I learned so much from her. Knowing who to go to to ask vital questions - including what to do with my career when my role was made redundant - was a huge part of my career progression, and five years later I can still hear her words of advice.

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

When I look at the teams at Magic Lab (Lumen's parent group) there are still departments which are heavily male, despite us trying to hire as equally as possible. Women and equality are really high on the agenda, however tech companies still need to have women in the hiring pool in order to employ them. Part of the issue is educating women that certain roles are for them just as much as they are for men. The barriers start right at ground level - treating little boys and little girls exactly the same. Making them understand no hobby is gender-specific, and neither is a specific career. And then helping women to ask for progression and the salaries they deserve when the time comes for that.

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

I was at a talk recently by Caroline Criado Perez and she was saying that it's not just a case of getting women to ask for the pay rises or promotion they deserve - if that's not the way most women behave, why not adapt the way pay structures and promotions work to better accommodate female ways, instead of accepting the 'male way' as the norm.

There needs to be total transparency in all companies about peoples' salaries - this is where our 'Britishness' has let us down - because the women still bear the brunt of our desire to be discreet and not talk openly about money.

I also think we need to be more flexible with work arrangements, not just to accommodate working parents returning to work - but also to get the best out of people. I for one know I get far more done working on my sofa at midnight, than I do sitting in an office at 8am.

There is currently on 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?

Teach coding to all children from age 11 - mandatory. My dad was a computer programmer and I am so gutted I didn't learn to code from him when I was a kid. It is such an incredibly valuable skill and would certainly change a lot of women's job options after school or university.

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

I've just finished reading 'Invisible Women' by Caroline Criado Perez. That, and 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg, is impossible to read without stirring up your inner feminist! I used to try to attend a lot of Women in Tech events, but now I also try to encourage as many women to attend events for everyone.  There is nothing more depressing than turning up at a tech conference, and seeing a panel of all white men on a stage.


Didem Un Ates featured

Inspirational Woman: Didem Ün Ates | Senior Director, AI Customer & Partner Engagement, Microsoft

Didem Un AtesFollowing her Electrical Engineering and Management studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Didem started her career with management consulting at CapGemini and Motorola.

After graduating from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 2005, Didem continued her career at Greenwich Consulting (now part of EY) and British Telecom in London, UK.

Her passion for technology led her to join Microsoft’s Information & Content Experiences Group where she and her team signed c. 1,500 partnerships across 60 markets. She held other business development and partner management roles as part of Microsoft Accelerators and the Business AI teams. In her current role, Didem is focusing on scaling Microsoft’s SaaS AI solutions such as Dynamics Customer Service Insights and Virtual Agent.

Didem has 20+ years of multinational leadership experience in business development, management consulting, and product management in executing international roll outs, implementing new market entries, and building new revenue streams from disruptive technologies in EMEA, APAC, and LatAm.

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

Following my Electrical Engineering and Strategic Management studies at the University of Pennsylvania, I started my career at CapGemini and Motorola. After graduating from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 2005, I continued at Greenwich Consulting (now part of EY) and British Telecom in London, UK.

My passion for technology led me to join Microsoft’s Information & Content Experiences Group where my team and I signed c. 1,500 partnerships across 60 markets. I held other business development and partner management roles as part of Microsoft Accelerators and the Business AI teams. In my current role, I am focusing on scaling our SaaS AI solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service Insights and Virtual Agent.

As part of my Diversity & Inclusion and STEM related social impact work, I have been leading a global volunteer team to host ‘Girls in AI’ hackathons and bootcamps to increase female participation in AI/ML technology sector worldwide. I am including a few videos and blogs for those who might be interested in replicating these events or collaborating in future ones:

Videos:

Blogs:

Podcast:

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Of course. With every job or team change (which happens roughly every 12-18 months), I re-evaluate my path and potential career options following my latest move. I check my thinking with my mentors and trusted advisors every 3-6 months.

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

As a diverse talent and immigrant working mother in tech sector, ‘career challenges’ have simply been part of life. As such, I do not even label such situations as ‘challenges’, ‘problems’, etc. I visualize the lotus flower during these periods – it grows in the smelliest, muddiest, most disgusting waters but is still able to be beautiful and to radiate positivity to its surroundings.

So whenever I face such a situation, I ask myself: “How can I raise a lotus flower in these circumstances? How can I turn this situation upside down and make it an advantage (as opposed to a hurdle) for me and my career so I land in an even better place?” I think of these incidents as potential spring-boards rather than handicaps or crises. If one takes the time to look inside and think creatively, there is always a solution.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have been fortunate to make notable financial and business impact to all my employers and teams in terms of scaling disruptive technologies, generating new revenue streams, launching new products and markets, expanding partnership ecosystems, etc.

All of these achievements, especially when they involved building new teams and creating win-win solutions, have been fascinating and extremely meaningful for me.

The most fulfilling and rewarding achievement in my mind though, has been with my recent volunteer work on ‘Girls in AI’/ ‘Alice Envisions the Future’ bootcamps and hackathons, where I lead a phenomenal team of volunteers at Microsoft to host these events globally. We have successfully demonstrated how effective and impactful these hackathons and bootcamps are, so now numerous teams in the company are scaling these efforts worldwide. If we can improve that terrifying – and declining - %12 diversity figure in AI/ ML to a more acceptable figure, I will be a very happy person. 😊

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

Perseverance combined with hard work.

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

Think of the Lotus. See challenging situations, people, projects, etc. as opportunities for growth and think about how you can use them as spring boards, as advantageous opportunities to progress in your path.

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

Sadly, the answer is ‘of course.’ I would strongly recommend the book Brotopia for a comprehensive study of these barriers and potential mitigations. My humble view is we should start by enhancing diversity in our sector so that barriers can actually be un-earthed and acknowledged. If 90% of the workforce does not ‘see’ any barriers or ‘feel’ any of the pain, you have a much steeper mountain to climb. Sadly, 10%’s pain and the negative consequences in the business are misinterpreted are ‘just noise.’

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

We have to work on both sides of the diversity and inclusion equation.

On the diversity side, the key is to ensure diverse talent has hope of career progression and plenty of job opportunities. On the inclusion side, we need to ensure they feel included and treated fairly when faced with discrimination, bias, etc. so that they can survive and stay in the organization.

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

Education system – inspiring girls, especially 7-18 year olds, to embrace and make the most of technology regardless of their passions. In the end, even if you want to be a dancer or artist, you will be a better one if you know how to use technology. We have to land this message and enable girls to be digital natives as well.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Trainings:

  • Public speaking training – the best quality you can afford…
  • Coding trainings, AI hackathons/ bootcamps, online courses (Please see the blog for details)

Books:

  • Brotopia, Emily Chang
  • Playing Big, Tara Mohr
  • A Life of My Own, Claire Tomalin
  • Inferior, Angela Saini

Podcasts:

  • Women in Tech, Marie Wiese

Abi Mohamed

Inspirational Woman: Abi Mohamed | Co-founder, Community Growth Ventures (CGV)

Abi Mohamed CGV

Coding pro Abi Mohamed cofounded Community Growth Ventures (CGV), an angel firm which sets out to invest underrepresented founders, in 2017.

The 27-year-old software engineer has a Masters in Information System Management from De Montfort University and builds websites for government bodies including the Ministry of Justice.

An advocate for getting more girls into tech, Mohamed volunteers as an Instructor for Code First: Girls and recently also became a VC scout for Backed, a €50m community-driven seed-stage VC fund.

The tech leader has also been called out as a changemaker by publications including SciTech and the Evening Standard.

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

I was born in Sweden, but grew up in Leicester and I've been interested in tech since school - I loved making websites and learning about networks and databases.

After my Masters, I became a software engineer for city councils and government bodies. That really appealed because I felt I was creating something amazing for the public for everyone to use.

Most recently I started Community Growth Ventures to invest in entrepreneurs and the founders from diverse backgrounds across the UK.

I’ve always been a big advocate of ‘tech for good’ and creating a more sustainable world, but right now, because of the pattern matching landscape, not everyone can be involved. Generally in investment, for you to be backable, the investor themself has to see themselves in you, or to have seen someone who looks like you IPO.

For people of colour, if you don't fall in those categories, you're seen as more of a risk. And most VCs or angels won't take that risk because of their unconscious bias.

That's the reason I stepped in.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I picked my undergrad I felt a lot of pressure from my family to put tech on the back burner and study economics. After that, I worked in retail, but still really wanted a career in tech.

So then I just asked myself two questions: ‘What do I enjoy the most?’ and ‘What will get me the most money?’ Answering those questions lead me to my Masters.

You should follow your heart, find things that make you happy and people that make you feel comfortable. Doing that meant starting CGV came naturally, by being in the right places at the right time.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve faced came about when I was working for the government and I felt  a lot of ageism. I know I’m young, but I also look way younger than I am, and I had an issue with a colleague who had a similar role but was much older.

He didn't respect what I was inputting and he kept dismissing me, saying I should just listen to him. I felt undermined and like he didn’t respect my voice as part of the conversation.

I raised the issue with the scrum master and we ended up having this mediated open circle conversation about our feelings. I feel like, after that conversation, they could see that I was not the problem. I was able to move teams and they realised it was him.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Everything we’re doing at CGV. At first, we invested 26K (round included another co-investor) and now planning to invest again in another company. We are currently planning our angel syndicate.

The biggest achievement so far has been proving the concept with our portfolio company hair care brand Afrocenchix, showing that CGV showing that can invest in and help underrepresented founders.

After our participation in their angel round, they were able to win more money from the WeWork Creator Awards, and they had the opportunity to work with Backstage Capital, a big VC company in the US. From that, they’ve been able to expand their team with three successful new hires.

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

Keeping a positive mindset. I always say to myself, whatever happens, happens for a reason.

I think that increases your chances of success because a positive mindset attracts positivity.

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

I journal everything.

When you wake up, write down three achievable goals. They could be simple things like go to the gym, or make a healthy breakfast. When you come back from work say what you've actually achieved too, so can see your progress.

Sometimes we all have bad days, and it's easy to forget how much you've achieved in the last six months or one year. But having a journal that allows you to flick back into the past and remind yourself ‘I am great, I am still in this journey of growth’.

I also try to do quarterly updates on myself: one in public (on Medium) where I publish my ‘Abi’s Tweet Highlights’ and a private one looking back over my journal where I think about the stuff that did or didn't go well and what I could improve.

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

I think there are still massive barriers. There's a barrier for entry, where people outside of tech don't know how to negotiate their way in. But then, even when you’re inside it’s easy to feel stuck.

In my experience of the government side, there's still a lot of old white men who don't see the bigger picture. In my early career, I felt so, so lonely and didn't know who to speak to.

If you don’t see leaders in senior positions who you can identify with and aspire to, there's no clear journey or blueprint on how to move forward. That can be confusing and demotivating.

Progression can be a long waiting game unless you know the right people to talk to.

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

I have mentors in the VC space who are giving me advice and helping me grow, but I’d like to see more employers supporting in-house mentorship too.

We don’t need more outside organisations that pump out mentors, this should be naturally happening within our industries. To do that we need to teach and inspire senior staff to always look out for the people coming in.

Getting staff to meet across levels can be as simple as setting up clubs or events outside work (that don’t always revolve around sports or the pub).

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

I would make payroll transparent.

We all know about the gender pay gap and that we should be paid the same as our male counterparts, but for that to happen we need more transparency.

When you go into an interview, you should have the ability to ask ‘how much does a person like me get paid?’ without using guesswork.

If you don't pay people equally, you are devaluing your company. Your female staff won't strive, they won't learn and they won't do their best work.

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

The best meetup I have been to is at Google for startups; there's a breakfast event that happens every month called #POCTech. That’s where I started my entrepreneur life three years ago.
My favourite podcast is called Techish and it's a show that talks about tech in general with lots of fun pop culture references.

And books, I’m honestly just into so much sci-fi. I've just finished The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, which is about aliens and black holes and other futuristic stuff. I don’t want to give too much away but it really is one of the best books I’ve ever read.


Inspirational Woman: Veronique Barbosa | Co-founder & COO, Flux

Veronique BarbosaVeronique Barbosa is co-founder and COO of Flux, the bank-linked receipts platform.

Veronique was listed as one of Forbes 30 under 30 Europe in 2018.

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

I’m the Co-Founder and COO of Flux, a digital receipts and rewards platform working with the likes of Just Eat, KFC and Barclays with many more to come soon. We’re solving the problem that in 2019 we have no way as customers to easily track what we buy, we can see the payment but not what we buy. A bit more about me I’m Brazilian, French and American but consider London to be home. Before Flux, I was employee #4 at Revolut and headed up partnerships with a focus on driving user acquisition. I helped take the company to 400,000 users before setting out to start Flux. I was also an investment banker in my previous life at Morgan Stanley in London for several years and very honoured to be named Forbes 30 under 30 in 2018.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Depends how you define career, I’ve never planned the entirety of my career but I have followed some advice given to me a while ago to plan your career like the Chinese plan their economy in five years stints. I’ve found that super helpful and way less overwhelming than thinking about “the rest of your career”.

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

Oh definitely! I whole heartedly believe success is defined by how you handle failure/challenges. It’s part of the life of a startup and fortunately/unfortunately the norm. I think realising it’s how you deal with the obstacles is actually the definition of ultimately how you succeed was key to overcoming those moments.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Deciding to join Matty and Tom to start up Flux!

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

I always hesitate when success is attributed to where we are now, it still feels early in our journey to claim that word. A major factor of getting to where we are today has been perseverance.

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

Solve problems from their core elements and break them down to bite size chunks. My cofounder always says there’s only one way to eat a white whale and that’s one piece at a time.

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

Yes depending on the company culture and sector I think there can be. That’s a very tough question and one many women have tried to address! This will sound controversial but I think the first steps is recognising those barriers, understanding them and then working around them is the first step to get to your goals. The next step is working to break down those barriers but so many of them are deep rooted in sub conscious bias of others that it’s a much longer term path.

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

Encourage and enable flexible working for future parents, not just women, and nip any biases that creep up right in the bud. Shining a light on the incredible diversity you already have in house is also a big plus.

There is currently on 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?

If I could wave a magic wand I’d make sure that 70 per cent of computer science classrooms at universities around the world would have women in them. The lack of women in software engineering is really shocking. We’ve come a long way when it comes to business roles in tech but have so far to go in engineering.

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

Sheryl Sandberg Lean In and the Girlposs podcast/instagram.


Inspirational Woman: Sheree Atcheson | Tech Business Consultant, Deloitte; Founder of I Am Lanka; Global Ambassador at Women Who Code

Listed as one of the UK’s Top 35 Most Influential Women in Tech 2017 by ComputerWeekly, one of the Belfast Business Top 50 2017, and a finalist in the Women in Business NI 2017’s Young Business Woman of the Year category, 26-year-old Sheree Atcheson (@nirushika) is a tech business consultant at Deloitte, founder of I Am Lanka, and UK expansion director at Women Who Code.

As well as her day-to-day life in the industry, Sheree is a tech outreach leader across the UK.

As a passionate advocate for gaining and retaining women in the tech industry, in 2013, she brought Women Who Code to the UK. Women Who Code is a global non-profit, working to eradicate the gender bias through free hack nights, tech talks and career trainings. The UK cohort (Belfast, London, Edinburgh and Bristol) has featured in several publications, such as HuffPost, Wired, ComputerWeekly, The Guardian, Marie Claire and many more.

The aim of Sheree’s career is to ensure people are aware of the fantastic opportunities the tech industry has to offer, and that
everyone – regardless of gender, race or social stature – is able to benefit from these and reach their full potential in their careers.

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

Currently listed as one of the most influential women in technology across the UK, I am a 27 year old, Tech business consultant at Deloitte and a board appointed global ambassador at the world’s largest non-profit dedicated to women excelling in technical careers, Women Who Code.

I have launched and led WWCode’s award-winning UK expansion since 2013, taking their UK membership from zero to over 8,000 members. I am a thought leader in the tech outreach space, speaking regularly at global conferences, pairing women with mentors, seeking jobs for minorities and showcasing the diverse nature of the tech industry to the next generation.

At Deloitte, I am the “middle-man” between clients and developers. As an ex-developer, I am able to easily traverse the technical space, whilst being able to discuss technical efforts in a non-technical way for clients. I have worked on several high-profile, public digital transformations, of which I am very proud of.

At WWCode, my role is now focused on showcasing the global diversity work of WWCode, empowering our current leaders and mentoring when required, creating and seeking new partnerships between tech companies and the non-profit.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no. I have always had a view that I would be in technology, however I never imagined I would have the responsibility or impact that I have had on the tech industry. I actively know I will do something else in technology that will shape my career and bring me to the next level – I’m still figuring out what that is, which is exciting to me.

I always say I never turn down opportunities, and it’s hard to plan for unexpected turns – which is fantastic and stressful all at once.

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

Of course. I began the WWCode UK outreach at 22 – a fresh Computer Science graduate. I certainly received friction from those who “didn’t get it”. Negativity is always offputting however, disruption never comes easy. I was here to make a difference, I persevered and here we are today, with several successful WWCode UK branches, many new connections being made and new leaders being empowered every day.

Dealing with it was a case of seeing the bigger picture – yes, some people won’t get it, however my goal is bigger than them and that attitude.

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

That middle-management fully understand the benefit of having a diverse team. Middle-management have primarily the most contact with women in technology, with more women being in junior/mid-tier positions than senior. With that in mind, middle-management are crucial in any company’s diversity initiatives being successful. Having a more understanding middle-management workforce will directly affect inclusion of women in the workforce and ensure that we do not just hire diversity, but simply promote conformity.

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

I actively mentor/sponsor around 25 women and men. I am privileged to be in a position of leadership and now, it is my turn to pass it on. Mentoring is crucial in supporting people, providing growth opportunities and providing useful feedback on assignments.

I am mentored/sponsored with 3 people – 2 senior leaders within my business unit in Deloitte and one entrepreneur in the UK tech scene, Mary McKenna. These are the people I actively seek advice from – those who I bounce ideas off and expect an honest response, not just positive “pat on the back” feedback.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Empowering many women to take the next step in their career – if a 22 year old, adopted from Sri Lanka and raised in rural Ireland can make a difference – so can they.

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

I am going to do something in my career that is going to be a shift for me. I don’t know what it is yet, but it’s coming. My career will eventually focus much more on diversity and inclusion and I look forward to figuring out what that is. I do not like resting easy and I strive to be challenged every single day.