Nicole Angell featured

Inspirational Woman: Nicole Angell | Junior Data Scientist, Carbon

Nicole AngellNicole Angell has recently joined Middlesbrough-based Carbon data management platform and hope their stories can encourage other women to consider a career in technology.

Carbon uses Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to better understand online customer behaviour in order to help its customers personalise content and advertising for their audiences.

Every day, Carbon collects and analyses anonymous data from more than two million new unique users to understand customer behaviour and intent.

Nicole Angell, 23, is a junior data scientist who has been with Carbon for six months after completing a degree course.

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

I’m 23 years old and I graduated with a first class degree from the University of Stirling last year. The course title was BSc (Hons) Mathematics and its Applications. I have been working at Carbon as a junior data scientist for the last seven months and joined the company straight after finishing my degree.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did sort of plan my career. When I started my degree, I started looking into careers and decided data science was perfect as it combined my interests for maths and coding.

Then I chose modules and projects at university that allowed me to work towards my desired career.

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

I’ve only recently joined Carbon, so no career challenges so far.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement to date has been being able to contribute to developing new features and tools for the company and getting my work into production.

The maths side of my work relates to data analysis to help clients understand their audience while the coding aspect helps me develop features to help enhance who they advertise to.

Our work is valuable as we help make companies become more profitable and identify the right audience enabling them to get to the right people.

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

A major factor in achieving success was putting the effort in. There was clearly a lot of maths on my course, but there was only one module on coding so I did short courses in my spare time to learn about this area of work.

This meant I was ready to go into the industry with the skills I needed to be a data scientist.

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

I would suggest keep pushing yourself to learn new things. In this type of job there’s always more to learn.

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

No, if you work hard enough I don’t see why there would be barriers.

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

I think it’s more down to the individual, but at Carbon, I’m really enjoying it – everyone works together and is supportive – and the job gives me a good balance between maths and coding.

More women are coming into this industry than ten years ago, but not as many as there could be so I would encourage others to think about this sort of career – especially if they like maths. The industry is getting bigger with more and more jobs being created so it is a good career you can progress and continue to learn in.

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 think more emphasis needs to be put on introducing things like coding earlier in education and encouraging learning in that area.

After having chats with other females on my university course, I realised none of them wanted to choose that module even though they’d never tried coding. I think that’s down to the fact its ‘new’ to them and if higher level computing was compulsory at school/college the module would’ve been more popular.

I would introduce lots of conferences available across the UK for women in tech/data science/computer science careers.


Inspirational Woman: Ela Oftadeh | Data Scientist, Carbon

Ela OftadehEla Oftadeh has recently joined Middlesbrough-based Carbon data management platform and hope their stories can encourage other women to consider a career in technology.

Carbon uses Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to better understand online customer behaviour in order to help its customers personalise content and advertising for their audiences.

Every day, Carbon collects and analyses anonymous data from more than two million new unique users to understand customer behaviour and intent.

Ela Oftadeh is a KTP associate on a data science project collaboration between Carbon and Durham University. The Knowledge Transfer Partnership matches up businesses who want to innovate, develop and grow, with a university which has the expertise to help them.

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

I am aged 37 and have a PhD in Statistics from the University of Kent. I started my first job as a pricing analyst in 2018 with an insurance company.  I joined Carbon in December 2019. I am working as a data scientist (KTP Associate) for the company and also with an academic team at Durham University. Using machine learning methods such as classification and clustering, and Bayesian statistics where probability expresses a degree of belief in an event, my work using statistical modelling helps me to identify the right audiences from data analysis.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

During the final year of my PhD, I started thinking about my future career. I didn’t have a detailed plan for my career, but I had a clear goal which was becoming a data scientist.

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

For someone who had just graduated, not having any experience in industry was a big issue. Most of the jobs were suitable for someone with some experience. I had to spend some time to do some self study and learn some of the skills.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Since I am in the very beginning of my career path and I am still learning, so I think it’s too soon to answer this question. I think at this stage having a job that you enjoy is the best achievement. Carbon is a great environment to work in and I am really enjoying being surrounded by very supportive and skilled people. The job itself is also a great opportunity to potentially put what I have learnt so far into practice.

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

I’ve always tried to keep going and not give up when it gets hard. A KTP project is a good career start for someone who has graduated as it fills the gap between industry and university in terms of exploring a theoretical field within industry.

Longer term, I would like to improve my skills in data science as much as I can to be able to explore more complicated areas and hopefully secure more senior positions.

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

As already outlined, I am still in my early stages of my career, but as a learner, I think staying up to date and keep learning to keep up with the technology advancement.

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

There are fewer women than men in this industry so hopefully my story can inspire other women to join. I can’t really see any barrier for women. There are a lot of opportunities out there for everybody and I think the main thing is getting the right skills and go for it.

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

I think for those who have families, it would help a lot if there is an opportunity to work remotely. Having flexible working hours will also be helpful.

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?

Having career events at universities would be a great way of introducing the job market. Students may not have a clear idea about their future career but attending career events and talking to people in different areas may give them a new perspective about opportunities.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

It really depends on the area that they work. I actually started this job a month ago and I don’t have enough information yet. I think in data science, online courses and using useful websites like data science central could be useful.


Inspirational Woman: Wilma McDaniel | Commercial Director, Cutitronics

Wilma McDanielWilma McDaniel is a beauty-tech pioneer and Commercial Director at the award-winning company, Cutitronics.

Wilma is a strong character who is no stranger to the global stage, with experience in global brands including Fruit of the Loom and Estee Lauder. With her safe hands at the helm, Cutitronics technology will be at the forefront, driving a new beauty-tech revolution. She is steering the brand new tech to see worldwide success. She is a fantastic role model as a woman working in the industry in a non-conventional way.

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

I was inspired from a young age to work in personal care. When I was 13 my mum went, on a good friend’s recommendation, to a health retreat and came back rejuvenated. I was inspired seeing the transformative effect those three days could have on her wellbeing.

Later that year, I read Cosmopolitan's Health and Beauty Guide, and convinced my parents that I should leave school to pursue my dreams. Fortunately, they were on board, and I went on to study International Spa Therapy and Management at Mary Reid International Spa Academy in Edinburgh.

I will always be thankful for that opportunity as it led to a career that has lasted decades, taking me all over the world, working with renowned beauty brands such as Estee Lauder, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. Five years ago, I decided to start my own consultancy, Rise Business Growth. From there my career took a serendipitous, albeit slightly unexpected, turn when I met the co-founders of skin-tech company, Cutitronics. Since then we’ve been building our multi-award-winning company, our patented suite of skincare and wellness technologies and most importantly our exceptional multi-disciplinary team.

I have a passion for helping people feel well, and my current role as Commercial Director allows me to do this in an incredibly exciting field, putting my wealth of knowledge and experience into practice.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never sat down and planned my career, but my passion for people and personal care inspired me to follow the path I have. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to foresee the opportunities I have been presented with due to advances in technology.

If you had told me 5 years ago I would be working in tech, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But, I love where my career has taken me. The technology pipeline we are developing has the potential to seriously disrupt the global beauty industry.

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

My career choices have always been relationship driven. The challenges I have faced have been about balance and putting priorities in place. What I’ve found is that putting these values first has been career changing for me and provided me the access to a huge diversity of skills to work in and develop.

As a young mum, the typical work culture at that time was for a woman to either have a family or excel in her career. So, when I made the huge choice to step down as Sales and Education Executive as Estee Lauder it was due to the realisation that I loved my job, but I love my relationships and family more. The fear that family life and relationships with my young children would be disrupted if I continued to travel as much as I had, pushed me to make the decision to come back to Scotland for work.

I believe there is an opportunity for women to do everything they want in life, but there’s also an importance for them to not feel like they have to compromise family, relationships or values in the process. A large part of my mentoring now focusses on people having the realisation and support they need to not have to compromise or do everything at once.

Being able to know my priorities has been essential but this wouldn’t have been possible without great people standing around me. A problem a lot of women face is not seeing your own potential, but I was fortunate to have a fantastic support system around me. When I was worried my skills wouldn’t translate from beauty to retail, my best friend (also named Wilma) told me “Your skills are definitely transferrable, you just need to find the right fit”. This changed my perspective and gave me the confidence I needed. I also carried this with me when moving into beauty-tech.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m extremely proud of many things in my career. For example, when I worked on a large project for a global company earlier in my career, I was recognised as a chosen mentor for the most people at the organisation. Something I still pride myself on.

More recently, shortly after I joined Cutitronics we attended the Scottish Edge Awards and received an award as a ‘wildcard’ entry. We then returned as part of the main competition six months later and won, which was fantastic.

Winning this enabled me to fly to New York to pitch to huge industry players in iconic locations around the city. I took one of our first prototypes, which uses our patented suite of Cutitron technologies to measure skin hydration levels and dispense the exact amount of product needed by the individual at that exact moment, to Madison Avenue and 5th Avenue. An amazing experience I will never forget.

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

The biggest contributing factor is the superb support system I have around me. My husband, my family and my amazing friends are always cheering me on and supporting me to believe in my potential.

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

You can either walk in faith or fear, and I would say always walk with faith. Don’t compromise your values. Network as much as possible; really try to understand people, whether it is prospective customers or your team. There’s so many opportunities opening in the tech sector now, it takes a diverse team to see the possibilities from all angles.

Also remember that it’s ok to be scared and that we should push boundaries. Just make sure you have the right people supporting you.

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 barriers for women to succeed in all sectors, including tech. Some of them may be self-imposed. We are less likely to believe in ourselves. To combat this, we need to keep ourselves surrounded with people who will push us to achieve our goals.

We also have a habit of comparing ourselves to others. We are all unique and if we can work together we can change the world.

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

Culture is everything in business. Our current team is diverse, with a broad range of backgrounds and skills. With the right culture in place businesses can succeed and this is true everywhere.

Companies and tech start-ups need to implement flexible working, allowing for women to have a family and a career. Leaving room for work-life balance is essential for helping people achieve their true potential.

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?

Invest in women. Compensate with education and learning at every opportunity.

I volunteer as a governor at my local independent school and I see the incredible work students produce in STEM subjects, but uptake is still quite low later in education and in business. Teachers are not necessarily equipped to show what excellence can be achieved in STEM. We need to bridge the gap between education and industry to showcase what is possible in order to increase engagement with young women. Taking small steps like this can make a big difference in accelerating the pace of change and equality in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would recommend following Gillian Docherty at Data Lab on social media. She’s an inspirational woman, who has presented Ted Talks with her daughter. Another fantastic Ted Talk/book to inspire is Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. Lean In is now a global community which facilitates mentoring and reverse mentoring. This is just one example of the importance of networking and support, and the transformative effect it can provide.


Cyndi Williams featured

Inspirational Woman: Cyndi Williams | Founder & CEO, Quin

Cyndi Williams

Cyndi Williams is co-founder and CEO of Quin, a mobile medical app for people with diabetes.

Over her 25+ year career, Cyndi has been a managing director at ThoughtWorks, a global $500M software and services company, working across the US, UK, Europe, China, India and Australia. She has a deep technology background in software and chemical engineering.

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

I grew up on a farm in Nebraska, then studied Chemical Engineering at Northwestern University. I soon realised, however, that I didn’t want to be a chemical engineer, so I trained myself as a software engineer instead. I was part of the Java engineering group at Sun Microsystems and then moved into more leadership and management roles. For the last 15 years, I’ve been in a business role, starting as MD at ThoughtWorks UK. I then went on to build and run their global software division (ThoughtWorks Studios) for several years.

Today I’m the CEO and founder of Quin, a consumer-led mobile medical app and biotech company. My goal, along with my co-founder Isabella, is to revolutionise diabetes management by helping users decide when and how much insulin they should take daily.

The science of diabetes is still incomplete. No one knows when and how much insulin to take. For most people, it’s a matter of trial and error – resulting in a massive cognitive and psychological load. So, we’re trying to ease this load by using algorithmic insights and machine learning in our app to help users decide when and how much insulin to take each day.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No, I never thought I’d be doing what I’m doing right now! However, at ThoughtWorks, I did have a plan of what I wanted to develop myself into and what gaps I needed to close to achieve those things. While not every step in my career was planned, critical stages with 360 feedback, reflections, and formal plans have been in place to help me progress.

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

There’s been two standout challenges, both related to being overpromoted. In my first job at Sun Microsystems, I was underqualified. Still, my boss saw talent in me and hired me regardless. Everyone I was working with was 15 years-plus older, so it was quite daunting. However, it was the making of me as an engineer.

The second overpromotion happened when I became MD of ThoughtWorks in the UK. Again I was underqualified, and the biggest challenge was in my first year as MD, when the company’s topline shrank by £5 million! It was a bitter pill to swallow but also a defining moment in my career – extreme failure helps you to see the bigger picture if you allow yourself to learn from it.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Founding Quin and getting it to where it is. While I’m still an engineer at heart, witnessing people fully express themselves with all the gifts they have is what really motivates me. I love seeing our customers getting freed up from diabetes so they can do what they want.

Although Quin is still in the early stages of development, it’s already impacting so many people’s lives. By using our app, 76% of our users feel more confident and find living with diabetes easier, while 35% have improved their HbA1c, which is healthcare’s target measure. Facts like these drive me and make me feel successful.

What do you believe has been a major factor in your success? 

Many opportunities to overreach and fail. In my previous roles, you could try something new even if you didn’t have the experience. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. There was the freedom to do big things and get them wrong, but having good mentors around me was also critical.

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

Build a macro level understanding first. Once you have a conceptual basis, you can figure out how to store and organise information, even if things move very fast. Secondly, focus on critical thinking and problem-solving. Know what is important to focus on and what’s not. The ability to communicate and articulate ideas, build relationships, work in teams, and to be able to influence and persuade people, is a crucial part of being successful.

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

Yes, there are still barriers, and I believe overpromotion is at least part of the solution.  We don’t necessarily have the best people in the most prominent jobs, so I’m totally fine with women being in management roles they grapple with, as it gives them a better chance to succeed.

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

Overpromote in an environment where mentors and feedback are readily available. Being over promoted can be painful, but doing so in an environment where mentors and feedback are available makes it less so. I think we should invest in mass training for everyone in the entire workforce about how to give and receive mentoring and feedback.

We need to change attitudes around failure and learn how to communicate about it. If you fail, move on and do the next thing - this should be how we think. This will help women flourish in the working world.

Women working in tech currently makes up a paltry 17%. 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 situation is as it is because of historical inequality and we don’t have to accept it. If we want to level the scales, we have to see more women for the roles we have available, and we have to hire more of them. That means thinking outside the box about how we source, assess and support them too. I am a product of affirmative action myself, so I’m not afraid of hiring talent over experience.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech? 

Read books on design patterns and things we see over and over again in technology. Learning about conceptual models will help you walk into any problem-solving situation, help you understand what’s going on and prepare you for greater success in our rapidly changing world.  Build your own framework for thinking and organising when there is a ton of information coming at you.

I also recommend Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup and Steve Blank’s book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, to help you learn how to discover a product quickly in co-creation with the people you’re making the product for.

Become familiar with design thinking, and doing things in a way that you’re diverging and looking at a broader array of possibilities in an inter-disciplinary problem-solving mode before converging into solutions that could actually work. Learn to not cut ideas off too quickly before giving them a proper chance.

Ground yourself in basic principles and don’t get caught up in industry hype. For new technologies on the horizon, find one or two humble low-key people who have a consistent dependable viewpoint and shut out the rest of the noise.

I also recommend starting or joining a peer mentoring group for women who are looking to develop themselves in different ways, then get to know each other by sharing work and life experiences. I have been with a women’s peer group for over ten years and it's one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has been absolutely fundamental to my career.


Sarah Comerford featured

Inspirational Woman: Sarah Comerford | Client Services Director, Purple Creative Studio

Sarah ComerfordSarah Comerford is an award-winning tech-director of a creative agency on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Dales.

She joined Purple Creative Studio in September 2013 as the only female in the company and has paved the way for other young female professionals. She’s passionate about equipping others to be digitally-literate and has invested a significant amount of time in mentoring women, young people and training small businesses.

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

I am the Client Services Director at a digital agency based in rural North Yorkshire called Purple Creative Studio.  I have been with Purple for over six years and have loved every moment of it, when I started with Purple I was the first female to join the company and we now make up 40 per cent of the company.  My role involves a lot of project management as well as digital marketing, which I am incredibly passionate about. I oversee and implement marketing strategies for a wide variety of companies in a range of sectors and look after the internal HR, policies and workflow management for all staff members.  My role has evolved a huge amount since joining the team in 2013, and I can’t wait to see how it will develop in the future.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No! I am extremely grateful that my career journey has been incredibly eclectic. I have worked at a number of different places and each one has given me valuable skills which I use each and every day.

My first job was at 16 in a wedding dress shop where I sewed beads on wedding dresses.  At college and university, I worked in a number of different environments: a nightclub; the Co-Op; a surf shop; a hairdressers; and a jewellers.  Each of these jobs taught me how to deal with people – a skill which I consider to be my strongest asset.

Before working where I am now, I worked in marketing at The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire.

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

This is quite a difficult question as I can think of lots of mini challenges over the years that I have faced, overcome and learnt from.  However, I think one of my biggest challenges was working for a bully when I was a lot younger in a previous role. It took me a long time to realise it was bullying and an even longer time to stand up to it, but I am incredibly pleased that I did and I think that small moment of standing up for myself was a real turning point in my career.  I am not a confrontational person and I found approaching that person incredibly difficult, however, once I did, I realised that the floor didn’t swallow me up, I took back the power and if I bumped into that person today I would thank them. That might sound strange but they helped me become stronger and have helped me find my own management style over the years as I often think back to that time and in a situation I try and do the opposite of what they would have done.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In 2019 I was very kindly nominated for the Women in Technology Mentor of the Year Ward in London, which I won! I have never been more surprised and shocked in my life as there were so many inspirational women in the room and to be nominated alone was just wonderful! I am also proud of the wonderful team that we have built and sustained at Purple, we have a wonderful team that can embrace new challenges and create beautiful and brilliant solutions for our clients.

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

Quite simply the people around me!  I have worked with wonderful people in this role and in previous roles that have enabled me to grow.  I love and believe in the phrase: “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon”. I have been lucky that I have always been allowed to make my own mistakes, and then work out how to fix them, a far greater lesson than being micro-managed and I believe this has really helped me over the years.

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

Read blogs, watch videos, use Code Academy and try to get as much experience as possible.  When we interview for new people to join our team I am most interested in seeing if they are passionate about the sector, I want to see that someone has attempted to build a small website for their mum, or a friend and had dabbled in using technology and playing with creating apps.  To me, this is more important than qualifications.

I am sure we have all read the same old statistic a million times that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The industry needs to make people realise that qualifications are not as important as passion.  The industry is so fast paced that qualifications can simply not stay up to date, so being creative, making something and creating something and learning yourself is more important than qualifications in my opinion and we need people to realise this.


Elena Rodriguez-Falcon featured

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

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

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

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


Gita Singham-Willis featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

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

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Michelle Dickinson featured

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

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

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

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


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

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


Inspirational Woman: Mary Rinaldi | Co-Founder, Simone

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

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


Ellie Burrows featured

Inspirational Woman: Ellie Burrows | Train Services Director, Southeastern

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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