Inspirational Woman: Robyn Exton | Founder of HER

Robyn Exton is the founder of HER, a mobile dating app that helps women to meet each other – currently focused on the lesbian, bisexual and queer female market. Robyn has had quite an uphill journey to get where she is today: it is hard enough running a business that is focused on women, with most investors being white middle aged straight men, but HER has launched with a market focus on lesbian, bisexual and queer women, adding an additional layer of complexity. To repeatedly pitch and raise $2.5million in investment has taken determination, resilience and very thick skin - and she is not even 30 yet. By looking at how women use technology, Robyn has opened up an entire new market that finally ditches the ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach most organisations have taken women’s markets in the past to be. Robyn is also shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award 2016.Techies Project - 2016.03.12 - 7620

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I think there was only one time I ever really stopped to think about where my career was going, and it was just before I quit my job. I'd fallen into the marketing industry and after working there for five years I stopped to think about where my career was realistically heading. As I mapped it out I wasn't as excited as I thought I should be and so a few months down the line I found myself setting up my own business.

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

Honest to God every single day is a challenge. Running a business is incredibly hard, surviving is hard. There are long term pain points that will always be the focus and challenge for CEOs, like hiring and raising investment. Then there's the day-to-day unexpected things like database crashes, leaking windows in the office, things you've never dealt with before and are handling for the first time. I handle things in two main ways, quickly and with help. I lean on investors for help with ongoing challenges and if something unexpected comes up, you want it out the door as quickly as possible.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

I'd always suggest talking to other people that have been there before. Ask them the hardest things about their roles, what they miss, what they're most excited about. Ask people from a range of industries to get a sense of what it could be like when you get there. And then fight for it - there are lots of people trying to be the best in their own field, so be great and make yourself heard in your industry.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

Culture & potential are the biggest defining factors for us for someone joining the team, almost more than qualifications.  Do we want to spend every light hour of the day with the person and then still get beers with them and do we think they're going to grow with the company, how much are they looking for this company to grow as well.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

My day normally starts at 5.30am checking notifications of what's happened in our London/SF teams then heading to the gym. And it ends with a last checkin on Slack and normally writing a piece of content for the app before closing the compter and heading to sleep.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations

Figure out what you care about that is important to your organisation, what you would stand on a stage and wax lyrical about and focus down on that area. Get other people excited about it and create change around it.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I've had informal advice from investors on a regular basis but I've never had coaching or a long term mentor. I guess I'm winging it right now.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker

I think it's really important, but less around the term 'networking' and more around having great friends in your peers and people that excite you in your industry.

  1. Make the effort, it's all a factor of time but you have to be at the party to meet the people.
  2. Use your social media when appropriate - its the best way to maintain relationships in a genuine but light touch way.
  3. Be real - only build relationships when its genuine, no one likes the fake person at the party throwing out business cards.

Inspirational Woman: Alice Bentinck | Co-Founder of Entrepreneur First and Code First: Girls

Alice Bentinck ef 1Alice Bentinck is the Co-Founder of Entrepreneur First (EF) and Code First: Girls. Entrepreneur First supports Europe's best technical talent to build their own high-growth tech startups. The accelerator mainly takes talented individuals before they have a team or an idea, and spend six months with them to get them to the point where they can take on serious seed funding. CodeFirst: Girls is a UK not-for-profit which was born when the founders of Entrepreneur First notice a lack of girls applying for the accelerator. Alice is shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I never planned my career, but I always like to have something to aim for. When I was younger I would write down ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, but as I was brought up in a very rural area the ideas are somewhat different to what I do now! Having nine goats growing up meant they were more focused around being a vet than a venture capitalist (VC).

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

I think anyone founding a company will face challenges. Bringing something new into the world is never easy. The biggest challenge for us when we started out was that our model was very much against the status quo. We wanted to build companies from scratch, working with individuals before they had a company. The status quo was that you only worked with teams who had set ideas. We had a lot of push back on this at the beginning from the eco system, but we found that our customers (the potential founders) were actively seeking ways to build their cofounding team and to evaluate ideas, but there were no easy ways for them to do this.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

One of the things I have learnt is that leadership is a skill and as such, it is something that can be learnt and improved on over time. It's important that you develop your own authentic leadership style that works for you. Often this is an amalgamation of lots of different people's leadership styles. Before and when you move into a leadership position read as much as possible about leadership (especially autobiographies) and watch the leaders around you and learn from what they do. I really like The Power of Many by Meg Whitman and Suffragette by Emmeline Pankhurst. The latter isn't a business book, but can teach you a lot about leadership.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I've never had this problem! It's important with any candidate that you understand why they want to do the role, what they are expecting from it and how it fits into their wider career goals.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

The day starts with a quick check of my emails and slack (our internal messaging system). I then do a quick workout at home and then cycle to work. I used to try and cram in breakfast meetings at the beginning of the day, but this is usually when the day is quietest and I am at my most focused, so I'm trying to do more desk work at these times. There is no normal end of the day. I'm often at events, or we run a lot of events in our office too. I am a big fan of sleep though and try to make sure I get to bed at a good time.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations

Don't be afraid to talk about the work you have done and to be proud of it. Speak up and share your opinion.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Yes very much so. Both informally and formally. I recently got a professional coach and it has been transformative. Taking time to think about and invest in your personal development is important and having a professional coach gives this a rhythm.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker

Your network is how you get stuff done and how you learn about new opportunities, so you need to invest in it. Think carefully about how you build your network, you need breadth as well as depth. So yes, a networking event might be useful, but only if you follow up with the people you meet afterwards and create a relationship with them. Networking sounds unpleasant and businessey - it's really just about getting to know people and keeping in touch.

What does the future hold for you?

I can't imagine doing anything other than running EF, so I'm in it for the long haul!


Inspirational Woman: Leanne Bonner-Cooke | Managing Director at Evolve

Leanne Bonner-Cooke, is the Managing Director at Evolve. She established the company in 2007, after recognising that in many organisations’ IT and the business do not work well together. As an energetic and enthusiastic, leader and strategic thinker, she has established a successful business helping others get the most out of their people, process and technology assets.Leanne Bonner-Cooke_Evolve Resize 400 x 267

What inspired you to start a business? 

I was inspired by having several bad experience in dealing with software suppliers and consultancies.  When I hit the ceiling in my corporate career, I decided to set up business and really focus on the needs of the customer.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

The greatest challenge has been the steep learning curve in having to re-skill in many areas that I initially didn’t even consider, like sales and marketing!  That is the start of the process and I knew nothing about it, especially social media.  Then there is the whole recruitment process…..Suddenly I have become the CEO, H&S, HR, Finance and Sales and Marketing Director….And not the consultant I set out to be.

The greatest reward is that you have the ability to achieve whatever you want without any constraints, and operate to your own values and those of your customers.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures. You have to have a vision and set goals in order to achieve that vision.  Without a plan you will not be able to measure your success. Find a good mentor to keep you in check along your journey and to keep the pressure on you to ensure your focus is on the right thing.

Celebrate your successes, as business owners we are our own worst critics and always aspire to do better.  You will be more motivated if you recognise each step of your journey as a success.

There is no such thing as failure!  FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.  If we don’t fail, we don’t learn.  As long as you do learn, and are aware of why the situation happened, and how to prevent it from happening again you have learnt something you would never have known about otherwise.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

There are two:

The ability to generate new sales leads; this is about having the right messaging and engaging with your target market to drive more inbound activity, and not giving up!  Also being able to predict your pipeline of future work as closely as possible.

The other is cash flow.  Being a service business, our costs are instant but our customers delay payment for as long as possible. Having a cash flow forecast is so important to any business to manage and mitigate risk.

How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?

I have had various experience with coaches and have benefited in gaining knowledge in areas where I have been weak.  Coaches charge for their time and focus on a particular activity e.g. sales pipeline.  Whilst coaches can be of great value they only work if you are clear what you are trying to achieve and are prepared to put in the hard work.

Mentoring is much different and I have had more success with mentors.  They typically give you their time and have actually done it themselves and can therefore give you sound advice as to the what and how.  Again though, it is about being clear of what you are trying to achieve and picking the right person.  Remember they are giving up their time for you, so you have to be committed.

What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?

Networking is critical to raise awareness of you and your companies brand.  There are so many networking events, be really clear about how you will measure the success. For example, good referral network, companies there that I want to do business with, specific to the sector(s) I want to work with.

Otherwise you can go along meet some great people and have a good time but never generate any new business opportunites.  You have to ‘put yourself in the room’ when networking and you will quickly work out if it is right for you and your business.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?

To scale your business, have a well-constructed business plan, understand where your growth if going to come from e.g. which markets, which sector, what products or services you are going to sell more of.  Then look at your operational costs and see how they are going to increase in order for you to achieve your growth.  Be clear about what your gross profit and net profit need to be as a business to ensure it is sustainable and then measure along your journey and take action as soon as things are not in line with your plans.

Also be aware of what growth means in terms of resourcing and plan ahead.

Map out a SWOT analysis as part of your growth plans to make sure you have understood all the risks and can mitigate them, should they occur.

What does the future hold for you?

The future is about ensuing Evolve is a sustainable and valuable business moving forward that has engaged employees and satisfied customers.

As a business my long term vision is about the exit strategy.  When will that be, what do I need to do to ensure the business is of maximum value, how will I exit (sell or management buyout), where will I get advice about exiting and planning for exit and who will be involved in the exit.

When you decide to set up in business you are accountable for the business vision and strategy.  You are the leader and the buck stops with you.  Accept that you don’t know everything and take external advise from mentoring and outsource providers when and where appropriate.

Appreciate the team that help you achieve the business vision, you cannot do it alone.

Have fun along the journey and remember there is always a work life balance!

 


Inspirational Woman: Mou Mukherjee | Director of Marketing at .CLOUD

Mou Mukherjee is the Director of Marketing .CLOUD, a top-level domain extension that launched last month

You’ve had an interesting and diverse career – what led you to your role today?

Mou MukherjeeWhen I was at the start of my career deciding which path to take, I had a passion for the internet and knew I wanted a career in technology. Back in 1998 when the internet became mainstream, it allowed people to connect in a different way. I wanted to be part of that new world so I took a job at a startup web hosting company. I started in customer service and quickly moved into technical operations. I was able to grow in my role as the company grew from 6 to more than 200 people before it was acquired. It was a very dynamic and thriving environment and I loved watching it grow. I will never forget those early days and I’m grateful to the people that opened the door for me.

Since then I’ve taken various positions, I’ve been in and out of the domains and hosting industry, worked both client and agency side, and even on a few projects outside technology. There are some very intricate transitions you can make if you find the right timing and opportunities.

Today I’m the director of marketing at .cloud. In this role I look after digital marketing, work with our channel partners, and manage PR operations and events.

So why did you choose to work in technology?

I’m glad I specialised in technology because look at the world we live in now. Even if you are not working in technology, technology affects our everyday lives.

During my career I literally grew up with the cloud and watched how cloud computing transformed our business and personal lives. Currently at .cloud, I get to interact with a lot of cool and creative people and companies that are very passionate about the cloud; that’s a very fulfilling part of my job.

I never expected that a very niche experience in the world of domains and web hosting would lead to this wonderful opportunity with .cloud.

What other invaluable things have you learned along the way?

Firstly, it really helps to be passionate about what you do. You might not love every aspect of your job but you’ve got to love the core of what you do because you spend a good portion of your life at work.

Secondly, relationships are key. It is important to treat everyone with respect. That goes beyond your customers and immediate teams, it includes partners, vendors, pretty much everyone you interact with. Everyone has a job to do and everyone is different in their approach. If you try to understand life from
another person’s perspective, people are more likely to respect and enjoy working with you.

Also people remember experiences - when you shared a laugh, got through a hard time, celebrated a success, had some fun, or went out of our way to connect with someone. We work in a very stressful environment at times, small things can make a big difference. And it is because of relationships that I am where I am today. My boss Francesco, was a former business partner of mine, and I was connected to Aruba SpA (the parent company of .cloud) through a previous job in the industry.

Finally, be flexible and adaptable. Not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes you need to get a fresh perspective. Over time, you’ll learn what motivates you, what inspires you, how to overcome challenges, and in what environments you excel the most.

What has inspired you in your role today and your latest project to launch .cloud?

I'm returning to an industry that I used to work in previously so renewing all my former relationships has been very inspiring. But ultimately I choose this job because it was a chance to build something new and watch it grow.

Working for an Italian company has in itself been very inspirational and rewarding. The team here is very creative, passionate, and they have been exceptionally welcoming and supportive. Through them I have gained a different perspective on business and culture.

Do you have any other advice to pass on to women looking to work in technology today?

If it’s your passion, pursue it! Talk to people you aspire to, and learn how they got there. There will be some common challenges that women face and it’s good to know about them, but ultimately you have to figure out how you want to make a difference, what’s worth fighting for, and what you need to be happy and successful.

It’s also hard to learn that we don’t live in a perfect world. But if you’ve built good relationships, people will help you on your journey. So be memorable and remarkable at what you do. Your career is going to change, it’s meant to be dynamic. You don’t know sometimes how long or short your journey will be, but relationships and experiences can last a lifetime. You never know where you might find yourself one day.


Inspirational Woman: Louize Clarke | Co-Founder of ConnectTVT & [email protected] Green Park

Louize ClarkeOur latest Inspirational Woman in Tech is Louize Clarke, co-founder of ConnectTVT & [email protected] Green Park. ConnectTVT is dedicated to raising the profile of entrepreneurial talent, while [email protected] Green Park offers an innovative mentoring and resource hub.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never. I’ve always been fairly “heart on sleeve” when it comes to my career and followed my head. I have a very eclectic career history but it’s with my start-up now that I see what destiny had in store for me and why I tried my hand at a few things. While my start-up is the product of a happy accident, I believe everything happens for a reason.

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

I’ve faced many challenges but ultimately, they are what drive me. If the status quo is one of tick along, I would be doing the wrong thing. That’s not to say I don’t have dark days and wonder if a simpler life would be easier. I am also very lucky to have a strong support infrastructure who always get me back on the straight and narrow quickly; a diverse team of people from the GROW Community Managers, my awesome PR lady, and a very understanding family. In my experience, a challenge is only something that you need to navigate in another way. Since working in a start-up I have a much more flexible approach to problems and don’t see the barriers I maybe did when I worked for a corporate.    The freedom and flexibility of the start-up environment has become part of my DNA.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

Ask yourself if that will make you happy. Too many people feel that a management step-up is the only career choice.  When I was younger I thought that being a Sales Manager was the next rung in the ladder, only to find I worked more hours, had lots more stress and spent less time at the coal face with customers, which was the bit I loved. A good question is “What do I want more of?” Doing what you love and loving what you do is so much more than a title but if you believe this the way to make the most of your talents and abilities, go for it.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

It’s always early with a snatched coffee with my husband and I mostly have to help my teenage son find something he has lost! I then make sure I get outside to walk the dog. This is my thinking and planning time for the day before heading off to meetings, interviewing candidates or to my incubator [email protected] I’m not one to be a slave to routine, but I find this works. My week day evenings end with my laptop being shut- I haven’t quite mastered the art of a work life balance yet but I’m working on it.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Don’t get caught up in politics. Integrity is a much coveted asset. Just do everything to the best of your ability and don’t be afraid to put your hand up for a project that will stretch you.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I have just taken on a mentor. I recognised that I’m sometimes too close to the business to be objective but I needed that support to work on the business rather than in it. Running your own business is brilliant but I won’t be the first person to say it can be lonely and isolating. It’s good to have someone to keep me on track and accountable to.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbie networker?

I think networking is important but at the right events. You can burn hours trawling around poor quality networking groups; often the best ones are those you come across in a natural, unforce way. . My top 3 tips are; will the speaker attract the kind of people you want to connect with? Networking events are so easy to drop out of so think about how your life works. Is a breakfast, daytime or evening event best for you and when you will be at your best, too? Finally, I would say, give without expectation. Don't approach networking with a mind-set of what you can get, rather focus on what you can give. The people I’ve learnt the most from in networking are those who take a ‘pay it forward’ approach.

What does the future hold for you?

More of the same I hope, I’ve been having a blast for the last 18 months and the opportunities just keep coming. I started ConnectTVT with a vision to get the Thames Valley back on the tech cluster map. While we still have a way to go, I am definitely feeling a shift. This process has absolutely taught me to be more fluid about my future; follow your instincts and you will get to where you need to be.


Inspirational Woman: Trina Chiasson│Senior Product Manager at Tableau

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m Trina, and I’m a Senior Product Manager at Tableau. I’m working on a new data analysis app called Vizable that we launched last month. Before this, I founded a startup called Infoactive, which Trina Chiasson Smilingwas a web app for making interactive infographics and data visualizations — and Tableau’s first acquisition. I also co-organized and launched an open source e-book called “Data + Design” which is still in active development and has more than 80 contributors around the globe.

What inspired you to start a business?

Starting a business was a natural product of my personality. I’d say it was more of an obvious evolution than a deliberate choice. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I want to be an entrepreneur now.” I’ve always been a creative person and I have a habit of starting elaborate projects. Infoactive was one of my projects that grew into a bigger thing.

I almost want to flip the question on its head and ask, “What would make you avoid starting a business?” It would take a lot of willpower for me to stop creating new stuff. It’s just what I do. It’s my default mode. And I love it.

What was the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

You know, a lot of people romanticize being their own boss and imagine that they’ll have a lot more time and flexibility. I’m sure that’s possible for some folks. However, most of us are our own worst critics, so you’ll hear a lot of self-employed people say that their boss is a total jerk.

I’d say a challenge in being the boss is that you own a lot of responsibility for business performance. When things are going well, you feel really proud of your product and your team. When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to blame yourself and work harder to compensate. It’s a roller-coaster experience and it can be intense at times. I personally like roller coasters, but some people don’t.

The biggest rewards were the people I met and the things I learned. Launching a startup accelerated my learning and grew my network in a big way. I was fortunate to have an amazing set of mentors, supporters, and customers who taught me so much. I’ve grown a lot because of that experience.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?

This is going to sound very simple and obvious. It’s really important to eat well, exercise, sleep enough hours, get some sunshine, and hang out with people you love on a regular basis. Meditation helps, too.

You need to have a solid mental and physical base so you can withstand failures and bounce back quickly from setbacks. In order to maintain clarity, focus, motivation, and discipline to complete the marathon and achieve your long-term goals, it’s important to build up a strong psychological immune system.

Unfortunately, goal-oriented people never have enough hours in the day and it’s easy to let these things slip. “I’ll exercise and eat a healthy meal tomorrow when I have more time.” Then tomorrow is just as busy and before you know it, you’re becoming weak. Your health is a long-term investment. The benefits are both incremental and cumulative. It’s not just something that you can address occasionally when you have extra time.

Vizable is your current project. What’s that all about?

Vizable is a new iPad app for data analysis. The project started with a question: What do you do when you have a table of data and a tablet? How do you see and understand your data?

We decided to build an entirely new product to explore the answer to that question. We wanted to create a tactile experience where you could physically touch your data and explore it using a variety of gestures. We assembled a multi-disciplinary team with broad experience in storytelling, animation, mobile, and UX design. For example, some of our team members came from places like Pixar and Lucas Films. To design a brand new approach to data analysis and storytelling in a touch-first environment, we brought in fresh perspectives in addition to drawing on Tableau’s 12 years of wisdom.

We launched Vizable as a free product last month at our customer conference in Las Vegas. So far, the response has been very positive. We’re featured as a top productivity app in the app store, and last week we were also featured among a small handful of apps that are great to use with the new iPad Pro.

Why did you decide to join Tableau?

Joining Tableau seemed like a natural fit. There’s a lot of overlap in our interests and goals.

At Infoactive, we spent a lot of time exploring the intersection of data and design. We’re passionate about helping less-technical folks learn to navigate the often confusing world of data visualization.

We always admired Tableau and its mission to help people see and understand data. Joining forces with Tableau lets us work toward a common goal and achieve our vision on a larger scale. We’re not just interested in building a product — we’re really looking to change the world. And the world of data is changing so rapidly these days. It feels like we’re in the beginning stages of a massive social transformation. In a historical context, it’s an exciting time to invent new data analysis tools. It’s so cool to ride this wave and steer it at the same time.


Inspirational Woman: Liz Bonnin | Biochemist, Wild Animal Biologist & Presenter

Liz Bonnin - Inspirational Woman

Liz Bonnin, is a Biochemist, Wild Animal Biologist & Presenter, and is currently a role model for EDF Energy’s #PrettyCurious campaign.

The new programme, launched by EDF Energy, aims to change teenage girls’ perceptions of science and inspire them to pursue science-based careers. EDF Energy has collaborated with Liz and three other role models to help demonstrate to teenage girls the breadth of career opportunities available to them. A short video about these role models can be found here.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what you do currently

I studied Biochemistry and Wild Animal Biology at University. I fell into television after my first degree and presented entertainment shows like Top of the Pops, but my first love has always been science and I returned to academia to complete a Masters degree.

I then got the chance to combine my passion for science with a new found love for communicating it on television and have worked on all sorts of science and natural history programmes, including Bang Goes the Theory, Horizon, Stargazing Live, Operation Snow Tiger and Super Smart Animals.

I just returned from California, filming a programme about marine wildlife called Big Blue Live and am currently working on a series about animal migrations for BBC1, filming in Canada, Kenya and Botswana. I’m also gearing up for another series of Stargazing Live in January.

I have always been curious about the world around me and dreamed of travelling the world when I was little. My career allows me to meet scientists working at the top of their field and l am constantly learning new things about the natural world. I feel very lucky to be doing what I do.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always loved science from a young age and knew I wanted to learn about the world around me, but I never really planned exactly how I would achieve that. In fact my career path has changed several times over the years.

After graduating with my Biochemistry degree I took a year out, sang in a band, travelled and then got the chance to present a music show in Ireland which led to me presenting other programmes in the UK. I had a fantastic time, but I missed science and that’s when I decided to go back to school and complete a Masters in Wild Animal Biology and Conservation.

It was only then that it all came together and I got the chance to become a science presenter - communicating what I am passionate about and hopefully inspiring others about the world around them too.

I am a big advocate for not putting yourself under too much pressure to find to perfect career early in life. My advice would be to experiment and to not be afraid to try new things and change your mind. It’s the only way to discover what you love and what’s right for you.

Unfortunately many young girls do become disengaged with STEM subjects

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

Of course I’ve had many challenges along the way - it certainly hasn’t always been easy - but I’ve found that if you believe in something enough and are prepared to work hard for it, you can achieve your dreams. The most important thing is to do what you truly care about and not make money or other factors influence your decision. This will make it so much easier to get out of bed in the morning and to work really hard when you have to. My most rewarding experience was to complete my research project in Nepal when so many things were working against me. But I desperately wanted to work on tiger conservation so dug my heels in and refused to give up. And it was so worth it in the end.

I was lucky to have great support from my family and teachers who encouraged my love for science. Unfortunately many young girls do become disengaged with STEM subjects at some point and currently only one in 7 people in the STEM workforce are female. As a science communicator I feel very strongly about doing my bit to tackle this issue.

I’m currently working with EDF Energy on the #PrettyCurious campaign to try and address the gender imbalance in STEM careers. Research has shown that young girls are just as capable as boys in all the sciences so it’s important to encourage and inspire them to maintain this inherent aptitude and their curiosity for the world around them.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

The nature of my job means that there is rarely a ‘typical day’, which I find exciting. I could be in accompanying scientists as they tag blue whales to learn more about their ecology or at interviewing the NASA engineers who made it possible for the Curiosity Rover to land on Mars. I also have days at my desk, pouring through scientific papers in preparation for the next shoot, and I relish those days too because I get to learn about the latest exciting discoveries and developments in all sort of STEM fields.

The perception of scientists working in a lab 24/7 is so outdated. In my career I have met so many scientists doing incredible things around the globe, pushing boundaries to discover more about this extraordinary planet of ours. Hopefully through the programmes we make we can inspire young people to embark on similar career paths. Scientists are adventurous, creative and passionate people who are often the happiest people I’ve ever met.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve never really had any official coaching or mentoring but I have been inspired by so many of the scientists I’ve met throughout my life - from my lecturers at University to the scientists I meet when we film. Not only do they inspire me to want to do more to protect the natural world but they’ve also shown me how important it is to be passionate about what you do in life, and to be resilient, determined and hard working, even when the odds are against you.

That’s why I believe that my role as a science communicator is to help to inspire the next generation and why campaigns like #Pretty Curious are great vehicles for this.

What does the future hold for you?

I hope to continue to do what I do for many years to come. I can safely say that I love my job and I know that this is still somewhat a rare thing to say, so I do feel very lucky. I’d like to go back to University again and complete a PhD, and the topic is changing all the time - from field research for tiger conservation to something that can lead to influencing much needed changes in conservation policies at government level. So I am stewing over a couple of ideas but hopefully this is something I can do in the near future.

Ultimately as long as I’m doing something that excites me and challenges me every day, I’m happy.


Inspirational Woman I Bethany Thomas, Reactor Chemistry Engineer at EDF Energy

Bethany Thomas, aged 23, is a reactor chemistry engineer at EDF Energy. She is a currently a role model in the energy company’s #PrettyCurious campaign.

Tell us about your career history

From a young age, I have always had an interest in how things work; wanting to take objects apart and see what they did.Beth Thomas 3

I first became interested in the energy industry after carrying out a week’s work experience at EDF Energy’s Heysham 2 Nuclear Power Station at the age of 15. I remember being taken on a tour of the plant, seeing the turbines and thinking “gosh this is so cool!”

I studied Physics, Chemistry and IT at A-Level and Maths at AS Level. I then went on to study Chemistry at Manchester University.

At the end of the second year of my degree, I carried out a summer placement with EDF Energy at Heysham 2 Nuclear Power Station. It was then that I was told about an opening for a Chemistry Apprentice. I secured the position and the company sponsored me while I completed the final year of my degree part-time.

A typical day for me will involve monitoring the performance of the plant, such as the reactor chemistry of the coolant gas and its associated water cooled systems. If there are any problems, I will carry out troubleshooting and work with Operations to return the plant to normal operation. There are no two days are the same and I really enjoy experiencing new challenges to solve.

What is your advice for women who want to pursue STEM careers?

I visited my old secondary school a few months ago, to talk about my career. I was approached by a female student who said that she didn’t know whether to continue her studies in science or in the arts, as she was concerned that science may be ‘too difficult.’

I advised her that science is definitely not out of anyone’s grasp. It’s amazing how much you can do when you get to grips with things. I never thought I’d be in the position I am now and I’m amazed with the things I’ve achieved.

I am keen to progress in my career and would like to go into station management.


Inspirational Woman I Amy Edmundson, Electrical Maintenance Technician at Hinkley Point B

Amy grew up in Bridgwater and was always aware of Hinkley Point B through her own friends and friends of her parents. Her interest in engineering was first sparked at school when she was asked to design a product in a design and technology class, which required her to use and develop a lot of skills and knowledge needed in engineering, such as creativity and science.

Amy went on to join the EDF Energy apprenticeship scheme in 2011, which she felt was a brilliant opportunity to work in a unique and interesting industry – that of nuclear power. She spent the first two years of her apprenticeship at HMS Sultan, a navy base in Portsmouth, which proved to be a great training base for learning a trade, as well as an opportunity to meet new people.

She recently qualified as a maintenance technician. A power station uses lots of electrical equipment and her role involves maintaining and repairing electrical equipment, such as batteries, motors and circuit breakers. Amy is now doing a Higher National Certificate in Electrical, Electronic and Control Principals – her ambition being to develop her skills further and open up other career routes within operations and engineering. Amy is a role model for the EDF Energy #PrettyCurious campaign.

 What’s your career and education history?

I grew up in Bridgwater and was always aware of Hinkley Point B through friends and friends of my parents.

King Alfreds School, where I studied GCSE’s including Science, Design Technology and Maths. I then went to Bridgwater College for 1 Year where I studied AS-Levels in Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Psychology. I didn’t have much experience in the engineering industry before I joined the apprenticeship scheme in 2011, but my interest was sparked at school. We were asked to design a product in a design and technology class, which employed a lot of techniques that you would apply to engineering such as creativity and science.

I felt that the apprenticeship was not only a brilliant opportunity for me to gain the experience I wanted, but to also allow me to work in such a rare, individual and interesting industry of ‘nuclear power’. It also leads into such a brilliant career path for me, with working on a nuclear power station.Amy Edmundson 4

Tell us about HMS Sultan

I spent my first two years of the apprenticeship carrying out my training at HMS Sultan. During these two years I gained all the basic knowledge and skills which I required to build on and hopefully to become a successful maintenance technician at Hinkley Point B, and maybe C in the future. HMS sultan is a navy base in Portsmouth, and is a great chance to spend time away from home, whilst learning a trade, and meeting new people from across the country!

What are your thoughts on your role?

I recently qualified from my apprenticeship as an Electrical technician. A power station uses lots of electrical equipment and my role involves maintaining and repairing electrical equipment – for example, batteries, motors, circuit breakers.

There are so many opportunities for development within the company. I recently qualified as a maintenance technician after a four year apprenticeship with EDF Energy and am now doing a Higher National Certificate in Electrical, Electronic and Control Principals. My ambition is to join the technical leg of the technician level, as well as having the opportunity to go into a job with operations, engineering, or many other roles. This ability to develop your skills is hugely supported by the company.

As a whole, EDF Energy is a brilliant company to work for, and I am proud to be an employee. I have the opportunity to be involved in such a unique industry, as well as have a great and secure job.

What is your advice for women who want to pursue STEM careers?

Boys and girls all start education at the same level and all have the ability to do well in science. It’s a shame that so many teenage girls don’t think they’re clever enough and think they’re too creative to work in a science-based job. There are so many creative jobs you can do with a science qualification, in many different industries. I hope the #PrettyCurious campaign will encourage more girls and young women to explore the opportunities open to them. Being a woman in the industry can be seen to be difficult, but I can happily say women are not treated differently and it would be great to see more women join our teams.

Don’t ever think that you’re not good enough, women make just as good engineers and scientists as men.


Inspirational Woman I Jenny Griffiths, Computer Scientist and Founder & CEO of Snap Fashion

Jenny Griffiths, Computer Scientist and Founder & CEO of Snap Fashion was interested in Science and ICT, as well as Music and English, but before she went to university she thought she would have to choose to either pursue an Arts or Science career.

She never thought she would invent something which would enable her to keep up with all of her interests and skills – Snap Fashion. The Snap Fashion app and website allows people to take a photo of an item of clothing they like that they see in a magazine or in person, and then the use the app’s visual search technology to find a similar item available they can go and buy on the high street or online. Jenny is currently acting as a spokesperson for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious campaign, and acts as a role model to encourage more girls into STEM careers.

How did you find studying science school?Snap.fashion.high.res-4

Science was definitely one of my favourite subjects at school. I preferred Physics but generally really enjoyed the practical side of all of the Sciences and having the chance to be a bit more hands-on and experimental in lessons. I looked forward to Maths and IT classes but also to English and Music, which I studied during my A Levels – I found I could be creative with all of these subjects, just in different ways.

At what age did you first become interested in technology and what was it that excited you?

I’ve always been interested in science and technology, ever since my father took my sister and me on family trips to the Science Museum in London. My parents were never pushy when I was younger – they let me do and learn about what I enjoyed and I think this helped nurture my passion for science. I used to do home experiments and make my own stop motion animation with a friend as I’d always thought I would become an Animator. I think it’s for this reason that I’ve always viewed science and technology as quite playful.

What was your peers’ attitude towards Science, Technology, ICT and Maths when you were growing up?

I did find that as we progressed through school that quite a few girls dropped Maths – I’m not quite sure why – but this didn’t dissuade me from continuing to study it. I gravitated towards something I was good at which is why I studied Science and Maths at school and beyond.

What made you decide to take science subjects for A Level?

It was a no brainer as I really enjoyed these subjects at school. One rule I have always lived by is to ‘know your strengths’, so it made total sense for me to take Maths and Physics, as well as English and Music, on to A Level. By studying Arts and Sciences I also knew I was keeping my options open and could go on to study a variety of courses at university and apply these skills to a range of careers.

Who were your role models when you were growing up?

One person I have always regarded as a role model is British Engineer James Dyson. Over the years he has taken a range of everyday and household products and improved their design and functionality. He has the ability to look at something you didn’t think was broken or could be improved upon and make them so much simpler and more effective.

Did these role models differ from other girls’ your age?

When I was younger I think my role models were very similar to those of other girls my age. I was very into Brit pop and indie music when I was growing up and didn’t necessarily look up to them but enjoyed going to gigs and watching bands have fun on stage, do what they love and produce amazing music all at the same time. That was really inspirational to me and I think it helped drive me to ensuring my future career was something I felt truly passionate about.

What led you to study a technology subject at university?

 I studied Physics, Maths, English and Music at school and so when it came to choosing my degree I was concerned I might have to choose between studying science or a more Arts-related subject. I had also had it at the back of my mind from a young age that I might like to become an Animator or inventor so was interested in finding out what I could do in this area. After researching the science courses on offer at university and what was involved, I became interested in Engineering. As a discipline it involves designing and inventing, which would then allow me to use both my creative and practical skills. I decided Computer Science was the engineering course for me and would get me one step closer to my dream job.

What was the gender split like for your university course?

The gender split at university was definitely skewed towards men – there were 4 or 5 girls and about 100 in my undergraduate degree and 2 girls and 30 boys in my master’s degree! I found at university Computer Science had one of the worst gender biases of all the science subjects and I have never understood why. I was never intimidated by this bit did find it a bit of a culture shock initially.

When you chose your degree did you have a specific career goal in mind?

When I started my course I thought I wanted to become an Animator or become and inventor and create something totally new – I just wasn’t sure what that would be. I studied a wide range of subjects at school so I could keep my options open and thought Computer Science would help open the door to a wide range of possibilities.

Did you ever feel the pressure to study more traditionally ‘girly’ subjects?

I’m not sure you can really call any subject girly or for boys – you should definitely always study and continue to enjoy what you love. I was always good at Science so it was assumed I would go on to study Medicine or Veterinary Science however I always knew that engineering was more me. My enthusiasm for the subject meant that my friends, school and family were all really supportive of my decision.

Were you ever intimidated by the idea that these subjects are traditionally ‘male’?

When I started at university I was slightly surprised by the abilities and skills of the students on my course. A number of the boys had been interested in coding for several years whereas I was starting afresh so it meant I had a lot to learn quite quickly. I didn’t find this intimidating though – I have always known that I and all other girls are just as capable as boys. We all use technology every day and should be able to influence new innovations and developments just as much as boys do. Everyone wants products to be well-designed and to work quickly and girls can bring fresh new approaches and ideas to the fore.

Were you ever tempted to go into a non-technology related career?

I love to write so had considered studying English Literature at university and working towards becoming a journalist. I think this is what I might have done had I gone down an arts-related path at university.

Have you faced any barriers as a woman in a male-dominated industry?

There haven’t been many barriers during my career however as there aren’t many women in technology there have been times when I have stood out. I’ve always been able to turn this on its head and use it to my advantage throughout my career and have become good friends with other women in technology who are all very supportive of each other. I do think it’s important for girls to disregard stereotypes and to continue to do what they like. There will only be more women in technology and science if girls who enjoy it stick with it!

What inspired you to create the app and when did you decide it could be a good idea?

I was inspired to create my app Snap Fashion initially for entirely selfish reasons! I wanted to know where people bought their clothes from and where I could find items to complement the clothes I already had but realised there was no pre-existing easy way to do this. And with everyone carrying smartphones with powerful cameras everywhere with them the raw materials were all already there for me to invent it. I discussed the idea with friends who all said they would download and use the app when it became available, so it was then I knew that I was on my way to creating something that would fill a gap in the market.

What pushed you into working on the app full time?

After university I began working as a Project Manager at an Engineering company which I really enjoyed, and was busy creating the codes and algorithms needed to make my app during the weekends. After winning a competition led by Innovate UK, I knew it was time to start working permanently on my app. I moved to London, began recruiting a team and it was then that my invention became a proper reality rather than just a hobby.

When did you realise you could have a career in technology that combined an unrelated industry like fashion?

I realised quite quickly when I was working on my master’s thesis that there was the potential to design the fashion app I wanted to create – all it required was the right data and coding. I’m so lucky to now be able to code during the day and attend London Fashion Week parties at night. The fashion industry is very pro-technology and is integrating it more and more into the store experience, doing some really cool things on the catwalk and creating new materials and designs using the latest technology.

Who are your female role models within the technology industry?

There are an increasing amount of female technology founders out there that I find inspirational such as Bethany Koby, founder of Technology Will Save Us and Vivian Chan, Co-founder of Sparrho, to name but a few. I consider these women and others within the technology space my role models because they pursued something they were good at and have invented something amazing.

What’s your proudest career moment so far?

My proudest career moment to date has to be receiving an MBE at the end of last year, followed closely by winning the Cisco British Innovation Award the day after I launched Snap Fashion, which was an incredible experience.

How do you think the technology industry will change over the next ten years?

I think things will become much, much faster over the next ten years – just think of the possibilities 3D-printing and smartphone technology bring now and how much things have developed over the past ten years. I think technology will take us places we can’t even imagine and hope more women will be at the forefront inspiring these changes.

For girls who feel science subjects aren’t for them, what would your advice be?

It’s important not to force yourself to do something you fundamentally don’t enjoy, stick to what you’re good at and learn where your strengths lie. That said, it’s important to keep your options open and make sure you definitely don’t like something before you discount it! Science and technology are such broad subjects areas that there is bound to be an area which appeals to you so I would recommend persevering and identifying what areas you like the most.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

A lot of people have told me that if you start a company, even if it fails, ‘that will look good on your CV’. That whole approach to life, not being afraid of failure, has encouraged me to throw myself into a wide range of activities and opportunities because you never know where the skills you accrue might come in handy.

What would be your top five tips for girls wanting to pursue a similar career in Technology?

Know your strengths. I knew I enjoyed and was good at physics so it’s important to identify what you’re good at, stick at it and most important of all, enjoy it.

Always do Maths. Maths is at the root of absolutely everything so I can’t recommend it enough – it helped my create my app but has also greatly helped me run my business.

Don’t be put off by stereotypes. Enjoying science or technology doesn’t make you weird – just make sure you go for what you enjoy.

Keep your options open. I didn’t even know it was possible to have the career that I had when I was growing up. Don’t turn down opportunities to experience and learn about new things as you never know where it may lead.

Find people who want to do it with you. It makes the journey a whole lot easier – it’s hard to succeed as a lone ranger. It’s important to have like-minded people with different skill sets around you to bounce ideas off.

Jenny Griffiths is a 28 year old computer scientist and founder of Snap Fashion, a visual search engine for fashion. Jenny invented Snap Fashion’s fashion-finding technology whilst studying for her Masters in Computer Science at Bristol University, going on to launch the app officially a few years after she graduated in 2012. The Snap Fashion app and website allows people to take a photo of an item of clothing they like that they see in a magazine or in person, and then the use the app’s visual search technology to find a similar item available they can go and buy on the high street or online.

Snap Fashion has already attracted a huge following and receives 250,000 Snaps per month. Plus in August this year, Time Inc, the magazine publisher that’s home to titles such as Marie Claire, invested in Snap Fashion for an undisclosed sum. The app has won a whole raft of awards including Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway Award and Jenny herself received an MBE for her services to Innovation in the Digital Fashion Industry.