Sarah Bott featured

Inspirational Woman: Sarah Bott | Head of Business Development, Passenger

Sarah BottSarah Bott is Head of Business Development at UK public transport app and website provider, Passenger. Passenger delivers scalable technology to public transport operators of all sizes, including mobile app ticketing, travel information apps, and websites.

Sarah has had a diverse career to date, having worked in Europe, Asia and the US and across various industries including sales, marketing and advertising. She was inspired to join Passenger after developing an interest in public transport when working for a company which managed the advertising on all UK buses and the London Underground. Sarah’s role has been instrumental in helping Passenger launch its latest product, myTrip - an app designed for the smaller operator market, offering live bus tracking and mobile ticketing. On a broader level, Sarah is also passionate about mental health, having helped her friend launch her life coaching business, and she’s also due to publish a children’s book on mindfulness in the coming months

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

I started at Passenger in January 2020 and am Head of Business Development. My role involves overseeing customer acquisition and business growth.

One of my very first jobs after leaving university was in marketing for a company which managed the advertising on UK buses, as well as the London Underground. Although my career has largely focused on media and advertising, my work with public transport operators and learning about traveller mentality sparked my interest in the wider industry.

Having lived in San Francisco for a few years, which is leading the way with its efforts to improve air quality and carbon emissions, I’d also become very aware of how much work the UK has to do to become more sustainable. I learned that for people to move away from their cars and reduce congestion on the roads, public transport information needs to be accessible, intuitive, and easy to use. Transport technology seemed the perfect solution, so I decided to choose a career in this field.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always been attracted to work for companies that deliver high quality products or services and care deeply about their employees wellbeing as well as customer satisfaction. Being in sales and marketing, I’ve always felt the importance of developing a passion in what I do in order to do the best I can. After I left university, I knew I wanted to work in media and entertainment and I purposefully sought out companies that I admired. In more recent years, I have developed a strong interest in working in the technology sector as my husband also works in this space and technology is such an intrinsic part of all our lives now. I researched Passenger extensively before I applied for the role and I was incredibly impressed by their reputation in the industry, quality of the software produced and the company mission around sustainability. My 15 year old daughter is already keen to develop her career in STEM and I love that she has developed this interest at such a young age.

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

My biggest challenge was having a young family and juggling work. My two daughters were born very close together - 14 months apart - and I was desperate to spend time with them both as well as keep my job. I was leading a regional sales team for a global media company in Asia and I absolutely loved it. However, they wanted me back full time in the office and couldn’t offer any flexibility, so I made the decision to quit and be a full-time mum for a while. The baby years are precious and I didn’t want to miss out on their early years. When I was ready to return to work, I found a great tech start up that allowed me to work flexibly and from home in San Francisco.

That was 12 years ago and I’m so pleased that now many companies have evolved to offer more flexible working in recent years. In many ways, I think the pandemic has helped employees gain company trust that working from home is a feasible option, and productivity has not suffered as a consequence.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

On a personal note, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked in Europe, Asia and the US during my career and I’m proud that I’ve been able to adapt and learn about different industries while also bringing up a family.

Mental health is a topic I’m particularly interested in as my degree was in Psychology, and I’m proud to have developed my skills in this area as it can be applied to any industry. As well as helping a friend launch her life coaching business, I’m also due to publish a children’s book on mindfulness in the coming months.

From a public transport perspective, I’m proud that as a team at Passenger, we have been able to listen to what bus operators and bus passengers need during this pandemic and have been agile enough to adapt and change to support the industry - whether it’s been launching new features or new products such as myTrip. myTrip now has over 20,000 users and we’ve signed up 46 operators in the space of six months, which is a great achievement.

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

I like to think of myself as optimistic and open minded and as a consequence I’m not afraid to try new things.  I was offered a job in Hong Kong on my wedding day and luckily my ‘soon to be’ husband had a similar mindset as me. We both thought ‘why not, let’s give it a go!’. We had our children in Hong Kong and by the time they were 5 and 6, we’d moved several times for work including to the United States. I think having a flexible, open approach to life has helped us all learn new skills, be adaptable to change and focus on the positives in everything we do.

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

As a mother of two teenage daughters, I strongly believe that being a woman should never hold you back from any career that you want to pursue. You should always follow your dreams, and do your best not to limit yourself with self-doubt. Imposter syndrome affects us all at times, but developing a strong sense of self belief and confidence in your abilities is key.

For anyone looking to change careers, it’s important to remember that skills are transferable, so don’t ever feel stuck to one particular industry if you feel you need a change. You may lack experience, but you can learn anything you put your mind to. I’ve worked in sales and marketing in a real mix of areas including entertainment, media, mental health and technology - and these have all brought skills which I’ve been able to apply to my role at Passenger.

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

I believe a big barrier is a lack of confidence stopping women from applying for certain jobs if they don’t feel 100% qualified or experienced. I also think there’s still a lack of interest in tech subjects at school for girls, so many choose not to pursue it as a career. To inspire children early on in life, I think more needs to be done to relate such subjects to real-world people and problems, helping them empathise and understand the industry.

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

One of the most important things for me is flexibility. COVID-19 has accelerated remote working policies, but as we emerge from the pandemic, there will still be companies returning to predominantly office-based environments. This can pose problems for women who want to start a family and cannot commit to traditional office hours. I think more companies need to adopt a flexible working environment to show women (and men) the possibilities of career progression while raising a family.

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

Technology covers such a wide range of areas and as an industry needs people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Tech can change our lives for the better in so many ways and  it’s important to remember that to develop a career in tech, you don’t always have to be into STEM subjects. That said, I’d like to see more investment in schools to encourage and inspire girls to take up tech related subjects such as engineering or coding. This is starting to happen now and I do think it will help to accelerate the pace of growth.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I attended the WeAreTechWomen conference last year for the first time and I was incredibly impressed by the speakers and the way it was hosted online due to the pandemic. It was also great to be able to listen to the speakers in my own time as everything was recorded. I am also part of STEMConnext which is a fantastic network of women in tech, which is run by my friend Gill Cooke. They provide events and webinars on a range of topics including Diversity and Inclusion, mental health and host regular networking events and book clubs.

What are the most interesting elements of your job, and/or elements you feel most passionate about?

I love being able to show how anyone, no matter their level of technical experience, can use Passenger’s system. There is a huge amount of complexity behind the scenes, but our team of engineers bring everything together seamlessly and as a team we constantly look to improve the product by listening to feedback.

I’ve also really enjoyed developing myTrip, our multi-operator app, to support the smaller operator market. Its development means we can now offer cutting edge mobile ticketing capabilities to all operators within the UK now, no matter how big or small their operation. It definitely helps to make my role more interesting and diverse.

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about and why?

It’s still early days for myTrip as we launched last October, but we now have nearly 50 UK operators signed up from all over the country. It’s been fun working on the product development, marketing strategy and bringing new operators onboard.

myTrip is designed currently for the smaller operator market offering live bus tracking and mobile ticketing and we are getting a very positive response from both operators and their passengers. We are now starting to launch myTrip websites which bring even more functionality such as journey planning and interactive timetables. We’re continuing to make bus travel more convenient and accessible for all.

Why do you think it’s important for more women to work in the transport and tech industries?

Workplace diversity is an important part of any business success and this includes the transport and tech industries. Becoming more diverse and inclusive means you introduce many more different opinions and perspectives, leading to improved engagement and creativity within teams.

There are some incredibly inspiring women leading major bus companies now, breathing fresh life and ideas into what has been a traditionally older, male dominated industry.


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


Jo Hannaford

Inspirational Woman: Jo Hannaford | Head of Engineering EMEA, Goldman Sachs

Jo HannafordJo is head of Engineering in EMEA at Goldman Sachs and a leading pioneer in financial technology.

Throughout her 30- year career, Jo has always adopted a ‘pay it forward’ mentality, dedicating time and energy to encouraging under privileged communities and diverse groups to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). She leverages her platform as a senior partner and member of the firm’s EMEA Inclusion and Diversity Committee to drive the firm’s agenda on diversity and inclusion. Through empowering fellow women engineers to become more visible, bringing enhanced education to local schools, and driving organisational and industry-wide policy, Jo has had a wide-reaching impact within the global engineering community.

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

I have had a long, exciting career in technology. In title, I am head of Engineering in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Goldman Sachs, responsible for building, testing, implementing and supporting technology systems, infrastructure, and solutions for the firm. In practice, I am a software engineer who has spent the past 31 years utilising technology to innovate, solve problems and drive the digital agenda forward in the finance industry. I feel privileged to have witnessed the journey that technology has been on over the past three decades, and, in particular, its impact over the past 12 months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; not only has it accelerated digital transformation for many organisations, it has helped us all to stay connected to our colleagues and families.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Technology has developed exponentially during my career – the computers I used to work on are now in museums! I never had a plan per se, but I always worked to keep up with new trends and applications so that I could better understand how technology could shape and impact the industry I worked in, as well as tried to be open-minded about the opportunities that came my way – my best career moves were those I never expected.

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

No career is ever smooth-sailing, and I have certainly experienced a number of challenges over the years, both in my personal life and at work. Flexibility and resiliency are the two qualities I try to embrace every time I am faced with an obstacle – this past year alone has demanded extraordinary amounts of both from us all.

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

We shouldn’t play down the importance of having people to look up to; I have been fortunate to have a number of role models and mentors throughout my career that have helped me to realise my potential. It’s why I spend time working with organisations like STEM Learning, and promote talent externally through initiatives such as We Are The City’s Rising Star Awards – ensuring that children and women have access to visible, inspirational role models in STEM is critical to the mission of getting more women into STEM careers.

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

It has been encouraging to see the number of women working in STEM industries increase over the past few years; WISE recently announced that there are now more than one million women working in STEM across the UK. However, at around 17%, that number is still far too low, and organisations need to continue to put diversity at the heart of both their recruiting and retention strategies in order to see progress continue. Attracting diverse talent to pursue STEM careers is one part of the mission; ensuring that women already working in STEM are able to excel and become leaders in their careers is the other. More women in leadership positions means greater advocacy for those who cannot speak up for themselves, and more opportunities to send the ladder back down to those women coming up behind.

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

Firstly, stay curious. As a result of the past year’s events, technology is transforming every industry, and its capabilities are endless – we are only just beginning to realise its potential in financial services with regards to artificial intelligence and cloud adoption. Staying up-to-date with current trends and how technology is being leveraged in your industry will help you to spot gaps and opportunities for innovation and growth. Secondly, invest in your network – it is often an excellent source of inspiration, opportunities, and support.


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


Inspirational Woman: Rashi Khurana | Vice President of Engineering, Shutterstock

Rashi Khurana 1Rashi Khurana is Vice President of Engineering at Shutterstock where she oversees the front end E-commerce, Platform and Mobile engineering teams.

Since joining Shutterstock in 2016, Rashi helped lead three teams through a technology transformation, all the while managing day-to-day operations of delivering a quality product to customers. Rashi is passionate about managing teams of engineers to deliver above expectations everyday and building resiliency into all initiatives.

Rashi earned a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Hailing from India, Rashi moved to the United States in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Rashi has also spoken on “Business as Usual While Revamping a Decade of Code” and recently took part on a tech women’s leadership panel.  Her speaking engagements include 2018 Wonder Women Tech, 2018 SXSW, and 2017 DeveloperWeek.

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

I am Vice President of Engineering at Shutterstock, where I oversee the front-end E-commerce, Platform and Mobile engineering teams. Since joining Shutterstock in 2016, I have helped lead three teams through a technology transformation, all the while managing day-to-day operations of delivering a quality product to customers. I am passionate about managing teams of engineers to deliver above expectations every day and building resiliency into all initiatives.

I moved to the United States from India in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, I worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career of choice when I was 12 years old was teaching. I thought about going into politics — I wanted to be an officer at the Indian Administrative Services at one point of my life, but nothing would have come close to the growing and learning that has come my way with the choices I have made.

The Indian education system is largely a rat race to get into the top colleges in India for undergrad, such as the Indian Institute of Technology. I decided that path wasn’t for me, which meant dropping out of my ongoing physics and mathematics preparation courses to get into those colleges. I knew I had to be comfortable with this decision so it would not lead to future regret. And as destiny has it, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, to go to undergrad in a part of the country that did not speak my language.

This was my first experience of being out of my comfort zone. Having schooled at an all-girls school, here was my first exposure to the tech field that was heavily male dominated. In my class of 60-plus students, there were only 6-8 women. I learned operating systems, database designs, algorithms, C, C++, Java and more.

My parents always pushed me to consider life outside of my comfort zone. I had already done three internships at tech companies in different parts of India during my summer breaks. That expanded my horizons into Perl, Tcl/Tk, XMLs and SOAP and Visual Basic. I even played with Amida handheld devices and worked with socket programming for them when tablets were not a big thing.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Because the industry’s so heavily male-dominated, I think the biggest challenge is that women have to put in that extra effort, and the extra onus in proving ourselves; that we deserve it and yes, that we are fit for it or can do it. We put great pressure on ourselves.

One big challenge is the superfluous attitude about women in tech and women in general. I’ve noticed that a woman’s body language is judged very quickly. ‘Does she have confidence, or does she show confidence at the time she’s in a meeting?’ Studies have also shown that women have to use a certain way of communication. For example, when you want to get something and you’re in a negotiation, you may not be able to say, ‘I want this.’ You need to use the word ‘we’ more than ‘I’ to negotiate some of those conversations. If the world was a little more balanced, that extra onus and the self-inflicted demand of always being on top of your game and carrying the burden to prove something would fade away.

Another challenge is we don’t raise our hands. We don’t ask. When I was an engineer fresh out of college, two years into my job and I was coding all day, I received a brief email from my manager at that moment. That email said, ‘Rashi will be going to London with the Head of Product and Head of SEO.’ I jumped out of my chair and I ran to his office. Because I thought it was a mistake, I said, ‘I got this email. I think it’s a mistake.’ My manager said ‘Well, you don’t want to go?’ I replied, ‘No it’s not that I don’t want to go. But you have tech leads on your team. You have senior engineers on the team. Shouldn’t they be going first, before I get that opportunity?’ And he said, ‘End of discussion. You’re going.’

This was a long time ago. But it was a turning point for me, for my career, for my life. I realised he had confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself. I didn’t know what confidence meant until that moment, because I’d never thought about it. And that was a turning point. So, I think the first, most important reason for women not being successful is that we are conditioned to put ourselves second. So, when an opportunity even comes to us to lead, we sometimes shy away.

To be successful in STEM, we need to understand that success is not built alone. You could put in your hard work. You could believe in yourself and have the confidence in yourself, but until you have the right advocates who believe in you, it’s still hard to be successful. As you grow further in your career and you really want to be successful, sponsorship comes into the picture more.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am most proud of the network of people I have built. One of my managers once told me, “No matter what code you write, it will be out of the window in less than five years. What stays with you is the network you build, the people you meet.” This has definitely struck a chord with me. When I think about my career and consider new opportunities, I think first about the people I am working with.

The products we build are heavily influenced by the people in charge and the camaraderie we create. People matter the most in any industry and if we can embrace the goodness of the people, we can deliver anything we wish for. I am very proud of and connected to the teams I manage, and that enables me to do a better job at work, too.

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

We need to embrace the fact that we’re women. Even to be at the table, we have to be ourselves. So, my biggest factor for achieving success is being myself. If you are trying to fake it, or if you’re trying to mimic somebody else, you can only do it for a short period of time. Don’t try to be the man. We bring different things to technology, our way of thinking, our problem solving is different. Instead of trying to be a man, we must discover our own way of being heard. When a man wants to get attention, he may pound his fist on the table and get attention. And we may not be cool with pounding our fist. That’s okay. We can use our voice to be assertive and still get attention. There may be one or two meetings where you do not get your eye contact, or your voice is not heard the way you would have wanted. But then, be yourself and be persistent about it and keep speaking up. Keep saying what you want to say, because if you don’t say it, how will anybody hear it? And once they hear it, they will know you have information to offer. You have something to say which nobody else thought about.

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

I have a very different take on mentoring. I don’t think you can have one mentor who can fill all the gaps – you have different people with expertise in different areas, so you need to have a network of mentors rather than just one. I always make myself available for anyone that wants a chat and I like to make them feel comfortable that they can pull me aside. At Shutterstock, we have a Women in Tech group where we can talk about our industry and work out how we can inspire each other, have each other’s backs and recognise our skills. We also bring in inspirational women to talk about their story and give advice e.g. Deirdre Bigley, Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomberg.

For me, I was very lucky that I had that support system at home – I didn’t have to look outside for mentors when I was growing up. My mother has a science background and my father has a mathematics background, which inspired me to follow in their footsteps. My parents did a lot of shaping of my mind when I was young and when I needed that support.

Similar to mentoring, I was sponsored by my previous boss. That’s where I first understood what it meant. He would not shy away being in a room with people of different levels saying that, ‘Hey, I believe in her. And I’m going to let her lead it her way.’ Just being able hear that said aloud vocally, it does wonders to you as somebody is putting their trust in you and you don’t want to violate that.

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

I once attended a session where my former CTO was speaking to 400 women in tech. The title of that forum was “Women in Tech: The male perspective.” He described this scenario where he asked a woman he managed to lead a part of his organisation and she politely refused, saying she didn’t think she was ready. He told her that if she wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t risk his organisation under her leadership. We need to learn to have confidence that we’re ready and trust that when someone calls upon us to lead, we’re capable of doing it.

We are moving forward, but we hit some setbacks and obstacles along the way. I believe people want to be fair, but to favour individualism and moralism over tribalism will require a shift in mindset. The good news is that people are talking about it. The difficulties arise when the discussion sometimes is not rooted in the right ideals.

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

I’d make sure I don’t hold myself hostage to my thoughts of not being able to do something. If you have a good support, there are many touchpoints that you have with people, especially the one-on-ones you have with your manager or your skip-levels and colleagues. First, I’d make sure the direction I want my career to go in is clear. Know that ‘This is my career and I’m driving it. Nobody else is going to drive my career for me.’

I’d then ask myself, ‘What do I want out of my career?’ If I want something out of it, I must make sure that other people are aware of it. And then we work together towards it.

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

I want to make sure that we are creating more diversity but prevent D&I initiatives turning into box-ticking exercises. Being a woman engineer in NYC looking for a job isn’t too difficult, because many employers are actively looking for you. But does that mean a better candidate loses out? My thought is – it’s the end goal that’s important. We need more women and diversity (I’m just taking women as an example here) so that the products we build are catered to everyone and there is equal room for expression and entitlement. As a society we have stereotypes that have existed for so long, it’s dis-balanced. We are in a hard place where we are desperately trying to fix it, so the future generation does not have to deal with this gap.

One way of fixing this is to correct our education system as I think it is too influenced by the norms of our society. When we hand a barbie doll to a two-year-old girl and a superhero to a two-year-old boy, we are setting the tone for what to expect – there are different places for them in society. That continues in school with the courses that are offered and who studies what. We need to talk to girls about science, the universe, technology, and let them build things with Legos at an early age to pique their interest in science. No more doll houses for them, they need to be playing with transformers!


Inspirational Woman: Jen Marsden | Director of Design Engineering, SharkNinja

Jen Marsden SharkNinjaJen Marsden is Director of Design Engineering at leading home technology firm SharkNinja and is originally from the Wirral, Merseyside.

From a young age she was fascinated by engineering, sparked by her Dad, who having previously worked as a Navy Engineer, would teach her about how things work.

Jen’s interests grew throughout secondary education and she gained a place to study Design Technology BA at Loughborough University, graduating in 2005.  She started her career as a junior designer at Vax, where she worked on floorcare products for 11 years, swiftly working her way up to Head of Product Development. Keen to progress her skills in a different sector, Jen joined SharkNinja as Design Manager in 2017. Over just three years, Jen has progressed to a leadership team role. During her time heading up New Product Development for the Ninja Heated category, she has led the team through the development of several hero products including the Foodi Pressure Cooker, Ninja Foodi Health Grill and Which? Best Buy’s Ninja Air Fryer.

In 2019 Jen made moves to take her career to the next level, as she headed up the launch of SharkNinja’s London WE Lead initiative. WE Lead was born in the firm’s Boston office, with the objective of being a social and professional network for women in the US team. Inspired by this and by her own experiences as a woman in STEM, Jen began work to launch a parallel programme in London. Consisting of internal panel events, talks and clinics, the objectives of WE Lead are to provide a supportive, professional network for women in SharkNinja, to directly tackle the main gender equality issues surrounding women in STEM and to spread awareness of the wealth of career options and various avenues to get into STEM, both at SharkNinja and more generally.

Jen’s actions are truly inspirational within the STEM community. She continues to lead her career as Director of Design Engineering, but is also putting immense passion and drive into establishing the WE Lead programme for her colleagues. She hopes to not only increase understanding of the trials faced by women in STEM and how these should be overcome, but to tackle the root of the cause of the industry’s gender imbalance through strategic partnerships.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly, from a young age I was creative and always enjoyed arts and design subjects at school.  As I worked towards my A Level subjects, it was maths which I found to be most interesting and as a result, rewarding.  This combination led me to go on to University to study design, but the diversity of career options was never really highlighted to me during my school years.  Part of my course involved a year working in industry where I joined the design team for Salton Europe (now Spectrum brands) which manufactured consumer products for brands such as Russell Hobbs, George Foreman and Carmen.  It was this exposure to consumer product development that forged my aspirations to work in this industry, designing market leading products for the mass market.

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

More often than not when meeting new customers or clients the assumption is made that I do not work within the engineering team. Whilst I don’t feel this has directly impacted my career growth, it highlights that this is an extra hurdle for me, to always work that bit harder in order to prove my position and capability.  The lack of female peers and leaders has sometimes fed into that insecurity, however, it has also been a big driver in wanting this situation to change.  The WE Lead programme is about providing a support network and raising awareness of this gender imbalance within technical and leadership roles.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I would have to say the progression to my current role. As Director of Design Engineering for Ninja Heated New Product Development, I work with fantastic teams across the world to deliver products which positively impact peoples lives.  It’s exciting to be a part of a category which is growing significantly and bringing such innovative and exciting products to life.

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

It’s important to feel challenged and to continue challenging yourself to further improve and I think a major factor in ensuring this happens is honesty.  From having the ability to admit when you don’t know something, to being open and honest with team members or stakeholders, honesty ensures direction and alignment is always clear.  This is hugely important in driving success both individually and for the business.  Being open to and seeking feedback has enabled me to build on my strength areas and identify growth opportunities.

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

Try and get a good mentor or mentors, someone who can support both your personal and career development.  This does not have to be someone you work with directly, and in fact it’s important that the conversations don’t become performance based. It’s about finding somebody with good and varied experiences who can give feedback and guidance – I believe this is the best way of broadening your skills and knowledge base by enabling growth in many areas.

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

Yes, I believe barriers very much prevail and it is these which are at least partly responsible for the continued gender imbalance in STEM. Throughout every stage of the British education system, there are more boys studying STEM subjects than girls. Although society is working hard to move away from gender stereotypes, an unconscious, implicit bias still remains, and many people still associate scientific and mathematic fields as ‘male’ and the arts and humanities as ‘female.’ Additionally, there is a great absence of information, guidance and encouragement to enter STEM experienced by girls, which is a further factor feeding into the low levels of females choosing to study these subjects and enter the STEM workforce. Sadly, the barriers don’t stop there. I recently read that although there are now one million women working in STEM in the UK, only 5% of leadership positions in technology are held by females, which really shocked me. There is no simple answer to overcoming these barriers, but I believe it starts by everyone realising they have a role to play, whether you are a parent, teacher or employer, girls and women need to be aware of the wealth of opportunities available to them in STEM and given guidance around how they can start a career in the industry and continue to flourish.

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

Firstly, I believe the industry should be working closely with the education system to teach children and students about technology from a young age, shining a light on its instrumental role in shaping the world we live in and highlighting how students can get involved in this exciting sector. Secondly, the entry routes into these professions need to be diversified and for awareness of these to be greater. Alternative avenues firms should look to invest in might look like apprenticeships, work experience weeks, or shadowing schemes. Finally, there need to be processes in place so that female employees progress at the same rate as their male counterparts. Organisations must implement initiatives to support women to advance to more senior positions as well as gender targets at all levels. I am so happy to be working for a firm which recognises the importance of gender equality in the workplace and has implemented initiatives to address it. Through the WE Lead programme, SharkNinja runs a series of events aimed at raising awareness of gender issues amongst all employees, creating a global support network for women across the business and providing education and entry avenues to students through joint ventures with universities and schools.

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?

It would have to be to increase the number of females in leadership positions.  The percentage of women in tech overall is low, but those in the highest positions in a technology role, as mentioned, is only 5%.  Changing this will not only help younger generations to be inspired to follow careers in similar industries, it will also help break down the unconscious gender bias that still exists across many generations.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are lots of great resources available for inspiration.  There’s a great Podcast Playlist called ‘Women in Tech SF – Empowering Podcasts’ which has a lot of insightful podcast channels with episodes covering topics such as working in a male dominated workplace, why there are so few female CEOs and talks with successful business women who discuss their career paths and challenges.  Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook has a short, but really inspiring TED talk about women in leadership, or lack of: https://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders#t-445745 there are plenty of other TED talks too which are a great source of information (https://www.ted.com/search?q=women+in+technology)

There are also more and more events, festivals and conferences being held which talk more about the topic, and celebrate the success of women within the technology industry, including;


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


Inspirational Woman: Sara Dalmasso | General Manager & Vice President, Omnicell International

Sara DalmassoI have over 20 years of digital and healthcare experience and previously worked in senior leadership roles for companies such as GE Healthcare.

I hold an MsC in Management, International Business from ESSCA in France and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I am also certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Since 2020 I have been running Omnicell International. We are a leading provider of drug distribution management solutions around the world. Today, more than 7,000 institutions use our automation and data analytics solutions to increase operational efficiency, reduce medication errors, deliver actionable intelligence and improve patient safety.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I never sat down and planned it. The only thing I knew is that I didn’t want to do the same thing my whole career. I was fortunate to meet some great leaders, men and women, who pushed me to achieve more, develop myself and give me fantastic opportunities.

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

I had a manager that didn’t want me to evolve despite me asking for job opportunities. I had to find opportunities so I started working and leading cross functional projects that went beyond my job description. This gave me some great exposure to leaders and broadened my experience enabling me to find opportunities outside my department.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I was promoted to a role leading very technical teams when I didn’t have a technical nor services delivery background. I didn’t feel competent for it because I felt I was an impostor. I was open and honest with my team about it. To address it I immersed myself with the teams to understand what they were doing. I went to customers with them and learned on-the-job while trying to help the team the best way I could with the experience I did have - decision making, communication, relationship building with customers. After a few months I felt accepted by the team and by the customers which was a great achievement.

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

The ability to step out of my comfort zone and learn on the job.

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

Believe in yourself:  if someone is offering you an opportunity, it means they believe you can achieve this (even if you don’t).  And be bold, you can learn tech and leadership on-the-go.

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

Yes, I believe there are still some barriers, likely due to a combination of historical and cultural factors. When tech development really took off in the 60s, women were still denied access to the business world. Furthermore, engineering schools are dominated by men worldwide, and the pop-culture representations that associate tech with an essentially masculine universe (think geek archetype or Zuckerbergian hero), do not inspire women to pursue a career in tech. We need to focus on the new female stars emerging and advancing the cause of women in tech. In addition, we need to recognise that digital is now everywhere, from commercial functions to marketing to finance, which presents an extraordinary opportunity for women because it is turning the tables. We need to keep the momentum going in terms of continuing to change attitudes, both from within the industry and wider society.

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

Every company and its leaders should lead by example as everybody will be watching them. If you don’t treat women the right way then there is no way you are going to foster the right gender diversity in the company and drive parity.

We are working on our own plan to support women in careers in tech which other companies could also adopt. At Omnicell, HR will now not conduct an interview without at least one female candidate in the running. We are also providing in-house training to provide the best opportunities for the women we recruit. Lastly, we are working as closely as we can with schools in terms of preparing female pupils for roles in the digital/technology industries in order to help encourage future generations of women into careers in tech, to show them that they truly do have a place in the digital sectors.

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

Gender diversity. It’s not only my problem because I am a woman, it’s everybody’s problem. We all need to act to make the change – men and women alike.  We need to look at introducing quotas. We are so far behind in some countries that if we don’t introduce quotas, I’m not going to be here to see parity. Some will say that quotas might influence performance negatively, I strongly disagree. Quotas are the only way we are going to be forced to look for talented women (vs candidates coming to us), and believe me, there are as many talented women in tech as there are talented men.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I recently joined the International Women’s Forum in France, which works tirelessly to promote parity in traditionally male-dominated sectors and I would encourage other women working in tech to do the same. Being a member engenders a real sense of community and it has made me even more determined to move things forward. The IWF recently put on the annual Assises de la Parité conference in Paris which I attended and it was a really positive experience. It brought together companies and start-ups, experts, journalists and politicians in a space where we could exchange and share our views and experiences and stimulate a new dynamic for parity. The power of the network is beyond what you could imagine.

Also, I follow a few podcasts: “Finding Mastery” by Michael Gervais is one of my favourites. He interviews people excelling in the most hostile environments to discover the mental skills used to push the boundaries. Another one is “Dare to lead” by Brene Brown. Brene is having conversations with some passionate transformers, change catalysts and troublemakers who are innovating and daring to lead.


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


Inspirational Woman: Lorina Poland | Enterprise Lead Technical Writer, DataStax

Lorina PolandLorina Poland is a technical writer at DataStax, an open, multi-cloud stack for modern data apps based on Apache Cassandra.

Lorina’s passion lies in decoding technical topics to ensure anyone from a geek to a luddite could understand. She holds Bachelor Degrees in Electrical Engineering and Chemistry, as well as a Masters in Electrical Engineering. Lorina spent the first half of her career with the U.S. Air Force and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel before first becoming a schoolteacher and later specialising as a technical trainer and writer.

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

I’m one of the lead technical writers at DataStax. My background is originally in engineering and I spent a lot of my career working for the US Air Force. Throughout my time with the military, I worked on aircraft avionics and I was one of the first people to work with GPS technology. I also analysed how lasers could be used in the atmosphere - some of that technology we now see readily available in the Hubble telescope.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, my path has been quite diverse. I started out as a dual Theatre Arts and Biology major, later choosing to focus on Chemistry. I was always interested in computers and worked as a computer programmer alongside my studies. Once I got to graduation, jobs were quite scarce, so I joined the Engineering programme with the US Air Force and spent nearly 25 years in various roles within the military.

After military retirement, I wanted to focus on computers so I worked at the University of California in Santa Cruz as one of the first webmasters for the School of Engineering. Before I found my niche as a technical writer, I also spent ten years as a maths and science teacher.

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

There was such a lack of diversity when I was beginning my career. I’d often be in meetings with over 200 people where myself and the secretary were the only females in the room. Working in such a male-dominated environment, I learned how men interacted and chose to adjust my style accordingly. I tried to be more direct and assertive, but this often backfired where I’d be accused of being too aggressive. At that time, it was more important to me that the idea was heard than getting credit, so I’d pass ideas to colleagues to raise on my behalf. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to be myself, ignore that behaviour, and just focus on my work.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been a lot of achievements; retiring from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel is the most obvious one. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a number of ground-breaking technologies. Yet I’m most proud of the work I do today.

I sometimes wonder whether I should have pushed myself further to become a CIO or CTO, but I hear how stressful those roles can be and I had enough of that endless workload during my days as a teacher. Maintaining a good work life balance is more important to me now than the job title and I’ve found my stride with technical writing which is very gratifying.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech?

It has improved, but there’s still a problem. It’s not an issue of attracting women to the industry, it’s retaining them. Most tech companies can place a lot of demands on your time, which doesn’t balance well with a woman trying to start or raise a family. Many companies also operate on hiring by peer recommendation, so you get men recommending their friends who happen to be just like them, and so the cycle continues. Even women that do overcome those barriers have to work so much harder to prove themselves, which can be exhausting.

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

Mentoring can have a significant impact on someone’s career and their motivation to keep pushing. As I was coming up through the ranks, mentoring wasn’t that common but that has improved now. That support can be incredibly beneficial as they navigate the industry.

Companies also need to think about diversity further afield too. There’s not just an issue with a lack of women but LGBT, ethnic, and neurodiverse people, too. Most importantly, I’d ask companies to encourage and facilitate one-on-one interaction. As an LGBT woman, I’ve had colleagues struggle to comprehend my orientation. I’ve taken the time to interact with those people and found that has been hugely beneficial in breaking down barriers. That personal understanding has a far greater impact than a lengthy corporate presentation about diversity policies. We’re all just people with the same fears and concerns as one another – if we can take the time to speak to those who are different to us, we can achieve a mutual understanding. I believe in a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ ethos so it’s not about negatively impacting heterosexual white men, it’s about how better diversity in our industry can benefit everyone.

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

Try to be true to yourself and avoid re-modelling just to fit the environment. Make sure you’ve got a really technically sound understanding as it’s a sad reality that you will need to prove yourself in order to be taken seriously. Developing strong relationships with colleagues is key too; that has served me really well here at DataStax when I need help with a project or in a moment of conflict.


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


Kerrine Bryan featured

Inspirational Woman: Kerrine Bryan | Award-winning engineer & founder of Butterfly Books

 

Kerrine Bryan

Kerrine Bryan - an award winning black female engineer and founder of Butterfly Books.

Kerrine has gone on to smash many glass ceilings to become respected in her field.

She was shortlisted in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 for notable women in business and, in 2015, she won the Precious Award for outstanding woman in STEM. Kerrine is a volunteer mentor for the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET) and is an avid STEM Ambassador. It was while she was undertaking talks at various schools across the country for children about engineering and what her job entails that she became inspired to set up her independent publishing house, Butterfly Books.

In response to this, Kerrine published a series of books (My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer and My Mummy Is A Plumber) as a means of communicating to children a positive message about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers, that are suffering skill gaps and diversity issues. The fourth book in the series, My Mummy Is A Farmer, launched last month - August 2018.

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

I’m a chartered electrical engineer.  I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry for 12 years in London, after which I took a two year career break to have my daughter before returning to work 4 months ago into a new role, new company and new country. I’m now a lead electrical engineer for WSP, a global engineering and professional services consultancy. Based in New York, my role is a mixture of technical, project management and business development work. I’m currently working on some exciting power generation projects including cogeneration, energy saving studies and renewable power.

Alongside my brother, Jason Bryan, I’ve also set up Butterfly Books, a children’s book publishing company. Together, we have co-authored a series of picture books targeting children aged seven and younger, which communicates positive messages about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers that are suffering a skills gap. I think it’s important to provide diverse and positive role models for children at an early age where misconceptions about jobs can develop early. With the books we’ve created, like My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer, My Mummy Is A Plumber and My Mummy Is A Farmer, we want to challenge gender stereotypes and instil in children a belief that they can be anything they want to be, irrespective of sex, race and social background, if they work hard enough to make these dreams come true.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I do sometimes set myself five-year career goals, but this can be restrictive. Personally, I like to take on opportunities as they arise and try out new things. Over the years, I’ve learnt that you might discover that there are areas of work you didn’t previously know much about, but – after gaining a bit of experience – you find out that you actually enjoy it, and this in turn can then change your goals. I think it’s always good to plan, but you have to be amenable to flexibility and change because life can be unpredicatable. So long as you are heading in the right direction of your career and personal goals, the path in which you take – which may be wrought with challenges and set backs – can equally develop you with the skills you need to become a better business person.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Working in a male dominated environment brings its challenges.  My first role as a lead electrical engineer a few years ago proved to be a steep learning curve; my team comprised entirely of men, all of whom were older than me. I definitely felt like I had to prove my competency and worth more than a ‘typical’ (read ‘male’ and ‘senior’) engineering team leader would, but the experience helped me to grow professionally as a manager, team leader and person within a short space of time. Ultimately though, I received a lot of support from my male peers who respected me for succeeding in a career in which there are very few female engineers. They understood that the career journey for women like me couldn’t have been easy, and to make it through the barriers was an achievement worth acknowledging. Given that there is still a lot of work to be done to stamp out bias and prejudice in the workplace, not just in male dominated careers but also in all kinds of workplaces, I’d say I’ve been quite lucky. Of course, it shouldn’t be about ‘luck’. In order for these challenges to dissipate, society needs to reframe notions about what work equates as ‘a man’s job’ and what work equates as ‘a woman’s job’.

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

I think that mentoring is essential for professional development. To receive guidance and support during your professional journey – not just from the outset – but even as you become successful and more seasoned in your field is hugely valuable. I think it’s easy to buy into the idea that we’re the finished article, as there’s always room for self-improvement. Even CEOs need mentoring to a certain degree.  I’ve been a mentor to many early career professionals for over 10 years, and have also been a mentee, so I understand both sides of the dynamic. It’s important to have someone who can challenge your thinking, encourage you to self-reflect and bring out the most in you so that you can fulfil your potential. With this new stage in my career, I will now look for a mentor to guide me in achieving my new career goals.

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

I want to see an increase in the rate of change of diversity within careers and particularly within STEM careers where there is a huge skills shortage. I hope to eventually see diversity at all levels that is proportionate to the diversity of the society. Progress is being made, but the job will be an on-going one. It starts at the grassroots – encouraging children through education to believe that the world is their oyster and that they can work to be whatever they want to be – and it ends with responsible employers doing all they can to diversify their workforce, not necessarily just for moral gain (although that’s important) but because the figures show that it makes economic sense.

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

Providing flexible working arrangements for parents (and that means granting this to both the mothers and fathers) after they have had a child is so important in positively changing the opportunities for women at work. For too long, motherhood has often been a choice that professional women make to the detriment of their careers. This is reflected in the way many corporate organisations shape maternity and paternity leave arrangements; these inherently infer that it is the woman’s job to stay at home with the baby (at least for the first year anyway) while the man brings home the bacon. This ingrains further misconceptions and prejudices, which sees working mothers demonised for putting their careers ‘first’ and stay-at-home or flexibly working dads as non-committal and unambitious. Motherhood is one of the keys reasons why we don’t see as many women entering male dominated work, and that includes STEM careers. Until parental leave is seen as of equal importance and a job that requires the presence of both mother and father, and so long as employers continue to remain inflexible in supporting employees who are parents, we will never see progress in equality happening half as fast as it needs to in order to invoke meaningful social change.

For me, the ability to work flexibly was a huge factor in me deciding to go back to work after having my daughter. Creating flexible working arrangements also strengthens the respect between the employer and employee. Work is important, it can give us a sense of worth and purpose, but an individual should never be made to feel that they have to choose between success in career and paying the bills versus bringing up the family when both are so important.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

This year I became a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).  IET Fellowship recognises the high level of experience, knowledge and ability attained during an individual’s career. The appointment will now provide me with the opportunity to shape the future of the engineering profession through the IET’s expert panels, events and discussions.

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

I hope to be able to help shape the future of engineering in a positive way and also do all I can to encourage diversity in professions, with my children’s books being one of the resources to help make that change.


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


Courtney Roe featured

Inspirational Woman: Courtney Roe | Head of Global Content Strategy, Widen

Courtney RoeBefore joining Widen in 2016, Courtney worked in marketing and e-commerce at retail organisations including Kohl’s and L.L Bean.

With her experience and knowledge in analysing consumer behaviour and addressing them through marketing, Courtney now manages the content marketing strategy and execution at Widen.

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

I am the Manager of Widen’s Global Content Strategy, a role which has evolved a lot over the last four years! I began my career at Widen as a Marketing Customer Experience Strategist, focused on customer communications, before shifting to focus on the company’s overarching content strategy.

Before moving to B2B marketing, I had spent nine years of my career in e-commerce merchandising. I started in e-commerce in 2006 when online shopping was just beginning. It was an interesting time. Not everyone believed that online shopping was the way of the future, and so often those early conversations were around convincing the merchandise buyers that they should put inventory online. At that time, new products were only being added to websites once a month, via an excel spreadsheet!

Today, my main goals are to create consistent, informative, top-ranking content that helps digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) software seekers and users throughout their DAM and PIM journey.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not initially. I have a BA in Print Journalism, which I don’t even think is a degree option anymore. I’d originally intended to write for a newspaper but ended up taking my first job out of university at a printing company working in pre-press production on magazines like Vogue and GQ.

After that, I sort of fell into e-commerce in the early 2000s working at Kohl’s first and then L.L. Bean before I realised that I was better suited for marketing and aspired to get back to my journalism roots — this career transition was the first time I thought long and hard about a career plan. I looked at the things I valued and decided that working in B2B for a smaller company would be a better fit for me, and that definitely turned out to be true!

Since then, I’ve been more intentional about my career moves and progression. I’ve worked to get a clear idea on what I want out of my career and life. I have a better vision of where I want to go and what I want to be doing, which are strongly guided by my core values: the top of which is connection. So that’s why connecting people with valuable content works well for me!

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

I found myself in a role that no longer aligned with my career aspirations and had to make some hard decisions about where to go next. This led to a big career transition and my first time working with a career coach. I learned a lot about myself and other people during that time. It also taught me a lot about leadership, compassion, strength, and networking.

Vulnerability helped a lot. Asking for help is hard, but it doesn’t make you weak. I found a lot of inspiration and connection with others when I was vulnerable enough to talk about the challenges I faced during this career transition. Many people have gone through similar experiences but very few talk openly about them. It gave me a new perspective on people I admired who I had just (wrongly) assumed never stumbled or switched gears in their career. This was eye opening and inspiring.

This experience taught me more about the attributes that I want to have as a leader and what to look for in a leader as well.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Moving from a North America-based team to supporting our global content efforts has been incredibly rewarding. We’re currently focused on NA and Europe, but I’ve learned so much about marketing to different regions and just working in a different country has brought new opportunities within my career path that I never really thought were possible.

Evolving our content strategy is something I’m also extremely proud of. My content predecessors at Widen did an amazing job setting up a solid content foundation but we lacked a strong maintenance strategy. This resulted in outdated articles that didn’t accurately highlight the current functionality of our software. To solve this, the team worked to identify high-performing content and content that no longer served our audience as well as they once did, and we got to work redirecting, updating, and retiring articles and resources. This approach is a core tenant of inbound marketing and I’m incredibly pleased with the progress we’ve seen as a result of our work. Not only are our articles ranking higher in search results, but they better support our customers and those looking to learn more about DAM and PIM software. Having updated foundational content has allowed us to start thinking about new content to reach different audiences. It’s also helping us be more creative because our existing content is optimised and working harder, making room for new things and ideas.

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

Determination and having the courage to ask. I had always wanted to work abroad and have looked for ways to do so since graduating from university, but the opportunity never came up. So, when it did, I jumped at it!

A willingness to learn new things and advocating for yourself are also key, as well as having the empathy and humility to learn from others. Just because you’re used to doing something one way doesn't mean it will work in another country. I like learning about the preferences of different cultures and being curious instead of judgemental allows you to see things from a different perspective.

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

There are a lot of options for a career within technology. To be in tech, you don’t have to be the one who codes...though I know some pretty amazing women who do! I love being able to be creative within marketing yet work within the tech industry.

Here are my top tips:

  • Learn about yourself. What drives you? What holds you back? What do you want out of your career and life? These will help guide your career moves and conversations about your career path.
  • Play to your strengths. Look for what fuels you and when you recognise that something isn’t, seek to figure out why and what you can do about it. I’m not saying to move companies, but have conversations with your manager about where you can make the strongest contributions that benefit you and the company.
  • Set aside time to learn. It’s so easy to get caught up in the deadlines and everything that has to be done. But knowing what you want to learn, learning it, and then applying it is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding — not to mention good for the company, too!

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

There are still a lot of hurdles for women in the workplace in general and tech is no exception — though I think the barrier to entry is different for some career paths than others. But I think the biggest thing a woman can do is to take ownership of her career and advocate for herself. Knowing what you want out of your career — and life — will allow you to more consciously set your own path. Because if you don’t, someone else will set it for you and it might not be what you want!

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

Even though progress and projects are moving fast, there are a number of things I think technology companies can do to support the careers of women:

  • Take time to provide support and encouragement — especially for those early on in their career or if they’re new to a company.
  • Make room for women to have a seat at the table and actually listen to them.
  • Offer options and encourage women to participate in professional development. This might look different for each person; professional development isn’t just conferences, it’s also individual leadership coaching and mentoring.

There is currently only 17 percent 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?

Encourage women to think of tech careers outside of engineering and coding. There are several other career paths within the tech industry outside of what people think of as tech career options.

We talk a lot about unconscious bias in general, but I think there could be more conversations around this with women, too. Not just in regard to motherhood, but to communication styles, societal norms, and other factors that play into how women “show up” in the workplace. The tech world moves fast and often people don’t stop to think about how their actions impact others, so women — especially women who have been trained to be “respectful” from a young age — are easily overlooked and not always considered when decisions are made.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I think a lot about content writing and SEO so those are the resources I gravitate towards:


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


Matabe Eyong

Inspirational Woman: Matabe Eyong | Research Chemist, BP

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

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

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

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


Lauren Kisser featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

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

I use four key words for this career planning:

Role. Qualifications. Skills. Plan.

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

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

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

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three recommendations stand out for me:

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

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

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

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

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

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

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

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

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

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

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


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