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


Vanessa Quansah featured

Inspirational Woman: Vanessa Quansah | Senior Civil & Structural Engineer, Lendlease

 

Vanessa Quansah

At the age of 29, Vanessa Quansah is a Senior Civil & Structural Engineer at global developer and construction company Lendlease.

Studying Civil Engineering at Surrey University, Vanessa went on to work for Swanton Consulting, an in-house design temporary works specialist consultancy for a demolition company. In just four years, she was promoted from a graduate engineer to a Senior Engineer, and then joined Lendlease as Senior Civil & Structural Engineer.

Doing her bit to promote females working in a very male-dominated industry, she is a STEM ambassador, regularly visiting schools to promote engineering to young females and mentor students. In addition she is an Associate Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers (one of approximately 10 females of 400+ members), a Chartered Member with the Intuition of Civil Engineers (ICE) and was also a finalist of the WICE Best Young Woman Engineer 2017.

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

My name is Vanessa Quansah, I’m 29 years old and was born and raised in inner city London. My engineering journey began at Surrey University where I studied Civil Engineering. I hadn’t always wanted to work in engineering – I initially wanted to be a hairdresser - but my friend, who I met during an opportunity to study in the Netherlands, introduced me to the industry and I’ve never looked back since. I graduated with an MEng in 2012 and went on to work for Swanton Consulting, a temporary works design consultancy for a demolition company. After almost four years, I went from Graduate Engineer to Senior Engineer before joining Lendlease in 2016 as Senior Civil and Structural Engineer. In my current role I focus on designing and approving temporary works. Temporary works is a specialist branch of civil engineering, which provides safe access, protection or support during construction or demolition. Most people recognise this as scaffolding and site fencing, but it’s much more than that! I’ve been involved in projects that have included everything from designing retaining walls for a 12m deep basement excavation on a site containing unexploded bombs; to having to hydraulically lift an entire 20-storey building to install bearings after the building was already in place.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Apart from working towards my industry qualifications, I did not have a particular plan. Early on, however, I knew that designing temporary works was something I wanted to continue. As a result, I set out to take on challenging projects so that I could propel my experience and learn quickly so that I can work towards being an influential person within the industry.

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

Being a female in a male dominated industry, I sometimes feel quite conspicuous and people question what I’m doing. This is particularly the case when I’m on a construction or demolition site. This isn’t a negative thing though, as it provides me with the opportunity to open a discussion, talk about what I do, and demonstrate that I have the necessary knowledge, skills and capabilities. This job involves a lot of thinking on your feet to develop a quick, but safe and cost-effective solution, which for me is what I find most exciting in the job. For instance, I worked on a project where an 18th century brick wall had to be retained during the demolition of the remaining the structure, but after working on the project for 6-months it suddenly partially collapsed overnight. I had to get to site at 6am to ensure the rest of it remained intact and managed to devise a solution that both the site team and the client were satisfied with. As my experience and confidence in such a technical role has grown over the years, I see that I am becoming the ‘go-to person’ for devising suitable solutions to some very challenging problems.

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

Diversity is increasingly high on many agendas. I think it’s important that while still ensuring more females get into senior roles, this is based on merit rather than appearance, who someone knows, and certainly not to just make up the numbers. It has to be based on ability.

I believe that Lendlease has the right balance with this and with numerous initiatives to address issues of gender equality it’s not surprising that it was named one of The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women, so we’re taking big steps in the right direction.

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

As a STEM ambassador I regularly visit schools to promote engineering to young females and mentor students. I provide them with an insight into the industry, and for those who are not particularly interested in engineering, I provide support with exam revision and career advice. In addition, I’m their sounding board to discuss any other issue they may be having, which I believe they find beneficial from an older person who is neither their parent or teacher. Furthermore, as a Chartered Member with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), I support my peers with their journey into chartership.

I have had mentors over the years who have not only provided me with technical support but also helped me build my confidence by volunteering me for various presentations and industry events. I believe that in technical roles such as this, particularly as a female, mentoring is so important. It’s comforting to know that there are people that support you and want you to do well and are there to talk to when dealing with difficult projects where a much more experienced person can provide guidance.

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

I think the biggest barrier isn’t that women and girls aren’t necessarily interested in STEM, but the fact that they aren’t aware of the career options it presents. As mentioned earlier, I hadn’t personally known about civil engineering let alone considered a career in the industry until my friend told me about it. It’s so important that we work to raise awareness of the industry, and what jobs and career options it offers, encouraging as many people as we can to consider further education options, apprenticeships and the many roles that are available.

Construction in London is a particularly exciting prospect. We’re part of adapting the London landscape, and with that comes a lot of constraints that have to be considered. For instance, I have designed supporting structures that had to sit on top on live tunnels with people walking just 2m below; worked on a method than involved simultaneously constructing upwards while excavating downwards; and once even donned a fireproof suit to inspect a high voltage switchgear space. I never anticipated the sheer variety of this role when I was studying.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I have had the opportunity to work on several high-profile projects, including the refurb of the Imperial War Museum and Tate Modern, and the construction of Victoria Nova, Westminster’s Rathbone Place and the Elephant Park Development. It is really gratifying to say that I have contributed to the built environment around me and helped to develop these iconic buildings. In addition, one of my temporary works design solutions involved supporting a ‘floating façade’ where a single skin 20m high brick wall needed to be supported after the building interior was fully demolished and the ground beneath it was excavated 14m. This design was a finalist for the British Construction Industry Best Temporary Works Award. On more personal achievements, I was a finalist of the WICE Best Young Woman Engineer 2017, and am an Associate Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers. I am particularly proud of the latter, as I am one of only ten females out of the 400+ members.

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

Eventually, I would like to be in a leadership position where I can be an influential person within the business and shape how engineering is delivered on our projects. I would also like to have the opportunity to work overseas and hopefully learn from the methods used in other major cities to see how we do things better here. I’m currently working on achieving one more industry qualification, as well as working towards becoming a member on an expert panel which maintains and shapes best practice within the construction industry.


Inspirational Woman: Amira Bouguera | Cryptographer & security engineer, ConsenSys

 

Amira Bouguera

Amira is a Cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys.

She co-founded the HellHound project, which allows developers to implement privacy by design in dApps.

Amira is at the center of the movement to create awareness about the value of privacy, put us in charge of our digital private data, and promote blockchain technology amongst enterprises and governments.

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

I am a cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys. I co-founded the HellHound project, which allows developers to implement privacy by design in dApps (decentralized applications). I’m also at the centre of the movement to create awareness about the value of privacy, to put us in charge of our digital private data, and promote blockchain technology amongst enterprises and governments.

I graduated from engineering school and specialised in cryptography and cybersecurity, and I hold a Master’s degree in applied math.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Several times actually. When I was little, I was always interested in problem solving and math, I just wasn’t aware of all of the career possibilities available for those who are passionate about math. I had a lot of ideas, but young people do not always receive a lot of guidance or information on the types of careers that are available in math and in the exciting area of technology. However, I always knew that I wanted to develop my own project and work in an international environment. My advice for young people is that it’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do later in life, and it’s important to experiment and follow your dreams. Even at university, it’s OK not to plan everything ahead, but if you are ambitious, determined and work hard you can succeed in whatever you want to do. I believe that in pursuing their career paths, women can achieve their goals. Traditional ideas are just an obstacle in the mind, and women are not obliged to follow them. I have always dreamed about the future and wanted to be independent in my career path. Your professional dreams can come true if you work hard to achieve them.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, I have faced a few challenges. For example. I realized I had to study abroad because, in my home country, the options were limited for studying the subjects I was interested in such as math and cryptography. Therefore, I knew I had to travel to learn more in these fields. To explore new opportunities and to follow my dreams, I had to study away from my family and that was one of the hardest challenges for me.

Several people tried to discourage me and one example was a math professor, but I listened to my heart and trusted my capabilities to succeed. I was fortunate to be surrounded by those who supported me, and especially my parents. During my studies, I had to prove that I was good at what I do. On occasion, I still face that challenge today at conferences. I enjoy working with men and most of them respect me and my expertise. However, there are some men who can underestimate me at the beginning until they develop trust and see that I have the skills in my field. I find that as women, we sometimes have to work even harder to prove ourselves.

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

During my studies, I helped teach others and I have always been open and willing to answer questions and provide guidance or advice to others. I have not yet had the chance to mentor someone in a formal way and I would love the opportunity to be able to do that.

My parents and several others in my network have been helpful and supportive to me. My mother and father have been inspirational and great mentors, always encouraging me to not give up and to follow my dreams.

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

What I see and what excites me in the blockchain field are people from different backgrounds, cultures, races, and genders working and collaborating together and it’s so positive. I would like to see even more of that in the coming years. Decentralized organizations allow the flexibility for people to work when they are most productive, from wherever they are located, and even though the collaborators are not in the same place, they can all work together on their projects. I would like to see more inclusive collaboration not only within ConsenSys but also in other organizations.

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

Organisations should not put barriers to women at any stage of their career. There should not only be more encouragement for women to advance in their career, but also the flexibility to enable women to achieve a work-life balance. There are also inequalities in the workplace that need to be addressed. For example, it’s frustrating as a woman when you have the same skills and work experience as a man, and yet you face pay gaps based on your gender.

How would you encourage more girls and women into STEM?

Math and technology are beautiful fields, they are not scary, these are areas where everyone can excel. Girls and women should not be intimidated and think that these fields are only for men. When women want something, we can achieve it! Many successful women are professors and engineers and have fantastic and stimulating careers. My advice is not to listen to others with traditional views and to those who are negative and who tell you that you cannot do something, or that you are not good enough. If you really want something and work hard, you can achieve it. Having a vision of what you want to achieve for yourself, combined with hard work and determination are the most important things you need to reach your goals. You can achieve a lot by following your dreams!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’m proud that my career is on the right path. My project HellHound is advancing well and it’s one of my biggest achievements so far.

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

My goal is to make HellHound successful and to make it used by every dApp in the world. HellHound is a blind computation platform that allows developers to use cryptography tools to achieve privacy by design in their applications. I want to not only educate people on the importance of privacy and the right to keep your data private but also help make privacy by design used in every application.  If we can achieve this, that would be great!


Siobhan Clarke featured

Inspirational Woman: Siobhan Clarke | Operating Partner, bp Launchpad

Siobhan ClarkeSiobhan Clarke is now the Operating Partner at bp Launchpad, having graduated from the MBA at Alliance Manchester Business School and spent a number of years working all over the world.

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

I’ve always been at the commercial end of tech, driven by a curiosity of what it has the potential to do. Unlocking potential in people and technology is where I’m happiest.

My current role is Operating Partner at bp Launchpad, where we invest and scale digital companies that are addressing the net zero challenge. Taking an idea from MVP - minimal viable powerpoint - to a business that is delivering for customers, employing hundreds of people and creating financial and broader stakeholder value is a multistage journey with different inflection points. I’ve just published a book on the first stage of that journey - The Founder Handbook - Getting to your first ten Enterprise Customers – it’s available on Amazon here.

On a more personal side, I’m lucky to call two places home, my family home in Northern Ireland where I grew up and my mum still lives, and secondly London, the city of vibrancy and energy and almost limitless possibility. I live with my partner - a CrossFit and Nutrition Coach and, in other times, I love to travel and challenge - mountaineering, triathlons, treks across the world to get closer to landscapes, people and cultures different from my own.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

From a young age, I’ve always been curious about what new technologies can do to solve human problems and so I moved from Northern Ireland where I grew up to Manchester to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), home of Alan Turning and the suffragette movement, so I could get under the surface of what it meant to design micromachines, to write computer code, to design safety into large scale electrical systems, where I knew I could take that learning everywhere I went.

My career strategy has been to follow the areas that I’m interested in and be part of creating movements, such as working at Cisco after my MBA at Alliance Manchester Business School in their move from a hardware company to software and services, or choosing to live in Singapore and work across all of Asia Pacific to capture the essence of economic growth at pace, or moving back to London in mid 2017 as venture investing was beginning to ramp up seriously in Europe. Now, I’m helping to shape the future of net zero through the work at Launchpad. Careers are a story of one person’s interests and passions - my advice for anyone is to follow those.

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

The most common has always been the knowledge loop - to choose to enter a new country, understand and sell a new product, be part of a new industry - there is a knowledge loop which begins with confidence that I could learn and understand it, to realisation that I knew nothing, to engaging with others to bring collective knowledge, to realising that I’m then giving back and sharing that knowledge. Understanding where I was in that cycle helped me to believe in the process, to believe in myself and to build on the shoulders of giants.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Getting to this point, where I have a position of influence: to choose to angel invest in female entrepreneurs addressing tough industrial and technical challenges, to ensuring we address any hidden biases in recruiting within our teams - enabling underrepresented individuals and groups to have a voice. Helping others to unlock their passion and coaching them to grow gives a quiet proud satisfaction.

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

Backing myself. Believing that no matter what happens, I will learn and grow as every perceived setback was just a stepping stone on the route to success. Incredible mentors and mentees, people who have opened by eyes to opportunities, to help me understand myself, to positions, to areas that I’d not considered at first and yet when considered closer, they aligned fully with my interests.

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

Always follow your interests, your gut instinct, your passion and contribute - bring your unique perspective into the conversation, into decision-making and shape a better world through your voice.

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

Yes, although I believe the barriers that exist apply to all those who seek to balance their work and their personal lives - or rather the whole human at work.

Ensure shared parental leave policies - for kids, for carers, for balance. This is still one-sided today across a lot of companies. Ensure we talk openly about mental and hormonal health as part of the overall career journey, e.g. it’s still taboo to talk about menopause inside companies. The key question is; do we give enough time and flexibility to enable those going through miscarriage, IVF, adoption, or choosing to support a family in a non-conventional sense? By enabling flexibility we’ll see a broader workforce engagement.

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? 

Quotas. I’ve been an advocate for this for a long time, we need quotas and strong targets to get us moving and shifting the balance. When a system is out of balance, it takes extraordinary and dedicated effort to bring it into balance and that effort can then shift to address other imbalances. Deliberately put more diversity into company boards, the culture is crafted from the boardroom into the business areas.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Recommend WearetechWomen of course, Power Women network, Lean in Energy, ICE for all entrepreneurs and Chasing Excellence - a podcast by the CrossFit Coach Ben Bergeron who through coaching the world’s fittest athletes engages with guests on resilience, mental toughness, reaching goals and the use of targets to set and rest mindset and expectations. Encourage all women in tech to talk with their partner - it was Juan, my partner, who helped me to grow the most and believe in myself as he is always there to listen. The most powerful resource is someone who has your back, who will also listen and enable you to understand your own truths.


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


Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee featured

Inspirational Woman: Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee | Senior Flight Systems Engineer, BAE Systems

Krystina Pearson-RampeeareeI am a Senior Flight Systems Engineer at BAE Systems, based in Warton as part of the Air business.

In my seven years at BAE Systems, I have worked across a wide variety of aircraft projects and have been involved in the design and development of a range of flight-critical systems.

Currently, I’m working on Tempest, the project aiming to develop the UK’s Future Combat Air System. To be involved in the planning of the various flight possibilities of the future is incredibly exciting and something I’m very proud of.

I am also a mother and I had my first child in 2019, which inspired me even further to show young girls that they can be both great mothers and great engineers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve definitely had an idea of what I wanted to do for a long time and have been lucky enough to have built a career in the field that interests me.

I always really enjoyed maths and physics at school, but it was an air show I went to with my family when I was younger that really sparked my interest in what I do now. The speed and sounds of those jets amazed me and I knew that I wanted to be involved in that somehow, so started to look into a career in aerospace when I went back to school the following term.

My school was very supportive and from there I went to university, where I graduated from the University of the West of England in Bristol with a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering.

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

The biggest challenge has probably been the realisation that there are not many people like me in the field I love. At university, for example, I was one of only two women on my course. This was quite daunting initially, and although it turned out to be a great group of people once I got to know them, it can be an intimidating atmosphere for women to face.

I overcame the challenge because of the people on that course – I even went on to marry one of them – but the issue of a lack of diversity across the engineering industries is one that persists. My  personal experiences have galvanised me to push for change, particularly when in comes to encouraging young women into an engineering career.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud of so much that I’ve achieved already – I’ve worked on some fantastic projects, including Tempest, where we have the opportunity to collaborate with engineers from across the globe that are the best in their field. I’m also proud of the way I have balanced my life as a mother and an engineer.

Another achievement would be the launch of my own side business, AviateHer, during the first lockdown last year. The initial idea was to sell a range of pin badges I designed to celebrate and promote diversity in engineering, but this has since expanded to various careers in STEM. In just a few short months, I was shipping these pins worldwide.

Part of the proceeds from each sale is donated to charities working towards improving diversity in STEM. So far, the business has raised over £1,000 for these charities. As a personal achievement, I couldn’t be more proud, but more importantly it is spreading the message that STEM is changing and is open for everyone.

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

I think it’s important that I followed my passion. As someone who has been interested in maths and physics from a young age, as well as engineering and then specifically aerospace, I wasn’t going to let the barriers or negative stereotypes about my chosen career route affect my thinking.

I know you only asked for one thing, but alongside this, despite a lack of diversity in my sector, I’ve received plenty of support from those around me – from my family to my school, to those on my course at university and in my work at BAE Systems. After giving birth, I was able to keep ambitiously pursuing my career by returning part-time and working flexible hours to help balance work and home life. This level of support should be the norm – women should never have their careers suffer for just being a woman.

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

First and foremost, as the AviateHer badges try to express, anyone can be an engineer, a pilot, a scientist, a coder or anything else in STEM – don’t think you don’t belong just because you don’t fit into the stereotype of what someone in these industries looks like.

I also think it’s incredibly important for young people to evaluate all the options available to them. My school was very supportive of my career ambitions, but there wasn’t much guidance available on the different routes available in aerospace. So, do your reading and try and get as many different points of view as possible. Higher education worked out perfectly for me, but for others, apprenticeships might be a better option. Make sure not to pigeonhole yourself and explore which of the various options available are best suited to kickstart your career.

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

Absolutely, there are still barriers for women in tech. Things might be slowly improving, but there’s still a long way to go. There are plenty of misconceptions about what an engineer should look like and what we do and that probably scares off quite a lot of people right at the start

One of the main challenges is changing these misconceptions and making it clear that careers in engineering, and tech more generally, vary greatly and there are roles that suit all sorts of people and skill sets. If we highlight the diversity in STEM and champion the voices of successful female tech workers, we can hopefully change the narrative.

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

One of the ways companies can support women in technology is to provide mentoring programmes. I’m a big advocate of mentoring, having been a mentor and mentee myself. Support for women when they return from maternity leave would also be hugely beneficial, to help prevent women from having to choose between career or 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?

If I could wave a magic wand I would make sure that women were involved in the decision-making. By bringing women to the table, giving them a voice and empowering them, we will create a more inclusive environment that will benefit everyone.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Podcasts I’d recommend are Women Tech Charge hosted by the inspirational Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon and How To Own The Room for some great tips on speaking!


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: Nyala Noë | Data Scientist, Empirisys

Nyala NoeMy name is Nyala Noë and I am a data scientist. I am Dutch, but was born in Germany and grew up in France.

I completed my Masters in Social Psychology at the VU Amsterdam (The Netherlands) in 2014 and my PhD in Computer Science and Informatics from Cardiff University (Wales) in 2018. Since 2018, I have been working as a data scientist, first at Centrica, then as a founding employee of Empirisys, since January 2021.

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

I have been working in STEM-related fields since 2014 and before that graduated with a psychology degree. I have lived and worked in six different countries and speak four languages. I recently took the biggest plunge of my career by becoming a founding employee of Empirisys, a new tech startup focused on culture and safety. Empirisys is geared towards high hazard industries (oil& gas, manufacturing, constructions, chemicals, etc), but any workplace can benefit from a strong safety culture.

During my masters in social psychology at the VU Amsterdam, I developed a particular interest in human relationships and culture. I mostly learned how difficult it is to influence human behaviour, especially in such large groups as a workplace, but that is why I took up the challenge with Empirisys. What I did learn is that there are many different ways of measuring behaviour and attitudes, both directly through surveys, and indirectly, through observations. The environment or nature of the work often traps humans in committing errors they otherwise would not have made. Identifying these human error traps is the first step towards addressing them. Safety is also not just physical, it is also the psychological safety to being able to speak up and point out problems with an asset or being able to stop working when an employee perceives there is a safety risk. It’s this interplay between physical and psychological safety that fascinates me most, with one influencing the other in a continuous feedback loop.

But before joining Empirisys, I truly started my career as a data scientist 3 years ago at Centrica, where I was part of a large team of data scientists, supporting the business with business insights, process improvements, and even fraud detection. However, I soon realised that I wanted a different challenge, and more importantly I wanted to work for myself. This is how I came to work for Empirisys who fulfilled all those criteria: a small team involved at all levels of the business with a goal I could fully get behind. I learned to program during my PhD in Computer Science and Informatics at Cardiff University, which I finished as I had already started working for Centrica full-time. It is during my PhD that I learned to program for the first time, unlocking a new way of manipulating and analysing large amounts of data I had not come across before. It is in my time in industry that I learned how to effectively apply these techniques, in ways that can actually make a difference to people.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career in data science was mostly accidental. I had always thought that I would stay in academia and become a researcher. My ambition at first was to become a professor in social psychology. However, I wanted to give industry a shot, because I didn’t want to rule out something I had not tried before. As I was finishing my PhD and no longer benefited from PhD funding, I started looking for a job and was lucky to get accepted to Centrica as a data scientist. At the beginning, I thought I would do this for a year or so, and then return to academia. Working as a data scientist really suited me, I enjoyed working in a team (which was a big change after mostly working alone on my PhD!) and the structure given by agile and being part of a development team. During my time at Centrica, I got a mentor who guided me in thinking about my career and where I wanted to end up. Also talking to my peers and my managers helped me formulate bit by bit what I wanted to get out of my career.

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

When I first joined industry, I had to adjust to the way the corporate world worked. There was no room for perfectionism in the environment I worked in. Everything I did had to be useful to the business in some way, so I had to learn to work quickly and efficiently to deliver. I set myself really high standards, not wanting to compromise the quality of my work or my time spent researching what the best technique would be. However, I quickly learned that this was not sustainable. As data scientists, we each have our specialities, whether that is a stronger background in statistics, stronger software engineering skills, or expertise in specific algorithms, such as neural networks. I learned that I did not have to be the expert in each of these domains, and that I could rely on my team members for support where needed. In return, I was able to help them in the domains they were less confident about. It’s thanks to our complementary strengths and weaknesses that we were able to address many different challenges as a data science team.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One of my biggest achievements to date is getting my PhD in Computer Science, despite having come from a background in psychology and only having a very rudimentary understanding of programming before becoming a PhD candidate.

More recently, I was part of the 4-member founding team of Empirisys. I would have never thought that I would be part of setting up my own business, and to be able to do this so soon after launching my career in data science feels like a great achievement.

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

I am adaptable, which has helped me switch career paths from psychology to computer science, despite having no idea about computers or knowing any programming languages. I never saw obstacles, but rather new things I needed to learn in order to achieve my goals. It has also helped me feel comfortable moving around for my studies, which has been a very valuable experience. When it came time to look for a PhD, it was very easy to make the decision to come to Cardiff, as I had no doubt that I would be able to adapt to a new country rapidly. As a data scientist, it has helped me throughout my career as I learned to work in a larger team, after having worked mostly on my own during my PhD.

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

I think your ability to learn and your ability to adapt are the two skills that are most important in a career in technology. The field is moving so fast, that it is essential that you learn to quickly switch gears when something is not working, and that you stay on top of the latest trends. It is also important here to be able to distinguish between what is a genuinely useful new technique or programming language, and what is just a fad. This will come with experience, but also talk to your peers. Join meetups or networks or have regular get togethers with the other tech members of your company to discuss new things you learnt and share this with your colleagues.

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

I have been lucky enough to not have experienced direct barriers so far in my career. I have noticed a lack of women in leading positions, so I wonder how I will feel about this question once my career progresses. I was lucky to have a very driven female mentor, who helped me be aggressive about my career. This has helped me be more pro-active about what I want, but also understanding what I value and want to get out of my career.

I think things are moving in the right direction, but there are still unique challenges such as maternity interrupting women’s careers and unconscious bias that might be barriers to hiring and promotion.

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

I think that the culture of the company is important in making sure that everyone in the company is listened to and taken seriously by all levels of the organisation. An open and inclusive culture can help with this. However, it’s a concerted effort to change the workplace’s culture from all people involved. I think especially peers are important to set examples and rectify unwanted behaviours, such as discrimination or lack of respect for employees. I also think there is a responsibility for recruiters to consider whether the values and soft skills of the people they are employing match the culture they want to develop at the company. A sense of responsibility from everyone to make the workplace a pleasant and productive environment, where diversity of experiences is valued.

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?

Having recently been involved in recruiting for our new startup, I noticed that we had much less women apply to our positions than men. This already narrows the pool down. So there definitely is some work to be done on the pipeline of talent coming through. One important aspect is to demystify a career in technology and make it seen as accessible to everyone. I think there might still be a bias where some people think: “Oh no I would never be able to do that”. In high school, maths was one of the subjects I struggled with most and I felt like it was just not the subject for me. However, thanks to my very supportive family, I was able to overcome this mentality, and gradually improved in the subject and passed my final year exams very comfortably. I will never be a maths genius, but I have learned that I can achieve things by working hard and staying dedicated. It’s this mentality that I want to foster in students in high school or university who are thinking about their future careers.

In the same vein, I want people to consider a switch to a career in tech as an exciting challenge. I was part of a panel for university students where 5 speakers, all women, explained how they had turned their careers and gotten into tech without having gone through the more traditional pathways. I think the panel was a great inspiration for everyone present that a career switch is not only possible, but also often an enjoyable experience where we get to discover a whole new set of skills, but also apply all the things we have learned from our previous roles.

At the end of the day, I just want everyone to be encouraged in going down the path they want to, whether that is a career in tech or not. I don’t want to be a women in tech, I want to be in tech.


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


Dr Larissa Suzuki featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Larissa Suzuki | Computer Scientist, Author, Engineer, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist & Inventor

Dr Larissa SuzukiI am Dr Larissa Suzuki, I am an award-winning passionate computer scientist, authorengineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and inventor.

I am neurodivergent, and I hold the titles of Associate Professor, EUR ING, BSc, MPhil, PhD, CEng, FIET, FRSA, AFHEA, IntPE. My career includes +16 years working in engineering. I work at Google as a Data Practice Lead (AI/Machine Learning, Smart Analytics and Data Management), and I am a Google AI Principles Ethics Fellow. I work on developing and testing the Interplanetary Internet with Vint Cerf and technologists from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and JAXA. I am the Chair of the Tech London Advocates Smart Cities Group, a reviewer of grant/awards of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the IET, and the ACM. I am a Council Member of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Ambassadors, a Committee member of the Grace Hopper Celebration and the ABIE Awards. Since 2003 I've actively worked towards increasing the representation of people of all kinds in Engineering and Technology.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes I do. I find it helpful to work on my Personal Development Plan (PDP), setting my goals for the short-, medium- and long-term goals. As you work on your PDP, you will realise that the moonshots you set for you and that seem to be too farfetched are achievable. I work with my mentor (Vint Cerf) to bring the best version of myself to the workplace and my personal life.

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

I did have to face challenges that, unfortunately, are very common to other women. In 2015 my PhD work was plagiarised and published in multiple forums. I then started a battle to own the copyrights of my work and a campaign for women's history in computing to be re-written. After one year of hard work, I managed to secure the IP of my Ph.D. and published it as a book dedicated to all women who've been erased from history but paved the way for many astonishing engineering advancements. In a more severe case, I have encountered brutal racism and sexual harassment in my previous employment. To my surprise, I was told that if I reported the issues to HR my career would be over. As an employee with neurodevelopmental disabilities, I did not know what to do. A mentor advised me to resign to escape from further abuse, which is what I did. Unfortunately, these issues still prevail in organisations that do not focus on creating a safe, fair, and dignified workplaces for all female tech workers.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I believe that succeeding in technology and engineering, despite all the adversities, has been my most significant career achievement. On a project side, working on the Interplanetary Internet project with Vint Cerf and colleagues at NASA and JAXA, and making a historical feat in connecting clouds with the Interplanetary Internet. Communicating from Earth to any spacecraft is a complex challenge. When data are transmitted and received across thousands and even millions of miles, the delay and potential for disruption or data loss is significant. Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) is NASA's solution to reliable internetworking for space missions. My work on DTN helps us testing and enhancing communication protocols that will potentially be used in space missions.

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

The primary factor for achieving success in my career has been a combination of hard work and curiosity. A career in engineering is not a straight path, and the great thing about it is that you can become what you want. I believe this is one of the many unique perks of being a computer scientist: just following your passion and working on things that matter to you the most, no matter which field of science they fall into. My inventions and work have advanced many fields of computer science and engineering, including smart cities, data infrastructures, machine learning, emerging technology, and computing applied to medicine and operations research.

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

If a person is interested in computer science or engineering, I would tell them to forget about the stereotypes, bring all their previous learning with them (tech and engineering is very multidisciplinary), and not worry if they haven't got a technical degree. Everyone can become what they dream of being. I am confident that if someone dreamt about becoming a change maker, a career in engineering would enable them to create the solutions that will change the world.

For someone already working in the field, I would tell them that I've learned that the most challenging problems and the most significant engineering opportunities are not technical. They are human. You will use what you learned at UCL to create the engineering solutions that will change the world, and like the generation before us, will also solve the many problems that engineering and technology bring. You will create new jobs, give machines and the built environment the powers to think, discover cures for illnesses and save our nature. As you can see, engineering is about human survival. And the best way to solve those problems is to have more people in the room with different voices and views. Be activists for that. In the end, what matters is not what you build. It is the teams you build and the positive impact you bring to the lives of people who will make use of what you create.

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

I believe many companies have not yet realised that "belonging" matters more than anything else. The United States alone loses $64 Billion every year to replace employees who left due to unfairness and discrimination. Belonging is central to every aspect of our humanity. It is a universal need. When we feel like we belong somewhere, we feel we have found a home where we can group and be respected there. When we fear our differences, we then deny the connections we share. Company leaders who feel uncomfortable tackling this issue is the very own definition of privilege. For someone already working in the field, I would tell them that "to yield and not break, that is an incredible strength". I have learned that there is no such thing as failure. You will realise it was life moving you in a better direction. Fall but fall forward, as I did. Don't be afraid, be comfortable in your own skin, uphold your values, your culture that will help you when it's time to fight for the job you want, for that promotion, and for the kind of society you want to live in.

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

Companies should foster belonging. We move towards belonging when we celebrate and value our differences and our similarities as a group. When there is no othering of individuals of any identity, it can connect people by co-creating our world together. Belonging expresses itself in many different ways, and each one of us has a special relationship with belonging. But the imperative rule of belonging is that it can only succeed if no one is excluded. Belonging never requires anyone to sacrifice what makes them unique, different and special. Belonging is not "fitting in" or "mimicking" others. The real sense of belonging is co-creating spaces, groups and institutions and collectively designing how it will operate and help humans to thrive. Innovation, creativity, and empathy is most likely to come from parts of us that we don't all share. When we take on this journey together, we move away from the idea of myself and them to a future of a collective unity - "we". It is a long journey full of remaking. Like puzzle pieces, leaders should bring us together without trimming away of anyone's irregularities. The rules, values and expectations to bring those puzzle pieces together are made with everyone in mind so that no one needs to check parts of themselves at the door. When you design well for people of all kinds and abilities, you design well for everybody else.

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?

Though women in computing have been pivotal in creating unique modern technology, their story is not one that's often told nor celebrated. Instead, great tech women pioneers have been all but erased from history, and that needs to change. If I had a magic wand I would make them all visible to inspire the generations to come. Their ground-breaking work can serve as an inspiration to both girls and boys alike.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I strongly recommend the TED talks of Dame Steve Shirley and Brene Brown. They are uplifting and full of insights. Their books are also sensational and I recommend that everyone reads "Let it Go" and "Daring Greatly". The Grace Hopper Conference is a conference that every woman technologist should experience. It is life-changing and immensely empowering. If you are neurodivergent, I recommend that you follow Autistica, LimeConnect, and my blog AUsome in Tech.


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: Wendy Thomas | President, Secureworks

Wendy ThomasI’ve held a number of strategic, operational and financial leadership roles in the last 25 years, including Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Product Officer.

Currently, as President of Secureworks, I support multiple functions, including product and engineering, operations, customer experience, and Secureworks’ threat intelligence-focused Counter Threat UnitTM (CTU).

Right now, my number one focus is leading Secureworks’ transformation of our vision, strategy and business model. We’ve been securing customers for nearly 20 years now, but the way we’re doing that has been evolving, as the industry and our customers’ security needs to beat the adversary are changing.

Siloed detection was noisy and insufficient, and customers weren’t spending their time wisely on the events that posed the greatest risk to their organisations. Increasingly, customers and channel partners have told us that they would value our guidance in building the skills, capabilities, and resources needed to run their own SecOps (Security Operations). This enables them to leverage the same software that our experts use on behalf of our customers, with continued access to the benefit of the broad threat intelligence we gather each day across a global ecosystem.

To solve for these opportunities, we invested in a world-class team of engineers and product developers to take everything we’ve learned, with an eye toward customer pain points, to build Secureworks® TaegisTM, our cloud-native security analytics platform, taking prediction, detection, and investigation and response to the next level. We’re also investing heavily in the customer experience, embedding the Voice of the Customer in everything we do, and expanding how we go to market with channel partners to protect more customers globally.

This is a multi-faceted transformation with a single, clear purpose to outpace and outmanoeuvre the adversary at scale. I’m really proud of everything teammates across the company are doing to keep us moving forward and to protect our customers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I did. However, I’m afraid my forecasting success rate is pretty low! Most of the technologies that underpinned the industries I’ve worked in didn’t exist when I graduated from college.  And I’ve held roles in functions that, not only were outside my major, but were functions that I probably could not have described with great fidelity.

My career plans were always around the attributes of the career I wanted, versus titles or specialties. I sought organisations with a global footprint, in industries that would always force me to keep learning, and companies whose products and services were beneficial to the world. I wanted roles early on where my performance could be more objectively measured, ensuring my contributions and performance could be mine to own and control.

I also was very comfortable that my titles and even my compensation did not have to be linearly up and to the right. There were times, I stepped back in ‘title’, or shifted to a lower base with more compensation at risk, in different roles over the years because I saw that it added another, proverbial arrow to my quiver that was important to me in terms of my own development.  While some may not recommend a ‘non-traditional’ career approach, I think that mindset is what made me more open to taking on roles that weren’t pre-prescribed for me. That meant there were more opportunities open to me.

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

Everyone faces challenges – professional, personal, and unfortunately sometimes both at the same time!  The question is how you respond. Early on, I spent too much of my time thinking through a problem by myself – all the angles and permutations – and then simply taking a deep breath to keep fear of failure at bay, putting one foot in front of the other, and powering through.  Later, I learned to seek advice and a sounding board from someone I trusted.  Too often, I tried to figure things out on my own, thinking that’s what I was supposed to be able to do. But even when I was successful, net/net it simply took more time and energy than it needed to, versus if I had asked for counsel sooner.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m most proud of the number of people on my teams who have since gone on to even greater “greatness” – as they defined greatness.  For some, they’ve moved up the traditional career ladder to executive leadership, C-suite or Board roles.  But I’m equally proud of those who’ve sought counsel and support for major career path changes (both functional or industry), or how to embark on a new working model (e.g., job sharing, starting their own business), and forged their path accordingly.

From a more traditional career perspective, I’m most proud that I’ve landed in an industry that helps to make the world a better, safer place.  At Secureworks, we say our purpose is to “secure human progress,” and that truly reflects what we do each day. Whether keeping hospitals and vaccine makers safe from ransomware or making sure your financial information stays secure within your bank.

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

Looking back, it was my willingness and drive to take on stretch roles where I might not be wildly, perfectly successful.  I’ll admit to feeling a concern, especially later in my career, that if I put myself in a position to fail, and did, that I’d make it harder for other women (or another ‘non-traditional’ candidate) to get a shot at a similar senior opportunity.  That was an unfair burden to accept, and I often talk about that now with mentees who have similar concerns with respect to their race, veteran status, sexual orientation, etc.  It’s a very real, but not obvious, impediment to highly qualified people from accepting stretch roles that could accelerate their career path and personal development.

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

Three things to keep in mind in when looking to excel your career: feedback, mentors and sponsorship.

Seek feedback proactively, with an open demeanour. While not all feedback and advice will be useful, or even right for you, making people who care about you comfortable enough to share their observations and feedback will help you be more aware of how you’re perceived and enable you to grow beyond measure.

Seek mentors proactively and ensure that you have the foundational elements to make the relationship mutually beneficial.  Because a great mentor is also seeking knowledge, be equally thoughtful about what you bring to the relationship and what you specifically hope to gain.

Understand who your sponsors are (or are not) at your organisation.  Mentors are important, but careers rarely progress without strong sponsorship inside your organisation.

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

There are some interdependent phenomena that create a bit of kinetic friction to women (and others) in technology career paths, but I sincerely believe we can make a significant dent in that friction with the consistent application of a handful of practices over time.

  1. Pay consistency for qualified candidates regardless of race or gender. Lower pay for women means that, on average, family trade-off decisions more often result in career gaps for women, simply based on the math of income. I’m not talking about paying more regardless of the candidate’s qualifications. I’m talking about paying similarly valuable candidates (and similarly high performing employees) consistently, rather than opportunistically. That means ending the practice of offering compensation based on ‘what do you make now?’  The cycle starts early in a career and gets perpetuated over and over again across underrepresented groups.
  2. Recruiting practices. We’ve been scrubbing our job description postings around pre-qualifying requirements that are nice-to-have vs. must-have, to ensure we consider non-traditional great talent. Some of our greatest talent doesn’t have a traditional education. In fact, their proactive approach to being self-taught and obtaining certifications is a sign of drive.  And with coding challenges, internships, and other forums to do more objective assessments, the path to quality hiring is navigable.  We’ve also worked to be more conscious of how we recruit via ‘networking’ and employee referrals, particularly in situations where our employee base doesn’t reflect the diversity we see in the market.
  3. Flexibility. Particularly in technology roles, the quality, throughput, and impact of work very rarely must be done completely during traditional business hours and, as COVID has taught us, don’t always have to be done in an office building either. Presence may provide managers a false sense of control, but hours in the office do not equate to impact. They do, however, create barriers to recruiting great talent that needs any amount of flexibility. A flexible approach can benefit everyone, but women tend to be sensitive to signs of flexibility when considering a career choice, so don’t implicitly encourage them to self-select out.

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

I’d ask if you’ve not only identified which of your high performers are also high potential, but have you also proactively had a meaningful dialogue with that talent around what will help them progress and be successful in your organisation?  Underrepresented groups, who don’t see someone like them in a leadership role, tend to be more hesitant to ask for mentorship, feedback, or support.

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?

If I had a magic wand, Hollywood would make movies with flattering portrayals of technologists who are diverse AND the heroes. If COVID taught us anything this year, it’s that science can save the world.  What could attract more, desperately needed, talent to technology than showing the powerful benefit a career in STEM can have?  Helping young people visualise the variety and impact of STEM careers is so important to building a pipeline of talent that self-selects in.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The resources I’d recommend for tech professionals is similar for both men, women and trans professionals. However, in terms of gender-specific events, I do enjoy opportunities to network with women in the cybersecurity space as a session at broader industry events like RSA.


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


Bridie Gaynor featured

Inspirational Woman: Bridie Gaynor | Competition Support Manager, VEX Robotics

Bridie Gaynor

Bridie Gaynor is the Competition Support Manager in the UK for VEX Robotics.

She is responsible for supporting VEX events and teams across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

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

My name is Bridie Gaynor, I’m 29 and I work for VEX Robotics as the Competition Support Manager in the UK. My role involves working closely with schools and students, running robotics competitions up and down the UK with the help of Event Partners. The aim of my work is to inspire and engage young students into STEM education pathways and STEM careers in the future. Our VEX IQ & VEX EDR platforms are designed to help students explore the possibilities of STEM through design, building and coding robots! Whether it’s in the curriculum or through our extracurricular VEX IQ Challenge and VEX Robotics Competition, it’s motivating to see students react so positively to VEX.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wanted to be a teacher once I’d finished college but became more interested in having a hands-on educational role upon completing my course. VEX has provided such a wonderful opportunity to couple both my passion for helping and educating students, as well as involving a practical approach through travelling Europe, Asia and the US to support resellers and schools run their competitions.

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

The biggest challenge for me when I started my journey with VEX was most definitely overcoming the programming aspect of the job. As the role required me to understand different elements of coding, I realised that with most things, the best way to learn is to throw yourself in at the deep end and be prepared to make mistakes – everyone does! Now I have a complete understanding of a multitude of programming software and I put this down to perseverance and commitment.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date has been to successfully run the first stand alone VEX UK National Finals event in 2018. This was made even more remarkable by the fact that more than half of the VEX IQ teams in attendance had more female robotics students than male students – smashing the current statistics surrounding women in STEM. The event was attended by over 1000 students and 120 teams from the around the UK, marking it as a huge success.

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

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my team and their belief in me to succeed in this role. I have overcome confidence and self-esteem issues, and this is down to their continued encouragement and support in me. Now I have full confidence in my abilities and leadership.

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

It’s so important to have the right attitude and not be afraid to explore new ways of doing things. We are now living in such exciting and interesting times to be involved in tech! Hard work, creativity and an open mind in this industry can take you a lot further than grades alone can. It’s also essential that you stay ahead of the curve by researching the latest tech trends and keeping on top of current affairs in the STEM industry.

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

I do believe there are still barriers, we need to change our perceptions of technology and STEM altogether to see real change in the industry. Initiatives like Girl Powered, which focuses on gender equality in robotics and STEM for students can change this. It’s about adopting the view that tech is for everyone, male or female, it doesn’t matter. Once we achieve this, barriers will be significantly reduced and we will begin to achieve our full potential as a society.

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

Tech organisations need to be more inclusive overall and provide equal opportunities to everyone. The most important thing that can be done is to ensure that no matter what gender, age etc., is that people are hired and promoted through businesses based purely on merit. This approach will change the landscape of the tech industry for the better.

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?

It’s important that we educate young people on the achievements and success women can have in the industry. I believe that by educating young females that STEM is for everyone, we can change the way the world views technology, engineering and science. It would be great to offer day trips or placement to female students at large tech organisations so they can see for themselves that the tech and wider STEM industry has so many different avenues to offer.

 What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I usually read up on the latest publications and online sites such as Wired, TechRadar and TechCrunch. The Register also has a lot of information on the newest emerging tech. Podcasts like This Week in Tech are also very enjoyable.


Leah Ujda featured

Inspirational Woman: Leah Ujda | Director of Research & Design, Widen

Leah UjdaLeah Ujda is Director of Research and Design at Widen Enterprises. She leads the User Experience and Service Design teams in providing actionable research insights that inform design vision and strategy throughout the company.

A librarian by training, she brings her curiosity about people and passion for sensemaking to all that she does.

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

I’m Leah Ujda, Director of Research and Design at Widen Enterprises, a marketing technology software company with headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin USA, and London, UK. I lead the User Experience and Service Design teams, both of which focus on bringing a human-centred, research-     driven approach to the software platform and accompanying service experience that Widen provides to its customers.

Prior to working at Widen, I was a Design Researcher at an innovation and strategic consulting firm. I worked with clients in a wide range of industries – ranging from medical devices, to financial services, to consumer good– to build empathy and understanding of user needs, and then generate insights and design recommendations based upon that knowledge. I’m academically trained as a      librarian; I earned a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin– Madison, in 2007. Early in my career I worked in the libraries at The Art Institute of Chicago, University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Centre, and the Wisconsin Centre for Education Research.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I tend to make plans and generate a vision in approximately five year blocks. This gives me a comfortable balance of goals to shoot for, and freedom to go after unexpected opportunities. One of the biggest changes in my career path came when I moved away from the academic librarian path       and took a risk on a job as a consultant doing research for a design firm. A friend asked if I would be interested in joining a growing team. She told me a bit about the work I would be doing, and after taking a bit of time to think about how to apply the skills and experience I had at that time in a new context, I decided to go for it. I figured I could always go back to being a librarian if it didn’t work out. However, that risk really paid off and helped me discover a type of work that I didn’t even know existed. I think my approach to career planning boils down to having a vision but be willing to crumple it up and create a new one if new information comes to light!

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

A lot of the work I’ve done over the last few years has been new to the organisation I’m working with. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to be a pioneer, but it can get exhausting to constantly explain what it is you and your team do and how you provide value to the organisation. Being a transformational leader is really inspiring to me, and I’m proud that it’s a type of leadership that I’m good at. But the flip-side of that inspiration is the occasional feeling that you’re Sisyphus, pushing that rock up a never-ending hill. And it’s hard to predict when that feeling will pop up. The challenge to overcome this when the feeling does rear its head, is to re-find the spark of inspiration and energy that comes from successful communication moments to the wider team. Seeing teams have light-     bulb moments and understanding the impact of human-centred design on products, experiences, and organisations keeps me going even in hard times.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m very proud of my influence on the way we explore problems from a user centred point of view at Widen. The UX team already existed when I joined the company, but the underlying philosophy of how we do the work of human centred design was still struggling to gain wide adoption and understanding. By the middle of this year, we’re on pace to expand the team by 50% since I started. We no longer work exclusively with product managers and engineers, but also with marketing and customer success. The emerging leaders on my team teach university courses on UX and are recognised for their contributions to the design community at large. We no longer find ourselves explaining what we do to sceptical internal audiences, but rather enjoying opportunities to share knowledge with enthusiastic colleagues.

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

Curiosity! Genuine interest in the experience of others and the world around me led me to a job in an art museum, and an advanced degree studying the way people organise and interact with information. Curiosity has led me to a career path rooted in continuous learning about the way people incorporate products and services into their lives, and it makes me a good listener. It makes me a thorough, patient, analyser of qualitative insights. And it keeps me open to evolution.

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

Keep a focus on the humans who are engaging with the technology you create. The way to make something special, memorable, and enticing is to make sure it’s well aligned with the needs of your users. Seek feedback early and often. Be generous with your time and expertise. Make sure you feel connected to what you’re doing in order to stay motivated and excited!

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

Yes, there are still barriers to success. A lot of the challenges I find myself dealing with are connected to unconscious biases; people don’t even realise that they’re bringing assumptions or ‘old baggage’ to a situation. Overcoming something that you don’t even realise that you’re doing is truly difficult! As the underrepresented person, it required energy to call out when it happens, and that level of energy is hard to maintain. What I expect from my male colleagues is effort to hear me when I tell them about my observations or experiences, and what I offer them in return is space to learn, grow, and move forward. People deserve credit for evolving the way they think and making different choices when they gain new knowledge. Forward together is the philosophy I’d like to see across all individuals working in technology embrace.

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

Emphasise diversity in recruiting to make sure you have a wide pool of candidates to evaluate for opportunities. This can help make sure women and other underrepresented groups have a chance to demonstrate that they’re the best fit for a job.

And offer flexible schedules and consider part time roles or job sharing to make the logistics of balancing work with all the other aspects of a person’s life, whatever those might be, possible.

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

I would use my wand for two things. First, I would make sure that girls are encouraged to explore their interests in development and engineering early and often. They should feel as confident as boys that a career in technology is something they could achieve if they want to. Second, I would expand the concept of what working in tech means. It’s not just about writing lines of code. It’s also about understanding the market value of your company’s offering. It’s about designing an interface that makes sense to the people using it. It’s about providing support and guidance to the customers who have purchased the product. Technology without humanity is pointless.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Michelle Obama’s Podcast - Michelle Obama is one of my most admired role models. To me, she represents authenticity, grace, and strength. The guests she invites to have conversations on her podcast help tell the story of her life as an ambitious and successful woman who has overcome obstacle after obstacle. I appreciate the humour and passion for music that she brings to these conversations as well!

“Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown- My top takeaway from this book was the section on the paradoxes of leadership. To be an effective leader, you must be able to hold and balance tension between:

  • Letting chaos reign (building something) and reigning in chaos (scaling something)
  • Humility and resolve
  • Velocity and quality

Being a leader is hard because there are rarely black and white answers. Concepts that seem to be in conflict with one another can both be true. These insights have helped me worry less about making the “right” choice because there probably isn’t a “right” choice in most of the situations I’m dealing with. I need to be confident in the choice I make, and brave as I lead teams and colleagues into grey areas.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott- Both the book and the podcast of this title have helped me move beyond tendencies to sugar coat things or avoid difficult conversations. Building a team environment with trust as the foundation makes it easier to express when things aren’t going well and need improvement. The ideas that Kim Scott and her team share have helped me see that candour is a gift you can give someone. Clear communication that doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation seems hard at first, especially for a person like me who doesn’t want to seem “mean” or “bossy”. I’m much more comfortable giving constructive feedback and offering coaching thanks to this book.


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