A day in the life of a test engineer

Heather Carter

Communication and coordination are important aspects of being a test engineer, according to Heather Carter from global tech consultancy, Saggezza.

While studying Software Engineering at University, I came to realise my passions lay in software testing, unlike most of my fellow students who were planning on becoming developers. Often, people in the industry are unaware there is a career to be had in testing, but being a test engineer is incredibly rewarding.

What is software testing?

Software testing is the act of evaluating and understanding a software product to ensure it is working the way it’s supposed to. There are a number of different approaches to testing the behaviour of products and applications, but the most common methods we use at Saggezza are end-to-end testing, exploratory testing, integration testing, user acceptance testing and pair testing.

  • End to End (E2E) testing involves testing the functionality and performance of an application using a real user scenario from start to finish.
  • Integration testing is where all the individual components of the software are combined and tested together to check the integration between units.
  • Exploratory testing is a type of testing that involves minimum planning and maximum test execution, which allows users to think outside the box.
  • User Acceptance testing is when you test software to make sure it can do what it originally set out to in real-world situations.
  • Pair testing is when two people test the same scenario together, sharing best practice with one another.

What does a typical day look like for a test engineer?

Like a lot of job roles, I begin my day checking emails and messages which usually dictates how I will map out my day in terms of tasks.

At Saggezza, we have a stand up call each morning, which involves my team discussing the work that was completed the day before and what we will work on that day. It’s a great chance to catch up with people working on the same project to discuss any bugs that may have been found in a software product or application, and it also gives us the chance to ask any questions before we start the day.

Once we’re all caught up, my day mostly consists of testing applications the team are building. We’ll also have meetings throughout the week to discuss projects and plan work for the next sprint.

The great thing about being a test engineer is that every day is different.

What skills do you need to be a test engineer?

As a test engineer, two of the most important aspects are communication and coordination.

You need to be able to collaborate with developers in order to understand how each other works and show them how you test, allowing for you both to manage workloads efficiently and seamlessly. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, there’s no such thing as a silly question when you’re a test engineer.

You will also have to juggle multiple tasks at once, so you need to be able to coordinate your day effectively and communicate with your team, especially when working on larger tasks such as setting up an automation framework.

What can we do to inspire more women to explore careers in tech?  

For me, I want to try and get more women into tech by doing talks in colleges and universities. There needs to be more women in tech and in order to do that we need to get more people passionate about it by starting at primary school level, not just university level.

Technology is still very much a male dominated industry, however, the number of women choosing to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects is on the rise and many organisations like Saggezza are working to address this imbalance.

As the industry continues to develop with more female role models, I think young girls will be able to see themselves working in the industry and have a better understanding of what they can achieve. Testing is an amazing career and one that I hope more young women continue to consider. 

Business inequality, gender gap vector concept with man at advantage. Symbol of discrimination, different opportunity, unequal treatment. salary. Eps10 illustration.

Climbing the Project Management career ladder 

Business inequality, gender gap vector concept with man at advantage. Symbol of discrimination, different opportunity, unequal treatment. salary. Eps10 illustration.

Article by Debbie Lewis, Chair of the Board of Association for Project Management (APM)

Debbie LewisDebbie has had a 34-year career in telecommunications with circa 24 years in project and programme management.

She holds degrees in physics, telecommunications and major programme management. In BT plc, she became Director Strategic Programmes managing a portfolio of major programmes that delivered transformational change in networks including launch of ultrafast broadband in the UK and 5G mobile, as well as internal business change. Debbie is currently Chair of the APM Board and Chair of the APM Professional Standards and Knowledge Committee. Here, she shares her views on career progression, with a focus on her experience of being a project professional in a technology industry.

The ladder

“Climbing the career ladder” starts with a clear understanding of what that means in your own personal context. Your career goal should have some clarity (at least to the next stage) and a clarity that is authentic to you. Gaining that clarity requires personal reflection, a strong dose of self-awareness and the emotional intelligence to be true to your values and needs. Like any journey, the preparation can make for the best experience; so, my first piece of advice would be to give yourself the gift of knowing your values and choosing an ambition that aligns to those values. Therein you’ll enjoy the journey (even the really tough parts) and, through the truth of your goal, have a much greater probability of success.

Tips on climbing the project career ladder

Having understood and set your goal, how do you make the journey? My own career experience and success was supported by three things:

  • Visible delivery success enabled by relevant skills and ongoing learning
  • Being a trusted partner
  • Choosing challenge

Visible delivery success enabled by relevant skills and ongoing learning

Nothing will speak louder than the visible evidence of success in your work. A great reputation though, is hard earnt. The keys to success include the skills that come from relevant qualifications and the experience gained from applying those skills. I speak in the context of project management, and as the professional body for project management in the UK, point to APM as an incredibly important enabler.

For project professionals, APM is the only chartered body in the world and, as such, its suite of accreditations  provide a route to best practice and delivery success in projects. Becoming a Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) signposts knowledge and skill but is also a recognition of successful practice. APM also provides a Continued Professional Development (CPD) framework so project professionals can ensure they are proactive in ongoing learning wherever they are in their career and that they have evidence of that learning and its relevance. If you are not a project professional, ask yourself what your equivalent is.

And one last comment on visibility; it should be more than the visibility of your delivery success. It is also important that you are visible in sharing your passion for your work, your organisation and your profession. So be proactive in making that real in the most authentic way possible, whether it’s leadership of activities outside of your immediate job description, support of networks of like-minded people or mentoring of others as just a few examples.

Being a trusted partner

Personal sponsorship is important for career progression. Projects need sponsorship to succeed but people also need career sponsors to help them navigate the peaks and troughs. You may have different sponsors at different times in your career but do actively seek a sponsor and develop that partnership to support your success. The more senior your sponsor, the better. Working in partnership, you can support mutual success, whilst they can provide a platform for your visibility and potential new roles. A strong reputation that decision-makers and influencers agree and a trusted pair of hands that the organisation knows will make things happen, can see career opportunities come to you before you even think about pursuing them yourself.

Challenge and change

Being open to change and willing to accept new challenges is very important for career progression. Imposter syndrome can hold you back, so occasionally it requires a leap of faith and some bravery. Learning is inevitable and is a benefit of the process, both from failure and from success. It matures you as a professional but also as an individual. So, even when it scares you, a new challenge can be the door to opportunity and a new understanding of that clarity of career goal that I spoke about above.

And finally…

Project management is now increasingly recognised as an enabler of business, economic and societal success and the growing demand for project professionals makes it an excellent career choice. With the pace of change in the world of technology, many of the biggest and most important projects of the next decade will be technology driven projects. The bringing together of project skills and technical knowledge makes for an exciting enabler of many of the most significant ambitions society has, including sustainability, equality and inclusion, and economic recovery. As women in technology and the project profession, I truly believe that we can be the ones to make the difference.

Inspirational Woman: Ebony Karim | Founder & CEO, Embarkus Solutions

Ebony KarimBorn in Colorado and raised primarily in Michigan, Ebony comes from a strong, close-knit family that encouraged her to be educated, assertive and to operate in excellence.

The spirit of ambition was instilled from birth as her (paternal) family was among the first African-American families to settle and establish land ownership after being freed from slavery.

Knowing that education would be critical to her success, she relocated to earn a Master’s degree in Business Management from the University of Maryland University College, followed by earning certificates from the prestigious Wharton School of Business.

In 2013, she launched the first imprint under the Embarkus umbrella, Embarkus Solutions—a federal IT consulting firm headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia. Through this business she provides public and private sector clients with high-end, full-service professional consulting. With 20+ years of experience, the firm effectively strategizes scalable solutions to enhance organizational infrastructure. Her professional success led her to author her first eBook in 2021, So You Want To Be A Federal Contractor? Her best-selling book gives step-by-step instructions on how to become a successful government contractor.

In September, 2019 Ebony’s passion for health and wellness emerged as she founded the Embarkus Wellness Program. The company is a full-service concierge nutrition and wellness company; specializing in maximizing individual’s elite functions by focusing on total human performance.

Aside from her professional achievements and personal accomplishments, she prioritizes quality time for her 4 children—who have always been her greatest motivation. In her downtime, she enjoys reading, traveling, mentoring, and volunteering.

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

I am the founder and CEO of Embarkus Solutions, a small boutique IT consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. I am originally from the Midwest. I attended Chicago State University where I majored in Pre-Medicine with a discipline in Biology. I married my college sweetheart and have four (4) children. I’ve also completed some post-graduate work in Business Administration, Marketing and Contracts Management. I have worked in the Public Sector (Fed Gov’t) since the early 2000’s. My areas of expertise are in Program Management, Acquisitions and Contracts Management. I provide direct client support to the federal government and assist and coach small business owners with selling their products and services to the Government.

For the last 4 years, I have partnered with Bowie State University through The Maryland Center. We provide STEM education and services to under-served schools within Prince George’s County, MD. I am also the author of my first book “So You Want To Be A Federal Contractor” available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

I am currently working on a HBCU Speaking tour in Georgia and Florida slated for mid-January 2022.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As a child, I had plans on becoming a doctor, specifically a Pediatric Oncologist. But those plans quickly changed after I became married and started having children. I had to navigate my childhood dreams and found myself in the Information Technology space.

Ebony Karim

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

Yes, I have faced many challenges in my career early on. As someone with a scientific background, navigating the IT space within the Federal Government was a challenge. I had to quickly learn how to pivot and acclimate myself with this new environment. I was afforded the opportunity to partner with a senior manager at my first consulting job and was mentored in the field. I also made sure I connected and networked with the right individuals in order to foster my career goals.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest accomplishment to date is definitely starting my consulting firm back in 2013. Then in 2019, I started my non-profit, The Embarkus Project, which provides STEM education to under-served communities.

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

One thing that I can contribute to the success in my career field is persistence. My persistence in learning my profession and aligning myself with the right people.

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

My top tips would be to first decide what areas of IT you excel in, what areas are you passionate about then learn as much as you can. Take some online courses, attend a seminar, workshop or webinar. Become a member of some local networking groups and ask lots of questions. Never be afraid to take risks and think outside the box. Be a trendsetter, an innovator. There’s no one else in the world like you…

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

The technology field still seems to be oversaturated with Caucasian males. There’s still stereotypes of the role women play in the IT world. Diversity and Inclusion is imperative to lessen the gap between women and men in the technology field.

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

Provide more Diversity and Inclusion opportunities.

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?

Provide resources for young girls and women to gain interest in the field.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Networking groups, your local chamber of commerce, seminars and workshops.

Three misconceptions about IT careers - and why women should ignore them all

young Asian woman looking at laptop, watchin a webinar

By Laetitia Avrot, Senior Database Consultant at EDB and founder of Postgres Women

Ask a typical teenage girl what she thinks about people who work in IT, and the response probably won’t be flattering. ‘It’s too nerdy for me’; ‘I’m not good with numbers’; or ‘isn’t that just for boys?’, she might respond.

I often take part in outreach visits to local high schools to talk about my experience of working in IT, and encourage young women to consider it for themselves. Unfortunately, I hear statements like these all the time.

This image problem is a serious issue for the tech industry, where women make up just a quarter of the workforce. IT offers rewarding careers, is in constant need of new talent, and would seriously benefit from a boost in diversity. The reality of working in this industry is quite different to its reputation, which is based on stereotypes that are largely out-of-date. It’s time to debunk the misconceptions – here’s what women should really know about working in IT.

Code is a language like any other

You certainly don’t need to be a mathematical genius to become a great software developer. In fact, coding is much more similar to language learning than maths. But instead of talking with a person, you’re communicating with a computer. When I visit schools, I particularly recommend it to students who have a flair for foreign languages or all-rounders who are highly adaptable.

Programming languages are often updated, and software engineers usually know a few. Someone who can switch between French and Spanish classes without getting vocabulary mixed up and has an eye for grammatical detail, or who is equally talented at arts and sciences,  may have a natural aptitude for coding.

IT isn’t just for introverts

The stereotype of an IT whiz is a young man locked away in his bedroom, working all through the night on a complicated coding project. This is a completely inaccurate picture of the broader tech industry. There’s a place for extroverts too, and plenty of roles where people skills are essential and teamwork takes centre stage.

As a database consultant, I interact with my clients every day; persuading and explaining are two of the most important skills in my repertoire. IT offers a broad variety of roles to suit all kinds of skill sets. Introverts may prefer an individual contributor position in a highly technical role as a software engineer or hardware technician. Those who thrive on social interaction could work as product managers or business analysts,  collaborating closely with several other departments on a daily basis. Natural leaders could work towards top c-suite jobs such as CTO or CIO.

Sexism isn’t unique to STEM

Infuriatingly, no industry is immune from sexism and misogyny. Women worry they will encounter sexism in IT, and in some cases, they may sadly be correct, but the risk would be similar with a career in other industries too.

Culture is usually the culprit. Some men want the workplace to be a boys’ club: they feel threatened by anyone who challenges that, and will do their best to intimidate and exclude women with insidious tactics. They’ll talk about projects at social events you’re not invited to and look out of the window when it’s your turn to present; soon, you’ll look around and wonder why women never seem to win the big promotions.

Companies don’t take this seriously enough. If you get a bad feeling during the hiring process, trust your instincts. If sexism makes your job difficult, slows your progression or stops you from enjoying work, quit. In IT, it’s not difficult to find a new job – and there are lots of wonderful places for women to work.

One thing I enjoy about IT is that so much of my work is based on logic. There’s a clear right and wrong; things either work, or they don’t. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than working hard to become an expert in your field and being able to show sceptics you’re right. It gives me great satisfaction to know that if any man doubts my expertise, I have the ability to prove him wrong. I’m sure many women in IT feel the same.

So, how can we take action to improve access to IT careers, and help women thrive in this industry? Employers – pay fairly, promote expeditiously, support women in developing their skills and increase their visibility. Teachers – raise awareness of tech careers early on, encourage girls to explore any interest in computing and expose them to female role models who can inspire ambition and confidence. And women – support one another in the workplace, and don’t listen to anyone who tries to hold you back.

Laetitia AvrotAbout the author

Laetitia Avrot is a Senior Database Consultant at EDB and a passionate advocate for women in technology. Having co-founded the Postgres Women Group, Laetitia works with Postgres user conferences across Europe to increase the attendance of female engineers and developers at events. Her goal is to get more women speaking at conferences, contributing code, and mentoring one another to increase the diversity of the Postgres community.

Laetitia holds a degree in computer sciences engineering from INSA in Lyon, and worked at the National Nuclear Safety Authority and National Geographic Institute before arriving at EDB. She is one of only three women recognised on the official Postgres contributors list, but hopes many more will join her in years to come.

diversity and inclusion, National Inclusion Week, inspirational profiles

Gender diversity in tech: The importance of creating a diverse workforce

diversity and inclusion, National Inclusion Week, inspirational profilesHow can tech companies address the lack of diversity in the sector? Christina Pendleton from Intercity Technology offers her tips on hiring and retaining diverse talent.

With just 15% of the tech sector made up of female workers, it’s clear more needs to be done to nurture gender diversity in the industry.

That figure comes from the recent Technology & Talent Study 2021 by Harvey Nash Group. The annual study also found that not only has the number of female tech workers remained stubbornly low since its first survey in 2016, but also almost three quarters of the women already in industry feel that efforts to support and improve female participation in technology have not gone far enough.

This lack of diversity in the technology sector is something I’ve been battling since I first joined Intercity Technology as HR Advisor in 2014, This led me to start the ‘Women in Tech Networking Group’, a monthly event hosted by the company, which is designed to celebrate gender diversity, encourage more women into technology roles and retain and attract more women to work at Intercity.

Today, there is still a lack of female representation across the industry, stemming from a lack of diverse representation of girls studying STEM subjects at school. This is starting to improve with engagement between employers and schools increasing, but the trend must continue if we’re to see an impact in overall diversity figures.

However, companies need to do more to make the working environment and working practices more inclusive. This should start off by looking at unconscious bias within the workplace to remove any judgements and discrimination that may occur. Women in Tech reported that 40% of women believe their more underqualified colleagues of the opposite sex have been promoted over them. This is a big reason why women and other underrepresented groups find entering or advancing within the sector challenging, resulting in lower retention rates for these groups.

For example, if more female staff are citing lack of progression as a reason for leaving the business, then it’s time to start reviewing promotion practices and begin offering more inclusive mentoring and development programmes.

If female team members are having to hand in their notice due to difficulty balancing parenting or maternity with work, then more effective flexible working policies need to be implemented. Most business leaders I speak to are already doing this, but I think it needs to be accelerated to deliver change.

The technology industry has a responsibility to celebrate and advocate gender diversity and encourage people from all walks of life into the sector. The greater the diversity within a company, the greater the variety of perspectives, approaches, skills and experience that businesses can benefit from.

I’ve seen first-hand that getting it right means you can problem solve more effectively while increasing creativity and innovation, leading to better performance. Our customers and end-users all come from diverse backgrounds, so it’s crucial, as an industry, we aim to reflect those we serve.

In the first instance, it’s vital that companies recognise where they currently sit in terms of diversity in the workplace. For example, organisations need to be aware of their stats surrounding diversity before being able to create and implement improvement plans. From an external perspective, these plans should include working with schools, colleges and universities to help promote the sector to young audiences and diversify the talent pipeline.

Before hiring, companies should take a closer look at their existing culture, values and processes when it comes to increasing diversity. Championing and celebrating diversity should be part of a company’s culture – from senior leadership roles right through to people starting their career in tech. Recruitment strategies should also be adapted to appeal to a broad market.

Networking groups, such as the ‘Women in Tech Networking Group’ at Intercity, give team members a commonality, a shared voice and create a platform to talk through issues they’re facing due to unconscious bias. Creating these groups is a great way to champion women within the company, while helping to onboard new members.

Creating and upholding a culture of inclusivity within the technology sector is vital, and your team should feel encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work every day. They should be proud of the differences they bring to our industry.

Christina PendletonAbout the author

Christina Pendleton is Chief People Officer for leading communications technology company Intercity Technology


She Talks Tech - Teaching technology through community' with Charlene Hunter, Coding Black Females, 800x600

Listen to our latest She Talks Tech podcast on 'Teaching technology through community' with Charlene Hunter, Coding Black Females

She Talks Tech - Teaching technology through community' with Charlene Hunter, Coding Black Females

Today we hear from Charlene Hunter, Founder and CEO of Coding Black Females.

Charlene talks about growth of the Coding Black Females community and the importance of this community in teaching new technical skills to people at all levels.

Charlene explores how you too can grow your own community, how you can create tech programmes and the impact of running technical programmes.

If you want to find out more about Charlene, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.


‘She Talks Tech’ brings you stories, lessons and tips from some of the most inspirational women (and men!) in tech.

From robotics and drones, to fintech, neurodiversity and coronavirus apps; these incredible speakers are opening up to give us the latest information on tech in 2021.

Vanessa Valleley OBE, founder of WeAreTheCity and WeAreTechWomen brings you this latest resource to help you rise to the top of the tech industry. Women in tech make up just 17 per cent of the industry in the UK and we want to inspire that to change.

WeAreTechWomen are delighted to bring this very inspiring first series to wherever you normally listen to podcasts!

So subscribe, rate the podcast and give it a 5-star review – and keep listening every Wednesday morning for a new episode of ‘She Talks Tech’.

Produced by Pineapple Audio Production.

Discover more from our
She Talks Tech podcast


Olivia Moore featured

A day in the life of a Java Developer

Olivia Moore

Olivia Moore from global tech consultancy Saggezza is on a mission to get more girls coding and considering careers in tech.

During my time studying computer science at the University of Hull, I was one of the few females on the course. It didn’t bother me, but I knew that I wanted to encourage more women to explore careers in the tech industry and learn how to code. The opportunities available are amazing and why shouldn’t more women have a seat at the tech table?

What is a Java developer?  

Java is one of the most popular programming languages used to develop web-based software and applications for different platforms. Not to be confused with Javascript, Java is known for being fast, secure and reliable, which is why its widely used for developing applications in games consoles, mobile phones and computers.

A Java developer is responsible for the development and programming of Java-based applications, often collaborating with other developers and software engineers to integrate Java solutions into websites, business software and applications for different devices.

What does a typical day look like for a Java developer?

For me, every day is different. In my current role, we get tickets which will usually give us a different problem to tackle. It’s very much like problem solving with code, so it’s different ticket to ticket, which I love. My team at the Saggezza office in Sunderland are great and if I’m ever struggling with a ticket, there’s always someone there to help, whether that be in person or via video call.

We also have access to Udemy, which is an online learning resource. I usually use it every week to develop my skills as we’re really encouraged to learn more and grow within our roles. It’s always good to keep learning new languages, especially as technology evolves.

What can we do to inspire more women to explore careers in tech? 

Education is key and the more role models we have the better. While at University, I stumbled across Code First Girls, which is a social enterprise dedicated to encouraging more women to explore careers in tech and learn how to code. I loved what they were doing, so as soon as I’d finished University and started working as a developer at Saggezza, I decided to volunteer as a teacher.

I teach languages such as Python, web development and SQL, teaching new starters how to code, as well as how they can get into the industry, hosting weekly 1-2-hour sessions.

I’m proud to work for a company that really wants to see more women in the industry, nurturing young talent through the likes of its own 0Gravity coding club, which was setup for 8-11 year-olds and already has an almost 50:50 split of boys and girls.

It will take time, but we’re already seeing small changes within the industry that point towards a more balanced future for tech.

Happy New Year, lights

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, lights

From all at WeAreTechWomen, we would like to wish all of our clients, sponsors, speakers, judges, partners, champions, advocates and above all, our community, a very happy New Year and a great 2022!

While 2021 was not quite the year we imagined, we adapted and innovated and earlier this week, we looked back at our top moments, as well as the top news stories, and inspirational profiles of 2021.

You can view these articles below:

2021 WeAreTechWomen - Looking backLooking back at 2021: A WeAreTechWomen round-up

2021 is nearly over and to celebrate the year gone by, WeAreTechWomen is taking a look back at our top moments.

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve had to once again continue to adapt and innovate to host our events, conferences and awards virtually.

This year, we have published over 2,000 articles on WeAreTheCity and WeAreTechWomen; promoted over 500 learning events; profiled over 500 women and men who shared their stories and experiences; collaborated on 35 new partnerships with other organisations; and supported 30 difference campaigns and 15 charities. Our WeAreVirtual webinar series delivered 45 webinars from leading speakers, experts and coaches to a global audience of 25,000.

Discover our top moments

A Google pixel 3XL showing Covid-19 information from the Google News appLooking back at 2021: Our top news stories of the year

In the second installment of our series of looking back at the past year, we delve into some of our favourite and most important tech news stories of 2021.

While this year’s main focus was once again the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 has still seen Wally Funk make history and become the oldest person in space; Dame Stephanie Shirley and Ray Ozzie receiving a distinguished fellowship from the Chartered Institue for IT; as well as many diversity and gender initiatives launched to help women into tech and STEM.

Find out more

diversity and inclusion, National Inclusion Week, inspirational profilesLooking back at 2021: Our top Inspirational Women & HeForShe interviews

In the final installments of looking back at 2021, we delve into our favourite and fascinating Inspirational Women & HeForShe interviews of the year.

Our Inspirational Women series of interviews aims to highlight amazing women across the globe, showcase their achievements and raise their profiles. Over the years, we have interviewed so many amazing women such as Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more.

Our HeForShe interviews celebrate men who promote and support women in the workplace, whether it is through campaigning, mentoring or giving opportunities to women.

Read our interviews

Team working by group video call share ideas, global teamsTeam working by group video call share ideas, global teams

Recognising unconscious bias in the virtual workplace

Team working by group video call share ideas, global teams, virtual workplace

By Charlotte Berg, CEO at Compodium

2020 and 2021 will be memorable years – years that have caused many people a lot of hardship, but ones that also ushered in a new era of digital, workplace and social transformation.

One of the central threads to this is video communication – now widely used in almost all environments. Whether it’s meetings between employees, talking to your doctor or staying in touch with family members, video became the go-to tool in a year where face-to-face communication was severely restricted.

One of the first places to see this change was television news interviews.  Where previously guests would have patiently waited behind the scenes, ready to join the presenters in the studio for a short face-to-face conversation, suddenly these interviews began taking place over a video conferencing link.  This was an immediate solution, but an effective alternative for providing an expert opinion on a news story.  It was an approach that almost every industry would soon replicate.

The power of a bookcase

What became clear very quickly in the move to home-based interviewees on the news was how effective a subtle piece of background self-promotion could be on a video call.  With most of the screen taken up with the call participant, there isn’t a great deal of room for much else.  However, a well-placed book, award or piece of art in the background of the call – for example, on a bookshelf – can be an extremely effective promotional tool for the interviewee.  A shameful plug or brilliant marketing?  That’s a question open to debate.  But the innate power of imagery in this context is clear – which is why marketing agencies can charge significant sums for delivering this type of branding for businesses.

As Newton’s third law states: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In this situation, a well-placed prop in a video call background can encourage a viewer to make assumptions about intelligence or accomplishment, or perhaps be more likely to take a particular action (“buy my book!”).  The opposite is also true; an ill-thought-out object in the background has a subtle power to convey a negative message, encourage harmful assumptions or, at its worst, damage the relationship between participants.

This notion is called unconscious bias.  It’s one of the many ‘tools’ the human brain relies on to speed up decision making – along with confirmation bias, availability bias and hindsight bias to name just a few – and is present in all of us.  Everyone has unconscious biases and – as the name suggests – for the most part, people are unaware they impact their decision making and assumptions.

Recognising bias in new ways

The question of bias is at its heart a complex and difficult one.  Regardless of how open-minded we try to be, having bias is part of what makes us human.  But combined with societal, cultural and historical stereotypes and prejudices, unconscious bias can heavily influence how we behave towards, or think about, other people.

Recognising, understanding and overcoming this bias plays a huge role in the workplace.

Many organisations are aware of the issues surrounding unconscious bias in the workplace and there are a range of advisory services, such as Acas, offering independent help and advice – online tests that help individuals become more aware of their own biases.  The impact of unconscious bias in the workplace can determine how people make choices, from the way they allocate tasks to how they manage challenging situations and conflict between colleagues.  It can emerge in even the most inclusive of teams, particularly during challenging and stressful times, or periods of uncertainty.

And this is where we need to be mindful in the new era of video collaboration.  In the past, efforts to address unconscious bias has focused on first impressions, handshakes, eye contact, and clothing choices.  With much of this now off the table, organisations must ensure the same level of focus is given to video communications – providing limited body language but other considerations such as background and décor.  It’s entirely likely that video conferencing has actually opened up new avenues for unconscious bias, with everyone from employees to doctors now showcasing more aspects of their personal lives and living spaces.

Whether it’s seeing where someone lives, meeting their pets, hearing their children, or noticing a well-stocked garden – these things can contribute to the subconscious thoughts, feelings, assumptions and decisions someone makes on a video call.

Seeing bias for what it is

Amy Bonomi, a social science researcher from Michigan State University, and Nelia Viveiros from University of Colorado, have recently explained how unconscious bias works in practice during video conversations.  The researchers concluded that video calls have the potential to uncover unconscious bias related to gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  Even something as straightforward to a conversation icebreaker can unintentionally reinforce dominant social norms and identities.

In the new era of video collaboration, it’s crucial that organisations recognise the potential for bias to occur in this way and put in place processes and tools to help employees identify and overcome this when it happens.  Amy Bonomi and Nelia Viveiros offer a number of areas organisations can focus on the support inclusivity, including:

  • Using inclusive language
  • Approaching conversations with sensitivity
  • Remaining conscious of symbolism in the ‘virtual environment’ and how participants may want to express themselves
  • Challenging microaggressions when they occur and any negative effects they may have had on participants
  • Respecting participants’ time by including frequent breaks in long calls

Unconscious bias is not unique to the post-pandemic era we now find ourselves in, but organisations need to be even more mindful of its impact now virtual collaboration is firmly established in the workplace.  Working virtually offers enormous benefits to society.  But as with any widespread social shift, it’s crucial we ensure inclusivity is at its heart.

She Talks Tech - In the Lounge with June Sarpong OBE, 800x600

Listen to our latest She Talks Tech podcast - In the Lounge with June Sarpong OBE, TV Presenter, Diversity Expert & Award-Winning Author

She Talks Tech - In the Lounge with June Sarpong OBE

Today we hear from June Sarpong OBE, TV Presenter, Diversity Expert & Award-Winning Author.

She has worked extensively with HRH Prince Charles as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, whilst campaigning for The One and Produce (RED). June was awarded an MBE in 2007 for her services to broadcasting and charity, making her one of the youngest people ever to receive an MBE. June was later awarded an OBE in the 2020 New Years’ Honours List.

June shares outstanding advice on how to be resilient in your career, how companies need to be more inclusive and nuture their diverse talent pools and why it is so important that we all step up and be role models to kids. We talk to June about the focus on intersectionality, male allyship and why building an inclusive culture should be at the forefront of any company’s agenda.

If you want to find out more about June – you can connect with her on LinkedIn.


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