women in computing, teacher, STEM featured

Cultivating an interest in STEM

women in computing, teacher, STEMLouise Maynard-Atem, Innovation Specialist at Experian.

Looking at my career to date, I realised that I’ve had roles across the full STEM spectrum; from PhD chemistry research, to analytical roles in central government, an engineering firm and my current data and technology focussed position at Experian.

The lack of gender parity in STEM related careers has been all too apparent to me for many years, but the level of emphasis currently being placed on understanding how to rectify this imbalance, is something that I haven’t witnessed before.

As the saying goes, the first step to fixing an issue is actually acknowledging that the problem exists; a quick look at a newspaper or social media site on any given day will tell you that we as a society have definitely got that base covered. We now need to harness this momentum and shift our focus towards taking concrete steps that improve outcomes for women of all ages.

Currently the tech workforce in the UK is made up of only 17% women, and a lot of research has gone into understanding why this is the case, and what are the specific turn offs for women in this industry. Rather than being the starting point, for me this 17% statistic is in fact the result of a long list of circumstances that start to impact women from a very early age.

In fact, recent research conducted by Microsoft shows that girls start to lose interest in STEM around 10, and children as young as seven are facing limits on their future work aspirations. Research also showed that despite the high priority that is placed on STEM subjects in schools, efforts to expand female interest and employment in this field are not working as well as intended.

There are undoubtedly many reasons behind these trends, but things like lack of confidence, lack of female role models and the way STEM subjects are taught are often cited as key to the drop-off in female numbers. These reasons form three key interventions we need to take to tackle the current STEM pipeline:

  • Normalising women in STEM – I contemplated writing “providing more female role models”, but I feel that normalising women in STEM careers is more all-encompassing. Young girls need to see themselves reflected at all levels of the career ladder, reminding them that there is a place within any field if they really want it. Regular visibility of the women currently in the sector is key, whether that’s through marketing campaigns, speakers at events, on television etc.
  • Mentoring and encouragement – studying STEM subjects can lead to a whole range of different careers that are either directly, or indirectly related. By introducing young women to mentors shows them the wide variety of opportunities that are open to them. This can be done through engagement with schools, or parents taking the lead and introducing their daughters to other women from their network.
  • Interactive learning – examples of STEM subjects, but particularly technology, surround us constantly, and there probably isn’t a day that goes by where these topics don’t touch our lives in different ways. This allows for some really hands on and interactive teaching methods. People of all ages learn better by doing, so it’s vital that STEM subjects are communicated in a way that young girls can both mentally and physically engage with.

On the mentoring and encouragement point, it’s key that those working in STEM fields today (both women and men) pay it forward. We’re all influenced by those that have come before and alongside us, whether that’s in the form of mentorship, sponsorship or peer-review, so we know how valuable these interactions can be.

There are so many ways for us to get involved, whether that’s just engaging young women in your family, or volunteering with specific charities that focus on women in STEM, your time and input could be the spark that encourages a young girl to maintain her passion. I currently volunteer with two organisations, the STEMettes and the Access Project, but these are just two example of ways you can contribute to and engage with the pipeline.

People often ask me how my background in chemistry has resulted in various roles across so many seemingly unrelated fields, and in particular, how I now find myself working at the intersection between data and technology to tackle global financial exclusion.

For me, the logic is quite apparent. The fundamental skills that all STEM subjects teach are to formulate hypotheses, to test and experiment, to analyse data which allow you to draw conclusions, and iterate further based on what you’ve learned. That’s exactly what I do in my job today; I start with my hypothesis of what problems people most want to solve, I (alongside a very brilliant team) then build and test various solutions, all the while getting feedback from the people that the solutions are designed for. I keep going around that loop and constantly improve the offering, such that it drives maximum value for the end user. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that my passion for STEM would have led me here but, I suppose, that’s the beauty of it.

Louise will be speaking at this year’s Women in Data UK event taking place on 28th November in London.


Being a mum and returning to work

desk-with-laptopArticle by Steph Ashby, Sales Manager within the Public Sector for UiPath, the market leader in robotic process automation (RPA)

I love my kids and they were the most beautiful babies in the world, ever, - fact- but I definitely would have been stark raving mad if I’d stayed at home with them, so getting back to work was a priority.

It was hard.  I went through the whole gamut of buying guilt presents for my first born in my lunch hour, trying desperately to reconcile getting that bid out the door with getting home for bath time, heart aching for them when away for work. The fact is you just can’t do it all.

I remember waking up one day, my tiny daughter vomiting and unable to go to childcare or a friend’s house, my boyfriend already at work, no family locally and me with a full diary including a meeting with half the board.  Crisis. Stress. Cue wonderful Mother in law driving 50 miles to take care of the sick baby. I virtually threw the ill baby at her and ran out the door, ran to the station, made it to the meeting 10 minutes late. I slid guiltily into my seat (the only woman, and the only one late, the only one sweating profusely) as my lovely colleague surreptitiously handed me pen and paper. ‘ what did I miss gentlemen?’. Honestly if they knew what it had taken to get there they would have made me a cup of tea (or a large gin), awarded me a day off, and pinned a ‘dedicated to the cause’ medal to my breast.  But no, they just noticed that I was a bit late. And they probably didn’t care. And several years on I still remember it, but they won’t.

Career Development

  • Say ‘yes’ to things.  Experimenting may lead you to find something that you love and are good at, that you may initially think isn’t suited to you.  Whatever the outcome you will learn from it. For me changing direction to be a programmer and working in IT (way back in ancient times before the internet was invented) was a huge departure and everyone thought I’d fail as I was rubbish at maths (I thought I might fail too, but actually ended up a fully-fledged tech geek).  Here I am 30 years later proving them all wrong .  But don’t be afraid to change direction – there are always options and new paths – you just need to look for them.
  • Ask! Women can be reticent about asking to take on new roles and responsibilities, or to be considered for promotions. We assume that everyone can see how good and efficient we are. News is, they often can’t , or don’t notice because they are too busy dealing with their own stuff – or listening to the people who are telling them how wonderful they are at their job. How many times have you seen a less qualified but more vocal person get the promotion?  My move into sales from a long career in delivery roles came about by me asking a board member to sponsor me.  He did and even arranged for a coach to help me transition. My coach became a life-long friend and supported me to move successfully into the ‘dark side’ of sales (as delivery people call it!).
  • Be ‘good enough’, not perfect We often wait until we have the ‘full’ set of skills before taking the leap to the next level.  Sometimes 70-80% is good enough.   Training, mentoring and coaching are all there to help you add to your skills and grow into a role.  Use those resources to their full extent.
  • Be brave – you are better than you think.  Put yourself out there. If you haven’t read ‘ Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by Susan Jeffers, please do. It will honestly change you for the better.
  • Be nice – this is a biggie.  Be the person you’d want to work with.   There’s a fallacy perpetuated that senior women need to be ‘queen bees’ and that they squash the ambitions of younger women.  Don’t be that woman.  Be the one who aims to help that clever, amazing grad to be your boss one day.  Being nice makes work so much nicer, and if you help people they help you back – often when you need it most.  My current team is my favourite team ever. We have fun, work hard, challenge each other, drink wine together and collaborate - everyone wins and we have a ball whilst working in what is a pretty pressurised sales business.

Interview tips

  • Prepare – an obvious one, but do it.
  • Be yourself – If they don’t like the real you then the job wasn’t for you anyway
  • Don’t assume  - it’s a bit like an exam when you were at school – don’t assume that they know your skills and expertise – show them. For example ‘how would you grow a new sales territory?’ the answer is not ‘Marketing’. It’s your whole potted strategy for identifying the market, segmenting it, finding spend, current suppliers/competitor analysis, finding partners etc etc….’ Be succinct but flesh out your answers. You’d be amazed at how you can miss ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ and how important it is for the interviewer to see your knowledge and ideas.
  • If you don’t understand, or are totally baffled, I was given this as a brilliant tactic (especially for acronyms and tech stuff that might bamboozle you): The question  ‘how would you approach BlockChain ?’ you answer ‘mmm, what do you mean by Blockchain?’ often you’ll find out that a) they haven’t a clue either and that line of enquiry fizzles quickly, or b) they tell you what they mean and give you the answer.

CV Writing

  • Be brief – no more than 1-2 sides of A4. No flowery language. Use a thesaurus if you need to but edit, edit, edit!
  • Bespoke it – a CV is a sales tool. Make sure that your introduction and overview meets the needs of the role spec and the corporate tone of the organisation.  You will fail in the first 2 seconds otherwise.
  • Facts and figures – show off!  Values, % improvements , team sizes achievements.
  • Include quotes from people who think you are fabulous ‘ xxx was the best project manager I’ve ever worked with’.  Collect a store of these over the years and use them.  A CV is no place for modesty.
  • Be interesting – a simple hook of a conversation starter can be a real godsend for the poor interviewers who may be seeing countless ‘drones’ before they get to you!

About the author

Steph is a diversity role model who has made waves in the IT industry. She started off as a programmer – during a time when the industry was made up of predominantly men – and has followed a meteoric career trajectory, overcoming several hurdles along the way. Steph has survived workplace bullying, two cases of sexual harassment, and being smashed against the glass ceiling. These setbacks simply made her more determined than ever to succeed, and to help other women around her do the same. During her career, she’s coached, mentored and supported the people around her that aren’t white middle-aged men.

Outside of work, Steph has appeared in a BBC programme called ‘Back in Time for the Weekend’ about leisure, and how technology has changed the way we live and enjoy our spare time.

Professor Sue Black featuered

Inspirational Woman: Professor Sue Black OBE | Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist, UK Government Strategic Advisor, Women’s Equality Party candidate for London Mayor 2020, Professional Speaker & Author

Professor Sue Black

Sue Black is a leading academic, campaigner, and advisor to the UK Government.

Black is a Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University with more than 40 publications behind her as well as a PhD in software engineering.

Her academic career has seen her hold leadership posts at London South Bank University, University of Westminster and University College London.

A champion for women in computing, Black founded BCSWomen, the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and #techmums, a social enterprise which empowers mums and their families through technology. The activist is also widely known for her successful campaign to save Bletchley Park, the wartime campus where more than 5,000 women served as codebreakers.

A figurehead on numerous boards, Black is a Comic Relief Trustee and a mentor at Google Campus for Mums. She has previously been a L'Oréal UNESCO prize judge, an expert evaluator for the European Commission and a Nesta Crucible fellow.

Black was awarded an OBE for “services to technology” in 2016.

She today sits as a Women’s Equality Party candidate for London Mayor 2020.

Black is a self-confessed social media-holic. She is a mum of four and a grandmother of four.

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

I didn’t have a traditional start. I left home at 16 with five O-levels, married at 20 and had three children by the time I was 23.

I was a single parent living with my kids in a Brixton council estate when I decided to study maths at night school (I chose a fast track course because it only required six hours a week on campus).

After this, I went on to study computing at London South Bank University where I also managed to complete my PhD. This is where I founded BCSWomen. I’d been at a computer conference (where around 90% of the guests were guys) and was freaked out by a man who wouldn’t stop staring at me. I couldn’t help but compare the negative experience to the great time I had at a female-only science conference and decided to create a network just for tech women.

Alongside my academic career, I’ve always tried to get people excited about the opportunities around technology. That’s why I set up initiatives like #techmums (mums are the biggest positive influencing factors on young kids so it's a win-win).

Now I’m at Durham University working with The Institute of Coding on a new programme called TechUP. It's an online course with residential weekends that specifically aims to retrain BAME and underrepresented women into technology careers. Any woman from the midlands or north of England with a degree can apply and over six months, we train them to become business analysts, software developers, agile project managers and data scientists.

TechUP is a pilot right now, but we’re working with three universities and 15 industry partners. I'm hoping it will be really successful and will roll out on a wider scale next year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really. I've always been ambitious, and I'm always looking ahead, but I’ve never done any real career planning.

My first job was at Essex County Council in the education department, but filing wasn’t very exciting. Then, when I moved to London, I worked with refugees from Vietnam (and learned some Vietnamese) but I didn’t think this would lead to a career. After that, I enrolled as a student nurse working at University College Hospital, but I found it difficult because I was so shy. Eventually, because I liked maths, I got an accountancy job at RCA Records.

One of the subjects I studied at college was programming in BASIC  I’ve always found technology really fascinating.

When it came to choosing a degree I did what I enjoyed and what I thought would help me get a good job, to enable me to support my family.

Obviously, if you know a specific job role that you want, you should go for it. But if you don't, I wouldn’t worry about it. Just work out what you enjoy the most.


What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Saving Bletchley Park was a huge achievement because it wasn’t just about my career, it was about preserving history for everyone.

I first went to visit the site in Bletchley for a BCS meeting. That’s when I learned that more than half of the 10,000 people working there during the war were women—I’d assumed it was a team of 50 men and was shocked I’d never even heard of the contribution these 5,000 women had made. I got funding for an oral history project to help capture their memories and we interviewed some 15 female veterans.

When I heard the site might close in 2008, I rallied all the heads and professors of computing in the UK to sign a petition to 10 Downing Street. We had an open letter printed in the Times and I went on the BBC News to raise awareness.

Being an early adopter of tech massively helped the campaign. If we didn't have Twitter, I don't think we would have saved it. I realized that just by typing the words Bletchley Park on Twitter, I could find everyone in the world who was already talking about it and I could have a conversation with them.

When Bletchley Park secured £4.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011, the director told me that Bletchley Park was saved. I just sat there, I couldn't believe it. After three years of day-to-day campaigning, it definitely took a few days to start thinking properly again!

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

When I was a Department Head at the University of Westminster, there was a redundancy round and my team was being cut by 50 per cent — I could either apply for my job or take redundancy. I had to ask myself ‘Do I really want to be a head of department with half the staff but the same amount of students? Is that going to be a great situation?’

My decision to step out of full-time academia was incredibly difficult. But what I didn’t expect was that the break would give me time to write my book, to set up #techmums and start doing all the other things I really wanted to do.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my work with nonprofits is funding.

I think if I'd known exactly how #techmums was going to pan out, I would have set up some sort of for profit digital skills training business. I would have gone for financial stability first and used that to help the people after.

Sue Black teaching how to code at WeAreTechWomen conference

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

Going through difficult times when I was younger has definitely shaped who I am.

After my mum died, I was emotionally bullied and physically neglected by my father and stepmother. We were always hungry. The 40p a week I earned from my paper round had to cover everything I needed, including new clothes, but I usually bought cake and sweets for my siblings because we were hungry.

I basically forced myself to set out on my own as a teenager. It built a kind of resilience, a courage in myself that I could go out and achieve what I wanted. As time has gone on, when I’ve made difficult decisions and life has turned out okay, I’ve gained the confidence to do other challenging things.

I also think that because I know what it's like to fear being homeless, what it's like to live in a refuge, what it's like to be on benefits—to know people are looking at you like you're a piece of shit—all that gives me the emotional drive to actually set projects up and get things done that can make change for the better.

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

Focus on the things you like doing the most, and try to do those more. I've worked hard to not do the things I don't like.

Even if you don't love coding or computers, remember that technology is just a massive suite of tools that you can use to do any specific thing you want.

Think about something that you're really passionate about already, that you really love, and then think about how technology is related or how it could enable you to do things differently.

If you couple this mindset with always looking for opportunities, networking, and finding new like-minded friends doors will open.

I have always looked for mentors in people I admired and have found amazing support in people like Dame Professor Wendy Hall, my first mentor. It has meant that when I get into situations I just ask ‘Can I talk to you about it and get your advice?’

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

When I worked for Essex County Council, I thought it was hilarious that all the men wore suits and shoes and all the women wore heels and dresses—I went to a jumble sale and bought a men's suit and a tie and wore that to work in a kind of protest about stereotyping.

But the truth is, there are still lots of barriers for women working today, and not just in tech.

It's also not just women we have to think about: we need to address the barriers for people from underrepresented minority backgrounds too.

For anyone facing discrimination, one of the hardest things is feeling isolated.

It is so important to have a group of people you trust to help you work out the best thing to do: people in the same organization who understand the culture who could advocate for you or advise you and people outside who will have a more objective perspective on what's actually happening.

If you've ever come up against discrimination, you may know it can be hard to work out if it is discrimination—that’s part of the way discrimination works.

Getting time and respect from my peers has definitely got a lot easier since I've got older.

Being over 40 seems to make people listen—in my 20s they didn't necessarily—although I know women in their 60s and 70s who say they now get disregarded as ‘old ladies’ too.

Perhaps I'm in my prime at the moment where I've got credibility. I think the only way to get through is to have a great network of people for support.

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

Change has to come from the top, and so much is about company culture.

It needs to be very clear that an organization is keen on promoting diversity and inclusion seriously.

Leaders need to be openly discussing diversity and making sure that there are initiatives which support diversity and inclusion within the organization.

It needs to be fine for people to talk about issues and not be penalized for speaking out.

I realise saying this, that implementing real change is both simple and complicated at the same time.

There is currently on 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 have a massive retraining program for women in tech so that any woman could retrain into a technology career, and so that women already in tech careers could progress even more rapidly. Knowledge is power.

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

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It's all about data and how biased data has been used in decision making. Did you know the first car airbags killed women because they were only ever on tested on male crash test dummies? It’s a brilliant book.

Also, the Women's Equality Party manifesto. I'm standing for London Mayor next year and in the past, whether our candidates are successful or not, many of our policies have been adopted and implemented. We’re a whole group of thousands of women and men who really want to make life better for everyone by focusing on making life better for women.

Deborah O'Neill featured

Inspirational Woman: Deborah O’Neill | Partner and Head of Digital, UK & Ireland, Oliver Wyman


deborah-oneil-featuredIn her time at global management consultancy Oliver Wyman, Deborah has supported some of the world’s biggest financial institutions and developed a passion around user centricity for business reporting. She is an alumnus of Imperial College, London, and recently co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Using Data to Strengthen Your Connections to Customers.” Deborah is actively engaged in mentoring the next generation of tech experts and is using her role as a senior team member in Oliver Wyman Digital to help support the female talent pipeline. You can follow her on Twitter: @DeborahLabsOW

You’re very open that you specialised in technology relatively recently. What advice do you give to other people and women in particular – considering a career change into digital and technology sectors?

The first thing is to just believe in yourself and that you can do it. Seriously. It’s that simple. It’s a common anecdote that from a list of ten criteria on a job description, men consider meeting five of them as a reason to apply, whereas similarly skilled women view “just” five out of ten as not being enough to support their application.

In my case, I’d found myself working more and more on data, systems, and tech issues, which I really enjoyed. I decided that would be where I would focus my career, incorporating my other strengths of managing projects and clients and being a fast learner and a team player. The business – Oliver Wyman – recognized my potential and supported my move to our technology arm – Oliver Wyman Digital – because of those skills. So, my advice is to go for the jobs you want and, when you get them (which you will), consider moving away from lists of requirements in the job descriptions you write.

My second recommendation is to ask for help and feedback and proactively seek out a mentor. Many people are great at giving constructive advice on how you can develop but wouldn't think to share their experience unless invited to. If your company doesn’t run a mentoring program, you can encourage them to join the 30% Club who provide mentoring for women in business.

Don’t forget that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t have to be in the same industry as you, or be female, or even be more senior than you. Sometimes the best advice I received was from peers or junior members of my team who have a different perspective on how I could be more effective in my role. Giving colleagues permission to share their constructive feedback and suggestions builds trust within a team and benefits the business overall.

According to Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” What should senior women be doing more of?

Possibly the best advice I was ever given was “lead from the centre, not the top.” Senior women shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging the gaps in their experience or skill sets and using this insight to surround themselves with people who fill these gaps and elevate the whole team. This approach is far more effective than leading from the top as a means of control. I’ve seen both styles in practice – and I know which one I’m constantly striving for.

Where possible, I think senior women should offer themselves as mentors for other women and advocate for them. It’s also worth remembering that just because they made it to a leadership position, it may not be as easy for others – for a wide range of circumstances – and senior women could be using their privilege of seniority to champion a fairer playing field.

In recruitment situations, I would ask all interviewers to understand the motivations of each candidate. For example, are they looking for a particular development opportunity, and do you believe the role will provide the appropriate challenge? People who are appropriately challenged and motivated will flourish, which is what you need if you want to create a high-performing team.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

I’m incredibly lucky with the company I work for and the way they supported me moving from financial services consulting into Oliver Wyman Digital. They’ve taken a conscious decision to enable and encourage employees to work in ways that work best for them. Whether this is reducing hours to start a family or a business, they’ve recognized that the best talent may not want to work a five-day week with standard office hours and they’ve adapted accordingly. This has given me a lot of reassurance about my future and that I don’t have to trade off career success against other personal ambitions.

This means that in ten years’ time, I can see myself doing anything I want to do – whatever that may be.

If you had to tweet your top three career tips, what would they be?

In your #career, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback, & for help if needed. It's a strength not a weakness.

Remember: other people DO want you to succeed. #mentoring #career

Go for it! Bring your uniqueness to the challenges you face. #diversity

Classroom Changemaker featured

New £5,000 award for maths and computer science teachers

Classroom Changemakers 1080x1080 square NEW 2-01

Nesta has launched Classroom Changemakers, a new award programme award for teachers and teaching assistants who have come up with bright ideas on how to give young people the opportunity to get creative and solve problems in maths and computer science.

Classroom Changemakers will see 15 winning secondary school teachers receive:

  • £5000 to invest back into their departments
  • An expenses-paid trip to the Classroom Changemakers final awards ceremony in London for themselves and +1's with transport and teaching cover provided for
  • Their ideas collated in a report to be shared more widely with the teaching profession.

Applications are open until Monday 24 February and applicants should only need a maximum of 30 minutes to complete a short application form on their idea, its impact on students and what inspired them to develop it. Find out more here.

What is the aim of Classroom Changemakers?

Through these awards Nesta aims to:

  • Reward and celebrate the great work of 15 teachers and teaching assistants through a prize of £5000 towards the applicant’s department and an awards ceremony in London
  • Better understand how teachers and teaching assistants are giving young people the opportunity to be creative and solve problems in maths and computer science
  • Share this understanding and the bright ideas unearthed by the awards with other educators through a report showcasing the winning ideas

How do teachers and teaching assistants enter?

Submit a short application form answering three main questions about the idea here by 9am on Monday 24th February 2020.

Want to find out more?

Career in STEM

A career in STEM: It may surprise you

Career in STEMIf the past few years are anything to go by, I’ve been very successful in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry.

Along with gaining my chartership as an engineer, I was shortlisted for two awards for my professional review submission. I also had the privilege to lead the structural design on the quickest hospital project ever completed for the NHS, which was the largest project to date for engineering consultancy Perega.

I’ve been a structural engineer for 15 years and currently hold an Associate role. While I love my work and knowing that it makes a difference in people’s lives, I wouldn’t describe my path into engineering as an obvious or smooth one.

Expect the unexpected

As a high school student in Poland, I hadn’t even considered going into engineering. My plan was to study architecture. I did the required preparation and drawing courses, but on the date of the university entrance exam, I was in hospital. While I was offered another date, it was for a civil and structural engineering course. University is free in Poland and it was something to do in the year before I could take the exam I really wanted, so I signed up. Six months in, I realised how interesting engineering is. I never looked back.

I was fortunate to go to a high school with fantastic teachers who encouraged us and opened our eyes to many different careers, regardless of our gender. This was exceptional for the time, which I came to realise upon starting university. Around 40% of the whole year were women, but the vast majority of lecturers were men with a very traditional perspective. As a result, we had a harder time and less support than our male peers, and at times were told that we wouldn’t finish the course so there wasn’t much point in helping us. In response, we developed a thicker skin.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to increase diversity in construction. When I finished my degree, that wasn’t yet the case. My first job out of university was on site. Out of 120 people, I was the only woman. While I had to deal with workers who weren’t used to seeing women on site along with the occasional joke, I think it helped me build more resilience at a crucial time in my career.

Top tips

There are a number of factors that helped motivate me throughout my career. The first, and one of the most important, of these was having a mentor. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, having someone who will support you and who you can learn from is crucial. When I started my first job after university, my site manager helped me get through the difficult days and build up my confidence, offering advice on how to gain my colleagues’ trust. Even more recently, having a mentor was important as I worked towards gaining chartered status. As I balanced my chartership work with my personal life and responsibilities as an associate, there were times I thought I couldn’t do it. Having someone in my corner to encourage, push and help me along the way made a world of difference.

There is so much to be learned not only from mentors, but from your colleagues as well. Once I’d settled in at my first job, I started to talk with the other people on site, whether it was a bricklayer, a foreman or a painter. Not only did I gain insight into their specialisms, once they saw my enthusiasm and willingness to learn, they started to appreciate me as well. By working on site and talking to everyone there, I had an edge once I moved into a design office because I could appreciate the importance of buildability in the design process.

I’ve met quite a few engineers who graduated without ever going to a site. They can’t see in their heads what they’re designing. So, get out of the office. Whether you’re an engineer, an architect or anyone else behind the design of a project, go see the sites where it gets built.

Whatever career you choose or path you pursue, the final goal can seem impossible and the challenges along the way insurmountable. For me, it helped to prioritise and plan. When I was becoming chartered, I drew up a plan, identifying what needs doing, breaking tasks down into manageable chunks and setting small deadlines for myself. When you’re able to cross items off a list, you can see progress, giving you the encouragement to keep going.

Above all else, don’t be scared. If a career in STEM is what really interests you, push for it. You may not know right away exactly what you want to do, and that’s alright. If you enjoy science or maths, find something you can do with it – you may end up surprising yourself.

Ewa AmbrosiusAbout the author

Ewa Ambrosius is an associate in the London office of Perega (formerly Thomasons Ltd). She holds a masters in civil and structural engineering, designing structures for education, housing and healthcare, including the Chase Farm Hospital.

Innovation challenge, national apprenticeship week, Justina Blair featured

Why I chose an apprenticeship over university

Innovation challenge, national apprenticeship week, Justina Blair

By Justina Blair

Deciding to choose a degree-apprenticeship route over the traditional university pathway was undoubtedly the best decision I've made and one my future-self will thank me for.

Modern culture places enormous value in university degrees and celebrates them as one of life's top achievements. In doing so we have created a culture that normalises taking on debt.

It is often assumed as fact that a university degree will improve your career prospects, but ask yourself this - why are there hordes of university graduates working in low-end jobs?

I attended an all girls Catholic school, and while apprenticeships were mentioned by the careers' department, it was clear that a university degree was the standard measure of success.

I was a high-achiever at school and my A-level grades were what you might expect from a top university student.

It soon became obvious that my career advisor was suggesting that pursuing a university degree would be the right path for someone like me.

Perhaps this is the viewpoint of past generations who wholeheartedly subscribed to the belief that a university degree is a launchpad for a successful career.

On the contrary, employers I have spoken with seem to value experience equally if not more than a degree!

A significant number of  young people seem to go to university with the common misconception that their degree will be a golden ticket that will land them their dream job.

There are very few who seem to be aware that university degrees are often considered the bare minimum and that employers place equal value on experience.

So my question to those of you reading this that are considering university is simple: Why not find a way to meet the criteria your future employer is looking for?

These are the questions I asked myself while filling out my UCAS application, spending hours perfecting my personal statement and reviewing various university courses.

When it comes to academia, I excel, but being book-smart is like being a pawn on a chess board without the hands-on-experience of a queen.

Just over a year ago, apprenticeships were mainly focused on vocational subjects, but more recently an array of STEM apprenticeships have become available.

This was all well and good but I had reached my first obstacle - deep down I still wanted a degree.

With a three year undergraduate degree costing £27,750 plus 6.2% interest for every year you do not pay the FULL amount back, I felt very uncomfortable at the prospect of taking on such an enormous debt.

It seems the wording of this has changed to: “RPI plus 3%” RPI is currently 5.4%.

Even though you do not start paying this loan back until you are earning over £25,000, that interest is adding up meanwhile, and I did not want to be earning lower than that amount.

Was it justifiable to allow an 18-year-old to commit to such a large debt? To others this topic has been normalised. But for me debt is debt.

I then met with the managing director of an engineering consultancy in the city and secured myself a five year degree apprenticeship in environmental science.

This company would completely fund my degree, I’d attend university one day a week and work for them gaining that pivotal experience. But I was still not satisfied.

Was this a career that would allow me to excel as a female in business?

Back on the search, I came in contact with LTSB (Leadership Through Sport and Business) a social mobility charity that prepares and supports bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into meaningful roles at blue-chip level companies.

They were advertising a digital innovation degree apprenticeship with Natwest which immediately stood out to me but I was slightly nervous about applying as I am a BAME female.

My apprehension soon dissipated as I enrolled in LTSB's bespoke preparation bootcamp where I gained a lot of useful experience and learned how to talk to CEO’s within a professional setting.

It was the perfect time to come out of my comfort zone, and be around others from different age groups, all in preparation for working life.

Here I am, four months later undergoing my four year degree apprenticeship in technology and innovation, earning while I learn.

With the help of my mentor, who LTSB introduced me to, I have had support at every career crossroad throughout the last year.

I am very grateful for LTSB who have made the transition between adolescence and adulthood a lot less nerve-wracking. With their assistance I secured a job working at a bank led by a female CEO, Alison Rose, I'm being paid the same as my male peers, and I am more confident than ever that I can navigate my career beyond my four year degree.

Having a degree brings me security but for others, a level four apprenticeship could suit better - both are effective pathways to set yourself up for a successful career.

An apprenticeship in tech finance was an attractive prospect for me as I saw the industry as a growth sector and thought the position would develop my ability to be change ready.

Unlike my peers at full-time university, I am already improving my employability; I have the confidence and ability to speak to professionals and I've already begun developing a professional network.

A degree-apprenticeship offers you both workplace experience and a degree, so why wouldn't you take advantage of such a great opportunity and earn while you learn.

Choosing an apprenticeship over full-time university helped me gain confidence, independence and respect and it can do the same for you too.

Justina BlairAbout the author

Justina Blair is a digital innovation technology apprentice at NatWest. She has previously debated in parliament and is undertaking a Bsc in Digital and Technology Solutions.

female data scientist, woman leading team

The world needs more data scientists

female data scientist, woman leading team

Dr Anya Rumyantseva, Senior Data Scientist at Hitachi Vantara

Data science is often referred to as a ‘dark art’.

As a data scientist myself, I don’t think the field is that mystifying. But for those outside of the profession, there is some lack of awareness of what a data scientist actually does, and what pursuing a career in the field entails.

This can be a real problem – because today, data makes the world go around.

Most companies, regardless of industry, are seeking new ways to leverage the vast amounts of data at their fingertips as a tool to drive efficiencies and transform their business model. But like any tool, data is only useful if it’s in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. It’s easy to forget that digital transformation is as much about people as it is about technology.

The talent deficit 

The UK has been struggling with a skills shortage for some time now. As digital transformation influences every sector, businesses are turning to experts who can help them harness their data. Companies are on the hunt for data engineers, machine learning engineers and data scientists. One study found that in the UK, the demand for people with specialist data skills has more than tripled over the past five years, while another projected the data scientist role will account for 28 per cent of all digital jobs by next year.

It’s a case of supply and demand – but unfortunately, many companies are encountering a sparse talent pool to recruit from. Some estimates even suggest that Europe needs around 346,000 more people trained in data science by 2020. That’s a big gap to fill – and it’s only going to get wider unless the industry takes action.

The data landscape is getting increasingly complex – how much data we’re generating, the types of data and how we’re storing it is changing. To put this in perspective: I’m working on a project right now that uses a petabyte of data. I’m able to work with this huge amount of data because today we have the infrastructure to store it, process it and apply machine learning models. Rewind to the 80s and it would have cost around $600 billion just to store that much data.

Now that we have the tools to work with such large data sets, we’re able to leverage data in exciting new ways. However, this also means we need more people capable of doing so. Considering that IDC forecasts a massive 163 zettabytes of data will be generated by businesses every year by 2025, it’s no wonder UK businesses are worried about a deficit in data specialists.

So, how do we mitigate an impending skills shortage? Well, a good place to start is by changing perceptions of what a data scientist actually is and what they do.

Demystifying the ‘dark arts’

I’ve been a data scientist in Hitachi Vantara’s Solution Engineering team for over two years now. When people ask me what I do, the answer may not be what they expect. My role is to understand the business challenges of our customers, consider potential analytical approaches to solving these challenges and prototype solutions by using advanced analytics, machine learning and deep learning techniques.

In short, I leverage data and mathematical techniques to solve business problems. It’s an exciting field to work in – and can have a significant real-world impact.

As an example, consider the UK rail system. It’s one of the busiest in the world, ferrying thousands of people from point A to B every single day. When you’re a passenger, you probably don’t think about the intricate and nuanced system that keeps your train running. That is, until something goes wrong. Like when a train door gets jammed and is prevented from leaving the station on time. One seemingly minor fault can have a huge knock-on effect further down the line, causing delays and disruption for thousands of passengers.

That’s one real-world problem that I’m trying to help to solve right now. Leveraging data collected from thousands of sensors on the trains themselves and working directly with rail engineers, as a data scientist on the project I bridge the gap between engineering and mathematics, uncovering insights that can drive efficiencies and reduce delays.

Diversity matters

Hopefully now you’ll think of a data scientist as more than just someone who sits behind a computer screen doing equations all day! But the tech sector needs to work hard to build a more inclusive environment where young people – regardless of their background, gender or race – consider data science as an attractive career option.

At Hitachi Vantara, we run a data science internship programme in our London office for talented and intellectually curious young people from diverse backgrounds. Our interns roll up their sleeves and get stuck into analytical projects. They are an important part of the team and their opinions matter. We challenge them to think creatively, asking them to leverage publicly available data to uncover insights into real-world problems – like using data from the Department of Transport to think up new ways to reduce carbon emissions from private and commercial vehicles in the UK. It’s not just a fun thought-experiment – it’s an accurate glimpse into the life of a data scientist.

Data science is a diverse, interesting and constantly evolving field – so it needs people who can think differently, bring new ideas and offer fresh perspectives. If we’re going to tackle the skills shortage, the industry must hold the door open for people from all walks of life.

Anya Rumyantseva, Senior Data Scientist, Hitachi VantaraAbout the author

Anya Rumyantseva is a Senior Data Scientist at Hitachi Vantara. Anya received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Southampton and BS/MS degree in Physics from Lomonosov Moscow State University. Anya is also a fellow of the Nippon Foundation (Japan). Her PhD thesis was focused on using IoT data obtained from marine robotic systems for improving our understanding of phytoplankton blooms and their impact on the global climate. At Hitachi Vantara, Anya is working on projects that use advanced analysis and machine learning techniques to improve business operations in the railway, manufacturing and other industries traditional for Hitachi group. 

Public speaking, conquering the fear featured

Conquering the fear

By Rhona Kennedy

Public SpeakingIt’s totally normal to find certain situations intimidating or even downright scary.

Some things (like job interviews) are pretty much unavoidable; others are easy enough to avoid but, if you master them, they will reap personal and professional rewards.

I’ve collated some advice I’ve gathered over the years on how to face some common fears, namely: turning up at Meetup events and networking, job interviews, and public speaking/speaking at conferences.

Going to Meetups/Networking

It can be pretty nerve-wracking to turn up to a room full of strangers and introduce yourself (the dreaded “networking”). Here’s some tips on how to conquer it.

First up, maybe it’s useful to start off small. Find a smaller Meetup (maybe a very niche technology/interest, or held in a smaller venue or somewhere friendly like a coffee shop) and head along. Or, if it feels less scary to you, find a bigger Meetup where you can “blend in”.

Take a friend or colleague along for moral support. Even is your friend doesn’t work in the same field, or doesn’t have as much of an interest in the topic as you do, it can be handy to have someone to arrive with and chat to. Alternatively, check if there’s someone going who you know - you can usually see a list of attendees on Meetup.com or Eventbrite.co.uk – it makes a big difference knowing there will be a friendly face there.

Prepare your elevator pitch in advance. This is a quick spiel about who you are and what you do – it doesn’t need to be “salesy” but being able to sum yourself up in a couple of sentences is handy and takes the nerves out of introducing yourself to a stranger.

Networking is really valuable; meaningful networking isn’t about chucking your business card about indiscriminately or aiming to have as many LinkedIn connections as possible, but it is about building beneficial connections and helping each other out. It gets easier the more you do it; practice makes perfect.

Pro tip for tech Meetups: if you hang out near the pizza/refreshments then I guarantee people will talk to you!

Job interviews

Preparation is key. When you feel organised, you are much less likely to get flustered. I would also advise planning your route in advance; maybe even scope out the location the day before. Arrive in plenty of time, find a nearby coffee shop and do a final pass of your notes.

If you don’t have enough information to prepare, just ask your recruiter or the person who invited you to interview for more information. For example, it might make you more relaxed to know what the dress code is and dress accordingly. Nobody wants to be in a suit when everyone else is in jeans – or the other way around!

Even if your preparation is impeccable, there will still be questions you don’t know the answer to. Keep calm. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed; just be honest that this isn’t something you’ve encountered yet and move on.

Please know that the interviewers want you to succeed – they haven’t invited you in just to fill their diary! They are on your side and want you to do well.

The Big One: Public speaking/speaking at conferences

Again, I think it helps to start small. Try introducing another speaker before doing your own presentation, or pick a really friendly Meetup, or a quiet month to present for the first time. A five minute lightening talk at a local Meetup is less pressure than a big presentation at a conference with hundreds of people – and will allow you to practice your material and get some feedback.

It took me a while to realise that nobody really likes public speaking; even the folk you admire who are really good at it and do it all the time get nervous and forget their words. We’re all in the same boat. It gets easier – try, try, try again! Great and confident public speakers are not born with this talent; they get better with time and practice.

I also think it helps to know that everyone is rooting for you. The audience is on your side, they are interested in what you have to say (and they’re often just relieved they’re not in the hot seat). It’s

not the easiest advice to put into practice but a) try to care less about what people think and b) don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try not to be too bothered if you do stuff it up. It’s actually endearing to have a bit of personality and your audience will enjoy seeing a human side to you. I would also advise planting a couple of friends or colleagues in the first couple of rows – or finding your pals in the crowd – it helps massively to see a smiling face mid-presentation.

Use props to your advantage. If you’re forgetful, make yourself some cue cards. If you fidget (guilty!) then plan to hold a pen or something in your hand to anchor yourself.

If you are presenting and there’s a time limit – practice and make sure your talk is within the limit. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than watching someone watch the clock, and you don’t want to risk being cut off (for example in a lightening talk) if you go over. It’d be a pity if no one heard your whole talk.

The tech community benefits when everyone has a voice and we hear the opinions and thoughts of a diverse range of people. It’s challenging to speak up and we can all get intimidated by a crowd, but it’s also important that we conquer our fear and seize the opportunities we are presented with and support others in their endeavours. It gets easier with time – good luck and happy public speaking!

finding the right career, applying for jobs featured

How to Navigate the Job-Hunting Process as a Woman Working in STEM

job application, right careerOne in five UK engineering businesses list skills shortages as their most important challenge in the coming years, and in industries such as Aviation, the lack of engineering and technical skills is even worse.

Despite the gap, the British Engineering industry has the lowest female workforce in Europe – 12%, compared to Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus at 30%.

Businesses working in STEM are increasingly recognising the importance of female talent and are actively ramping up efforts to attract more women into the field. However, with traditionally masculine working environments, overwhelmingly male workforces and an immediate career disadvantage, how can women in STEM navigate the job-hunting process?

How to Secure Your Ideal Job in STEM

Getting Through the Door

  • Network – As industries are waking up to the importance of women in STEM, relevant organisations and conferences are increasing in frequency and popularity. Attending these events will provide invaluable networking opportunities, and becoming involved with speaker or organising activities will position you as a STEM industry expert – inevitably leading to further opportunities and helping to drive your personal brand.
  • Constantly Evolve – We’ve moved beyond ‘dress for the job you want’ – tailor your skills and attributes to match the job you want. Continued personal and professional development will help you stay ahead throughout your career. Build your personal and professional skills through coaching, mentoring, online courses or formal qualifications to ensure you’re the best possible candidate in any selection process.

CV Application Stage

  • Tailor Your CV to the Job Advert – Unconscious bias is present at every stage of the recruitment process. Even if your skills, knowledge and experience match the job description, your recruiter or hiring manager will also be looking for a personality or culture ‘fit’, and both they and the role decision-maker will have been involved in writing the job ad. Use this bias to your advantage – identify the ‘masculine’-sounding words in the job advert and ensure you use the same or similar ones in your CV wherever applicable. Use words and phrases that convey your role in leading teams or projects (however small), rather than supporting, and use action-related words rather than softer, supporting phrases. Your hiring manager will want to see their image of the ideal candidate reflected back at them, so make it as easy as possible for them to match your CV to this ideal.
  • Focus on Achievements – The average recruiter or hiring manager spends 5-7 seconds reading a CV before they decide whether an applicant is worth pursuing. Focus on achievements first and foremost in your CV, to grab the attention of the reader and reinforce your ability to compete with other candidates. Be specific – what exactly did you achieve in each of your previous roles? Why were these achievements beneficial to your employers? Use statistics and data to prove the difference you made to your company or team – for example, sales or account figures, efficiency increases, reduction in errors, client satisfaction rates or exceeding project requirements.

Interview Stage

  • Stand Out – Use your personal story as a woman in STEM to evidence not only your directly relevant career experience, but also the different experiences that you have compared to men in your field, and how your responses increased your adaptability and soft skills. Showing your passion, through your natural interest in STEM and your efforts navigating obstacles you have encountered, will help you stand out amongst other interviewees.
  • Project Confidence and Capability – Often it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that makes the most impact. Confidence, body language, tone and behaviours can significantly impact interview success rates. Ask other people about the successful candidates they’ve interviewed (or think about people you’ve interviewed yourself and gone on to hire) and note down which words come up the most to describe the candidate’s interview performance. These are likely to be words associated with masculinity, competition or strength, such as ‘assertive’, ‘competent’ and ‘capable’. Record yourself practicing an interview and watch back to see whether you would describe yourself as in this way, and if not, work on improving them. Keep these in mind when interviewing, and your hiring manager will recognise your skills, knowledge, experience and ability to hit the ground running in the new role.

Jenna BeardAbout the author

Jenna Beard leads technical recruitment services at VHR Workforce Solutions and has over 14 years’ experience recruiting into STEM. VHR Workforce Solutions provides award-winning managed services solutions in 50 countries around the world.