Kickstart for Airnow’s cyber women

Paige Quinn-Jaggar and Ayman Farooq really are pioneers in the male-dominated world of cybersecurity. Sadly, they are also the exception to the rule with women making up just 8% of professionals in a technology sector that is constantly growing in profile and importance.

With ever-growing threats from around the globe, increasing in both intensity and complexity, the role of cybersecurity becomes ever more important. Protecting sensitive and critical data is a key priority in both public and private sectors. 

Paige, who works within the marketing department of Leeds-based Airnow Cybersecurity, has benefited from the Government’s Kickstart scheme along with Airnow colleague Ayman Farooq who has established herself in sales.

Kickstart provided funding to employers to create jobs for those aged 16 to 24. The scheme, which ran until the start of May 2022, has benefited many young jobseekers across the UK.

Paige, who started with Airnow in 2021, explained: “Women are clearly within the minority but schemes such as Kickstart have sought to redress the balance and has given myself and Ayman a foot up into the fast-moving world of cybersecurity.

The kickstart scheme has helped to create a more diverse workforce as companies have recruited individuals that perhaps might never have considered a career in technology.

“It may well be that women are simply unaware of the opportunities or that this sector is considered too technical or traditionally male dominated but a big part of it, in my opinion, is down to education and the way girls in school are not encouraged to go down the tech route.

“Women account for just 8% of employees in cybersecurity and only 19% in technology as a whole. Those are shocking figures and represent some of the worst disparities across all industries. 

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“Whilst it’s a shame to see the Kickstart scheme come to an end, it’s heartening to see that there are other initiatives aimed at encouraging women into a cybersecurity career.

“The CyberFirst programme, for instance, includes some positive initiatives that are helping to buck the trend. It was launched in 2016 by the National Cyber Security Centre, which forms part of GCHQ, and includes female only competitions as well as training and apprenticeships.

“That is a good place to start for any woman interested in cybersecurity.

“Anything the men can do; we can do just as well given the chance. We just need those chances!” concluded Paige. 

Interviewing while Black: How tech companies can increase its pipeline of candidates by embracing enhanced hiring techniques

Tech Interview Featured

Article by Portia Kibble Smith, Head of D&I at Karat

Job interviews can make even the most confident person feel vulnerable.

But interview anxiety can be especially detrimental for people who are already under pressure to conform to cultural norms and present themselves a certain way. Unfortunately, these anxieties are amplified for Black engineers and undergraduates entering the tech industry with little to no interview practice/experience and who also face a compounding effect of racial bias and stereotyping in white-male dominated spaces.

According to a recent study from Karat, these challenges were even more acute for Black females, who face a compounding effect of gender and racial bias in white-male-dominated spaces. According to the report, black females reported feeling extreme levels of interview anxiety twice as frequently as their male counterparts. Thirty-seven percent of black women rated their interview anxiety at a 9 or 10 on a scale of 0 to 10 compared to just 18% of black men. Black females also demonstrated high levels of imposter syndrome more frequently than men (40% compared to 31%).

After years within the industry, I know the high-pressure interview situations. As one of the first Black women in tech in the 1980s, I was determined to climb the corporate ladder despite countless obstacles. D&I programs were “virtually nonexistent” in those days. But one opportunity led to another and I eventually became an executive recruiter at Sprint, helping the company build inroads into leading MBA programs and HBCUs in pursuit of the best candidates for roles as future officers of the company/firm.

When I first started at IBM, I was the only Black woman on the sales team and garnered many strange looks and comments from customers. At the time, women and minorities were rarely given the opportunity to work in the large accounts division in sales. I’ve even faced meetings with customers who would get up and leave because I didn’t “look” like I worked at IBM. Nevertheless, despite all of the negativity and racism, I showed up and didn’t allow anyone to intimidate me from reaching success.

But for those just entering the field, this process and the anxieties associated with interviewing can result in physical reactions. Many black women go into interviews knowing they need to perform at a higher level than their peers and are more self-conscious because they are intentionally trying to avoid the perceived stereotypes of “aggressive behaviors.” This includes the natural reaction to stress like sweat, physically shifting, and involuntary body language, which can be perceived as being deceptive or not allowing the candidate to focus on acing the interview to secure the job.

Some of the participants of the Access Gap Report stated the following about their interviewing experiences:

My greatest challenge is not seeing a lot of women, especially Black women, in the field. I am so nervous that interviewers won’t like me or that I will say something that makes it seem that I am unable to do the job or any job in the field for that matter. Also, because I am a dark skin plus-sized woman, I worry about not looking the part for someone in a business setting.

Closing the Access Gap Within Tech

Socioeconomic factors such as access to personal computers and computer science education at an early age require long-term investments and systemic changes to American primary education. Still, there are also immediate ways for organizations to build more equity into hiring today. Here are three steps organizations can take to improve diversity hiring and increase retention of technical talent.

Make the interview process transparent

When candidates have inside knowledge of a company and its hiring process, they are better prepared due to networking or referrals. Hiring managers should ask themselves if a candidate who is interviewing without knowing anyone at their company has the same understanding of the interview process and questions as one who has an “in” with someone on the team.

Failing to do this will artificially benefit people from similar backgrounds as your existing team, resulting in hires that consciously or unconsciously prioritize interpersonal relationships and subjective “likeability” over skill. Consequently, this leads to less diverse and ultimately less effective teams, hurting both the efficiency and equity of the hiring process.

Create interview practice opportunities with second chances

Offer multiple interview opportunities to candidates. One way to do this is by giving candidates the ability to redo their technical interview if they’re not satisfied with their performance.

In fact, the preliminary results from Karat’s Brilliant Black Minds practice interview program also reinforce this best practice. Brilliant Black Minds offers HBCU computer science students multiple practice interviews. After each interview, students received written and verbal feedback on their strengths and opportunities for growth, followed by a second interview opportunity. Seventy-six percent of participants who received practice interviews focusing on data structures maintained or improved their scores, and 85% of participants who received algorithm interviews maintained or improved.

Foster inclusion with support and mentoring

Not seeing people within production, leadership, and C-suite roles can make the candidate feel out of place. According to Code2040, “while Black and Latinx people earn nearly 20% of computer science bachelor’s degrees, they make up only around 5% of the technical workforce at top tech companies. Only 2-5.3% of tech executives are Black and 3.1-5.3% are Latinx.”

Factors that can impact imposter syndrome include first exposure to computer science and the lack of representation within the tech companies – within leadership and C-suite roles.

To address this, engineering teams can create a more inclusive culture by providing support for engineers of color in the form of mentorship opportunities and creating a more transparent structure around roles.

In technical interviews, where applicants are supposed to be judged by “experts” on their skills, bias and perpetuated stereotypes must be checked at the door. And then proactively corrected throughout the recruiting and hiring process to create more equitable experiences and higher retention rates.

COVID-19 presented organizations with the opportunity to get out of their limited referral networks and recruit from new or non-traditional sources – including HBCUs and local colleges. But organizations also must ensure that they’re setting up interviewees and future employees for success in the hiring process by reducing the inconsistencies and bad interviewing practices that cause anxiety and produce false negatives. This can be achieved by adding transparency, creating practice opportunities, and providing career support for employees.

Portia Kibble SmithAbout Author

Portia Kibble Smith is an executive recruiter and diversity & inclusion lead for Karat, a company that conducts technical interviews on behalf of businesses hiring software engineers to create a more predictive, fair, and inclusive process. She has recently been the driving force behind the Real Talk: Diversity in Tech series and the launch of Brilliant Black Minds.

women in tech, soft skills featured

You don't need to be a 'techie' to work in technology

women in tech, soft skills

Everyone knows that there aren’t enough women working in technology. This is especially true when you narrow that focus to look at the techier roles.

Jobs such as programmers, developers and quality assurance analysts are dominated by men, and all require skills that are hugely valued within the industry.

Undoubtedly, more must be done to encourage women into these roles. But many of the measures required are longer-term, and some go back as far as school and how STEM subjects are taught (and by who). Is there anything that can be done to get more women working in tech in the here and now?

Yes, there is! It’s about how we value certain workplace skills. Many women reject an opportunity in technology because they feel they lack that technical expertise when they actually possess skills that would be of huge importance. By assigning greater worth to softer and broader skillsets, more women will surely be drawn to working in technology companies.

What’s so soft about soft skills?

Soft skills in the workplace usually refer to qualities such as communication, organisation, and being structured and thorough. These skills encourage interaction and engagement in the workplace, and it’s no exaggeration to say that technology companies would grind to a halt without them.

There’s a perception that those who work in the techier roles don’t usually have these skills. This is a generalisation, but like many generalisations, it is at least partially based on truth. Communication and organisation – the priceless qualities of making things happen – are vital components of any company, so why are they perceived as less valuable?

Amidst the talk of ‘rockstar’ developers, you rarely hear of project managers and client service teams described in such terms. I would even take issue with the name assigned to these skills. The word ‘soft’ has a number of meanings. Google’s Oxford Dictionary states: ‘easy to mould, cut, compress, or fold’, and many of the words listed as associated with soft imply some sort of weakness or malleability.

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Women and soft skills

I believe that these definitions and the fact that soft skills in the workplace are more commonly assigned to women is no coincidence. There is a legacy sexism in many languages, outdated ways of referring to and describing women. This is an example of that.

Yet a subtle rebranding of these skills could help encourage more women in technology. Instead of soft skills, how about we refer to them as human skills or essential skills? Or anything else, because make no mistake, those qualities can have vast value in technology.

My own background is in creative writing. When I was at university, I didn’t imagine that I would end up working in technology, but I found a role that suited my skills and personality, and I have thrived. My work is valued, and I feel like I am a key part of the organisation, just as much as the developers.

It would be interesting to learn how many women have been put off working in the technology sector, because they feel they do not have the technical expertise to succeed. In reality, many women have highly transferable skills and should not dismiss a career in technology using them.

Adding value

The so-called softer skills have enormous value to any tech firm. They connect people, get them interacting and engaging, and play a pivotal role in fostering the kind of collaboration that is essential in bringing any technology product or service to market.

Without people managing client expectations, encouraging communication, and ensuring projects are on time and within budget, then you could have the best developer in the world and wouldn’t see the benefit from them.

These skills are transferable from sector to sector, and any women that are working elsewhere could easily find a role within technology. It’s a dynamic and exciting industry that would get even better from a levelling-up of the gender imbalance.

Lucy JuddAbout the author

Lucy Judd is Senior Client Services Manager at developer marketplace platform Deazy. After graduating with a degree in English and Creative Writing, Lucy has worked for several technology firms across the South West.

Tech role models featured

The importance of (realistic) role models for women in tech

tech role models

Role models can be a vital influence on anyone’s career, providing guidance, support, advice, and much more. This is especially true for women in technology, where it can be hard to establish yourself.

It’s no secret that there aren’t as many women in tech as there are men and that good female role models can be thin on the ground.

In my career, I’ve found that for the most part, female leaders are happy to share their experiences and help shape the future careers of others. The problem has been that when it comes to working mothers in technology, women often fall into one of two camps. They are either female leaders, who are high achievers and continuing to climb the career ladder successfully, with the balance tipped more towards work than family life. Or they are those that are happy to take a step back in their careers whilst focussing on family.

Either camp is great if that works for you, but for me, I felt stuck in the middle – I wanted to continue to progress whilst also being there to pick the children up from childcare and tuck them into bed.

Day-to-day life as a working woman in tech

Whatever the age of the kids, whatever your current role or level, balancing the demands of work with your children’s needs is a constant challenge for most parents. Even with a supportive partner, much of the childcare still falls to women.  

2021 research revealed that even though almost two-thirds of Britons believe that childcare should be equally shared when there are two working parents, 71% of women felt they had assumed most of the responsibility for childcare or homeschooling during the lockdowns.

With many parents now hybrid working and spending at least some of their working week at home, I imagine that situation remains the same. If there are childcare challenges, then it invariably falls to women to step in. This can mean that day-to-day life for a working mother can involve conference calls with a baby glued to you, interruptions, your attention being directed elsewhere, and having to work late in the day to catch up on what you missed.

Sometimes, even doing any work at all can feel impossible. For example, if a child is sick, then the priority will always be caring for them. This reality is what is lacking in many role models for women.

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Corporate role models

I started my career working for a large global tech consultancy. It had a great focus on women in technology and was good at highlighting how working mothers could ‘have it all’. Whilst the company was well-intentioned, the reality was that the working mothers in senior positions I knew, worked full time, with lots of travel, and had nannies for support.

Even before I had children, this felt like the only option for how to parent if I wanted to continue on the career ladder. While it works well for many women, it wasn’t the balance I wanted. Now that I am a mother of two, I want to demonstrate positively that you can progress in your career, whilst still being present with your children – but in reality, you’re not going to perfectly balance both roles every day.

In my own role, there are days when I feel on top of it and that I’m doing a great job, but there are other days when I feel like I’m barely managing.

Corporate, high-achieving role models can be damaging to women in tech. They create an expectation that everyone should be similarly high achieving, and when you inevitably do not, you feel like a failure as an employee and parent. It’s hard enough to juggle careers and motherhood without this false expectation of perfection.

Role models must be realistic and pragmatic

I now work at a start-up, and I am also a mother. This means that my working environment is much less rigid than at a large corporation and that I am becoming a role model myself, having been promoted to the Leadership Team. I am lucky to be in a team that understands my situation and trusts me to deliver, and also that I was given a say in how I can make both roles work. There may be some days when I am less productive, but my boss knows I will make up for that on other days.

That’s the message I am trying to convey to younger women in my organisation and the tech industry as a whole. Don’t feel like you must succeed at everything all the time. It’s ok sometimes to feel like you are less effective, at work or as a mum. Bosses and employers must demonstrate trust in order to empower and enable women in tech to thrive.

This trust, understanding and empathy are all crucial to positive role models for women in tech. They must be realistic and pragmatic, or they can have the opposite of their intended effect.

Corporates and start-ups can learn from each other, but in terms of providing good role models for women in tech, I have found start-ups to be better. No one can possibly hope to smash it at work every day while juggling the demands of parenthood. Addressing and acknowledging that fact makes for a far more effective role model – inspirational in a realistic way and something that working mothers can identify with, not be intimidated by.

Alana PearsonAbout the author

Alana Pearson is Delivery Partner Director at developer marketplace platform Deazy. She has worked in technology for most of her career at large corporates, agencies and start-ups, such as Deazy. She has two children – one in school and one in nursery – balancing swimming lessons and gymnastics classes with a four-day working week.

How the tech industry and digital transformation can champion diversity and inclusion | Genefa Murphy

DiversityMicro Focus CMO Genefa Murphy has experienced many twists and turns on her journey to become chief marketing officer to one of the world’s top 10 enterprise software companies.

Here she talks about the state of play for diversity in the technology sector, the role digital transformation can play in creating a working environment where inclusion, diversity and belonging can thrive and the experiences that have shaped her own career path.

The technology industry, the pioneers, the inventors, the early adopters. In many ways the technology industry is ahead of the game – forging forward faster than many other sectors in terms of developing new solutions, new approaches and new talent. It is undeniable that inclusion and diversity, including the role of women in leadership, is finally having its moment in the tech spotlight, with the CEO of Oracle, executive chairman of IBM and the CEOs of YouTube, PagerDuty, TaskRabbit plus many more tech giants all being female. However, despite this progress, there is still more work to do. While it’s great to see more companies being transparent and embracing the broader inclusion and diversity agenda as well as being open and honest about what they are doing to support the cause, the fact remains that in many cases a person’s gender, race or sexual orientation is the descriptor that defines them – not their skills or capabilities. This is particularly acute amongst the underrepresented minorities who still have to fight harder and longer to attain equality.

The tech industry and tech employers have a huge opportunity to be beacons of best practice when it comes to inclusion and diversity. So much of our lives centre on the digital age that tech employers can “lend their privilege” – to borrow a phrase from fellow tech leader Anjuan Simmons – to the wider community and the broader markets to help further the agenda.

In that context, digital transformation also presents another major opportunity. Digital transformation by its very nature opens borders, diversifies candidate pools and helps bring a broader variety of talent to the table, because jobs are no longer dependent on location but on access. Social prejudices often prevalent in face to face encounters are replaced with digital “anonymous” exchanges, and artificial intelligence done right can help organisations remove biases from tasks such as candidate screening. By embracing this and making diversity and inclusion – or broader social responsibility – a core part of who a company is, employers have the opportunity to create a more empathetic, transparent workforce and a working environment where inclusion, diversity and belonging can thrive. This in turn can become the starting point for a highly successful overall strategy. After all, as research will tell us, the organisations that can create brand intimacy which is built on relationships of reciprocity can expect their customers to be more loyal and they can develop more price resiliency.

My own career path to the C-Suite has taken many twists, turns and stops along the way. Yet with each opportunity I have been able to learn a new skill, see opportunities through a different lens and gain additional perspectives. That variety of role at different levels and the importance of taking next steps which were lateral as well as more senior have been my guiding principles when looking for my next role or opportunity. My goal was never to make it to the C-suite. It was to be the best at my job and develop a rounded backlog of experiences, perspectives and relationships that I could call upon to complete the tasks at hand, whether they were small or large. I wanted to be able to earn the seat at the table and know that I earned it through hard work and determination, and then use that knowledge to add value so that even when others may have doubted me, I could believe in myself. That’s why I purposefully picked roles which were adjacent to one other: from a researcher completing my PhD to a consultant so that I could shift from learning about technology to implementing it; from a consultant to product manager so that I could turn theory into reality and create instead of implement; from a product manager to a marketer so that I could learn how to connect with customers through words and creative story-telling instead of the technology alone.

One common theme throughout all the roles I have taken to get to the C-suite is the importance of relationships and building a network. It is that network, and making every twist and turn – whether good or bad – into an opportunity to learn, be better, adapt and create my own personal approach that has made me who I am and gotten me to where I am today. Yet there is still more to go, more to learn and many more winding roads to travel.

About the author

Genefa MurphyGenefa Murphy is the chief marketing officer for Micro Focus, one of the world’s top 10 enterprise software companies. The role provides a unique position to work across Micro Focus’ 40,000 global customers and partners who face the challenge of being able to run and transform their business.

In her role, Genefa and team define the narrative for Micro Focus in the market, and represent the voice of the customer back into the organisation; influencing product direction, Go-To-Market (GTM) models, and ensuring Micro Focus provides its customers with a unique and prescriptive point of view on how to address the challenges of today’s hyper competitive market. As CMO, Genefa is also responsible for ensuring the success of Micro Focus’s own Digital Transformation – helping the company to make the technology selections that will enable Micro Focus to advance its own engagement with customers.

Genefa has more than 12 years’ experience across various disciplines in the field of technology from consulting, to product management and strategy. Previously, Genefa was the global vice president of corporate marketing and enablement. Genefa holds a BSc in Business IT and a PhD in New Technology Adoption.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here. 

Engineering students

Mining for talent: How Minecraft and Lego can help shepherd a new generation of engineers

Engineering students

There is a world of potential out there waiting to be tapped. Millions of young people are enthusiastically playing with Lego, Minecraft and city and theme park simulators, building their own utopias and developing their own design codes. 

Leah Stuart, director at Civic Engineers believes that the passion young people have for Minecraft and other video games can help bring new talent into engineering and bridge the skills and gender gap in the sector.

She says: “Children spend a lot of time designing worlds on games like Minecraft and the sky’s the limit. But then when you think about what we do as engineers, it’s a very similar process. All kids like to design their worlds and Minecraft and Lego are the tools they use.

“There’s a missing piece that connects play to real spaces and buildings. As a career, engineering is a fantastic opportunity to have this influence on our world and create fantastic, functional places, which makes us all healthier and happier.”

While it’s been around since the 1940s, Lego can play a role in shepherding in a passion for building physics and engineering. By using basic interlocking blocks young people can learn by stealth. By experimenting with Lego, children grasp the basics of building engineering and understand which shapes are robust, which are easily adapted, and how to manage resources.

In the 13 years since its release, Minecraft has gone from being a curious oddity to one of the most popular video games of all time, with more than 238 million copies sold and nearly 140 million monthly active users as of 2021.

Players can create electrical circuits, underground systems and form beautiful and surreal places.

Leah says: “Even though I have an engineering degree, sometimes it helps to go back to toys to understand and explain how structures function. They can help bring clarity so that when you’re looking at a cantilever, for example, you can better understand stresses and strains to make things work.

“Having that physical and intuitive understanding of how buildings work, it can give young people and children a basis in engineering and demonstrating that if we have the ambition we can create new and exciting structures.”

Oscar White is a 25-year-old structural design engineer working in Civic Engineers’ Manchester Studio. He initially found his interest in engineering and planning piqued by games such as Sim City when he was only 6 or 7.

Even games like Halo presented opportunities to build fortresses and design collaboratively in real time with friends in much the same way as people now design in 3D model space through virtual collaborations.

Oscar says: “Meccano, Lego and Sim City first implanted the idea that I could design a city and its infrastructure. It demonstrates how important it can be to engage young people in the process of design. That you can focus that optimism and creativity on improving the environment around us.

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“Minecraft in particular, offers that opportunity for young children to experience two of the main sources of satisfaction that I experience in my role as an engineer. Blue sky creativity and problem solving in constrained environments.”

There are two main modes for the game, survival and creative, each of which poses a different problem and gives you different tools to accomplish your goals.

In survival mode, players can use tools to harvest rudimentary pixellated blocks to build their own lands and areas to stay safe from destructive forces.

While creative mode allows players to create and destroy structures and mechanisms with infinite resources and the ability to fly through your world at ease, the only limiting factors being imagination.

Those two modes give different kinds of rewards for players. Those that like to overcome a constraint and solve a problem thrive in survival mode, while those that like unlimited freedom to make spaces in their own image use creative.

Oscar says: “I was fortunate in that I developed a passion for engineering design and creativity from a very young age which gave me a focus, even in the face of some quite demanding academics. The games I played, and the feeling they gave me, helped spark that passion that helped me to overcome the adversity I faced in exams or coursework.

“Getting kids excited and passionate early is a great opportunity to keep them passionate, inspired and engaged in their later years.”

Civic Engineers have been working with developers TOWN who have replicated neighbourhoods in Minecraft and given the models over to young people to see how they would change the space. While the results can often be outlandish, they can reveal an inherent truth about what’s going on.

As part of a project at Wolverton, 90 students were given a specially-built Minecraft version of the town to explore detailed themes including how to make good streets, green spaces, shops and community uses. The project yielded some novel results and highlighted that young people didn’t really have a place to hang out.

Leah adds: “This example at Wolverton shows how we can use Minecraft to open up the conversation about what kids need from a place. While we might not be able to put ziplines between buildings, we can create spaces that help young people feel like they belong and can be safe and welcomed in our towns and cities. Projects like this can help bring those issues into focus so we can design inclusive places.

“If we can make places work for younger people, our active and engaged communities of the future, then you can make it right for everyone.”

Recruitment bias is holding the STEM industry back when it comes to inclusion

Front view of diverse business people looking at camera while working together at conference room in a modern office

Recruitment bias is holding the STEM industry back when it comes to inclusion, according to a new report.

The annual STEM Returners Index, a survey of a nationally representative group of more than 750 STEM professionals on a career break who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work, found that recruitment bias was revealed to be the main barrier preventing them from returning to work.

In the survey, which comes at the start of National Inclusion Week, 37 per cent of participants said they experienced bias in the recruitment process due to their age, while 43 per cent of people who identified as BME said they had experienced bias due to race or ethnicity.

Female engineers are more likely to be victims of recruitment bias – 27 per cent of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to eight per cent of men.

STEM Returners is now calling for companies to do more to challenge recruitment bias within their own organisations to help the industry become more inclusive.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, is urging recruiters across STEM to update their processes and challenge unconscious bias, so this highly skilled group of people can gain employment and the industry can become more diverse and inclusive.

She said, “There is a distinct lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM industries – that is not news.”

“But there is a talented pool of professionals who are being locked out of roles, which is severely hindering efforts to be more inclusive.”

“The pool of STEM Professionals attempting to return to industry is significantly more diverse than the average STEM organisation.”

“Those attempting to return to work are 51 per cent female and 38 per cent from black and minority ethnic groups, compared to 10 per cent female and six per cent BME working in industry.”

“Companies need to do more to update recruitment practices, challenge unconscious bias and actively seek out diversity, which is proven to increase business success.”

Happy thoughtful young businesswoman with digital tablet in hand smiling and looking away in front of colleague at background

No such thing as one direction: going backwards can sometimes mean a leap forward

Happy thoughtful young businesswoman with digital tablet in hand smiling and looking away in front of colleague at background

When I left First Internet, it genuinely felt like leaving home for the first time. I was 25 years old and had joined the agency five years earlier to head up the SEO department – and loved it.

The company had a wonderful atmosphere, but I’d reached the stage in my career when I felt that it might be time to spread my wings, learn different skills and expose myself to a wider variety of clients. And so I did, for a few years: I left to try things on my own. I enjoyed it, but after another five years, I was lured back to First Internet by my fellow directors, Scott Baxter and Kat Rodway.

Was it the right thing to do, to go backwards? Working with old colleagues and clients, but in a different role? There were questions, I can’t lie. I worried how much the company would have changed, whether my return would be welcomed and whether what I’d learnt in the interim years would be transferable.

It turns out, it was the best thing I ever did. I’d learned a lot running my own business for the first time, and thanks to great work mentors and welcoming colleagues, Kat, Scott and I quickly settled into our new dynamic and successfully completed an MBO in 2019. We have have since grown the agency to almost 20 staff, winning nine awards and gaining a raft of new clients. I can say, without hesitation, that without the experience learnt from those interim years, I would have found my return, helping to run the agency, much more of a challenge.  Those years were essential to my success, and the success of the agency.

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Careers can be fluid

As an older millennial, I grew up thinking a career path was more linear. Boomers and Gen Xers had traditionally stayed in careers that took a more traditional trajectory and moved with less risk, with a different focus and priority. Things are different now. The average person will work for over 50 years, so there’s no need to stick to a pre-planned path if it isn’t working. Younger generations come into the workplace looking for new and varied experiences. We retain our team because of our great training, credentials and community, but recognise that people move on. Things change. I didn’t originally plan to work in tech at all – my career began in more traditional PR and copywriting, but as the world of media changed around me, I realised my passions lay in content that could be shared online and used to build brands, drive traffic and enable businesses to grow.

In the time I’ve working in digital marketing, I’ve seen it grow exponentially and it’s fantastic to see the quality of content that is delivered by brands as well as the wealth of talent that is constantly coming into the profession. As the metaverse drives this progress and we see the continuing diversification of social media, boom of e-commerce and everyday impact of AI,  there will be even more opportunities for us to build effective, creative and strategic online campaigns for our clients – and I can’t wait.

Going backwards can sometimes be the best thing. Anyone can switch path, move professions or change direction, at any time: the tech industry is constantly changing. As long as you have the right colleagues and mentors, a change really can be as good as a rest: bringing fresh insights, invigorated attitudes and new ambitions to your career path.

Julaine SpeightAbout the author

Julaine Speight is a director at First Internet, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Manchester. First Internet’s services include website design and development, UX design, SEO, social media management and content marketing, and its global client portfolio includes PZ Cussons, Peak AI, Sew Direct and Citation.

How technology can enhance diversity and inclusion


By Marina Ruggieri, IEEE fellow and professor of telecommunications at University of Roma “Tor Vergata”

If I were a painter, I would consider a canvas as a neutral means to transfer my ideas and emotions into a painting.

When we discuss the neutrality of technology, we are referring to the idea that the technology is the canvas, and technologists and scientists are the painters. We have the role, competence, and responsibility to make the canvas become artwork.

A blank canvas

The beauty of technology is its intrinsic neutrality. Technology has a huge potential to either benefit or damage the environment, and the teams working on said technology have the opportunity to shape it to fully benefit them. This is indeed a fascinating opportunity, which is open to all in a broad breath of diversity and inclusiveness. The more diverse and inclusive the technology team is, the more diverse and inclusive the application developers are, and the more beneficial the result will be. New technologies which are fair and unbiased are really the best ally when it comes to designing an attractive and lasting future for humans and the planet.

The power of AI

One example of neutral technology can be seen with artificial intelligence (AI). This particular technology often generates mixed feelings, and many individuals have a strong lack of trust with it. What worries a lot of people, is perhaps potentially an uncontrolled evolution of the algorithms which can cause damage to humans. For example, the troubles caused to the protagonist of the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” by a super intelligent calculator are hard to forget, for people of all generations.

AI algorithms need to be trusted in the most objective way – and what is more objective than a truly diverse and inclusive team of developers? Diversity and inclusiveness could be a strong guideline for the algorithm evaluation from the performance and ethical viewpoints. AI is going to be increasingly pervasive and, if properly developed and tested, is destined to become an extremely beneficial pillar for the sustainability of the planet. AI is just one of the many examples of technology frameworks where diversity and inclusiveness can improve the results, create a powerful osmosis between the means and goals and create a natural outcome.

Collaboration is key

A deep trust in technology and its neutrality is very important to appreciate the role AI can play to create an even environment. For example, when daily activities in either professional or social domains are widely supported by the neutrality of a key-technology such as AI, diversity and inclusion can be more easily guaranteed. Neutral technology is the “guardian” of even opportunities which can contribute to various domains in the most diverse way. Only an unbalanced trust in technology could result in a lack of diversity and inclusion.

As humans, we are intrinsically non-linear, and our unconscious bias is aligned with natural behaviour. The rational approach of AI-based algorithms is an effective means to balance the human non-linear trait in various application domains, like recruiting procedures. The best outcome is teamwork between humans and AI, as this provides a contribution of rational and non-linear behaviour. In fact, the rational and data-driven approach identifies the short list of solutions to a given task or issue while the non-linear contribution helps identify the spike often associated with an ingenious solution.

Any technology which is prone to exchange knowledge from data and to allow the proper use of knowledge is an ally to diversity and inclusion. Going forward, we can expect technologies that have broad coverage and highly reliable speed and latency to be utilised within the super-connected infrastructure.

About the author

Marina Ruggieri is an IEEE fellow and Full Professor of Telecommunications Engineering at the University of Roma “Tor Vergata”. She is co-founder and Chair of the Steering Board of the interdisciplinary Center for Teleinfrastructures (CTIF) at the University of Roma “Tor Vergata”. The Center focuses on the use of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for vertical applications (health, energy, cultural heritage, economics, law) by integrating terrestrial, air and space communications, computing, positioning and sensing.

Women in tech: Having the confidence that you are the best person for the job

I’ve been working in tech companies for over 16 years now, and I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by other likeminded women in marketing.

Being a female marketer in this particular space is fairly normalised and I’m proud to have experienced many global growth journeys before joining the Summize team.

That being said, as a female marketeer in tech I sometimes feel as if I often have to wear two hats. On the one hand, I’m pleased women are coming through into marketing and comms roles. It’s not uncommon to see female marketing leaders in UK tech companies in similar positions, so I feel we’re relatively well placed as a function to play a part in the success of businesses in a saturated, male-dominated industry. On the other, although I feel empowered in my role and department, why is the tech industry still so imbalanced? We should all be questioning why women are filling the more ‘gendered’ roles in tech, like marketing or HR, and not some of the other roles such as engineering or sales.

I am part of a marketing team which is 75% female, and we are driving forward huge growth in the tech space, which I’m proud of, but I remind myself daily that the gender gap in tech is still huge. It’s the age-old binary, that more creative industries and perceived ‘softer functions’ of a business are for women, and the technical roles are for the men…

It’s a vicious cycle. Younger women starting out in their careers perceive that the tech industry is male dominated and are therefore not always likely to apply for that very reason. In particular, I have seen first-hand the difficulties of striking a gender balance in development and sales roles within the tech industry. That is where the cycle begins, because younger women are deterred from starting careers in tech, it’s no surprise that senior leadership teams are then often overwhelmingly made up of men. We need to break that chain by empowering more younger women to be bold, brave and take that step no matter what the stereotypes say.

A crucial piece of advice I’d give to any woman in tech, whether that’s somebody starting out in a junior position or maybe someone making a career change, is having the self confidence that you are the best person for that job. Don’t let the insecurity of being a woman in the industry affect your self-perception, and start from a place of positive intent with the employer rather than assuming there may be a natural bias. Imposter syndrome is a huge issue amongst women in tech and I’ve encountered it throughout my career.

Level Up Summit 2022

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 


The reality is though, a self-fulfilling prophecy can only go so far when we don’t have leaders who really take the gender gap seriously. It is crucial for any senior leader to really question what their own thoughts are on the matter, and what they can do to better support the women in their organisation, without feeling awkward when the topic arises. A culture needs to be created where women feel confident voicing their concerns, where self-belief is not hindered, and where senior teams champion the benefits of a diverse team. The leaders in this industry need to do more in supporting and championing women, and then it will filter down.

Whilst the problem is real, it is important to note that the objective of hiring more women is not the simple answer. It’s bigger than this, part of a broader culture shift and not a box ticking exercise. Tech leaders need to think more laterally when it comes to hiring, too. For example, look for female maths or physics graduates who have early coding skills such as logic, problem solving and puzzle-making. Or female performing arts or psychology graduates who might not know they have the skills to work in sales, but could be awesome at communication and storytelling.

At Summize, we work on our approach to inclusion through things like a DEI committee, internal workshops around social issues and DEI subjects to create an open forum where people share their own experiences, thoughts and perspectives. We’ve had great feedback about this format, ensuring our team is centred around togetherness, respect and championing one another, regardless of who they are.

We’re all about continuous improvement and know that the road to true gender parity, in the tech industry is a journey not a destination. That perspective forms the basis of questions I’d like to ask to any senior leader in tech: what day-to-day changes can you put in place to make your business more gender inclusive? How can you create a space where women can thrive, whether that’s in a marketing, software, or sales role? Have you asked yourself the question of what you could do to attract more women, particularly in the departments with lower representation?

I’d like to see the next generation of the tech industry strike a much more representative and diverse gender balance, and to me, the best place to start is those everyday changes that may seem small but make all the difference. It’s about making it a natural part of the everyday conversation, not a quarterly agenda item. It’s about making those early connections for women who may not already know they have the core skills to thrive in the world of tech. This way, the solutions and tech ideas of tomorrow will be best designed to work for everyone.

Laura ProctorAbout the author

Experienced B2B marketer Laura Proctor joined Manchester tech start-up Summize in 2022 as VP of Marketing, having previously spearheaded the marketing strategy for a number of high-growth software companies including AppLearn, Apadmi and Avecto.

She now leads Summize’s marketing strategy and execution as the business moves from start-up to global scale-up with international recognition as one of the leading digital contracting businesses in the game.