WeAreTechNetworks supported by The Tech Talent Charter

WeAreTechWomen launches new collaborative networking forum for Women in Tech Network leaders

WeAreTechNetworks

SUPPORTED BY

Tech Talent Charter

WeAreTechWomen are proud to launch WeAreTechNetworks, a collaborative networking forum for individuals who are leading their organisations Women in Tech networks.

WeAreTechNetworks will welcome the chairs, co-chairs and D&I leads from a broad range of industries and sectors; and allow them to share best practice and collaborate. Founding members of WeAreTechNetworks are PwC, Visa, HSBC, Barclays, Oliver Wyman, Credit Suisse and KPMG. The group will meet for the first time in January 2021. The new network is also supported by the Tech Talent Charter.

WeAreTechNetworks founding membersMembers of WeAreTechNetworks benefit from four networking and learning events a year with topical speakers, network hacks, gender and tech headlines and speed networking with other members. Members contribute to an annual company-wide survey, which details their strategic objectives, how they are engaging male allies and the governance of their networks.

Members also benefit from hotline access to a WeAreTechNetworks co-ordinator for advice, networking matching and connections; bonus networking events; gain access to other relevant events and activities; and share the latest insights, front-line experiences and best practices.

 

 

Debbie Forster, WeAreTechNetworksWeAreTheCity and WeAreTechWomen have extensive experience in bringing together the chairs and co-chairs of networks to share best practice and collaborate. In 2009, CEO, Vanessa Vallely OBE launched Gender Networks, the network for women’s network leaders. This group has now grown to 100 FTSE member firms and over 400 members. Gender Networks members have benefited from cross company collaborations, sharing of ideas and best practice as well as hearing from speakers such as Baroness Goudie, June Sarpong OBE, RtH Nicky Morgan, Jo Swinson, Sadiq Khan, Shola Mos Shogbamimu and Dr Helen Pankhurst CBE.

WeAreTechNetworks’ members comprise of individuals who already chair or co-chair a corporate or public sector women in tech network; and individuals who are looking to set up a women in tech network within their organisations.

Find out more, register your interest or become a member here.


Computer Weekly Top 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Marija Butkovic, Sheree Atcheson & Sophie Deen amongst those named on the 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech list

Computer Weekly Top 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Marija Butkovic, Sheree Atcheson & Sophie Deen are amongst those named on Computer Weekly's 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech list.

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, CEO, founder and head stemette at social enterprise Stemettes topped the list for 2020. Stemettes is an award-winning social enterprise inspiring the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics roles via a series of events and opportunities. In three years 7,000 girls across the UK, Ireland and Europe have had attended Stemette experiences. As part of the initiative she has also Co-Founded Outbox Incubator: the worlds first tech incubator for teenage girls. She sits on the boards of Redfield Asset Management, Urban Development Music Foundation and Inspirational YOU. She has previously worked at Goldman Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers.

Imafidon recevied an MBE in 2017 for her services to STEM.

In September 2020, Imafidon joined the Hamilton Commission, a research project set up by race car driver Lewis Hamilton to help find and break down barriers to recruitment for black people in UK motorsport.

Now in its ninth year, the 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech list, was introduced in 2012 to make female role models in the sector more visible and accessible.

While the original list in 2012 featured only 25 women, it was expanded in 2015 to include 50 women, going on to also introduce annual lists of Rising Stars and a Hall of Fame to ensure as many women in the sector as possible are given recognition for their contribution to the tech sector and the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the IT industry.

Also recognised in the list were Marija Butkovic, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables; Sophie Deen, CEO, Bright Little Labs; Sheree Atcheson,director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Peakon; June Angelides, venture capitalist, Samos Investments; Liz Williams, CEO, FutureDotNow; Anne Boden, CEO, Starling Bank; and Carrie Anne Philbin, director of education, Raspberry Pi Foundation.

You can view the full list here.


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


Not just London - Why we need to support women in tech nationally.

Watch and listen to Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, TechUK president, on why is it important to support women in tech #notjustlondon.

Question posed by Ortis Deley, Host and presenter of the Channel 5 show, The Gadget show "Why is it important to support women in tech not only in London but the whole of the UK." Filmed live at the Leadership Panel Discussion at the WeAreTechWomen Conference 2019.

Because we do a lot in London so we should share it, you know we are a whole community and not just London. But I think we are reaching a point in technology where it is a noble cause where we should have equality.

https://youtu.be/NbeqrFs9Ge8

 


Science

The truth about women in science and engineering

 

Elrica Degirmen, is a second year physics student at the University of Leeds. Here she provides her account of being a woman in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

scienceSomehow, I stumbled upon an article on the WeAreTheCity’s website where they reported that the IET has complained that only nine per cent of the engineering workforce are women.

It is not that difficult to browse through the internet to see the supposed reasons as to why the figure is seen to be so low. However, I think the issue runs deeper than women are put off from having a career in engineering or because there is a lack of female role models in the industry. In fact, I think it has nothing to do with that.

I am currently a physics undergraduate and I personally want to work in the fusion sector one day, be it in plasma physics, fusion materials or nuclear engineering. It is a multi-disciplinary field and I wanted to study physics for the solid foundation that I believed would help me enter into one of these three pathways into the future, irrespective of what I eventually decide in the end. As someone who has already had undergraduate research experience in national laboratories, I fail to accept the notion that the sector is not welcoming to women. This assumption that the scientific and engineering industries are off-putting to women is lacking in evidence and arguably counter-productive as it reinforces impressionable teenagers that STEM industries are sexist, when they are not.

I have a possible explanation as to the low rates of women in engineering. The normal way for one to obtain experience is to apply for engineering internships. It should be mentioned that an accredited engineering degree gives you the specific skills and knowledge that allows you to be chartered – providing you eventually fulfill all the academic requirements. Many summer internships stipulate that you must be studying an engineering subject, which automatically closes off potential applicants who may have the ambition and attitude to succeed in an engineering career, but just happened to have studied another STEM subject at eighteen. It is far harder to be chartered as an engineer if you studied a different subject at the age of eighteen.

I am aware that the Institute of Physics provides its own pathway to be chartered in engineering if you have studied physics, but even so, one has to get into the engineering industry in the first place. Thus, how does a science graduate compete with someone who already has studied engineering in the first place? The answer it seems, is pretty difficult. There are no obvious or even formalised schemes for those who are studying quantitative-heavy degrees to pursue an engineering career.

Engineering is worse compared to other sciences in terms of the proportion of women studying it. If women do not choose to study engineering, they are almost closing off their options later in life to be chartered as an engineer. Even if one decides to pursue postgraduate studies in engineering where their science qualifications are accepted, then there is the issue of finances. Engineering programmes are relatively more expensive to run, and the £10k loan recently introduced by the government can only go so far. Perhaps more funding should be directed for postgraduate engineering courses that allow science graduates to “convert”.

I feel that the profession closes off potential people, irrespective of gender, who may want to have a career in engineering, but just happened to have studied physics or computer science or even mathematics as their undergraduate degree.

I personally do not subscribe to identity politics, and I do not care about the proportions of women in whatever industry so long as the best people are working in the jobs. However, I feel it is a major distortion of the reality to suggest that women do not want to work in engineering. Even if people decide later on to pursue an engineering career, they find that it is too late because of the choices that they made whilst applying for university during school.

Perhaps it is the case that that there is a lack of awareness of what engineering is, or the value of studying engineering at university. Even so, I do not think that specific efforts to increase uptake from pupils to study engineering deals with the specific issue of many students whereby they later decide they want to do engineering.

I know that I will find it much harder to get into engineering (if I choose that as my desired career path). Not because I am female, but because I just happen to have studied physics as opposed to engineering at eighteen. Considering that only a relatively small percentage of women even take up engineering in the first place, I am shocked that the figure is as high as 9% personally as for a wide variety of factors not all those who study engineering will go on to pursue an engineering career.

In my opinion, if you are going to complain about the lack of women in the industry, you have to understand the real reasons why the statistics are as they are, rather than assuming it is owing to false claims of sexism or misogyny. Competition for a restricted number of engineering internships (which for many people is the first step to enter an engineering career) is already competitive by those who have studied engineering. The reality is that it is difficult for anyone, but if women do not make the right A-level choices at sixteen, then greatly hinder their chances of studying science and engineering at eighteen. I think it would help if there were a wider variety of routes for young people to enter engineering. I appreciate the need for vocational training schemes such as apprenticeships, and I fully support it but even then, you have to decide early on to pursue this. There seems to be only one academic route, in other words choosing to study engineering at university during sixth form.

I think that the IET, and other professional engineering institutions, should develop alternative routes for chartership for those who have not studied engineering but have studied a scientific subject. School outreach programmes are not enough, and talking about the perceived sexism in these industries is counter-productive.

 

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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


Muslim woman on computer

Why women shouldn’t give up on a job in IT

Muslim woman on computer

The numbers don’t add up.

This year’s A Level results reported that 50.3 per cent of students studying science were female so why do women only make up 16 per cent of UK’s Tech workforce? The efforts to encourage girls to engage with STEM subjects at school seem to be working but female interest drops off by the time they get to university, with only 35 per cent of STEM students in higher education in the UK being women.

Salaries are on the increase in the IT industry.  According to Global Knowledge’s IT Skills & Survey Report 2019, IT professionals earned, on average, £4,000 more this year compared to 2018.  The average global salary for an IT professional is £71,895 – the highest it’s been in the 12 years that Global Knowledge has prepared its report.  Technology can be a highly flexible career and draws upon creative, organisational, problem-solving skills. Women should be well placed to join the industry and well rewarded when they do.

Having a more diverse workforce is beneficial to the employer.  Much has been written about how important it is to have a better balance of genders, backgrounds and ages for a positive working environment.  However, the need to draw in female candidates has become even more urgent. The workplace has undergone significant change in the last decade, with outsourcing, the gig economy and technology-enabled flexible working shaking up the business world as organisations push forward to find better ways to innovate.  The next big breakthrough will come from expanding the workforce to increase its diversity, including people with different backgrounds and life experiences to influence innovation and, ultimately, improve productivity and the bottom line.

The history of the IT industry reveals some of the reasons that it has become so male-dominated.  During WWII thousands of women were hired to work with technology, in particular in computing.  Programming and software development were seen as behind the scenes roles, often done by women, and often without the status of hardware developers.  That changed dramatically when Silicon Valley became a technical Emerald City and software gurus Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became heroes.  Computer games were originally sold as toys and, as toyshops divide their products by gender, were on the boys’ aisles, sending a message from a young age that girls wouldn’t be interested.  There is also a view, perhaps unfair, that the type of men moving up the ranks in the IT profession were those who found it difficult to interact with women and so felt much more comfortable in hiring a man for a vacant role.

Despite the IT industry’s historic track record of keeping women at a distance, today we’re in a much more sought-after position.  Too many women still think IT is about creating code or running cables and I can’t stress enough how wrong that is.  My own career has challenged my intellect and people-skills, drawing on my passion for helping people and breaking new ground.  My advice?  Meet a real-life female IT professional or, better yet, try to get an internship or a chance to experience a day in the life on the job before making up your mind.  In addition, if you are wondering if you could survive in a workplace that is currently still male-dominated, here are my suggestions:

  1. Have confidence in yourself – be assertive enough to ask for what you want and push back when necessary. I think women believe if they work hard, they will be offered a new opportunity, whereas men position themselves to ask.  You are in demand so have confidence in your contribution to the IT team.
  2. Find a mentor or support group – there are many good Women in IT networking groups. Find one local to you and engage with other industry women.  A female mentor can help you build a satisfying career by sharing their experiences and helping you overcome any hurdles.
  3. Keep learning – one of the most inspiring aspects of a role in IT is the life-long learning that you will be undertaking to keep up to speed with technology advances. Ensure your skills are up to speed and find time to learn, formally and informally.
  4. Play to your strengths – there are so many skills and specialisms required within the IT industry. Don’t limit yourself by thinking that IT is only programming, or that you’ll need to successfully make your way around a motherboard to get a good job in technology. The skills most in demand at the moment, according to our survey, are cybersecurity, IT architecture and project management skills – and not a screwdriver in sight.

Rosemary Gurney picAbout the author

Rosemary Gurney is ITSM Training Consultant at Global Knowledge, a former Chair of the Board of Directors of itSMF UK, and a contributing author and examiner with Axelos.


Inspirational Woman: Louisa Spicer | Software Engineer, Echo

 

Louisa Spicer is a Software Engineer at Echo.

Echo was founded just over three years ago and already has 100,000 patient downloads so far and a Net Promotor Score of 83. Echo is on the NHS Digital app store, one of the approved digital tools available to patients, and is an NHS GP Systems of Choice, which ensures GPs and practice staff have access to the best technology to support patient care. Echo were also recently awarded the Best British Mobile Startup 2018 at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and won the 1st Mayor of London MedTech Business Awards last month.

Echo is a prescription management app which empowers patients in the UK to take control of their health and has the potential to significantly ease the strain on health services. In the UK, 40 per cent of patients do not take medication as directed, costing the NHS billions each year and leading to approximately 20 million unnecessary GP appointments. Echo is on a mission to transform the future of healthcare, and is the first app to improve lines of communication between GP, pharmacist and patient.

On the app, patients are able to order repeat prescriptions when stocks are running low- and will also receive reminders for when to take medication and when to order more. Echo also seeks to improve communication lines between GPs and their patients, making sure that information is clear and informative without being either patronising or too clinical and therefore hard to understand.

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

I’ve grown up loving anything and everything to do with the Creative Arts. Finding it difficult to choose what career path to take, I just went with what I was most intrigued about at the time - the theory behind the cinematic arts. I graduated with a degree in Film Studies and went on to become a Digital Producer at a media agency. This involved helping to oversee Film and TV asset deliveries to various digital platforms like iTunes and Netflix.

I soon started to miss being able to express myself through some form of creativity though, so I started looking for other career paths that would satisfy this. That’s when I discovered the world of coding and haven’t looked back! Just over a year and a half ago I wrote my first line of code and attended an intensive 3-month coding bootcamp, Makers Academy, where I learned the very basics of Software Craftsmanship required to land a job as a Junior Developer.

I am now a Junior Software Developer at Echo; part of a team building many exciting developments of an internal software application. There’s always something new to learn and that’s what I love the most!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I found it hard to pin down exactly what I wanted to do, but the various careers I thought of always revolved around creativity. Unfortunately I didn’t realise a career in Software Development was even a possibility for me until a couple of years ago.

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

A major challenge of mine was having the wrong mindset. It’s a typical story but it was/is hard to get over that “imposter syndrome” feeling and thinking that I’m not the right kind of person to be “good” at coding, due to many factors including not having the typical Mathematical or Technical background that a Computer Scientist graduate would have. This cloud was at its peak when applying for my first job as a Developer, carrying over well into that job too.

What really helped me to overcome these thoughts was being told about the Growth Mindset. In the most basic terms, this is just about realising there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you’re persistent and open to putting the effort in.

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

To always be treated with fairness and equality. What more can you ask for?

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

Show young girls (and boys) how creative and fun a career in STEM can really be. As much as I appreciate that I was free to choose whatever subjects I wanted to do at secondary school, I’m sure I would have been willing to learn more about STEM fields at an earlier age if I had more guidance from teachers on the exciting range of things you can do and build.

There’s an amazing amount of free or cheap online courses to learn and play with code - this means that it’s now easier to develop skills in your free time, at whatever age.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Believing in myself enough to commit to learning to code and not stopping when it gets tough.

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

To gain more confidence and keep growing my coding skills to the next level so that I can pass on some knowledge in the future. It would be amazing to build up enough confidence to get out there and be more active in the movement to help inspire and guide more girls and women into STEM.


Olga Adamkiewicz

Inspirational Woman: Olga Adamkiewicz | CEO, Synthrone

 

As a female CEO within the technology industry, with extensive experience in various marketing and product roles at companies such as Procter & Gamble, Olga believes that the last few months have been revolutionary, with women’s voices finally being heard like never before.

Olga believes that the future is bright for women in the technology industry, which will ultimately dramatically change the context, empowerment and social perspective in the industry.

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

I am the CEO of Synthrone, an ecommerce content management platform that offers a fully integrated, end-to-end solution for brands wanting to streamline their ecommerce offering. At the beginning of my career I spent almost nine years at Procter & Gamble, successfully working in all marketing departments, from brand management, product development and design to new business and media and communication.

I have been based mainly in Central Europe throughout my career, but I have managed projects on a regional and global scale.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say I necessarily sat down and planned my career. I have a passion for brands and marketing which formed from my experience whilst working for global businesses in several different areas.

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

There are many challenges, big and small, that I have faced during my career, and as a CEO you face challenges every single day. I always deal with them by thinking of the positives, but I am very lucky to be surrounded by such a fantastic team that help me along the way.

How would you encourage women and girls into a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths)?

It is very important for women and girls to firstly, know that they too can have a career in either science, technology, engineering and maths. These industries are not just for men. Secondly, I would encourage all girls and women to follow your heart, follow your dreams and to never be put off by thinking it is a man’s world, when it is far from it.

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

In the technology sector I can already see a change in the level of female empowerment. Women are no longer following men; they are increasingly creating their own paths in the workplace and aren’t afraid to voice their own opinion.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am extremely proud to be a female CEO and one of my biggest achievements to date has to be the amazing team I have built around me who help me run Synthrone. I am very proud that the team and myself have made a dream come true with the creation of Brand New Galaxy, which is home to Synthrone alongside other sister brands.

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

I am currently spearheading Synthrone, building it into the primary content developer for ecommerce, delivering an unrivalled end-to-end process for its users.

We have identified a gap in the market for a fully-integrated management solution, which compares favourably when benchmarking against competitors, that can only offer one aspect of the ecommerce management process.


Sinead Bunting

Inspirational Woman: Sinead Bunting | VP Marketing Europe, Monster

 

Sinead Bunting is the VP of Marketing for Monster in Europe, the global jobs website.

She is responsible for all marketing in Europe, specialising in digital marketing and brand transformation.

Sinead is passionate about encouraging diversity in business which has resulted in a number of initiatives that champion groups, who need an extra helping hand in their career. This has included nationwide ‘Monster Confidence’ tours, working with Stemettes to help female school children and uni students feel confident to achieve in their STEM careers and realise their potential.

She is the author and co-founder of the Tech Talent Charter, an industry-wide collective, whose aim is to deliver a more diverse tech workforce. The charter is supported by the UK government and currently has over 170 signatories such as Monster, Cisco, Vodafone, HP and Global Radio, all working together to move the dial in this critical area.

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

I grew up in Belfast, having arrived in London in 2000 from a year-long stint in New York at my first proper job. My plan was to stay a year, save some money to go to Australia and live and travel for a bit. But save money in London? On an entry-level salary? And being the less than frugal person that I am......tsk, what was I thinking? Needless to say, here I am 17 years later, having never made it down under. But it’s all good, I absolutely love London and think it’s one of the best cities on earth.

I’m the VP of marketing Europe for Monster, the jobs and careers advice website (which happens to be the website on which I found my first job in London in the year 2000).

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I studied law and fancied myself as a human rights lawyer helping folks overcome the injustices they encountered in this world. Unfortunately I didn’t quite fancy putting in the required amount of study to ever make that a reality. Winning a scholarship to study business in an American college for a year only compounded my predilection for hanging out in the student union rather than the law library!

It was here that I did an internship in marketing at the Pittsburgh Civic arena (home to ice hockey team the Pittsburgh Penguins!) and caught the bug for all things creative and marketing. Before graduating from my final year in Law I was lucky enough to secure an NYC marketing job and then my first job in London in 2000 was in digital marketing at an advertising agency. Back then the internet was seen by most clients as a fad that would fade away, and so my raison d’etre was passionately convincing folks internally and externally, that this Internet malarkey was the future and was here to stay. I guess being Irish I like a cause.

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

I’ve encountered a few dinosaurs in my time but also have been blessed with working with some amazingly supportive and progressive men and women. I recall a male CEO at one of the advertising agencies I worked for hosting an anonymous Q&A for staff circa 2003 to ask whatever they wanted. We were asked to write a question on a piece of paper and deposit it at the front of the gathered group and he would unwrap each one and answer candidly.

As we sat there a few of my colleagues (females) were saying, ‘we should ask him why there’s no women on the management team!’ None had the confidence to go up to the front and submit a question for fear of being identified, even under the auspices of supposed anonymity. I thought sod it, l’ll do it, it’s a bloody good question that deserves an answer! So off I trotted to front to deposit my piece of paper with the question on it. We waited patiently in the audience for him to unwrap the question. Eventually he read it out and the first thing he did was to look straight at me in the audience and demand pointedly ‘did you write this question’ (so much for anonymity!). I shrugged my shoulders and pleaded ignorance. His answer to the question was he promoted people purely on merit and there had been no women who made the grade.

After the stress and worry of realising I had marked my card in his eyes, by challenging the status quo, I digested what he said and realised what a load of utter tosh! I knew lots of women in that agency who were great and his was just the boys club in action.

Countering that was a year or so later the agency M.D., Phil, taking the time to mentor me each week and giving me the confidence and tools to believe in my own abilities. To him I will be eternally grateful.

I have found that women tend to be overlooked and have to work twice as hard to get ahead. I do believe there is a tendency for men get promoted on potential (and confidence) whist women tend to get promoted only on evidence. However, I love the quote by the comedian Steve Martin “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. With lots of hard work, tenacity, a sense of humour and support of amazing colleagues and of course a bit of luck, I’ve managed to overcome any issues and challenges I have faced.

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

For young girls, have the confidence in your abilities to study STEM subjects, don’t rule yourself out and listen to the myth that we are all destined to remain in the arts and languages arena. As part of our Monster Confidence programme which we created with Stemettes, we have visited various cities across the UK & Ireland for the last two years, encouraging young female students to have the confidence to study STEM and believe in themselves and know that their voice matters. We have had some amazing STEM female speakers and role models join us (including of course Dr Anne Marie Amafidon, CEO & Founder of Stemettes) who have been the inspiration that the girls need to see. If they can do, then the girls can do it too.

For women, know that you have so much to offer employers and organisations. Your skills and talent bring a way of working that makes organisations have you across all levels (including senior level of course) much more commercially successful. You deliver the competitive edge and diversity of ideas and approach that makes companies successful. Never forget that and have the confidence to know that you will and you do make amazing things happen.

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

So many things, but if I were to choose one that would really move the dial, perhaps it would be for shared parental leave to be fully embraced by organisations so that both genders get a fair crack at the whip in the workplace and at home being a parent.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

It would be the Tech Talent Charter, which I wrote and brought to life in collaboration with a number of amazing inspirational women in the world of tech. Women like Amali de Alwis, Debbie Forster and Susan Bowen. It’s funny, for many years I had heard of this Queen Bee phenomenon, yet when I reached out to all these women in the world of tech to help do something to address the lack of females in the tech workforce and later to launch the Tech Talent Charter, every single women I spoke to, bent over backwards to help and to make it happen. It was incredible and showed me what women (and of course, the much needed supportive men) could achieve working together. As a collective, the Tech Talent Charter has secured the support of the UK government and over 170 organisations such as Monster, Cisco, Codego Peer1, HP and Global Radio but we have a long way to go still, but I’m confident we’ll make it happen and effect real change, especially with Debbie Forster at the helm as our CEO.

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

I’d like to widen our Monster Confidence programme to women in business/work and to help to tackle specifically the issue of unequal pay. Money is the currency of power and until we have equal pay, women will not be on an equal footing and it will be incredibly challenging for the genders to achieve true equality.


Debbie Forster featured

Inspirational Woman: Debbie Forster MBE | CEO, Tech Talent Charter

 

Debbie Forster is a recognised figure in the areas of diversity, tech, innovation and education, first as the UK CEO of Apps for Good and now as CEO for the Tech Talent Charter, an industry collective which aims to deliver greater gender diversity in the UK tech workforce.

Signatories of the charter make several pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention. Debbie was awarded an MBE in January 2017 for “Services to Digital Technology and Tech Development” and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) named her Woman of the Year for 2016, describing her as “an exceptional and inspirational woman... an extraordinary role model.” She has also been named on Computer Weekly’s list of “25 Most Inspirational Women in UK IT” in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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

I am originally from the US, but have lived in the UK since 1989 and have dual nationality—the UK is definitely home for me. Like many women, I “fell into tech”, but quite gradually; it had happened before I realised it. I began as an English teacher of all things, but in the 90’s if you used a computer in schools, you rapidly became an “expert” and I found myself involved more and more in technology. I was not a “natural “ techie; I didn’t love the tech per se, but I loved what it could do, the creativity it unlocked.

When I was a headteacher, I was one of the first to adopt a scheme called Computer Club for Girls. As a result of this, I was becoming more and more involved in working with business people and government around tech in education. I eventually left the school and worked for 2 years as Head of Education for e-skills UK (now Tech Partnership). While working there, I came across the founder of Apps for Good, fell in love with the idea and joined just as we began reaching out to schools. I became the Co CEO there and we grew from 40 students in 2 centres to reaching over 75,000 young people in 5 years, 50% of whom were girls.

Then last year I decided it was time to start a new chapter. I left Apps for Good as CEO (though I’m still on the Advisory Group) and soon became CEO of the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). The TTC is a not-for-profit organisation which brings together companies from across industry to move the dial on diversity in tech.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Good heavens no, not in any long-term way. At the start of my career, I just took whatever seemed the next step whenever the opportunity arose, working my way up the ladder. Then after being a head for 6 years (and therefore at the top of that ladder), I realised I didn’t want to just keep doing that role again and again.

To some people, my choices were crazy—leaving a set career path and a steady job made no sense. But I loved learning new skills, connecting with industry and policy makers. Then after 2 years I left that to join a start-up charity, some thought I was mad. But the great thing with age is learning what makes you tick, what makes sense to you. Each jump was scary but I loved it. I know now that at 3 years, I get an “itch” in a job, and if there isn’t a significant new challenge, by 5 years, it becomes a rash! I like doing things I am passionate about, taking on new challenges and I’m happiest in “start-up mode”, taking a great idea or concept and just making it work. So now that is how I “plan” my career—I understand what I need, what I’m best at and try to never be afraid to take that chance or make that leap when opportunities present themselves.

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

Absolutely, every step of the way! And like many women, I suffer dreadfully from imposter syndrome. But now I recognise that I actually thrive when facing a challenge and am at my best when I am a wee bit terrified! And one of my mantras is, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and always have 2 back up plans.”

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

My day generally starts early but slowly, and with lots of caffeine—I am a night person trapped in a morning person’s world! I usually get up, put the kettle on for a ridiculously large cup of tea and hit my emails. Then by the time my other half is up about a half hour later, I’m ready for some civilised conversation and then off for meetings or on my laptop to tackle the day’s work.

It typically ends with a long hot bath and if I’m being virtuous (and decadent) reading before bed. Though I have to admit I am terrible at going through my inbox before I turn the light off. It’s an awful habit and I’m trying (with mixed success) to break myself of it this year.

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

At the moment, that is actually part of my job! The reason I’m at the Tech Talent Charter is that it is such a huge problem now that no one person, company or initiative can solve it in isolation, it is going to take joined-up work. There is some great work out there at all parts of the broken pipeline, from inspiring young girls in school, to changing how we recruit, to offering more re-training routes, etc. But to date, they’ve not been joined up and there has been too much overlap and replication. Our mantra is that we are determined not to re-invent the wheel but to connect the dots. And we are making progress--more companies are joining every day, more initiatives working and collaborating with us (including We are the City). There is a huge amount to do, but I genuinely believe together we can make a difference in the UK

Why is it important for companies to join the Tech Talent Charter?

Because no one company can solve this themselves and even if you come up with a great strategy, it is like buying a great new fishing rod but still fishing in the same leaky barrel as everyone else. The TTC members are committed to sharing ideas, trying new things and working together. And we have the full range of companies, not just tech but broadcasting, transport, food and leisure, not for profits; we have start-ups, SMEs and big multinationals. So it is the place to be if you want to learn, collaborate and share, not just with your type of company but across sectors and sizes.

It is also a great way to show publicly that your company is committed to doing things differently, to take action rather than just talking about it.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

Mentoring is fantastic, I’ve had great mentors and mentees. For women in particular, having someone to share and learn from, to offer perspective, encouragement and challenge is invaluable. And I love mentoring, because you always up learning more about yourself as well as others.

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

Greater flexible working for all, not just women, for it to be the norm. I think flexible working is a great way to have not just a more diverse workforce but a healthier, more rounded one. I think this is equally important for men, because while it is often seen as a weakness for women, it can be seen as career suicide for men in some companies. In my experience, I’ve got so much more from my teams when we’ve offered flexi working. It isn’t easy, but it can be transformational.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Tough question! I should probably say my MBE, but it isn’t. On one level it would probably be my fearless 20 year old daughter, but I can’t really take credit for that. I’d like to say my greatest achievement hasn’t happened yet. There is much I am proud of, but I’m far from finished!

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

Getting TTC really growing and sustainable and showing genuine impact. There is so much to do, but I’m seeing more and more amazing people and companies getting involved so I am incredibly optimistic about it. I want to be able to look back on this in 2 years and really be able to see and to say this year was the year we genuinely started moving the dial on diversity in tech.

Oh, and work-life balance. I’m utterly rubbish at that. But this year, I really want to make a breakthrough on this.