Aparna Mahadevan

Inspirational Women: Aparna Mahadevan | Senior Solutions Architect in the Alexa Skills Team at Amazon


Aparna Mahadevan, is a Senior Solutions Architect in the Alexa Skills Team at Amazon.


Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did just once, three years into my professional career, when I realised I wasn’t using my skills to my absolute best in the job I was doing at the time. The outcome of that exercise was my decision to do an MBA, which eventually opened up multiple avenues for me. Now, my activities at work revolve much more closely around my professional goals. That approach taught me to be receptive to the countless opportunities that exist in today’s world.

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

One of the biggest challenges I faced so far was at the start of my career journey when I had to think about where I wanted to be in the future and how to get there. I had so many options to decide between and I didn’t have a framework to help give me clarity. So I decided to take advice from different people with different backgrounds who I had a lot of respect for. I listened carefully to their success or failure stories, wrote down what I thought my biggest assets were and what my goals were for my personal life.

Having put all of these together, I was able to narrow it down to a few options that I considered and made a final decision to do an MBA. Being open to different perspectives and relying on a framework helped me make a decision that was not just emotionally driven, but had some long-term thinking behind it.

The other challenge I faced was having a constant desire to manage all aspects of my life – be it my career, my classes, managing relationships and running a household - with perfection. I soon however realised that the need for perfection in all aspects of my life was taking a real emotional toll on me, so I approached women leaders I knew to get their help and advice, and I was surprised to see how many of them understood what I was going through. It really resonated with me! Now, I am more organised in both my personal and professional life.

Every morning, I decide the three most important tasks for the day that I want to execute perfectly, instead of splitting my energy and focus on every little aspect of my daily life. The little things in a day that don’t go perfectly now don’t fluster me as much as they used to.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

From my experience, I can say with confidence that no amount of preparation before taking on leadership roles and activities can make you the best leader. You only need the courage to take risks and responsibilities, and experience hones and shapes your leadership abilities.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I would decide based on two factors – what unique quality they each bring to the team, and which one of these two qualities completes the picture and makes the team more rounded.

How do you manage your own boss?

A core objective for my role is to help my boss by taking on a number of responsibilities on his behalf to ensure the team achieves its goals, so I work closely with him to understand the framework he’s set to achieve the team’s goals.

Not only do I seek assistance from my boss when handling a task or prioritising my work, but I also challenge him when I strongly believe it does not help deliver what we want to achieve. I am fortunate enough to have worked with unique bosses throughout my career, but the common thread with all of them has been that honesty is always appreciated and builds trust.

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

I’ve experimented with different working styles and this one works best for me - I start my workday reading emails and writing down the list of all tasks on my plate for the day. I then prioritise tasks based on three categories – must dos, nice to dos and will not do. The last bucket is a conscious attempt to be an essentialist and internalise the decision to not over-indulge. Towards the end of the day, I assess my task completion rate and if any tasks need to be moved to the next day. On longer days, I attempt to make a mental note at the end to see what went well and what can be improved.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Identify what makes leaders in your organisation successful to better understand what success can also look like for you. Adopting and tailoring those qualities to your own personality, combined with having the right attitude and patience, I believe helps raise your own profile in your organisation.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Yes! I am the biggest believer in having a mentor, who can not only guide you in making big decision such as which career path to take; but also help in removing everyday hurdles such as efficiency and productivity. It is important to adopt a mentor that works best for you to suit your leadership style and abilities.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Networking is an absolute must. It not only helps in knowing what the world is like outside of what you do, but also a chance for the world to know who you are. My three tips for networking are:

  1. Reach out to people and ask for help – most people love sharing their experiences and insights, and these always help at some point in life, if not immediately
  2. Be in touch regularly with your network – you will be amazed to see how you’ll get help in different points of life. Also, it’s not great when you only reach out to someone when you are in need of urgent help
  3. When networking, be prepared but also be yourself – the other person needs to know what you uniquely bring to the table and needs to remember you. They need to know about you as much as you know about them.
What does the future hold for you?

The future holds countless opportunities. Technology has been revolutionising different sectors and as a professional in tech, I cannot wait to be a part of the never-ending wave.

Tell us three things about yourself that would surprise us
  1. I trained for Indian classical singing for seven years but after that, I have not sung outside the bathroom in the last 10 years.
  2. I set up and ran a library with a small collection of books out of my friend’s place when I was 11 years old.
  3. I can speak five different Indian languages and read/write in three of them.

Charlotte Woffindin featured

Inspirational Women: Charlotte Woffindin | Senior Program Manager at Amazon (London)


Charlotte Woffindin, is a Senior Program Manager at Amazon (London).

Charlotte Amazon

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest, no. I have always done things that interest me and that I enjoy – I think that is really important, otherwise the days just drag. I spent five years working for a big high-street bank before joining Amazon. Whilst there I “tried on” different roles in agricultural banking, strategy, and communications before finding I really enjoyed designing training curriculums. That’s how I got into Amazon and working with the tech community designing onboarding training for Amazon’s global SDE hires. I have loved every minute of it and learn something new every hour!

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

I love a challenge! I studied IT and web design at A-level then went on to major in business at university, so starting at Amazon was a huge challenge as the engineers I worked with appeared to speak a different language, and designing training programs where I knew nothing about the content really stretched me. But I found that asking questions was the way for me to find out more, and identify the people who could really help me. The people who first helped me three years ago are still helping me today – they just bring more engineers to the conversation!

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?

Give it a go. I find that I surprise myself more than I surprise the people around me – they know what I’m capable of, more than I do. My advice would be to build a great network around you, find role models and watch what they do. Everything is new once, and until you try it out you’ll never know if you can do it. One of the greatest pleasures throughout my career is when I’m able to help someone reach their goal – whether it’s coaching them to deliver a great presentation, to become a great facilitator or to achieve a result they thought impossible. It’s a great thing to watch and be a part of.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

Their passion and enthusiasm, and the way they earn trust. At Amazon, that is so important – earning trust opens so many doors, and can often be overlooked. Many of my successes here have been through having the right conversations with great people. When hiring at Amazon, we have fourteen Leadership Principles that help to guide how we work, how our leaders lead and how we all make decisions on behalf of our customers.

These principles aren’t just something we put up on a wall – we use them every day, whether we’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates.

Being someone who fulfils these principles is normally the deciding factor for hires.

How do you manage your own boss?

My boss is based in the US, so we don’t get much time to talk. I “manage” him by keeping them informed – regardless of how small a thing it is. I keep him in the know about wins, misses and things I’ve learnt. Especially when I’ve build a new relationship which could benefit the team in other ways.

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

My day usually starts with my cycling to work – it’s a great way to get the blood pumping, some calories burned and me focusing my head on what I need to do. Then I tackle my emails; as my team is mainly Seattle-based, most of my emails come through when I’m asleep. An hour of email-admin then I can know what needs to be done that day (that I might not have known about the day before) and continue working on my big projects. Towards the end of my day is when my team starts to come online, so it’s a few calls with them and state-side partners before I cycle the nine miles home.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Say yes to new opportunities. You are the greatest cheerleader for you and your career. Sometimes you will get lucky and someone will notice you, but most of the time it’s through being seen (and heard). I remember the first time I was asked to speak at an event, and the reason they asked me was because they had seen me doing the introductions at a conference the previous week.

I put my hand up to introduce the keynote and that was the start of something I do pretty regularly now. Saying yes, although scary, can be really powerful for opening up some great opportunities. So whether it’s speaking at new hire inductions, delivering training or working on a difficult project, say yes and don’t look back. You will regret the things you didn’t do more than they things you did!

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Absolutely! Although it’s usually pretty informal, I’ll ask for help and advice from people around me, and I also try and attend great training about coaching, speaking and other topics I’m interested in. When I’m at conferences I’ll try and speak with interesting people there, as it’s amazing who you meet and what you gain from meeting for coffee (or wine) after.

I find myself surrounded by amazing people all the time, and make the effort to go to events where there are leaders speaking or panels, even if it means I have to work a little later in the day.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbie networker?

Networking can be scary, but the secret is that most people feel the same way. My top tips would be: [1] go with a friend, it’s easier when you know someone and getting into the first conversation together is a great ice-breaker; [2] take a look at the attendee list before (if it’s available), map out who you want to talk to and have a couple of great questions ready and a short intro about you ready; and [3] join a conversation that is already underway, listen for a while and join in when you feel comfortable. Or if you are like me, stand by the bar – everyone grabs a drink and it’s amazing who you can start talking to there!

What does the future hold for you?

Who knows! I’m just about to start a new role in Amazon Web Services, so that should be a great learning curve and something different. I want to continue working with great people and challenging myself in new areas at Amazon. But as long as I am enjoying my job and continuing to learn, I could be doing anything!

Tell us three things about yourself that would surprise us!
  • I’m a classically trained singer and often asked to sing at weddings
  • I’ve had dinner inside the England Rugby dressing room and
  • I cycled the 100-mile Ride London challenge in seven hours 24 mins for Alzheimer’s Society this July!

Catherine Breslin featured

Inspirational Women: Catherine Breslin | Manager, Machine Learning at Amazon Alexa


Catherine Breslin, is the Manager of a team of machine learning scientists working on the speech and language technology behind Amazon Alexa (Cambridge, UK).

Catherine Amazon

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never sat down and planned out my career in depth, but I’ve always had some idea of my next step and how I should achieve it. I grew up being interested in computers and technology, and I chose to study Engineering at university. It was only in my final year there that I learned about the field of machine learning and I became interested in how we can teach computers to do complex tasks such as understanding speech and language.

I went on to do a masters and PhD on the topic of automatic speech recognition. Since then, I’ve been fortunate that the field has been growing rapidly and many different opportunities have come my way. At times, I’ve had to think hard about which direction to take, but have normally chosen the opportunity that has given me the most scope to learn new skills.

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

It is great to be challenged, but it can be daunting and uncomfortable at times. I find the best way to deal with challenges is to prepare well – by reading as much as I can about new topics and talking to others who have faced similar issues. Then I break the larger problem down into smaller chunks that can be tackled one at a time. I do the same for all challenges, whether it’s something at work like tackling a new and complex technical problem, or something at home like working out how best to juggle family life.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I would hire them both! As machine learning is such a fast growing field with large potential, we struggle to find enough qualified candidates to fill our roles.

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

My day starts with a strong cup of coffee as I’m not a morning person! After the school run, I sit down at my desk to go over emails. Our daily team ‘standup’ meeting is also in the morning, where I catch up with the team and the status of our work.

We work closely with other teams in both the US and in the EU, and partnering with colleagues in multiple time-zones means that good communication is key.

Hence my workday often ends with a video call between different teams to keep our joint projects on track.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I have had a number of great mentors who have helped me at different times in my career. I think that having someone to talk to and bounce ideas off who is outside of your immediate team can be very useful as they have a different perspective and are less influenced by the dynamics of your particular team. Outside of formal mentoring programs, I’m fortunate to know a great network of people to turn to who have a breadth of experience and lots of helpful advice.

What does the future hold for you?

Machine learning has a lot of potential to impact the world, and I think we are only just at the beginning of seeing the benefit it can bring. When I was growing up, the thought of being able to speak naturally to a device and have it respond was still the stuff of sci-fi films. But now, speech and language technology has advanced and is in products like Alexa, and used by a large number of people. Voice is the future and can fundamentally improve the way people will interact with technology.

We are still a long way off being able to converse with a computer in an entirely natural way, but the systems are getting smarter every day.

Rachel Grigg featured

Inspirational Woman: Rachel Grigg | Co-Founder & Managing Director, Voodoo Park


Rachel Grigg is Co-Founder and Managing Director of digital agency Voodoo Park.

She works closely with the CEO and CTO to direct the company’s creative vision, strategy and growth.

Rachel Grigg

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

When it comes to tech I’m entirely self-taught, having initially started out in the arts. Although it didn’t take me long to realise that tech was my thing. My first job in the sector was at a small company analysing text messaging. Over the years I worked my way up the ranks, via a series of roles – account manager, marketing manager, innovation manager. I was at Vodafone, initially in the (at the time entirely new) internet services team, where we worked on the first ever iPhone launch.

That was awhile ago! There were lots of firsts, I helped create the first ever data bundles and launched netbooks and mobile broadband dongles into the consumer market . I’ve been working in digital for 15 years now, so I got to experience the digital revolution from the inside, particularly in relation to mobile. Voodoo Park is my second MD role. I’m working on our expansion, strategy and innovation. It’s all about understanding our brand, looking at who we are in the market, and ensuring we expand in a grown-up and sustainable way for both ourselves and our partners.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, never! I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist, that was my first specialism. But when it came down to it I was always most interested in the tech aspects of it, for example the newest camera or latest imaging equipment. Archaeology involved some great technology, but stuff like that was slow to develop in that sector, which I found frustrating. So, I drifted into my first tech role, the SMS job, and immediately found it fun and exciting. But truthfully, I fell into that, there was no plan. I just knew I liked tech. That’s how it often is with genuine passions, it always pays to follow your instincts.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

Yes, lots and lots! I think working in tech and digital companies constantly challenges in multiple ways every day. I became an expert in technical delivery. That involves one challenge after another because new digital things will inevitably go wrong when they first launch. You’re working for high profile customers that want everything yesterday, and you have to make sure your crew stay motivated, enough to get them through the long hours that project delivery involves. In those situations, team morale is so important.

Staying directly involved in all aspects of a project is the best way to overcome those types of challenges. Of course, being a woman in the sector brings its own challenges, starting with often being the only woman in the room. I am finding my challenges are becoming fewer in terms of customer delivery, and are now morphing into business challenges. At Voodoo park we are passionate about ensuring we have as diverse a culture as we can in order to challenge our way of thinking and challenge the way the world has been run in business for as long as anyone can remember.

Do you have a typical workday? How does your start your day and how does it end?

The only real constant is getting up and getting my two boys off to nursery! After that I’ll probably come home, have a cup of tea and write out my to do list, cross-checking it against the day before. I love a good list! Then a daily call with the team, at Voodoo Park we’ve really embraced remote working. This means constantly exploring new ways to stay in touch with each other. Then I’ll work my way through my list, I seem to be making lots of calls at the moment. I am working a lot on strategy, so a chunk of my day consists of doing quite a bit of good old fashioned thinking.

I also make sure I take my YooDoo Time, this is for all our guys to take two hours a week in work time to do something to improve their mental health or physical well being. I close off my day speaking to the team, getting the boys and then chilling out with them before bath time. I go into London for meetings a few times a week, but mainly I’m based at home, which massively suits my lifestyle. I think giving people that kind of flexibility empowers them, which in turn leaves them motivated to work. At Voodoo Park we really encourage it, and find it works really well for us as a business.

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

I’m a big fan of it. It’s a really positive thing to help people to develop and when done right both sides get so much out of it. I do think it’s important that the people are well matched though, otherwise it’s not mutually beneficial. I’ve had a couple of mentors over the years, one of whom was a very senior guy at Vodafone, and personality wise we matched perfectly. It was quite early on in my career and he was absolutely brilliant. However, sometimes it can be more about them than you, and that can be difficult. I have unofficially mentored others in the past, and we’re in the process of kicking off a mentoring scheme ourselves with the STEMettes organisation.

How do you think we can encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

It’s such a difficult problem to solve. There is a lot of work on this going on right now, it’s a big discussion point, which is obviously great to see. We need to focus on making girls know it’s accessible to them, and requires a perception shift. It’s not something that is going to change overnight, regardless of how much effort we all put in. Women and girls need to be given the confidence to give it a go and not worry about initial failures, the very nature of the sector is all about testing hypotheses. For that to happen we need to change how we teach in schools, and sometimes even how we’re raising our girls. Encouragement, access, and raising awareness all have a vital role to play, but real change is going to take time. At Vodafone all the buildings are named after inspirational tech figures, and just recently they changed some to be named after women for the first time. That’s a massive sign of change and it was great to see.

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

From a personal point of view (and I do of course understand this doesn’t apply to everyone), but for women that have chosen to have a family and go back full time, flexible working really is the most important thing. Many women really want to continue their careers but a lack of flexible options hold them back. We need to create environments that help them to feel free to return to the workplace, in a way that works for them. This applies to men as well, it’s an issue for families in general. Help with childcare would of course also have a big impact.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My current role. I’ve worked on some amazing product launches and deals in the past, with the likes of Facebook and Twitter before anyone had heard of them, but my current role has enabled me to realise what I’m capable of helping a business to achieve. I have definitely been pigeon-holed in the past and as a result been frustrated and made mistakes. But I have learnt from them and I am now able to now push Voodoo Park forward, helping us all to achieve our goals, utilising all my experience and referring to all the challenges I’ve overcome, it’s a really rewarding experience. I feel like it’s an achievement to have got where I am. The way Voodoo Park genuinely embraces women in tech, and give me so much genuine autonomy, rather than paying lip service to it, are more things to be proud of.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’d like to help more businesses to reach their potential. And more women. Personally, I genuinely feel like I’m reaching my own potential now, and I’d love to encourage others to do the same. My dream would be to move into an advisory role, for companies specifically and women more generally. I still learn new things every day, and looking at ways to harness the knowledge you accumulate to help others is always rewarding. For now, I’m focused on making Voodoo Park a big success story. Then I can convey how we did it to others. Failing all that I’d settle for running a B&B in the French countryside, cooking up a storm with my own wine cellar!

Kat Arney

Inspirational Woman: Dr Kat Arney | Science Writer and Broadcaster


Dr Kat Arney is a science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured on BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists, BBC Focus, the Times Educational Supplement, the Daily Mail and more.

She has written two books about genetics, 'Herding Hemingway's Cats - Understanding how our genes work' (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016) and ‘How to Code a Human’ (Andre Deutsch, 2017), and presents the monthly Naked Genetics podcast.

 Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

[ Laughs ] no. When I look back I can see the path that got me from there to here, but there was never a real plan.

I just kept saying ‘yes’ to interesting opportunities, and working on doing the things I love (and paying the rent).

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

When I was young I wanted to be an inventor or a mad professor. I loved science so I did science A levels, went to university to study natural sciences, and did a PhD in genetics. I even went on to do two short postdoctoral research jobs. But it turns out that I’m really bad at lab research. I have a very short attention span, I’m clumsy, and I never felt happy as a researcher.

 By my mid-20s I was working in a lab in London and seriously depressed, feeling like a failure. Then I realised that I did have other passions and transferable skills, and started applying for jobs that were related to science but not research itself – medical writing, journal editing and so on. None of these seemed right until I got a job at Cancer Research UK – the world’s biggest independent cancer research charity. I spent 12 years there, working up to becoming science communications manager and one of the charity’s main media spokespeople.

It was really hard pulling myself out of the research world and working out that I could use my skills and passion elsewhere, but it was my dream job.

I’m now in the next phase of my career as a freelance writer and broadcaster. Again, making the move over to being a freelance 18 months ago was very challenging, as I was terrified that I’d have no work. I ramped up my freelance work in my spare time and holidays, and went down to four days a week at Cancer Research UK and it has worked out so far. I also took a chunk of unpaid leave to write my first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, which I believed would be a stepping stone into a successful freelance life. It was a gamble as I didn’t receive an advance from my publisher and I had to rely on odd bits of freelancing and savings, but it was definitely worth it.

 What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

I don’t have much advice about leadership, as I deliberately turned down the opportunity to become a team leader at Cancer Research UK. At that point I knew I wanted to focus on writing my first book and eventually using that to take the plunge into a freelance career, so it didn’t seem fair on me or my colleagues to take on leadership responsibilities. For me, it was about realising that an opportunity to become a leader in one part of my life (along with a nice pay rise) might actually not be a great idea if I wanted to focus on becoming my own boss in the longer term.

 When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I’d go with the one that can make me laugh, or who laughs with me. My personal rule in any interview – whether that’s a job interview, or an interview that I’m doing with a guest for a radio show – is to always try and get a laugh out of them. Working relationships should be professional, but shared laughter is a useful glue.

How do you manage your own boss?

I’m my own boss, and I’m still figuring out how to work with her! I work from home and only have to answer to myself, so discipline and time management are an issue. I’m a ruthless user of to-do lists and calendars, and I love Trello for managing the many projects I’m working on at any time. I also use a website blocker called Stayfocusd to keep me off social media when I have looming deadlines.

More importantly, I’m learning how to view myself as a professional business, and make sure I account properly for my time.

Saying ‘yes!’ to almost anything (paid or not) has got me a long way, but I’ve hit the point where I simply can’t do that anymore.

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

I’m a bit of a night owl, and tend to do my best writing in the evenings unless I have a talk or event to go to. As a result, I’ll usually go to bed at about 1am so I get up quite late. My brain doesn’t really work in the mornings so I tend to do admin, chores and other mindless stuff before going to the gym at lunchtime. Once I’m back and have stuffed my face with lunch, I can get down to some proper work, such as writing, editing audio, researching.

Alternatively, I might be out and about giving talks or interviewing researchers about their work. No two days are the same, and I’m entirely in charge of my time. It’s incredibly liberating and also terrifying. I could spend the whole day on the sofa eating popcorn and reading Facebook if I wanted to (and believe me, I often want to), but the sensible bit of my brain knows it wouldn’t be a good idea.

 What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Don’t be afraid to challenge, raise suggestions or ask questions when you see the opportunity. Good leaders recognise the benefits of having staff who can clearly articulate ideas, ask questions and voice concerns. Obviously, it’s a bad idea to be contrary or obnoxious just for the sake of it, or to ask a question you haven’t properly thought about, but strong organisations need people who are prepared to think, stand up and speak out. All too often this kind of thing falls to men, who stereotypically tend to be more confident with their opinions in the workplace, but it’s vital that women step up too.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve had a couple of mentors in my life, which were useful at the key transitions between leaving research, and then again more recently going freelance.

The first one was little more than a chat in the pub with an established science journalist, who talked me through my fears about leaving the lab. He doesn’t know how important that chat was, but it helped to set me on the path towards science communication.

My second mentor was Vivienne Parry, a fantastic science communicator and TV presenter, who has given me a lot of good advice about the media world. I should also mention Professor Dame Amanda Fisher, who led the last research lab I worked in. She was so patient with me as I wrestled with my feelings of unhappiness and tried to figure out what to do with my life, and still sends interesting science communication projects my way.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Yes, incredibly important. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without networking and (more importantly) following up those interesting leads and opportunities. People now tend to connect on social media, but I would always come home from events with a bra full of business cards, and then the next morning I would make sure to send follow-up emails where appropriate.

 My top tips would be:

1) Always follow up quickly if someone offers you an opportunity. If you can’t take it up right now, get in touch to say “not now but I’d love to later.”

2) Be brave and get in there quickly if there’s someone you really want to meet. There’s nothing worse than plucking up the courage all night to approach someone, only to discover that they left an hour ago.

3) Don’t feel you have to stay stuck in conversations that you aren’t enjoying at networking events, especially if it means you’re missing out on making new contacts. You’re expected to circulate, so make a polite excuse (popping to the loo is a good one) and get out of there.

 Also it’s tempting to stick with friends at events if you’re feeling shy, but it can hold you and them back from meeting great people. Make sure you and your buddies know it’s OK to break off quickly and grab a chat with an interesting person if they’re nearby. It’s also handy to share ‘hit lists’ of people you each want to talk to, so you can all keep an eye out for each other in case opportunities arise.

What does the future hold for you?

Right now my agent is about to start pitching my third book, so hopefully writing another book will be in my future. Apart from that, I’m just taking opportunities as they come. I’m writing for a range of outlets, making my monthly Naked Genetics podcast, taking up invitations to speak at events, festivals and conferences, and pursuing TV and radio opportunities. I’m always hustling, baby.

About the author

Dr Kat Arney, Science Writer and Broadcaster/Musician and Harpist



Book: Herding Hemingway's Cats- Understanding How Our Genes Work


Recruiting for the FinTech industry


Marieke Flament is a respected technology leader and is currently heading up the European expansion of leading social payments app Circle. Here she provides insight into what she looks for when recruiting for this fiercely competitive industry.

People are the life and blood of any organisation and this is particularly true when talking about a FinTech startup. Having an analytical mind and entrepreneurial spirit are pretty much a given for any candidate even wishing to get to the interview stage.

But when recruiting we look for a lot more than just possessing the right skill sets. In a small startup it’s essential the candidate is the right cultural fit. Whilst candidates may look the part on paper, how will they fit into the existing team? Are candidates passionate about the problem you want to solve? Do they share the company’s values and character traits?

I’m often asked what we look for in candidates during the interview process and would say the following are all essential:


At Circle we are not just a social payment app, we are on a revolution to make money work the way the internet does so that the world can be a better place for our customers. That's a big and ambitious vision -and we want people who understand and share our vision. In an interview, I test this by asking people why they want to work for Circle and assess what they think of the app.


In a startup the highs are high and the lows are low - we need resilient people, people who can learn from mistakes (and it's ok to make mistakes!) and bounce back. In our industry you cannot afford to stand still and wait for things to happen because you are too afraid of making a mistake.


We need people with a "go-get-it" attitude - there is no job too low for anyone to do! From setting up your own computer, to picking up the phone for someone else and to making the coffees. In a small team everyone needs to pull together irrespective of their title.


Working in such a multifaceted industry such as FinTech it is vital a candidate demonstrates a willingness to step outside their comfort zone and learn about other areas i.e. marketing, regulation, risk. We are looking for well-rounded, multi-skilled people, avid to learn new skills as our industry is continuously evolving and requires you to keep learning.

Creative but practical

What we do has never been done before, and therefore there is no manual or ‘How to Guide’ we can refer to. Therefore, we need people to not only be creative to find new ways of doing things, but also practical. If someone is creative but not practical then nothing will get done - and we need to get stuff done. Be “creatively practical!”

FinTech as an industry employing over 61,000 people and generates billions of pounds of revenue for the UK’s economy. The possibilities for this industry are endless and competition to work in it is fierce. As for most jobs, having the right grades and qualifications is not enough. You need to possess traits which cannot be taught and are innate, and share the passion of the company you want to join. If you have all the above then you are well on your way!

Inspirational Woman: Claire Canning | Renewable energy research engineer taking a three year industrial placement at EDF Energy


Claire Canning graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology. She is currently undertaking a three year industrial placement from EDF Energy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company

I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and then went on to do a Masters in Conservation and Biodiversity, where I developed a particular interest in marine conservation and the effects of climate change on global biodiversity.

I have always had an interest in offshore renewable energy technologies and how they interact with the marine environment, so this coupled with my Masters experience paved the way for me to embark on a three year research project with EDF Energy, working as a renewable energy research engineer.

Offshore wind research is exciting because the industry is still relatively new and everything I’m doing is supporting its future development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had a love of marine mammals from a young age, and taking biology and chemistry at school allowed me to pursue that passion at university. I’ve been able to combine my childhood interest in marine biology with research into offshore marine renewable energies and how they interact with the environment. The development of offshore marine technology is so interesting, and with cleaner and greener energy sources becoming so important, it’s very exciting to be part of.

Pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) can open the door to such a diverse range of careers and working environments and I never let anything stop me from pursuing those subjects myself. My advice to young girls today would be to create their own opportunities and not let the fact there may be more boys taking a subject hold them back if they have a passion for something.

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

I’ve been very lucky with my career path to date and haven’t come across too many roadblocks. I have received a tremendous amount of support from EDF Energy and my university to help me success, and both have helped to build my confidence. As with my experience at school, I would say that there currently aren’t enough women working in my field – sometimes I’m the only woman in the room. But I’m passionate about what I do and so it’s not something that bothers me day to day. I can see it would be something that could put young girls off pursuing STEM subjects at school and careers in later life.

Currently only one in five people working in STEM is a woman, so I think it’s really important that women who are currently working in STEM industries do what they can to encourage young girls not to close the door on the amazing careers they could have in the future.

I’m currently a role model for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious programme which puts a spotlight on the under-representation of women in STEM related careers. As part of the programme we have created a virtual reality video which I feature in alongside a structural engineer and a coder, showing young girls some of the most in-demand careers that will be available to them when they start working. I love that I’m able to show how exciting my job is in a really engaging way, and hope it will be inspirational to young girls currently at school.

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

I mainly focus on research for my PHD, studying the effects of corrosion and marine growth on offshore wind turbines. I am always challenged to think about how the design and construction of offshore structures are affected by corrosion and marine growth and it’s my job to come up with possible solutions.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

 A piece of advice that was given to me was to always be proactive. Don’t sit and wait for somebody to offer you what you want – create your own success.

My dad was, and still is, a huge role model for me as he came from a far less privileged background and is probably the hardest working person I know.

He has worked every day of his life to make sure that me and my brothers had all the opportunities he didn’t have. I think it’s him that really inspires me to challenge myself and has encouraged me through every step of my PhD.

I am also very lucky to have two female academic supervisors working with me on my EDF Energy research project who are experts in their fields and I find hugely inspirational. They provide me with the support I need to stay motivated.

What would be your top tips for parents looking to encourage their children to continue to study STEM?
  • Encourage them to keep their options open – by studying STEM there will be endless career options available to them. There are endless opportunities to develop new skills and gain experiences in a wide range of working environments when working in STEM.
  • Encourage them to find the best career for them, not something others think they should do, but something that will suit them and allow them to explore their passions.
  • Support them in making the subject choices they need to pursue their chosen career but don’t tell them what to do.
  • There is no such thing as a “girly” subjects and engineering isn’t “just for boys” so don’t allow them to let silly stereotypes get in the way of something that they want to do.
What does the future hold for you?

The best part of my job is the research, the travelling and the fact that I know that what I’m researching, is going to make a difference in the future. Having the opportunity to travel the world and present my research, working with like-minded people, is something that I have loved since starting at EDF Energy. Working collaboratively towards a future with cleaner energy is something I feel passionately about.


The World of AI featured

Diversity and inclusion in the world of AI: Kiss the robot


Have you ever felt like you have woken up and put the wrong trousers on?
Image via Shutterstock

Nick Park’s animation film was one of my favourites when I was growing up, perhaps the first time I really thought about the impact of Robots.

Fast forward to today, and I have been completely drawn into the changing world of AI and Machine Learning, specifically how the tech world believe that it will shape the way we live, earn….and be human.

I had the privilege of attending a Leadership event last week hosted by Ricoh: How to Ensure Diversity & Inclusion drive Artificial Intelligence enabled technologies.

The discussion paper was presented by Vicky Macleod (Perfect Ltd) and facilitated by Vicky Sleight (Perfect Ltd) and Kim Ballestrin (Elabor8) alongside 15 industry experts, this was a dynamic conversation and heated at times! There was unanimous agreement that there needs to be a “standard” of accountability and transparency. Ian Greenstreet (Board Advisor, London Stock Exchange) succinctly stated that there was a necessity for “Disclosure”.

There was a line in the research paper that kept ringing in my head “AI learns about how the world has been- alarm bells. This means that it is truly down to us (the consumers of this AI) to shape the future; because right now, your AI solution is as intelligent as the historical data inputs – i.e: it learns from what is has already processed….there is nothing stopping your robot from learning bad behaviours and prejudices, adopting them as the new “normal”. This makes the debate around unconscious bias even more complex.

Back to “The Wrong Trousers”: Gromit thinks he has given Wallace the best birthday present ever – a solution that will make his life easier, automate the daily tasks…. making his life better. When Feathers switches the trousers; Wallace goes from inventor to criminal overnight, as Feathers takes control of the trousers to carry out the diamond heist. Luckily, the quick actions of Gromit save the day – but herein lies the question: How do we trust AI – are we too assuming that it is good?

Our willingness to engage with AI is all over the internet - but what is the true impact within a business environment?

Companies want to be hiring diverse workforces; research shows that this promotes better collaboration and innovation – business sustainability and growth. Companies don’t want to hire clones – I am told this daily in my role as a Talent Manager. They do want to hire people who are authentic but can we be certain that the latest AI tools are “inclusive” and not “exclusive”.

We need to work collaboratively to drive diversity and inclusion in the world of AI. The rise of AI will impact all industries on an international scale. We have to create the standards and codes to ensure that there is a clear line of accountability, moreover, to ensure that we can be our authentic selves.

About the author

Belinda is a passionate advocate for inclusive and values based talent attraction & retention. She thrives on the challenges of matching up individuals’ career aspirations to roles with forward thinking tech companies across Europe. By day, she is a Talent Manager at Cloudstream Global & by night, a classically trained singer.

Paula Tinkler featured

Inspirational Woman: Paula Tinkler | Commercial Director, Chemoxy International


Paula TinklerPaula Tinkler is Commercial Director at bespoke chemical manufacturers, Chemoxy International.

Based in the North East of England, Chemoxy is looking to create more jobs, has plans for further expansion and is seeking acquisition opportunities to add value to its core services. Paula is working hard to help Chemoxy achieve these goals, and was appointed Commercial Director in 2015.

Before joining Chemoxy, Paula was an Electrical Engineer and expert in Process Control. She held key positions in a number of other leading companies such as Lucite and Mitsubishi.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Paula gained an MEgn in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

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

I am currently Commercial Director at Chemoxy International in Teesside. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, I moved to the North East of England after graduating from Queens University where I studied Electrical Engineering. I have one daughter and together we share a passion for horse riding.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never – I took every opportunity I was offered and never worried about what would come next. The role I am in now is the first one I have ever sought and this time I asked the CEO directly for a job because I found the company so inspiring.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

There have been some tough challenges along the way but I have always had a strong network of colleagues who can offer advice and listen as I think my way through the obstacles.

How have you thrived in a male-dominated industry?

The small percentage of women operating in the European Chemical Industry stand out, particularly at conferences and sales exhibitions so that can be an advantage. In reality if you grew up liking maths and physics in the 1980’s you were always in a male dominated environment so my generation in STEM careers know no difference. In ICI, where I started, female engineers were strongly supported and encouraged so I feel I have been very lucky.

Do you have a typical workday? How does you start your day and how does it end?

I start at 0830 and work until probably 6pm. The day starts with a chat with the CEO about what is exciting and what our next big challenge is. The day finishes when I have wrapped something up – I can’t go home in the middle of something it drives me mad. Chemoxy support flexible working so if I get frustrated or lose inspiration I take a longer lunch hour and head to the gym.

Tell us a little bit about your roles and how they came about?

I started as an engineer which I loved and I travelled the world in this role, even spending 14 months in Taiwan and making a desperately sad attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese.

However, I quickly caught the bug for commercial and moved first into a sales role and then business management. Prior to joining Chemoxy as Commercial Director I was Global Procurement Director in Lucite and was lucky enough to travel to China, Japan, Singapre, Taiwan and the USA .

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

I had a fabulous mentor when I joined ICI and he helped me navigate my first few years in work and helped me complete my Chartered Engineering qualification. I currently manage a team of ten staff and mentoring skills are critical to help people development.

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

I have been very lucky with all of my jobs and the teams I have worked in and so I couldn’t point to any one change I would have liked. However, when I had my daughter I was very glad of a long maternity leave and a part time return to work. My employer was fantastic and I would wish that for all young women.

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

I think exposure to STEM projects and challenges up to Year 9 are critical. In addition I think getting young women into the workplace to see what the environment is really like is helpful. When I was 17 I joined a Women Into Science and Engineering event which included a tour of a shipyard, a telecom factory and walk around the local uni – I fell in love with it straight away.

How do you juggle your career and your personal life?

Just like everyone else.

I was once told you cannot balance modern careers with a personal life the best you can do is manage your energy – I think if you find an inspiring job which you thrive on managing the energy required for both parts of your life is much easier.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am still really proud of taking a secondment in Taiwan when I was 25, but my move to Chemoxy International after 24 years with my previous employer is very significant to me. I took the step of moving from purchasing back into sales & marketing and from a large company to an SME – I am proud to have made such a good decision.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want to be part of Chemoxy International’s success. We have a super team here and truly invest in people through professional development and programs like Better Health at Work. If through growth we can create new jobs that would be a huge achievement I could be proud of.



Denise Hudson Lawson

Inspirational Woman: Denise Hudson Lawson | Advanced Solutions Architect at Pluralsight


Denise Hudson Lawson is an advanced solutions architect at Pluralsight. Here she shares her career journey with WeAreTheCity.


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

I help enterprises develop talent and acquire the digital, technology and cyber security skills they need to drive their businesses forward. Before this, I was the Head of Online Services at the Houses of Parliament where I headed up a new parliamentary service to develop and deliver a portfolio of online services to over 7,000 government staff.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always had a deep interest in tech but I never really had a career path in mind. At school, girls weren’t typically encouraged to study computers which meant I navigated my own way. Independent learning, self-belief, and building a network of mentors, peers and champions has been key to my career development.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

Being a woman in tech often comes with its challenges. Back in the 80s if you applied for a role or a promotion, marriage and children would often be brought to the table. I’ve been at board meetings before where male colleagues would be discussing a technical topic like networks and infrastructure. People would assume I’d have no idea what they were talking about and they’d try to explain the concept to me.

It felt great to return with the proper definition and this gave me the nickname ‘The Don’t Assume Woman.’

To combat situations like this, it’s always important to have integrity and faith in your own ability. My tips for women struggling with diversity at work is to find an employer with a strict diversity policy and remember it’s fine to be feminine in the workplace, but remember, you don’t have to hide behind it either.

Do you have a typical workday? How does you start your day and how does it end?

At Pluralsight, I work from home but getting up and having a coffee is as typical as it gets. On a weekly basis, I can be visiting clients and prospects across multiple European cities or speaking at a leading technology or cyber security event. One thing I always try and stick to is having my lunch at 1pm and fitting in at least half an hour a day for independent learning.

Tell us a little bit about your roles and how they came about?

I heard about the role at Parliament through a friend. Similarly, with Pluralsight I knew my current boss from networking events at the Learning and Performance Institute where we’d catch up at conferences or over the occasional glass of wine. It’s important to keep in touch with interesting people you meet throughout your career as you never know what opportunities this might bring in the future.

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

I absolutely love it. People often confuse mentoring with coaching and I’m a fan of both. Mentoring is all about using your experience and knowledge to help an individual achieve their potential. As a mentor, you can guide them, help them avoid pitfalls and offer your expertise. Coaching is more subtle, it’s about signposting and helping them find the answers themselves.

I’ve been a mentor throughout my career and during my time at Parliament I mentored around 20 people over six month periods.

I’ve also mentored outside of work, one lady I mentored felt put down and lacked general confidence. Since then, she achieved a promotion and even received a national award. It’s very rewarding and it’s important for women to pass on their knowledge and help each other.

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

For women to start believing in themselves and to stop saying ‘I can’t’. If a woman wants to apply for a job, she’ll see 10% of the role that’s outside of her skill set and this can stop her in her tracks. In most cases, a man would still apply.

For promoting diversity at work, government departments have it nailed. Individuals are celebrated, there are communities of practice, awareness weeks and diversity groups put in place. Whereas in the private sector, this can often be overlooked. The workplace is slowly starting to change and some of the big banks like JP Morgan and Credit Suisse are doing a great job as are organisations like PwC and Shell. The technology industry is also changing, we see more women in the press, females on boards and stars from the dot-com era are Ladies in the House of Lords.

How would you encourage young girls into STEM careers?

We need to break down what STEM actually means and have role models in each of those sectors. For a while now, STEM outreach mainly focused on coding but there’s so much more you can do with STEM. Some girls are put off by coding, so it might be better to ask the question: Do you like drawing? Why not try out graphic or game design? STEM isn’t just about maths, building an engine or code.

For girls to understand what’s out there, companies should hold more open days and promote great initiatives like ‘Take your daughter to work’ day.

We’re making STEM more accessible but more can be done to showcase the different STEM career paths that are out there for young women.

How do you juggle your career and your personal life?

Planning and working for an understanding organisation. If you need to drop out for a moment and do something important, you should be able to. It’s essential to have the support and trust of your workplace and colleagues. As a rule, I also try to be offline by 7:30, unless an international call or something pressing crops up.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Surviving in this industry! Every time I take on a new role, I look at it as an achievement. Highlights include heading up my own department in the Houses of Parliament and winning CLO of the year twice.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

To carry on working, to be happy and healthy. I want to continue to help other people every day in what they do, be a good role model and give back to society. I’d love to continue talking at events, and to see the smile on people’s faces when I help them achieve their learning needs.