Women who broke the barriers of STEM

Eight forgotten women in history who broke the barriers of STEM

 

Women have had a long and illustrious history in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields.

From the invention of Kevlar to the blueprint for the inaugural computer programme, female pioneers have been behind some of the greatest STEM discoveries.

Currys PC World and Microsoft Surface's campaign looks at eight superheroines who fought for their work, their ideas, and often overcame the odds in the process. Each of the women has an incredible story worth discovering, and a legacy that has left a lasting impact on the world.

Ada Lovelace

Lovelace is recognised as the world’s first computer programmer.

While poring over the designs for Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer, dubbed The Analytical Engine, Lovelace reached a remarkable conclusion.

If the machine could manipulate numbers to solve equations, it could also manipulate symbols, and thus could be instructed to do almost anything.

While Babbage focused on producing flawless mathematical tables, Lovelace saw that the Analytical Engine could be programmed to create music or graphics.

To demonstrate the power of the Analytical Engine, she wrote a detailed description of how it could calculate an important series of numbers called Bernoulli Numbers.

This invention is seen today as the world’s first computer program.

Hedy Lamarr

Considered by many the Angelina Jolie of 1940s cinema, Lamarr was disillusioned with the idea of starring in films while the Second World War raged.

She and her neighbour, the composer George Antheil, filed a patent for a “frequency-hopping” system that would allow Allied torpedoes to travel unseen under the water without being intercepted by German intelligence.

Though the patent was granted in 1942, the idea was never used during the war. It was, however, picked up by the Navy in 1957, and today is one of the principles behind Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi.

Rosalind Franklin

For a long time, the history books gave credit to two men for discovering the shape and form of DNA: Francis Crick and James Watson.

But without Rosalind Franklin, they wouldn’t have had all the pieces needed to complete the puzzle.

Franklin captured an X-ray image of DNA, proving a long-held scientific belief that DNA was likely composed of two opposing coiled chains: a double helix, in other words.

As fate would have it, Crick and Watson were given access to Franklin’s work. The photo, along with their existing research, gave them free rein to take credit for the structure of deoxyribose nucleic acid, their findings published in Nature magazine in 1953.

A small footnote in Nature acknowledged Franklin for having “stimulated” aspects of the discovery, but Franklin died an unknown commodity outside the scientific community.

Virginia Apgar

Apgar specialised in anaesthetics, with a focus on analysing the effects of these drugs on newborn babies and mothers.

Her proximity to the postnatal wards meant she was able to make a troubling observation: babies who were born blue in the face or struggling to breathe were being written-off as stillborn. Apgar reasoned that, in many of the cases, if treatment was delivered swiftly, the baby could be saved.

She devised the “Apgar Score” in response. When a child is delivered, they would be judged on their heart rate, breath, muscle tone, reflexes and skin colour. Each category carried a score of either 0, 1, or 2. Once these scores were totted up, children in danger could be easily identified and sent off for immediate treatment.

The “Apgar Score” gave nurses the teeth to act swiftly and gave babies a fighting chance. In part because of Apgar’s simple system, deaths of newborn babies dropped from one in 30 in 1950 to one in 500 in America today.

Katsuko Saruhashi

Katsuko Saruhashi came to prominence in the 1950s when she concluded that carbon dioxide (CO2) – produced by humans and big industry - was killing marine life. She brought this fact to the world’s attention, then armed scientists with a system for measuring it – the Saruhashi Table is still used today.

In the 1960s, she turned her attention to nuclear waste. The United States had been testing nuclear weapons on islands 4,500 kilometres from Japan. Saruhashi discovered that in the space of 18 months, radioactive water had turned up on Japanese shores. Her research helped tighten ocean laws governing nuclear experimentation.

Maria Van Brittan Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown worked odd hours as a nurse and was often home alone in Queens, New York in the 1960s. Fearing for her safety, she decided to take matters into her own hands by inventing the world’s first home security system.

Working with her husband Albert, Marie drilled four discreet peep holes through her door, then installed a camera attached to a motor that could move between the four holes at the behest of the homeowner. This was rigged up to a monitor in Marie’s bedroom, and a microphone was installed so that Marie could address door-knockers without having to get out of bed. If the intruder was welcome, a button could be pushed that opened the door remotely. If not, a separate button pinged the emergency services.

The husband and wife duo filed a patent in 1966 and this early blueprint is still inspiring inventors today.

Stephanie Kwolek

Of all the inventors on this list, perhaps no one has saved as many lives as Stephanie Kwolek.

Why? Well, Kwolek discovered Kevlar in 1965.

At the time, she was a DuPont employee working to find a lightweight material that could reinforce car tires. She spent her time experimenting with liquid solutions that she melted at temperatures reaching 200°C and “spun” into thin, fibrous strands – a process broadly similar to making cotton candy. Kwolek discovered that, by lowering the temperature, she was able to spin something incredibly strong, stiff and light: Kevlar.

It’s a buttermilk-coloured yarn that’s five times stronger than steel and has reinforced police jackets since entering mass production in 1971.

Emilie Du Châtelet

Emilie Du Châtelet had complementary gifts: an ability to comprehend complex science, and an ability to describe that science to the masses.

She is famous for translating the works of Newton, whose science was new, ground-breaking and almost entirely alien to the French people of the time.

At 42, du Châtelet fell pregnant in an era when childbirth was incredibly dangerous and at an age where her odds of survival were slim to none. She worked long days and nights to complete her magnum opus before she died: a complete translation of Newton’s Principia, adding in extensive notes and a summary section where she cleaned up Newton’s obtuse prose and gave clear, digestible, bite-sized bits of information. She managed to complete the work before her untimely death, and today, du Châtelet’s translation remains the definitive French-language version.

Discover more about the STEM Superheroines campaign here.


Abi Mohamed

Inspirational Woman: Abi Mohamed | Co-founder, Community Growth Ventures (CGV)

Abi Mohamed CGV

Coding pro Abi Mohamed cofounded Community Growth Ventures (CGV), an angel firm which sets out to invest underrepresented founders, in 2017.

The 27-year-old software engineer has a Masters in Information System Management from De Montfort University and builds websites for government bodies including the Ministry of Justice.

An advocate for getting more girls into tech, Mohamed volunteers as an Instructor for Code First: Girls and recently also became a VC scout for Backed, a €50m community-driven seed-stage VC fund.

The tech leader has also been called out as a changemaker by publications including SciTech and the Evening Standard.

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

I was born in Sweden, but grew up in Leicester and I've been interested in tech since school - I loved making websites and learning about networks and databases.

After my Masters, I became a software engineer for city councils and government bodies. That really appealed because I felt I was creating something amazing for the public for everyone to use.

Most recently I started Community Growth Ventures to invest in entrepreneurs and the founders from diverse backgrounds across the UK.

I’ve always been a big advocate of ‘tech for good’ and creating a more sustainable world, but right now, because of the pattern matching landscape, not everyone can be involved. Generally in investment, for you to be backable, the investor themself has to see themselves in you, or to have seen someone who looks like you IPO.

For people of colour, if you don't fall in those categories, you're seen as more of a risk. And most VCs or angels won't take that risk because of their unconscious bias.

That's the reason I stepped in.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I picked my undergrad I felt a lot of pressure from my family to put tech on the back burner and study economics. After that, I worked in retail, but still really wanted a career in tech.

So then I just asked myself two questions: ‘What do I enjoy the most?’ and ‘What will get me the most money?’ Answering those questions lead me to my Masters.

You should follow your heart, find things that make you happy and people that make you feel comfortable. Doing that meant starting CGV came naturally, by being in the right places at the right time.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve faced came about when I was working for the government and I felt  a lot of ageism. I know I’m young, but I also look way younger than I am, and I had an issue with a colleague who had a similar role but was much older.

He didn't respect what I was inputting and he kept dismissing me, saying I should just listen to him. I felt undermined and like he didn’t respect my voice as part of the conversation.

I raised the issue with the scrum master and we ended up having this mediated open circle conversation about our feelings. I feel like, after that conversation, they could see that I was not the problem. I was able to move teams and they realised it was him.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Everything we’re doing at CGV. At first, we invested 26K (round included another co-investor) and now planning to invest again in another company. We are currently planning our angel syndicate.

The biggest achievement so far has been proving the concept with our portfolio company hair care brand Afrocenchix, showing that CGV showing that can invest in and help underrepresented founders.

After our participation in their angel round, they were able to win more money from the WeWork Creator Awards, and they had the opportunity to work with Backstage Capital, a big VC company in the US. From that, they’ve been able to expand their team with three successful new hires.

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

Keeping a positive mindset. I always say to myself, whatever happens, happens for a reason.

I think that increases your chances of success because a positive mindset attracts positivity.

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

I journal everything.

When you wake up, write down three achievable goals. They could be simple things like go to the gym, or make a healthy breakfast. When you come back from work say what you've actually achieved too, so can see your progress.

Sometimes we all have bad days, and it's easy to forget how much you've achieved in the last six months or one year. But having a journal that allows you to flick back into the past and remind yourself ‘I am great, I am still in this journey of growth’.

I also try to do quarterly updates on myself: one in public (on Medium) where I publish my ‘Abi’s Tweet Highlights’ and a private one looking back over my journal where I think about the stuff that did or didn't go well and what I could improve.

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

I think there are still massive barriers. There's a barrier for entry, where people outside of tech don't know how to negotiate their way in. But then, even when you’re inside it’s easy to feel stuck.

In my experience of the government side, there's still a lot of old white men who don't see the bigger picture. In my early career, I felt so, so lonely and didn't know who to speak to.

If you don’t see leaders in senior positions who you can identify with and aspire to, there's no clear journey or blueprint on how to move forward. That can be confusing and demotivating.

Progression can be a long waiting game unless you know the right people to talk to.

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

I have mentors in the VC space who are giving me advice and helping me grow, but I’d like to see more employers supporting in-house mentorship too.

We don’t need more outside organisations that pump out mentors, this should be naturally happening within our industries. To do that we need to teach and inspire senior staff to always look out for the people coming in.

Getting staff to meet across levels can be as simple as setting up clubs or events outside work (that don’t always revolve around sports or the pub).

There is currently on 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

I would make payroll transparent.

We all know about the gender pay gap and that we should be paid the same as our male counterparts, but for that to happen we need more transparency.

When you go into an interview, you should have the ability to ask ‘how much does a person like me get paid?’ without using guesswork.

If you don't pay people equally, you are devaluing your company. Your female staff won't strive, they won't learn and they won't do their best work.

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

The best meetup I have been to is at Google for startups; there's a breakfast event that happens every month called #POCTech. That’s where I started my entrepreneur life three years ago.
My favourite podcast is called Techish and it's a show that talks about tech in general with lots of fun pop culture references.

And books, I’m honestly just into so much sci-fi. I've just finished The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, which is about aliens and black holes and other futuristic stuff. I don’t want to give too much away but it really is one of the best books I’ve ever read.


Women in Coding

A career in coding | Catherine Bowden

 

woman coding, code

I actually fell into coding by accident, as it happens.

At school, I was always strongest in maths and science. I quickly realised that I wanted a career in something technical, so when it came to choosing my degree, I applied to study Bioengineering at Imperial College London. Excitingly I was accepted, and off I went.

Bioengineering is as broad a subject as they come, and it was only by doing a bit of compulsory coding in one module that I completely fell in love with it. My remaining years at university were increasingly occupied by coding and by the time I graduated in 2017, it seemed a natural fit to apply to Luminance. I stumbled across the company by chance, knowing only that they were a fast-growing artificial intelligence platform for the legal sector. Intrigued to see where I could slot in at such an innovative scale-up, I applied for a role on the tech team, based at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge.

Cambridge was the birthplace of Luminance, where the technology was developed by mathematicians from the university. The city is a fast-growing hub for innovation and this feeds into the appeal of working there. Another hugely attractive aspect is the team. Being the first female coder has never set me apart in any way from my team mates. Luminance has a merit-based culture; we are assessed on our ability, creativity and persistence, all skills vital to succeeding in a technical role where things are often complex and require the ability to come up with cutting-edge solutions which set our technology apart.

The company is growing so fast that things are always changing. I enjoy the challenge of thinking up new ways to adapt the technology and keep it both innovative and reactive to wider industry challenges. The tech itself has also come a long way in its capabilities since I joined just over a year ago, and knowing that I have been an instrumental part of that journey is hugely motivating. We’re reaching a pivotal point in the company’s trajectory, with the technology now deployed in 40 countries across six continents after launching just two years ago. To be a coder in a company at the forefront of UK tech, with thousands of lawyers using the technology on a daily basis, is an incredibly exciting position to be in. I am very much looking forward to seeing what the next year has in store for Luminance, and to being able to play a lead role in contributing to this development at such a young age!

If I’m to share any parting advice with any fellow young girls wanting to go into coding, it’s to not be put off by the idea of being the only girl, or by the fact that it is a typically male-dominated field. I came up against all sorts of confused and outright discouraging responses throughout university when I told teachers and peers what I planned to do with my career. 14 months down the line at Luminance, I can safely say that my gender has not held me back in any way! Be tenacious, hard-working and daring and you will be well-equipped to tackle anything, whether in the field of technology or beyond.

About the author

Catherine Bowden is a Cambridge-based software developer now working at Luminance, the leading AI platform for the legal profession. With a keen interest in machine learning and natural language processing, Catherine has been instrumental in advancing the sophisticated pattern-recognition algorithms at Luminance’s core, as well as developing new algorithms for one of the company’s latest products, Luminance Corporate. Having graduated from Imperial College London with a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, Catherine pursued a career in coding due to the creative nature of the profession and its ability to ‘constantly provide new problems to solve’.


Sharmadean Reid

Inspirational Woman: Sharmadean Reid MBE | Founder, WAH Nails & Beautystack

Sharmadean Reid

Sharmadean Reid is the founder of globally renowned brand WAH Nails and breakthrough beauty booking startup Beautystack.

Entrepreneurial from the start, Reid first launched WAH (We Ain’t Hoes) as a fanzine about girls in hip-hop while she was still at university. Reid later worked as a stylist and opened the WAH Nails salon in London as a place for the WAH community to gather.

Over the next decade, Reid expanded WAH Nails into a product line, with nail polishes and nail art tools stocked in Topshop and Boots. They created pop up nail bars for brands such as Marc Jacobs and Nike and celebrity fans including tennis champion Serena Williams and film star Margot Robbie.

Keen to empower other women through knowledge, Reid also is an advisor to charity Art Against Knives (to train women from disadvantaged backgrounds to be professional nail artists) and published her own nail tutorial books (with some 70,000 copies sold). In 2016 the entrepreneur cofounded Future Girl Corp, an online platform with advice, events, and information for future female CEOs and published an online course.

Today, Reid is bringing beauty booking software into the social media age with Beautystack, an image-led network for beauty professionals. Founded in 2017, this has raised $6.1 million to date and closed its latest £4 million round from Index Ventures this spring.

A recipient of numerous awards, Reid was presented with an MBE in 2015.

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

I come from Wolverhampton but moved to London in 2003 when I was 19 to do a degree in Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins.

The best way to learn is through real projects, so I started making a  fanzine to learn how to use software like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

WAH helped me communicate what I was feeling at the time: that hip-hop music was becoming a big deal and that the women within it were being marginalised. I didn't really know what feminism was at the time, I just knew that it felt weird and I wanted to change that.

After I graduated, I was travelling around for styling and decided to open a nail salon because getting your nails done was very much part of hip hop culture and I thought it would be an amazing physical space for all the girls who read the magazine.

It was through this I realised the services in the beauty industry were so old school. I felt compelled to solve those problems with Beautystack. Before we raised earlier this year, we had a very basic MVP. Our goal this year is to finish our development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never had a grand master plan. Although, before Beautystack, I did a lot of thinking.

Putting the plan together requires you to step away from your day-to-day stuff, and I don't think I would have had that clarity if I hadn’t spent 18 months back in Wolverhampton.

As a founder, it’s critical to work through what you're passionate about—to ask yourself what do you know, what you can win in, and where you can build a business model.

I knew I loved beauty services, being in that environment where you're with (usually) another woman, for at least an hour, that’s a rare 1:1 customer interaction. I knew I loved building technology—I’d already built a VR app for nails and a chatbot for our booking systems. So I decided to do services and technology and a business model that allows women to be economically empowered.

Going back home gave me the freedom to go deep. I did a lot of writing about my thesis for the future of work and the future of beauty services. That cemented my thoughts and meant the business has a theoretical unpinning to it, it wasn't just an idea that sounded cool.

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

Definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had has been finding and hiring the right team.

If I  don’t understand how to build a strong team, I can't build a business. It's really easy to be a CEO who doesn’t delegate, but the reality is you can’t build a long-lasting business alone.

Today I read a lot of books and ask people for their advice. I surround myself with people who've done it before and get their perspective. If I'm not good at something I try and find all the experts who are good at it and learn how they did it, and what will work for me.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The thing that's made me proudest has been working with Art Against Knives to help bring women from disadvantaged backgrounds together to run a nail bar. The charity has trained over 500 young women with my books and my nail products.

People shouldn't think of charity as a tag-on to their business activities, they should think about how their business could do good for everybody. It’s good business sense.

What Art Against Knives are doing means everybody wins: the girls get training, they’re working towards economic empowerment, from a community point of view they're not in crime and I have a future pipeline of supply for the Beautystack app.

Where does Future Girl Corp fit in?

If I'm learning, I always feel compelled to share it. With Future Girl Corp, I was inspired by the Harvard i-lab and wanted to build something like that for me and my friends.

The whole point is to essentially help women 10x their businesses: if you have a passion for flowers, rather than just have one flower shop on the corner, could you run a flower marketplace?

There’s a need for places like us that are non-BS. I won't ever get someone on a panel and say, ‘Tell me your inspirational story’. You can Google that.

I will say, ‘You’re a food business and you had a partnership with Waitrose, how did you do that?’ It’s about providing step-by-step actionable advice on how people actually achieve things.

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

I’ve learned that I am incredibly resilient. If something’s hard, I’ll wake up the next day, and think today is a new day. If there are bumps in the road , it doesn't stop me, I'm just like, 'Oh well, I’ll figure this out.'

I don't know where it comes from, I don't even know if you can train it. Sometimes on the rare occasion I feel things are never going to get better, I almost feel it's a chemical imbalance, like it’s not natural to me

I’ve just got this strong instinct to survive. No matter what, I'm always going to figure out how to survive.

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

People assume that to be in technology, you have to have a tech background when actually that’s the biggest problem. Technology is for everybody, we're all consuming it, so why shouldn't we all be building it?

More people who study humanities, who study philosophy, and art and design should be involved in tech because it has the same type of feedback loop and criticism process.

We need different voices, especially female voices.

So be curious. I went to every single workshop that was related to what I was interested in.
If you want to work in tech and you're interested in it, you should find faults in things that satisfy your interests.

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

There are so many different barriers to success, not just for women.

If you're introverted, you're less likely to like climb to the top of the ladder than someone who's brash and wants to be powerful, but introverts are just as important to your business environment as anyone else.

We have to think about creating work environments that welcome people who don't fit the stereotype mould of an ambitious, young man.

At Beautystack we do lots of personality testing to make sure that no one personality type is dominant, otherwise you become an echo chamber. But unless you're going to start your own business, it’s up to leadership teams to make this change. All parties have to come together to acknowledge the old way hasn't been working and create a new future.

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

I would like to see companies having better transparency on how you can progress in your career.

At Beautystack we do continuous feedback loops, not just an annual performance review or a six-month performance review. We talk a lot, but we also listen. When we do our Org Chart, we also write under someone’s role their future scope.

You have to make sure you’re building a good working environment for all types of people and what they need, whether that’s better parental leave, flexible working or anything else.

There is currently on 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

Make government subsidised childcare available full-time from age one.

Right now, you get a couple of days a week from age three. That means that until children go to school age five, the caregiving of the child is always an issue that sadly often falls  on the woman to take care of.

How can women possibly go and work in a startup environment, which is typically long hours with a frantic pace, knowing that? Instead, they’re forced to have this five-year gap where they get out of the loop.

I’m a parent who’s coparented 50-50 since my son was one. But even then I never really stopped having anxiety about childcare until our son started full-time school. That means for five years, my head wasn't able to fully focus because I was always thinking about childcare.

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

You should look at Future Girl Corp obviously. I would also recommend that anyone building a business in tech read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Even if you're not in tech, it will help you understand how to iterate, how to build things with speed and how to test.

I actually have a whole list of book recommendations on my website so you can see everything there!


Computer-Programmer

You don't ask, you don't get | Why coding isn't just 'business for boys'

By Melissa McKendry, Vice President, Implementation Services for Retail Banking and Fraud,  ACI Worldwide

I have been working in IT for over 20 years and to be honest, until a few years ago, the issue of gender has never been at the forefront of my mind.

Dealing with complex IT issues for our banking and merchant clients has always been ‘business for the boys’ and I am used to being one of a small handful of women in male-dominated teams. I have hardly encountered any biases in what was and in many ways still is a male dominated industry but I think playing football helped with integrating in with a largely male population!

However, in recent years I have become more aware of the lack of women in our industry, especially since becoming site leader of our European head office in Watford. The payments and fintech industry is growing globally and offers fantastic career opportunities for young men and women. In years to come the industry will need many more skilled software engineers, computer programmers and data scientists.

However, historically, society has put more emphasis on boys when it comes to math and science subjects. Figures show that in 2017 less than 30 percent of computer scientists were women and that the percentage is on the decline. There is a societal mindset that needs to be changed for a significant impact to take place. Along with educating young girls about professions in STEM, our society and the parents of young girls need to be educated on the importance of including women in such professions.

That’s why a few years ago, ACI launched its Coding for Girls Initiative. The free, one-day camps offer crash courses in computer programming, including HTML, CSS and Java and are designed to introduce girls from year 7 to 9 to the world of technology and careers in high-tech professions. We have run such camps at various of our US sites, and this year we launched the initiative in the UK.

Unconscious Bias is often the point where challenges start

That said, there are fundamental differences between men and women and the way we operate in the workplace. I have found that when applying for a job, men are more inclined to raise the topic of compensation than women.  Men tend to promote themselves more broadly across job skills while women are often more critical of their skills and abilities.

Unconscious bias is often the point where challenges start, but as society changes and is becoming more aware of such biases, as we debate these issues more honestly and openly, these bias barriers will shift and hopefully cease to exist.

Lessons learnt

Some of the main lessons I have learnt during my career and the advice I would like to give others, just starting out include:

  • You don’t ask you don’t get.
  • You can learn a lot of working with men and women, we are very all different individuals so take the time to observe, learn and progress.
  • Keep in contact with colleagues and other people you meet along the way, networking is one of your biggest assets as a human.
  • Treat people as you like to be treated.
  • Be honest with yourself in what you want out of your role and career.
  • Tell people what you are aiming for and this will bring the opportunities.  The only role I have applied for within ACI is the role I took when first started at ACI in 1997, since then opportunities have been presented to me by making my aspirations known or asking for an opportunity.
  • Ensure you have solid work/life balance, it is tough but critical to your happiness

Diversity is crucial in today’s economy

Promoting equal opportunity, diversity and inclusiveness have been on top of my agenda, especially since becoming site leader at our Watford office. At ACI, women sit on our Board of Directors and Executive Leadership Team and hold senior roles across the organization, whether as software engineers, sales executives or product developers. We actively promote dialogue about issues such as gender diversity and inclusion, and we provide mentorship and sponsorship to help women with their career progression. I truly believe that diversity and inclusiveness are not just buzzwords but are crucial to the success of our company.

About the author

Melissa Mckendry is vice president of retail banking implementation services at ACI, having held numerous different roles within the organisation over the past 20 years. One of Melissa’s most notable contributions to ACI, beyond leading implementation services, is being an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness. Melissa has been vocal in addressing these issues and was instrumental in bringing ACI’s Coding for Girls Camp to the UK.


Sophia-Cooper-featured

#lifegoals | Meet Sophia Chambers, a software engineer & young mum proving you can have it all

 

Sophia Cooper

Sophia Chambers, 28, is a Software Engineer at Sky Betting and Gaming.

At 24, Chambers started her degree in Software Engineeirng BENG at Sheffield Hallam University.

Here she describes how she juggles motherhood with work, how she began her career in technology and what keeps her motivated.

Tell me about your young family, how was the change becoming a mum?

What isn’t challenging about becoming a mum? Lol! I have three children in total – five, nine and ten years old.

What challenges did you face practically?

The lack of sleep was probably the hardest thing to deal with! With that, the time management – making sure everyone’s where they need to be with everything they need. Whether that’s making sure each child has their PE kit on their PE day, homework or even extra curriculum activities. Between three, this can become quite a challenge, I believe I’ve truly ‘mastered’ the art of multi-tasking, ha ha, well at least I like to think so!

What challenges did you face emotionally?

Sometimes, I think working parents all get the “guilt” feeling. Putting your children into after school, breakfast or even holiday clubs – sometimes can be quite difficult. I think most parents experience the ongoing circle – you want to work to provide your children with great experiences, but you also want to stay at home and spend more time with them – it’s an ongoing circle of events – the realistic key to this is balancing the two worlds – between work and family.

What challenges did you face inspirationally?

You have to learn to balance the work – family lifestyle. Sometimes, this really can be such a challenge. Ambition to do well in your career, can sometimes make you push back on family time and vice versa. I’ve always had high ambition and a want to progress well in my career, to achieve highly, but sometimes you need to be realistic.

How did you come to decide tech was for you?

From the age of 12, I began teaching myself how to code simple websites using HTML and CSS – even at this stage, it became addictive! I had a keen interest in graphic design and created a small site that provided things like wallpapers, profile layouts etc for users to download. I then went more into the programming world, experimenting with PHP and Javascript – producing small websites for local business’ and family members.

How do you make time to study and balance the needs of the young ‘uns?

My interest in tech, developed into a degree and a career. I’m very fortunate to work for a company that allows me to work from home. I don’t actually know how I would function without the flexible work opportunity that Sky Bet provides. As a Software Engineer and a mum, if one of my children is sick or if there’s a school play etc, I don’t need to worry about not being present or being there – because I can. I can work my hours from home and be there for my children when they need me, it really is invaluable.

What did other people say? Were they supportive?  

It was very “50/50” – some were supportive, some not. I found it most difficult within my first year at university, there was around 4 girls in total, the rest male. Which made it slightly harder to enjoy the degree at first, on top of which, it was even more difficult being a parent. I couldn’t really socialise like others within my year and I wasn’t highly interested in games etc, which made bonding difficult. Thankfully, I had a few people including my Dad, Husband and Grandma that were super supportive throughout which pushed me into continuing with a subject that I loved.

Did you ever have self-doubts?

All the time. Literally, ALL THE TIME. It’s a case of “you are your worst enemy”.  I think one of my worst traits is the lack of confidence.

What kept you motivated?

I genuinely LOVE to achieve – in fact it’s probably an addiction! I enjoy hard work and I enjoy the sense of achieving a goal – completing an ambition. I suppose, I’m a bit of a “weirdo” – I have to be doing something all the time – even on holiday. But through it all the main motivation is the ability to provide my family with opportunities and a good life. On a selfish level, it’s to turn back the years in 40 years’ time (hopefully lol) and be proud of the career I achieved, with the steps it took to get there. Ultimately however, I am very fortunate as I genuinely LOVE the job that I do, being a Software Engineer within a company with such great culture and co-workers barely makes it feel like work at all!

What drove you to take the first step into tech?

Pure interest. Genuinely pure interest. I began curious with how websites and the internet worked (I know, sad right?), which was quite difficult growing up as my interests never seemed to align with those my friends had and I began to feel as though I was different.

Now though I love that I am able to support and inspire those who felt the same as me and support them with their journeys into tech related careers.

Were you ever worried it wasn’t the right decision?

Risking my previous career in Dental, to go back to university to finally start my Software engineering career always had its risks. “Was I going to be good enough?”, “What if I fail? “, “What if I don’t gain employment through the degree?” – I think all these thoughts are pretty standard.

What would you say to other women about managing their life choices?

You have to be in a career that makes you happy, if you’re in a career that you enjoy it makes life so much easier to balance. It doesn’t matter what the sector or job role is, as long as you’re happy you will always achieve – if you’re in a career that you enjoy, you’ll never have to work again. The opinions of our social peers does not matter so much when we get older, so take that risk, go back and do what you enjoy! YOLO!


Inspirational Woman: Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE | Founder, Stemettes

Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE was a child prodigy and one of the youngest students to achieve a Maths and Computer Science Masters from Oxford University (aged 20).

Today she’s better known as the CEO and cofounder of Stemettes, an organization which has helped 40,000 girls realize their STEM potential since its launch in 2013.

As ‘Head Stemette’ Imafidon pioneered the groundbreaking Outbox Incubator (the world's first business accelerator for teenage girls). She’s also behind the Stemillions app (used by 3,000 girls) and a new social media platform called the Stemettes Society (currently in beta).

Imafidon previously launched a web design consultancy for SMEs and worked at Deutsche Bank advising on technology.

The STEM advocate runs the Women Tech Charge podcast with the Evening Standard, advises the Government on closing the digital skills gap and is an avid campaigner for better representation of women and girls in technology in the media.

In 2017 she received an MBE for services to young women and STEM sectors.

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

I grew up in East London, where I was the eldest of five. I was a child prodigy and always really loved maths and technology.

After studying at Oxford, I went to work in The City and was invited to speak at the largest women in tech conference in the world, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

There were thousands of women there, and I reliased my experience of maths and technology hadn’t just been strange because I’d had it so early, it was strange because I’d been a girl. I set about trying to change that with Stemettes.

Our latest project, the Stemettes Society, is a closed social network for girls, young women and non-binary people under the age of 25 who are interested in STEM.

We want to help them become role models and changemakers who can support eachother.
That could be with advice on making decisions about their GCSE or A-levels, or just having girls at University saying, ‘Hey, ask me anything’.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For me, it goes in cycles. I’m constantly changing where I think I'm going to end up. I think it has to be like that because technology is constantly changing.

At first I wanted to be a management consultant, then I wanted to work in a bank. Now I honestly don’t know (I've got aspirations around broadcasting).

I’m constantly trying to evaluate what I’m best placed to do and what fits my idea of success, which has always been to wake up in the morning and do what I want.

I’d advise having a ‘Plan A’, so you know what direction you're heading, but also to be open to new information so you can update it and build a new ‘Plan B’.

Anne-Marie ImafidonHave you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

My biggest challenge remains the same: having to work with people.

Anything that involves human beings has always been a challenge for me—I’m used to maths algorithms that just work, even when they are difficult.

I'm constantly learning how to manage, how to hire, how to deal with partners. At Stemettes we’re now adding a charity side, so figuring out how to work with donors will be another massively different kind of relationship.

People are messy. You have to understand that you can’t see everything, what’s happening internally. You have to learn how to be okay with uncertainty. But you can always learn from talking to people.

I’ve learned to never assume who a person is or how they will be. You have to expect the unexpected without any kind of prejudgement.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I usually say Outbox, our tech incubator for teenage girls, but really it has to be all the programs we run at Stemettes because of the impact they have in changing perceptions.

We’re giving girls an opportunity to grow up with a different social norm and giving them a shared experience of what a majority female industry looks like.

That will stay with them forever. It's a shared bond.

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

Ultimately, I'm a problem solver.

I can focus and see a problem as something clearly defined. That means that other people can support and help without too much work or convincing.

When I was a child prodigy I was solving maths problems rather than societal problems but it’s possible it’s the same thing, just more complex.

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

Always find your tribe. You don’t have to do it alone.

In the press and media, it’s always Mark Zuckerberg or some other figurehead they bang on about. You don’t see that they have a team, advisors and mentors behind them.

Alexander Bell didn’t invent the telephone on his own.

Your people could be alongside you or ahead of you, and you should work hard to help those behind you because it's an investment. It pays back multiple times over.

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Founder of STEMettesHow important is it to see female tech role models in the media?

It’s incredibly important. If you see someone like Yewande Biala (a smart biochemist who went to university early) on Love Island, that helps to normalise women in STEM.

It's crazy that scientists still just exist just on The Big Bang Theory or The IT Crowd as some kind of sectioned-off programme, never just eating or cooking or kissing someone.

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

Yes there are barriers, but if something is worth doing, you will always face barriers.

There's a sense of purpose for any woman in the industry at the moment, whether you like it or not. Technology is going in a certain direction—and like colonies of ants or bees—we all have a part to play in pulling it back to where it needs to.

That means taking on counterproductive work policies, and the people hiding biases within your workplace who will get in your way.

We have to face those things and change them with our own power and influence through communication and collaboration. It's a hard fight, but it's the good fight. And if you hit a wall, you need to make a door.

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

Be willing to listen. There’s a distinct lack of listening right now.

If a company genuinely wants to change, there will be people facing bias in that organization who are crying out for change. Those people are leaving exit interviews, they are raising issues with affinity networks, they are speaking out loud.

Organisations have to make sure they are listening otherwise they can’t know what action to take.

There is currently on 15% of women working in tech if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

Compulsory shared parental leave.

If someone is part of the making of a baby and they have to stay away from work, there's a lot of intangible things they will learn. When they come back to the organization, they're a fresh set of eyes and are able to see the holes they couldn’t before.

If you don’t have an understanding of what it’s like to be at home, you end up making backwards policies that say certain things must happen in the office at certain times. So if you don’t understand about external responsibilities you can’t bring about long-lasting change.

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

The second season of my podcast Women Tech Charge is actually coming up in October, so you should tune in to that.

In terms of books, I’d recommend Inferior by Angela Saini  (it's all about how science has got women wrong). And there’s my kid's book called How to be a Math Whiz which is due out later in the year.

In September I’ll be at the Women in Tech Festival in London and at the me Convention (from Mercedes-Benz and SXSW) in Frankfurt, Germany. I’ll obviously also be at the We Are Tech City conference so I’ll see you there!

You can hear from Anne-Marie at our WeAreTechWomen conference on 22nd November - Book your place here


Charlotte Knill

Why study digital forensics?

 

Charlotte Knill, aged 23, is an Information Security Consultant and Forensic Analyst for Security Risk Management Ltd in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Here she shares why she decided to study digital forensics.

Firstly, it might be easier if I explained why I chose it.

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It wasn’t until around the age of 18/19 I decided I wanted to take myself down the digital forensics path. I came across this field because I started seeing it become more common in the news that criminals were being caught out by digital evidence. I found it really interesting that when the police were attending crime scenes, they weren’t only seizing physical evidence they could see (weapons or DNA), they were also seizing devices where they would be examined for evidence.

The difference between physical evidence and digital evidence is that you can see one but not the other. You can’t tell just by looking at a mobile phone what evidence is on it – I am a naturally nosey and curious person, so this field of study was definitely for me! I was more interested in the evidence “you can’t see” and wanted to be able to use my curiosity to find answers. I wanted to search through phones for texts, computers for documents, emails, internet history etc. Basically, just be nosey!

I was able to put my passion for being nosey and curious into practice during my placement year in a real digital forensic environment. Working on real criminal cases affecting real victims – there was no better feeling than my curiosity helping to solve crimes and remove criminals from the streets.

So, that was why I chose it……..But digital forensics doesn’t stop there.

You also have data breaches that affect companies worldwide every single day. Part of my job now is to find out how company websites were breached, identify malicious code that hackers have placed onto their websites and see if any card details have been stolen. That could happen to me, you, your friends and family at any point – being part of what prevents these breaches from occurring/helping companies become safer in the large cyber world we all live in is a rewarding feeling.

Identifying things like malicious code or retrieving deleted texts, images or documents etc. are done so through the use of specialist software. There are many different types of software out there but the ones you will hear about the most will be:

1. EnCase
2. Forensic Tool Kit (FTK)
3. Internet Evidence Finder (IEF)
4. Cellebrite (Mobile Phones)

Digital Forensics is a field where you learn new things every day. If you go into a Digital Forensics job, don’t feel like you have to know EVERYTHING because you don’t….you can’t – it’s impossible to know everything because of the new devices, software and technology being created all the time. The cyber security industry as a whole operates on the basis of people sharing thoughts and ideas – it couldn’t operate without this.

So, if you like the idea of:

• Someone telling you “it’s deleted and you won’t get it back” and proving them wrong by retrieving deleted things using special software
• Removing criminals from the streets
• Stopping a crime before it has happened and saving potential victims from harm
• Preventing companies becoming victims of serious data breaches that could affect you or everyone around you at any time
• Helping companies stay safe from breaches
• Learning new things every day
• Sharing thoughts and ideas to help those around you stay as many steps ahead of cyber criminals as possible

You really should consider digital forensics!

TIP:

Autopsy is a great tool to download and experiment with (free and legal!) – http://www.sleuthkit.org/autopsy/ – memory sticks are ideal for experimenting with. Try placing word documents on at first and then deleting some (but remember to note down what is on the memory stick and what has been deleted, this is also great practice for taking notes as digital forensic investigators need to take down lots of notes during an investigation).

Another tip: Don’t throw away any old laptops – you could practice taking out the hard drive and plugging that into Autopsy.

If you get stuck, I would recommend using YouTube because you can follow videos in your own time and actually see what is happening. I used YouTube a lot to help me learn how to remove hard drives from many different laptops.

About Charlotte Knill

At the beginning of July this year, I graduated from the University of Sunderland with a first class honours degree in Computer Forensics with Sandwich Year. My sandwich year/placement year was spent with Northumbria Police in their Hit-tech Crime Unit. Before I graduated, I was offered a job with Security Risk Management Ltd as an Information Security Support Consultant and Forensic Analyst where I help to identify how company websites have been hacked and personal details have been stolen. Initially, this was part-time while I finished off my University studies and then moved into a full-time role once my studies were completed.

I have recently set up a blog to help encourage women into cyber security by sharing my journey into the industry and my fun stories from within it.

Social Media Links:

LinkedIn

Twitter


Narmada Guruswamy featured

TechWomen100: What happened next for Narmada Guruswamy

Narmada GuruswamyIn this ongoing series, we speak to our winners about life after winning a TechWomen100 Award.

Now in their third year, the TechWomen100 Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of women in tech – the emerging tech talent and role models for the future.

We spoke with Narmada Guruswamy, who won a TechWomen100 Award in 2018.

My career in tech started in India many moons ago and has spanned geographies as well as sectors. This has given me the opportunity to observe and experience the role women have in the world of technology. As a woman returner, for instance, I experienced first-hand the huge challenges faced by anyone trying to re-enter the workforce after a long break. This journey has highlighted several issues that I believe need to be addressed in the tech sector to help women deliver their best to society.

In my current position as a senior leader in a big-4 consultancy, I work to shed light on technology skills and diversity issues by working with both EY Women in Technology and the Diversity and Inclusion team.  I particularly enjoy helping and mentoring early entrants to the company, some of whom come from non-technology backgrounds but are deeply interested in the area. I am also a board member on the techUK Skills and Diversity council and work with peer groups to further this agenda.

Diversity in technology is not just desirable – it is a necessity. As illustrated by health apps that were released without a period tracker, not having a seat at the table means not being part of the solution.  That is simply not an option for fully half of the human race. Women need to be involved technology to shape the story.

How did you feel when it was announced that you’d won a TechWomen100 award?

I felt a rush of joy that my work was being noticed. I was grateful that so many of my friends and colleagues had voted for me. I felt humbled that so many before me had paved the way.

Please tell us what has happened in your career since winning the TechWomen100 award?

Since the award was announced, I have been featured prominently on the intranet, in the daily news, at gatherings and even at the annual seminar within EY. Winning this award gave me a confidence boost, so I stepped up to head the BAME workstream within the techUK Skills and Diversity council. My social media engagement has increased: I post often on Twitter and LinkedIn with a particular emphasis on positive female stories. About a month ago, I also started mentoring a female entrepreneur in Nigeria through the Cherie Blair Foundation.

The increased visibility as an awardee has meant that women who are interested in technology can reach out to me.  Whether it is recognising a young employee’s interest in coding and giving her a chance to try it out in my project or advising someone in the food industry on the best way to work their way back to a career in tech, I have found it hugely rewarding helping others. Baby steps, each one, but so crucial if we are to get more women into technology roles.

What advice would you give to someone else going through the award’s process?

Embrace the opportunity. Reach out to your colleagues, friends and family for their support. Enjoy the support and camaraderie of your fellow awardees.

What tips would you give to our other members to enhance their careers?

Shush that voice that says you are not ready. Don’t let anyone else define who you are. Seize the day.


The 2019 TechWomen100 Awards are open for nominations on 1st August 2019.

Find out more here.


Tanja-Lichtensteiger-featured

Inspirational Woman: Tanja Lichtensteiger | Engineering Manager, Sky Betting & Gaming

 

Tanja Lichtensteiger

I'm Tanja Lichtensteiger and I'm an Engineering Manager at Sky Betting and Gaming based at its offices in Wellington Place, Leeds.

I manage six software engineering Squads and we are all responsible for making our Sky Bet product the best in the industry. I have been working professionally in technology for 18 years since starting as an apprentice software engineer at 16 years old.  I discovered my enjoyment for software engineering when I started coding at eight years old and haven't stopped since.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, which would surprise many friends as they have me down as a planner. I stumbled into tech after learning how to code at eight years old and that led me to where I am now. I knew Technology was an industry I wanted to get into as I grew older but I struggled to find the right path. A lot of doors closed on me, including University, so I can't say things ever went to plan. I feel lucky that I was able to land a very good apprenticeship in Switzerland which set the foundation of my career. Since then I've just focused on working hard, learning as much as I can and consistently building great tech products. I never sought the next step, somehow the right opportunities just naturally came my way and I grabbed them.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

 As a mixed-race woman in Tech I can say from my experience that sexism and racism existed in technology when I started 18 years ago and are present even now. Phrases as "Women aren’t as technical as men",  "Women don't belong in tech" or "why are you here? Aren't you the cleaner?" bring up memories of past challenges. Thankfully the environment has much improved with a lot more support and people willing to stand up to do what's right. More of us willing to use our voice.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

After a long career it's pretty hard to decide on one. Personally I feel it's the individual achievements I gained through working with technologists more than technical achievements that mean more to me now. Whether if it's helping coach a budding software engineer into an extremely capable technical lead over the span of a few years or helping a squad upskill on new technology that they're excited about. Don't get me wrong, I love building and successfully delivering amazing technical solutions, but the tech we build will eventually go out of date. Those individual moments of growth are with these people for the rest of their lives.

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

Resilience. I'm passionate about technology, but I believe that passion would've died a certain death if I listened to the feedback that I "did not belong here" or took every stumble as the end. That bouncebackability needs to be practiced and nurtured, embrace the struggle and come out stronger for it. Because if you can stand up after every fall, you can achieve anything.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I believe mentoring is a very valuable opportunity for both mentor and mentee to grow. I mentee a couple of women in technology and I find the process not only benefits them, but msyelf as well. It gives me a lot of food for thought. Either different perspectives on tackling a problem or new challenges I would not have come across. It's satisfying to see my mentees successfully take the steps forward that they want in their career. By being a mentor I am paying forward what others have done for me. I have a couple of informal mentors both in Tech and outside, who I came across naturally and now consider good friends. I believe in having a growth mindset and allow myself to constantly learn from people around me.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Employers need to realise that hiring those only from traditional paths (University degrees) isn't wise as it excludes amazing talent who come with transferrable skills from other walks of life.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Some people will find fault in you no matter what, do it anyway!

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

I'm looking forward to watching my squads grow not just as excellent technologists but as great human beings while we, together, go solve some extremely complex technical challenges that face Sky Betting and Gaming. It's exciting and something I can't wait to get my teeth into. I know that after it, myself and my squads would have gained so much in knowledge and levelled up significantly.