Suzie-Miller-Amazon-featured

Inspirational Woman: Suzie Miller | Solutions Architect, Amazon Web Services

 

Suzie Miller Amazon

Suzie Miller is a Solutions Architect for Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Chair of the company’s People With Disabilities employee affinity group in the UK.

People With Disabilities supports Amazon employees with disabilities, allies and carers – by raising awareness, supporting career development, participating in community outreach and improving accessibility both for Amazonians and their customers.

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

In my day-to-day role, I’m a Solutions Architect for Amazon Web Services (AWS) – a varied role that involves helping companies with their web service journey and cloud adoption. We help companies to design the right web architecture for their business, so they can focus on building incredible products.

I am also proud to be Chair of People With Disabilities (PWD) for Amazon in the UK, an employee-run affinity group that is focused on helping both employees and customers with awareness, accessibility and career aspirations.

Did you ever plan out your career in advance?

I’ll confess: the first time I used the internet was at a university open day in London, when I used AltaVista to search for Eddie Izzard! I could pretend that the heavens shone a light down in that moment to show a bright future ahead of me – but that isn’t completely true.

Due to a mix of different health problems, I couldn’t always study properly and that meant I failed my maths A Level and parts of my degree. I wanted to do Robotics at university, but I ended up studying Software Engineering because I had enjoyed programming in my GCSE and A Levels.

The dotcom bubble then conspired to burst just as I graduated, which made it much harder to find entry-level jobs, but I managed to get a job running Windows desktop support. At the time, I was hopeful that the tech industry would recover – and so it did!

So there was no planning, but a lot of determination and opportunism. Living with disabilities, I had to jump from contract to contract looking for flexibility that would accommodate my mobility and health. Throughout that early period of my career, I didn’t feel confident enough to request flexibility and I was living with conditions that weren’t even diagnosed, so it was near-impossible to justify a request for extra support.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

All things considered, it’s been a pretty bumpy journey. A mix of different health problems, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, meant I couldn’t study or attend lectures. This meant I graduated after the rest of my year – but I got there in the end.

There have also been problems with some managers in previous companies I worked at relating to inclusion: not only with my chronic fatigue and autism, among other things, but also as a member of the LGBT+ community.

I am also very conscious of the fact I may not be able to work in the future. I have a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) which impacts my joints and causes a lot of pain, dislocations and other symptoms, which can make working difficult in lots of ways.

At AWS specifically, I have found my feet thanks to the ‘Day 1’ culture, and the way anyone can submit a narrative to drive changes within the company. I’ve also found so many people dedicated to driving accessibility and inclusive design who have taught me so much, but that has also made me more confident that my peculiar strengths would be appreciated. That’s why I felt comfortable enough to self-declare to HR and my manager, and it led me to establish AmazonPWD in the UK in order to help others.

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

A few years back, when struggling physically with 80-hour working weeks mostly from home in a previous company, I worked with a brilliant coach who helped me to take a step back. With her support, I realised that I wasn’t struggling with the nature of the work, rather it was the culture and industry that wasn’t working for me. We put together a plan to stop doing roles with on-call and out-of-hours demands, which set me on a path to be a Solutions Architect working across a range of different industries.

Although I have never worked with a mentor formally, I had some brilliant managers who took the time to understand my peculiarities and who recognised my strengths – even when I was struggling to see my own strengths!

Outside of work, I volunteer as an Independent Visitor through a government programme that matches adult volunteers with young people in care. As volunteers, we’re there to build long-term friendships and we’re truly ‘independent’, operating outside of the care system and giving that young person much-needed continuity.

When it comes to diversity, what do you want to see happen within the next five years to move things forward?

It’s now well-established that diversity is not only important for companies, it’s also good for their bottom line because diversity of thought drives innovation and creativity.

Personally I would highlight the importance of ‘inclusion’ as a concept. When businesses invest significantly to recruit a technical specialist, it’s illogical to manage that talent as it if it were a resource on a spreadsheet without a unique personality and a unique set of needs. Giving people space to be themselves will always maximise their talent. ‘Inclusion’ means more than meeting diversity targets – it’s about getting the most out of your talent. And it doesn’t just apply to disabled people, women or members of LGBT+ and BAME communities, in fact it’s vital for those groups that we avoid accusations of ‘special treatment’ by working towards inclusion for all.

In reality, everybody will need support in their life: either through a disability or long-term sickness, or by acting as a parent or carer, or by going through a bereavement or divorce. You never know what’s around the corner, so having a safety net at work is vital.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Unfortunately, many NDAs over the years mean I can’t be too specific! But I will say that through various projects I have saved millions of pounds of wasted expenditure and helped to stop major outages that my colleagues had not spotted.

Living with dyslexia and autism, I often see things that other people miss, or I think of solutions that are a bit unconventional. It’s been a pleasure to apply that unconventional thinking within my profession.

I have also been privileged to work with some amazing people who have supported Amazon’s PWD group, which has led to so many great opportunities that we’re now putting into action.

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

I’m super excited to see how Amazon Web Services grows through the exciting and creative way that customers put our ‘building blocks’ into action.

In general, I’m excited to see how the tech industry builds on the huge developments of the last 20 years – particularly through the focus on collaborative working practices, which can only be a good thing for the industry.

I also want to be a disability advocate, both within Amazon and for our customers, by championing the importance of inclusive design and accessibility. And I want to go beyond accessibility of products and services to make working practices fully inclusive and considerate of disabled users.

What are the biggest challenges within improving disability rights at work and how can we tackle them?

According to Scope, 19 per cent of working-age adults are disabled and over 3.4 million disabled people are in employment. So if organisations are not creating an inclusive and accessible workplace, they are missing out on unique expertise and diverse perspectives that will enable them to better serve the millions of disabled customers out there.

Accessibility is not just about access ramps and dropped kerbs, it’s about aspiring to design products and processes in the most inclusive way possible.

Organisations also need easy and transparent mechanisms to request special accommodations and support, including flexi-time, desk adjustments and extra software. These need to be streamlined and available from the first point of contact.

Although as a society we’re making great strides forward, I also know that those living with disabilities do not always feel comfortable declaring their conditions – in fact they may not even be diagnosed, or they may not consider themselves disabled. The fear of unconscious bias and stigma is very real, so clearly signposting support in areas like mental health is vital.

Where can organisations find further support in this area?

Charities such as Scope or Mind’s ‘Time to Change’ programme can be invaluable in supporting disabled colleagues while raising awareness and providing recommendations. The government’s Access to Work scheme is also a good port of call and helps businesses to cover the costs around accommodations.

Across a large organisation, taking part in national events such as Worlds Aids Day on the December 1st or the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd can be really beneficial. I also love PurpleSpace and their #PurpleLightUp campaign.

Exposing senior leadership and junior colleagues to conversations around the challenges faced by disabled people is another great way to reduce discrimination and unconscious bias.

Anyone can become disabled at any time, so businesses shouldn’t risk losing valued members of staff because of perceived negative stereotypes or a lack of inclusivity frameworks. This kind of support is not only the right thing to do, it also boosts productivity and spreads a positive message to the next generation of professionals that being in the minority should not put a limit on your career aspirations.


Deborah O'Neill featured

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

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

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

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

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

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

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


sheryl sandberg

Inspirational quotes: Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook

sheryl sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and best-selling author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1969, Sandberg went to Harvard for her bachelor's degree in economics and worked at the World Bank after graduating summa cum laude. She attended Harvard Business School and went to work in the U.S. Department of the Treasury during the Clinton administration. When the Republicans swept the Democrats out of office in November 2000, Sandberg moved to Silicon Valley and worked for Google. After seven years she then moved to Facebook, where she has been COO since 2008. Sandberg is the author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which has sold more than a million copies.

Below you will find the best inspirational quotes from Sandberg's book.


“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”


“There is no perfect fit when you're looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”


“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”


“Fortune does favour the bold and you'll never know what you're capable of if you don't try.”


“If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on.”


“Women need to shift from thinking ‘I'm not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that- and I'll learn by doing it.’


“But the upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance.”


“Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”


“I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, ‘Yes, I have it all.' Because no matter what any of us has - and how grateful we are for what we have - no one has it all.”


“When woman work outside the home and share breadwinning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.”


“I realised that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others.”


“Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.”


“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”


“We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet”


“Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception. It is easy to dislike senior women because there are so few.”


“The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don't expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don't.”


“The reason I don't have a plan is because if I have a plan I'm limited to today's options”


“The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results. Any coalition of support must also include men, many of whom care about gender inequality as much as women do.”


“Our culture needs to find a robust image of female success that is first, not male, and second, not a white woman on the phone, holding a crying baby,”


“If a woman pushes to get the job done, if she's highly competent, if she focuses on results rather than on pleasing others, she's acting like a man. And if she acts like a man, people dislike her.”


“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”


“But instead of blaming women for not negotiating more, we need to recognise that women often have good cause to be reluctant to advocate for their own interests because doing so can easily backfire.”


“Feeling confident - or pretending that you feel confident - is necessary to reach for opportunities. It's a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they're seized.”


“Long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately—to set limits and stick to them.”


“Hard work and results should be recognised by others, but when they aren't, advocating for oneself becomes necessary. As discussed earlier, this must be done with great care. But it must be done.”


“Anyone who brings up gender in the workplace is wading into deep and muddy waters. The subject itself presents a paradox, forcing us to acknowledge differences while trying to achieve the goal of being treated the same.”


“Another one of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters, “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.”


“For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst.”


“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”


“In order to protest ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can.”


“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”


“Looking back, it made no sense for my college friends and me to distance ourselves from the hard-won achievements of earlier feminists. We should have cheered their efforts. Instead, we lowered our voices, thinking the battle was over, and with this reticence we hurt ourselves.”

 


Career in STEM

Apprenticeships: Championing alternative routes into STEM careers

 

It is widely known that the tech industry is made up of only 17 per cent women and that less girls study subjects in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM).

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

So with fewer females in the pipeline what are companies doing to attract students to join their firms and why would an A-Level student choose an apprenticeship in STEM rather than attend university?

We asked a selection of experts from technology and engineering to share their experiences of recruiting young people.

Jenny Taylor, ‎UK Graduate, Apprenticeship and Student Programme Manager at IBM, said: “We should of course not deter students from entering university, but we need to educate them about all the options available for their career path.”

Taylor said there is no denying that there is a lack of uptake across STEM subjects as well as a huge gender imbalance within industries requiring these skills.

“For many years now, only a small percentage of females have been attracted to working in the technology industry, and as leader of IBM’s graduate, student and apprenticeship programmes, I am passionate about addressing the situation. The business case for diversity in the workplace is very clear and at IBM we focus particularly on engaging and inspiring younger girls through our Girls' Schools' Outreach programme,” she said.

Taylor explained that one of IBM’s current employees - Sadie Hawkins - was inspired to join the IBM apprenticeship programme after attending one of the company’s school outreach events: “She then went on to achieve the National Apprentice of the Year Award 2013, which we are extremely proud of. Sadie is now an integral member of the team within our Global Business Services Division.

“Apprenticeships are a great way to encourage uptake in STEM disciplines and it is clear there needs to be more championing of alternative routes into successful roles with a clear career progression.”

Elaine Rowlands, Head of HR at PCMS, a retail technology developer, is just as passionate about apprenticeship programmes.

She said: “I am passionate about apprenticeships being a credible alternative to university for women looking to break into the tech world - particularly in a fast-paced industry like retail technology, where new products are shaping the consumer experience every day.

“Apprentices have an immediate edge by going straight into on-the-job training, gaining the real-life work experience essential to thrive in a competitive sector.”

Bradbury Group Ltd a UK manufacturer of steel doors, security grilles and cages and currently employees three female apprentices; two work in its technical department and another is a member of its marketing team.

Paul Sweeting, Technical Director at Bradbury Group Ltd, said: “Recruiting technical staff can be a struggle, so we want anyone — male or female — to feel that they’re welcome to join our team if they have the necessary skills or drive to learn.”

Sweeting said it can be difficult to find women for its technical roles, due to the lack of women coming through the pipeline: “It’s more difficult to find female candidates for our technical department, likely due to the fact that engineering has long been considered a male-oriented field.

“Therefore, we make an effort to encourage more women to consider a career in engineering. For example, we supported National Women in Engineering Day 2016 through our social media channels and website. Plus, we published two blog posts written by our female technical apprentices about their experiences with our company.”

Bradbury Group Ltd has been working on its strategy to recruit and retain young talent in general: “When we began recruiting apprentices, North Lindsey College helped us access and review potential students. We ran an open day and 20 students applied for positions. Six were successful and joined the Bradbury Engineering Academy, which our female apprentices are a part of.

“We recognise that these young people have become valuable assets to the company and we want to give them a career. Therefore, they’ll all be offered full-time jobs with us after completing their training.”

A new centre has opened in Oxfordshire aimed at tackling the skills shortages faced by technology and engineering companies in the area.

The centre will train 125 young people annually and is a joint venture between the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Training provider JTL has been appointed to manage the centre.

The training aims to create ‘work ready’ trainees, apprentice engineers and lab technicians through training in the workplace. As a not-for-profit, all funds are set to be invested back into delivering training.

David Martin, UKAEA’s Chief Operating Officer and ex-apprentice himself, said: “With the support of high tech sector companies in the area, Oxford Advanced Skills will help resolve the critical skills shortages we are currently experiencing. This venture highlights how seriously we take the need for exceptional quality young people making it into the workforce in this area.

“JTL has huge experience in providing work-based learning across England and Wales, with over 6,000 apprentices currently working towards qualifications with them across the building services engineering sector.”

Jon Graham is JTL’s Chief Executive, said: “These are really exciting times for apprentices in the Oxford area. We have been working in Oxfordshire for many years but decided recently that in order to be able to provide the quality of training that young people deserved we needed to launch our own training facilities, which we have now achieved with our premises at Culham.

“Through the work we do there and what UKAEA have seen while on site, it became obvious that there was an opportunity to expand our remit and join with UKAEA to develop this new facility, targeting exceptional young people who are needed by high technology companies operating in Oxford and the Thames Valley.”

IT short courses instead of apprenticeships

David Baker, Director of Datrix Training, said in today’s market we are saturated with technology, and IT skills are more important than ever.

He noted that in the competitive job market skills such as word-processing, using databases, spreadsheets, using the Internet, social media & email and even designing rudimentary self-publication web pages are often asked of as standard.

“Currently the UK is facing an IT skills gap which is affecting businesses ability to grow, thankfully more of us are showing an interest in gaining further IT skills in order to bridge this gap,” Baker said.

“Gaining digital and IT skills is a great way to equip yourself with employability armour, currently two fifths of UK businesses are having trouble recruiting staff with suitable skills to drive their business. A technical IT course, from Microsoft Office to Java Fundamentals is right for any business as the need to succeed in the digital market becomes a key part of all company’s success. These skills will be learned through university or an apprenticeship but can also be accessed through short term flexible learning courses that suit millennial living.”

Baker said gaining technical skills through a short-term course is a great way to jumpstart your career and “give you that digital edge without the commitment to a three or four year course.

“These can often be more suitable than university courses as they don’t have as much ‘red tape’ and the syllabus can evolve quickly with the demands of the IT skills market, always ensuring the courses are up to date. The digital age isn’t slowing down and gaining IT skills that are highly relevant in today’s world is a great way to increase confidence, improve employability and drive career success in a market that’s crying out to hire skilled candidates.”

Lynne Downey, Head of Online Learning at University College of Estate Management, said increasing numbers of industries, such as engineering and chartered surveying, are now focusing on widening participation – both in gender, ethnicity and more.

“This current drive to accommodate employees outside the usual demographic empowers women to pick and choose the facets of both academic education and vocational training that best suit their needs – and find viable solutions for their career path. However, the decision between attending a university and taking an apprenticeship is not as clear-cut as it once was, with many alternative options now available.”

She added: “A traditional degree programme can be the right choice for someone interested in a field of study that focuses on sharing knowledge and carrying out research. Yet for those who want to ‘earn while they learn’, the option to study a degree programme online is becoming increasingly popular. While an apprenticeship may suit someone with an interest in a more vocational field, an apprenticeship programme that takes a blended learning approach – with the opportunity to gain a degree and become accredited in the field - may be the best option all round.”

“Both traditional universities and apprenticeships providers are widening their scopes each year, and opening up more and more varied options for following a career path. With this in mind, it’s essential that the individual chooses a route which best suits their skills and ambitions; whether it’s studying a traditional degree, joining an apprenticeship scheme – or a mix of both – the options are no longer just either attending an institution every day or combining classroom education with a job.”

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Michelle Dickinson featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) | Award-winning nano-scientist, co-founder, Nanogirl Labs & author

 

Michelle DickinsonDr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) is a passionate researcher and teacher with a love of science and engineering.

Author of No 8 Recharged and The Kitchen Science Cookbook, Michelle has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all.

Her background in Biomedical and Materials Engineering have combined her interests to give her a unique insight into how nature and technology can learn from each other for scientific developments.

Currently you can find her as founder and Director of the social enterprise Nanogirl Labs Ltd, she is also an honorary academic in Engineering at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Awarded Member of New Zealand Order of Merit Michelle was winner of the Women of Influence award for science and innovation in 2016, was awarded the Sir Peter Blake Leadership in 2015 and was winner of the Prime Ministers Science Media Communication Prize and the New Zealand Association of Scientists Science Communicators Award in 2014.

Michelle strongly believes that science should be open, transparent and a topic of conversation over the dinner table, not just the lab bench, and her vision is to create positive role models in the world that our children can aspire to be like.

With this belief she is passionate about creating new ways for the public to interact with science including her television appearances, live Theatre Science Shows, science comedy podcast “Stupid Questions For Scientists” and science communication videos.

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

I’m currently the co-founder of Nanogirl Labs, a social enterprise designed to empower young people to increase their confidence around science and engineering.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, from the moment I sat down with a careers advisor at school I’ve always had a plan – yet I don’t think I’ve ever followed that plan in my actual career.  Instead I’ve taken opportunities that have come up, many of which I didn’t even know existed when I was writing my plan.

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

Being a woman in engineering has often meant that I am the only female in the room, and career wise that has felt lonely and like I was always having to prove myself.  It’s taken me a long time to believe in my own abilities and my confidence has been thanks to great mentors who have helped me to believe in myself more.

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

Imposter syndrome – for some reason many women struggle with it and it prevents them from applying for promotions at work or bringing up issues when engaging in a team.  If we could teach women about what it was and how to work on some of the challenges that can hold them back I think we would see much more diversity in senior leadership.

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

I think we need to break down some of the stereotypes around what jobs in science and technology are like.  It’s not all hard-hats and greasy overalls but instead the field is full of oppurtunities where women get to be creators not just consumers of new technology.

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

I think mentoring and being mentored is so important.  I love mentoring others and helping young women to figure out what their strengths are while opening as many doors as I can for them using my networks.  Being mentored has helped me to focus on my own goals and use the lessons learned by others more established in their careers to gain a different perspective on things.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Quitting the stability of working as an academic for a university and setting up my own company.  Our STEM programs are taught in 5 different languages around the world and it’s amazing to see how building an organisation that provides positive female role models can break down some of the barriers that prevent young people from pursuing technical careers.

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

I’m launching my new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook, which presents science in a recipe book to try and show people that science is everywhere and can be done with ingredients commonly found in the kitchen.  I hope that by bringing science home to the kitchen it will help parents to learn together with their children as they go on a science journey of discovery and curiosity.


Dr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) – prize winning nanotechnologist, researcher and educator – has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all. Her new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook is packed full of fun ‘recipes’, each teaching an important scientific principle in a format that is perfect for parents and children to enjoy together.

Available on Amazon.  Find out more at https://uk.kitchensciencecookbook.com/


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’.


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!