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


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

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

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you encourage young girls into STEM careers?

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

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

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

How do you juggle your career and your personal life?

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

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

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

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

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