Bernie MaroliaMy introduction to a career in tech is likely different to most in that I entered the sector through a sales role. The early part of my career was spent selling mobile phones and related services for BT Cellnet (who soon became 02).

I then moved on to Vodafone where I held seven different management roles over 15 years, all based on selling into larger enterprise organisations, something that has served me well since. And from there, the leap to Head of Major Corporate at Vodafone was a natural one.

As of June this year, I’m Sector Director for Enterprise at SSE Enterprise Telecoms. As such, technology has very much been a part of my introduction to the company as I’ve been reliant on video conferencing and IM in order to communicate my ideas. My responsibility now is to implement a strategy to grow market share and oversee the launch of some great cloud-based services. I’m loving it so far!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The honest answer is ‘no’. What I would say though, is I’ve always had a strong idea of what I would and would not do in a job and that’s the advice I give to people starting out in their careers. Be clear in the types of things you want to do even if you’re yet to nail down the exact job title.

I’ve long been interested in tech as a consumer. In fact, very early on in my career I worked as an Ad Director at a Hi-Fi magazine. Technology and in particular telecoms is an industry that interests me, so when those opportunities have come up I’ve been quick to take them. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes another one opens, so you have to be aware of what’s out there and pursue what interests you.  Networking and sponsorship is a great way to build that understanding and gain that insight

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

I would say my biggest challenge early on in my career was having a sense of imposter syndrome, for want of a batter phrase. In those days, the telecoms sector was heavily male-dominated and everyone I crossed paths with seemed so self-assured. It took time and great mentoring from others to help me find that self-belief I needed to progress and show what I was always capable of. That’s why I make a point of helping people in a similar way when I can.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’d have to say that being appointed as one of the first female major channel heads at Vodafone was a significant milestone for me, personally. It was a first for the company and it felt great to be trusted as a strategic lead.

What’s more, I’d have to say becoming Sector Director for Enterprise at SSE Enterprise Telecoms is something I’m really proud of. To deliver projects during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown is a challenge but I’m delighted with the progress we’ve been able to make, even in this most difficult of times. I’ve had great access to the c-suite here, stakeholder engagement has been excellent and I’ve already built a solid network of people.

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

I am a strong advocate for coaching and mentoring; I think it can do wonders for people’s careers. My career really started to take off once I had the encouragement and advice of mentors. The benefit of that lived experience and a reliable sounding board was invaluable. And mentors can come from inside or outside the business.

In my previous role, I made a conscious effort to offer that support to others, whether they were in a similar role to me or doing something completely different, like engineering. The key thing is to nurture self-belief and for some people, that comes from others.

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

Everyone’s career will be different, so it does come down to the individual. However, some universal pieces of advice I would give would be: don’t be shy, ask questions, and build your network.

Particularly early in your career, shyness can be a roadblock for some but even the most fearsome people are generous with their time if you ask them in the right way. Try to be as inquisitive as you can and get an understanding for what other people in your business do. What’s more, look outside your business when you can. LinkedIn is great as are physical STEM events when you get the opportunity. It’s about investing in yourself.

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

I think the stats speak for themselves. There’s no question that companies need to be doing more to create a pathway for women in tech. We need to see businesses going into schools and universities to put on STEM events that lay out what the potential career options in tech are and showcase why it’s a career women can go after if they want to.

Once that pathway is there, the recruitment process is important and there needs to be an effort to appeal to women at this stage as well. You often find, with current staff, too, that women on extended maternity leave come back to find their role no longer exists. If that’s the case, they need to be trained into a different role, not ostracised.

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

Sponsorship is absolutely crucial. Spotting women within the industry, normally early in their careers, and helping them to realise their potential is vital. Whether its job shadowing or regular catch-ups on progress, this goes a long way.

Again, it’s also important that tech companies are looking to engage students at different age groups to foster that interest. Having regular touchpoints through the education system where you can stagger the messages you give to pupils is necessary to build that interest.

There is currently only 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?

How many companies do we know that practice a 50/50 split around the boardroom table? I think a top-down approach is needed to ensure that women are represented at the c-suite level and that lens can then be applied to make decisions that impact staff across the company.

And if I were to get a second wish, it would be at the entry level. I’d love to see more effort to engage school leavers with STEM apprenticeships. A clear plan of action for bringing through this talent would be fantastic.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

First of all, your network is a great resource, so take the time to build a group of professionals you admire and trust that you can learn from. Talking to people outside of your area of expertise within the business is good practice, too.

Additionally, I do enjoy podcasts. When I get the chance, I enjoy the BBC Earth: Science, Tech and Nature series. It’s a broad spectrum of tech and very snackable. The STEM Learning podcast is another good one, hosted by a group of physicists from Cambridge University – very high concept but interesting nonetheless.

In terms of events, there’s lots of great ones. My advice would be to take the time to find a mix of industry-specific ones as well as broader events for women in industry.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here