Caroline Mantle is a Strategic Alliance Manager and a Women in Tech Leader at Six Degrees and she’s about to run her third London Marathon!  

Personally, I am really passionate about running – it is something I took up during lockdown, and have continued doing since. I am doing the London Marathon next month and this will be my third Marathon, something that I never believed I would ever achieve! Running has really helped me unlock my own potential. It has reminded me how determined I am and how much I can achieve if I set my mind to something.

During my career in the IT industry – where I have worked for almost 20 years – I have been able to witness some major improvements in the sector in terms of diversity and inclusion. However, there is still more to be done! This is why I became a ‘Women in Tech Leader’ at Six Degrees alongside my role as Strategic Alliance Manager. My hope is that, by promoting and encouraging equity and equality in the workplace, I can play at least a small part in driving a positive change in this traditionally male-dominated space.

In my role as Strategic Alliance Manager, I serve as a conduit between Microsoft and Six Degrees. My role involves important relationship building between Six Degrees, our customers, and Microsoft, as well as applying a strong commercial-focused skillset. In order for me to do this I rely on having a good understanding of the technical product set, so I work very closely with the technical teams at Six Degrees. A large part of my job is also making sure that leadership and the individual teams are aligned in terms of goals, strategies, and funding. This is an essential part of maintaining our status as a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all! To begin with, I held no burning interest in technology. I actually studied Drama and English at university. I wanted to go into business but I was unsure of exactly what area I wanted to be in, so after graduating I was initially looking for sales roles. I always wanted to work in a role where I interacted with people, and I liked the strategic, conversational aspects of sales. My first role was with Rackspace Technology – before it was the major cloud computing player it is today. This is how I landed in the tech space – completely by accident!

While I learned quickly that this was an interesting area to work in, it also wasn’t long before I realised that I did not enjoy the intense pressure that came with living by strict sales targets and expectations. So I began to plan an alternative, which led me to the business development/strategic partners roles.

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

Early in my career in IT sales, there was an assumption that women were there to ‘look pretty’. Even within the last 10 years, there were suggestions at trade shows that women should be at the front of the booth to draw people in.

I have always maintained my morals and integrity and tried to break the outdated stereotype that women are there as a negotiating tool. I am professional, I have a voice, and I can handle a deal. There are a lot of women that I have spoken to who have gone through something similar. In sales especially, there is the idea of taking part in workplace ‘banter’. In reality this can be toxic, dangerous to your self-esteem, and dangerous to your career. I think this has changed a lot since I started my career, but elements of it can still creep in if organisations are not on top of ensuring an inclusive work environment.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One of the things I am most proud of the fact that, at my previous company, I was the first person to sell a Microsoft Azure deal. When it came to Microsoft, we didn’t have regular interactions at this time. So, in this regard, I was proud of being a trailblazer and making that relationship happen.

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

I think with hard work and determination you can achieve anything you set out to do. However, I must say that the women I have worked with over the years have inspired me hugely. I firmly believe that they have played a huge role in my success.

On a daily basis, the younger women that I work with currently also inspire me to be stronger. They are a lot more confident than I was at their stage – probably still even now! This is something that I truly admire, and aim to replicate in my own work.

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

To women in particular, I would say be prepared to be one of the only women in the team to start with – but trust that this will change. When you are in those situations, don’t be scared to speak up and don’t be afraid to call people out if they talk over you. Surrounding yourself with strong allies – both male and female – can also have a big impact. It is important to have a good support system in place.

Finally, remember that you have been employed to do the job because you are qualified and skilled, and they see value in you. So never forget how much you are worth.

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

There are definitely still some barriers for women in the tech sector but it is getting better. It is slow progress though. I have been working in the industry since 2004, and I have been able to witness changes occurring in real time. However, women often still feel nervous about their position. I frequently find myself as the only woman in a room full of men, most of whom are more senior than me. But this is improving as more companies are striving to make their recruitment processes more inclusive.

Here at Six Degrees, we have an initiative that aims to provide support for women who are already in senior positions and are looking to step up. As part of the programme, they mirror and are mentored by board-level executives. This programme aims to remove the idea that there is a barrier and support more women into board-level roles.

One of the most considerable barriers to success that still hinders women is the gender pay gap. This is true both within and outside of the technology industry. It is safe to say that it is one of the most significant issues that needs to be addressed in order to create equality and equity within the workplace.

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

Providing training for women on how to be more assertive could be an effective method. In my experience, women are often grateful for what they are offered during the recruitment process, and have the tendency to take the salary first offered to them rather than countering the offer. This is not as regularly the case with male applicants. It boils down to the fact that as a woman you are grateful to be at the table, while men are in a more confident position – and therefore feel more comfortable asking for more. This needs to change. If you pay people equally, you will get people who feel equally valued.

In an ideal world, how would you accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would wish to see more women in senior roles. I want to see more female CTOs for example, and more women in technical roles more generally. I would love to see an even gender balance when looking at the breakdown of organisations.

At the beginning of my career, there were very few visible women in technical roles – and that is partly why I took the sales route. Had there been more women in these roles in 2004, I am certain I would have taken a different career path. I would have seen more of a space for myself if I had received more encouragement and witnessed more female representation when I was younger.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

There are so many really great resources out there for women working in STEM. Here at Six Degrees in particular, we work with SOCITM which is an organisation that offers a variety of programmes around getting women into senior positions and diversifying teams (particularly in the public sector). They are setting a great example – the SOCITM CEO is female, and the directors are female, and they are doing everything they can to change the gender balance of the sector. Historically, it has been very male-led and has lacked diversity.