Charlotte Berg, CompodiumBefore joining Compodium I spent 20 years in life sciences, at a number of med-tech and bio-tech organisations.

The biggest factor in my decision to move into the tech industry was actually quite a simple one – I like speed!  Compared with the tech industry, these sectors move at a snail’s pace.  Aside from the obvious example we’re seeing at the moment with the Covid-19 vaccine, regulations and clinical studies mean product development takes a huge amount time.  In med-tech, a typical timeframe to get a product to market is 5-7 years – in pharmaceuticals it can take up to 15 years.    Now I get to see people using the products and services I’m working on within months – and I know if they will be successful or not within a couple of years.

The whole principle of agile development really appeals to me – taking a service or product feature from concept to the hands of customers as quickly as possible, and then being able to change and improve it straight away – you can’t do that in life sciences.  It’s this mindset that allows you to be really creative with technology and develop products that people actually need.

I’m now fortunate enough to be right in the middle of this with Compodium, which has the potential to become a really huge company in the next few years.  Since I joined as CEO, we’ve made massive strides – both in terms of our partners and with the launch of Vidicue, a video collaboration solution that helps organisations secure and authenticate external communications with customers.  At a time when many of us are still working remotely and entire industries are fundamentally shifting to a more distributed operations model, it’s been incredibly exciting to launch a platform specifically designed for this shift in global culture.

Our mission with Vidicue is to offer end-to-end encryption and full authentication for all participants to a video call and bring a new level of trust, security, and innovation to digital video conversations.  We’ve designed Vidicue to meet the needs of regulated industries, such as healthcare, financial services, legal, and education, as well as any large enterprise or public sector organisation.  This fills a stark gap in the video conferencing market and we’re already seeing rapid growth in response.  There will be lots of investment on the horizon – both financially and in recruitment.  Despite the challenges we’ve all faced, 2020 was an exciting year for us and we expect things to get even bigger in 2021.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really!  Only in that I knew I wanted to be a CEO.  I studied a lot of business law because I knew someday, I wanted to run a company.  I also studied finance – not specifically to be a CFO, but because I knew it would be a good way to develop my understanding of how a business is run and what parameters you need to focus on.  As a CEO, I’m very thankful for my time as CFO.

One thing I definitely didn’t plan was staying in life sciences for as many years as I did – that part was a complete coincidence.  It’s actually a funny story…  When I was 18 I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or where to start, so I went on the website that lists all of the companies in Sweden.  I typed in ‘C’ (for Charlotte!) and the first company that came up was Cavidi, a small biotech company.  I went on the company’s web page and didn’t understand anything – it was lots of science and men in lab coats!  But I called them and asked if they had any open jobs for financial assistants and they did.  Luckily, it worked out!

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

Absolutely.  I first became a CFO at 22.  To be a female CFO at that age wasn’t appreciated… The first time I entered the board meeting they knew who I was, but they asked the CEO if I was there to serve the coffee!  From there I understood that I really needed to know what was going on and ensure I had everything in place.  I learned a lot and actually ended up on that board.  It was the best school ever in the lesson of how to overcome this kind of rudeness, which unfortunately is still out there.

As a female CEO you experience these challenges all the time, but you have to deal with them.  I’m quite outspoken about it, but it’s sad this is still part of the business landscape – and that people still question women leaders simply for being women.  I still get questions about motherhood and being a CEO.  How do I cope?  Should I not be spending time with my children?  How do my kids manage?  This is definitely my biggest challenge.  I even read recently that female CEOs get much harder and more negative questions from investors than men do.  I don’t know if I’ve experienced this – maybe I’m just used to it!  I hadn’t considered it before, but I know I have always worked hard to make sure that I know everything and will be able to answer all of the tricky questions I know will arise from investors or partners.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

To become a CEO at the age of 33.  This was my goal from the beginning of my career and to do this at a listed company at such a young age is definitely my biggest achievement to-date.

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

Being surrounded with great people throughout my whole career – even now.  In a male dominated environment, this has been a huge factor for me. On both of the boards that have appointed me as CEO, all of the members were men.  I received lots of questions about my capacity to be CEO as a young woman, but I know they did too.  I’m thankful for them being bold enough to take the decision to appoint me and stand by it.

For me personally, I think being bold has helped me a lot.  I love to take on challenges and I see myself as both a driven and positive person.  I think it’s harder to make a mark or stand out if your personality leans more towards the conservative or neutral side.

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

Be bold.  Technology is a sector where everyone thinks you should have a computer science degree and be able to code or have developer skills.  We need to get the news out that the tech industry needs a far more diverse range of roles, skills and people.  It’s definitely a closed sector and hard to get into for many people.  The stark gender gap highlights this.

I’ve found that a lot of companies just want to hire people who have worked at the really big tech brands.  But there are so many small start-ups doing great things.  My advice would be to start by being part of a smaller tech company first to gain the knowledge and experience that will help you build your career.

But we also need to question the closed board mentality if we’re going to address the deeper issue of inclusiveness in tech.  We need to bring in new perspectives.  The industry already has the technical skills and knowledge; what it doesn’t have is the other ways of thinking. I’m a proven example of this.  We need to get the industry focused on investing in new perspectives and to stop putting people in boxes. We need to focus on the person – what they bring to the table and what their mindset is.

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

Definitely.  I was actually warned about this when I told people I wanted to go into tech.  I was warned that it was a sexist industry and that I was going to meet a lot of men that won’t approve of women.  Sadly though, I don’t think this is that different to a lot of industries.  What I can say is that 99.9% of the people I have met so far are serious, lovable people.  So, in some cases I think this is a rumour – tech is no worse than other industries.  But again, we need to understand that tech isn’t just about coding and development – we need to have more women on board and not just for the financial side, but for the technical side too.  This facilitates another way of thinking.  We’re working on this at Compodium – ensuring there are no barriers for women and changing the preconceptions of how the tech industry is run.  Businesses need to make sure women know they’re welcome and that the company will appreciate them for being women, for their new ideas and for the work that they do.

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

We see in the gender gap statistics that there are far too few women working in tech.  What we don’t see is what percentage of those women are working in the ‘female-approved’ roles – areas like marketing, HR or finance.  Companies need to focus on providing more education to push women into different areas and to work on different projects.  Anyone can learn technical skills, so it’s crucial that companies allow and enable career mobility for women.

Networking opportunities are also a great way of empowering women – helping them get support from other women, access to training and mentorship programmes.  I’ve been part of these programmes and they have been so important to me personally – giving me the opportunity to actually move into tech.  These programmes are becoming more common, but there is far more we can do to give women support and mentorship at all levels.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Education is the magic bullet.  We need to make these changes at the education level – from university right down the school years.  Part of this is changing the rumour that tech as an industry for men!  It’s popular now for men and boys, who see it as fast and edgy.  But when it comes to young girls, very few talk excitedly about tech.

We need to educate and change mindsets.  Part of this is a lack of female role models in the industry.  Women in tech need to speak out – not just in the media, but directly to children and young women by going into schools and universities.  I saw first-hand how this can have a monumental effect on young minds when I spoke at a university – over the next few days we received so many applications from exited young women.  They were thrilled with the idea that they were women and they could apply to work at a tech company that had women leaders.  We need to put ourselves on the map to show them what’s possible.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?  

There is a great career podcast I love called Karriärpodden that only interviews women and they have had a lot of guests from the tech industry on the show.  Really, anything that offers support and knowledge from other women and a platform for sharing experiences on overcoming barriers is great.  The She Talks Tech podcast is also fab!

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