Christel WolthoornGrowing up in Denmark, with the great fortune of supportive parents and a teacher who really championed an attitude for curiosity and experimentation, it was a big shock arriving in the UK.

I really wasn’t used to the idea that the right university, the right internship or the right person in your contacts had the potential to shape your future in the way it can here.

So my career has often felt like navigating a terrain as the only one without a map! However, the benefit of this is that I am very experimental in my approach to the roles and companies I work for. As a result, my career is a varied patchwork of roles in marketing, PR, internal communication and consulting. But I would say the one common theme is that for every job I’ve ever done, the role has been seen as new or ‘disruptive’.

Today, I am the Managing Director of LovedBy Consulting – a role I took at the start of the pandemic, having previously worked in the software engineering industry. We partner with clients who are looking to transition their business, strategy and culture through product and service design, and it is my role to create an environment that facilitates our people in doing that.

Having worked in a consulting environment for most of my career, LovedBy has presented a fantastic opportunity to challenge the bad habits associated with this industry – working people to the ground, lack of diversity and curiosity, relentless focus on utilisation. We are very small compared to many of our competitors, but we choose to see that as our great advantage. Even in my role as MD, I’m getting stuck in on client projects on a day-to-day basis, because we’re all about being closer to our clients and their challenges.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Only once. When I finished my MSc I was really clear that I wanted to get into internal communication and engagement so I applied for a graduate programme who had this as part of their rotations. Ironically, though, I didn’t get placed on this track,  so I went to the head of the team and asked if I could be assigned to a project. – that’s how I landed at Deloitte.

Since then, I have followed the opportunities as they’ve come along. However, I have always been very conscious of working in areas that are posing a challenge to existing ways of working and thinking.

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

Not following a conventional career path has caused a lot of doubt. Mainly because at times it has felt really lonely joining as the person coming in and driving change. There has been a real lack of role models and advocates which has led me to either seek out people who have my back – or look for the next role.

And sadly, my story is also one where being a female in a male-dominated environment has been tough – from an isolated comment to situations which in hindsight should have been handled by HR. When you join a male-dominated environment, it’s important to get support from other women. And, in my experience that is sadly not always the case. I am really conscious to look out for this behaviour now so I can prevent other women from going through the same thing.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Growing an agency during a pandemic. There has been no rule book and the pressure of looking after the team, managing the business and protecting our clients was – and continues to be –  massive. I am really proud of how far we have come. And none of it would’ve been possible without the incredible people I work with, both my colleagues who make up LovedBy, and also our clients who really have been supportive as we all navigated this.

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

I am really curious and like a challenge. So, I don’t think about what I cannot do, but more about where I can add value. Also, I’m not really set on what I do as long as it’s something that gives me purpose – this means that great opportunities have come my way which I may not have seen otherwise.

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

My sense is these tips apply to most careers and not just those in tech.

Firstly, work with passion. It can be the role, the product, the people. It is hard to excel at anything without a true sense of “why”

Secondly, find good role models and mentors. Look for people who see your potential and are willing to back you. And, act in the same way to others.

Finally, always be curious and look to learn. This is an ever-changing space with so much to learn. You will get further when you accept that you will never know everything.

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

I think that tech is still defined by the stereotypes we are all used to seeing. And I definitely think that although there is more focus on diversity, in my experience it still feels like a closed ‘society’ with very male-dominated ways of doing business.

The irony is that working in tech should be synonymous with new ways of working, innovation and progressive thinking, so we have a huge responsibility in showing the way. But it’s hard to break the barrier when the majority of CVs are from men and the majority of people in a room will be male. The challenge, as with all change, is making it clear why this change is needed. We are not short of initiatives to promote more women – and more diversity in general – in business. So, for these barriers to come down, we need to look at incentives and regulation. Sadly, waiting for the systems to change naturally will take too long.

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

Consider leadership and structures. For instance, are the people we put in charge of leading tech companies, departments or teams actually equipped to drive positive and supportive cultures where people can thrive? Are women placed in leadership roles so they can act as role models? Are they given the support they need to succeed?

Another key thing is truly supporting your teams internally, providing them with mentorship and helping them to upskill where they need it. I’m currently working with an amazing delivery manager who started her career in a completely non-tech role. She was given the opportunity to learn and she is now leading a large group of developers with great success. I would love to see the continuous learning mindset embedded more in organisations.

There are currently only 17 per cent 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?

Encourage girls to get involved in tech at an early stage. Not only through coding but also through innovation, problem-solving and facilitation. My great colleague Heloise Ardley has launched School for Rebels, an after school club to teach children problem-solving. We need more of that. Raising two young girls I see how easy it is for them to fall into stereotypes, but also how much they love building in minecraft: it doesn’t have to be an either-or.

Also, invest in hiring for the future and take in women who may not have the exact skills yet but who can and will learn. The whole industry is moving at great speed and by looking ahead just a little we can start the skill transfer and really get women engaged around working in technology.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The last two years have been all about growing the business but the highlight for me must be Web Summit in Lisbon. After months in lockdown I needed to be reminded that there is a world out there and that was the perfect conference to do it with. Katherine Ryan’s autobiography also springs to mind. It’s nothing to do with tech but a good reminder that you can be successful by being you. And, my good friend Eleanor Winton’s The Disruption Game Plan. She is an example of a woman who had my back and I am really thrilled that she’s sharing her insight with those curious enough to listen.