Davina Glading joined Systal in 2020 and is VP of Global Projects at Systal Technology Solutions: a global managed network, cloud and security service and transformation specialist.

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

I am a 58-year-old wife, and a mum of one daughter, who is 19 years old.

I have an unconventional past, as I dropped out of A-levels (pure math, applied math, statistics, and sociology) to join the Royal Navy (WRNS); it was raining one day and I was headed to Canterbury Library to study, and the Navy careers office was en-route, so I went and applied to pass the time waiting for the rain to subside. The rest they say, is history.

I served in the WRNS for 7 years. When I left, I went to IBM purely for interview practice – and they hired me. I started at the Tape library and moved to shift lead, then team lead quickly. I was then spotted and moved to Project Management in IBM for build of new Operation Centres in the Portsmouth location. I then moved into Operations to learn more on the technical side. Again, a fast move to shift leader. Starting at the base in IT gave such a fantastic overview, and appreciation of all the cogs that make a successful business.

Next step was running the Business Office for Network services, then into line management.

At the beginning of 2018, I moved to the Competency Segment Leader for Network Services UK and Ireland. A fantastic role with a brilliant team. It was such a fantastic opportunity to work closely with clients and suppliers alike to get the best from all parties to collaborate for success.

I left IBM in 2020 with the intention to early-retire. However, a chance conversation with the Systal CEO – Neil Nicolson changed my mind on that. The vision he had was simply too exciting of an opportunity to turn down.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No, never. I have always gone where needed. I see my strengths (and weaknesses) in any role and my first move is always to draw on where I know I can bring value and change to improve. I am so fortunate that I have also had a superb Business Coach, and at various points – mentors – who have guided and drawn out of me the direction of travel.

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

Personality clashes are always tricky. I am a collaborator and solver, so when I meet people who have a stand-alone personality and aversion to change/improvement, it challenges me.

To handle this, I try to remember that we all have allowable weaknesses and my own is that I maybe want to nurture and help too much.  I find alternative ways to collaborate and help. Whether it is to feed answers to tricky questions in the background via personal Teams chat on calls, to facilitate someone else being able to answer the questions being asked or find a way to discuss a challenge and coach the answers to help the other person come to their own conclusion. Being a wife and mum, this also works fantastically at home when you would like to get something done – make them think it was their idea.

Then there is also the usual juggling of family and my work diary. Luckily, I am out of the other side of that now with my daughter at university. It has really made me aware of the emotional and logistical demands. I am always conscious with my teams to help them understand that they can work flexibly and as long as deliverables are achieved; so, the Nativity play, sports day, parent assemblies, etc, are must-dos. Children remember these events, and if you were present or absent.

For me, it helped by my husband working in US hours (from home in the UK), so we could juggle and dovetail events as to whose diary they fit into. Though in the times this was not possible, I did find that being honest with my then-managers always helped smooth the way to being available. So not making any excuse, just being straight about why I needed the time.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My greatest achievement is my teams, the people. To bring a diverse group of people together and witness them develop into a symbiotic team, supporting and helping each other toward a common goal.

To do this they need absolute trust, knowing they are safe, supported, and appreciated. I love to see a spark in someone, nurture that spark, and then celebrate as they fly past me on their careers. Such a wonderful and heart-warming feeling to help people flourish. So yes, the relationships along the way are my biggest achievements. To me, that’s a great legacy.

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

My time in the forces gave me the ability to converse with absolutely anyone – no matter the strata. It has given me a grounding.

The proof is the fact that even without a degree; I have achieved. A huge lesson is never to disregard anyone purely on academic achievement. Treat everyone and anyone with respect. This enables me to see the strengths in everyone and use those to the best advantage. Everyone has an ‘allowable weakness’ and so they just need to learn to use their strengths instead.

The forces background also gave me self-discipline, self-confidence, a dry sense of humour (that yes, I have to keep in check), and a sense of perspective. In the forces you make life-and-death decisions – in business, you need to remember that no matter how dire any situation/incident is, it’s not life and death.

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

Ask questions if you don’t understand the answer then ask in a different way. It also depends on what niche you want – you can dig deep to become the subject matter expert in one area or get fundamentals across a wider area – the choice is there and must be personal.

Technology though, also combines with business acumen so you can understand the ‘why’ certain decisions are made where they may seem illogical if you just concentrate on the pure tech.

Then, as a woman in tech, I am my authentic self. I do not try to be one of the lads. If we are to be seen as serious to be equaled in the technology world, why would we want to lose our feminine side? Then what are we ‘equal’ to, we would just become pseudo-men.

What barriers for women working in tech, are still to be overcome?

As above, the perception that you need to be a ‘lad’ to be accepted is a barrier. We need to be authentic and yet taken seriously. Once you have navigated to earn your place at the table, the next barrier is to be heard. I am sure we all have examples of being talked over (I don’t have a soft voice, but it still happens), this is still a barrier to having research, opinions and recommendations pushed through.

Then the major barrier in my opinion is the currency of knowledge and research. If a lady takes a leave of absence for maternity leave, to be out of the cutting edge for a period comes the challenge to catch up.

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

Embrace the different ways of learning – now this would not only benefit women in business but all staff.  Wherein men tend to be visually and tactually stronger in their learning styles (so kinesthetically); females are stronger aurally. So have a range of education styles. As we continually move to a more inclusive and diverse workforce, we need to ensure equity with these styles for all.

I have seen it work superbly for maternity return-to-work mentors, such an easy action that reaps the benefits of faster transition back due to making any currency gap close faster.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

Now this will take several generations for the biases to be broken and for true equality. To start with equity is key, see where needs the focus, and action it. Then we get to the point where the differences become the norm, and we can stop talking and acting and just have equality.

We have made such huge strides with the conscious awareness of the differences, the focus on STEM for girls in schools, and even Doctor Who being a lady – that gives females a figure for representation and makes STEM ‘acceptable’ as a career path. 35% of women study STEM subjects in higher education, though this reduces to 25% studying at university – so it is this transition of studying that we need to encourage.

We also need mass media to normalise women in tech and science – and not simply as meteorologists. It is certainly becoming more visible in mainstream media with the astonishing Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Alice Roberts, Kate Russell and Hannah Fry appearing increasingly on our screens. In addition, with the British Institute Christmas Lectures, they are finally being normalised for women scientists presenting. These lectures have been running since 1925, and it took until 1994 for the first woman lecturer.

So, we do have a long way to go, but the normalisation of representation is absolutely key here.

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

Absolutely everything and anything that works for the individual. Not one model fits all, and it may take time to discover what works best for you. Never be afraid to try a different way. Just because you witness the majority learning by one style, does not mean you do not need to find the way that works best for you. In this way, in business we must never judge badly anyone who doesn’t attend in person but prefers online, or vice-versa – it is all a matter of personal preference and what works best for the individual.

For me, podcasts are great. I love them when out and about, walking and running the South Downs, it makes the miles go faster. When I was on my Half Marathon running streak (129 to date), I found that this was a great way to pass time but also benefit.

Being a social animal, I also love networking events and conferences. It was so difficult when the pandemic drove us all into our houses and away from meeting up. The industry has not fully recovered from this yet – and in fact the ways of work have evolved. You simply cannot beat toe to toe meetings though, to actually have a coffee and chat. Relationships and networking are the cornerstones to being on the pulse, that “oh have you heard about…” moments, the gems that make you think and dig deeper into a subject. We must get back to that.

Read more about our Inspirational Women here.