Jillian KowalchuckJillian Kowalchuk, BA, MSc is an award-winning entrepreneur as the Founder & CEO of Safe & The City, technology and data intelligence designing safety in digital and physical spaces.

She was given the Exceptional Talent in Technology by the U.K. Home Office, winner of JCI Contribution to Human rights and was listed as the Top 20 Women in Data in the U.K. She sits on the Commonwealth Businesswomen Executive Team and the Department for International Trade’s Global Entrepreneurial Programme Female Founders Advisory Board. Jillian is a TEDx speaker and leadership coach sharing her knowledge and experience of travelling to over 50 countries and breadth of knowledge on gender equality, tech4good, women in STEM to inspire and motivate others to take innovative action to solve meaningful problems. She holds an MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and BA in Psychology and currently resides in London.

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

My TEDx Talk Equality By Design summarises my journey from growing up as an ex-pat child in Yemen to my experiences of civil war, gender-based violence, and other normalised sexual harassment experiences I’m still fighting for today. I’m privileged to have travelled around the world, living in 9 countries and travelling to over 50 more, which has shaped my drive and mindset to recognise we are much more similar than we are different, especially in our need to feel safe. I believe it is our shared responsibility to accelerate addressing social issues of inequalities as fast as technologies advancing the privileges of a few. Combining my MSc in Public Health, BA in Psychology and global experience I founded the social enterprise, Safe & the City. We’ve developed a free safety navigation app and our i3 Intelligence SaaS to detect risks and emergencies and make sure safety is equally accessible, no matter what mobile apps you use.

I am humbled that my drive to encourage more women in technology and business has earned public recognition from several award bodies, including the Home Office’s Exceptional Talent in Technology visa, listed as the Top 20 Women in Data in the UK, recipient of the JCI UK’s Contribution to Human Rights award, and the Commonwealth Businesswomen (CBW)’s Most Inspiring Role Model.

I am also a public speaker, represented by Chartwell Speakers, Leadership Coach, and soon-to-be-published author of  WIRED INFLUENCE, how to reprogramme our relationship with technology.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’m sure I tried but I don’t believe that method worked for me. I very much shaped my career path as I went through it. I embraced the fragility and unpredictability of life and decided to live life to its fullest. One of the things I’m most proud of is how I wasn’t afraid to try new things to discover whether it was the right fit. I always wanted to find meaningful work for a greater purpose beyond just making money. In my TEDx talk, Equality By Design, I recalled 30 different industries I worked in across nine countries. A few of my friends nicknamed me the Jill-of-all-trades. So, my piece of advice to people looking to find that meaningful career, or that career path that gives them purpose, is to experiment across an array of industries to figure it out for yourself.

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

The only thing in life that’s a guarantee is challenge and change. I had undoubtedly gone through many challenges earlier in my career when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

One of the biggest challenges was finding the right fit that offered me the flexibility of how I wanted to set up my life – the ambitions that I wanted to achieve and the change I could affect. Being an entrepreneur has been the most challenging of all of the roles as I have ultimate responsibility for the company and my team. But with each new challenge comes great strength and growth to become an even better version of myself day by day.

To overcome these challenges, I would say learn and understand your boundaries and acknowledge what doesn’t feel right and why. It goes back to the trials and errors of all the different types of roles I had the privilege to try out. I was an English teacher in Japan, a social worker in New Zealand, a makeup artist in Australia, and a business analyst in Canada. All of these roles came with similar but different challenges. As soon as you start to notice the similarities, it is when you can equip yourself with better strategies to work alongside different types of people, expect and anticipate problems and work on how you can be a part of the solution. I believe by being conscious and starting the change within yourself can give you that lens of seeing how you can approach a problem differently next time.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Building Safe & The City has been the pinnacle of my professional career. It’s the amalgamation of my life experiences that has prepared me to build a company, team and technology products to help change the world. I recognise the shoulders I now stand on and want to be a role model for others to make an even bigger impact after I’m gone.

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

Answer: One major thing that has affected my success is my drive to make a difference. No matter where I lived around the world or the company I worked for, I genuinely cared about the people and what my purpose was to affect positive change. I try to live by that ethos – to make more meaningful engagements, connect with people on deeper levels and find ways to help them along the way, even if it is not directly like writing a book. That’s just been a part of who I have always been and hope it continues to heighten my goalposts for success.

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

As women, we have a huge market opportunity to advance technology with our own lived experience and professional expertise. For Safe & The City, the idea started with the problem of feeling unsafe while walking through a new city and trusting in the standard navigation apps to get me there safely. After an incident of a near-sexual assault, following Google Maps, I came to the revelation that most of the technologies I used didn’t have women like me in mind. It became a huge opportunity as so many women have lived through similar experiences of harassment or violence simply by existing. There are so many problem spaces, from health, safety, travel, childcare, etc that we need more women to be leading in creating solutions through technology products.

Another tip  is what I like to call stoic feminism. There are many barriers you will inevitably face in a male-dominated industry like technology, whether it’s raising capital, selling, experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace or with clients – these were inevitable experiences that many of us have had. I tried to apply the ancient philosophy of stoicism to understand how this can help me become even better at what I do, more empathetic to others experiences I cannot have and more resilient to change these systematic barriers. In stoicism, recognising the powers you do have and can further refine the more power you can create moving forward. For me, each catcall or sexist comment deepens my values to be a part of the change that stops it.

Lastly, being a woman comes with a great opportunity to connect with other women in technology who can open up doors for you. Build the communities that you want to see even if they don’t exist because there will be other women that can relate, and there is still so much opportunity for you to carve out of your niche.

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

The barriers that exist for women in technology are reflective of the wider inequalities most women face. For example, most women have experienced sexual harassment in the street, but it is also very likely to occur in the workplace. It’s not because of one particular woman, their field or level of seniority but because of this part of a wider problem of patriarchy and power.

I believe technology and data is a powerful tool to help overcome these barriers, but it also needs to be informed by the people who understand these lived experiences day in and day out. We need to see the issues for what it is and challenge the normalisation of such occurrences, such as sexism.

Connecting our experiences to other experiences that aren’t your own is very important, whether that’s racism you don’t fully understand because you are Caucasian or homophobia you don’t fully understand because you’re heterosexual. We must build empathy and connections to understand we are not alone and the systems in place don’t work for most of us. The more we can connect the dots and with each other we can create zero-tolerance cultures, including outside of the office space, to change it. This is something I believe is happening now but we need to accelerate this as fast as more technologies are starting to automate these inequalities.

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

We need to look at our numbers to measure change. Whether it’s the gender pay gap or the lack of women in leadership positions at companies. We need to come to a stark realisation that these numbers hold power and represent where we’re at. It can serve as a tool to help us and put place plans to make that better. Women come in many different shapes and sizes, so we need companies to not just think about gender but along a diverse intersection of people they need to include in their workforce.

Companies should also seek to work with Female Founded technologies or female-led technology teams. This is a great way for employees to learn how it can work differently in their organisation, build relationships with other female leaders in technology and have more role models to draw career inspiration from. Putting a public commitment about how you want to change is important to bring about transparency and figures to back how you’re solving it. It’s important, to be honest with people that you don’t have all of the answers and encourage the women in your organisation to be leading the direction of that change.

There is 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?

Women represent over 50% of the world’s population, but they do not

reflect equal leadership positions in. However, we do have numbers behind us and a shared lived experience to an extent of being a woman.

If I were to wave a magic wand, I would love for women to invest in other women, work together and pay it forward when you can. Whether through seeking female-led tech companies to work in, purchase from or invest in. More successful female-led technology companies will bring in more women and  support the next generation. One project I have been working on with the Department for International Trade is called the “Female Founders Pledge.” It is about creating an economic incentive for women, either Founders or those who have made successful careers for themselves to re-invest and grow their wealth to disrupt the current process. Safe & the City was recently selected as  a SheEO venture, which is an innovative way to provide financing for women and non-binary-led businesses I’d recommend checking out..

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Well, get my book, ‘Wired Influence,’ which is about redefining our relationship with technology. It comes out later this year and you can sign up to be notified by signing up to my bi-weekly newsletter ResponsAbility. One of my most recommended books is ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed for Men‘. I try to also broaden my reading beyond tech and would recommend  ‘Why Women Are Poorer Than Men And What We Can Do About’ by Annabel Williams and This is Why I Resist by Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.

For podcasts, I  recommend ‘Mind Styling’, ‘School of Greatness‘ and  ‘Hurry Slowly.’

For networking, find women who inspire you and try to deconstruct what inspires you about them. Some of the amazing women I have on my list include Vanessa Valley, Cindy Gallop and Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.Finding women who inspire you is often a gut feeling and can be difficult to understand unless you put pen to paper about why. One way I do that is through my ‘Friday Females to follow on LinkedIn’. I profile a woman who inspires me, think about why and encourage others to follow her work. I’d love to see more people find creative ways to appreciate the women in their life. Find ways to promote or connect or advance them in the powers that they have access to. How you can easily play an important part in bringing more diversity into tech is simply by inviting the people you believe are missing into the room to be there. If you don’t see the diversity of enough black people represented or someone with a disability would have a significant perspective to bring to the table, expand your network and do what you can to bring them in.