Kathryn TylerKathryn Tyler is a social entrepreneur on a mission to lower maternal unemployment and support mothers into flexible, rewarding careers.

She believes that learning is the key to achieving this, which is why she co-founded Digital Mums to offer career-focused training opportunities for women and mothers.

Kathryn’s passion for supporting mothers into rewarding careers comes from her experience growing up in poverty in a deprived mining community where high unemployment rates and low-skilled work options meant her mother struggled to find work and took cleaning jobs to feed the family

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

I CoFounded Digital Mums in 2013 with my work wife Nikki. Digital Mums exists to reduce maternal unemployment and support women into rewarding careers they can’t around their family life. We believe that learning is the key to unlocking success and upskill mothers with innovative learning opportunities.

Our Locked out of Learning report shows that mothers aren’t engaging in learning opportunities and they face significant barriers that are disadvantaging them in the labour market. This is why as well as offering our courses we run free lessons and taster courses at our Work That Works Academy.

Over the past few years we have grown the business into a successful, award-winning social enterprise that has delivered significant impact for our students and graduates.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes on more than one occasion. Growing up in poverty in a white working-class mining community in Wales career options and career ideas were limited. I had no idea of the different career paths available to me beyond being a Teacher or a Doctor or working in a factory or a shop. But my Dad’s cousin had studied Genetics and lived in Canada, earning good money, so that’s what my Dad pushed me to do. I found myself working in a laboratory following my degree in Genetics and I hated it.

So at the age of 25 I sat down and planned a route into something more rewarding, choosing to start at the bottom of the ladder for a small charity where I figured they’d need smart people and probably had lots of things that needed doing but no one to do them. It worked and I ended up moving into communications and marketing, which I loved.

I found myself in a senior communications role in the NHS but once again I wasn’t satisfied. I loved the role but something wasn’t right. So I sat down and worked out why. I started to understand that my personal values around freedom and autonomy were at odds with the bureaucratic structures I was working under. So I moved into a start-up environment and eventually set up my own company.

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

I have faced classism in my career. In almost every office I’ve ever been in, I have been the only person in the room who grew up with parents living on benefits. I realised that I was being underestimated and that my background was the main reason for this. Working alongside the privately educated as well as graduates from Oxford and Cambridge I noticed that their ideas got more attention. Thankfully, I have always had an innate sense of confidence in my abilities which means I just shouted louder about my ideas and my achievements and so I succeeded. But this is unusual for someone with my background. Class is the hidden diversity, it’s harder to establish and it’s not recorded as part of diversity drives but I have worked with more people from BAME backgrounds than I have worked with people that grew up on benefits. This is why I am so passionate about supporting low-income women.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement has definitely been setting up Digital Mums and supporting over 2,000 women into rewarding employment, many of whom were out of work. We have recently had a successful partnership with Studio.co.uk,  the nation’s leading multi-range value retailer, to train 20 unemployed, low-income mothers and many have now found their first jobs in social media. This is what keeps me motivated when I’m still working at midnight!

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

This is partly that I have a very strong work ethic, having watched most of my family struggle with unemployment, so I never take working and having a job for granted. I also attribute a large part of my success to self-confidence. It’s a real struggle to escape generational poverty but thankfully my parents had such unwavering belief in my ability to succeed and I have carried that self-belief with me throughout my career. Believing in yourself is the key to being heard, to getting the career you want, to continually learn new skills.

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

Build a growth mindset and become a lifelong learner. Don’t wait for your employer to invest in your professional development. Every year that passes a gap opens up between what you know and what you need to know, particularly if you are working in the tech sector. Adult participation in formal learning is the lowest it’s been for 20 years. Don’t be one of those getting left behind. The more in-demand your skills the more power you have. This means you’re more likely to be able to negotiate a higher salary or negotiate more flexible working.

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

There are structural barriers that still exist, definitely. I speak to many women working in the tech sector that face toxic working environments and sexism from colleagues on a daily basis. If women do stay in the tech sector as they move into more senior roles they start having families and they then face further discrimination, with few part-time, flexible roles available at a senior level. The tech sector needs to do a lot more to address these issues.

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

Our Locked out of Learning report shows that mothers aren’t learning whether in their own time or at work. They struggle to find the time and the headspace and they can’t afford to pay for course fees. Employers must invest in the professional development of their staff, particularly at key points like when women go on maternity leave. A key element of this, and something that companies need to do to progress the careers of women generally, is to offer flexible working. Companies need to be more agile and agile working means moving to an output-based performance model rather than a presenteeism performance model. Free up employees to work from wherever they want and when they want as long as they get their work done. And to help women take up learning opportunities companies need to carve out time for them to study at work.

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?

For employers, I would ensure all technology companies moved away from the archaic 9-5, coat-on-the-back-of-the-chair office working culture to adopt agile, flexible working. We call this #WorkThatWorks. For Government, I’d call on them to provide free and high-quality childcare for all children under 4 because a lack of affordable, quality childcare is one of the biggest barriers for women moving up the career ladder.