With a degree in Politics and International Relations, Kim Wiles started her career in academic publishing and education software – but was increasingly drawn to a role in tech…

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

My path towards a career in cyber security was not a standard one. I graduated university with a degree in International Relations and spent some time in the public sector before moving into publishing. But I was always drawn to technology-adjacent roles in companies with an ethos I believed in. I worked in digital marketing at a university publisher before joining the educational software sector where I worked directly with developers for the first time. We were working as a team to build new features and functionality for children and teachers.

What ultimately ignited my interest in cyber security was seeing an industry at the forefront of keeping the world connected and safe. Threats to children and schools put cyber on my radar and I wondered if I could help. I was drawn to Nominet because of its clear mission focus. I didn’t have any experience in cyber before, but a former colleague, Steve Forbes, who worked at Nominet, convinced me to give it a chance and talked me through all the great work they do. I’m so glad I made the leap as I’ve been here for over two years working as a Senior Product Manager developing solutions to protect public services at scale.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always wanted to make a positive impact in the world, so my aim career-wise has been to work at mission-based organisations. I changed sectors a few times before finding my place in cyber security, but regardless I’ve wanted to make a difference in the world and feel good about what I’m doing. It was also a priority that my career also allowed for an enriching personal life as time for family, volunteering, and hobbies are very important to me.

When I was younger, I wanted to join the diplomatic corps to travel and work in the public sector, so in a way I’m still fulfilling those ambitions, but under completely different circumstances. It began with coming to the UK to study, and it eventually led to me joining Nominet to deliver cyber security at a national level on behalf of governments.

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

I used to get really flummoxed when I hit a brick wall with a good idea at work. It was a tip from a mentor that has helped get past this. Ultimately, I was missing sponsorship for my initiatives. Getting internal and external sponsorship makes a big difference to your chances of success. It doesn’t even have to be your manager; often sponsorship outside of your department can be more effective. Sponsors serve as advocates and give credibility to your efforts, help you navigate organisational dynamics and build connections, and coach you on overcoming obstacles.

Navigating corporate culture while staying authentic to myself has also been a tough one – both as a woman and wanting to be open, honest, collaborative. It’s still something I wrestle with, but joining organisations that promote a more authentic culture can help. And again – having a manager, a sponsor, and a team who trusts you and backs you up is crucial.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement so far was when I worked in the educational software sector during the pandemic. I supported schools in making sure that they could adapt their ways of working during that hard time and collaborated with the Department for Education to ensure our software met the changing statutory requirements about tracking things like attendance and academic performance. It meant working as a team to change our software and approach quickly, as sometimes we would need to rework things as policy changed. We had to stay close to our users and understand the challenges schools were facing. My husband and I were both working full-time and home-schooling our two young children – so achieving that in my job while teaching my son to read felt like a major achievement!

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

Adaptability has been a big factor. I haven’t been afraid to try a new challenge. During my time at Oxford University Press, I held different roles in divisions across the business, particularly after returning from parental leave – that helped equip me for my most recent transition into a new industry. I also realised I didn’t need to keep managing big teams to find my job fulfilling or advance in my career. The business world is starting to recognise the value of individual contributors and are offering alternative career pathways.

I’m also incredibly thankful that I’ve had supportive managers over the years who understand the importance of family and personal growth outside of work. I honestly couldn’t have kept going during early parenthood and Covid home-schooling without them.

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

The more authentic, open, and collaborative you can be the better. Trying to mimic the worst of corporate culture is exhausting and counter-productive. It’s also important to be brave and embrace moving to new technologies and new sectors. Colleagues are usually keen to tell you about their work and teach you what they know, and you can usually find a range of other resources to get started.

I’d also strongly advise taking on leadership roles outside of your workplace. A mentor once told me I should try to join a board at a charity or other voluntary organisation to get board-level experience outside of my day job. I took that recommendation and became a school governor, which is essentially acting as a non-executive director – while being of service to the community.

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

The barriers to women working in tech are well-studied and documented and now action is key. We really need to start putting diversity, equity, and inclusion plans in place in a way that holds us accountable. Those success benchmarks should be as front-and-centre as commercial targets. It’s easy to get trainers in and hold workshops, but the onus sometimes falls on informal committees to follow up. Boards and executives must mandate that their leadership teams take action and not rely on staff to run it outside of their ‘day jobs’.

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

Leadership teams could offer more ways for their staff to showcase their potential and learn what being an executive is all about. If you can’t see what the next step looks like and how to present your ideas, how can you progress?

For example, junior staff could be encouraged to attend executive team engagements by ‘back-benching meetings’ to observe and learn. Even ‘mock’ board meetings and internal training around those activities, without sharing confidential information, can be a good for developing those skill and battling ‘imposter syndrome’.

In addition, empowering staff with increased face-time with those higher in the business could help reduce the impact of bias in performance rating processes by providing more opportunities to assess their potential and showcase the work they’re doing.

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

I think it starts early on in education and careers advice. There is an emphasis around the hard skills of tech, but that doesn’t mean other skills aren’t as valuable to the sector. You don’t need to be a graduate of physics and maths to get into tech. Specialist sectors suffer after a certain point of growth by only including people with an exclusive level of education in specific fields like computer science, maths, and physics that are still dominated by white men.

Diversity of thought is essential for growth but if the education pipeline and hiring process doesn’t change, neither will the business. Finally, the government and employers must support childcare. Too many women drop out of or slow down their career because it is too stressful and expensive to commute and pay for childcare.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The HBR Women at Work is a great podcast and one I would highly recommend listening to as they often have interesting interviews and delve into new scholarship on business and diversity topics. How I Built This often has female entrepreneurs talking about their journey and how they approached their careers.

Having a mentor that can guide you is powerful can greatly benefit your career journey. Frequently attending conferences and networking can be a great resource as well. Building a network of women in different roles, sectors and stages of their career can be a great source of inspiration and advice.