Nicola BrownI’m Nicola Brown and I’m the sales director at Lancashire-based IT solutions provider, Central Networks and Technologies (Central).

I have over 20 years’ experience working within the technology and public sector industries, during which time I’ve worked in all kinds of roles – pre-sales support, account management, and director level. And this breadth of experience has culminated in where I am in my current role at Central, heading up the sales team and leading the company’s commercial strategy.

In addition to my love of tech though, I’m also a director of WISH (Women in Social Housing) – a community interest company that champions women working within the sector – as well as co-chairing the North West WISH network. If you’ve already guessed, I love being busy!

I enjoy helping businesses to grow, and having been in my current role at Central for six months, I’m really enjoying working with the team to help drive the business forwards.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all. I sort of ‘fell into’ the industry after leaving education. I studied law at Durham University – originally wanting to be a lawyer – however during my work experience I found that this wasn’t really the route for me. I found something I truly loved when I landed a job in sales – selling all-things IT related.

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

When starting out my career in tech in late 1990s, one of the biggest challenges was working as a female within the industry. In fact, when I attended my first event aged 23, most of the delegates were men, and women had had a harder time ‘earning their stripes’ and demonstrating their expertise.

This has significantly improved over the years, with more women gaining a seat at the boardroom table and being recognised for their capabilities. It was only in a recent BBC News article, that it stated the number of women on boards has increased 50% in five years.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One of my biggest achievements was starting a job in a tech firm as a sales support and leaving two decades later as a director with a board seat. This was a pivotal moment in my career, as I really put my sales, business management skills, and ability to translate technical jargon into everyday language into action — and progressed through the company as a result.

Like many parents across the UK, one of my biggest, most recent, achievements has been juggling home-schooling with work – that’s been an experience like no other!

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

Honestly, I think this is deeply rooted in my family and life experiences. My father died suddenly and tragically when I was 27 – he was 56. Life is too short not to strive to do the things you want to achieve.

This same ethos is also something which I translate into business, and it’s the way I approach my job – it’s like it’s my own company and I want to support it and see it thrive every day.

I think that’s why I love working with small to medium-sized enterprises, that I can have a real impact on. I’m a very personable individual, so being a part of a sales machine in a large multi-national firm wouldn’t’ suit me – I’m all about driving a positive customer experience and being able to witness this first-hand.

As a person, my nature is also to be resilient and positive – I try to take a positive out of every day – and I think that’s important not only for progressing professionally but personally, too.

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

To be flexible and open your mind to change and new opportunities – that’s often how the greatest things happen!

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

Unfortunately yes. There are many well-known major tech firms which are struggling to recruit women and have dedicated support groups to try and attract and retain their talent.

But we shouldn’t need these groups in the first place.

To help combat this, companies across the board have to be more forward thinking, diverse, and inclusive in not only their recruitment processes, but the whole way they operate their business – from HR to culture and marketing. Also, women need to champion other women to help propel positive change forwards.

As part of my work with WISH – aimed at all women, at all levels, within housing – I’ve found that this sector is much further ahead than big tech companies, so there’s clearly some work to be done.

The gender pay gap is also a massive topic of relevance here. And while “78% of large organisations have admitted to having a gender pay gap in tech”, it’s not solely this industry that’s affected. And this needs to be addressed across the entire corporate world, to help bridge the divide effectively.

The pandemic has also had a huge effect on the progress made surrounding workplace gender equality and pay gap disparity. Last March, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suspended the need for companies to report their gender pay gap data – and this is now the case until 5th October 2021.

This, coupled with the added pressures many women have experienced around home-schooling and childcare closures, are more examples of the barriers we’re continually faced with and need to overcome. There’s no doubting that more definitely needs to be done to keep gender pay gap reduction high on the agenda of both the government and workplaces alike.

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

They need to implement a genuine inclusivity and diversity agenda across their business – ensuring that all of their employees are supported equally in their career.

There is currently only 15% 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 me, it starts with the early years provision and how children are taught about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at school. In fact, I’ve recently spoken at my daughter’s own school as part of British Science Week, leading a discussion on innovation and how exciting technology can be.

There is also a ‘This Girl Can’ programme – led by Sport England – which aims to encourage women to be physically active, regardless of their shape, size, and ability, and a similar concept applies to inspiring women to enter the world. Gender doesn’t matter when it comes to getting a job in the tech world – all you need is a passion and drive for the sector.

How we speak to our children and the language we use is crucial in normalising females entering these career fields, too.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

It’s not technology specific, however I really recommend Anthony Taylor’s book, ‘Mental Toughness Metaphors’. It’s a great read about thought-leadership and building resilience.

How will the pandemic and its aftermath affect businesses and their technology?

There’s no doubting that Covid-19 has shaken up the way businesses operate – not only across the UK but the world over. Also, life – both personally and professionally – has become more digitised and will likely continue to follow this trend as we look ahead to the future.

For organisations, the rate of adoption of remote and hybrid working models has risen drastically over the past 12 months, and as we look ahead to life ‘after the pandemic’, business transformation programmes will undoubtedly remain a priority. We expect to see even more investment in tech infrastructure and telephony projects, to enable personnel to seamlessly ‘work form anywhere’.

For us here at Central, this means we’ll likely be seeing continued demand for cloud-based software solutions – such as Office 365 – intranet solutions, and file storage systems

It is clear that because of everything that’s happened over the last year, we’re going to witness more diverse and progressive workplaces, and some may continue to be home-based – scrapping the ‘traditional office’ model completely.

For these businesses, they will be focusing more on how to safely access and store their company’s data – looking towards cloud-based storage infrastructure and telephony systems, to help their operations remain effective and connected.

Business change projects have happened and will continue to evolve as we enter the next phase of the ‘new normal’, and more businesses increase their reliance on digital solutions.

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