Sonia Hardy

I’m Sonia Hardy, the chief people officer at Connect Childcare – a Lancashire-based tech firm that specialises in nursery management software.

I have over 10 years’ experience in the employment law and HR space – having worked for many businesses across the UK with 300+ staff across multiple sites – and have extensive experience in all areas of HR. I now primarily focus on the ‘people strategy’ and this is where my passion lies

My career spans the full employee experience, including coaching and mentoring, employee engagement, talent acquisition, and succession planning, to name a few. At Connect, I’m responsible for fostering a positive company culture, and ensuring the firm not only attracts and retains highly talented professionals within the industry, but also provides them with a fulfilling career. I believe that this is the key to delivering first-class customer service.

While I’m not a ‘techie’ in the traditional sense, I work for a software firm, and I think it’s important to raise awareness of the plethora of roles that are available for females within the industry – whether they’re tech focused or otherwise.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all – I left school with no idea what I wanted to do, other than knowing I didn’t want to go to college.

I started out on my career path studying for an NVQ Level 2 in business admin at the North West’s leading law company. While there, an opening came up in the HR department which was the start of my career in that sector. I’ve worked my way through the ranks from HR admin to managerial roles – whilst successfully gaining the Level 7 CIPD – which then led to working for many major businesses, including Forbes Solicitors and Warburtons Bakery.

In and amongst my time in the HR space, I also qualified in criminal law and spent 10 years representing clients both in the police station and the Crown Court – this has also been one of my life’s passions and interests and I learnt so many valuable people skills during this time.

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

Yes, one of the biggest hurdles was getting back into HR after spending time in the law sphere. Given the HR landscape is very fast-paced, any taking time out means you have a lot to catch up on – and everyone wanted experience. It was extremely difficult to get someone to give you a foot in the door, and I’ll be forever grateful to the lady who hired me.

Connect Childcare is the first tech firm I’ve worked for as an HR professional, and I’d say that I feel more at home in the tech world than anywhere else – its full of creative, talented individuals who want to make a real positive difference.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Achieving my Level 7 qualification in HR while working full time and having children – getting qualified meant so much to me, as I’d been working towards it for a long time.

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

My two daughters. They’ve inspired me throughout my life – both personally and professionally. I believe that having them by my side supporting me has been a huge reason that I’m where I am today – doing something I truly love on a daily basis.

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

Regardless of whether you’re on the HR, marketing, sales, or development side of a tech organisation, it’s vital you continue to grow your knowledge of both your specialism and the wider sector. Take advantage of as many resources as you can to do this – there are many online and in-person courses, some of which are free too.

Also, no matter if you’re starting out in your career or you’ve been in the industry for decades, it’s also crucial to build up your network of other tech professionals. This isn’t only useful in helping you to get a head start in finding job opportunities, but it also allows you to build up communication skills and confidence.

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

Yes, women are sadly underrepresented in the workplace despite years of trying to close that gap. In fact, a survey carried out by Tech Nation showed that a mere 19% of tech workers were women – with only 5% in leadership positions, and 3% actually wanting a career in the sector.

It’s believed by many that the problem starts as early as education – with only 9% of females in 2019 studying a STEM qualification to an advanced level.

It’s no secret that tech is a male-dominated environment and the shortage of female role models already in the industry is a major barrier.

More needs to be done from a school and college level, as this is a great time to provide students with the information to help them learn about the opportunities available when working in the tech world.

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

Providing support and mentorship to women in tech roles is something companies should provide to help them carve out their career path within the sector. Attracting females to the industry in the first place is crucial, but allowing them the chance to progress is just as important.

Support for women returning to the tech industry following periods of time off – such as raising children – by providing more flexible working arrangements to help the juggle of family and career, is also pivotal. Females are still seen as the primary child carer in households and returning to work following such a life-changing event can be extremely daunting. This applies to every industry, not just the world of tech.

Research has also shown that women are less likely to apply for roles without advanced qualifications, so it’s highly likely that they’ll instantly be deterred from applying for a role as a result.

Again, no matter the sector, one consideration all organisations therefore need to make is questioning whether the qualification is necessary or not. Passion, eagerness to learn, and transferable skills are very powerful attributes which shouldn’t be overlooked.

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?

I’d encourage more sector interaction within schools, colleges, and universities across the country. It’d be great to see more industry leaders deliver talks and workshops on the tech landscape and encourage females to take the relevant subjects as early as possible. This would arguably help students to understand what working in technology involves, as well as the plethora of positions available.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

While I don’t have default go-to places, there are lots of online news outlets where you can read articles, listen to audio content, and connect with people from the industry. Podcasts are my personal favourite, as you can listen in the car or when doing jobs around the house.

You mentioned that Connect Childcare is a nursery management software firm, what role do you think technology plays in the future of the early years education sector?

A crucial one. There’s been lots in the news about EdTech and how it’s helped not only nurseries but higher and further education institutions to adapt to different learning models during the pandemic – and for many settings, those digital changes are here to stay for the long term.

While nurseries specifically have remained open for much of the past 18 months, many have relied upon technology to help them do so – whether that’s been to record observations, communicate with parents, or take contactless payments to improve the efficiency and safety of the setting, digital solutions have been pivotal in helping childcare environments to keep operating and providing learning opportunities to support child development.

With technology’s growing adoption rate in people’s personal and professional lives, I can’t see it ever taking a backseat in the sector. Busy practitioners and parents need to be able to record and view information about children’s education quickly and from anywhere – helping to create a holistic learning environment, which reduces admin for staff, fosters parental engagement, and extends education into the home.