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

Hi, we’re Toni and Claire, the co-founders of BobbyChat and we are on a mission to empower women with the skills they need to successfully navigate workplace challenges.

Toni is the CEO and builds the AI tech that BobbyChat runs on. She has more than 10 years of machine learning experience, including completing a PhD in Deep Learning at Imperial College London and was previously a Research Scientist at Google DeepMind for over 4 years. She is the author of 25+ papers.

Toni’s passion for solving workplace problems for women began when she saw how women’s mental health and careers were disproportionately affected by workplace problems. As her peers and mentees increasingly turned to her for advice, she realised that she had the skills to be able to develop a tool to help – and the idea for BobbyChat was formed!

Outside of work, Toni is a keen climber and coffee lover. She is happiest spending time by the sea with her partner!

Claire is the COO and the wellbeing and burnout expert at BobbyChat. She is a medical doctor with over 20 years of clinical experience, with a background in neuroscience and public health. She is a NHS Clinical Entrepreneur, formerly a tutor at the University of Bristol Medical School, and is a trained Acceptance and Commitment Therapist.

Claire’s passion for solving burnout for women began with her own lived experience of burnout. After this devastating experience, she documented her recovery journey on Instagram and Substack. She is now considered a world-leading expert on burnout prevention and recovery. She is thrilled to be a member of the BobbyChat founding team and to be part of building a tool to significantly impact the mental health of women in the workplace.

Outside of work, Claire can be found with her stuntman husband (yes, really!) and their two children, renovating their house. She loves to spend time on the coast and is a keen sewist!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For Claire, being a doctor meant there was a very clear career path to follow from the start, but after burnout, she looked at her career path in a very different way. This has led her to opportunities she had never even considered before, such as starting several businesses.
As she explored multiple new avenues to use her skills, knowledge and newfound mission for solving burnout, she found her passion for entrepreneurship lit on the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme. Becoming a co-founder of a tech start-up after being as committed as she was to medicine was not a consciously planned career choice but things couldn’t have turned out better.

Rather than having one grand plan, Toni has always been goal-orientated and has a general rule of saying yes to (almost) everything. As a teenager, she desperately wanted to be a sailing instructor, train with the British national sailing squad and sail around the world. She reached two out of three of these goals, but the final one was put on hold for her other passions, math and science. From then on Toni’s goals were more focused on her desire to be an Engineer, excel in her studies and work as a “programmer”. Along the way, Toni picked up highly sought-after skills in machine learning and found a passion for computer vision. Again, she had new goals, to obtain her PhD and work for Google DeepMind (the pinnacle of any AI researcher’s career). Now Toni’s goal is to build Bobby to empower women all over the world!

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

For Claire, her biggest career challenge was going through burnout. She did not expect the job that she had worked so incredibly hard for, and was committed to for many years, and was her dream, to actively harm her. Overcoming burnout involved a challenging period of medical and psychological support, coupled with making difficult decisions and changes about how she worked. She learned that recovering from burnout isn’t just about working on your own individual coping strategies and mindset, but also about tackling the workplace factors that cause burnout. Now a leading expert on evidence-based burnout prevention and recovery, Claire is thrilled to be working with Toni to build the tool she wishes she’d had during the most challenging period of her career.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For Toni her biggest career achievement has been spending the last 4+ years at Google DeepMind. It was an incredible privilege and she had the opportunity to work with brilliant researchers who were also phenomenal people. During her time at DeepMind Toni’s mindset shifted from “What problems can I solve” to “What problem do I want to solve” and make it happen.

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

Both Claire and Toni attribute their success to having passion, self-belief and confidence to discover, take and create new opportunities; mapping out their own paths!

Having their respective passions for medicine and tech has allowed Claire and Toni to remain focused on their goals and succeed even when things have been tough in their careers.

Claire and Toni acknowledge that there can be many obstacles that can erode your self-belief and confidence, and both Claire and Toni have had theirs battered a few times – but in finding each other and founding BobbyChat they have re-claimed their sense of identity and purpose.

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

Work with other women where you can, and be an advocate for yourself and for other women!

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

It’s very difficult to retain women in tech if there are no structures to help women grow professionally and feel supported and included. This is one of the reasons we are passionate about building BobbyChat, is because we want to equip women with the tools they need to successfully navigate workplace challenges and feel empowered.

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

It’s important that everyone has equal access to opportunity.

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

Women need a safe environment to learn and grow! Toni would advocate for more women-led and majority-female teams that foster a better culture, build women up to be the best they can be and know their value! Over time some of these teams will grow and merge with teams with poor female representation but the formative experience and solid roots will be in place for these teams of women to thrive.

At BobbyChat, we are a women-led company building a product for women, we see this as a unique opportunity to lead by example.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

We would recommend BobbyChat, It’s the tool that Claire and I wish we had had at work and we invite you to join us on this journey and help make it the best tool for supporting women in the workplace!
Toni loves the Women in Machine Learning workshops at NeurIPS.
We both recommend Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (and share it with your colleagues!!)

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Read more from our other inspirational women here.