Kerrine Bryan featured

Inspirational Woman: Kerrine Bryan | Award-winning engineer & founder of Butterfly Books

Kerrine Bryan

Kerrine Bryan – an award winning black female engineer and founder of Butterfly Books.

Kerrine has gone on to smash many glass ceilings to become respected in her field.

She was shortlisted in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 for notable women in business and, in 2015, she won the Precious Award for outstanding woman in STEM. Kerrine is a volunteer mentor for the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET) and is an avid STEM Ambassador. It was while she was undertaking talks at various schools across the country for children about engineering and what her job entails that she became inspired to set up her independent publishing house, Butterfly Books.

In response to this, Kerrine published a series of books (My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer and My Mummy Is A Plumber) as a means of communicating to children a positive message about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers, that are suffering skill gaps and diversity issues. The fourth book in the series, My Mummy Is A Farmer, launched last month – August 2018.

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

I’m a chartered electrical engineer.  I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry for 12 years in London, after which I took a two year career break to have my daughter before returning to work 4 months ago into a new role, new company and new country. I’m now a lead electrical engineer for WSP, a global engineering and professional services consultancy. Based in New York, my role is a mixture of technical, project management and business development work. I’m currently working on some exciting power generation projects including cogeneration, energy saving studies and renewable power.

Alongside my brother, Jason Bryan, I’ve also set up Butterfly Books, a children’s book publishing company. Together, we have co-authored a series of picture books targeting children aged seven and younger, which communicates positive messages about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers that are suffering a skills gap. I think it’s important to provide diverse and positive role models for children at an early age where misconceptions about jobs can develop early. With the books we’ve created, like My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer, My Mummy Is A Plumber and My Mummy Is A Farmer, we want to challenge gender stereotypes and instil in children a belief that they can be anything they want to be, irrespective of sex, race and social background, if they work hard enough to make these dreams come true.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I do sometimes set myself five-year career goals, but this can be restrictive. Personally, I like to take on opportunities as they arise and try out new things. Over the years, I’ve learnt that you might discover that there are areas of work you didn’t previously know much about, but – after gaining a bit of experience – you find out that you actually enjoy it, and this in turn can then change your goals. I think it’s always good to plan, but you have to be amenable to flexibility and change because life can be unpredicatable. So long as you are heading in the right direction of your career and personal goals, the path in which you take – which may be wrought with challenges and set backs – can equally develop you with the skills you need to become a better business person.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Working in a male dominated environment brings its challenges.  My first role as a lead electrical engineer a few years ago proved to be a steep learning curve; my team comprised entirely of men, all of whom were older than me. I definitely felt like I had to prove my competency and worth more than a ‘typical’ (read ‘male’ and ‘senior’) engineering team leader would, but the experience helped me to grow professionally as a manager, team leader and person within a short space of time. Ultimately though, I received a lot of support from my male peers who respected me for succeeding in a career in which there are very few female engineers. They understood that the career journey for women like me couldn’t have been easy, and to make it through the barriers was an achievement worth acknowledging. Given that there is still a lot of work to be done to stamp out bias and prejudice in the workplace, not just in male dominated careers but also in all kinds of workplaces, I’d say I’ve been quite lucky. Of course, it shouldn’t be about ‘luck’. In order for these challenges to dissipate, society needs to reframe notions about what work equates as ‘a man’s job’ and what work equates as ‘a woman’s job’.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think that mentoring is essential for professional development. To receive guidance and support during your professional journey – not just from the outset – but even as you become successful and more seasoned in your field is hugely valuable. I think it’s easy to buy into the idea that we’re the finished article, as there’s always room for self-improvement. Even CEOs need mentoring to a certain degree.  I’ve been a mentor to many early career professionals for over 10 years, and have also been a mentee, so I understand both sides of the dynamic. It’s important to have someone who can challenge your thinking, encourage you to self-reflect and bring out the most in you so that you can fulfil your potential. With this new stage in my career, I will now look for a mentor to guide me in achieving my new career goals.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

I want to see an increase in the rate of change of diversity within careers and particularly within STEM careers where there is a huge skills shortage. I hope to eventually see diversity at all levels that is proportionate to the diversity of the society. Progress is being made, but the job will be an on-going one. It starts at the grassroots – encouraging children through education to believe that the world is their oyster and that they can work to be whatever they want to be – and it ends with responsible employers doing all they can to diversify their workforce, not necessarily just for moral gain (although that’s important) but because the figures show that it makes economic sense.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Providing flexible working arrangements for parents (and that means granting this to both the mothers and fathers) after they have had a child is so important in positively changing the opportunities for women at work. For too long, motherhood has often been a choice that professional women make to the detriment of their careers. This is reflected in the way many corporate organisations shape maternity and paternity leave arrangements; these inherently infer that it is the woman’s job to stay at home with the baby (at least for the first year anyway) while the man brings home the bacon. This ingrains further misconceptions and prejudices, which sees working mothers demonised for putting their careers ‘first’ and stay-at-home or flexibly working dads as non-committal and unambitious. Motherhood is one of the keys reasons why we don’t see as many women entering male dominated work, and that includes STEM careers. Until parental leave is seen as of equal importance and a job that requires the presence of both mother and father, and so long as employers continue to remain inflexible in supporting employees who are parents, we will never see progress in equality happening half as fast as it needs to in order to invoke meaningful social change.

For me, the ability to work flexibly was a huge factor in me deciding to go back to work after having my daughter. Creating flexible working arrangements also strengthens the respect between the employer and employee. Work is important, it can give us a sense of worth and purpose, but an individual should never be made to feel that they have to choose between success in career and paying the bills versus bringing up the family when both are so important.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

This year I became a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).  IET Fellowship recognises the high level of experience, knowledge and ability attained during an individual’s career. The appointment will now provide me with the opportunity to shape the future of the engineering profession through the IET’s expert panels, events and discussions.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I hope to be able to help shape the future of engineering in a positive way and also do all I can to encourage diversity in professions, with my children’s books being one of the resources to help make that change.

Cheryl Griffin featured

Inspirational Woman: Cheryl Griffin | Author & Creator, AlphaBetty NFT Project

Cheryl GriffinCheryl Griffin is a self-published author of two children’s books and the creator of the first family focused NFT project.

In 2019, Cheryl released her first book, ‘The Seagull Finds His Talent.’ In 2021, she released her second book ‘AlphaBetty Doodles’ which aims to help 3-6 year olds learn the alphabet in a colourful style. Cheryl created the illustration in her second book herself which has gone on to become the first NFT project aimed at young people and first timers on the blockchain.

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

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be an author. However, I think it can be easy to lose track of those dreams when you get into the real world. When I started a family, I opted for more stability and chose a permanent role in banking.

I’m now working for the NHS but that creative passion for writing has stayed with me and it’s what led me to self-publish two children’s books for early learners – ‘The Seagull Finds His Talent’ and ‘AlphaBetty Doodles’. 

I grew up reading ‘Miffy’ books and drew on that inspiration with my AlphaBetty Doodles character, who I believe can be a big name up there with the likes of Miffy and Hello Kitty, especially after the AlphaBetty character has become the first family focused NFT project.

I quickly realised I’d hit on a niche in the market that appealed to first time buyers who were nervous about stepping into NFTs. Parents can use AlphaBetty to teach their children some of the basic principles of NFT as well as buy them a physical book to read.

The aim was to create an NFT collection that could help to increase the profile of the AlphaBetty brand and raise money for educational charities in the process.

After launching the NFT project, the collection quickly sold out and there are now over 3,500 owners of Betties, including some famous celebrities and influencers; the community have all been incredibly supportive and believe in the vision. But, more importantly it’s enabled me to donate money to charities very close to my heart.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Well, I’ve always been creatively driven. I’ve had the idea for both books in my head for over 10 years ever since I used to tell the story of the seagull to my children. So, the plan was always there and I believe my commitment to making it happen shows a positive message for my children – it’s something for them to aspire to.

It has only been recently, with lockdowns and a little more time on my hands with my children being older, that I decided to make my dream of becoming an author a reality.

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

I found getting published and marketing my work the biggest challenges. I decided to go down the self-publishing route and received positive feedback from this but of course that can be challenging and requires a lot of time.

It’s still a goal to get the book professionally published so it can fulfil the mainstream potential and I hope that introducing AlphaBetty Doodles into the NFT market will help me reach that wider audience.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Making such big donations to charity – in a short space of time the AlphaBetty NFT project has raised over £100,000 for educational charities such as Donor’s Choice and Gamers Outreach, a charity that makes video games available and easy to manage in hospitals. We also donated to my children’s old primary school, which is close to my heart, so that has definitely been a highlight.  This was only made possible by selling out the 10k AlphaBetty collection and there’s much more to come.

The positive feedback I’ve had from parents and children that love the character is also a big achievement. It’s heart-warming to hear and great to know that my creation has had an impact on other people’s lives. Helping children to engage with learning in a fun way is my motivation because it’s a special thing to be able to achieve.

Recently I even saw children dress up as AlphaBetty Doodles for Halloween!

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

Perseverance is key.  It’s all about pushing through and tackling obstacles along the way to be able achieve your end goals. This can range from your own creative doubts, time management or rejection. You must be strong within yourself to face adversity, and this can be where many tell themselves it’s too difficult and give up.

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

Never give up, persevere, keep learning and be open to all possibilities.

In technology, particularly with NFT, it is a steep learning curve. Technology is always changing at a rapid pace, so it is important to keep up to date with the ever changing environment. If you don’t you can feel like you’re getting left behind very quickly.

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

The tech world, particularly in the NFT space, is heavily male dominated and because of this there may be the perception that women aren’t as capable, or that it is difficult for them to further their career as much as men can in the tech industry. However, I hope that as more women enter the tech space, people will realise that gender isn’t important, and it will become a much more inclusive industry to work in.

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

Ensure women are provided with equal opportunities and encourage more female senior positions. Companies must encourage diversity and create an inclusive culture. Women of all ages and backgrounds should be able to feel confident and welcome to show what they can bring into tech roles.

There are 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?

Make technology more accessible to girls from a very early age. We’ve seen LEGO and Barbie introduce dolls and figures that dispel the myth that STEM is just for boys. I’d love to see more of that.

Both parents and teachers have a role to play in changing the narrative. Girls from a young age need to understand that they can be equally qualified and skilled to work in a tech role and they can offer a lot of value to the sector.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Currently women only make up 15% of crypto users but as more artists enter the NFT industry, communities such as Women of Crypto Art have created a space for females to come together and share their ideas, which is fantastic to see. I think it is important to have that positive encouragement from other women and to build each other up.

Networking events such as the NFT event held in New York last month are also a great way for women in tech to connect and gain advice.

Inspirational Woman: Anat Deracine | Author & Technologist

Anat Deracine

Anat Deracine (her pen name) is the author of the novel Driving by Starlight (Macmillan, 2018), about a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia, and many short stories, including The Divine Comedy of the Tech Sisterhood about inequalities in the tech industry. Outside of writing she is a senior figure in the tech industry.

Born in India, and raised in Saudi Arabia, Anat is fascinated by cultural narratives around equality and the portrayal of women. Her parents allowed Anat to dress as a boy so that she could do sports and take part in other activities that girls were not permitted to.

She has two degrees which she studied concurrently – one in philosophy and one in computer science. This dual talent for creativity and technology has continued through her life: Anat joined one of Silicon Valley’s major tech companies after university and worked her way into a senior role. As such, she is active in driving diversity in the tech sector – both for those who work in it, and for the masses who use it. It is for this reason she chooses to write under a pen name.

In between her 15-year tech career, she has taken time out to travel through many areas of the middle east alone, including Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Israel and Lebanon . She wrote the first draft of her first novel – Driving by Starlight – in five weeks while on a retreat in Bali. She is now working on a Sci-Fi / fantasy novel about a telepathic killer in an alternate modern-day South Asia.

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

I’m an author and a technologist—both have been true for as long as I can remember. Even as a child I tinkered with wrenches and screwdrivers, and wrote poems and stories I never showed anyone. Today, I’m fortunate enough to be leading a global team of technologists focused on user trust, while sustaining a side-career as an author of novels and short stories about women fighting to make a difference.

My first novel, Driving by Starlight, chronicles the struggle of a young girl in Saudi Arabia to find some semblance of freedom in a country where women still have no agency without a male guardian. My novella, The Divine Comedy of the Tech Sisterhood, a satire piece on the plight of women in Silicon Valley, went viral in 2018, and I’m now at work on a webcomic, The Night Wolves, about the dangers of surveillance technology. A benevolent tech billionaire offers a free university education to all students, as long as they consent to having their biometric data tracked for medical research. What could possibly go wrong?

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No isn’t an emphatic enough answer. I was very often the first in my group to do something, whether it was going away to college, being the first woman on the team, living on my own or attempting to combine two careers at once. I never really had role-models I could look up to and think, That’s the career I want to have. How do I get there?

Instead, I focused on two things. Having a growth mindset to setbacks and opportunities has allowed me to learn what I could even when things weren’t quite going my way, and kept me persevering despite the double-whammy of experienced discrimination in the tech industry and the many rejections that come an author’s way. And playing to my strengths, remembering that I do my best when I do what I love, has kept me from burning out trying to achieve career goals that others might be pursuing but that don’t actually mean that much to me.

A simple example: in college, I always knew I wanted to feed both halves of my brain, and doing two degrees at once, in Computer Science and Philosophy, allowed me to grow as an engineer and a writer. There were many naysayers, even among my well-wishers. Wouldn’t taking an extra year to do the second degree set me back in student loans and slow down my career growth? Wouldn’t I be stifling my earning potential if I was trying to balance two careers? Some of these questions betrayed the values of the people asking them. In a capitalist society, people mistakenly derive their self-worth from earning potential alone. I have frequently chosen to slow down progress on one front to make progress on another, and been more successful at both because my mind and heart move as one.

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

Everyone faces their share of career challenges, and in The Divine Comedy of the Tech Sisterhood, I chronicled a (mostly) fictional account of the ones I experienced or knew about. Microaggressions, bullying and harassment are all too common in the tech industry, and the issues of racism in the publishing industry are widely known, with 95% of the English books from major publishers in the last fifty years having been written by white people.

At first, these issues used to grate on me, making me angry and sad in turns. But I eventually realized that giving into those feelings, burning out or quitting in protest would only make already bad statistics worse. Three things have given me the strength to keep going.

First, I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and having seen missiles fall from the sky during the Gulf War, and having experienced rather extreme versions of sexism and racism there I know that I can easily survive anything I experience here. I had to let go of the idea that the West had somehow “figured things out.” I had to accept that the battle was not yet won, and may not be won in my lifetime but that didn’t absolve me from the fight.

Second, in a war of attrition, endurance is key. I build up my resilience mindfully, from eating well and exercising, to setting clear expectations for myself and my team around vacations and managing energy. I don’t work on weekends, and never have. It might have cost me certain opportunities that went to others who were more willing, but those people have now burnt themselves out and I’m still here.

Third, having a sense of humor helps. When I wrote The Divine Comedy, I was furious about what I’d seen in the tech industry, but if I’d ranted about it in a personal essay, nobody would have paid attention. People like being entertained, and if they’re educated by accident, I’m doing something right. This was also my approach when talking about racism in the publishing industry, in my satire piece on How to build a career out of being wrong.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Getting Driving by Starlight published by Henry Holt Books, an imprint of Macmillan, was certainly a highlight. At that time, I’d already achieved a pretty senior leadership role in my tech career, so I had felt like my writing career had been starved for a while. It meant something, as a woman of color, to be published by a major publishing house and to be recognized with stars from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

That said, the career achievement that means the most to me is probably the reputation I’ve built, for being a fixer. I’ve tried to carry the fight forward on behalf of a lot of people who don’t have even the privileges I do have. I’ve built a community of sorts, one where we no longer have to do the work of educating people that there is a problem when it comes to diversity in the tech industry, but can set all our collective energy to fixing it instead.

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

I’ve had a lot of uncertainty in my life. I’ve lived in five countries, without ever being able to vote in any of them. I’ve had to question basic assumptions, from religious beliefs to what I know now is a myth of meritocracy that pervades the tech industry. Most people aren’t used to that, and when they first encounter unfairness or something that challenges their worldview, they fall apart or they dig in their heels and refuse to change.

I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, or even ten days ago. I don’t tie my identity to the past, and am comfortable with evolving as I need to. This makes me open to growth, to making mistakes and learning from them. I know no successful person who has not learned to pick themselves up from failure.

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

Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. I can’t emphasize this enough, especially for minorities in the industry. You’re in for a long climb, so take the breaks you need, and put your health first.

Keep learning. Technology changes faster than you do, and if you’re not constantly looking for new opportunities for growth, you’ll quickly become irrelevant.

Invest in people for the long term. There may be some well-meaning allies who are still early in their journeys or who screw up, but the tech industry is far too small to burn every bridge that betrays you. Find a way to forgive and teach people who might become your greatest sponsors in the future.

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

Of course there are barriers, and these barriers are even higher when we take an intersectional lens. Women of color, particularly Black women, queer, trans and disabled women have far greater struggles than the rest.

It’s important to look for systemic fixes, rather than trying to fix things for an individual here or there. The pandemic gave us a great opportunity with remote work, something many women, particularly those with children, had been demanding for years. Creating more opportunities for remote work has the benefit of helping people who need it, women or otherwise.

Another area to find systemic fixes is with labor and employment law. The odds are all too often in the employer’s favor, frequently making it worthless or even harmful to report issues to HR departments. The law is a double-edged sword, and many women don’t realize that if they complain that “the men on this team are bullying me,” they might leave themselves open to being attacked or disciplined for making a gendered statement.

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

I work remotely, and have for years, since even before the pandemic. It’s one of the perks of my role that I am trusted enough to deliver results that I could be on a beach in Bali for all the difference it would make. Having, and earning, that credibility was difficult. It would be so much easier if companies learned to trust their employees, and offered remote and part-time work more readily. So many women I know would take advantage of that.

A second key thing is sponsorship and succession planning. Current leaders in the industry need to be actively looking for proteges to succeed them. This isn’t the same as mentorship, which is often paternalistic in its assumption that women need help to meet the bar. Rather, it’s a conscious decision to hand over the reins to someone else, and to ensure that they have the same access to networks and opportunity that you do.

There are 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?

There are many practical and immediate things, but since you asked for a magic wand, I’d say that granting visas for technical women globally would probably be the greatest step to changing that statistic. Several countries, including Russia, China and India have invested a great deal more in growing young technologists of all genders, and are graduating technical women at high rates. However, there are often fewer employment opportunities for those women in the countries they are in, and greater cultural barriers to advancement. If any woman wishing to pursue a degree in Computer Science from an accredited institution were to be granted a visa to study and work in the country of her choice, those numbers would change immediately.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m not going to fall into the trap of modesty that most women tend to when it comes to plugging their own work. Read my stories! Start with The Divine Comedy of the Tech Sisterhood, which walks you through what it is like to be a woman in tech, and it’s written in the style of Dante’s own book describing the circles of hell, purgatory and paradise.

Beyond that, I’d subscribe to Ben Thompson’s Stratechery to stay abreast of tech news, join Blavity or Afrotech or Grace Hopper conferences as appropriate, and go through the table of contents of leadership books to find out which ones resonate with you. Everyone’s leadership style is unique, and you’ll get much further defining your own rather than trying to follow someone else’s as if it were a checklist. It may be a while before the industry adapts to different leadership styles, but that’s not on you. Accept yourself as you are and as you grow into the leader you will be, even when the industry doesn’t accept you!

Inspirational Woman: Shellye Archambeau | CEO, Silicon Valley leader, Author & Board member for Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies and Okta Inc.

Shellye Archambeau

Shellye Archambeau is an experienced CEO and Board Director with a track record of accomplishments building brands, high performance teams, and organizations.

Ms. Archambeau currently serves on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies, and Okta. She is also a strategic advisor to Forbes Ignite and the President of Arizona State University, and serves on the board of two national nonprofits, Catalyst and Braven.

Ms. Archambeau has over 30 years of experience in technology. She is the former CEO of MetricStream, a Silicon Valley-based, governance, risk, and compliance software company. During her tenure MetricStream grew from a fledgling startup into a global market leader.

She is the author of ​Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers and Create Success on Your Own Terms​. A book that will inspire you and provide the tools to enable you to fight the battles, make the tradeoffs and create the life you want. She is also a Forbes contributor and the protagonist of the Harvard Business School Case Study: Becoming a CEO.

Ms. Archambeau enjoys the performing arts, traveling, cooking and writing a blog that provides career advice, insights and other musings.

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

I was one of four growing up—my parents had four kids in less than five years—we were close, but competitive.  And I tell you that because competing with my siblings and parents playing games is what drove my competitive nature.

We moved from a Philadelphia suburb that was well integrated, to a Los Angeles suburb shortly after the Watts riots in the 60s.  I was the only black girl in my class, if not the school, and the world let me know how much they didn’t want me there.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

One of the things I learned early on is the importance of setting a goal and focusing on it.  I set a goal, do the homework to figure out what it takes to achieve the goal, and then build and execute a plan to get there. In high school, I started leading clubs. As a leader I felt more in-control and protected from the racism around me. Based on my skills, a guidance counselor pointed me toward business.  Even though I didn’t know what it was, I decided then that my goal was to someday beome a CEO.

In 1984, I joined IBM, with my sights set on becoming CEO. I spent 14 years there and became the youngest African-American executive.  But it wasn’t clear if I could become CEO of IBM, so instead of changing the goal, I changed the plan.

I had to be very deliberate about my next step because I’d seen many people leave a big company and then stumble in their careers, and as a woman of color the sad fact is, I wasn’t going to get as many strikes at bat as others. So, I went to a smaller company, where I took a problem child and fixed it, turned it into a global leader after several near-death experiences.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I have been profiled in a Harvard Business School case study for my rise to CEO.  When I was hired as CEO of Zaplet, the dot-com bubble had just burst. The company that was only quarters away from bankruptcy. I completely reshaped the company, merged it with another to create the new MetricStream, which is now a leading governance, risk, and compliance company that is valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

That led to invitations to serve on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies, and Okta.  After achieving what I set out to do, I decided that I wanted to share my strategy and the lessons learned with others who have big career aspirations, which is why I’ve written Unapologetically Ambitious.

What are some lessons learned along the way to the CEO role and diverse board roles? 

The first lesson is this: be intentional about everything you do, especially when it comes to your career. You own your career, not your company, your boss or your mentors… but you!.  Make sure people know what you want and what you’re striving for.  If the universe doesn’t know what you want, the universe can’t help you.

Second lesson: it is important to take risks.  I found that as I moved up the ranks, what leadership expected from me changed, starting out it was about doing the work, and effectively teaming with others. When I moved to middle management, it was about how I led the team and got work done through others, when I moved to senior management it was about working with other organizations.  As an executive, it is all of that plus demonstrating a true understanding of the corporate strategy and delivering on it daily.  Senior executives impact strategy and bring not just a perspective of the company, but of a broader external world—and they take risks.  Risk and reward are two sides of the same coin.

The third is the importance of mentors— I’ve had some great ones.  Early on in my career at IBM, they established a formal mentor program and told us to pick our mentors.  I picked an executive leader, who was a couple of levels above me and had helped me already.  He called me and said, “Shellye, you’ve got me already, pick someone else!”  I realized two things in that brief exchange: first, I had mentors that I didn’t even know I had and second, I could have as many as I wanted.

After that I adopted mentors everywhere. One key I learned was that people are happy to help you if you let them know the impact they’re having on you. So, tell them!

Another thing about mentors, they don’t all have to be older than you and they don’t have to be at your company.  I learned that one a little later in life.  When I was with IBM, all of my mentors were IBMers.  Someone asked me who I bounced ideas off of, and I realized I didn’t have anyone who could give me objective opinions from outside the company!  I rectified that quickly, and it changed how I operated.

Your book which pictures your life and career in details is called Unapologetically Ambitious. Why that title?

I’ve been ambitious for a long time.  Yet during my career when people called me ambitious, it wasn’t always meant as a complement.  That’s ridiculous.  Everyone and I mean everyone deserves to be ambitious and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it.  This is a message I want everyone to hear.

You spent 15 years running a company in the tech industry, which has very few CEOs who are women, especially women of color. What's your view of the tech industry these days and do you see it making needed changes?

Things have improved since I first became CEO.  Forbes recently reported that women make up 40% of new entrepreneurs.  There are more women of color building businesses than any other racial group according to American Express.  So there are more businesses.  We need to ensure that this translates into the tech world.  I definitely see companies, investors and Universities focusing on supporting women and people of color. This is one of those areas where it's hard to say that anyone's doing enough until you actually start to see the results. And I think it's important to realize that we also need to be encouraging people. One of the things that frustrated me is that several years back, a number of companies in tech started publishing their diversity numbers, which I thought was a good step: “Hold us accountable, here are our numbers. This is our baseline.” And then they got totally beat up for their numbers.

Now, they didn't publish the numbers saying, “We've been working for 10 years on this, here's our results.” What they said is, “This is now important. We're going to start working on this.” So if we keep beating people up for actually being vulnerable, and working to get better, we're encouraging people not to be transparent. We should definitely hold them accountable for progress now they've done it. But give them time. We also want to make sure that we are supporting the work that needs to be done to get to the outcomes.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

Dr Larissa Suzuki featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Larissa Suzuki | Computer Scientist, Author, Engineer, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist & Inventor

Dr Larissa SuzukiI am Dr Larissa Suzuki, I am an award-winning passionate computer scientist, authorengineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and inventor.

I am neurodivergent, and I hold the titles of Associate Professor, EUR ING, BSc, MPhil, PhD, CEng, FIET, FRSA, AFHEA, IntPE. My career includes +16 years working in engineering. I work at Google as a Data Practice Lead (AI/Machine Learning, Smart Analytics and Data Management), and I am a Google AI Principles Ethics Fellow. I work on developing and testing the Interplanetary Internet with Vint Cerf and technologists from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and JAXA. I am the Chair of the Tech London Advocates Smart Cities Group, a reviewer of grant/awards of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the IET, and the ACM. I am a Council Member of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Ambassadors, a Committee member of the Grace Hopper Celebration and the ABIE Awards. Since 2003 I've actively worked towards increasing the representation of people of all kinds in Engineering and Technology.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes I do. I find it helpful to work on my Personal Development Plan (PDP), setting my goals for the short-, medium- and long-term goals. As you work on your PDP, you will realise that the moonshots you set for you and that seem to be too farfetched are achievable. I work with my mentor (Vint Cerf) to bring the best version of myself to the workplace and my personal life.

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

I did have to face challenges that, unfortunately, are very common to other women. In 2015 my PhD work was plagiarised and published in multiple forums. I then started a battle to own the copyrights of my work and a campaign for women's history in computing to be re-written. After one year of hard work, I managed to secure the IP of my Ph.D. and published it as a book dedicated to all women who've been erased from history but paved the way for many astonishing engineering advancements. In a more severe case, I have encountered brutal racism and sexual harassment in my previous employment. To my surprise, I was told that if I reported the issues to HR my career would be over. As an employee with neurodevelopmental disabilities, I did not know what to do. A mentor advised me to resign to escape from further abuse, which is what I did. Unfortunately, these issues still prevail in organisations that do not focus on creating a safe, fair, and dignified workplaces for all female tech workers.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I believe that succeeding in technology and engineering, despite all the adversities, has been my most significant career achievement. On a project side, working on the Interplanetary Internet project with Vint Cerf and colleagues at NASA and JAXA, and making a historical feat in connecting clouds with the Interplanetary Internet. Communicating from Earth to any spacecraft is a complex challenge. When data are transmitted and received across thousands and even millions of miles, the delay and potential for disruption or data loss is significant. Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) is NASA's solution to reliable internetworking for space missions. My work on DTN helps us testing and enhancing communication protocols that will potentially be used in space missions.

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

The primary factor for achieving success in my career has been a combination of hard work and curiosity. A career in engineering is not a straight path, and the great thing about it is that you can become what you want. I believe this is one of the many unique perks of being a computer scientist: just following your passion and working on things that matter to you the most, no matter which field of science they fall into. My inventions and work have advanced many fields of computer science and engineering, including smart cities, data infrastructures, machine learning, emerging technology, and computing applied to medicine and operations research.

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

If a person is interested in computer science or engineering, I would tell them to forget about the stereotypes, bring all their previous learning with them (tech and engineering is very multidisciplinary), and not worry if they haven't got a technical degree. Everyone can become what they dream of being. I am confident that if someone dreamt about becoming a change maker, a career in engineering would enable them to create the solutions that will change the world.

For someone already working in the field, I would tell them that I've learned that the most challenging problems and the most significant engineering opportunities are not technical. They are human. You will use what you learned at UCL to create the engineering solutions that will change the world, and like the generation before us, will also solve the many problems that engineering and technology bring. You will create new jobs, give machines and the built environment the powers to think, discover cures for illnesses and save our nature. As you can see, engineering is about human survival. And the best way to solve those problems is to have more people in the room with different voices and views. Be activists for that. In the end, what matters is not what you build. It is the teams you build and the positive impact you bring to the lives of people who will make use of what you create.

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

I believe many companies have not yet realised that "belonging" matters more than anything else. The United States alone loses $64 Billion every year to replace employees who left due to unfairness and discrimination. Belonging is central to every aspect of our humanity. It is a universal need. When we feel like we belong somewhere, we feel we have found a home where we can group and be respected there. When we fear our differences, we then deny the connections we share. Company leaders who feel uncomfortable tackling this issue is the very own definition of privilege. For someone already working in the field, I would tell them that "to yield and not break, that is an incredible strength". I have learned that there is no such thing as failure. You will realise it was life moving you in a better direction. Fall but fall forward, as I did. Don't be afraid, be comfortable in your own skin, uphold your values, your culture that will help you when it's time to fight for the job you want, for that promotion, and for the kind of society you want to live in.

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

Companies should foster belonging. We move towards belonging when we celebrate and value our differences and our similarities as a group. When there is no othering of individuals of any identity, it can connect people by co-creating our world together. Belonging expresses itself in many different ways, and each one of us has a special relationship with belonging. But the imperative rule of belonging is that it can only succeed if no one is excluded. Belonging never requires anyone to sacrifice what makes them unique, different and special. Belonging is not "fitting in" or "mimicking" others. The real sense of belonging is co-creating spaces, groups and institutions and collectively designing how it will operate and help humans to thrive. Innovation, creativity, and empathy is most likely to come from parts of us that we don't all share. When we take on this journey together, we move away from the idea of myself and them to a future of a collective unity - "we". It is a long journey full of remaking. Like puzzle pieces, leaders should bring us together without trimming away of anyone's irregularities. The rules, values and expectations to bring those puzzle pieces together are made with everyone in mind so that no one needs to check parts of themselves at the door. When you design well for people of all kinds and abilities, you design well for everybody else.

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?

Though women in computing have been pivotal in creating unique modern technology, their story is not one that's often told nor celebrated. Instead, great tech women pioneers have been all but erased from history, and that needs to change. If I had a magic wand I would make them all visible to inspire the generations to come. Their ground-breaking work can serve as an inspiration to both girls and boys alike.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I strongly recommend the TED talks of Dame Steve Shirley and Brene Brown. They are uplifting and full of insights. Their books are also sensational and I recommend that everyone reads "Let it Go" and "Daring Greatly". The Grace Hopper Conference is a conference that every woman technologist should experience. It is life-changing and immensely empowering. If you are neurodivergent, I recommend that you follow Autistica, LimeConnect, and my blog AUsome in Tech.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.

Francene Mullings

Inspirational Woman: Francene Mullings | Author of The Practical Digital Marketing Planner

Francene MullingsFrancene Mullings is a Google certified web marketing professional with over ten years of experience helping organisations to thrive online.

She is the author of The Practical Digital Marketing Planner® and various other guides that enable her students to overcome digital overwhelm. She is passionate about upskilling local companies and charities to readily bridge their digital skills gap to increase their reach and impact around them.

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

My humble beginnings started in rural Jamaica.

As the youngest of eight siblings, they mostly found me inconveniently inquisitive. In a time and place of no internet access and absence of a local library, my pastime activities centred around reading my sisters diaries and interviewing my brothers' date.

I embodied the true definition of a busy body, yet smart and somehow manage to focus on school. Early in my teenage years, tragedy strikes and I lost my dad to kidney disease, so my world turned upside down.

I remember my mother and siblings anchoring and protecting me, to ensure I completed high school in a country with little prospects outside the educational system.

I migrated to London in my early 20s, where I worked a part-time job at Sainsbury's to fund my college and university education, later becoming a Diagnostic radiographer.

While my day time career was in the NHS diagnosing ailments; my night time role was to offer hands-on support to people trying to grow their businesses online.

From early childhood, my parents instilled a culture to help others and make our community a better place.  Although most people around me couldn't understand why I juggled multiple jobs, I found it a privilege to serve people on my terms.

In 2012, while on maternity leave, I started to teach digital skills online to business owners. I later wrote a digital marketing planner, workbook and guide to help my clients navigate the digital overwhelm.

Naturally, I explored the option to volunteer my experience in local community spaces, and 2014 started to run free workshops in an office space in Peel House, Morden. To my surprise, I found a complete demographic of community heroes who needed to quickly bridge their digital skills gap and reach a wider local audience.

That's when I focused on making digital transformation a priority at the heart of the community. Currently, my goal for 2020 is to upskill 2000 local businesses, charities and adult education centres on how to increase their reach and impact online.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Initially, I hadn't made any stringent plans except that my parents may have subconsciously steered me into choosing a medical career. However, the direction my life took in the digital world was very much intentional and based on my unshakeable desire to learn an emerging and exciting topic. It also appealed to my entrepreneurial side to create an impact outside the four walls of conventional employment.  I factored time in my day to read the constant industry updates, completed all the courses on offer and would later enrol on a Postgrad in Digital marketing program.

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

I remember breaking down in tears at Hammersmith College when the administrative staff quoted the £10,000 a year fee to enrol on the A-levels course. As an international student, I knew I would pay my way but couldn't imagine how I would afford that kind of money. I felt despondent and like a giant door had been shut in my face. I had little option than to pull myself together. Later that week, I went job hunting, took on a part-time Sainsbury's job, found a more affordable college at £4,500 (Lambeth College) and gratefully continued my education.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In November 2018, I was contracted by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to offer digital skills training to local companies.

Placed in Fulham library, I worked with people from all types of local organisations which represented the force for good behind the local economy, and who drives many positive social and environmental changes.

I was able to help individuals who work in their businesses up to 80 hours a week and wouldn't otherwise have the capacity to access digital skills support. Some run essential community charities and trust their local library wouldn't demand money they didn't have. Then others are passionate about setting up social enterprises to tackle pressing issues like food waste and to run local sustainability projects.

I am incredibly proud to witness the boost in clarity and confidence of these individuals who attend the digital skills training sessions. Equally, the feedback is almost 100 per cent positive and has served to validate the vision to tackle the digital skills problem from the heart of the local community.

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

Empathy! This character trait will let you go far above and beyond, even when the budget runs out. People recognise kindness and whether you care or not. So I find that recommendations continue to encourage others to quickly take up training places as soon as they become available.

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

Take control of your learning journey by leveraging online platforms such as Codeacademy, Dash General Assemble and EdX. Find yourself a mentor to overcome the hurdles and to lessen learning curves. Don't forget to mentor others, too, while being generous with your skills and ideas. Finally, be innovative and think outside the box, which generally leads you to identify gaps you could champion.

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

Absolutely! I believe there's a lack of encouragement within the educational system to ignite young women's interest. Tech, I think, is still predominantly viewed as an area for boys to explore so the government could equip teachers to motivate girls to explore tech-related subjects.

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

Companies could introduce initiatives such as mentoring programmes as a source to both inspire and prepare women for more senior roles.

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?

With only five per cent of women in tech leadership roles, I would wave a magic wand and equip that five per cent to champion the cause of mentoring others to become confident to take up similar roles.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

As a social media trainer and with myself experiencing the power of LinkedIn, I'd recommend for women in tech to use the platform to grow relevant connections and become thought leaders in their field. By amplifying our voices, we could very well become the change we would like to see around us.

Michelle Dickinson featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) | Award-winning nano-scientist, co-founder, Nanogirl Labs & author


Michelle DickinsonDr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) is a passionate researcher and teacher with a love of science and engineering.

Author of No 8 Recharged and The Kitchen Science Cookbook, Michelle has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all.

Her background in Biomedical and Materials Engineering have combined her interests to give her a unique insight into how nature and technology can learn from each other for scientific developments.

Currently you can find her as founder and Director of the social enterprise Nanogirl Labs Ltd, she is also an honorary academic in Engineering at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Awarded Member of New Zealand Order of Merit Michelle was winner of the Women of Influence award for science and innovation in 2016, was awarded the Sir Peter Blake Leadership in 2015 and was winner of the Prime Ministers Science Media Communication Prize and the New Zealand Association of Scientists Science Communicators Award in 2014.

Michelle strongly believes that science should be open, transparent and a topic of conversation over the dinner table, not just the lab bench, and her vision is to create positive role models in the world that our children can aspire to be like.

With this belief she is passionate about creating new ways for the public to interact with science including her television appearances, live Theatre Science Shows, science comedy podcast “Stupid Questions For Scientists” and science communication videos.

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

I’m currently the co-founder of Nanogirl Labs, a social enterprise designed to empower young people to increase their confidence around science and engineering.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, from the moment I sat down with a careers advisor at school I’ve always had a plan – yet I don’t think I’ve ever followed that plan in my actual career.  Instead I’ve taken opportunities that have come up, many of which I didn’t even know existed when I was writing my plan.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Being a woman in engineering has often meant that I am the only female in the room, and career wise that has felt lonely and like I was always having to prove myself.  It’s taken me a long time to believe in my own abilities and my confidence has been thanks to great mentors who have helped me to believe in myself more.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Imposter syndrome – for some reason many women struggle with it and it prevents them from applying for promotions at work or bringing up issues when engaging in a team.  If we could teach women about what it was and how to work on some of the challenges that can hold them back I think we would see much more diversity in senior leadership.

How would you encourage more young women and girls into a career in STEM?

I think we need to break down some of the stereotypes around what jobs in science and technology are like.  It’s not all hard-hats and greasy overalls but instead the field is full of oppurtunities where women get to be creators not just consumers of new technology.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think mentoring and being mentored is so important.  I love mentoring others and helping young women to figure out what their strengths are while opening as many doors as I can for them using my networks.  Being mentored has helped me to focus on my own goals and use the lessons learned by others more established in their careers to gain a different perspective on things.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Quitting the stability of working as an academic for a university and setting up my own company.  Our STEM programs are taught in 5 different languages around the world and it’s amazing to see how building an organisation that provides positive female role models can break down some of the barriers that prevent young people from pursuing technical careers.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’m launching my new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook, which presents science in a recipe book to try and show people that science is everywhere and can be done with ingredients commonly found in the kitchen.  I hope that by bringing science home to the kitchen it will help parents to learn together with their children as they go on a science journey of discovery and curiosity.

Dr Michelle Dickinson (MNZM) – prize winning nanotechnologist, researcher and educator – has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all. Her new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook is packed full of fun ‘recipes’, each teaching an important scientific principle in a format that is perfect for parents and children to enjoy together.

Available on Amazon.  Find out more at

Andrea Pennington featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Andrea Pennington | Author, mentor & TEDx speaker


Andrea PenningtonDr. Andrea Pennington is an integrative physician, acupuncturist, meditation teacher and conscious communication specialist.

She is also a #1 international bestselling author, highly acclaimed 2x international TEDx speaker, invited professor at the University of Monaco, and mentor for the Global Institute for Extraordinary Women.

She has also written or contributed 10 books including Time to Rise, and her latest book , I Love You, Me! explores her personal journey from depression to real self-love. Follow Andrea on Twitter @DrAndrea

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

I am an American living on the French Riviera running a global media company. My background is as a holistic medical doctor (US trained & licensed) with a focus on positive psychology, sex education and neuroscience.

Because I have worked simultaneously in health journalism (with 4 years as the Medical Director & Spokesperson for the Discovery Channel with appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, LUXE-TV, and more, I have represented global brands in the luxury and lifestyle space for 20 years.

I now help healers, coaches, and therapists bring their message and products to the world through the media in my role as the Managing Director for Make Your Mark Global.

Growing up I felt like a misfit, having so many interested and being very sensitive (and psychic!) and I hid my battle with depression for nearly 2 decades. Once I gave my first TEDx “Become Who You Really Are” I decided that I had to be true to my real self. I was shocked to find out that many other people were also feeling depressed and stressed due to living a lie, or not sharing their truth.

Personally, I’m now on a mission to help millions of people break free from depression and anxiety to live as their Authentic Self with the Real Self Love Movement.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I definitely loved science and biology, and since my mother was also a medical doctor, I thought I would follow in her footsteps. The truth is I would have preferred to pursue a career in the arts! But my father insisted that being an actor or musician wasn’t a guarantee that I could support myself. And I got the sense that the arts were frivolous.

But now, working with both the media and psychology with a focus on conscious communication, I believe my career and life mission are perfectly aligned! I no longer regret not pursuing the arts right out of high school, but it certainly wasn’t planned!

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

It has always been a challenge explaining what I do. People like to put others into a box, it makes it easier to understand them. But I have many passions and many talents that haven’t always seemed obvious to others.

I tried to put myself into little boxes, or I would hide certain aspects of my personality or work to try to be accepted. But that proved to be too limited and ultimately contributed even more to the depression I endured.

When I finally reached my breaking point I was desperate for relief. I prayed that God would take my life and that’s what led to a breakthrough. My depression was ended when I had a spiritual ‘out of body’ experience, and all of the anxiety disappeared.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

Since leaving the high stress life in America I start and end my day with quiet time for meditation and reflection. I lived with the influence of societal ‘noise’ for so long, that I cherish my time to become still and mindful of what my heart and soul really desire for my life.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

Along my journey I’ve met some amazing people who’ve mentored me and really saw the truth of who I am. It has dramatically added to my confidence and my ability to stand in the truth of who I am.

Now I offer mentoring for those who want to share their work or their message with the world because there is a lot of old programming to get past. And being able to mirror back to my mentees the brilliance and unique gifts I see in them is my way of paying forward the gifts of confidence my mentors gave me.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I would encourage women to embrace their femininity -- even in the workplace. I feel that as we’ve denied our emotions to try to be more masculine or to prove we could do things as well as men, we’ve lost a bit of our edge. By tapping into our intuition, feminine energy and poise, we don’t have to prove anything, we can stand alongside men and women in our full power.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement to date is to raise my daughter with the freedom to express who she really is. She is not hampered by any of the doubt, fear or impulse to conform to the expectations of other which I had. She loves life and is bold enough to express herself already -- which makes me so happy!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’m now inspired to share my personal story along with the 5-step Cornerstone Process for building Real Self Love which is outlined in my book, “I Love You, Me!”

I am committed to supporting, inspiring and empowering others on our collective mission to heal holistically, love wholeheartedly and, live authentically. My vision is to impact 1 million people in our global community of heart-centered, soul-inspired, conscious change makers at Real Self Love.