Inspirational Woman: Dr Vedrana Högqvist Tabor | CEO & Co-Founder, BOOST Thyroid

Dr. Vedrana Högqvist Tabor

Dr Vedrana Högqvist Tabor is the CEO and co-founder of BOOST Thyroid, the world's biggest community and solution for people with thyroid diseases.

Vedrana holds a PhD in cancer immunology. She has worked for 15 years in academic research and the last five years in digital health. Vedrana has published research on a digital approach to health, and is a public speaker on female health empowerment.

In 2018 she was named to the “Nordic 100” as one of the most impactful people in the Nordic tech scene. Vedrana’s mission as a patient, researcher and CEO of BOOST Thyroid is to bring equality to health.

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

My name is Vedrana and I am a Swedish-Croatian scientist and the CEO of a health tech company, BOOST Thyroid. I hold a PhD in cancer immunology and have spent 13 years as an academic researcher. Six years ago I left academia after I realized I can help advance science and human health through a digital approach.

BOOST Thyroid is a free mobile phone app and community for people with an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s. We are building a personalized ML-powered coach and we bring patients and research together to create better health outcomes.
BOOST Thyroid aims to help by providing scientifically vetted information, strengthening the thyroid patient community, supporting research, and developing new technological approaches to improve personalized healthcare as well as patient-doctor conversations. You can read more about us on www.boostthyroid.com .

We are supported by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 funding as well as prominent Nordic investors (Sophia Bendz, Futuristic VC, Hampus Jakobsson, Wave Ventures and Simon Josefsso, as well as the Fast Track Malmö accelerator), Vodafone Institute and the German ministry of education and research.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not in its entirety. I reflect on things: what would be an impactful thing I would enjoy doing and be good at. I follow my passions, and what I believe would be the best use of my time and capabilities.

I did 13 years of cancer research because I thought that was the best use of my time, knowledge and passion at the moment. Then when I felt a spark for the digital world, I thought about how we could utilize technology to bring people an earlier diagnosis of chronic conditions. I see technology as an awesome facilitator to improve quality of life as we age.

BOOST Thyroid started from a personal reason: I myself have the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s. In this condition, one’s own immune system slowly destroys the thyroid by making it underactive. This is an ongoing process, resulting in a variety of symptoms, including anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, “brain fog” and fertility problems. I found no comprehensive solution that would help research and patients at the same time, with the tandem goals of contributing to new knowledge and improving patients' lives.

So, I did not plan, but I researched and realized that autoimmune conditions are chronic, progressive and are currently incurable. In addition, it takes a long time to diagnose them, and sometimes they are misdiagnosed as depressive disorders. 350 million people live with autoimmune conditions, meaning that even if you don’t have an autoimmune condition, people you love and care about likely do.

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

Yes, many. I decided to leave my relatively safe academic career after 13 years and dove into tech and entrepreneurship. I was quite unprepared for what followed but I learned relatively fast and kept going. Owning my mistakes and learning from them has helped a lot.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I believe I have three that are equally important for me

The very first thank you email from one of our users, telling us we helped them with their health - One thing we've heard repeatedly from people using Boost Thyroid is it helps them identify areas in their health they need to address, whether it's meals, exercise, or sleep, so they can prioritize their self-care instead of feeling overwhelmed and needing to fix everything at once. Another piece of feedback we get is that people appreciate advice without it being tied to trying to sell them a product like supplements or powders.

Having an awesome group of people to work together with on this project - this is an incredible privilege, to have a people I admire and learn from. I have dedicated huge parts of my heart and energy to BOOST Thyroid, and it is awesome to see other people finding it equally important and rewarding.

Not giving up when it was the hardest - getting through hard times is a remarkable success

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

My stubbornness, my perseverance, my passion. I don’t give up when I work on something impactful. I did 13 years of academic cancer research that was triggered by the premature death of my grandma. I wanted to understand what cancer is and how can we stop it from becoming so powerful.

Equally, I left academia after I felt I could contribute to the betterment of human health in a better and faster way, facilitated by the exponential digitalization of the world surrounding us.

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

No awesome career is meant to be easy, but it is meant to be interesting. For me a few things have proven to be of high importance:

    • Staying on top of the things - tech is evolving so rapidly, one must learn continuously.
    • Persevere - tech careers are full of challenges, and especially at the start one can be

      challenged around the clock. It’s equally important is to know when to give up,

      especially if you work in a toxic environment.

    • Focus - after figuring out what to do and how to do it, your focus needs to be razor

      sharp. That’s the best way to deliver projects and preserve your energy. It is

      challenging, because it seems we are precluded from doing the next cool thing.

      Standing up for yourself - being your own champion as much as possible and letting

      your voice be heard.

    • Have a good work-life balance - work should not be a single thing in your life defining you. Keep your health in check, and save enough quality time for your family and friends and your out of work passions.

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

The fact is there are barriers for an opportunity to succeed for people who are different than what is considered the “standard”, whether that is biased by sex and gender, age, health, or cultural and religious backgrounds.

I think we can overcome these by showing the accomplishments of a diverse group of people and talking to them about what they do and how they do it instead of talking about how different they are. Put their achievements into focus, not their personal characteristics.

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

Commit to hiring a diverse group of people and make workplaces inclusive and safe. If you don’t know how - ask around. Ask people who do not look or behave like you what they think.

Start treating people as equal in salaries and in their right to learn and advance in their careers. Offer support for parental leave and facilitate coming back to the workforce from any kind of career break. Don’t make people ask for things that should be normal to have. Invest in women-driven companies more; do not value a company less because it is led by women.

There is currently on 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?

Everyone commits to quotas by 2022 to increase the number of women in leadership and engineering branches of tech to at least 50 per cent.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Kim Scott, Arlan Hamilton and Susan Fowler in any form - book/video/podcast/twitter/live

FemGems podcasts for inspiration.


Marc Woodhead featured

HeForShe: Marc Woodhead | CEO & Founder, Holograph

Marc Woodhead

Marc Woodhead is founder and CEO of cutting-edge software development business Holograph.

With 25 years’ experience in graphic design, computer system design, human-computer interaction and psychology, he is recognised as one of the UK’s most inventive creatives.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign? For example – do you have a daughter or have witnessed the benefits that diversity can bring to a workplace?

I am blessed with two daughters; I am also lucky to have three women running my business. Operations Director, Finance Director and Platform Producer.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

To provide a balanced and normalised environment for everyone.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

I don’t feel most men feel comfortable in the conversation, which is creating something of an imbalance in my opinion. There appears to be what amounts to a fear/anxiety being generated for the revised generation of men, by the appropriate response by women, after the actions and previous hundreds of years of misogyny and abuse by men in power.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

Interesting, in a sense, I don’t feel men should be ‘helping’, I think they should be ‘not focussing’ on any concept of gender in making their decisions.

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

I’m not sure I have the experience to comment on this as I have been lucky enough not to directly experience the kind of business that might make gender biased decisions. I suspect that a forum within which everyone is welcome to openly discuss things, including nurtured feelings of bias on both sides, may be a big ask!

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

Yes, I am developing my Operations Director, supporting my Finance Director and working closely with both the aforementioned to bring our Platform Producer to Director level. I am also working closely with both our senior designers (one man and one woman) to impart my background experience and ideas in developing our brand, design culture, and managing our close working relationship with our clients.

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for?

In my experience I have found the women on my team to be strong minded and focussed on success, driving change and defining their own futures within our business.


Vanessa Sanyauke featured

Inspirational Woman: Vanessa Sanyauke | Founder & CEO, Girls Talk London

Vanessa Sanyauke is the Founder and CEO of Girls Talk London, an award winning organisation that has engaged half a million women around the world and directly impacted 1,500 women & girls in the UK.

Vanessa SanyaukeVanessa is also a speaker, presenter and writer based in London. Vanessa has over a decade of experience advising FTSE 100 businesses on Diversity, Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives and policy. Vanessa has worked with over 50 businesses that include The Bank of England, UK Parliament, Facebook, O2, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Barclays, State Street, Salesforce, Vodafone, BT, Ericsson, Allen and Overy, Lloyds Bank, Bauer Media, UBS, RBS Legal, Rabobank, Reed Smith and CMS Cameron McKenna. Vanessa has also been an adviser on Youth Policy to the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and The former Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

In 2018 Vanessa was listed on the 2018 EMpower 50 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders List, presented by the Financial Times and as a Changemaker on the 2018 Evening Standard 1000 most influential Londoners list. That same year she won an award at the 2018 European Diversity Awards for Best Community Project for setting up the pan-industry project, Step into STEM.

Vanessa is the Host and creator of business podcast “The after work drinks club” which is a top 100 iTunes global business podcast which interviews and features discussions with influential people of business and popular culture.

Vanessa is also the Host and Creator of Girls Talk, an online panel talk show for millennial women that has been viewed by over half a million people worldwide.

She is a sought-after Presenter and Speaker on business, women’s issues and popular culture featured on BBC Radio One and hosting the Penguin Living and Virgin Books ‘Live.Life. Better’ Podcast.

Her speaking engagements have taken her across the globe at institutions such as The Southbank Centre, Glitz Africa She Summit, UN Women UK, Cosmopolitan Self-Made Summit, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Google UK, City Hall, Institute of Directors and Women in Research UK.

Vanessa is a regular visiting lecturer and speaker on Social Entrepreneurship, Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity and Inclusion for London School of Economics, City University London, Kent Business School, Brunel University and Kings College London.

Vanessa has written and featured in publications such as The Guardian, Stylist, The Telegraph, LOOK Magazine, virgin.com, Confederation of British Industry and Entrepreneur Country. The 16th April 2017 Edition of The Style Magazine Sunday Times Supplement listed Vanessa as one of 10 people changing the workplace for women in the UK.

During her final year at Brunel University in 2008, Vanessa started her first social enterprise, The Rafiki Network, an award-winning organisation that provided mentoring & training services for over 2,000 young people in London. In April 2010 until January 2014 she was a Trustee of national youth volunteering charity inspired. In 2011 she was presented with a Peace Award from The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson for her contribution to the well-being of people in London and was Co-Chair of the Spirit of London Awards Select Committee in 2012 producing their biggest ever show at London’s 02 Arena.

After completing a Masters in Sustainability & Management at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2012 she started Girls Talk London and began working for The Brokerage CityLink as a Senior Programme Manager. The 9th March 2015 issue of Look Magazine featured Vanessa as one of the most inspiring women in the UK and in June 2015 She was named as one of 67 Changemakers in the UK at The Southbank Centre as part of their annual Festival of Love. During the same month she was also invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In December 2015, Vanessa was nominated for a Digital-IS award for Best Online Presenter.

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

I am the CEO and Founder of Girls Talk London, which is a social enterprise that connects women and girls with FTSE 100 businesses via bespoke programmes and events to help them develop the skills and confidence to succeed in the workplace. To date we have engaged half a million women around the world and directly impacted 1,500 women & girls in the UK. I am also a speaker, presenter and writer based in London with over a decade of experience advising FTSE 100 businesses on Diversity, Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives and policy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I initially was pursuing a career in medicine at university when I realised that I wanted to become social entrepreneur and help people with their careers and life.

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

Yes, getting people to believe in my vision for the programmes I have set-up has been challenging and especially getting executives to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion to their bottom line. I have overcome this by not giving up, getting internal champions to advocate for me aswell.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement has to be setting up and delivering Step into STEM, our seven month mentoring programme for females aged 16-18 who want to work in Technology which is funded by O2, BT, Vodafone and Ericsson. To date we have given nearly 150 girls mentors and we won a European Diversity award for Best Community Project in 2018. What really makes this my biggest achievement is where our mentees end up as we currently have mentees studying Technology based subjects at Oxford University and MIT and they have credited the support of their mentors in helping them get there!

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

I am persistent.

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

Seek a sponsor to open up opportunities for you.

Keep being curious.

Hold the door open for someone else who wants to enter the Tech space, you will learn a lot from them.

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

Yes, because there are still small numbers of women working in Tech. We need to create a talent pipeline of young women who have the skills to succeed and enter the Tech sector. We need more mentoring schemes and work experience opportunities to prepare them.

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

Invest in training and development such as MBAs for female staff and sponsor them for opportunities at Senior Level.

There is currently on 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?

Make every Tech company have a 50:50 spit for gender balance on their boards and if not achieved fine them big bucks! Change starts from the top and we need more visible female role models in Senior roles in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would recommend attending events and conferences to get connected and learn new skills aswell as reading books and blogs in your sector.


Clémentine-Lalande-featured

Inspirational Woman: Clémentine Lalande | CEO, Pickable

Clémentine Lalande Clémentine is the CEO of Pickable, a world-first dating app. It offers privacy for women whilst dating - which is otherwise public on other similar platforms.

Pickable is ideal for women who are worried about being recognised or dislike too much online exposure.

A keen entrepreneur, Clémentine has worked with various start-ups at C-suite level. Early on in her career she joined BCG in Paris but got tired of the monotony. Her career took a change of direction in the form of working for a number of venture capital companies. Clémentine is passionate about doing business for the greater good and has spent time working in investor funds with businesses in developing countries such as Haiti and Uganda. She has also spent some of her career in Argentina and Columbia.

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

I envisioned Pickable in 2018 when I realised how much men were still leading the game in the online dating world.

I have previously worked on another dating app, Once. During my time at Once, I managed to scale up the app use from two to ten million users worldwide. I met with thousands of women who expressed a need for more privacy, discretion and control in the online dating world. I decided it was time to change the game by creating Pickable, an app that protects women’s privacy and enables them to browse anonymously.

I have over a decade of experience in technology and business development. I have also had the privilege of living and working in many countries around the world. I have also spent time mentoring various start-ups at C-suite level. I am proud to call myself a mentor in various start-up founders’ networks. Before that, I was a venture capital investor and strategic adviser at BCG.

In my spare time, I am a jazz singer and songwriter. I live in Paris with my two children and my husband.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly. I studied industrial engineering at university and worked in venture capitalism. Now I am the CEO and founder of a dating app - the two do not exactly go hand in hand!

I am driven by intellectual rigour. This is how I make most of my career choices - I like to surround myself with brilliant people who inspire me. This is how I have made sense of all my decisions retrospectively.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

One of my biggest challenges is taking time to disconnect and 'switch off'. This is something that I have only learnt over the last few years. At university, I studied difficult sciences (mathematics and physics) so alongside my studies, I developed an artistic parallel life. I use this as a method to balance my brain.

I am a passionate musician and singer. I always allow time to myself regardless of what happens during the week. Even if I have a busy schedule, an investors emergency or a childcare crisis, I always continue to learn. I have toured with a jazz band, tried my hand at song-writing and I also recorded three EPs with my previous band. I also study lyrical singing as a mezzo-soprano and have taught myself the piano. This is the way I manage to disconnect myself so that I go back into work full of energy and recharged.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

The worldwide success of Pickable is one of my biggest achievements. Following the launches in new markets, Pickable became the number one trending app in France, Italy and Austria. We have recently launched the app in Switzerland and in Germany. It will be very exciting to see the outcome of both launches.

Other than my career, my children provide me with pride daily - alongside exhaustion!

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

A strong mindset and constant hard work.

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

I am proud to be a mentor in various start-up founders’ networks. Every year I take on one or two start-ups that I coach on various topics. These include fundraising, strategy, planning, operations and recruitment.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I have loved following the media attention of the ‘Me Too’ movement. There is a clear split between men and women and I am delighted that this has caught the attention of the press. I am also delighted that many governments have got involved in the issue. The 'Me Too' movement has created a platform to prevent discrimination and enforce gender balance.

It is wonderful that many enterprises have pledged to drive change. This is due to the issue becoming more and more visible - both internally and externally. The progress is slow but I believe that with further innovation and technology we will begin to see change. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you more in a few months!

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Never allow someone to tell you something is impossible.

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

I would love to develop another app based on a brilliant concept that I discovered in Germany. There is a campaign called ‘Pinkstinks’ which finds sexist advertisements online. It then reports and makes fun of them with the help of a community. I plan to develop an app based on this concept which spots


Inspirational Woman: Anna Tsyupko | CEO, Paybase

 

Anna Tsyupko

Anna Tsyupko is the CEO and co-founder of the B2B payments company, Paybase.

They provide the most flexible payment solution for platform businesses - such as online marketplaces and gig/sharing economy platforms. Their goal is to ensure that all businesses have the freedom to build the exact business they want!

Anna manages the overall direction and strategy at Paybase, working closely with clients and suppliers whilst overseeing all aspects of the business. Before founding Paybase she held positions in private equity, after receiving her BA from the University of Oxford and Masters from the University of Cambridge.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No - if I had, I think I probably would have planned something different! The old adage that “life is what happens when you’re making other plans” certainly resonates with me. After university I went straight into the world of work so didn’t really have time to set out a plan.

However, this is not to say that I just stumbled into my career unknowingly, it was a case of recognising opportunities and reacting quickly. To me that is far more important than planning - being able to identify opportunities and then being ready to act on those that appeal to you.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Many! I don’t think you will find someone that has started a business and not faced challenges - but that’s no bad thing! Challenges are how you learn. When attempting to redefine the payments industry, the challenges are going to be numerous and varied.

You have to approach things creatively and that act of constant problem-solving is very rewarding.

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

I’m not currently mentoring anyone but it is something that I’d love to get into at some point - I strongly believe in mentoring as a concept. I have a mentor who is fantastic. We don’t see each other that often, but when we do the interaction is invaluable.

What is so useful about a mentor is that they know you, where you are in your journey and your strengths and weaknesses, but they are far enough away from your business to offer a fresh perspective on it. Sometimes you can miss things by being too close to them, a mentor provides that top level clarity.

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

We could speak about precise figures and percentages now, but what it ultimately boils down to is an equality of opportunities between men and women. Whether this can be achieved in five years, I don’t know, but the sooner it happens the better.

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

I think one thing to examine would be the maternity/paternity leave situation. Obviously having a baby affects both parents, but most would agree it is far more disruptive for a woman’s career. If maternity and paternity leave was awarded equally, we would alleviate this issue of men being chosen for positions ahead of women due to the “risk” women pose of needing to take maternity leave.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Paybase, without question. In the financial space there is a very high barrier to entry due to the large amount of regulation involved and the power of incumbent financial institutions, such as banks. For me and my co-founder to take Paybase from the idea stage to
a live product which is now onboarding its first clients and beginning to generate revenue is something I’m very proud of. This progression has taken time, but we are now beginning to reap the rewards of our efforts - it’s an exciting time for us.

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

Our next challenge is to scale to Europe, which is a big but exciting challenge. It will be the first time I have taken on international expansion and there will be challenges that we are not even aware of yet. But as I’ve mentioned, challenges are necessary for
you to grow as a business and as a person - it will be a positive step for us and I’m looking forward to it!

On a more personal level I of course look to the future and hope to establish myself as an excellent leader with a track record of successful businesses!


Nintendo 1980s Tech

Too few women in tech? Blame 1980s marketing!

 

nintendo, 1980 tech

Women are rightfully reclaiming their role in the technology sector

Often, the technology industry is held up as one of the very worst for gender diversity, yet it has not always been as male dominated as it is today – in fact, from the 1940s, women led major developments in programming and software development. In 1984, 37% of computer-science majors were women; at the time coding was a considered a rote skill – like typing – and considered more suited to women.

Today, technology is ubiquitous – at home or at the office – often based on consumers pushing for it. Gaming is arguably the main driver fulfilling Bill Gate’s vision for a computer in every home and it is largely, but not deliberately, responsible for the gender skew we see in tech more broadly.

Tech started out gender neutral

In the late 70s and early 80s, as home gaming hit the market, games were gender neutral. Figuring out noughts and crosses or the digitisation of Pong drove the industry – not shoot ‘em ups. In fact, one of the biggest selling personal games ever, in its day, was developed and co-written by a remarkable woman, Lori Cole for Sierra – the Quest for Glory series. So, what went wrong? In a nutshell; marketing happened.

In the early days of consoles and hand-helds (think Asteroid, Avalon, Tetris) the industry almost drowned in low quality, disappointing games but people still wanted to be a part of it. At its peak, the revenues for video games in the US sat at USD 3.2 billion in 1983. By 1985, revenues fell a whopping 97% to approximately USD 100 million. Nintendo stepped in and saved the industry with a quality guarantee, but suddenly marketing appeared in an industry that didn’t know who was buying and playing its games. It hadn’t really been terribly important until then.

Game Boys, not Game Kids

Marketing is about identifying and understanding a target market and, in those days, for reasons not entirely clear, consoles became boy toys and gaming – along with everything else computer software related – evolved with that in mind. Nintendo’s industry saving solution was called a Game Boy. The industry’s male focus for marketing became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today, only one in four computing jobs is held by a woman. Programming isn't a male or female skill and remembering this is essential to address the tech industry’s widening skills gap. It’s possible that the advent of the smartphone and the plethora of non-gendered games will help attract women back into the industry they helped build. It has exploded – the ability for everyone to have a powerful computer in their pocket, or purse, means technology is everywhere and we want it to work for women. So they should most definitely be in the business, whether its hardware, software or some other aspect.

What companies can do

Of course, these days the tech world is not just about coding: while females need to be encouraged to study more technology-based subjects, there are many things companies can do to attract and retain women. Jobsite was part of a large study last year to explore how we can close the skills gap in the UK, and encouraging women is one key option. It brings other benefits too, including much sought-after diversity of opinion and thought. After all, women are around half of the population, so products, services and solutions need to be designed to include them as well.

More women are entering the tech world and, whilst it may be slower than ideal, there is a definite increase. Just over 30 per cent of female respondents in a Computer Weekly survey last year had been in a tech job for less than five years, compared to 19 per cent of men. In the more experienced part of the IT workforce, 70 per cent of men have been in tech for 10 years or more, compared with just 45 per cent of women. If women can be retained in the sector, this is a positive rebalancing.

Hard & soft skills

Sometimes firms focus too much on technical skills when hiring staff, without considering what other skills are needed for tech roles. Often, as the tech industry has grown, people who could be trained to fill a role are overlooked in favour of the few people who have the specific skills needed to walk straight in, which has led not only to a gender gap, but also a skill one.

Not only are employers often failing to consider soft skills, but many also still suffer from an unconscious bias, making them more likely to hire people who are like them, leaving out the diverse applicants, be it women, older candidates or other less-represented groups.

Retaining women

Once women have joined, it is not enough for companies to sit back and think they have achieved diversity. This is not the full picture and without changes, women will leave the sector.

Women in technology tend to leave the field within ten years and this is often because they feel unsupported to make other life decisions, like having children. If companies have a clearly articulated retraining policy for women in highly technical roles, like coding, they are more likely to return to work after a break to have children. We found that women valued remote working (76 per cent) and career progression opportunities (72 per cent) as key workplace benefits, for example.

Remote working goes a long way to putting an end to the “Dilbert Era” perception of the IT workplace and an increasing number of entrepreneurial tech companies are making the field more attractive to a broader range of people.

The workplace has changed, but there is a clear historical precedent for women doing exceptionally well in technology and bringing them back into the fold solves many challenges for UK businesses. Tech firms that act upon the growing skills shortage by hiring from a more diverse pool of candidates will likely reap the many rewards, leaving those that don’t paying over the odds for the remaining ‘traditional’ applicants left in contention.

Nick GoldAbout the author

Nick Gold is CEO of Jobsite.

Nick joined Jobsite in December 2014 as Chief Executive Officer.

Since 2016 Nick is COO for StepStone UK with overall responsibility for the sales and customer service organisation in the UK market.

Before joining the StepStone Group, Nick held management roles at Sage and Lexis Nexis. He was a member of the management team at Emailvision (now SmartFocus) as the company grew to become one of the world’s largest Email Service Providers in a very competitive market.

Nick holds an undergraduate degree in Management from Liverpool and an MSc in International Business from UMIST.


Anne de Kerchkove featured

Inspirational Woman: Anne de Kerckhove | CEO, Freespee

 

Anne de Kerchkove - High Res

A self-proclaimed ‘tech start-up addict’, Anne has personally invested in over twenty-five new tech companies, and has set up and invested in three early-stage tech funds throughout her career.

Anne set up and managed her first company at the age of just seventeen. From there, she pursued a career in business and finance, later progressing to a management consultant role within the tech industry and leading five tech start-ups to profitability.

Her current role as CEO of phone and messaging conversation platform, Freespee, focuses on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance the customer journey and increase the human element to customer service.

Being such a key figure in what has historically been a very much male-dominated industry, Anne’s passion and belief in diversity across all levels of an organisation has been a driving force throughout her career. She is personally invested in actively inspiring and coaching women to join boards, and in helping men and women from all backgrounds to develop the skills needed to succeed in fair and equal environments. Today Anne mentors over ten founders a year, continually re-investing into the next generation of talent and innovation.

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

I am the CEO of Freespee, a leading communication platform that creates and enables conversations between brands and their customers.

I mentor over ten founders a year, as a way of giving back to our start-up community, and am one of the few female executives in the UK to sit on two public company boards in the tech and gaming space

My career began at 17, when I set up my first company - a travelling theatre troupe - whilst studying at McGill university. I then went on to a career in finance before progressing to a management consultant role within the tech industry.

Over the last 15 years, I have helped lead five tech start-ups to profitability and IPO. I don’t have a pension plan or big savings: I reinvest all my money into the next generation of talent and innovation. I have personally invested in over 25 new tech companies and set up and invested in three tech early-stage funds.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all! I studied business at university because I thought it made sense, but quite honestly it bored me to tears. Then I became a banker; it was a fantastic learning experience and I was surrounded by great mentors, but I knew deep down it was just not something I would ever be passionate about. One mentor in particular noticed that I was always asking too many questions; he realised I was not fascinated by finance, but by what we were financing. He transferred me to a new project and innovation financing division, which was amazing. I then quit banking with his blessing and support and went on to pursue a career in management consultancy within the tech industry.

Since then I have known that as long as my path stays aligned with innovation, it is heading in the right direction. It is important to follow your passions and to do what you’re good at - and what you know how to make an impact with.

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

Within the tech industry, we face challenges every day - from cashflow to growing so fast that you don’t recognise your own employees! No matter what the problem is that you are facing, it is important to take perspective on it, remain level-headed and stay calm.

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

One thing that I feel still needs addressing is the gender pay gap. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that those who shout the loudest are those who are most rewarded - and unfortunately it tends to be men that do the shouting. Pay should be based on results, and businesses should embrace a culture that not only celebrates performance, but also builds confidence in women to go for those bigger, higher-paid jobs.

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

There is a lot of misconception around these industries. Growing up, I was under the impression that computers were for boys - a myth that must be broken very early on. It is vital that we have the right role models in school  to achieve this. Girls learn faster when they are younger, so it is important that gender neutrality is embedded as early as the age of eight to ten, rather than when they are making educational choices that will affect their careers at 13 to 15.

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

I’d say, do it! My own experience of mentoring others has been amazing. To be able to debate and talk through things with your mentee and help them to make impactful change to their own careers is extremely rewarding.

As I was growing up I was lucky enough to be surrounded by strong female role models. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my mother, sister and grandmother all shaped my behaviour and attitudes.

There is a myth that mentoring will take up a lot of time, but I can say that even if you are catching up just once a month, you will see a change after a single session.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

It is difficult to pinpoint a single achievement; I like to think of my whole life as an achievement! Being happy at work, keeping my team motivated and being in the position to motivate and encourage other people are all important things to me.

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

Gender diversity has been a major driving force throughout my career to date and I hope to continue to actively encourage women to join boards, and help both men and women from all backgrounds to develop the skills needed to succeed in fair and equal environments.

As a leader in tech, I believe that to make things change, you must start from within and lead by example. Only then can you really make an impact.


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The emergence and importance of warm technology

 

 virtual reality, warm technology

Technology has developed a bit of a bad reputation - and with good reason.

‘Techlash’ has dominated the news agenda, with more and more people finding that they are inundated with gadgets, social media and the constant ‘on’ culture - but this is about to change. First of all, it is important to remember that technology itself was never to blame. The problem lies in the fact that most engineers and designers have been striving to make as much money as possible by making companies and people as efficient as possible. By making technology unforgiving and demanding of its users, these companies inadvertently caused techlash.

If the team is good, then technology does what it is created to do; so, if you make a `social network` where the users are encouraged and helped to reach a lot of people and gain a following, follow others for updates, plan events and get plenty of people to come… Well then, that will be what the users use the network for.

However, if you would rather try to design a platform that encourages long conversations with a select and carefully chosen few, or maybe tried to create an online space that facilitated new, long-lasting, friendships, you might then create something that is truly social. Unfortunately, this kind of platform won’t carry a lot of ad-money, the more people use it to form real relationships, the less time they will eventually spend on it, choosing to socialise in real life instead. The more efficient your idea becomes, the fewer people will need to use it.

So what reason do I have to believe that the emergence of ‘warm technology’ is about to change the game completely? Because people are looking for technology that makes sense for them, and will want to invest in these solutions.

The key principle behind warm technology is that it doesn’t aim to replace our most basic human needs, such as contact with our loved ones, a feeling of belonging and the desire to feel needed. What warm technology does instead, is harness the plethora of technological advancements to meet these needs, solving an emotional and often completely invisible crisis. For example, it is estimated that in the UK, 1 in 20 adults reports feeling lonely often or always (Office for National Statistics 2017). To these adults, the existing technology does not solve an emotional need, it doesn’t enhance their existing relationships. In my company’s bid to eradicate the entire concept of loneliness, we were aware that we couldn’t and shouldn’t, try to replace existing human bonds, which is where other technologies have failed. So instead, we focused on utilising technology to make these needs more prominent and more easily accessible, creating two warm technology products as a result.

Our first product, AV1, was aimed at helping children and young adults suffering from ill-health, remain in contact with friends and continue with their education. Our second, KOMP, was a communication tool designed for the elderly, helping them stay in touch with family. With both of these, we didn’t strive to create technology that would impress. Our focus was to create technology that would only assist, help and solve. While we aren’t at the point where we have solved the loneliness epidemic, we have placed the effected and the vulnerable at the centre of the creation process, giving them a voice. Something that isn’t always factored-in by tech giants looking to create the next ‘it’ thing.

While for us at No Isolation the focus is on loneliness, it isn’t the only crisis that warm technology can and should, solve. Warm technology could be used to help victims of PTSD, it could improve the lives of the homeless, with leaps and bounds being made by companies like Action Hunger. The main element that unites companies and makes their technologies ‘warm’ is their dedication to putting the vulnerable at the heart and soul of each project - from the inception, through to testing, execution and later, improvement. We hope that some of our work serves as an inspiration for technology companies to do more, to move away from chasing the elusive consumer and the next cheque, towards forming a happier society, where no one has to struggle because their voice is ignored.

About the author

Karen Dolva is CEO and co-founder of No Isolation (www.noisolation.com), an Oslo-based start-up founded in October 2015, with the goal of reducing involuntary social solitude. Its first product, a physical avatar called AV1, was designed to help children and young adults, forced by illness to take extended time away from school, to maintain a presence in the classroom, communicate with friends, and socialise.

Before co-founding No Isolation, Karen studied Computer Science and Interaction Design at the University of Oslo, the highest ranked institution for education and research in Norway.

During her studies, Karen began her career at StartupLab Oslo, and went on to co-found UX Lab - a user experience consultancy, created to help companies with user testing and the designing of digital user experiences.

Karen identified the need for No Isolation when she met Anne Fi Troye - a mother who lost her teenage daughter to cancer. Through learning about Anne Fi’s continuous efforts to improve the lives of children in hospital, based on her own child’s experience of social solitude while unwell, Karen was inspired to use her personal knowledge of user experience and computer science to develop a tech-based solution.


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Inspirational Woman: Loubna Bouarfa | CEO & Founder, OKRA Technologies

 

Loubna Bouarfa is an entrepreneur, machine learning expert with deep expertise in implementing and commercialising Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems; mainly for healthcare.

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

I’m a machine learning scientist turned entrepreneur by founding my own AI company OKRA, I’m also a mum of two amazing boys (aged 7 an 5).

I spend a lot of my time building my company OKRA, in to a successful AI company to offer Pharmaceutical companies solutions that will help them make better decisions.  Decisions such as identifying the right patient population to ultimately improve patient outcomes. It’s a win-win for everyone; pharmaceuticals, insurance companies and for the patients.

I also work with the European Commission as a High-level Expert on Artificial Intelligence. The goal here is to implement ethical guidelines and policies to enable the effective development and production of AI systems to impact health, safety and freedom of the wider society.

Finally, I love to work with people with diverse backgrounds. I strongly believe in the power of diversity in challenging the status quo. Being born and raised in Morocco, I moved to the Netherlands at the age of 17, and then moved with my young family to the UK.  This made me realise that the best place to be, is outside of your comfort zone. I'm constantly looking to surround myself with people that share the same values and who are cut from the same cloth both personally and professionally.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I never planned my career, I genuinely believe in learning from previous experiences and connecting the dots moving forward.  However I’m an objective oriented  person, so once I have a target in mind there is only one option left for me and that is making the target a reality.  After academia I was fortunate enough to experience both the Start-up world and big corporates, I guess my only plan was that I knew I was going to set up my own company and try to apply my learnings to help people.

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

Absolutely, being an immigrant woman in a male dominated tech industry is challenging.  But to be honest, I have never had doubts about my decision to pursue my goals.  Sometimes my patience is put to the test, at stationary times, when no progress seems to happen, it doesn’t feel right. But suddenly something great happens. Besides, I strongly believe “after hardship comes ease”, from the tough times I get more energy. If everything is too good to be true, I get very nervous.

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

Implementing diversity policies on all levels, on gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and age,  the diversity of the team will serve to create a stimulating work environment with novel ideas representing the society we live in.

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

Personally, I think we need to focus more on driving women and girls to the studies and jobs that will best enable a career in this space.  This starts by implementing the right diversity policies early on in our education programmes, graduate schemes and careers fairs. For example, I will personally attend every OKRA recruiting event to personally talk to prospective graduates and walk them through my own personal journey and why OKRA is a fabulous place to work and more specifically why Tech needs the bright female minds of the future.  Ultimately, we need more of this activity taking place across the country, in schools, in universities etc and we need to move from talking to doing.

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

Mentoring is essential.  It is a way to impart knowledge and ensure an individual is given an environment in which to thrive.  I myself had superb mentors throughout my academic journey and now have a very successful investor who is helping to mentor me as we build OKRA in to a global business.  I myself am always trying to help and support the OKRA team and I believe that helping people to get outside of their comfort zone, especially at a young age will help scale their career. Outside of one’s comfort zone is where the great stuff happens.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

There are many achievements to date that make me super proud.  To see how far OKRA has come in 3 years is truly amazing.  I am very proud that within a few months of starting OKRA I rolled out a first prototype of our software so that it could be tested on several pilot projects. As an engineer, this was very satisfying. Having started OKRA from nothing, I have made scientific knowledge, commercially viable and this is a huge achievement.   When setting up the company there were many things that I did not know and for which I had to ask people for help. Sometimes the reactions were not positive, but you are amazed at how often people want to help you. Very nice!

Finally, I’m mostly proud of our team at OKRA.  We have built a super team and it’s not an easy task. – Every day that I go in to the office and see the team it makes the tough times worth enduring.

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

We aim to scale usage of our platform to be the most used and trusted AI platform in healthcare.  This requires validation and utilisation to take place at scale and in real time.  There must be trust and evidence in the output in order for Pharma execs, patients and providers to benefit from this technology.


Olga Adamkiewicz

Inspirational Woman: Olga Adamkiewicz | CEO, Synthrone

 

As a female CEO within the technology industry, with extensive experience in various marketing and product roles at companies such as Procter & Gamble, Olga believes that the last few months have been revolutionary, with women’s voices finally being heard like never before.

Olga believes that the future is bright for women in the technology industry, which will ultimately dramatically change the context, empowerment and social perspective in the industry.

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

I am the CEO of Synthrone, an ecommerce content management platform that offers a fully integrated, end-to-end solution for brands wanting to streamline their ecommerce offering. At the beginning of my career I spent almost nine years at Procter & Gamble, successfully working in all marketing departments, from brand management, product development and design to new business and media and communication.

I have been based mainly in Central Europe throughout my career, but I have managed projects on a regional and global scale.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say I necessarily sat down and planned my career. I have a passion for brands and marketing which formed from my experience whilst working for global businesses in several different areas.

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

There are many challenges, big and small, that I have faced during my career, and as a CEO you face challenges every single day. I always deal with them by thinking of the positives, but I am very lucky to be surrounded by such a fantastic team that help me along the way.

How would you encourage women and girls into a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths)?

It is very important for women and girls to firstly, know that they too can have a career in either science, technology, engineering and maths. These industries are not just for men. Secondly, I would encourage all girls and women to follow your heart, follow your dreams and to never be put off by thinking it is a man’s world, when it is far from it.

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

In the technology sector I can already see a change in the level of female empowerment. Women are no longer following men; they are increasingly creating their own paths in the workplace and aren’t afraid to voice their own opinion.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am extremely proud to be a female CEO and one of my biggest achievements to date has to be the amazing team I have built around me who help me run Synthrone. I am very proud that the team and myself have made a dream come true with the creation of Brand New Galaxy, which is home to Synthrone alongside other sister brands.

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

I am currently spearheading Synthrone, building it into the primary content developer for ecommerce, delivering an unrivalled end-to-end process for its users.

We have identified a gap in the market for a fully-integrated management solution, which compares favourably when benchmarking against competitors, that can only offer one aspect of the ecommerce management process.