Inspirational Woman: Diana Florescu | Board Member & Director, Wolves Summit

Diana FlorescuDiana Florescu is a leading light in the investment and start-up world in Europe.

She is a non-executive director sitting on the board of directors and advisors at Wolves Summit, bringing five years of experience in leading corporate-startup engagement programs as well as one of the largest early-stage investor company.

Her objective is to make Wolves Summit the region’s leading innovation and startup event acting as a soft-landing pad for international founders and investors that want to do business in this market and equally, as a gateway for ambitious founders looking to scale in the UK and beyond.

Founded in 2015 in Warsaw, Poland, the conference grew to become the largest tech event in Central and Eastern Europe. Wolves Summit dedicates itself to fostering deep and productive collaboration between regional and international angel investors, VC funds, corporations, and the most promising startups in CEE.

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

I started my career in startups. In the last seven years, I’ve held various marketing and sales roles working at all levels up to CxO.

I’m a board member and director at Wolves Summit, one of the largest tech conferences in Europe. I’m a founding member at Grai Ventures, a venture building studio headquartered in Romania. Formerly I led global marketing at two of the world’s largest networks of accelerators and corporate innovation companies.

Over the years I’ve specialised in building and delivering B2B marketing and strategy programmes for some of the world’s largest accelerators, tech conferences and innovation consultancies. My projects span multiple sectors including technology, gaming, media and entertainment, retail, among others. I’ve honed my global perspectives by working and living in five countries including the UK, USA, Qatar, Germany, and Romania.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I did plan the basic path by which I sought to become qualified and stay effective in my career as a marketer. However, careers do not progress in linear or predictable ways. As an entrepreneur, my career is so much more than a job: it’s a big part of my life. I launched and failed my first business when I was 19. I learned a ton from it, and then I spent a few years honing my skills as part of larger organisations knowing that it’s only a matter of time until I would start a new venture.

In the early days of my career, it was less about comparing jobs but rather taking a holistic approach to how my career fits in with my broader life ambitions. Some of the greatest changes and opportunities resulted from these practices: regularly seeking change and self-improvement, willingness to take calculated risks, empowering others, and surrounding myself with mentors and experts seeking constant feedback.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My greatest accomplishment is sitting where I am right now. I believe that life is a constant work-in-progress and that all moments, the great huge ones and the small quiet ones, all make-up who I am.

There’re a few good ones I always look back on and smile at: winning the Lloyd’s Banking People’s Choice Award with my first company, Local Spoon, having worked and lived in five different countries, Grai Ventures ranking no 1 in Google Search for “media for equity” and having our publications recognised internationally.

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

Balancing self-confidence with humility.

I left Bucharest, my home town, when I was 18 years old. I remember juggling two part-time jobs and university. I also decided early-on to join the world of startups. I’ve always valued autonomy at work and making a meaningful impact, however, the startup life could be filled with a lot of risk and uncertainty.

These early experiences and career choices taught me how to become my own best advocate; how to develop a sense of who I am, what I can do, where I’m going coupled with the ability to influence my communication, emotions and behavior on the way to getting there.

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

If you have the time (and resources) to pursue a bachelor’s or Master degree, this is a great way to begin or advance your career in tech.

As someone who has a Masters degree in Technology Entrepreneurship, I will say that my education gave me the foundations for an entrepreneurship career. I’m not a software engineer but I can work closely with a development team and “speak their language”.

It’s true that most of the learning and applicable know-how I’ve gained has been “on the job” or self-taught. Shortly after graduation I joined Startupbootcamp, one of the world’s largest networks of accelerators. I was exposed to hundreds of startups and technologies every year.

I’ve also built a support network over time and surrounded myself with people that I can trust and I can ask for help when I need it. There are many non-profit organisations and communities designed to support ambitious people to advance in their tech career such as Women Who Code, ProductTank (product owners and managers), Dribble (for designers), GrowthHackers (for growth marketers).

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

Every technology company talks about its dedication to diversity and inclusion, however, the numbers show only slight progress in this area.

The overall tech and venture capital industry needs to become more inclusive. Starting in this industry has always been biased towards those with demographic privilege. There are hundreds of overlooked candidates that could provide unparalleled value to the industry if they are supported in getting experience at leading funds or technology companies in Europe. While the pool of talented Black professionals or women in tech is wide and deep, this group lacks visibility and opportunity.

It’s encouraging to see more initiatives and funds popping up on the market to support diverse and/or underrepresented founders entering the tech market and progress through their careers. At Wolves Summit we are proud to name some of them our partners including The Female Factor, Women in Tech, Perspektywy, Women in Law.

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

Having worked at all levels up to CxO and across multiple organisations, I’ve seen how a gender-diverse board could make a huge difference to the company’s overall performance. At Wolves Summit, 60% of our employees including senior management are women. Without having a diverse representation of culture and backgrounds, organisations often will not understand the many barriers that women face.

Also, businesses pursuing gender diversity should champion successful women, and highlight female role models – setting an example for other female employees across the organisation and proving that it’s possible to get ahead.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech? 

I’m a big fan of podcasts. I often listen to Women at Work – a podcast from Harvard Business Review that looks at the struggles and successes of women in the workplace. When I want to learn from some of the most successful CMOs and how they got to where they are today, I tune in to CMO Moves – a podcast hosted by Nadine Dietz, former Adweek Chief Community Officer.

I’m also part of a few communities that value diversity and inclusion in tech such as Diversity VC, a non-profit partnership, made up of interested individuals working in venture capital, who seek to increase diversity of thought in the venture industry.

Would you like to share any exciting updates or news?

I’m excited about the upcoming edition of Wolves Summit on October 19th-21st which will run both online and in-person. We’re expecting over 400 people on-site and thousands online, it will be by far our largest edition since the start of the pandemic. This year’s event includes over 15 topics including: IPO & Private Equity, Corporate Venturing, AI for Earth, Circular Economy, Technology Transfer, Embedded Finance, Manufacturing, 5G & IoT, Emerging industries, Healthcare & Sexual Wellness.

I’m particularly excited about joining ITV, Brand Capital and startup founders on a panel discussion about media for equity. The full event programme and line-up of speakers are now available on the website at https://www.wolvessummit.com/agenda-2021


Maria Quevedo featured

Inspirational Woman: Maria Quevedo | Director, Code Club & Raspberry Pi Foundation

 

Maria QuevedoMaria has over ten years’ experience in senior leadership positions across the charity and private sectors.

In her role as Director of Code Club, she has focused on implementing innovative strategies to grow Code Club’s community of volunteers and venues, expanding beyond the tech sector to engage new and diverse audiences.

She leads a team with UK-wide and global capacity, encouraging them to explore creative approaches to increase and widen the programme’s reach.

Maria is also a Director at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity, leading Code Club. Code Club is part of the Raspberry Pi family and is a worldwide network of free, volunteer-led coding clubs for children and teenagers. The mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. In 2019, the Raspberry Pi Foundation aims to raise £4.25 million to pursue its educational initiatives including online coding projects, free coding clubs, and volunteer support. They are only able to do this important work thanks to the generous support of their partners.

Please contact [email protected] to get involved.

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

My name is Maria Quevedo. I’m Code Club Director at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Code Club is a global network of 12,000 coding clubs for 9- to 13-year-olds. These clubs are led by teachers, often with the support of volunteers, and we provide training, teaching materials, and support so they can help club members learn how to code and make their own games, animations, and websites. I lead a team of very talented people, working with them to develop the strategies for growth and engagement our community of volunteers and teachers.

Previously, I led educational programmes at a social business, and community projects in a charity working in one of the most deprived areas of London.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I didn’t! I trained to be a translator and for many years interpreted for refugees and asylum seekers in London. Then I worked as a journalist, became a researcher at a think tank, and soon ended up managing the team. It was in this job that I realised how much I enjoyed leading teams, and later I decided to use my skills in programmes I really cared about. Education is key to helping people in challenging circumstances, and I see tech education as one of the main drivers against inequality in the future. We should make sure all young people — whatever their gender or background — have access to learning how to make things with technology, as this will open up lots of opportunities and improve their life chances.

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

Almost three years ago, Code Club merged with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and it was a very exciting and challenging time for everybody. It was great to join forces with another organisation so deeply aligned with our values and mission, but we had to navigate a huge amount of change. Both organisations brought amazing teams of people who supported this process with an open mind, and we all worked through it together, and very successfully.

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

We need to fight the stereotype that STEM is only for men, and increase the visibility of women who are already working in STEM. There are women from all backgrounds working in tech who could be great role models to encourage young women to explore STEM and pursue a career like they’ve done.

My heart sinks every time a woman says that tech is not for her! Why not? I was already in my forties when I joined Code Club, and my coding experience consisted of editing HTML text on a website 15 years previously. I’ve learnt so much alongside children and colleagues at Code Club, and now I can have a lot of fun with my son by coding  games and making animations. Everything is possible if you set your mind to it, so why not STEM?

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

I’ve mentored a social entrepreneur for the past four years. I supported her in developing the idea and in setting up and establishing a charity that provides cultural experiences to kids of low SES. The experience was very enriching for me, and I very much enjoyed supporting my mentee’s personal and professional development. I have also been mentored and found the experience really useful.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Settling in the UK. I came here from Argentina when I was 19, I spoke very little English and didn’t know anybody. It took a lot of determination to settle here and to grow professionally, and I’m very proud of everything I’ve achieved.

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

It’s been six years since Code Club started. We continue to grow steadily, and currently there are clubs registered in 25% of UK schools. There are over 5,000 clubs in the rest of the world, we’ve tested different approaches to expanding our reach, and my next challenge is to establish the right model to scale. We want a Code Club in every community in the world!


Inspirational Woman: Professor Dimitra Simeonidou | Professor, University of Bristol

By Professor Dimitra Simeonidou IEEE Fellow, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, co-director of Bristol Digital Futures Institute and Director of Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol 

Professor Dimitra SimeonidouDimitra Simeonidou is a Full Professor at the University of Bristol, the Co-Director of the Bristol Digital Futures Institute and the Director of Smart Internet Lab.

Her research is focusing in the fields of high performance networks, programmable networks, wireless-optical convergence, 5G/B5G and smart city infrastructures. She is increasingly working with Social Sciences on topics of digital transformation for society and businesses. Dimitra has been the Technical Architect and the CTO of the smart city project Bristol Is Open. She is currently leading the Bristol City/Region 5G urban pilots. ​

She is the author and co-author of over 600 publications, numerous patents and several major contributions to standards.​

She has been co-founder of two spin-out companies, the latest being the University of Bristol VC funded spin-out Zeetta Networks, http://www.zeetta.com, delivering SDN solutions for enterprise and emergency networks.​

Dimitra is a Fellow of the Royal Academy  of Engineering, a Fellow of the IEEE and a Royal Society Wolfson Scholar​

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

I am currently a professor for High Performance Networks at the University of Bristol, and my work expands the development of future telecommunications networks, and smart city infrastructures.

As Director of the Smart Internet Lab, I am working in one of the most prominent research labs in Europe. Our research focuses primarily on end-to-end networking, working across all technology domains – including IoT, wireless, optical, datacentres, hardware and software technologies. Through our research, we design the next generation of network architectures enabling mobile communications, cloud services and the global Internet connectivity.

I am also Co-Director of the University’s Institute of Digital Futures, where we aspire to transform the way we create new digital technology for inclusive, prosperous and sustainable societies, driving social-technical innovation for a better digital future. Given the importance and attention that emerging digital technologies are having for the society, businesses, public regulatory bodies, this is a critical research area and of great importance for the UK and globally.

With regards to industry, I am also a co-founder Zeetta Networks, a venture capital funded spinout company funded from the University of Bristol which delivers Software-Defined Networking (SDN) solutions for enterprise and emergency networks. To date, we have completed several projects, including providing enterprise solutions and network automation tools for stadia, cities and manufacturing plants.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My love for STEM, and my ardent belief that STEM can change the world, started early. A story I always tell my children and students is that I can remember when I was nine years old, I was lucky enough to read the biography of Marie Curie – I believe I read it five times in one week. I remember at that early age, having a eureka moment, realising that I wanted to conduct research and become a university professor. In hindsight, it’s quite strange, as I come from a remote town in Greece and not from a university-educated family. However, I held onto that initial childhood dream and was inspired to become an academic, pursuing a career in STEM.

That said, I don’t think at any stage of my life I purposely sat down and planned my career, things just happened. I started studying physics, and it wasn’t until I got to higher education that I developed an interest in the field of telecommunications. I have always been driven by interest and curiosity, rather than having any defined career plan. I was greatly inspired by the story of another woman, making real change in another place at a different time.  As such, I believe having female mentors or female role models is extremely important. For me, the story of Marie Curie’s life led to the realisation that a successful career in STEM is possible and rewarding.

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

Male or female, working in research and being an academic has great challenges. I was pretty determined to pursue an academic career, but after completing my PhD, I moved into industry and worked there for four years. During that time, I worked on the design of the first optical transatlantic submarine network (TAT12), connecting the UK with the US– and forming the backbone of what we call ‘the global internet’ today.

In those four years, I grew from a graduate or research engineer to a chief engineer, having full responsibility over system design for the submarine optical links.  I had proven myself as a relatively young, non-British, female engineer in a male-dominated environment. It was at that point I saw the first glimpse of potential, and I realised that I could achieve things with a profound global impact.

Following those incredible four years, I resumed a career in academia – because, as mentioned, this was my childhood dream. However, academia is not easy, and one must work hard and with great commitment over a long period of time. This is a significant challenge that many young academics face at the onset of their career. I would encourage anybody considering this path to always look at long term career aspirations – don’t expect instant return or immediate success. For example, most research proposals have less than10 percent success rate for being funded, so be vigilant, but remain positive.

Being a woman in engineering and persisting at that level over long periods of time can be particularly difficult. This is because for many of us, having children and young families can cause difficulties in trying to balance academic work and family life. It requires commitment and hard work on both fronts. However, it is extremely rewarding.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Of course, working on the deployment of an optical network between the UK and USA is a huge achievement.  In addition, a notable achievement would be my work on a second system called SEAMEWE3.  This was the longest optical submarine telecommunications cable in the world linking South-East Asia, Middle East and Western Europe. It was during this project that I developed and used my own patent – a wavelength add-drop multiplexer– which allows a single optical system to connect multiple countries in its path. My patent was fundamental for the deployment of such system by significantly reducing the costs and easing operations.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the industry, and I have also enjoyed adding value through commercialising my research, with the companies I founded. However, but my biggest achievement has been the people that I have mentored – specifically, my PhD students. They have completed their research and now hold key posts in businesses and academia, contributing to the international technical community. I am proud to have been part of their journey. For me, the most fulfilling part of being an academic is helping younger people, nurturing their passion and hopefully watching them go on to make a difference around the world.

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

My career didn’t necessarily stem from wanting to prove myself as a woman, but from my genuine love of the research field. Even now, this work gets me out of bed every morning, and I am excited to get to my lab to talk to my colleagues.  It is indescribable when we see new discoveries coming out as result of our research and leading to real commercial impact or societal benefits. My curiosity has been my driver to date, and the pursuit of a new discovery.

Research is a long-term career. You can’t sustain it if you are simply driven by your own success without real enthusiasm and passion for your technical field. I am grateful to work at a university where my colleagues are also driven by the same passion, vision and principles.

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

Research in Engineering and specific digital technologies is a magnificent career and a thriving sector to get into. Engineers don’t always have the best image in the UK and the public does not always have a true understanding of what we do. Often, many people assume we operate in a world filled with dark labs, lab coats and overalls day-in and day-out! The truth is, we do so much more than that. We solve real world problems, we travel the world, we build wonderful international relationships and work in a supportive community of very intelligent and creative people. It truly is a rewarding profession.

In this profession, expect to be challenged every day – there is never a dull moment, if you choose to become an engineer. The work is interesting, and you get to see the direct impact of your work. Consider the contribution that I have made to the internet during my career, the internet through which you are now reading my story. Consider the people working in energy, and how they are leading solutions on environmental sustainability and driving the economy. With a career in STEM you see how your work touches every aspect of our lives. You are working for the benefit of society, humanity and the economy. I would go so far as to say that it’s a glamourous profession – but the public don’t really see that side!

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

There are still barriers for women. For me, the fact that I am a woman and have a family has been challenging, considering my career in research and the required travel as part of an international community. Often, women are still expected to perform a balancing act and naturally, this can impact our career progression. There should be more support for women in this respect.

When I was an early career academic, I was extremely lucky. We had childcare on campus – but without that, it would have been a struggle, given the hours we devote to our research and teaching. There are some examples of best practice, but more needs to be done. This is especially true within companies and industry to attract and keep talented women in the workforce when they choose to have a family.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I strongly believe that successful women in senior positions have a responsibility to nurture and encourage a pipeline of future female talent. There needs to be more intervention at earlier stages – schools, teachers and government should continue to encourage young girls into STEM, explaining just how amazing, and accessible, this profession can be.


Anne Lillywhite, Honeywell featured

Inspirational Woman: Anne Lillywhite | Director, Aerospace Engineering, Honeywell

Anne Lillywhite is Director, Aerospace Engineering at Honeywell.

Anne Lillywhite, HoneywellHoneywell is a global technology company, whose aim is to make air travel safer, more efficient and reduce costs.

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

I grew up in the French Riviera, in the beautiful city of Cannes – where I got my first degree. I then moved to Lyon, where I studied to become a research and development engineer. My first job was in Paris, but I soon moved to Toulouse to work for Motorola – my beginnings were in telecoms engineering. I decided to make the move to aviation in 2008, and I haven’t looked back since.

I have been at Honeywell for almost three years now as director of engineering for Europe, based in the Czech Republic, and I currently manage around 300 engineers. We work on cockpit systems, as well as navigation and sensors technology for international aviation manufacturers. Every day is different at Honeywell, which is something I really enjoy. I get to meet and work with interesting and diverse people. I could never work in a company that has just one kind of person – this is one of the reasons that Honeywell is so great to work for.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In short, no! It’s an interesting question, because it’s always what you would like to do. You think that you’ll sit down and make a rational plan, which isn’t always what happens. Having said that, I have made my big career decisions based on mature thinking. For example, when I decided to leave telecoms for aviation it was something that I really thought through. Although it was still engineering, it was as if I were changing from one industry to another. When you leave one company for another, it’s something that needs careful consideration. However, when it’s within a company you tend to go with the flow a bit more and can’t always plan what’s going to happen.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I was very young when I began my career. I got my degree at 21 years old, and I wasn’t always taken seriously. It took me a while to build my credibility. At the time I felt that, especially in the tech industry, you had to work a bit harder to be taken seriously as a woman, whereas for a man it seemed by default they were credible. Luckily, at Honeywell I feel very respected – I don’t feel any less credible for being a woman. They truly believe in the importance of diversity. Also, being a mother of two can present challenges! You really do need to be very organised. I think that this has actually made me a better engineer – my time management has improved massively, which is so important when you’re taking on a big project. This is also something that is valuable for managing a big team. You need to be able to have oversight of what everyone is doing and where that fits into the bigger picture.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At one of my previous jobs, there was a project that my boss didn’t want me to take on. In the end, we compromised and did it – but with much fewer staff than I had envisaged. I was proud of our success, as I felt that I had proven my capabilities. It also taught me that the biggest challenges build the biggest team bonds!

At Honeywell, I am proud of the results I’ve helped drive as part of our team. So far, we have reached every milestone that we have set. However, what I would say I am most proud of is bringing diversity to the team. I feel like I am shaping the landscape a bit here! We hire a range of people from different backgrounds, which I feel has improved the team. In the last year for example, I have hired engineers from all over the world – America, Greece, Italy, India and France, and we are constantly expanding and looking to improve the diversity of our team. Diversity of people is key to diversity of thought. Diverse teams generate better ideas and enable innovation.

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

I take inspiration from Apollo 13 – failure is not an option! My mindset is that I never fail, I learn. I am very passionate, I believe that you can always reach your goal, even if there are obstacles along the way. Every step is simply a learning. I think that my energy and dedication have been instrumental in my success, and I also believe it’s important to be inclusive. Get help and engage people, if and when you need it, to get the best results.

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

I think that mentoring is great. I mentor a lot of people, from employees in Czech Republic to students back in France. I think it is a valuable way to learn. I’ve always had mentors that contribute in different capacities to my growth, which I think is fantastic.

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

I like to think of it in this way: we need to make a sandwich. We must build on equality from the bottom up, but we really need it top down as well. From the top, what could make a great difference is if we had the female equivalent of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos. We have a lot of great C-suite women, but the day that we have a female equivalent of these figures, that would make a tremendous difference. To change things from the bottom up, I think that it is important for organisations to diversify their hiring practices. This is what Honeywell has done, and I can see such a difference in the diversity of thought. There is no doubt that this is the best way forward.

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

My greatest piece of advice to my younger self would be to not leave anyone behind. It’s so important to take the time to make sure everyone on your team is on board and up to date with what you’re doing. I found that I could sometimes get caught up in how great an idea was that I didn’t take the time to make sure everyone understood and was included. Sometimes it is very important to slow down.

Something else that I have learned with time is to acknowledge and act upon feedback. When it is constructive, feedback is a vital way to learn and grow within your career.

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

I love being at Honeywell, and I think it is a truly fantastic company to work for. I feel trusted as both an engineer and a leader. As for the future, I am looking forward to continuing to bring success to the company. Whether it’s as the leader of this team, or in the next role that remains to be seen. Although I am very focused on results, I also care very much about people and think that our drive for diversity is, and will continue to be, a key effort for the future.


Inspirational Woman: Shefali Davda-Bhanot | Director, Seventh Degree

Shefali Davda-BhanotShefali Davda-Bhanot in her capacity as the Director of Seventh Degree, assists technology starts ups headquartered in Silicon Roundabout to Silicon Valley to scale and grow from seed funding stage to IPO.

She has seen through the exponential growth of technology starts ups including unicorn business, Anaplan, start-up City Pantry and is currently working on the international growth strategy and tech talent growth of AI Healthcare company and now unicorn, Babylon Health.

She initiated the set up the Women in Tech & LGBTQ+ “power of diversity” groups at Babylon Health in 2018 which has grown to a group of 50 people. In 2018, she launched her book ‘Start Up to Scale Up: Practical Tips & Strategies to Scaling Up Start Ups’ at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, and in 2019 spoke to an audience of tech talent specialists on inclusive hiring and the challenges in hiring diverse tech talent.

She is champion of diversity within the field of recruitment and is a member of an organisation called Women in Recruitment which aims to attract, develop and retain female recruiters. Her role has seen her organise a number of events such as hackathons, talks, workshops and spoken at  parliamentary events to mark occasions such as International Women’s Day.

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

My name is Shefali Davda-Bhanot, and I’m the Director of Seventh Degree, a leading firm specialising in niche technology talent consultancy, with clients ranging from one-person bands to companies valued at over $2bn.

I was born and raised in London and studied Pharmaceutical Sciences in the sea-side town Portsmouth.

When I took my first few steps into the world of recruitment, I realised that a great deal of analytics and human-emotional intelligence applies not just to sales, but to leadership in general.

Coming from an analytical background, the fit to recruitment felt natural and I loved the industry upon entry. Albeit noted it was extremely male dominant in not only the industry I worked in, but the sector I had chosen to recruit into- technology.

I’ve worked in the recruitment industry for almost 10 years now. Today I oversee the Seventh Degree’s ongoing business and growth mission—that includes hands on recruitment and embedding within internal onsite talent teams however prior to this, I worked for a number of agencies including global RPO & agency, Experis.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The simple answer to this is no. My plan is to not to plan too much! During university and early on in my professional life, I’d say there was an degree of planning but I was much more focused on short term goals and small triumphs. As I  built up more experience in a field, I thought I was good at, it became straight-forward to make longer term plans, understand and harness passions and set more ambitious career goals to keep me motivated.

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

Many! The recruitment industry operates almost entirely on financial targets, so when I initially started, I was always on edge about hitting these targets- or finding myself out of a job! Other career challenges have included (and still include) tackling diversity and inclusion in both the tech and recruitment sectors. It was important right from the start to ensure my voice wasn’t getting drowned out by the 20 men on my team!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak in front of Parliamentary Peers in the House of Lords about Women in the City, Women in Tech and Diversity within working environments. Having had the opportunity to consult with two unicorn businesses and collaborate with some incredibly talented individuals along the way for me is also a great note of accomplishment.

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

I can’t say I have achieved success, however I believe there have been some great triumphs in my decade so far. I would lead these to, following instinct and passion, this allows an authentic and unique perspective to shine through. and acting on the 3 L’s of continuously listening, learning and leading from others and from the front.

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

Invest in your personal development and learning.  Learn new tech skills, attend meet-ups and hackathon, network within your industry,  create Github projects, be active on Stackoverflow, try new roles, read books, stay curious, ask for help and opportunities, listen to others career stories – ideally seek a mentor or a role model.

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

More and more studies are being released that reveal the challenges women face in workplace, compared to men, which extend well beyond pay differences.

The tech market is approx. 80 per cent male dominated at present, with this, I have been told it can feel divided at times to potentially be the only woman in a team. A solution for this would be to hire junior, newly qualified grads where there is a wider talent pool of diverse talent.

In most workplaces, there is still a lack of flexibility in working hours, or access to childcare – this can also prove a barrier for success for women working in tech.  Businesses can really support with this by introducing greater flexibility around the ways in which people work and to switch the focus to “results-based-work”, as opposed to the number of hours put into a task.

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

Creating mentorship and coaching programmes with role models within the business. Assist with elevating women in tech profiles, such that their work can be observed and evident to others both inside and outside of the organisation.

Training and Development – organisations should have training and development budget assigned to each employee and it is pivotal for businesses to support the progress of women working in technology by using the budget toward upskilling. A lot of businesses don’t use up their allocated budget for L&D.

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?

If I could wave a magic wand I would have a number of highly performing engineers and senior leaders within Engineering & Product spaces,  carving the way as mentors to a younger generation of technologists. Breaking down prejudice and breaking the invisible glass ceiling. I would also want to encourage more awareness to the younger generation about product innovation and a career in technology.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Podcast: The Women in Tech Show: A Technical Podcast - A women in tech podcast featuring technical interviews with prominent women in technology. The interviews explore topics in software engineering, software design, artificial intelligence, research, entrepreneurship, career strategy, machine learning, security, and more. Hosted by Edaena Salinas, Software Engineer at Microsoft.

Meet-up: Women Who Code (WWC) – a membership of almost 6,000 members – probably one of the most active community of engineers dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology career.

A must read: The Lean Start-up: offering a scientific approach to setting up a successful business.


Tech-Talent-Charter-featured

Tech Talent Charter seeks Director to support its board

Tech Talent CharterThe Tech Talent Charter (TTC) is a commitment by organisations to a set of undertakings that aim to deliver greater inclusion and diversity in the tech workforce of the UK, one that better reflects the make-up of the population.

This covers both organisations in the technology sector itself, and organisations across all other sectors, who have employees in tech roles. While its initial focus is on gender, the goal is to ensure that the sector is fully diverse and inclusive. Signatories of the charter make a number of pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention.

In 2017 the TTC made the transition from an informal campaigning group with volunteer working groups into a not for profit Community Interest Company with a board of directors, supported and advised by a Steering Group composed of a mixture of representatives of around 10 signatory employers and individuals who had personal and professional interest in gender diversity in tech. Through a combination of seed funding from the government and both pro bono support and sponsorship from employers on the steering group, the TTC was able to actively recruit more signatories and create a platform to both recruit members and to share best practice. By the end of 2017, it had secured over 100 signatories, begun piloting its annual benchmarking report and staged a sponsored launch event at the Gherkin. A growth and sustainability strategic plan were agreed in January 2018 as the government funding came to an end.

For the TTC, 2018 was a year of growth across the whole of the UK, having staged its first regional events in addition to its annual event. January 2019 saw the full publication of the benchmarking report at an oversubscribed second annual event and imminent expansion of its “best practice” content online. Growth in active signatories has continued to over 300 and further regional expansion is scheduled. The governance structure has also been evolved to include an employer-driven Strategy Board and the first meeting of a wider Advisory Group is in hand. This is the year that will see the TTC establish itself as a scalable and sustainable organisation; maintaining a “minimum viable organisation” approach as well as securing a balanced mix of sponsorship and pro bono support from its members. Discussions continue with Government and sponsors regarding funding for 2019-20.

With that in mind, one of our existing directors is stepping down (due to promotion in role/work commitments) and TTC is therefore looking to replace this individual and to consider increasing the size of the board to reflect the strategic evolution of TTC, with consequent broadening of content expertise needs and the increasing workload it is undertaking in the diversity space.

All board members are expected to contribute effectively to the overall aim of TTC, which is to increase and improve the recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce in technology. While technically a Non-executive role, TTC Directors are committed to support operationally as well as strategically through the commitment of their own time and/or via the resources of their organisation.

In addition, you will need to demonstrate:

  • an understanding of TTC’s work and a commitment to its aims and objectives, and of the wider environment in which TTC operates;
  • an ability to think strategically and exercise sound judgment;
  • strong communication, influencing and persuading skills, including demonstrating how they are active in wider industry communities;
  • an ability to work constructively with fellow board members and wider stakeholders;
  • an ability to represent their own area of expertise in the full range of advisory council discussions;
  • an ability to challenge as well as to support the directors and executive team on the full range of issues, taking a corporate view beyond their own areas of expertise;
  • strong strategic, business, analytical and leadership skills;
  • an action-oriented personality;
  • an understanding of financial impacts with an eye for opportunity for growth that encourages and supports the exploration of new business ideas;
  • independent insights and ideas from a third point-of-view

Please note that while many meetings are held in London, the majority of our Directors live and work outside London; travel costs can be covered and many meetings/activities are possible and even desirable across the UK.

Board member expertise sought:

Currently, TTC has a key focus to encourage women to move into tech and to support employers to enable them to develop careers through deployment of best recruitment and development practices. Increasingly in 2019/20, TTC will also come to address wider diversity issues (BAME & Disability) as well as needing to develop a deeper regional focus (including Scotland).

Tech Talent Charter are looking for directors with some of the following expertise:

  • Running a not for profit/third Sector knowledge,
  • Business development
  • Sustainability for not for profits,
  • PRexpertise/contacts
  • Graphic/Web Design
  • Wider diversity initiatives and stakeholders

If you meet the above criteria, candidates are asked to send a CV with a short covering letter highlighting the skills the individual will bring to [email protected] by COP 10 May 2019.


Inspirational Woman: Faye Banks | Open University student & Director of Energy, Costain Group

 

Faye Banks

Open University (OU) engineering student, Faye Banks, left school at 16 and started her career path in low skilled manual work in a meatpacking factory.

After growing frustrated about her limited career opportunities, she went back to college, achieved straight As and then went on to study for a BSc and an MSc in Engineering with the OU.

Studying with the OU has helped Faye to completely transform her life, leading to her securing a top role as the Director of Energy for one of the UK’s leading engineering companies, Costain.

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

I grew up in Barnsley and came from a family of four girls. We had a bit of a turbulent childhood and I was taken into care aged nine. It's safe to say that I had a lot of difficulties growing up. I left school at 16 as I’d never engaged with the education system and thought it was completely flawed.

The reality hit me when I left school and realised that there were no opportunities available to me, I had no formal qualifications and the jobs that I was applying for were really low skilled. I ended up getting a job in a manufacturing plant, packing meat into plastic containers. This meant having to work repetitive 12-hour days and night shifts - it was incredibly boring, and I knew then that I wanted to do something different. However, the harsh reality was that I had no qualifications. I then started looking for new highly skilled jobs, although at the time, I knew I was very far away from being able to apply for them.

I was bored and frustrated with my limited career options, so I decided to go back to college to study for my GCSEs – I managed to achieve 10 grade A’s. After spotting an ad in the local newspaper, I registered with The Open University (OU) to study for a BSc in Engineering. I absolutely loved the course and I’ve been studying with the OU ever since, for over 17 years now. I’ve achieved an MBA, MSc, MEng, and I am now currently studying for my PhD.

I’ve completely transformed my life and I now work for Costain, which is one of the UK’s largest engineering companies. As a result of my studies, I was successful in climbing the career ladder to become director of their energy department for electrical generation, transmission and distribution.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For me I’d never really given much thought to my career when I was at school. I had my lightbulb moment about six months into my job at the meat packing plant after we’d had a major operational failure and were under pressure from one of our clients to supply the product that we were manufacturing. There was nothing that I could have done to repair the failure and the only people that could were the engineers.

At that moment, I realised just how important and significant the roles, skills and capabilities of engineers were – and that I had to go back to school and get some qualifications to be able to do a job like this.

The main issue for me was that I couldn't give up work to go back to college to study full-time, so I went to night classes to retake my GCSEs over the course of the year. The following year, I managed to secure 10 GCSEs at grade A.

I then approached one of the engineering managers at the manufacturing plant to see if they had any trainee or apprenticeship roles available. Fortunately, I got my qualifications in July and there were openings for apprentices to start in September. I was successful in my application, secured a role and have never looked back. It was definitely a life-changing point in my career!

Thanks to studying with the OU, I’ve been able to secure my dream role in the industry as the Director of Energy at one of the UK’s leading energy companies, Costain.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

When I was younger, and I was taken into care, survival was my number one priority and education was quite low down on my list – I never thought I’d have a career.

Then, when I knew that I wanted to go to university later on in life and obtain a degree so that I could become a chartered engineer, there was the realisation that I couldn't stop earning as I still had a family to support. If I'd pursued the traditional route, I would have lost income and that just wasn’t an option for me.

It was also difficult to even consider part-time learning at a brick university. I could never guarantee that I would be able to go to the classes as my schedule would often change at work and I was also raising a family. That's when I started to look into distance learning providers and I knew, after doing some research, that the OU was the perfect match for me.

When I think about the low skilled roles that I’d had previous to becoming an engineer and how monotonous and unchallenging they were, these never really inspired me. So, when I then fast forward to what I’ve achieved over the last twenty something years and I look at the impact on society of the projects that I’ve worked on, I’m extremely proud.  I’ve worked for National Grid and I was part of a number of major projects on their electrical transmission upgrades that impacted many people’s lives.

It can also be quite challenging working in such a male-dominated environment. I hope that I am paving the future path for more women to enter the field. I think it’s really important to start challenging the ancient stereotypes that surround the engineering profession and shed light on what it is really like to work in the industry. I’ve often been mistaken for a PA or a secretary in client meetings, so it’s always quite amusing once the meeting starts and people realise that I’m the lead consultant.

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

I currently mentor a number of females in the engineering industry. I believe that investing in business mentoring is a useful and cost-effective way to develop top emerging talents. It also helps to keep your most knowledgeable and experienced performers engaged and energised.

As well as the transferral of critical business knowledge and skills, mentoring helps to develop a pipeline of future leaders who understand the skills and attitudes required to succeed within an organisation.

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

Unfortunately, the engineering industry remains one of the least diverse sectors. A recent consumer poll* from The Open University revealed that women are less aware of the career paths on offer within engineering, with 15 per cent stating they are unsure what careers are available, compared to just 1 in 10 (11%) men. When asked, more than one in three women (34 per cent) agreed barriers need to be broken down in the workplace, and that occupations such as engineering should include more women.

I worry that women, in particular, are being discouraged from seeking and pursuing careers in engineering, starving the profession of fresh perspectives that represent one of the most potent drivers of innovation. Much of the diversity deficit can be traced back to early years of schooling, as children grow up with outdated notions of roles they are expected to fulfil in adulthood, and it’s not only women. Overall diversity remains a huge problem when you consider the participation figures amongst minority ethnic groups and disabled people too.

I hope that the government, the education system and industry leaders will encourage more women and minority groups to join the sector. At Costain, over 50% of our graduate intake this year was female – which is great to see – but there is still more to be done!

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

I would love to inspire more women to consider the engineering industry as a rewarding and lucrative career opportunity. I really enjoy working in a male-dominated environment and get the respect for the qualifications and experiences I have achieved over my 22 plus years in the industry. There is also a misconception that engineering is a dirty job, but this view is so far away from the truth. I did get my hands dirty when I was an apprentice, but I spend most of my time nowadays getting involved in strategic work and would love to help to dispel this myth, too.

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

Firstly, I think more needs to be done from a government perspective to debunk the myths surrounding the engineering perception in schools, in order to demonstrate the varied roles within it and to encourage more women to consider it as a potential profession in the future.

Secondly, the OU has changed my life for the better and I’m looking forward to sharing my story with others. I hope to show people from all walks of life that it’s never too late to pursue their career aspirations and encourage more women to study STEM subjects in the future!

 What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Outside of work and my studies I’ve won 15 national engineering awards, which I never ever thought I would do. I was the top engineering student in 2004, won the UK Young Engineer Award, and the Higher Education National Education Gold Award because of the grades I secured - I even got to go to the Houses of Parliament for the ceremony! Things have even progressed since then. I won the Yorkshire Women of Achievement Business Award in 2010 and I've since gone on to be recognised in the First Women Awards for Women in Science and Engineering. It definitely hasn't been easy, but what the OU has taught me has been absolutely paramount to the development and growth of my career. If I’d never got the qualifications, I would’ve never had the opportunities that I have enjoyed, and I wouldn’t have been able to even go to an interview and that’s a fact.

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

My next goal is to achieve my PhD in Business Administration. Learning has become a way of life for me and I think life-long learning is the key to success in the current climate, and particularly in engineering, given all of the rapid technological advancements within the sector.

I really want to become an ambassador for women in engineering and highlight to people that it doesn’t matter what your background is, as long as you want to learn you can achieve anything with the OU.

*Polling of 2,006 UK adults conducted by Opinion Matters between 22nd -23rd October 2018


Lauren Kisser featured

Inspirational Woman: Lauren Kisser | Director, Amazon Prime Air

 

Lauren Kisser is a Director of Amazon Prime Air, a delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones.
Lauren Kisser
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I was exposed to computers and technology from an early age and by the time I finished school, the internet was really starting to take off. I knew I wanted to be part of this revolution and took my career in that direction. My first job was with a small marketing firm where I oversaw the technology that supported the business. I quickly developed an enthusiasm for using technology to solve customer and business problems. I wanted to learn more so I left the company to study business leadership and technology at grad school. I then put my passion and education to work by driving security and compliance initiatives for Disney and Washington Mutual, a bank. This led to my dream job at Amazon – where I’ve now been for over ten years. I joined the Prime Air team about three years ago.

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

I’ve encountered the challenges most people face in their careers especially when it comes to balancing work and home life. I’m a wife, mother of two and a passionate career woman so finding time to prioritise everything I love is always challenging. My job is demanding, so I’m lucky that I have an amazing support system at home. My husband and I constantly focus on making sure that our priorities are aligned. Communication is the key to success in balancing family and work life. We always talk and ensure we’re on the same page and I think we have been very successful in that.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

The first thing is to have confidence. I think this can help anybody achieve anything. For me, confidence comes from playing to your strengths and not trying to be someone else. If you try to be someone you’re not, it’s uncomfortable for everyone. So it’s important to know your own voice and be confident in what you’re bringing to the team. As a leader, I look for opportunities where I can help others develop their skills. This makes for a stronger team.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

At Amazon, we have leadership principles which we use every day, whether we’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates. Beyond that, I base my decision on who could have the most impact, not just in my department but at Amazon as a whole. For me it’s important to know if that person can add a spark or be a catalyst within the organisation and also be able to motivate others.

How do you manage your own boss?

It’s really about looking around corners, determining what their needs are going to be and getting ahead of that. I love problem-solving, so for me, managing my boss means identifying solutions to resolve potential issues they might face. Sometimes I don’t know the answer, but if I can spot the issue ahead of time, I can come up with a solution and provide recommendations.  It’s important to be on the front-foot as much as possible.

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

Being based in the U.K., my day usually starts by scanning emails to see what’s come in overnight from our teams across the world. This helps me determine what the priorities are for the day. Once I’m up to speed, it’s breakfast with my husband and kids before starting the obligatory school run.

At our Amazon Prime Air office in Cambridge, I sit down with my team and assess what support they need for the day ahead. I also do a quick assessment of issues that might need resolving tomorrow and think about possible solutions.

Like a lot of working mums, when I get home, my attention switches to the children and getting them ready for bed. After this, I might enjoy a glass of wine with my husband while we chat about our day and then have another quick scan of my emails before bed.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations

Try to find one or two things where you can participate and deliver results but be intentional about it and don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s important to be focused and take on a few key initiatives.  Find opportunities that give you visibility within your organisation to say “hey, I’m working on this and these are the results” and share them across the organisation.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

My current coach is training me to ask more questions and to resist jumping to conclusions. I’ve learned to stop and get more information when I find myself saying things like “my assumption is” or “I guess.” These are triggers for me to ask for more details.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbie networker?

I understand networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone and can be rather daunting. My advice is to plan ahead. Before attending a networking event, think about what you want to get out of it.  Is there a specific challenge you need help or advice on? If so, use this as an icebreaker. Have a couple of questions in mind and don’t be afraid to approach people.  Everyone is in the same boat! Networking helps build skills and change perspectives. The best piece of advice I received is that people love talking about themselves so start with a simple question such as, “What challenge are you currently taking on?”

What does the future hold for you?

I’ve worked at Amazon for over a decade and truly believe in how we are solving complex problems for customers, making their lives easier and building great teams in the process. I want to continue to be a part of that journey and use my experience to coach and mentor others.  I really think that’s where I can have a big impact.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people

I am super proud of taking part in a challenge to raise money for breast cancer research. I summited three of the highest peaks in the state of Washington (Mt Rainier, Mt Baker and Mt Adams). Each climb was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I raised over $20,000. I’m now thinking of taking on the UK-equivalent by participating the Three Peaks Challenge!