Arundhoti Banerjee

Inspirational Woman: Arundhoti Banerjee, Head of Global Strategy and Digital Business, Xpress Money

 

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

I’ve been at Xpress Money for five years and am the head of Strategy & Digital at Xpress Money, executing the company’s digital strategy and planning for growth. Part of this is through creating partnerships for the company that enable strategic benefits and exponential growth.

Whilst I’ve been in the financial services for around 12 years, working across a variety of different products for both fast paced start-ups and large organisations, my background is in engineering and have an MBA degree from IIM Ahmedabad, India.

Outside of work I’m a keen traveller – This year I visited the really vibrant Cape Town & Prague, the city of cobbled stones & castles. I am a voracious reader, currently reading "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness" a work of fiction by Arundhati Roy. I also love a good TV series & binge watch most of them; while "Game of Thrones" & "Breaking Bad" are all-time favorites, I am currently engrossed in watching "Line of Duty".

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

 No! However, it’s always been about pursuing opportunities that I have been excited about and making the most of the same. Early on in my career I jumped in as a founding member of a tech start-up in financial services. The experience transformed the way I looked at roles and how to shape them. Apart from the thrill of building an organisation, the experience inculcated in me a deep respect for all functions that go into the process. I have carried this aspect of collaboration through mutual respect across my entire work life so far, that has helped me tremendously to succeed.

I’ve always been interested in technology led businesses and I’ve steered my career in that direction through grabbing interesting opportunities. Right out of engineering college, I built softwares as a developer in a large technology firm.

Post my MBA, I got interested in financial services as a domain & the role of technology therein. Hence I pursued opportunities that enabled me to learn payments products & platforms. Currently, I am having a lot of fun shaping and participating in the $600 billion remittance industry, while making convenience the cornerstone for our customers.

 Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

I’ve faced many challenges and the best way to deal with them has been patience and ultimately, persistence. Self-belief is what keeps me going in the face of challenges. I’ve also been lucky to have built very strong relationships during my entire work life – people who have demonstrated faith in me and stood by me; that made dealing with any challenges a lot easier.

Do you have a typical workday? How does you start your day and how does it end?

My workday always starts with a dedicated 20 minutes to plan the day and feed my priorities into the calendar. This helps to unclutter my mind and also prevents me from getting distracted by the many unforeseen emergencies during the day. The day typically ends with making sure that all emails that require my attention have been catered to.

Have you ever faced sexism in the workplace? How did you respond/deal with this?

Early on in my career I had the experience of being “manterrupted” in meetings. Fortunately, my ability to speak fast and over every other voice in the room is a saviour. On a serious note, an emphatic “let me finish my point” helps the case and sometimes even a separate chat with a repeated interrupter post the meeting have helped ease things out. Being confident, certain & assertive in approach and tone, have helped me deal with this.

How would encourage more women and young girls into a male-dominated career?

I would ask them not to worry about gender too much and be confident, speak-up and have complete belief in their capabilities. Women play a huge role in encouraging other women in the workplace – towards that, having a mentor and sponsor with a genuine interest in your career also helps.

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

 I’ve had some very helpful mentors throughout my career. They’ve helped me find my strengths and pushed me to focus on them. Having someone when you need advice or when you need vetting an idea is a blessing. I completely endorse the idea of mentoring. While I haven’t formally mentored anyone, there are many young hires who turn to me for advice and I participate actively in their professional coaching.

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

 When women speak up and look out for themselves, they don’t get branded as “too aggressive”. While it’s perfectly expected of men to be aggressive and this is even a celebrated behaviour at times, the same behaviour from women gets them branded as “too pushy”. When women look out for themselves, they get labelled as “too self-absorbed”. I hope this changes.

Also, research says that women are underrepresented at every corporate level and they continue to lose ground incrementally the more senior they become. This is a fact that needs to change.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement would have to be building my team up from scratch here. I started on my own, tasked with developing and driving the company’s strategy forward. A year after I started to expand my team and three years later, we now stand at 30. It’s really fulfilling to see the team working at their potential and it gives me the chance to work with and help young starters develop in their careers.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I hope to contribute to the world of financial technology through continuous innovation while keeping a consumer-centric approach.


Kat Arney

Inspirational Woman: Dr Kat Arney | Science Writer and Broadcaster

 

Dr Kat Arney is a science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured on BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists, BBC Focus, the Times Educational Supplement, the Daily Mail and more.

She has written two books about genetics, 'Herding Hemingway's Cats - Understanding how our genes work' (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016) and ‘How to Code a Human’ (Andre Deutsch, 2017), and presents the monthly Naked Genetics podcast.

 Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

[ Laughs ] no. When I look back I can see the path that got me from there to here, but there was never a real plan.

I just kept saying ‘yes’ to interesting opportunities, and working on doing the things I love (and paying the rent).

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

When I was young I wanted to be an inventor or a mad professor. I loved science so I did science A levels, went to university to study natural sciences, and did a PhD in genetics. I even went on to do two short postdoctoral research jobs. But it turns out that I’m really bad at lab research. I have a very short attention span, I’m clumsy, and I never felt happy as a researcher.

 By my mid-20s I was working in a lab in London and seriously depressed, feeling like a failure. Then I realised that I did have other passions and transferable skills, and started applying for jobs that were related to science but not research itself – medical writing, journal editing and so on. None of these seemed right until I got a job at Cancer Research UK – the world’s biggest independent cancer research charity. I spent 12 years there, working up to becoming science communications manager and one of the charity’s main media spokespeople.

It was really hard pulling myself out of the research world and working out that I could use my skills and passion elsewhere, but it was my dream job.

I’m now in the next phase of my career as a freelance writer and broadcaster. Again, making the move over to being a freelance 18 months ago was very challenging, as I was terrified that I’d have no work. I ramped up my freelance work in my spare time and holidays, and went down to four days a week at Cancer Research UK and it has worked out so far. I also took a chunk of unpaid leave to write my first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, which I believed would be a stepping stone into a successful freelance life. It was a gamble as I didn’t receive an advance from my publisher and I had to rely on odd bits of freelancing and savings, but it was definitely worth it.

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

I don’t have much advice about leadership, as I deliberately turned down the opportunity to become a team leader at Cancer Research UK. At that point I knew I wanted to focus on writing my first book and eventually using that to take the plunge into a freelance career, so it didn’t seem fair on me or my colleagues to take on leadership responsibilities. For me, it was about realising that an opportunity to become a leader in one part of my life (along with a nice pay rise) might actually not be a great idea if I wanted to focus on becoming my own boss in the longer term.

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

I’d go with the one that can make me laugh, or who laughs with me. My personal rule in any interview – whether that’s a job interview, or an interview that I’m doing with a guest for a radio show – is to always try and get a laugh out of them. Working relationships should be professional, but shared laughter is a useful glue.

How do you manage your own boss?

I’m my own boss, and I’m still figuring out how to work with her! I work from home and only have to answer to myself, so discipline and time management are an issue. I’m a ruthless user of to-do lists and calendars, and I love Trello for managing the many projects I’m working on at any time. I also use a website blocker called Stayfocusd to keep me off social media when I have looming deadlines.

More importantly, I’m learning how to view myself as a professional business, and make sure I account properly for my time.

Saying ‘yes!’ to almost anything (paid or not) has got me a long way, but I’ve hit the point where I simply can’t do that anymore.

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

I’m a bit of a night owl, and tend to do my best writing in the evenings unless I have a talk or event to go to. As a result, I’ll usually go to bed at about 1am so I get up quite late. My brain doesn’t really work in the mornings so I tend to do admin, chores and other mindless stuff before going to the gym at lunchtime. Once I’m back and have stuffed my face with lunch, I can get down to some proper work, such as writing, editing audio, researching.

Alternatively, I might be out and about giving talks or interviewing researchers about their work. No two days are the same, and I’m entirely in charge of my time. It’s incredibly liberating and also terrifying. I could spend the whole day on the sofa eating popcorn and reading Facebook if I wanted to (and believe me, I often want to), but the sensible bit of my brain knows it wouldn’t be a good idea.

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

Don’t be afraid to challenge, raise suggestions or ask questions when you see the opportunity. Good leaders recognise the benefits of having staff who can clearly articulate ideas, ask questions and voice concerns. Obviously, it’s a bad idea to be contrary or obnoxious just for the sake of it, or to ask a question you haven’t properly thought about, but strong organisations need people who are prepared to think, stand up and speak out. All too often this kind of thing falls to men, who stereotypically tend to be more confident with their opinions in the workplace, but it’s vital that women step up too.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve had a couple of mentors in my life, which were useful at the key transitions between leaving research, and then again more recently going freelance.

The first one was little more than a chat in the pub with an established science journalist, who talked me through my fears about leaving the lab. He doesn’t know how important that chat was, but it helped to set me on the path towards science communication.

My second mentor was Vivienne Parry, a fantastic science communicator and TV presenter, who has given me a lot of good advice about the media world. I should also mention Professor Dame Amanda Fisher, who led the last research lab I worked in. She was so patient with me as I wrestled with my feelings of unhappiness and tried to figure out what to do with my life, and still sends interesting science communication projects my way.

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

Yes, incredibly important. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without networking and (more importantly) following up those interesting leads and opportunities. People now tend to connect on social media, but I would always come home from events with a bra full of business cards, and then the next morning I would make sure to send follow-up emails where appropriate.

 My top tips would be:

1) Always follow up quickly if someone offers you an opportunity. If you can’t take it up right now, get in touch to say “not now but I’d love to later.”

2) Be brave and get in there quickly if there’s someone you really want to meet. There’s nothing worse than plucking up the courage all night to approach someone, only to discover that they left an hour ago.

3) Don’t feel you have to stay stuck in conversations that you aren’t enjoying at networking events, especially if it means you’re missing out on making new contacts. You’re expected to circulate, so make a polite excuse (popping to the loo is a good one) and get out of there.

 Also it’s tempting to stick with friends at events if you’re feeling shy, but it can hold you and them back from meeting great people. Make sure you and your buddies know it’s OK to break off quickly and grab a chat with an interesting person if they’re nearby. It’s also handy to share ‘hit lists’ of people you each want to talk to, so you can all keep an eye out for each other in case opportunities arise.

What does the future hold for you?

Right now my agent is about to start pitching my third book, so hopefully writing another book will be in my future. Apart from that, I’m just taking opportunities as they come. I’m writing for a range of outlets, making my monthly Naked Genetics podcast, taking up invitations to speak at events, festivals and conferences, and pursuing TV and radio opportunities. I’m always hustling, baby.

About the author

Dr Kat Arney, Science Writer and Broadcaster/Musician and Harpist

Website

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Book: Herding Hemingway's Cats- Understanding How Our Genes Work


Zelica Jones

Inspirational Woman: Zelica Jones | Founder of VASS

 

Zelica Jones is the founder of Vass; a virtual assistant business which provides administrative, accounting, legal, HR, event co-ordination, marketing (including social media management) support, which in turn frees up your time to focus on the activities that bring in the most income for your business.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No.  When I was younger, I wanted to be a Barrister and then an Athlete.  But I was really good at Maths so my Head Teacher suggested I should be an Accountant.  I was never sure whether that was something I actually wanted to do and didn’t make a firm decision about my career until I started my business in 2014.

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

I have faced many challenges! Racism, sexism, feelings of not being good enough and doubting myself.  But my mum and kids are my biggest cheerleaders and soon have me feeling great about myself. Whenever I feel down, I just spend time with my family who will have me hysterically laugh and feeling a lot better. Exercise also helps.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I head to the gym and run.

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

Make a five year plan. Decide where you want to be in five years time and then work backwards. Where you want to be in four years, three years, two year, one year, six months.  Make sure you look at that plan at those intervals to make sure you are still on track or if your goals need adjusting because the plan has changed.

How is your own company/organisation improving diversity and balance?

I am black, female and a working mum so I tick a few boxes myself! I also want as many different people working with me so we can appeal to as many clients as possible.

How do you manage your own boss?

Badly! I am the boss and find it hard that I’m not accountable to anyone sometimes.

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

I’m awake by 6am to get my son ready for school and we are out of the house by 6.50am.  Once I drop him off at 8am and get the train into Central London, I check emails and social media.  Before I go to bed, I go through my diary and organise my next day and add any tasks to my to do list which have come up.

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

Be visible and speak up. Women stereotypically just get on with things and can fade into the background.  Make yourself known to those who are the decision makers.  Be vocal about your ambitions and show initiative.  Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

It has helped gain clarity over various aspects of my life; made me accountable; keeps me motivated; have someone I can offload/brain dump to.

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

Networking is great but network where your ideal client or people who are where you want to be in the future will be.  Networking isn’t about having fun, it’s work.  Have any agenda or plan of action about what you hope to get out of attending that event

What does the future hold for you?

The next two years I plan to grow the company to a stage where I only handle a maximum of two clients and start The VASS Community Project (VCP).  VCP will a fully funded version of VASS where we help train people in Accounting, Admin, Marketing/PR, Design, Social Media Management skills to give them a flexible way to work.

Perhaps they have been a stay at home mum who wants to get back into the working world but has found that she can’t afford to because childcare is too expensive.  I want to train as many people as possible in Virtual work.


agnie featured

Inspirational Woman: Agnieszka May-Sadowska | Area Vice President of Central and Eastern Europe at Commvault

 

Agnie
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

While I can’t say that I planned my career step by step, I did make some very conscious decisions while at university that I believe helped put me in the best possible position to achieve success.

Of course, an advantage for me is that I have always been interested in how businesses run and what makes them successful, for example what strategic decisions do companies make to ensure success?

In a sense this is probably how I have always approached my career, and, by doing my dissertation on strategic management I was in a perfect position to put everything I learned into practise – starting with my very first job xxx years back. Since then, I have dedicated my career to growing companies, studying the market, making as smart, informed decisions as I can and always being conscious of the long term results I was aiming for.

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

I face challenges of varying degrees every day – but in all honesty, given my ‘go getter’ personality, if there were no challenges and nothing to overcome, it’s highly likely that I would get bored.

That said, I am definitely someone who prefers to work with a plan, but when an obstacle does present itself, I feel it’s important to have the presence of mind to be flexible within reason i.e. if the obstacle can’t be moved, don’t fixate on the original plan but find a way to work around it. It might not be the original route you planned to get there, but the important thing is that you still achieve the goal, even if the journey takes a detour! Add a healthy dose of determination to stay focused, and you’ll go far in achieving your goals.

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

If you are keen to take on a leadership role, it’s important to remember is that there is a difference between being a manager and being a leader. A leader guides and develops ideas that support the day-to-day strategy, which is implemented by others. A leader’s role is to create a vision and a set of goals, sharing the desired end-result with the team and empowering them to create and follow a path to get there.

Leaders also communicate in a different way to anyone else in the business. They talk about “we” instead of “me”.

They talk about coming together as a collective to achieve a bigger goal. It is a mind-set change and often comes naturally to leaders as they step into this role.

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

Honestly, I have to say I have not often found myself in this position - there are always differences, even if small – that set people apart. Especially as you become more involved in hiring for more senior positions, the qualifications of candidates vary greatly.

However, if I did find myself in this unique situation, I would trust my gut feeling. The more you interview, the more you find that you have an intuition about people as soon as you meet them and I would advise following that. The other important factor to consider is how this candidate would represent your business. If they interact with partners and customers, would you be proud to have them be the face of your company?

How do you manage your own boss?

That is quite an interesting expression, “manage your own boss”- it’s kind of a contradiction in terms! I think the best way to have a great working relationship with your boss is to remember it is just that, a relationship, a two-way street based on trust from both parties, that has developed over time.

As an example my last boss and I had an excellent working relationship. We had similar ways of working, both being, goals and results driven, and focused on business outcome first and foremost. Working with a boss who has the same outlook as you do always makes it easier, but unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. I have worked for other people who are the complete opposite from me, and the biggest issue that created conflict was their impatience.

The best way to instill confidence in an impatient boss is to always set out a plan of action - show that you understand the end goal and have specific steps planned to achieve it.

You may not be able to give them the results they are looking for immediately, but well-thought out plan will always be appreciated.

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

I always try to start or end my day with exercise – granted this is easier said than done, but whenever I can I try to fit it in. Exercising is a great way to rebalance, relieve stress and clear the mind. It also inspires different ways of thinking and can present solutions to problems you never thought of.

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

Create an environment that cultivates celebrating success – especially your own. I strongly believe this is one area where we as women really sell ourselves short. We are quick to praise others, but often forget to do promote ourselves after a big win or successful project.

This also applies when looking for your next opportunity. If a job opens and you are thinking about applying, don’t over analyse or second guess yourself. Reflect on you experience and skill set – don’t doubt your abilities – believe in yourself and take the jump. You never know what doors it could open.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

If I look back to the start of my career the concept of mentoring was not as prominent within the industry, especially for women in such a male dominated environment as tech. Personally, I had to rely on my own confidence to go for it. I observed my male colleagues, adapted what they did and had conviction in my ability to achieve exactly the same as they did, perhaps even more!

I think this is a tried and true method of growing in your career. Find someone that you admire, in a position that you one day would like to fill, and emulate them. Learn from how they carry themselves, what they contribute in meetings and how others respond to them. Also, if there is someone who volunteers to mentor you and provide guidance and feedback, always take advantage of this, even if it is not necessarily someone who you would have chosen – you will definitely benefit.

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

I think networking is extremely important. We are social animals and can always benefit from meeting new people, expanding our connections and engaging in educational conversation. My three tips to a newbie networker are:

  • Networking takes time and effort to maintain. Commit to this and it will be worth your while
  • Show genuine interest in others - good networking is a two-way street
  • Ensure that who you network with aligns with what you hope to get out of it
What does the future hold for you?

I am really optimistic about the future. I am really happy with my professional achievements to date, but like everyone else I am still focused on career progression and looking for ways to better myself and my team. A new priority for me is also to find balance between my work and private life.

I am a mother who values her career, so finding time to nurture both is a new challenge that I am facing. But right now I am healthy, happy and living my dream – and I am not shy about sharing that.


Inspirational Woman: Claire Canning | Renewable energy research engineer taking a three year industrial placement at EDF Energy

 

Claire Canning graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology. She is currently undertaking a three year industrial placement from EDF Energy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company
claire

I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and then went on to do a Masters in Conservation and Biodiversity, where I developed a particular interest in marine conservation and the effects of climate change on global biodiversity.

I have always had an interest in offshore renewable energy technologies and how they interact with the marine environment, so this coupled with my Masters experience paved the way for me to embark on a three year research project with EDF Energy, working as a renewable energy research engineer.

Offshore wind research is exciting because the industry is still relatively new and everything I’m doing is supporting its future development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had a love of marine mammals from a young age, and taking biology and chemistry at school allowed me to pursue that passion at university. I’ve been able to combine my childhood interest in marine biology with research into offshore marine renewable energies and how they interact with the environment. The development of offshore marine technology is so interesting, and with cleaner and greener energy sources becoming so important, it’s very exciting to be part of.

Pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) can open the door to such a diverse range of careers and working environments and I never let anything stop me from pursuing those subjects myself. My advice to young girls today would be to create their own opportunities and not let the fact there may be more boys taking a subject hold them back if they have a passion for something.

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

I’ve been very lucky with my career path to date and haven’t come across too many roadblocks. I have received a tremendous amount of support from EDF Energy and my university to help me success, and both have helped to build my confidence. As with my experience at school, I would say that there currently aren’t enough women working in my field – sometimes I’m the only woman in the room. But I’m passionate about what I do and so it’s not something that bothers me day to day. I can see it would be something that could put young girls off pursuing STEM subjects at school and careers in later life.

Currently only one in five people working in STEM is a woman, so I think it’s really important that women who are currently working in STEM industries do what they can to encourage young girls not to close the door on the amazing careers they could have in the future.

I’m currently a role model for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious programme which puts a spotlight on the under-representation of women in STEM related careers. As part of the programme we have created a virtual reality video which I feature in alongside a structural engineer and a coder, showing young girls some of the most in-demand careers that will be available to them when they start working. I love that I’m able to show how exciting my job is in a really engaging way, and hope it will be inspirational to young girls currently at school.

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

I mainly focus on research for my PHD, studying the effects of corrosion and marine growth on offshore wind turbines. I am always challenged to think about how the design and construction of offshore structures are affected by corrosion and marine growth and it’s my job to come up with possible solutions.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

 A piece of advice that was given to me was to always be proactive. Don’t sit and wait for somebody to offer you what you want – create your own success.

My dad was, and still is, a huge role model for me as he came from a far less privileged background and is probably the hardest working person I know.

He has worked every day of his life to make sure that me and my brothers had all the opportunities he didn’t have. I think it’s him that really inspires me to challenge myself and has encouraged me through every step of my PhD.

I am also very lucky to have two female academic supervisors working with me on my EDF Energy research project who are experts in their fields and I find hugely inspirational. They provide me with the support I need to stay motivated.

What would be your top tips for parents looking to encourage their children to continue to study STEM?
  • Encourage them to keep their options open – by studying STEM there will be endless career options available to them. There are endless opportunities to develop new skills and gain experiences in a wide range of working environments when working in STEM.
  • Encourage them to find the best career for them, not something others think they should do, but something that will suit them and allow them to explore their passions.
  • Support them in making the subject choices they need to pursue their chosen career but don’t tell them what to do.
  • There is no such thing as a “girly” subjects and engineering isn’t “just for boys” so don’t allow them to let silly stereotypes get in the way of something that they want to do.
What does the future hold for you?

The best part of my job is the research, the travelling and the fact that I know that what I’m researching, is going to make a difference in the future. Having the opportunity to travel the world and present my research, working with like-minded people, is something that I have loved since starting at EDF Energy. Working collaboratively towards a future with cleaner energy is something I feel passionately about.

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Denise Hudson Lawson

Inspirational Woman: Denise Hudson Lawson | Advanced Solutions Architect at Pluralsight

 

Denise Hudson Lawson is an advanced solutions architect at Pluralsight. Here she shares her career journey with WeAreTheCity.

Denise

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

I help enterprises develop talent and acquire the digital, technology and cyber security skills they need to drive their businesses forward. Before this, I was the Head of Online Services at the Houses of Parliament where I headed up a new parliamentary service to develop and deliver a portfolio of online services to over 7,000 government staff.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always had a deep interest in tech but I never really had a career path in mind. At school, girls weren’t typically encouraged to study computers which meant I navigated my own way. Independent learning, self-belief, and building a network of mentors, peers and champions has been key to my career development.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

Being a woman in tech often comes with its challenges. Back in the 80s if you applied for a role or a promotion, marriage and children would often be brought to the table. I’ve been at board meetings before where male colleagues would be discussing a technical topic like networks and infrastructure. People would assume I’d have no idea what they were talking about and they’d try to explain the concept to me.

It felt great to return with the proper definition and this gave me the nickname ‘The Don’t Assume Woman.’

To combat situations like this, it’s always important to have integrity and faith in your own ability. My tips for women struggling with diversity at work is to find an employer with a strict diversity policy and remember it’s fine to be feminine in the workplace, but remember, you don’t have to hide behind it either.

Do you have a typical workday? How does you start your day and how does it end?

At Pluralsight, I work from home but getting up and having a coffee is as typical as it gets. On a weekly basis, I can be visiting clients and prospects across multiple European cities or speaking at a leading technology or cyber security event. One thing I always try and stick to is having my lunch at 1pm and fitting in at least half an hour a day for independent learning.

Tell us a little bit about your roles and how they came about?

I heard about the role at Parliament through a friend. Similarly, with Pluralsight I knew my current boss from networking events at the Learning and Performance Institute where we’d catch up at conferences or over the occasional glass of wine. It’s important to keep in touch with interesting people you meet throughout your career as you never know what opportunities this might bring in the future.

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

I absolutely love it. People often confuse mentoring with coaching and I’m a fan of both. Mentoring is all about using your experience and knowledge to help an individual achieve their potential. As a mentor, you can guide them, help them avoid pitfalls and offer your expertise. Coaching is more subtle, it’s about signposting and helping them find the answers themselves.

I’ve been a mentor throughout my career and during my time at Parliament I mentored around 20 people over six month periods.

I’ve also mentored outside of work, one lady I mentored felt put down and lacked general confidence. Since then, she achieved a promotion and even received a national award. It’s very rewarding and it’s important for women to pass on their knowledge and help each other.

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

For women to start believing in themselves and to stop saying ‘I can’t’. If a woman wants to apply for a job, she’ll see 10% of the role that’s outside of her skill set and this can stop her in her tracks. In most cases, a man would still apply.

For promoting diversity at work, government departments have it nailed. Individuals are celebrated, there are communities of practice, awareness weeks and diversity groups put in place. Whereas in the private sector, this can often be overlooked. The workplace is slowly starting to change and some of the big banks like JP Morgan and Credit Suisse are doing a great job as are organisations like PwC and Shell. The technology industry is also changing, we see more women in the press, females on boards and stars from the dot-com era are Ladies in the House of Lords.

How would you encourage young girls into STEM careers?

We need to break down what STEM actually means and have role models in each of those sectors. For a while now, STEM outreach mainly focused on coding but there’s so much more you can do with STEM. Some girls are put off by coding, so it might be better to ask the question: Do you like drawing? Why not try out graphic or game design? STEM isn’t just about maths, building an engine or code.

For girls to understand what’s out there, companies should hold more open days and promote great initiatives like ‘Take your daughter to work’ day.

We’re making STEM more accessible but more can be done to showcase the different STEM career paths that are out there for young women.

How do you juggle your career and your personal life?

Planning and working for an understanding organisation. If you need to drop out for a moment and do something important, you should be able to. It’s essential to have the support and trust of your workplace and colleagues. As a rule, I also try to be offline by 7:30, unless an international call or something pressing crops up.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Surviving in this industry! Every time I take on a new role, I look at it as an achievement. Highlights include heading up my own department in the Houses of Parliament and winning CLO of the year twice.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

To carry on working, to be happy and healthy. I want to continue to help other people every day in what they do, be a good role model and give back to society. I’d love to continue talking at events, and to see the smile on people’s faces when I help them achieve their learning needs.


Victoria Grey featured

Inspirational Woman: Victoria Grey | Chief Marketing Officer at Nexsan

 

Victoria Grey is Chief Marketing Officer of Nexsan and is a seasoned data storage industry expert.

nexsan

Victoria has been instrumental in building some of the most innovative and progressive marketing teams in Silicon Valley, winning accolades and awards for her marketing acumen and creativity. Victoria has over 20 years of experience in technology sales and marketing, with a specialty in the infrastructure market. She joins Nexsan from Gridstore (now HyperGrid) where she was Chief Marketing Officer of Worldwide Marketing. While at Gridstore she lead the marketing efforts for the company’s launch into the hyperconverged infrastructure market, resulting in a year-over-year growth of 343 per cent.

She also spearheaded a program of co-branded e-communications in support of partner marketing initiatives and programs. Victoria has held a number of senior positions at market leading companies, including Quantum, EMC, and Legato. She was also named a “Woman of the Channel” in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and 'Channel Chief' in 2015 and 2016.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I always resisted life planning and instead preferred to follow what intrigued me at the time. Early in my career this meant I declined to take a standard big-company job that would have meant sitting in a corporate office instead of being in the field. Instead I chose to stay close to customers and partners. I can’t say if my career would have flourished more had I planned, but I have always been happy with my choices.

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

I think subtle and not-so-subtle sexism has frequently been an issue. This is now getting a lot of attention in tech, but it did not when I was starting out and advancing in my career. My response was to be the ultimate professional, and to focus on being competent, prepared, and willing to go head-to-head with challengers.

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

It’s old advice but still good: emulate what you aspire to become.  Look, talk, behave, and advocate as though you are that leader now; you will advance.

How is your own company/organisation improving diversity and balance?

As a small company, at Nexsan it is less about programmatic methods of advancing diversity and more about recognising performance wherever it appears. Everyone in the organisation plays a vital role and has exposure at all levels. I also think including women at the executive staff level helps aid in diversity of thought and contribution. We are also a very distributed company; one of the side effects of this is little attention on “regular” work hours; I have staff, both men and women, who juggle parenting responsibilities with work and I hold them to their objectives, not specific hours of the workday.

How do you manage your own boss?

By anticipating his challenges and trying to assist. I run my department effectively, supporting the organisation’s objectives, and by not being a problem!

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

First thing – feed the dog!  She’s a very spoiled little cockapoo that I indulge.  At the end of the day my partner and I usually share a bottle of wine and make a Blue Apron dinner together – honestly these pre-packaged fix at home dinners are the best thing for working people that still want a healthy meal.

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

Every organisation has its issues and challenges, and one of the behaviours I’ve observed repeatedly that has harmed careers is venting. Everyone vents occasionally, but focusing too much on the problems and complaining is a barrier to advancement. People that aspire to advance need to focus on the good things and how they can contribute to success. Also stepping up to projects that give exposure to higher levels in the organisation helps to raise your profile.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Yes of course. Sometimes this took the form of formal feedback such as annual reviews and other times informal advice from an executive. One time when I had moved into a completely new area of the business and was nervous about my own capabilities, I had a senior VP tell me I wasn’t giving my team credit and they resented it. I heard that loud and clear, and since then have always endeavoured to ensure my team gets the praise they deserve.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker

Yes, my top three tips would be:

  1. Cultivate friendly work relationships – you’re going to need them and most industries are surprisingly small when it comes to reputation.
  2. Keep in touch – not only when you need a job.  This is the hardest, it takes time. Go to lunch, meet for coffee, drop a note when you find out about a promotion. Connect on social media.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Most people love to help others; ask for advice, or introductions.
What does the future hold for you?

 I love what I do and hope to keep doing it for a long time. I no longer aspire above the level I’m at in business; instead I am looking for new skills, experiences, and challenges within my area, marketing.  Fortunately, marketing is undergoing a sea change that has been developing for some time, with the growth of metrics-based marketing, and new tools and data analytics there is always lots to learn and that is keeping the job fresh for me. I look forward to this new world every day!


Inspirational Woman: Kristel Kruustük | Co-Founder of Testlio

Kristel Kruustük was just 23 when she became disillusioned by how QA testers were treated. She came up with the idea of building a platform that would appreciate the work of testers and elevate the importance of QA within organisations.

She shared her idea with then-boyfriend, later-cofounder, now-husband Marko Kruustük and the two entered the world’s largest hackathon Angelhack. Together, they took home first place winning a $25,000 seed investment and their first paying customer.

Testlio

What inspired you to start a business?

I started my career as a software tester during my second year of college, working on different crowdtesting platforms. That’s when I realised that these environments were not tester friendly. Testers’ time was undervalued. There was no teamwork; testers were pitted against each other and only the first to find bugs were rewarded. This was also harmful for the end-users. I wasn’t satisfied with the status quo and founded Testlio out of my own vision of how testing should be conducted.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss? 

The responsibility of building a company from scratch is uniquely challenging. No one will build your company for you.

You are accountable for every decision made; the bigger the company the bigger the responsibility is. You want the entire company to be successful, not just yourself. What’s really rewarding is when things move in the right direction and the people around. You are happy, excited and motivated.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?

Have a clear vision, work towards it and don’t sweat the small setbacks on the way.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
I’m constantly thinking about the unknown. Even with amazing employees, I can’t predict the future. I can only do my best in the moment.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?

I was fortunate to have a really great friend and mentor in Pipedrive’s co-founder Ragnar Sass when I started out.

He gave us a lot of guidance and advice. He advised me to take part in the techstars accelerator in 2013, which was the best decision for Testlio at that phase. We made great connections there and acquired essential business skills that helped us build and grow Testlio.

What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?

Networking is extremely important especially when you start out and have to “sell” your company to others. Business is all about people, making connections and building long term relationships.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth? 

Scaling is a continuous process. You always have to be aware of what’s happening in your space – customers, competition and market dynamics. The end goal is to always offer the best service possible to your customers.

What does the future hold for you?

Great success for Testlio!  We’re helping companies build products their users love and providing meaningful career opportunities for testers around the world. We will change the way QA is done!


Inspirational Woman: Claire Mitchell | Software developer and computer programmer

 

Claire Mitchell is a software developer and computer programmer for a range of clients.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company
Software

I’m a developer creating software for a range of clients in a fun, central London office environment. Since I started coding two years ago I’ve become very involved in startups, which has fueled my passion for the industry. I love putting new products together and have found that working in technology has brought out my creativity. It’s great to be part of a community of people who love doing the same thing.

Outside of my day job, I am also involved in several initiatives including Node Girls, a series of workshops which teach women how to do back-end coding, with events taking place regularly across London. I’m also working on a fashion start-up project called Mode For Me which is a crowdfunding platform for emerging fashion designers.

We realised that people graduate from fashion courses all the time and don’t have the money to produce full collections, so the idea is that they can post products on the website and then third parties can offer funding against collections they like. It’s a great way to offer opportunities to new designers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve had an interest in computers for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t really something I thought I would do for a living until about two years ago.

I had originally planned to be a civil engineer following university, but after moving to London I found the startup community full of people who loved their jobs, with many of them working as developers.

I knew I wanted to work in startups so it sounded really appealing to me, but the only jobs going were for developers or people in marketing. I started learning to code on my own using various online resources, and was accepted onto Founders & Coders, a free coding boot-camp in London, and that launched me into my career..

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

I loved studying science and maths when I was at school, but they were definitely male dominated subjects. There were maybe 30 girls on my degree course in a year of around 170 students. But I never let that put me off. I’ve been lucky enough to combine that passion with the science skills I learnt through my degree in engineering. It’s led me to where I am now, working with really exciting startups to bring new digital products to life and I find myself being inspired every single day by what I’m creating.

The challenges I faced have also meant I’m now committed to encouraging girls to continue studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school, and not be discouraged by thinking science isn’t for girls. There are so many interesting and fulfilling careers they can pursue with a STEM background, including software development like me, which will be the most in-demand in 2023. That’s why I am a role model for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious programme, to show girls in an engaging way what a career in STEM could be like for them.

I would love for the tech industry to be as diverse as the UK population and for it to become more accessible for minority groups.

Free coding education is something very close to my heart, so it would be great to see more teaching initiatives and tech meetups being organised across the UK.

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

I always start the day with a coffee at my desk and I have a ‘stand up’ with the rest of my team at about 10am, where we discuss what we achieved the previous day and what we’re planning to tackle over the course of the day. I work for most of the day at my computer, coding. My job mostly involves breaking down big problems into smaller, easy to solve issues and then solving them with code. In web development, there’s a good mix of different skills required, from design and styling, through to creating and applying logical solutions to problems, so there’s always something varied to do.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Some advice that was given to me was ‘always continue learning.’ As a developer, it’s a particularly relevant piece of advice because everything moves at such a fast pace. If you’re not learning, you’ll be left behind. I use this as a measure for myself – if I’m still learning then I know I’m making progress.

What would be your top tips for women looking to pursue a career in tech?
  • Find a community that will help you. I would not be in this position if I was always trying to do things on my own. I made friends and found other like-minded people and we have since worked through problems together and encouraged each other along the way.
  • Keep learning. Set yourself a list of things that you want to know. It doesn’t matter how fast you tick the boxes, just take the steps (however big or small) to crossing them off your list.
  • Look online. There are ways of learning how to code without having to pay a fortune. There are many paid courses that are beneficial but if you are strapped for cash, there are plenty of free options too.
  • Give it a try! I have friends who studied languages at school and gave up maths as soon as they could, but now they’re excellent developers.
For girls who feel STEM subjects aren’t for them, what would your advice be?
  • Stick with them. Having STEM qualifications can help open doors to interesting and stimulating career opportunities in future and you can learn lots of transferrable skills, too.
  • Learn to code at school. Coding is a powerful skill in this increasingly digital world and will only become more important as we come to use more and more technology in our working and personal lives.
  • STEM is creative. You don’t need to work in the arts to enhance your artistic sensibilities – coding can be really creative too, and the same can be said for many STEM careers.
  • Think about the bigger picture. Look beyond the language and the syntax and think about the overall picture of what you can achieve with coding. The possibilities are almost endless.

 


Hannah Pretswell featured

Inspirational Woman: Hannah Pretswell | Software Test Engineer at Scott Logic

 

Hannah is a Test Engineer at Scott Logic, a UK-based consultancy delivering high quality software to clients in financial services, the public sector and healthcare.

She is a graduate in Character Animation from Teesside University, as well as a STEM Ambassador, and spends much of her free time drawing, painting, dancing, and climbing.

software
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company

I’m a Software Test Engineer at Scott Logic, a software consultancy specialising in solutions for financial trading, and it’s a fantastic place to work. We sit in an open plan office, which makes working in an Agile environment so much easier.

I sit with my team of three developers, just a stone’s throw from the other testers in the office. It makes fostering both a project community and a test community ideal, and we often share information and tips during the work day.

Did you ever sit down and plan your journey to becoming a software tester?

Becoming a software tester has been an interesting journey for me, and it’s definitely not something I planned. I studied character animation at university, and as a way to get my foot in the door of the games industry, as I’m a keen gamer, I landed a job as games tester. This was my first ever experience of testing, and I fell in love. I figured that if games need testing, other software would need testing too. So I researched what I needed to become a software tester.

I was overwhelmed and underqualified, but thankfully I’m not one to give up easily. I taught myself basic HTML/CSS and JavaScript and created a very simple, 90s-esque website with some of my artwork on it. I studied the difference between Agile and waterfall software development methodologies, and what black box and white box testing were.

In doing this research, I had shown potential employers passion and interest, which is an important part of being a software tester.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a technical role for the first time?

Unfortunately, software testing isn’t something that really gets taught anywhere. If you do a computer science degree, then you might briefly touch upon unit testing, but you won’t study it anywhere near the level required for most testing jobs. If you really want to be a tester, my advice is to be proactive.

Unlike software development, where you can sit down and learn a language and build something, if you don’t have something to test how can you practice?

You could learn automation testing, pick up something like Protractor.js and find some Angular websites to write tests against, but that doesn’t tackle the issue of sapient testing.

If you aren’t currently in a testing job, I’d advise reading, and getting involved in the testing community. I’d recommend Explore it! Reduce Risk and Increase Confidence with Exploratory Testing by Elisabeth Hendrickson, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald Weinberg (this is actually the first testing book I read).

You should also participate in conversations on social media, and join local testing or Agile development meet ups. There are two main Slackchats I love: ministryoftesting.slack.com and testersio.slack.com.

And I recommend reading blogs by James Bach, Michael Bolton and Katrina Clokie. Follow them on Twitter too, along with anyone else who has interesting conversations about testing. You can learn a surprising amount in 140 characters.

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

The biggest challenge that I face is that I don’t have a background in code. New projects generally mean new technology, and though picking that up might come easy for someone with three to four years computer science experience, it does not come easily for me. I spend a lot of time learning, and I’m thankful that I really enjoy learning (if I could stay at school forever, I would) which helps me pick things up quickly.

The real challenge comes down to Google. It is so difficult to search for things on Google when you don’t actually know what you’re supposed to be searching for! Thankfully this is easy to overcome - simply ask for help. You can’t learn if you can’t hold your hands up and admit you don’t know something. Suffering in silence is detrimental to both you and your company.

If you want to progress as a software tester, it’s a constant learning process. Like any job in technology, things are constantly changing.

There’s always a new bit of tech, or a new process to be used. The benefit of staying at the forefront of the technologies and ideas is that you get to try things out before other people.

This means you get to build an opinion, which you can then share. This builds up not only your knowledge as a tester, but your reputation too if you write blogs and share your insights on social media.

Have you benefited from coaching or mentoring? Do you feel this is/has been important to your professional development?

I’ve never been officially mentored as such, since the way Scott Logic’s test team works is we all help each other out. However, the company is in the process of rolling out a new internal coaching programme. Up to now though, I guess I could say that everyone I work with has been somewhat of a mentor. They have all been integral to my professional development, helping me with different test ideas, helping me figure out personal projects to pursue, or helping me get my head around different technical languages.

I have taken part in being a mentor myself, and that opened up a lot of opportunities. I’m involved with the STEM Ambassadors, and over the last year I’ve been involved with many school activities; either practice interviews or giving talks to young students about my role in testing. I signed up for the Newcastle University mentorship program, and was partnered with a second year student who was considering testing as a career choice. This led to the problem of the lack of internships for testers, which I took to our test lead and head of development and within a few months we welcomed our first test intern.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m looking forward to all the future projects I get to be involved with, since every project requires a different approach to testing and new challenges to overcome. I would like to garner enough experience and knowledge to be able to consult with businesses and help them perfect their testing within their organisation.

I also hope to carry on with my work with STEM Ambassadors and help inspire a new generation of people to pursue a career in technology. I believe kids should be informed of as many career options as possible, so they can make more informed decisions as they get older. I also hope to show, courtesy of my odd background in animation, that if you do make an “incorrect” choice somewhere along the way, it isn’t the end of the world. If you have enough drive and passion you can succeed in anything you want.