women in computing, teacher, STEM featured

Breaking barriers: Steps needed to help women in STEM

Article by Julie Gibb, Chief Technology Officer at Sim Local

women in computing, teacher, STEMThe tech and telecoms industry has long been a male dominated sphere. There are many factors that perpetuate the gender gap in STEM careers, from the lack of female role models to gender stereotypes that portray the fields as inflexible and exclusionary.

However, whilst we are witnessing more and more women drawn into the industry and breaking down the traditional barriers that once were so prevalent in these industries, currently only 19% of women in the UK work in tech.

For a sector which experiences a significant skills gap and is constantly screaming out for new and diverse talent, what are the current barriers preventing women entering tech and how do we overcome them? International Women’s Month in March provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the women who have paved the way for others in STEM and highlight the steps needed to help women thrive in the industry going forward.

Inspiring younger generations

A report from STEM Women revealed that only a third (35%) of STEM students at higher education in the UK are women. Interest in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects start at early education level and must be nurtured throughout pupils’ studies.

Typically, these subjects have been associated with appealing more to male students in the past and therefore have deterred girls from following a path that will lead them into STEM fields. What sparked my interest in technology at a young age was typing programming code in my Apple computer at home. From an early age I was encouraged to play on a computer and programming was treated as a game in my household. Each time we upgraded our home computer, I wanted to set it up. This was despite that fact that I blew up the first computer and electrocuted myself at the same time - an interesting experience to say the least! I was about 12 years old when it happened.

When it was time for me to enrol in college, I had a curiosity for STEM, which ultimately lead me to choose a technology-oriented degree. STEM was something that I associated with my childhood and regarded as fun, rather than being intimidated by it, which many are.

Schools, colleges and universities need to do more to showcase that STEM careers don’t only exist in laboratories and research centres, but offer diverse and well-rounded career opportunities for women. Educators also need to find ways to encourage healthy competition between students who want to explore these subjects by creating inclusive environments, which ultimately drive mindset changes and acceptance within peer groups.

Role models are important

Female role-models also have a part to play. We need more female role models that young girls and women can relate to, so those considering technology careers are aware of the exciting opportunities that come with it. As I was growing up, my mother played a significant part in my life as a role model. She was, and still is, a trail blazer and had an amazing career in fashion design, as a stylist and costume designer. She was able to find the perfect balance between her personal life and her career, which is why I knew I never had to give one up for the other.

I was also lucky to have entered a STEM orientated college degree that had a higher-than-normal proportion of female students that year. My peers were high achievers and have had great careers of their own and become role models for their own daughters and sons. Sound-boarding off my female college friends proved to be an important support structure for me over the years. I also commend a large part of my confidence to expect a position at the top table to one of my female bosses early in my career. Having figures to interact with and to look up to goes a long way to helping young girls consider these roles for themselves and helps to shape the female leaders of tomorrow.

Barriers to overcome

On the other end of the spectrum, there are significant barriers for women to overcome when it comes to re-training. Often, when women decide to go on maternity leave and raise children, or interrupt their career for personal reasons, they are often stumped when re-entering the workforce – especially those who work in STEM, as the technology in the industry is always evolving.

Businesses need to respect those decisions and, through re-skilling or retraining initiatives, create a pathway for them to re-enter their careers smoothly and feel supported. The Government can also help by subsiding and helping towards training investment for companies and individuals.

Technology is a great area to experiment with initiatives because technology is always evolving, and upskilling is a constant requirement for anyone working in the industry. These programs won’t just further women’s careers, they will increase their confidence in getting back into the workplace after their leave.

The future workforce

Although the tech industry is slowly becoming more diverse, it is important to acknowledge the gender gap, in order to work on closing it further. Progress is well underway to ensure men and women have an equal seat at the table, but further steps can be taken to inspire change.

The Government needs to work with both educational institutions and businesses across the UK to inspire and prioritise encouraging more females to study STEM from young age and support women throughout their careers so they are able to successfully rise through the ranks and enjoy extremely rewarding careers in tech.

To find out more about Sim Local, please visit www.simlocal.com.

Julie GibbAbout the author

Julie joined Sim Local as Chief Technology Officer in 2017, at a pivotal point in the company’s technology journey. She leads a team responsible for the technology services that underpin Sim Local’s retail business and retail channels across the globe. Julie has played a crucial role in the development of the next generation UNITE platform, which leverages Sim Local’s retail business insights and cloud services to offer a digital eSIM technology solution for various enterprises.

She has a breadth of industry experience having worked for over 20 years in the telecommunications sector for companies such as Telefonica and Nortel, and has been immersed in the telecoms evolution from voice only services, to voice, data, broadband and cloud services. Julie is a seasoned and passionate leader with a proven record of delivering business and technology advances including network, IT and digital transformation.


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Inspirational Woman: Julie Gibb | CTO, Sim Local

Julie GibbJulie joined Sim Local as Chief Technology Officer in 2017, at a pivotal point in the company’s technology journey.

She leads a team responsible for the technology services that underpin Sim Local’s retail business and retail channels across the globe. Julie has played a crucial role in the development of the next generation UNITE platform, which leverages Sim Local’s retail business insights and cloud services to offer a digital eSIM technology solution for various enterprises.

She has a breadth of industry experience having worked for over 20 years in the telecommunications sector for companies such as Telefonica and Nortel, and has been immersed in the telecoms evolution from voice only services, to voice, data, broadband and cloud services. Julie is a seasoned and passionate leader with a proven record of delivering business and technology advances including network, IT and digital transformation.

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

Since starting my career in telecommunications over 20 years ago, I knew I’d found my calling. Previously, I’ve worked for a variety of companies from Nortel, Telefonica to Meteor and Eir, and have been immersed in the telecoms and tech evolution, which has been a truly fascinating journey. The speed with which innovation has occurred, new companies have emerged and taken the lead, coupled with seeing the resulting influences on the ordinary person’s day to day life has been a joy to be a part of.

I joined Sim Local in 2017 as CTO at a pivotal point in the company’s tech journey, which has been an extremely exciting and rewarding journey to be a part of. What I enjoy most about my current role is that leading technology innovation and being successful in innovation all depends on everyone in the team working together, which I believe we do extremely well at Sim Local!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Whilst I was at school, I researched different degree courses and kept finding myself drawn to technology orientated degrees and subjects. Eventually, I went for a B.A (Mod) Management Science and Industrial Systems Studies at Trinity College in Dublin, as it combined both technology and business acumen. After graduating in 1995, I delved into the working world whilst also completing a qualification in Project Management. Several years later, I decided to go to night school to complete an MBA from University College Dublin Smurfit School of Business.

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

Working full time whilst also completing my MBA for over two years was an incredibly challenging experience. I learnt how to manage time effectively and to become quick at prioritising what is important. This has stood me in good stead ever since.  I believe I am now good at adapting to a changing landscape and can spot when my priorities need to change, which has ultimately made me a better leader.

However, this experience was nothing compared with the challenge of learning to balance a career and home life, when my children came along! Like most new mums I was completely unprepared for the demands of motherhood, and although motherhood is the best that life can bring, it can be emotionally hard to be a working mum. You swing from feeling a success in one part of your life and a failure in another part and vice versa. And, this emotional swing can happen daily! I commend companies who put effort into supporting new parents in the workplace. There are some companies who do this very well and reap the rewards through very loyal staff, many of whom go on to become their future leaders.

Additionally, I was completing my MBA when I was expecting my first child and I remember realising I may have to consider deferring completion of my qualification.  This was very tough for me as I am by nature a driven person and I had already put in a lot of hard work. There was a baby boom in our MBA class at the time (the average age was early thirties) but my male peers did not face the same challenge as I did.  It was the first time in my career that I felt conscious of my gender. However, with support from the college and my husband I completed my qualification as planned and I have a graduation photo with my masters degree in one hand, my son in the other and my husband beaming with pride beside me, which continues to be a very proud moment for me.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Generally, being able to recognise the opportunity within innovation and steering strategic decisions to make best use of innovation. This comes with the experience of seeing technologies come and go and being able to recognise the ones that will pass the test of time.

Recently at Sim Local, we launched our UNITE platform, which I am extremely proud of as it’s great to see many years’ worth of work pay off. Essentially, it provides the core capability mobile operators need to offer eSIM services to their customers. The platform uses the latest in web technologies in conjunction with a cloud & microservices architecture to bring a best-in-class capability into an operator’s eSIM ecosystem – this solves a problem for operators who are time and, or resource constrained where we can deliver to them a complete eSIM solution in just a matter of weeks.

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

Personally, I’ve always been performance and results driven and that hasn’t changed since stepping into my role as CTO at Sim Local. My mantra is to lead by example! I encourage boldness, continuous learning, and the satisfaction of personal achievement on the job.

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

In my experience, a career in technology can take two paths.

One path is a technology evangelist, whereby it is the technology itself that excites you. Technology is constantly changing and there are always new ideas and new ways of doing things.  It is a career in itself to keep up with the changes. To excel as a technology evangelist, you need to be passionate about the actual technology itself and want to become an influencer of change amongst your peers.

Another path is driving the management of technology.  For technology to work, many parts need to function cohesively. One can have a great career in technology management but to excel, you need to be passionate about ways of working, governance, processes and have a certain level of business acumen in order to communicate at both a business management level and a technology management level.

Ultimately, working in technology means you need to be able to embrace change.  I’d always recommend bringing this into your way of working, being agile, trying new ideas and failing fast are the best ways to learn!

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

I have seen incredible change over the last 20 years in relation to barriers for success for women in tech. The gender imbalance of 20 years ago was daunting, especially at entry level and it still exists today in technology leadership.

Promoting and showcasing female leaders really does have an influence on those who are just starting out on their career in technology. I have always been encouraged simply by seeing other women in tech leadership roles.  Companies that provide the support structures needed to simply encourage women to continue working through the stages of life are the ones who truly enable women to succeed. Additionally, finding a way of encouraging young students in schools, colleges, universities to see how rewarding a career in tech is, and the opportunities that are available to them, should be a big focus going forward.

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

Companies who invest in supporting both men and women at pivotal points in their lives, such as diversity within graduate programmes, putting in place support structures for returning to work after maternity/parental leave, enabling both women and men to share in the responsibilities of raising children, certainly have the right foundations.  Most companies with a gender balance today really embraced this type of investment in their staff.  Many of these structures were not in place when I began my career in technology and I can see the difference they have made in relation to keeping women in the work force and indeed enabling women to continue on into leadership roles.

But, just as important is respecting both women and men who decide to take a career break to raise their family and giving them the opportunity to return to work at the level they left when they decide to re-join the workforce.  Companies should not be afraid of extending their achievements to date by putting in place further support structures to encourage staff to return to the workplace after a career break. The Government can also support companies in this by subsiding training. Technology is a great area to experiment with ideas because technology is always evolving and upskilling is a constant requirement for anyone working in the industry.

There is currently only 17% 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?

An interest in STEM really must start early, therefore we must encourage school age girls to explore STEM early in the education system. I would not have had an interest in technology had I not been encouraged to ‘play’ on a computer at home. My parents did a great job here and I am forever grateful to them. Also, finding ways to encourage healthy competition between students who to want to explore STEM by creating inclusive environments drives mindset changes within peer groups.

Additionally, we really must change the way we market to young girls and the role models that girls see on media. We have to move away from the stereotype that a girl must be pretty, and more so that she must be pretty to succeed.  More recent MARVEL movies have really embraced changes in the portrayal of the young female role model, although personally I’d like to see a little less violence!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Networking events and conferences are a great way of being able to be immersed in new technologies or a new way of doing things at an industry level. They are an opportunity to see how other companies have put new ideas in to practice and to get first-hand feedback on the pitfalls as well as the successes.  Podcasts and webinars are great because you can research in your own time. Larger companies that are spread across geographies have a great advantage in being able to create networking forums within their organisation. Some of these companies share podcasts from the events and these can be good to follow in order to see how the same challenges within a company are handled by different cultures.


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