Why dyslexia shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving great things | Sheridan Ash

Sheridan Ash leads on technology and innovation, and women in technology, at PwC. She is also the founder of Tech She Can. 

It is hard to imagine a more unpromising start to a career in technology.

I left school aged 16 with no qualifications, as well as undiagnosed dyslexia. I was a single mother in my early 20s. Pulling together a few savings, and with the help of friends and family, I decided to invest in my education as I needed a long-term career that would provide security for me and my son. With a lot of hard work and the support of some amazing people, I began to acquire qualifications: ‘A’ levels, a degree and eventually an MBA at Imperial College Business School where I became interested in technology.

I have worked in a variety of roles, including in sales for a pharmaceutical firm, and as a technology management consultant for Accenture. At one time, I became an independent consultant working for a local authority in the North of England. I have a lot of experience of the challenges of using technology in the NHS and in pharma. Two things became increasingly clear to me. First, that technology was crucially important in shaping the modern world. Second, women and girls were severely underrepresented when it came to technology careers.

The absence of females in technology careers is more than just a case of bias, it is a critical issue for business and society. By involving women you not only get both the brainpower and insights of half the world’s population, but you also access their skills of creativity and collaboration which are essential in the world of today that is increasingly being shaped by technology.

When I joined PwC ten years ago, there were very few females in its technology workforce. But, over time, with lots of initiatives, and learning about what works and what doesn’t, we have doubled the percentage of women to over 30%

There is a fundamental issue around increasing this number though, for PwC and as well as other firms: the pipeline of girls and young women choosing technology subjects at school and university is persistently low. Research I commissioned found that only 27% of females would consider a career in technology, compared to 62% of males, and only 3% of the girls surveyed said technology would be their first career choice.

I established the TechSheCan Charter alongside some other passionate women from organisations such as RBS, Zoopla and Tesco, in 2018 to address these problems. There are now 150 organizations signed up to a Charter to further technology careers for women. And we have a female-friendly technology curriculum developed for school children being used in over 200 schools, and growing daily.

When I was younger I thought dyslexia was a barrier to working in technology, but what I’ve learnt is to utilise the things I’m good at to give me an advantage. I’m not an academic or a brilliant coder, but I’m innovative in how I look to solve problems, I have strong emotional intelligence, and favour collaborative ways of working. I’m also an immensely determined person, and its these skills and characteristics that have led to my success. When you are young you don't know what you don't know which is why it so important for me to make sure that girls and young women are educated and inspired whilst still at school about the possibilities of working in technology.

Not having a tech background, or even having a disability such as dyslexia, is not an obstacle to having a career in technology. What matters is being persistent in reaching the ambitions you have for yourself, and being passionate about developing your skills and using them to do good in the world.

About Sheridan

Sheridan’s career has taken anything but a conventional route, after leaving school at 16 with few qualifications, having undiagnosed dyslexia, she was spotted by an agent and entered the world of runway modelling. She completed her first degree in her 20s and has worked her way up ever since.

Sheridan commissioned PwC’s Women in Tech: Time to close the gender gap research which tells us that a lack of female role models in technology is a barrier to more females joining the sector, so Sheridan is personally playing her part in raising this issue, but also using her own experience to act as a role model by appearing in the media and at events to champion the benefits that an inclusive and diverse workforce can bring. This includes appearing on BBC News to discuss the importance of role models in technology.

Sheridan has more recently founded The Tech She Can Charter which is now backed by over 75 organisations.


Listen to our latest She Talks Tech podcast on 'What can we do to encourage more young girls into STEM'

She Talks Tech Podcast, Episode 15

Today we hear an incredible panel, facilitated by Sonya Barlow, discussing how individuals and companies can encourage more young girls to pursue careers in STEM.

We will hear from a number of leaders who are running campaigns and initiatives to support schools and young adults with the skills and encouragement they need to prepare them for a career in their chosen field of technology, science, engineering or maths.

Sheridan Ash works in tech innovation and women in technology at PWC. Rav Bumbra is the founder of Cajigo, a dual app that provides mentoring and support to girls and women to accelerate their growth into tech, digital, engineering and leadership careers. Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE is a British computing, mathematics and language child prodigy – and the founder of ‘Stemettes'. Anna Brailsford is the CEO of Code First and was previously the Commercial Director of Lynda.com. Chelsea Slater is the Co-Founder and Director of Innovate – a company getting girls ready for the tech industry, and the industry ready for girls. Sonya Barlow is the Founder of Like Minded Females, a global community dedicated to reducing inequalities and providing a foundation to succeed to women and underrepresented minorities

You can find out more about and connect with the panel on LinkedIn.

LISTEN HERE


‘She Talks Tech’ brings you stories, lessons and tips from some of the most inspirational women (and men!) in tech.

From robotics and drones, to fintech, neurodiversity and coronavirus apps; these incredible speakers are opening up to give us the latest information on tech in 2020.

Vanessa Valleley OBE, founder of WeAreTheCity and WeAreTechWomen brings you this latest resource to help you rise to the top of the tech industry. Women in tech make up just 17 per cent of the industry in the UK and we want to inspire that to change.

WeAreTechWomen are delighted to bring this very inspiring first series to wherever you normally listen to podcasts – and the first three episodes are now live!

So subscribe, rate the podcast and give it a 5-star review – and keep listening every Wednesday morning for a new episode of ‘She Talks Tech’.

Produced by Pineapple Audio Production.


Sheridan Ash, June Angelides & Carrie Anne Philbin, Queen's Honours List

Sheridan Ash, June Angelides & Carrie Anne Philbin amongst women in tech recognised on Queen's Birthday Honours List

Sheridan Ash, June Angelides & Carrie Anne Philbin, Queen's Honours List

Sheridan Ash, June Angelides and Carrie Anne Philbin are amongst the amazing women in tech who have been recognised on the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Sheridan Ash, founder of TechSheCan was awarded an MBE for services to Young Girls and Women through Technology particularly during COVID-19; June Angelides, VC at Samos Investments, Entrepreneur, Advisor, Speaker, Writer, was awarded an MBE for her services to Women in Technology; and Carrie Anne Philbin, Director, Raspberry Pi Foundation, was awarded an MBE for her services to Education.

Also recognised on this year's Honours List was Sarah-Jane Mintey, Founder and chief executive Officer, Developing Experts, who was awarded an MBE for services to Technology and Education during Covid-19. Elizabeth Vega, Group Chief Executive Officer, Informed Solutions, was awarded an OBE for services to International Trade and Digital Transformation, while Rioch Edwards-Brown, Founder, So You Wanna Be in TV’, was awarded an OBE for services to the Television, Technology and Creative Sectors

This year's Honours List was dominated by frontline workers and community champions for their continuing work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare and social care workers make up 14 per cent of the List, for contributions as diverse as setting up the COVID-19 hospitals to delivering medical care on the frontline.

The majority of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List was compiled before the ongoing pandemic. The List was deferred in order to consider nominations for people playing crucial roles during the first months of the COVID-19 effort and has prioritised frontline and community heroes who went above and beyond their duties to help others. These recipients are, like Sir Captain Tom Moore, outstanding examples of the many contributions continuously being made right across the UK, and symbolic of the collective national effort.

The honours system strives to be proportionally representative of UK society. This Honours List demonstrates the breadth of service given by people from all backgrounds from all across the UK.

This year's list is the most diverse ever, with 13 per cent of the successful candidates coming from a BAME background. Six per cent of the successful candidates consider themselves to have a disability. Of the 1,495 people who received an award, 72 per cent of the recipients are people who have undertaken outstanding work in their communities, either in a voluntary or paid capacity.


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


Sheridan Ash

WeAreTechWomen Conference Speaker Spotlight: Sheridan Ash, PwC

WeAreTechWomen speaks to Sheridan Ash, Technology and Investments Director and Women in Technology Leader, PwC, about her career.

Sheridan is also one of the speakers at our upcoming WeAreTechWomen: The Future World of Work conference on 22 November. Sheridan will be talking about creating a movement and show us how working together we can inspire more females to get into tech subjects and careers at an earlier stage of their lives.

Sheridan’s career has taken anything but a conventional route, after leaving school at 16 with few qualifications, having undiagnosed dyslexia, she was spotted by an agent and entered the world of runway modelling. She completed her first degree in her 20s and has worked her way up ever since.

Sheridan commissioned PwC’s Women in Tech: Time to close the gender gap research which tells us that a lack of female role models in technology is a barrier to more females joining the sector, so Sheridan is personally playing her part in raising this issue, but also using her own experience to act as a role model by appearing in the media and at events to champion the benefits that an inclusive and diverse workforce can bring. This includes appearing on BBC News to discuss the importance of role models in technology.

Sheridan has more recently founded The Tech She Can Charter which is now backed by over 75 organisations.

At the conference, Sheridan will be discussing 'Tech We Can' lessons, produced by the Charter signatories. These have been successfully piloted with teachers and over 700 students between 10-13 years old.

WeAreTechWomen, the Technology arm of WeAreTheCity, is hosting its fourth full-day conference in London, aimed at over 400 women who are wanting to broaden their technology horizons, learn new skills and build their tech networks.

Our unique conference will include the opportunity for our delegates to learn about a variety of technical topics and get involved in Q&A’s, hands-on activities and interactive workshops. Our aim is to provide an environment where our delegates can upskill and grow their skills/networks for the future.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you’ve come from, where you’ve worked, how you got to where you are today?

I left school at 16 with undiagnosed dyslexic and no qualifications and felt let down by the education system and I was worried about what type of job i could get.. Fortunately, I was spotted out shopping on a day trip to London with my mum by a model agent and this lead me into my first career as a fashion model!

By 28, I was a divorced single mother! and knew I needed a longer term career. So, I did what I had to do best, used my sheer determination (not brains) to succeed for me and my family. I picked myself up, got help for dyslexia, went back to school and did A levels, going on to earn a place at university.

This degree led to to a job in the pharmaceutical industry, where because of my strong relationship skills I was promoted quickly. Later on, I decided to make life more difficult for myself by going back to university, this time to do an MBA at Imperial College where my interest in technology and Innovation was sparked. Whilst on the MBA, I worked as a researcher for a couple of leading tech innovation professors and supported them to write a book called think, play, do

I then joined Accenture which is where my technology career really took off. I joined PwC 10 years ago and have had the most extraordinary journey to my current role, leading on tech is Innovation. A few years ago I set up a programme of initiatives to attract, retain and advance women in tech careers at PwC. This led me to the realisation that there are to few girls and young women getting into tech subjects in school and universities and careers. With the support of many brilliant men and women at pwc and from other organizations who feel just as passionate as me about changing the ratio, we created Tech She Can.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not until recently, its only in later life started thinking about my longer term goals. I'm not sure if it's best to plan things too much as the opportunites I have jumped at and most enjoyed and learnt the most from, have felt very random, so if i had a big plan I might not have taken this opportunity. Who really knows whats the best approach. My main advice is to not get stuck in a rut, ive done this a couple of times and stayed far too long in the rut before looking for other opportunities. Go with your gut instinct, if something feels right or wrong then it probably is

What inspired you to get involved with in motivational speaking?

I'm not sure if I would refer to myself as a motivational speaker but if others take inspiration from me, and I motivate them, then I am delighted that I have helped that person. That's my passion, helping to inspire and educate others through initiatives such as Tech She Can or through personal relationships. This stems from my own early experiences where I only received very stereotypical career advice at school and very little support being a single parent and a female in a male-dominated environment. By speaking at events such as these, I hope to inspire others encourage more women to help other women.

Do you have a favourite experience from your career?

Launching The Tech She Can Charter in February 2018 was a real highlight for me. The Charter is now working together with 128 organisations and I’m proud to have been part of it, from an idea I had many years ago, seeing the Charter grow and start to make a difference at the school level to encourage more girls into technology subjects and careers. Not only that, it’s formed a network of great women and men in technology careers that are supportive of each other in whatever business or organisation they are in. It’s the first time we’ve all been able to work collaboratively on the same issue and are extremely passionate about the impact we’ll have together.

What do you think WeAreTechWomen guests will gain from your talk?

I hope that the guests will feel inspired and encouraged to get involved in the Tech She Can Charter.

What are your top three tips for success?

  • Anyone can have a career in tech
  • Support other women
  • Fake it until you become it

Which female role models are you most inspired by?

Too many to name, but they are young and old and I meet new ones all the time.

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for women at work and how can it be overcome?

Although I have worked with great people, it often felt a very lonely place. As a woman.. That is why I am so passionate about helping others.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

My voice is important and don’t get stuck in a rut - if it doesn't feel right - get out /change what you are doing and move on.


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