WeAreTechWomen speaks to Mivy James, Head of Consulting, BAE Systems, about her career.

Mivy is also one of our speakers at our upcoming WeAreTechWomen: The Future World of Work conference on 22 November. Mivy will be discussing transforming technology leadership and systems engineering.

Mivy James has been an IT professional for 25 years. Having started her career as an analyst / programmer she is now Head of Consulting at BAE Systems were she is responsible for around 200 technical consultants. Her current areas of interest include supporting government departments on their digital transformation journeys and adoption of agile ways of working. She is also a passionate advocate for STEM careers and is the founder of her organisation’s gender balance network.

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 started my career as an analyst / programmer after graduating in Computer Science & Maths 25 years ago. I really enjoyed the system engineering and design aspects of building IT systems so have gradually got involved in larger and larger challenges whilst slowly reducing the focus on coding. I really got into system design and architecture whilst working on an air traffic control system and having to create lots of analytical models to check that everything behaved as expected.

I then became more aware of the necessity for technology solutions to align with business vision – prompted by having witnessed some major programmes run away with themselves and forget this. This led me into enterprise architecture which is what I do these days, along with being the Head of Consulting for part of BAE Systems.

I work with UK government departments to support them on their digital transformation journeys.

And I am also the founder and chair of our gender balance network.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Far from it, or certainly not a long term plan. I have always followed what is interesting, what is useful and stepped up to pick up responsibility where I think it’s needed. Roles often change in the tech industry anyway so the interesting jobs in five years’ time probably don’t exist today.

But that said, I regularly revisit my strengths and interests to check that I am making the most of those in whatever I am doing as it’s so easy to slip into being generally busy but without a focus.

What inspired you to get involved with in motivational speaking?

We can all learn from each other and everyone has it in them to be a role model. I can’t ask others to step up to do public speaking if I’m not prepared to do it myself.

The process of having to prepare something actually helps me cement a lot of my own thoughts.

Do you have a favourite experience from your career?

A few years ago I was involved in defining the strategy and technical aspects of a business case for a large government digital transformation programme. There were some press releases about it and I saw some of my own work on the front pages of every single national paper. I was quite far removed from the parliamentary team so didn’t know it would be published. Imagine my surprise when I saw all the newspaper headlines at the station newsagent during my early morning commute.

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

The topic that I’ve chosen is relevant to most organisations today, and not just for technology programmes. Digital transformation is a major shift in the way organisations manage themselves. We’ve heard a lot about some angles but I plan to share some food for thought on what it really means for leadership culture.

What are your top three tips for success?

  • Grasp the opportunities in front of you. Often unexpected opportunities arise – with hindsight I know that the roles I was least sure about are the ones which have provided the biggest leaps forward in my career development.
  • Build transferable skills. The skills that we need to develop ourselves aren’t just the obvious technical ones. I did a stint as a project manager and soon realised that it wasn’t for me. However, my time in that role was really elevated by people management and stakeholder engagement skills – both of which hare really key to my current role.
  • Never stop learning. Continuous learning doesn’t have to be daunting nor does it always require attendance of intense training courses. There are so many different ways to learn and online resources break things up into manageable bite-size chunks.

What has been your biggest challenge during your career?

To keep focussed on what really motivates me. It’s easy to slip into being terribly busy and to lose that focus on what’s most interesting, plays to your strengths and is your niche contribution to the business. As I said earlier, I have taken to regularly reviewing what I am doing and checking how it aligns to avoid falling into the trap of just being busy all the time.

And actually, stepping up to do this talk is actually an outcome of my most recent career review as developing and sharing expertise is one of the things I enjoy most at work.

Which female role models are you most inspired by?

Of course there are the many women of history who shaped Computer Science. Their names need to be as synonymous with the field of technology as the many male tech entrepreneurs who are so greatly admired. Special mentions need to go to:

  • Ada Lovelace – needs no introduction!
  • Joan Clarke – who worked alongside Turing but, unlike her male peers, none of her methods or algorithms are named after her
  • Hedy Lamarr
  • The ENIAC 6 : Meltzer, Holberton, Antoneli, Teitelbam, Batik, Spenc
  • And, of course, Grace Hopper

Today we still need to do more to elevate the visibility of women in tech. In the UK alone we have Dame Stephanie Shirley, Dr Jan Peters and Professor Dame Wendy Hall to celebrate.

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

The potential of women is greatly underestimated, particularly when it comes to leadership.

There’s a strange reluctance to put women in leadership roles despite men being just as capable of messing up as they are of succeeding! This leadership-readiness perception really needs to be challenged. If there was a single way of overcoming it that would already have been resolved. There is no silver-bullet to fixing chauvinism.

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

To stop asking the women to pay an additional gender tax by making us solely responsible for the problem. Women don’t need fixing – I abhor initiatives aimed at fixing the alleged confidence gap. Instead, look at the root causes as to why women may be less confident when it comes to speaking up or progressing their careers and fix that.

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

Don’t let other people take credit for your ideas and hard work. Self-promote more.


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