WeAreTechWomen speaks to Debbie Forster MBE, CEO, Tech Talent Charter about her career.

Debbie is also one of our speakers at our upcoming virtual tech conference, Disrupt. Innovate. Lead. on 26 June. Debbie is holding a session on why we must all work together to foster diversity in tech.

Debbie Forster is a recognised figure in the areas of diversity, tech, innovation and education, first as the UK CEO of Apps for Good and now as CEO for the Tech Talent Charter, an industry collective which aims to deliver greater gender diversity in the UK tech workforce.

Signatories of the charter make several pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention. Debbie was awarded an MBE in January 2017 for “Services to Digital Technology and Tech Development” and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) named her Woman of the Year for 2016, describing her as “an exceptional and inspirational woman… an extraordinary role model.” She has also been named on Computer Weekly’s list of “25 Most Inspirational Women in UK IT” in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

WeAreTechWomen, the Technology arm of WeAreTheCity is excited to introduce its first ever global virtual conference, Disrupt. Innovate. Lead. This unique learning experience is aimed at individuals working in technology who would like broaden their industry knowledge, learn new skills and benefit from the thought leadership of some of the brightest minds in the tech industry.

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’m originally from the US but lived in the UK for 30 years.  I have worked in education, public, private and third sector—so I’m a professional foreigner or newcomer and thrive in working across different contexts and finding how they can fit, work and thrive together.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not even remotely; what’s taken me from job to job and sector to sector is seeing a great idea I want to make work or a great problem I want to help fix.  Like many people, I now see my career as a series of connected chapters rather than 1 focused career plan.

What inspired you to get involved with motivational speaking?

My first talk in front of a large audience (about 800 people) was when I was 18. I was terrified then but loved the buzz and connection with people and I suppose I’ve been hooked ever since.

Do you have a favourite experience from your career?

I now do a lot of coaching and mentoring as part of my portfolio of work. I absolutely love being on the journey with women and watching them make real breakthroughs in their confidence, their choices, in their place in the world.  It’s a privilege and so energising for my wider work.

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

Big issues like diversity and inclusion are things we believe in but are so big, it is hard to think what we can do to make a difference. I’ll try to leave everyone with a sense of how they can be a part of an exciting whole.

What are your top 3 tips for success?

  • Work to silence (or at least turn down the volume) of your imposter syndrome—it doesn’t just rob you of opportunity, it is sucking the joy from your successes.
  • Know you will make mistakes and that’s a good thing.
  • Don’t wait to feel brave enough to do something. Do it while you are terrified, that is where all the fun is.

What has been your biggest challenge during your career?

Learning to ignore the imposter syndrome.

Which female role models are you most inspired by?

You know, I’ve stopped listing the amazing famous women for this question.  To be inspired means “fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something”  and I get that from the women I coach, them women I call friends and my 22 year old daughter.  Knowing their inner fears and how they face them keeps me filled with the urge to do something.

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

We are often internally waiting for “permission” to do things, to be things, to ask for things and we are too often afraid of getting it wrong. We need to walk through that uncertainty, find and draw on mentors, and allies and champions from the women and men around us.  And we need to offer that same support to those around us.

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

Cementing the current breakthroughs on virtual and remote working and then pressing for the growth of meaningful part time work for all.

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

Relax, you can do this and remember this is a marathon, not a spring.