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.