I fell into it really, my friend got me an interview. I had never thought of myself as technical (and still don’t!) so was probably a bit overawed by the idea of such a large technical organisation. But I found my feet by being really organised and clear about what I was going to deliver and taking on extra responsibility when the chance arose.
What challenges did you have to overcome to get your foot on a career path in technology?
Well I was unfortunately affected early on in my career by a large restructure where thousands of staff were laid off. But this setback then led to me joining a different organisation, where I started to really grow my career in technology, taking on line management and Project and Programme Management responsibilities and found a great mentor. The experience of losing a job gave me the tenacity to really stick at things when they are tough, with the knowledge that you could always be in a worse position.
In your experience, does being a woman in your profession come with extra challenges that you have had to overcome?
In my view there can be a risk that, as a woman, you are not always taken seriously in certain environments and with certain types of people, particularly the old guard of IT and business leaders, and so I tried from a young age to make sure that I was always projecting professionalism and I kept work and home life separate.
At times I have been the only female in an office, and I made sure to set the tone early on by not always being the one who made all the drinks and answered the door when the bell rang; little things that can sometimes just end up as the assumed responsibility of the only female in an office.
Once I was a bit more established, I was happy to make a cafetiere of coffee or several (being something of a coffee addict!), but I probably never did my fair share of answering the doorbell!
What’s been the single thing that has helped you with your career in technology?
At one organisation, I had a fantastic department Head who came into the IT department and totally revolutionised everything we were doing. She really built out relationships with the wider business and drove a business-first approach to IT and Programme Delivery, which has stayed with me.
On a personal level, she gave me my first experience of line management and my first leadership role within her management team and really supported me with the challenges that came with it as a 25 year old woman in a very male dominated and traditional organisation.
Not only did she help me to build my career, but she also made me really consider how important it is to have a role model to look up to and someone supporting you to achieve growth in your career, and I have tried to pay this back to others as I have progressed.
What changes have you seen in the sector since you started working in technology?
I think there have been lots of changes over the years in the market as a whole – mainly due to commoditisation, a move away from large multi-year contracts with service providers for hundreds of millions of pounds, a move from long waterfall programmes to more agile delivery and SaaS offerings rather than on-premise, and overall an increased question of the business value and business relevance of IT.
This has led to an increase in the relevance of customer success – making sure that what is delivered is actually used and delivering value for the people who have bought it; support revenue and renewals can no longer be taken for granted.
What would your advice be to any woman wanting to start her career in the technology industry?
If you’re the only woman in your team, department, or company, try not to let it faze you, just focus on what you’re good at and establish your position based on your strengths and what you know you bring to the table.
It’s a cliché, but often women do second-guess themselves in terms of their qualifications and experience, which can lead to them not putting forward their ideas or suggestions when there are other voices giving a conflicting view – just because a man shouts louder than you, it doesn’t mean he’s right.
Equally, you don’t have to adopt the stereotypical loud male traits, if that isn’t part of your personality, in order to get your points across and your voice heard. I’ve always tried to go for the quiet efficiency route and make my points with a logical argument. Once you have proven your ideas are valid, people may seek out your opinion next time.
Do you think it’s important for more women to find career paths within the technology sector?
Absolutely, for the benefit of the industry as a whole. In my view, a variety of backgrounds gives diversity of experience and therefore insight, so that not everyone is approaching a problem in the same way – that’s really important in a company, especially a small one. If, for example, you have ten people who all went to the same school and have the same life experiences, you’re less likely to get multiple perspectives and different ideas.
There is also a “you can’t be it if you can’t see it” reality, which means it’s important to have women as leaders in technology so that young girls believe they can achieve.
Do you think enough is done to help women get into the technology industry? If not, what would you recommend?
I think it probably starts in education, not pigeonholing certain genders into certain subjects – we should be past that now. But really, I think role models are important so that young girls can imagine where they could end up, showcasing the different kinds of careers that can be achieved within the industry.
I think it’s really important to have more women and girls who can code, but also important for young girls to realise you don’t have to count yourself out of the whole technology industry if you don’t consider yourself as technical.