WOMEN ROCK

WOMEN ROCK.

Thanks for being here and welcome to Women Rock – a voice for diversity in tech! Here you will find some of the most inspirational stories about ED&I in the tech industry. Women Rock was created by SR2 co-founder and all-round positive vibe advocate Alicia and exists to help transform the industry and create a positive movement!

A letter from Alicia
WOMEN ROCK2024-06-01

A letter from Alicia

Heya all,    Thanks for being here and welcome to Women Rock – a voice for diversity in tech!  I’m Alicia, founder of Women Rock, co-founder of SR2, founder of Technology Volunteers organiser of Codebar (phewwww) I’m a positive vibe advocate, lover of constant learning, mushrooms and anything pickled, dislikes pigeons, bad manners and baked beans! Outside of all of that, I’m probably best known for my handstand ability and my almost 10-year tenure as a Tech recruiter in the UK, born and bred in Bristol!    Over the last 10 years I have been a huge supporter of diversity in Tech but always felt I could do so much more, Women Rock is the start of my more. In the early part of my career, it was rare that I spoke or represented women in the industry. Technology wasn’t offered to me as a career when I was leaving school, and my family or friends weren’t interested in Tech so probably naively I didn’t know women were in tech and that makes me sad and we all know we still have so much more to do but not just for women, we’re talking about diversity as a whole.    I love to build relationships every day and in starting this blog, being supported by our awesome Women Rock ambassadors and some of the best companies who are committed to talking about and improving ED&I across our industry I really hope we can make the world a better place!  Women Rock isn’t just for women, we have, and will, continue to hear stories from folk from ethnic minorities, folk who have physical and hidden disabilities. We have incredible stories from trans and gender-diverse peeps and we have spoken to many allies who are committed to live, work and support diversity in their workplace, careers and lives.    Included are conversations about successes, people's struggles, frustrations and commitment from their perspective. We have seen so much improvement when it comes to ED&I but I just don’t think we are sharing and shouting about it enough so that others can follow suit.  I want to create an incredible community and Women Rock to be the place to go to that celebrates diversity.   I’ll leave you with my favourite quote ‘’No matter where you are in life, inspire and empower the women around you. Success is never reached alone. And wisdom and wealth are sweeter shared.’’  Be kind, get enough sleep and don’t change for anyone.  Smiles,  Alicia x 

Read more
Anne-Lise Antolinos | The Berkeley Partnership
WOMEN ROCK2024-02-27

Anne-Lise Antolinos | The Berkeley Partnership

"Authenticity is the courage to embrace our differences, and diversity is the celebration of those differences."  Anne-Lise joined us to share insights on a range of topics, including her remarkable journey to becoming a partner at one of the world’s leading management consultancies. She offers practical tips to support ED&I efforts, such as advocating for part-time opportunities, promoting shared leave for fathers, and partnering with external agencies for comprehensive D&I training.  She emphasizes the power of speaking up when witnessing injustice, the significance of allyship, and the importance of recognizing personal biases. Additionally, Anne-Lise underscores the critical role of refining hiring practices to attract a diverse talent pool.  She also touches on her experiences with imposter syndrome, stressing the value of finding one's voice and having relatable role models. And lastly, she ventures into the age-old debate: skiing vs. snowboarding.   Interviewed by Ben Dennison

Read more
Lydia Hawthorn | Cprime
WOMEN ROCK2024-02-26

Lydia Hawthorn | Cprime

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” - Katharine Hepburn An English and Creative Writing Graduate turned agile coach extraordinaire and Delivery Director at Cprime as well as an active speaker on all things agile. She also started her life in recruitment showing there’s hope for us yet… After taking an uncommon route into tech she shares her journey and talks through the power of doing what you enjoy, and how a different approach brings new perspectives and can add real value to a team. She opens up about some of the challenges she’s faced and how she overcame them, shares some practical things we can all do eery day to create a more inclusive workplace, and shares some positives she’s seen from companies helping people return to work. Finally, she talks about the Power of a growth Mindset, and how we can stop viewing things as failures but instead lessons learnt.     Interviewed by Ben Dennison  

Read more
Elisha Kirkham | Softcat
WOMEN ROCK2024-02-07

Elisha Kirkham | Softcat

Meet Elisha, she joined Softcat in 2014 when the company’s revenue was at £500m and this year they achieved £2.56b. Initially joining their Manchester office on reception, quickly being highlighted as a future superstar for the business. Climbing the ranks over the last 10 years to lead the function that manages all Softcat’s recruitment across the UK, Ireland, and their international offices. Softcat has been an industry leader in terms of their diverse and inclusive culture that is truly unmatched in the IT channel. Elisha has played an instrumental part of that offering a truly unique requirements strategy that has led to their record-breaking year on year growth. During the conversation we discuss a variety of subjects and one thing that will shine through and in my opinion, is her superpower, is dropping her guard and showing complete vulnerability. If everyone in the technology could be a little bit more like Elisha, the world would be a better place – Enjoy! Congratulations on winning the CRN Outstanding Returner award! It's an incredible achievement to be recognized by a leading awards body in the industry. Was this the first time you have won the award? No, I think it's been going for a while now because I know we've had a few people go for it in previous years, so I think it's a long-standing award. I came back from maternity leave, and I flagged to my management team that it was something I wanted to go for. This is something I want to talk about at some point as well, I've had a lot of people come to me and have conversations with me about, how did you go about achieving what you've achieved since you returned from maternity leave? Has it been luck? Has it been the right people around you? What has it been? My answer is the same every time. I asked for everything I got. I asked to be nominated for CRN Outstanding Returner 2023 because I genuinely believed I deserved it. I asked to be put on our leadership development programme because I genuinely believed I warranted a place. I truly believe that unless you back yourself enough to say, I deserve this, I'm going to put myself on people's radar and say, I want to go for this. I want to be recognised in this way. The chances of those types of things happening organically are often much slimmer. Can you share your experience returning from maternity leave? It's a common yet rarely discussed challenge. What were the unique challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? So, I think the most important thing to start with is that everybody's experience is individual to them. Talking specifically about maternity leave and returning from having a baby, every woman will experience that differently, and I think that is the first thing managers, or people supporting those returners, need to communicate that there's no right or wrong. So many women leave to have a baby and want to disconnect from everything and have 12 months, 9 months, whatever they take to focus on the new part of their life, to give their all and don't want to be thinking about work and want to compartmentalize in that way, which works for so many. Then you get another subsection of women who are and want more of a balance, wanting to give focus to this new part of their life, but also want to stay connected to a piece of the “old” them. That's more where I fell. So, throughout the entirety of my maternity leave, don't get me wrong, I wasn't on team meetings or anything like that, but I kept in contact with my team, a big piece of this puzzle is I had a significant case postnatal depression after having my little boy Max. There was adjustment and life had changed, but I was okay. There was all of that, plus the fact that I was trying to wade my way through these postnatal mental health issues that I didn't know where to start with. I think all of that culminated by the time it came to me returning to work. That was around 11 or 12 months after having Max. I was excited to get back to a version of the “old me”. I knew it wasn't going to be exactly how things were because my entire life had changed, I was a mum now and things were different, and priorities were different, but the idea of getting a bit of me back, having time to have adult conversations and talk about things that weren't related to nappies, feeding or weaning, I was excited for. What advice can you offer, based on your experience at Softcat, on supporting individuals returning from extended leave? How can other businesses implement similar steps to ensure a smooth transition back into the workplace? So, I think some practicalities need to be considered, right? I think there are the basics, like having some kind of internal returner buddy system is important, because as much as a manager can be there in every way to listen and support, there's an argument for if you've not been through it, it's very difficult to empathise and understand on a real level what that person's experiencing. So, I think the practicalities of having an internal buddy system in place, so that every returner coming back into the business, has or will be connected with somebody who has gone through the same experience themselves and can connect authentically on what that person's going through and validate their experience, from a position of actually knowing what it's like is super important. Listening to somebody one-to-one and nodding and smiling, versus carving out the time of your day to specifically go and sit with somebody and ask how are you? Are you okay? Is there anything I can do? Do you have all the support you need? I am a massive believer in, actively listening to someone and this isn't just listening with your ears, it's listening with every part of you, the engagement, the eye contact, the nodding, all of that culminates into an experience that makes somebody feel genuinely seen, heard, and validated. After our conversations, I can see your superpower is your openness and willingness to show vulnerability. In a world where everyone faces challenges, how has embracing vulnerability benefited you, and do you believe it's made you a better leader? Yes, so firstly I agree with you, Mark. I am a true believer in the fact that vulnerability sits at the heart of effective leadership, not even just effective leadership, but impactful leadership, people you want to follow, people you want to listen to and want to be led by. If you go back 10 years or so, that was a pretty unheard of concept and very much against the grain. It's becoming more prevalent now. It's something that people are talking about, vulnerability and emotional intelligence in leadership. We can't talk about it enough; I think it is that important. My experience of vulnerability as a conscious concept, if I'm honest, I think was probably born out of pure desperation. I referenced earlier that I had postnatal depression off the back of having Max, but before that, if we go back to 2019, I had eight weeks or so off work just due to burnout. I drilled myself into the ground, which had exasperated my anxiety, and it had just gone from zero to 100 across a couple of months. I very much put my head in the sand and didn't acknowledge what was happening. Everybody around me started to notice, saying things such as You don't seem like yourself? What's happening? I just was adamant that I was fine until I wasn't, and that culminated in eight weeks off work, signed off officially by a doctor, sick leave, and all that kind of stuff. That was my first real experience, with mental health challenges and how to navigate them. That was the beginning of me starting to acknowledge the importance of being vulnerable and how that can connect you with others. I think it's important to acknowledge the power of somebody in leadership talking about those things very openly. Whether it be with your direct team or other people around you, it sets a tone, and the expectation isn't to be perfect, always at 150% contributor because none of us are that. As a manager or as a leader, I think it is truly irresponsible if you are consciously or subconsciously giving that expectation out to the people around you, or if you are portraying that you never really struggle and you're setting this expectation with your team and the people around you. Teaching that to progress and to get to your position, your level or move forward in their careers, they must be in a position where they know everything and nothing phases them and they never have a bad day, and that's just not reality for anybody. I think it should be non-negotiable to be an effective leader, you must have a certain level of emotional intelligence, and alongside that comes the ability to be vulnerable in an impactful way, I think this is worth mentioning, when I talk about vulnerability, I'm talking about you sharing a part of yourself that enables somebody else to see themselves reflected. Interviewed by Mark Reddy

Read more
Laura Baker | Iwin Mitchell
WOMEN ROCK2024-01-30

Laura Baker | Iwin Mitchell

Introducing Laura, with a bachelor’s in software engineering and being the only female to complete the course, she began her career within Software Engineering at Landmark information group. After having children her career took a turn; Laura developed a keen interest in AI Architecture and fast-forward 6 years, she is leading from the front as the Head of Data Engineering and Platform at Irwin Mitchell She describes her leadership style as nurturing and empowering, with a huge focus on inclusivity. Laura went through her school years, even up to university age with undiagnosed Dyslexia, and was only diagnosed whilst at university. This is her self-proclaimed superpower and testified that having Neurodiverse talent within a team adds a diverse approach on projects - which is invaluable! So, if you are Neurodiverse yourself, and seeking a role model within the Tech world, Laura is certainly that person! Be prepared for a fantastic story into the rise of a Female leader in tech! Hi Laura, thank you for being involved with Women Rock! Could you tell me a bit about how you first got started in Tech?  I have always like maths at school, so I ended up doing an Advanced GVNQ in Computing, so glad I did. I didn’t know it then, but that was the start of my journey. I loved the programming sections and found I was pretty good at those bits. This led me to do a BSc in Software Engineering, I was 1 of 3 females on the course, and the only female to finish. For my final project, I did a crude natural language solution, which I didn’t do a particularly good job on, but led me to pursue a MSc in Applied AI, this became a corner stone of my career since.  You are the Head of Data Engineering and Platform at Iwin Mitchell; we absolutely love to see a woman leading from the front within a company. How would you describe your leadership style and what do you enjoy most about the job?  I have a nurturing and inclusive style. I want the people in my team to feel comfortable to be themselves and feel part of a cohesive team. I also believe in empowering the team, ensuring they can take ownership. I want them to feel like they are backed and supported, but in exchange I want them to provide this to each of their teammates.  The thing I like most about my job is all the cool stuff we are building, this ranges from great architecture using cutting edge technologies for providing value to the business, to a building a wonderful team that is maturing and developing together.  As a woman in technology, what would you say is the best and worst thing you’ve encountered within the industry over the years, and what did this teach you?  I was in a room with 10 or so male colleagues as a relatively junior software engineer, I challenged someone’s point and the rebuke I received was attributing my challenge to “female hormones”. I was absolutely fuming, and embarrassed... thanks mate, he might as well have said “get back in the kitchen and make me some pie”. I think this is appalling, what a way to keep a woman in her box. Wouldn’t happen in my team!  The best bit is... “being in the kitchen making pies”. No Seriously, I think the best bit is how women can support each other, I love the movement to support women in tech as a whole. I used to see it as a badge of honour that I was one of so few females. I took a while to see that me being the only female was due to a systemic problem. Being from a farming community with a dad with only daughters I was always brought up to believe that I could do anything a man could do, so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to follow a career in tech, or that other women weren’t able to follow this path, for whatever reason.  Quite a lot of women have felt they have had to make sacrifices with family to pursue their career choices, as a Mother yourself have you ever come up against any barriers like this and if so, how did you overcome them?  I have two children, I had as long off work as possible when I had them, around 14 months with each of the them. Until both were in school, I remained part time. For a few years this stunted my career however, with the support from a fabulous female boss I was able to power on through and make some huge leaps in my career. I did have to work really hard to achieve this. Toward the end of being part time, I was working a lot of extra hours, but hey it paid off in spades!! But should it have been that way?  Given that I took so much time off with the kids, I don’t feel like I sacrificed anything, I have been very careful because I don’t want to look back with regret, my career will still be there, but my kids will have grown up.  I know that you are passionate building a diverse team at Iwin Mitchell, and you’ve been successful with diverse hires in the past – How do you ensure your interview/recruitment process is inclusive and what advice would you give to other hiring managers around this?  Irwin Mitchell is very passionate about diversity and inclusion. It’s not just lip service, the company is very proud of it’s gender equality and have a good proportion of female senior leadership (which is very inspiring). The advice I would give, is "keep an open mind”, interviews are stressful for most people, but this can be on a whole other level for a neurodivergent person, the behaviours you see might not be quite what your used to, so you need to try not to put this person in a box by making a snap decision about them.  Why would you say that Iwin Mitchell is a great place to work for people from all different backgrounds and walks of life? Irwin Mitchell is a great place to due to its culture. We have a “flexible by choice” policy that is reflected in all areas of the business and is held core to IM’s values. This is something that the business is proud of, and the people.  We also have a high percentage of female employees, although we could do with evening it up a bit in Data! The culture is very inclusive and friendly, there is quite a long average tenure at IM, I think that is mostly down to people being happy and satisfied.  Let’s talk about your self-proclaimed superpower! We have talked previously about you growing up struggling with un-diagnosed Dyslexia and how later in life you sought out a diagnosis. Tell me more about that and the impact it’s made on your career?  I have been very open with work and colleagues about being dyslexic. I think this has had a positive impact on my career, I can often think about a problem or solution differently from peers and having that diversity is useful in a team. I noticed early on in my career, that neurodiversity is very common in the engineering space, possibly the abstract and logical nature of it as a craft, so I’m in good company. I see it an advantage to think different than others and I seem to excel in some other areas such as spotting patterns and spatial reasoning. I think it helps me to be an abstract thinker. It can be more stressful in meetings if I have to read a body of text, and I’m thinking “this is going to take me much longer that everyone else”.  On the topic of Neurodiversity, what advice would you personally give to hiring managers/employers who are trying to ensure their interview process is also attracting neurodiverse candidates?  I would make it clear in the job advert that neurodiversity is valued, not just accepted, but valued. I would put a short paragraph, maybe a couple of lines near the top of the advert. These is much more appealing that a statement at the bottom that sound a bit like an after statement, or token effort to be inclusive.  If you could go back to your 16 year old self, what advice would you give her?  Buy stocks in Google!!  But seriously I would say “You don’t have to be the cleverest person in the room to be successful and kind to yourself”. Accademia came easier to my sibling, so I always felt like the thick one, but I have gone on to make a great career that I’m proud of.  What do you think the biggest thing tech companies could do to attract more female talent? And I guess, if it was you looking – what would attract you to a company? Flexibilty, fair compensation, career progression, and interesting work. For me, it would be a combination of these things. I love working from home, I can relax and deliver, I can contact and access the people I need quickly and easily. Flexibility is important to me and was certainly a major consideration when I chose the role at Irwin Mitchell, not only as a mum, but also from a “manage your energy not your time” perspective.  Career progression and interesting work are also very attractive, most of us like to make a difference, add value, and feel appreciated. I like to see the potential in the domain and data, also working with a relevant tech stack that is going to keep skills on point with the industry.  Who is someone in your life that inspires you?  My parents are my biggest inspiration. I grew up in West Somerset, in the south of England, which is one the lowest social mobility areas in the England. My parents were tenant farmers on a Crown Estate farm on Exmoor, which for anyone who knows the area, would know that’s pretty tuff farming land. Lots of farmers weren’t coping in the area but Dad diversified, I watched him make a successful Ice-cream making business, even innovating, and making solar panelled ice-cream vans. Mum went back to study and become a solicitor; this had a huge impact on me for what it takes to succeed.  Finally, could you leave us with your favourite quote?  Just arrive! Interviewed by Adam Townsend

Read more
Hafsa Patel | Financial Conduct Authority
WOMEN ROCK2024-01-23

Hafsa Patel | Financial Conduct Authority

Meet the Incredible Hafsa, who fell into the wonderful world of tech unexpectedly, through trial and error throughout her career so far. Hafsa argues that "it's the journey that matters", using failures and critical feedback as her compass for growth, and proving that there are lots of opportunities and pathways for a successful career in tech that might not be expected. Hafsa is now leading the Salesforce Administration team at the FCA, and highlights her experience as a visible Muslim in the tech space, sharing the prejudices and challenges she has faced in her career, which has fueled her commitment to encourage more diversity in tech. This interview is a tribute to the women in Hafsa's life who have played a pivotal role in shaping her career and why finding your values and staying true to your beliefs is important. In a world driven by data and AI, diversity is not just a virtue; it's a strategic imperative, and Hafsa highlights the importance of investing in a diverse workforce, where diversity of thought from a workforce of individuals with differing experiences and backgrounds, will lead to real progression and development for organisations.  Hi Hafsa, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, please can you start by talking me through your position at the FCA?  I’ve been at the FCA for a record (for me) 5 years, I currently lead the Salesforce Administrator team, for those that know Salesforce would know we configure! The team works on a variety of support, change and processes in a highly complicated tech eco-system, as is the case in any large organisation. We are a relatively small team but hugely effective and the role has helped me learn so much more about technology than I had ever imagined. Tell me about your story so far. How did you get into the wonderful world of tech?  I landed in the world of tech accidentally. There was no planning, and I didn’t initially have the educational background for tech, but it somehow worked out… After finishing my Economics degree, I decided to continue my studies for an extra year and discovered Accounting wasn’t for me (good thing I discovered this early on), but I had some decent excel and data skills so landed in a Reporting and Data Role in the Financial sector. This was followed by a Data Analyst role where I was thrown in the deep end of Salesforce configuration and technology change.  Throughout my previous roles there has always been some level of technology change, from testing for a new software being launched, supporting the rollout of software, or configuring changes to user needs - and I took full advantage of these opportunities. I immersed myself in the tech change, learnt a huge amount and adapted to the tech world I was finding myself in, and built a career in technology.  You are a big fan of “trial and error”. Please can you tell me more about why you value critical feedback and why failing is important?  I think I learnt early on that unless you try something you won’t realise what you like or dislike, and unless you fail you cannot grow as an individual.  You hear a lot of people say, “it’s the journey that matters” and I truly believe that. When I look back at the memories I cherish from my journey, it’s not just what I achieved in the end, but the struggles I went through and overcame, and of course the people I met along the way. I realised early on: the more I failed at new things, the more I learnt. For me, learning is one of the most important aspects of job satisfaction – If I’m not learning I’m usually bored!    Alongside failing, feedback is hugely important to me, as to grow you need to be able to ask for and be willing to receive feedback, which is a skill in itself! It’s hard to hear what you need to change or improve on, but as with anything, to grow you must adapt. If you limit yourself and don’t take onboard feedback, it can be really hard to see your blind-spots. The things I love doing today are the things I was terrible at when I first started. Had I given up on them due to my failures or lack of expertise and not listened to those who were willing to advise and help, I would not be who I am today. You mentioned that your religion has influenced your career, choosing to work for companies where you can make a positive impact. Please can you tell me more about the role religion has played in your career so far, and how the prejudice you mentioned you have been met with has shaped your experience in the tech space.   My religion is the basis of my values, and this has been pivotal in me choosing what I do and who I work for. I ensure whatever role I am working in aligns with my values and I’m making a positive impact on society, and this all comes back to the values that my religion has helped instil in me: being a good person through kindness, charity, justice and respect. Most of all my roles and the organisations I work for had some level of positive impact to others, which limits my options but also makes my work all the more valuable to me. Being a visible Muslim (I wear a headscarf) has meant there has been a number of prejudices I have had to overcome, especially very early on in my career but as I gained confidence and my career expanded to technology I realised that those pre-judices helped me become more resilient and helped me gain the skills I needed to bring more diversity in the world of technology Why is it so important to have a diverse workforce and how can companies do better? Invest in people! I can’t stress enough how ensuring we have a diverse workforce means we have diversity of thought, ideas, and leadership, and to achieve this we need to be willing to invest the time and effort into people so they can progress within organisations and careers.   It takes a lot of time and effort, and we are now in a workforce where we are so stretched that’s it’s easy to just hire someone who can do the job today rather than invest the time and train people. But from my experience I have found it so rewarding to see individuals grow in skills, confidence, and so much more, to achieve not just their day job but add value with new ideas, concepts, and better ways of works! I do believe we risk our future by not investing in a diverse workforce – in a world where data and AI are the buzz words, technology change is pivotal for the survival of most organisations. Without the diversity of thought, which comes from diverse experiences and backgrounds, changes to the way we work and the way we can make the most of technology can be hard to achieve – for real progression and change for organisations diversity through investment is key!  Who have been/are the most influential people in your career? Women!  I don’t have a specific role or had even thought about it until recently but looking back a few of the key people that have influenced and inspired my career are women, they saw potential in me, believed in me, pushed me, and inspired me to do what I love.  For specifics I’ll start with the cliché and say my mother; her resilience, adaptability and unshakeable faith inspires me every day - she began her life in the UK in the 80’s from a rural village in India with limited education for women, and achieved more than most could imagine. She also pushed me to follow my dreams by studying courses that I loved and she had never heard of, and importantly she has also ensured happiness is a key part of my definition of success.  Another inspirational woman to me is a former manager of mine: ECP – an incredible woman and influence who inspired me to want to achieve more from my career and continue learning. Her exceptional management skills are something I strive for as part of my line-management journey all the time, including the ability to invest in people.  And lastly the amazing friends, colleagues and comrades in my life whose different life journeys, support and wisdom have helped me set and achieve some exceptional goals – had it not been for these wonderful women in my life I would not have even imagined being where I am today!  Any last words of inspiration?  Find what you value and stay true to it!   And remember everyone is on their own journey, there’s no need to compare yourself to others – do what you love, be willing to learn and achieve!  Interviewed by Bella Snell

Read more
Holly Mather | Enable
WOMEN ROCK2024-01-16

Holly Mather | Enable

Meet Holly, with a foundation in STEM A-levels, she delved into Materials Engineering, securing a Research Engineer role in Metrology post-Masters. Holly's journey took a turn into people management and leadership, guiding teams at ASOS and currently as Engineering Manager at Enable.   She defines her leadership style as "dynamic" and authentic, driving diverse team success. As the initiator of the UK Women in Engineering meetup at Enable, she champions a global community, fosters a sense of belonging and empowerment among female engineers, reflecting in a positive impact within just three months!  Holly's recruitment strategy involves decoding job descriptions, eliminating biases, and enhancing language for inclusivity.  Trust your gut, transparency, and diversity form the core of Holly's insightful career advice.  Inspired by luminaries like Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, and her empowering family, she embraces the mantra: "You can't be what you can't see." Hi Holly, thank you for being involved with Women Rock! Could you tell me a bit about how you first got started in Tech and a little bit about who you are outside of work. Absolutely, and thank you for having me! So I guess I started in Tech at the point of choosing my A-Level subjects which just happened to be very STEM based. Maths, science and problem solving was always something I was good at during school so at the time those type subjects felt like the obvious choice. After studying a Masters in Materials Engineers at University I got accepted onto a Graduate Scheme in the world of R&D (Research and Development) as a Research Engineer in the field of Metrology. After progressing my career technically, I took a sideways step into people management and leadership, managing a team of research engineers specializing in data engineering, data science and software engineering. This opened up opportunities at other organisations and I took a role at ASOS as an Engineering Manager, managing teams of software engineers and QA engineers in the fintech space. About 9 months ago I joined a SaaS startup, Enable as an Engineering Manager and since then I’ve been focusing heavily on growing our diversity within Engineering and building awareness around everything DEI. Outside of work you’ll find me either on a dog walk, having a pub lunch, or on a dog walk to a pub lunch! As the Engineering Manager at Enable and an advocate for diversity in the workplace. How would you describe your leadership style and what do you enjoy most about the job? I think my leadership style is “dynamic”. Everyone in my team is different right, so how I engage with and manage each of them also needs to be different to get the best out of them. I like the think my leadership style is authentic, empowering and adaptive. My favourite part my role is working with people. I really enjoy working with different people, coaching and supporting their development, as well as building collaborative and empowered teams of highly skilled engineers. I also really like the ever-changing landscape of the organisation and the scope to be able to involve myself in many different areas of the organisation as well as focusing my time on both technical and non-technical initiatives. As a woman in working in the technology sector, what would you say is the best and worst thing you’ve encountered within the industry over the years? I love this question! I think the best thing particularly as a woman is the network and community you can build. So often women are under-represented in this space, there’s a statistic that 32% of women in technical and engineering roles are often the only women in the room at work, which leads us to find that representation outside of our immediate team or organisation. I know I have benefited so much from finding and connecting with other female leaders and built that network and community of support around myself. That statistic can also be used as the worst thing too, women are so under-represented within the tech space, and having all forms of diversity brings diversity of thought, you can’t have innovation with the same people in the room. I was really inspired by your post on Enable’s UK Women in Engineering meetup, could you tell me a little bit about it, what your role is and the affect you feel it has? Absolutely, going back to my previous point around of the power and importance of a community this was something I really wanted to bring to Enable and share with other female engineers here. So, I’ve kicked off a UK and now Toronto community with the plan that we will also have a global meetup once a quarter. The purpose is to bring all our female engineers together to share our experiences, talk through some of the nuances of being a woman in the tech landscape we are in and how we can advocate for, support and celebrate each other. One of the most important things for me is that feeling of belonging and my hope is that by spending an hour a month with other technical women gives us the sense of belonging and representation we sometimes don’t have in our own teams. So my role is essentially facilitation, I want this community to be a safe space of empowerment so we talk through topics like mentoring, how to find a mentor, how to structure a conversation with a mentor etc. things like goal setting and how to articulate your goals in a way that feels empowered, achievable and authentic. I also take so much away from those sessions personally, so I’m grateful to all the amazing women that come along and share their thoughts, experiences and guidance. I actually did a quick anonymous survey before the first session and then following the 3rd session asking our female engineers how empowered they felt, how represented they felt and what their sense of belonging is and all three increased after just 3 months of the community so I’m hoping the numbers speak for themselves! I know that you are passionate about building a diverse team at Enable, – How do you ensure your interview process is inclusive and what advice would you give to other hiring managers around this? This is something I’ve been working closely with our Talent team on, there’s some really simple adjustments that can be made that can have a huge impact from an inclusivity point of view. Things like gender decoding job descriptions, changing some of the language around ‘non-negotiables’ so for example changing “Must have a computer science degree” to “Computer science degree desirable, other STEM degrees considered” hugely opens up the candidate pool and therefore the diversity you can bring to the organisation. There are now so many routes into tech, from apprenticeships and internships to bootcamps that even specifying needing a degree can be a limiting factor. Another thing I think is really important for minority groups is having representation on the interview panel, it’s important that this isn’t a tokenised approach but authentic and representative of the organisation current level of diversity. A really practical step for hiring managers around this is doing unconscious bias training, we all have biases we might be unaware of but being cognisant of them and bringing those biases into our conscious means as hiring managers we can be better aware of the impact and importance of biases in an interview process. If you could go back in time to when you first started your career in tech, what piece of advice would you give yourself? Trust your gut. I think it’s taken a long time for me to fully trust my own instincts and trust myself. Often as we are progressing through our careers we think everyone more senior than us knows so much more, and has so much more insight. As I’ve progressed in my own career I’ve realised that most people experience some form of imposter syndrome, that there is always more to learn and that everyone is (mostly) just doing their best. Trust that your experience and skillset has got you to where you are and be willing to continuously learn. What do you think the biggest thing tech companies could do to attract more female talent? And I guess if it was you looking – what would attract you to a company? Transparency! I’m not talking about the little blurb at the bottom of job adverts, I mean being transparent throughout the recruitment process and being intentional with your transparency. Share your family friendly policies with candidates, share your flexible working policies, share information on your ERGs, share the accountable actions the company is taking to build their inclusive culture and most importantly be honest. No one is perfect, and we can’t expect companies to be perfect either. So be honest about where you have room to grow and what’s next from a business commitment, you might even find that a candidate has experience bringing that to life in another organisation! Who is someone in your life that inspires you? There are so many people that inspire me, and it feels unfair to name just one person! Obviously, there are the classic choices like Michelle Obama, how she balanced life as a mother, a wife, the First Lady, and a trailblazer. People like Taylor Swift and how she has built such an authentic and passionate fan base, how she celebrates other women and uses her voice to champion marginalised groups, but inspiration can come from everywhere. I’m really lucky to have quite a large family and be surrounded by so many empowering women in my mother and my (MANY!) aunts, how each of them have balanced family life with their careers, and the ceilings they have smashed inspire me to continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Finally, my cheerleaders, I have a handful of incredibly inspiring women around me, from doctors to teachers to private chefs to “head of’s” in a corporate world, each one of those women continue to inspire me, shape my life bring endless amounts of support and laughter to my life. Finally, could you leave us with your favourite quote? “You can’t be what you can’t see”. This is something I resonate with a lot as a woman in tech. Being able to see highly ambitious and technical women makes that path seem so much more possible, and if those women don’t exist in your current organisation they absolutely exist outside of your organisation, so go find them, build your own network of people that inspire you, that encourage you and advocate for you!   Interviewed by Rob Marsh

Read more
Emma Feltham | National Trust
WOMEN ROCK2024-01-08

Emma Feltham | National Trust

Introducing Emma Feltham, Head of IT Delivery at National Trust. Driven by her academic prowess, Emma holds both a degree and a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Transitioning seamlessly from her background in science, Emma is in her fourth leadership role in IT at National Trust, demonstrating not only her adaptability but also her unwavering dedication to driving technological innovation. Beyond her technical expertise, Emma is distinguished by her advocacy for Diversity and Inclusion. Her leadership is marked by a profound commitment to creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace, ensuring that diverse voices are not only heard but celebrated. Her multifaceted background and dedication to creating an inclusive workplace make her a standout figure.  Hi Emma, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, please can you start by talking me through your position at National Trust?  Hi Harry, great to talk to you, it’s always a pleasure talking to other people who are passionate about diversity and inclusion. I’m Head of IT Delivery at National Trust. My role is all about a portfolio of live IT services, projects and programmes that deliver our revenue-generating and customer-facing services. My teams support our membership and fundraising platform that’s built on Salesforce, and also all of our commercial systems at our properties – our tills, credit card machines, car park machines, allergens label printing, workforce planning tool, and lots more. It’s a really interesting and varied role, and I get to make a difference to the experience we give our supporters every day.  Tell me about your story so far. How did you get into the world of tech? I’ve got a background in science. I did a degree and a PhD in Chemistry and then did some follow-on research. I realised whilst doing that, that although I loved science and research, I also really enjoyed lots of other things about my job – talking to people about the research we were doing and bringing it to life for them, networking and making connections to different people, and teaching and supporting students. That led to me looking for a role where I could use my scientific background alongside my wider skills – and I spent the next 10 years at the Research Councils. My roles there were all about understanding different fields of research, helping academics to find opportunities for funding their research, and helping them to partner with companies that do research in the UK. I reached another cross-roads about 11 years ago where I wanted to find an organisation and a role that would bring together my broad experience across Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in an organisation that’s making a difference to the planet – aligning to my personal values. I saw my first role at National Trust being advertised and thought that I had everything they were looking for except a background in IT – but with a very broad background across STEM I knew I could learn what I needed to about IT – and I’ve never looked back. I’m in my fourth leadership role in IT at National Trust and it’s been so interesting – technology can enable so much.  If you weren’t working in the wonderful world of tech, what do you think you would be doing instead and why? I think I’d be doing something in STEM – probably something to do with nature, the environment, or climate change. I’ve always had a very technical brain, I like the intellectual challenge, and I want to do something that makes a difference.  You have achieved a lot in your career so far and mentioned the importance of mentoring – tell me more about this. I’ve had some brilliant mentors through my career – when I first moved into a management role I asked an experienced manager who I really respected to be a mentor for me – it was so helpful to have someone to talk line management challenges through with. When I moved into my current role at the start of 2020, I looked for an external mentor, someone who’d had experience of similar roles, who could be a sounding board and source of advice. I’ve also mentored some brilliant people – it’s so rewarding to see people progressing and making the most of their potential, and knowing you’ve been part of that. I think you can gain a lot as a mentor – it makes you reflect on what you’ve learnt and why you’re good at certain things, it can also make you think about things differently and give you a fresh perspective. Always think about what you are seeking a mentor for and find someone who’s a good match, someone who is good at the thing you want to develop in.  You have a STEM background, and have a degree and PhD in Chemistry. How could curriculums change to promote D&I in tech?  I think the biggest difference that can be made is for people to stop talking about ‘girls subjects’ and ‘boys subjects’, and for us to showcase the brilliant role models that there are across all subjects of STEM. I think we also need to do more to show young people the huge variety of jobs that are out there and the very broad backgrounds that people come from. My career path hasn’t been an obvious linear path, I don’t think many people follow a linear career path, lots of people move sideways and make some big changes at points in their careers, but I think that often people aren’t aware of what the possibilities are.  Where does your passion for D&I come from and what have you done within NT or outside of work? I realised during my degree that there were a lot less women than men on the course, and as I progressed through my career there were less and less women around me. I had a really stark moment whilst doing my postdoctoral research, when an external review panel asked to meet the most senior women in the department, and as a postdoctoral researcher of 26 I was the most senior woman! I also had the experience of working with an incredibly bright undergraduate project student who told me that she really wanted to do her project in our group, but didn’t feel comfortable joining the group until she met me – she was relieved that there was another woman in the group (I was the only one). I then started talking at lots of external Women in STEM events, and the more I talked to others, I realised how many people were missing out on opportunities because they didn’t think they’d be welcome because of their differences. I was a member of and then chaired the Corporate IT Forum Gender Balance & Diversity Group until 2021, I co-founded the Swindon Inclusion & Diversity Network in 2019, and I’ve recently set up a Women in Tech group at National Trust. What I’ve learnt is that things that help and support women in technology are things that are good for people generally – it’s not just women who are parents or carers, it’s not just women who experience discrimination, bias, and barriers in their careers. I want to give people the opportunity to share and learn. I’m lucky to work for an organisation that is serious about diversity and where we have lots of different networks and groups, as well as access to really helpful training material, so we can all keep learning more in this space.  You mentioned that throughout your career sometimes you have been the only woman at the table. What has been your experience around this and what can be done to make spaces more inclusive for women in tech?  I think I’m lucky that my parents raised me to always be myself and always encouraged me and told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. They instilled a strong sense of my worth in me and as a result I’ve stood up for myself when I’ve needed to. I’ve also worked hard to prove myself and there were times earlier in my career when I really had to prove myself to be taken seriously – I came across some men who were surprised to have a young woman at the table. I think role models and support groups or networks are really important. I also think that women who have ‘made it’ and are in senior roles have a responsibility to step in and challenge inappropriate behaviour or ‘banter’ and to support the women around them. One of the things that I love at National Trust is how many allies we have – men can make a really big difference by taking the time to understand the barriers and challenges that women can face, and by stepping in and supporting their female colleagues when it’s needed. I’m really pleased that our Women in Tech group has an allies group too.  What are your proudest achievements?  I’m incredibly proud of the programme team I’ve been part of for the past four years who have delivered our Salesforce platform – it’s been a huge and complex programme, and going live on the new platform in January 2023 was a massive milestone for us all. I’m really happy that I got the Women in Tech group started at National Trust this year – it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and it’s been really positive to see how many of my colleagues have attended our sessions and how many ideas they have for future sessions. I’m still also very proud of getting my PhD – it was a challenging experience and took a lot of hard work and commitment!  Any last words of inspiration? Be curious and interested in the people around you – there is always so much to learn. You never know what someone else’s experience has been or what barriers or challenges they’ve overcome. There is so much value in our differences – if we all look and think the same then we won’t discover new things. Celebrate people!  Interviewed by Hary Murphy

Read more
Sally-Anne Lawrence | Swift Strategies
WOMEN ROCK2024-01-03

Sally-Anne Lawrence | Swift Strategies

In our pursuit of celebrating exceptional women in tech, we are honoured to introduce you to Sally-Anne, Delivery Director at Swift Strategies, whose story is a testament to the dynamic and diverse roles women play in the world of technology. She shares insights into her career, and is an advocate for a more inclusive approach to technology education, currently undertaking a programme with Birmingham City university to mentor students, and emphasises the need for broader curriculums that not only focus on programming but also explore various roles crucial for successful delivery. In previous roles, Sally-Anne often found herself to be the only female at the table, and shares her experiences and insights on making spaces more inclusive for women in tech. She believes in addressing biases constructively and challenging stereotypes to create a more balanced and welcoming environment. Throughout her career Sally-Anne has learnt invaluable lessons as a working parent in a leadership role, with collaboration and kindness being her guiding principles. Hi Sally-Anne, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, please can you start by talking me through your position at Swift Strategies? Hi Bella, thank you for including me in this series of blogs for amazing, inspirational women! I am the Delivery Director here at Swift Strategies, I focus on delivery for our clients. I support the teams and deliver programmes myself too. We are focussed on digital; data and technology transformation and our key motivation is working with our clients supporting them to achieve their goals and vision. Tell me about your story so far. How did you get into the world of tech? I actually have a degree in technology from Liverpool University, although I wouldn't describe myself as technical; I take a common-sense approach to technology and always ask my teams to explain things to me. After I graduated, I worked in resource management at IBM and then Serco Solutions where I moved into Programme Management Support. I then progressed to the world of contracting which led me to work across government in project and programme management roles. I have often been asked to fix things and ‘knit the fog’ to deliver IT and change; translating stakeholder requirements into delivery approaches and plans. I worked with Nathan (Founder of Swift Strategies) in the past and joined Swift Strategies in September 2021, becoming the Delivery Director in May 2023! I am loving my new role and Swift Strategies is a great place to be! If you weren’t working in the wonderful world of tech, what do you think you would be doing instead and why? Crikey that is a difficult question, I love technology and my job! I would have to say a job in travel as I adore holidays. The best place I have been to is South America; I loved Buenos Aires! I would love to go to Japan and New York (can’t believe I haven’t been!). You have achieved a lot in your career so far and mentioned the importance of mentoring and finding ways to help graduates to get started in their career. Tell me more about this. This is something I feel really passionately about, I remember graduating from university and thinking ‘what now?’. There are so many different jobs out there that you never knew existed and you don’t really know what they mean! I am just starting to support the Birmingham City University mentoring programme to help students with some key skills, advice and guidance for their careers once they have graduated. If I can help build at least one person's confidence and pathway into the first stages of their career I think this is a win, and hopefully more if I can help! You have a degree in I.T yourself and mentioned curriculums not being broad enough to encourage young people, especially young women in schools, to pursue careers in tech. How could curriculums change to promote D&I in tech?  The current GCSE and A-Level for IT and Computer Science is programming heavy and is in the main taken by boys due to the technical nature of the course. Wouldn’t it be great if these also explored working in an agile team, covering all the other roles needed for successful delivery; business analysis, user research, product and delivery management, testing etc. This would provide a more rounded accessible qualification and promote an appreciation of all the qualities and roles needed in the work environment. When I took my A-Levels my mum moved us to a large mixed 6th Form College from an all-girls school, it was quite a shock! She was keen for us to transition to an environment more like University You are a working Mum yourself. How does being a Mum enrich your work? Being a mum keeps me grounded, one minute you can be running a multi-million-pound programme and the next you are on the school run watching the kids play sport and dealing with what is for dinner! There is always a bigger picture, and the key is being able to step back from the detail and focus on the things that matter the most, I always encourage my teams to do the same. Your position is people oriented, and you mentioned being good at reading a room and understanding individuals. Why is it important to have female leaders with “feminine” qualities such as empathy? For me it's about understanding why people are acting in a certain way, what makes them tick and how to get the best out of them. Getting to know people is key so you can support them when they need it, the more you give the more you get. You mentioned that throughout your career you have often been the only woman at the table. What has been your experience around this and what can be done to make spaces more inclusive for women in tech? I am often in technical meetings that are male dominated, this has never worried me and I am happy to ask the ‘silly questions’. I have experienced people not responding directly to me and speaking to the other technical people in the room, I simply addressed this in a polite way. For me its about making these observations and calling them out, not being afraid to challenge constructively, we are all people after all! What are your proudest achievements (personal and/or professional)? I have two girls who I am proud of every day! From a work perspective there are lots of things; the delivery of a Change Programme transitioning 1500 users to new IT systems and kit that went really well was definitely a highlight for me! Any last words of inspiration? Collaboration and kindness (to yourself and others) are key Interviewed by Bella Snell

Read more