An interview with Serrie Chapman
Serrie is the founder of Women’s Tech Hub ~ Bristol. Day-day she is very experienced in hardware verification and requirements management and is currently working as a Requirement Engineering Consultant. WTH was set up to encourage local women in tech and find ways that they can develop their careers. They are also here to help local companies create a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture that benefits everyone.
I am looking forward to working with Serrie and the WTH going into 2018. Serrie has a huge passion for women in tech and has created a safe environment for women both in and out of work to come and work, talk and learn from others. She is an advocate and a great person to be supporting the issue in the south west.
‘I WAS TOLD ENGINEERING WOULDN’T BE AN OPTION’
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN TECHNOLOGY?
I came about it by a rather circuitous route, although I was strongest in maths and sciences at school I was told that engineering would not be an option.. I know right!? So went into Beauty Therapy at my Mothers suggestion which was fun and I enjoyed being in a female occupation. I went straight into catering management after that, which followed on from working in catering to get through college – managing restaurants & pubs around the UK. After a few years, I decided to head abroad – unfortunately, my travelling the world only got me as far as Belgium (which is really not very far I know) so I spent a few years living with a Belgium, nannying and racing side-cars (as you do). Eventually, I headed back to the UK and decided to put my career back on track and do a Business and Marketing degree … which as you can probably guess given the indirectness of all my career choices to date ended with me doing Computing for real-time embedded systems (CRTS) @ UWE. This gave me the opportunity to become a pre-silicon verification engineer, which in turn led to Requirements engineering and ISO 26262 Safety. During this time I also became involved with co-organising the Bristol Girlgeekdinners meetups, which opened my eyes to the issues that the women in Tech were having and to starting the Women’s Tech Hub with my first cofounder and fellow girlgeeker Constance Fleuriot who essentially talked me into following through on my ideas on how to solve the issues, we then talked Desklodge manager Thanh Quan-Nicholls to Join us as she was so supportive with Desklodge and instrumental in getting us set up and giving us a home to network in as well as being such a great Business mind.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WOMEN FACE IN THE WORKPLACE?
I would say it’s the unconscious Bias – all the little things that are not obvious that are the biggest put offs for women trying to make a career in the industry. The issues are not obvious but they are endemic – leading I believe to a sense of powerlessness, reduced confidence and in many cases a dislike of the industry. I have had so many conversations with women who have said either that they ‘used’ to be in the tech industry but are grateful that they no longer are – or that they used to be interested in Tech but aren’t sure why they didn’t pursue it and ended up doing English or Art or something that was less deemed to be a male role. The culture and understanding of Tech really needs to be challenged to change the perception of the industry and make the women want to enter into it and to want to stay. As Bibi from women who code stated in our Conference earlier in 2017: It’s not a case of being invited to the party, it’s a case of wanting to be there.
IF YOU COULD START ALL OVER AGAIN WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I’m not sure that I would do anything differently, having such a varied experience has built who I am today and enabled me to understand the industry with a wider context. It has also enabled me to have an understanding of how the tech industry differs from other industries (interestingly enough sidecar racing was one of the least sexist communities I have been in – where they are only interested in your abilities and don’t expect you to fit into their gender demographic)
WHAT CAN COMPANIES DO BETTER TO ATTRACT MORE WOMEN INTO TECH ROLES?
One ‘Blocker’ is in the language – using gender neutral language in Job specifications, in company publicity, websites and generally would definitely improve things. Increasing women’s’ participation in conferences, speaking out about their excitement for their Jobs rather than just about how difficult it is to be in it. Allow women time to speak rather than making assumptions based on a male perspective on why they are not there. In interviews try not to act bullish, you need to encourage women to open up about their knowledge, find out their career aims and don’t treat it as an opportunity to try and disprove what they are saying – it’s not a game and believe me we are more than used to people questioning us in order to show off their intelligence and it really is quite wearing after a few years!
WHAT DOES THE INDUSTRY NEED TO DO DIFFERENTLY TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN MORE WOMEN IN IT?
Think, ask the women themselves, don’t make assumptions and try listening! We are not an unknown or scary subject matter so try and understand the issues from the female perspective – go to an all-female conference and understand what it’s like to be in the minority! Tell all your colleagues that you are going to drop all their wages to equal the gender pay gap and ask them how they would feel about it, put yourselves in our shoes and see how it feels (not heels btw as I personally find them pretty uncomfortable !)
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO GROW OR START THEIR CAREER IN TECHNOLOGY?
Think it through – what is it you love, go to meetups like the girlgeekdinners and grrrl games etc and find your passion. Also, don’t be afraid of failure, failure is simply a learning process and a life without any failures would be boring and predictable, to me at least.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOUNG WOMEN NEED TO KNOW/HEAR/SEE TO CONSIDER TECHNOLOGY AS A CAREER OPTION?
Women – they need to see them, hear from them and know that they love their jobs.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR WTH IN 2018?
2018 is going to be a big year for us as we have decided to make the company sustainable, so far we have been juggling it around other work commitments on a voluntary basis and it has been growing extraordinarily fast. The amount of support we have garnered from our wonderful network and from the companies we have been in conversation with has been quite overwhelming in fact. So I will be finishing my current job to work full time on the company and see if we can make it pay for itself and us as a proper project, to do this we have planned:
A new website design which is being put together by Ajara Pfannenschmidt who is one of our advisory committees and absolutely amazing.
We will be having a paid membership but it will be free to non-working women
We are working with the HBB and Techspark to set up a recruitment fair in October
Hopefully we will be running another Womens Tech Hub conference – possibly with another conference who are interested in us doing a joint one with them
We will be setting up our training services
We will be setting up a staged approach to work with tech companies on their unconscious bias, gender neutral language, recruitment process and some other work packages which will be launched with the website (we are putting the programme together currently)
Women’s Tech Founders ~ Bristol! (WTF ~ Bristol! .. and yes we know it’s a great acronym and have t-shirts @ £20 which our women love!) launches in January. Details will be on the website and the meetup – it will be a quarterly meetup too support women wanting to start up businesses with a slack channel for communication.
A mid-winter social in January – probably to launch the new site
F3F Three Free Fridays – Friday networking sessions kindly hosted by Desklodge
Free or heavily subsidised training and workshops on tech related subjects
Business West is sponsoring us to do CV analysis, interview practise, transferable skills analysis and confidence building. Two of we ran in December, check them out and sign up to future events on our meetup page.
Monthly out of work hours ‘unsocial’ drinks for our women that are already in jobs or the ones that we have helped return or get into tech roles to enable them to network and continue to support one another. This is open to all tech people if you want to meet the women come along
We are discussing possibilities of having a permanent home … its n our ‘hold that thought’ trello page but it’s a very exciting option
For the rest – who knows, the possibilities are endless!
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SUCCESS OR ACHIEVEMENT IN YOUR CAREER?
I would say the biggest success or rather achievement has been, and still is, the Women’s Tech Hub.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE WTH?
Most likely the biggest challenge is to ensure it’s all manageable, there are so many issues that need to be looked at and so many solutions that we can consider that the challenge all is to manage them and not be overwhelmed by them all.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST LEARNING OPPORTUNITY?
Every day seems to be a learning opportunity – my biggest learning though was when I was on holiday with one of my best friends from California Kim Williams in the south of France and she was asking someone why they just sailed boats for a living – he responded with ‘why not?’(complete with a Gallic shrug). Indeed – why do we stop ourselves from doing what we are passionate about? Some reasons may be incidental but many are self-imposed, but they are barely ever good enough reasons to not do something that moves you forward in life to where you want to be.
WE DON’T WANT TO MAKE IT ALL SERIOUS SO……………………..
WOULD YOU GET IN A DRIVERLESS CAR?
Of Course – I have worked in automotive and spoken on the industry direction with this for a few years now – I know the technology and believe it will change the face of how we drive and use our roads. Long term they will be rented essentially and come and pick you up, be in use more of the day and cut down the number of parking spaces required. They would be able to save you time – for example if you could use eye retina security technology they could go pick up your kids from school, if they were fully autonomous you could go for a drink in the country and be driven home. Long term I believe we will look back and wonder why we were polluting the planet carrying a ton of weight with us in order to travel, they could be lighter, smaller and non-polluting, being able to drive closer to one another, being failsafe, trustworthy and in communication with the signposts, no speeding, less stressful – no road rage .. I can’t understand why anyone would not want to be driven by one.
HAVE YOU GOT ANY HORROR STORIES FROM INTERVIEWS YOU FACED?
No – I do get some male colleagues asking the reasoning behind the Women’s Tech Hub, most get it but I occasionally hear things like ‘I don’t believe in positive gender discrimination’ but responding with ‘but you have no problem with the positive gender discrimination that got you into your role’ seems to go down well ???? As to why we have women only groups (the Women’s tech Hub is actually open to all but we do have some women only events), I find it best to ask them to explain the masons to me before discussing in detail.
IF YOU RAN THE COUNTRY FOR A DAY YOU WOULD?
Probably give everyone a break … take time out spend it with family and friends and enjoy life a bit!