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!

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

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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

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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

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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

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Let's Take A Moment To Reflect
WOMEN ROCK2023-12-20

Let's Take A Moment To Reflect

As we come to the end of another year it’s nice to take a moment and reflect on an incredible year of growth, empowerment, and insightful conversations we've had on Women Rock. A whopping 78,865 people have read these stories and were proud of our impressive global reach – I mean, are we surprised, have you seen that lineup!! Women Rock 2023 has featured inspiring women from various fields, we've truly made waves in championing justice, equality, and inclusion and being a voice for diversity in tech. Let's take a moment to celebrate the remarkable women we've had the privilege of highlighting: πŸ’™ Maddie Clingan πŸ’™ Laura Voineag πŸ’™ Kinga Stryszaowska-Hill πŸ’™ Hilary Stephenson πŸ’™ Anita Pritchard πŸ’™ Daniela Alvaran πŸ’™ Karen Fynn πŸ’™ Victoria Reed πŸ’™ Kellie Hill πŸ’™ Olivinana Bailey πŸ’™ Gaia Armelin πŸ’™ Iffat Rose Gill πŸ’™ Hannah Grinsted πŸ’™ Loraine Kelly πŸ’™ Grace Witter πŸ’™ Ciara Conway πŸ’™ Felicita Coulibaly πŸ’™ Jenny Strickland πŸ’™ Fleur Thompson πŸ’™ Tobu Olowu πŸ’™ Violet Snell πŸ’™ Tanmaya Kulkarni πŸ’™ Namrata Sarmah πŸ’™ Candice Storm πŸ’™ Shirley Cavin πŸ’™ Susie Piggot πŸ’™ Melody Sylvestre πŸ’™ Alisha Mclaughlin πŸ’™ Cathrin Hirling πŸ’™ Charlotte Philippe πŸ’™ Priya Baheti πŸ’™ Hannah Cross πŸ’™ Raana Saheb πŸ’™ Raghad Al-Abboodi πŸ’™ Camilla Brizzi πŸ’™ Penny Rae-Byford πŸ’™ Amber Swift πŸ’™ Marian Hussein πŸ’™ Carla Ruiz Martinez πŸ’™ Becky Tsao πŸ’™ Neela Rai Throughout the year, Women Rock has delved into critical topics. We've explored the importance of finding one's tribe, the shocking pain gap in emergency medical situations, and the alarming statistics revealing that black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. We've also addressed issues surrounding menopause, and the lack of diversity within the realms of AI, hardware, and computer vision plus so much more. The key theme throughout this year was just that – MORE. We can all do more, we should be doing more to speak about ED&I, to celebrate diverse talent, and to ask for more CV’s when the shortlist is as non-diverse as possible lacking diverse candidates. As we head into 2024, Women Rock is committed to tackling the ongoing challenges in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I). Our focus will be on amplifying voices that often go unheard, fostering an environment where every woman feels seen, heard, and valued. Our plans for the upcoming year include: Amplifying Underrepresented Voices: Continuing to showcase and celebrate women from diverse backgrounds, ensuring a platform for those often marginalised. Collaborative Initiatives: Partnering with organisations that share our commitment to ED&I, fostering collaboration to drive meaningful change on a broader scale. And. The Women Rock Podcast: Come on, you knew it was coming….. Launching in March 2024. The podcast aims to empower and inspire listeners by showcasing the achievements and stories of remarkable women in Tech. You’ll hear engaging conversations and gain insights from women who are making a difference in their respective fields. And yes, I’m having a mega launch party – you’re all invited. I am forever grateful of our stunning community, contributors, and again thank you to the awesome folk who have shared their stories. Together, we will continue to rock the narrative and I promise to give everything I have and make 2024 a year of positive change for diversity everywhere. Stay great! #WomenRock

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Camilla Brizzi | Motability Operations
WOMEN ROCK2023-12-11

Camilla Brizzi | Motability Operations

Camilla Brizzi, Full Stack Software Engineer, coding influencer/content creator on Instagram @breezycoder and 1:1 mentor for women & non-binary folks looking to switch careers. Is there anything this lady can’t do? She is breaking the norm and challenging the status quo! The pressure of society tells us that we need all our s**t figured out by the time we are 30, in this refreshing interview Cami shares her story of how she fell in love with coding and quit her job as a teacher to pursue a career in tech at the age of 30. Don’t miss out reading this one, it gave us goosebumps! If there’s something that Cami’s story teaches us the most, is to never let someone else's fears or age hold you back. You can do ANYTHING you put your mind to. Camilla is truly a force to be reckoned with, firstly she is one of the coolest, most passionate people the tech market and is admired by all of us here at Women Rock. Her inspirational story of taking the “risk” to switch careers at age 30. Steph first met Camilla in 2022 during her job search after she’d completed a coding bootcamp, she was in the process of switching careers from teaching Science to become a professional software developer. In true Cami style, it did not take her long to secure a job because she is amazing. Cami teamed up with SR2 to find her first Software Engineer role with Motability Operations in Bristol, a software company who are improving the lives of people living in allowance of the government disability allowance. Outside of work, Cami has an ever-growing following on Instagram where she creates content to inspire other girls in tech make sure you follow her @breezycoder and she is now offering 1:1 mentoring to other women and non-binary folks who are looking to make the career switch. We love you Cami, you seriously rock!   Your story will be one that will inspire so many being a career switcher after teaching science to school students for 4+ years. Could you share a bit about your journey so far and why you chose to become a software engineer?  Ciao! I’m so excited to be on Women Rock, thank you for having me ❀️ As a kid, I was known to ask a lot of why’s and capture unfortunate critters to force them under my rudimentary microscope. I left rural Sardinia - where I’m from - as soon as I finished school to study Forensic Science in the UK. The problem-solving element of it, combined with the prospect of making a real difference to the families of those people who could no longer speak for themselves, was what drew me to it. I loved my degree, did very well and proceeded to do master’s in Crime and Forensic Science at UCL, where I had the opportunity to do my own research on a case of potential miscarriage or justice, as well as deepen my knowledge of data science. The year I started my undergrad, the Forensic Science Service was closed and forensics got in the hands of private laboratories. Unfortunately, this meant that once I got my MSc, I became overqualified for most of the roles out there. A few months into application hell forced me to think creatively about my skills, which led me to become a Show Presenter at the London Science Museum. This inevitably caused me to fall in love with education, so I decided to train to become a teacher a year later, and then ended up teaching Science and A-Level Biology in a secondary school for four years after that. How does all this lead to programming? Well, for various reasons, teaching wasn’t something I wanted to continue with forever. It lacked flexibility and work-life balance, as an example. Since covid, I started to feel more and more trapped and I wanted to be able to go visit my family more often than once a year. I picked up coding as a hobby, initially, like someone might get started on Duolingo. I worked through a couple of courses on Codecademy and I was hooked. I signed up for an evening course provided by Code First Girls, then signed up for another one, and handed in my notice a few weeks later. I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to learning to code full-time and I just had to take that brave decision then, before knowing how I was going to do that exactly. Luckily, I made it onto the amazing School of Code bootcamp, which is fully-funded, and in four months I gained the skills I needed to get my first job in tech. Less than a month after that ended, I was offered my current role as a full-stack Software Engineer.  Younger me never thought this would be my path. The only computer ‘lessons’ I had in school involved sharing a PC to play around with Paint and Word every few months. Of course, I had MySpace and - even better - I was an admin to one of the official My Chemical Romance πŸ–€ online fanclubs in Italy, which meant I dabbled in very basic ‘coding’, but unfortunately I used to think real programmers didn’t look anything like me. I know my career has been a road with lots of turns, but I honestly believe this has given me the confidence to challenge myself in ways I had never imagined, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s amazing to see that you’ve switched careers so successfully, there are a lot of people who would be really inspired by what you’ve done so far – what advice would you give to other women who are wanting to break into a tech career?  Don’t let your age or other people’s fears stop you. It’s funny how many people I have met in the field worry about having started ‘too late’, yet they are all doing brilliantly. Recently, I spoke to this girl in her second year at uni who was comparing herself to people who were coding since the age of 5. I couldn’t help but giggle, given my situation, but I made sure to reassure her that it really doesn’t matter. There is always going to be somebody better than you, but it’s not about that. It’s about working a job that makes you happy, and appreciating all of the fresh perspectives and other skills you bring to it. You may not have started when you were 5, but you have done so much more since then, and that is a real asset. Cherish and learn to sell your uniqueness, and don’t compare your path to the one of others. I also would recommend to anone considering a career in tech to find a mentor who can be a cheerleader and help you out with practical advice as well as networking. I had two, and I am super grateful to them for giving me the extra boost of confidence I needed when started looking for a job. Finally, it’s always worth attending tech meet-ups. In Bristol, I went to the Women’s Tech Hub and Code Hub evenings soon after my first ‘Hello World’, and it was a great way to get rid of my preconceptions of what ‘tech people’ were like. Everyone was super welcoming and that played a big part in my final decision to switch career. As a woman joining an industry that is predominantly made up of males and a lack of diversity, what has been the biggest surprise to you so far?  To be honest- and sadly - no surprises in the negative sense. I have always been a woman in STEM so I am used to experiencing some struggles in being taken seriously due to gender perception. I guess, I hadn’t realised fully realised quite how much male-dominated the industry truly is until I started attending tech events. However, I have been positively surprised by how helpful and encouraging the vast majority of techies I have connected with have been, both online and in-person, and I am very fortunate to have found a company that values me and has been incredibly supportive from the start.  I saw that joined the GirlCode family to offer mentorship to other girls interested in tech, could you tell us a bit more about that?  I love the GirlCode community! It’s a brilliant platform that I am proud to be and ambassador for, and with it I intend to do more to help other women succeed in tech. I have given CV and general career advice to a couple already, as well as other people I met through my Instagram page - @breezycoder. I’ve also been doing that on LinkedIn, and I am going to be mentoring a new career-switcher Junior at work from January. The coaching aspect of teaching was one of my favourite parts of the job, and I am excited to develop this further in my current role. Future aspirations include inspiring more young girls into tech through outreach work. If only I could have some extra days in the week! What has been the best thing about becoming a software engineer for you so far?  It has to be the amount of learning involved! There isn’t a single day that goes without me feeling out of my ‘comfort zone’, and that is so exciting. I like to be challenged and I like learning new skills. There is a lot of context-switching - which can be daunting - but once you accept that you have to get it wrong first to get it right, you can start appreciating all the novelty. In your opinion, why do you think there are so little women in tech roles and what could companies looking to hire more diversity do to change that? For me, the low uptake of computer science degrees and tech roles by women has to do - in great part - with lack of representation in the industry. That’s why it’s so important that companies have a deep look at what they can do to retain the brilliant women they already have. Around 50% of women leave the field by the age of 35, so it’s not just about hiring more at entry / junior level - although that is very important too. Employers must support women throughout their career, making sure they can access and thrive in higher-paying and leadership roles, regardless of whether they are dealing with motherhood or are being affected by symptoms of reproductive health issues, for example. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of systemic sexism in tech, but I am hopeful that the younger generation will be inspired by the ever-growing talent pool of fantastic women in STEM, lots of whom are spreading the word through social media. That’s pretty much what drew me to coding in the first place. If you could go back and give your younger self some advice what would you tell her?   Wear your skin proud, take up space and fight to get the help you need. I know it hurts now, but one day you’ll realise that none of this matters, and that your beauty goes far beyond your looks. Also, definitely don’t pick up smoking to chat up a boy! 😀 What is your favourite quote?  I really love this one by Italian Nobel-prize scientist and former senator for life, Rita Levi-Montalcini:  ‘Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.’Interviewed by Steph Jackson

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Raghad al-Abboodi | She Codes Too
WOMEN ROCK2023-12-04

Raghad al-Abboodi | She Codes Too

Raghad is someone who has followed her dream of becoming a software engineer, but not only that, she’s also helped other women follow that same dream. Whilst completing a business course in 2020, Raghad got the inspiration for ‘She Codes Too’, a bootcamp that supports women in Iraq with their goal of having a career in the tech industry. Having started as an idea, this has now transformed into fully-fledged in-person bootcamp that is expanding to other locations across Iraq, changing multiple lives! Raghad, you’re an inspiration! Can you give us a brief overview of your own background and how you qualified as a Computer Scientist? I am originally from Iraq and grew up in a small town near the ancient city of Babylon. I completed my undergraduate degree in computer science at the University of Babylon. After that, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to study for a Master's degree in computer science at the University of Bristol in the UK. As a requirement of my scholarship, I had to return to Iraq and work for five years as a lecturer at a university in Baghdad. You mentioned that you’re originally from Iraq – can you share with us what some of the barriers are that women in Iraq face when looking to get into the tech industry? Women in Iraq often face many barriers when considering a career in tech. Beginning with societal norms and expectations that usually steer them towards professions like medicine or teaching, rather than encouraging them to explore tech-related careers. Similarly, these norms and expectations may require women to stay at home, restricting their movement freely and travelling around the country, which can limit their ability to attend events like tech bootcamps or coding workshops. Can you tell us a bit about the She Codes Too initiative that you created & how it works? I started She Codes Too (SCT) after participating in a UN program in Japan that taught about business development. Instead of starting a for-profit business, I chose to create She Codes Too as a charitable initiative. SCT started its journey in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by providing online coding courses for women. Initially, I taught programming courses myself but soon formed a team of volunteers to assist me. Last year, SCT received funding from the UN Development Programme and this year we received funding from the US Embassy in Iraq. We also collaborate with Meta – formerly Facebook – and Baghdad Business School. Now SCT has funding, we can employ full-time staff members to help run 6-month-long front-end web development programs in person in Baghdad. The programs not only focus on programming but also develop a programmer's mindset. Participants learn both the skills required by industry but also communication and team skills to ensure they are ready for tech careers after graduating. Was there a particular event or moment that inspired you to create She Codes Too? During my previous job as a lecturer in Iraq, I was keenly aware of female students being discouraged from developing their tech skills. This made me want to create a space for them to feel comfortable and empowered to become software engineers; hence, I started the She Codes Too initiative. I believed that creating such a supportive environment could refocus and empower women, providing them with a sense of belonging and encouragement within the tech industry. Can you share any success stories from She Codes Too so far? She Codes Too were able to connect its graduates with employers in tech companies in Iraq. Two of our graduates secured internships as junior web developers in a tech company in Baghdad, while another two received job offers as web developers in another tech firm. Several other graduates are currently in the interview process, and we believe that many more will soon secure jobs with our support.  What is the long-term vision for She Codes Too? We aim to expand She Codes Too to reach other cities in Iraq; however, other cities (e.g. Mosul) pose an even greater challenge due to a lack of resources and other external factors. Beyond that, we also have an ambition to take She Codes Too to even more countries. It is important however to ensure the sustainability of She Codes Too. We aim to build an organisation that can run stably in terms of resources and funding, allowing us to continue our mission and impact for years to come. What advice would you have for anyone else who’s interested in setting up something like She Codes Too? My advice is to start with a genuine passion because this will be the driving force. One needs to understand the specific needs of the target audience and to design the programs accordingly. When thinking about sustainability for a charity like She Codes Too, it is important to know how to seek funds, form partnerships, and build a committed team. One needs to be prepared to take on any required role to make it work. And lastly, remain patient. Initiatives like this require determination and patience, but the impact and fulfilment they provide make the journey truly rewarding. What’s next for you personally Raghad? I recently got married and settled in the UK. I would personally love to continue building a life here and enjoy seeing more of this country and the rest of Europe with my husband. On a professional level, I would like to continue my path in technology and develop my skills to reach a senior level in my career. What motivates me the most is the opportunity to inspire and empower women to challenge societal norms, break barriers, and pursue their aspirations fearlessly. It’s tradition on Women Rock to finish with a motto or inspirational quote – have you got one you would like to sign-off with? We have this famous quote in Arabic that I often think about when I need motivation. A translation would be: “Whoever fears the ascent of the mountains, shall dwell forever in the abyss.”

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Penny Rae-Byford | Farsight Consulting
WOMEN ROCK2023-11-28

Penny Rae-Byford | Farsight Consulting

In Penny's world, tech meets transformation, blending fearless ambition with authenticity and guided by kindness. As a tech enthusiast and transformation expert, she pioneers online platforms for iconic events like Race For Life and spearheads large-scale transformations at Cancer Research UK. Penny's secret to climbing the career ladder is to boldly ask, stay positive, and embrace continuous learning. A beacon for aspiring female leaders, she urges authenticity and celebrating uniqueness. Skipping the traditional academic path, she advises the next generation to explore diverse routes, embrace failures, and own their journey. To Penny, diversity is a blend of varied perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences shaping better outcomes. In her daily life, she champions kindness and is also a yoga teacher. Namaste to that! Tell us about how you initially got into the transformation / tech space? In my earlier career I was always interested in seeing how we could use technology to increase efficiency and speed things up, I always wanted things to be done quickly and with less manual effort.  I remember working with the development team building the first ever website and back office system for Race For Life, we were moving everything from manual postal entries to online (I’m showing my age there!) It felt revolutionary at the time and what back then we would have called RAD Rapid Application Development, but for me I was just working with the programmers to reduce the effort from my team to do manual data entry of hundreds of thousands of ladies who wanted to take part in an event and raise money for cancer. My first real transformation programme was at Cancer Research UK, for me this was still ‘just change’ but on a bigger scale with more stakeholders to consider, with much bigger benefits but also more risk. I loved the challenge and the scale and learnt so much from other experts who done large scale transformations before but also just by throwing myself in and learning as I went. You enjoyed a number of promotions over your career, how do you think you stood out vs the crowd and achieved these time and time again?  Don’t be afraid to ask, I think for at least 70% of my promotions (certainly in my earlier career) I saw an opportunity, stated my case and asked for it. I was quite fearless, what’s the worst that can happen they say no, I am no worse off. I think that helped show people my appetite for the promotion and also a positive attitude whilst also being clear on what I still needed to learn and develop. What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders today? Be authentic and be yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others and try to emulate their intelligence, knowledge, expertise, or style, be proud of what you have to bring to a particular company, project or role. People will value the authentic you. You didn’t go to university, do you think this had any impact on your journey and what’s your advice to the next generation? In my early career it didn’t bother me at all, I worked hard, pushed myself and got so much experience, by the time some of my friends had left uni I had a really great job had done further education whilst working and didn’t have any student debt which was a bonus. Once I started to move around and consider more senior roles I did have a period where I would be embarrassed about the fact that I didn’t go to uni and I might never know if I wasn’t considered for some roles because of it. But I re-claimed it and used it as a positive message. I have a 15 year old daughter and my advice to her and any other young people is that there are many ways to be successful and many routes to find your path especially when you are young try out a few different things to see what works for you and don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s paths, that’s theirs to own, you own you. What would you say to your younger self if you could meet her today? You go girl, stay confident, don’t let others hold you back and don’t be afraid to change things that are not working out. Life is there to be lived and experienced, breath it all in. What does diversity mean to you? Diversity for me means lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds with many different experiences all having a perspective to bring and something to offer and that together diversity will bring a better outcome. Sometimes I can get frustrated and overwhelmed with the injustice, unfairness and quite often discrimination in the world. How I choose to address that is to make a difference in the space in which I operate and what I can influence in my every day to day. What is your favourite quote?  “Be more kind to yourself, be more kind to others and be more kind to the planet” Its not a famous quote, it’s my own mantra and I say it every day and at the end of every yoga practice (I’m a yoga teacher as my side gig).

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Amber Swift | Northumbrian Water
WOMEN ROCK2023-11-16

Amber Swift | Northumbrian Water

Meet this weeks' Women Rocker, Amber Swift πŸ‘‹.  A data wizard at Northumbrian Water, who started her journey with curiosity in ICT during her GCSE and A-levels. Thanks to her tech-savvy grandma's wisdom, she skipped the business degree bandwagon and leapt into a Degree Apprenticeship at Northumbrian Water. Between sips of coffee and lines of code, dipping her toes in various teams, she discovered a love of data and coding. Amber's story covers everything from the challenges that came from being a young trailblazer, her work as a mentor guiding university placements & apprenticeships, being an advocate for neurodivergence and diversity within tech to her work beyond the keyboard where she breaks stereotypes with CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting. Amber is on a mission to encourage more women to pump iron and break the glass ceiling (and a sweat) Amber has achieved great things in her career so far, as well as being nominated for the Rising Star Award for her work and accomplishing a 1st Class Hons Degree. Some might say, she is equally as inspirational as her parting quote: “find your allies, take every opportunity you are given even if it scares you. Because stepping out your comfort zone and challenging yourself is what opens your horizons and opportunities”. πŸš€βœ¨ THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK TO US. FIRSTLY, PLEASE CAN YOU START BY TALKING ME THROUGH YOUR POSITION AT NORTHUMBRIAN WATER? I currently work as a Performance Insights Analyst; I like to think of this as a fancy title for a Data Analyst that often dabbles into Data Science. I work in the Intelligence and Analytics Team here at NWG and my day usually looks like: finding new insight and efficiencies within corporate data, producing automated reports and dashboards, creating intelligent data science solutions predicting future trends in which if we act now, we can improve performance against our key measures! I’m super passionate about it so sometimes when I start, I can’t stop! But to give some examples, I helped predict areas in which water poverty may be an issue (customers struggling to pay their bill) so we can put them on affordability tariffs to combat this. I’ve also been involved in creating an industry first Customer Experience Digital Twin – a model that predicts customer satisfaction levels and highlights where we can improve our processes. Seeing my impact is what motivates me, so hopefully that gives a little taster into my role! TELL ME ABOUT YOUR STORY SO FAR. HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE WORLD OF TECH? I studied ICT (or Computer Science) at GCSE and A-Level just out of interest, it was always something I enjoyed due to the creative aspect. I guess I realised I was pretty good at problem solving and developing solutions, a key skill in what I do now. When it came to university decisions it was my amazing Gran who convinced me not to do a traditional business degree. I felt it was more ‘normal’ at the time and she told me that she saw me working in IT and thriving, she saw my potential and my passion. I left traditional university after a month, worked for a year to gain employable skills and confidence, and then looked out for an apprenticeship. Northumbrian Water were recruiting for a Degree Apprenticeship in Digital and Technology Solutions at the perfect time for me. It was a very vigorous process given they were financing your degree, but I am so thankful I was given the opportunity. Between September 2016 – July 2019, I worked for NWG Monday – Thursday and attended Sunderland University every Friday to gain my degree. NWG placed me around many different teams from Business Analysis, Development, Data, testing etc that meant I was able to apply my learnings and find the right role for me upon graduation. About 2 years in I discovered my love of data and coding, I was fortunate enough to land a graduate role in my current team and 2 years ago was promoted into the role I am in now. I still love what I do and seeing the difference I can make to my company’s performance through data daily. DO YOU FEEL THAT EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT IN CHANGING THE GENDER GAP IN TECH OR ARE THEIR OTHER WAYS FOR WOMEN TO START THEIR CAREERS WITH A MORE HANDS ON APPOACH? Education certainly plays a crucial role in narrowing the gender gap in the tech industry, but it is not the only factor at play… Creating a supportive and inclusive environment within educational institutions and workplaces is crucial. This includes addressing issues like gender bias, harassment, and stereotypes that can deter women from pursuing tech careers or lead to attrition. Mentorship and Role Models: Having mentors and role models who are women in tech can inspire and guide aspiring professionals. Mentorship programs can provide valuable insights and support for women looking to advance their careers. Hands-On Experience: A more hands-on approach, such as internships, apprenticeships, and coding bootcamps, can complement traditional education by providing practical skills and real-world experience. These opportunities can be especially beneficial for women looking to transition into tech careers later in life or those without formal STEM education. I can vouch for this one as this is how I began my journey! I knew I wanted to go down an apprenticeship root and I think it really fine tunes those employable skills and gets you applying the knowledge you gain from studying to a point where you can become years ahead in terms of experience. Networking: Building a professional network is essential for career growth. Attending tech events, conferences, and joining industry-specific organisations can help women connect with peers and potential employers. I was very fortunate that during my apprenticeship my manager and mentors gave me so many opportunities. Even though I was nervous, I took every opportunity and made connections for life. WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR? With many roles I’m sure, I struggled with being thrown into a workplace at quite a young age and not being taken seriously due to my age and possibly my gender. Having to report my findings to internal stakeholders when given tasks I felt dismissed and that my older more experienced colleagues were listened to rather than myself. This is something that did diminish over time and workplaces have grown a lot since, but early on in someone’s career it is vital that we support and encourage people, so they grow. I see this as one of the factors that is perhaps why ¾ of women in technical roles leave before the age of 30. Gaining my role in the first place, as when I graduated, I came up against a very talented pool of people when interviewing for what became my graduate role. I compared myself too much at this point in my life and felt I didn’t stand a chance against those with years more experience than me. I put hours into planning and revising for my interview. Something I feel fellow women in tech could agree with. I feel we naturally put more effort into tasks feeling we need to overcompensate and compete with the men in our industries. TELL US A BIT ABOUT ANY COACHING/MENTORING YOU DO IN OR OUTSIDE OF WORK TO HELP WOMEN AND UNDERREPRESENTED GROUPS FIND OPPORTUNITY? University Placements – Since joining my team in 2018, I have been involved in supporting university students during summer internships. From our initial uptake I have then led on the interviewing and mentorships / shadowing of the students. I have endeavoured to find fellow women with the right passions and skills. We have supported 6 students in internships over the past few years which led to me and a colleague hosting a guest lecture at a local University to help with future intake and show universities that a water company does more than what meets the eye. Apprentices – I am a representative to new and existing apprentices that we recruit. providing advice and shadowing where needed. This year I am supporting a new female apprentice analyst on a neighbouring team which I find so empowering! Speaking to someone with similar passions to myself, I endeavour to do all I can to help her with her studies and work experience. Mentorship – I am part of a wider group of mentors within Northumbrian Water to offer mentorship to student placements, work experience, apprentices, and graduates. We meet quarterly to share learning experiences / advice which we then take back to any mentees. For me, this is just small ways in which I can make a difference and I am so passionate about promoting tech roles, which is why I was asked by NWG’s IS Director to represent women in STEM. Alongside my role I am beginning to work with local schools, companies, and universities to promote the roles and the skills to the next generation. Our aim is to close the gap and find more exceptional women for the analytics and technical space.! WHO HAVE BEEN / ARE THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE / MENTORS IN YOUR CAREER? Two people very dear to me and who were fantastic mentors were men, which we love to see! Men should be allies and supporters of women and help to inspire the next gen. My previous manager in my current role, Mike Hull, presented me with so many opportunities. I came into his team as a graduate with poor confidence in public speaking and in my own abilities, comparing myself to the rest of the team and people who had years of experience. Through his support I became a confident speaker, giving presentations at Director level, to External Companies and so on. My learning and development soared with his guidance, and I began to contribute ideas for the team and began to lead on projects, I am eternally grateful to him. My manager during my time as an apprentice, Malcolm Duffield. Mal inspired me as he is someone who started from developer/engineer and ended up as a senior manager. He had all the technical knowledge alongside managerial traits, but if you needed him, he’d drop everything and be there for you in whatever capacity. He ridded impediments in the workplace and gave me the study time and support needed. He surprised me by turning up at my graduation which made me emotional because he was there at the beginning of my career and at the end of my apprenticeship to watch me walk into new roles and opportunities. Melissa Tallack, someone who was interim manager in my current team and inspired me from the get-go. A female manager of many data teams, oozing with strategic direction whilst understanding the technical side of the roles, because she’d been in them! Melissa really ramped up my passion for representing women in technical roles and helping my department and company identify bottlenecks to help increase our female headcount.  YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU ARE AN ADVOCATE FOR NEURODIVERGENCE IN TECH. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO ENCOURAGE MORE FOLK FROM THE NEURODIVERGENT COMMUNITY TO JOIN THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF TECH? AND WHAT DO YOU THINK COULD BE DONE TO IMPLEMENT THIS? For me, I struggled to see a lot of my traits all my life as strengths, I was always very self-critical, and it heavily impacted my mental health never really understanding myself. I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and through therapy I am now able to see that it is because of who I am, I have thrived in my career. People with ADHD or fellow neurodivergent are often very creative individuals, good at problem solving, passionate about topics they are interested in and really care about what they do. From my diagnosis I have been very open about my journey and want to help others see their traits as strengths earlier than I did, hopefully to lessen impact on mental health but also to help others see their potential. So, because the Neurodivergent Community possess a lot of the traits and skills needed to work in tech, I think through early engagement and highlighting said traits as desirable, we can encourage more people to join our community. I have been working with other teams in my company to engage with schools and universities showing skills matrices of tech roles, telling my story, offering work placements, and shadowing so that the world of tech and all its amazing career opportunities can be show cased to the next gen at a young age. Obviously much more can be done. My manager Kacper and I have become advocates for the Neurodivergent community and plan to start LinkedIn blogs about our experiences to reach other companies and individuals. We plan to hold more awareness sessions in the company to help teams accommodate their neurodivergent colleagues. We are working with a neurodivergent recruitment specialist to offer future roles in our team, knowing such individuals should thrive in our heavily data oriented and problem-solving roles. I truly believe if company’s get rid of the job descriptions with the ‘must have’ experience and instead highlight the desirable skills, then more neurodivergent people will feel they can apply for roles in tech as they can relate more to the JD. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK. I UNDERSTAND YOU DO CROSSFIT AND OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING. HOW CAN WE ENCOURAGE WOMEN TO TAKE UP SPACE IN AREAS THAT HAVE BEEN TRADITIONALLY SEEN AS MALE? I started CrossFit and lifting weights in lockdown, and it felt empowering, it became my unwind after a heavy workday or even after those difficult weeks we all experience. I still saw drilled in values in my family with grandparents telling me not to lift weights because I’d look ‘bulky’ or ‘like a man’, but rather than be offended it was more educating them on what I now know. I think we have seen a shift in what was traditionally male, and women are now being encouraged to go for the roles or participate in the sports. By becoming positive role models and sharing our experiences, what is good for our mental health and wellbeing, what has worked for us and makes us happy, it will encourage other women and the next generation to take these spaces too. Gone are the days where I feel I must conform to the beauty standards that were expected of women, especially what has been depicted on socials and through the media for decades and that’s from being in the environment and surrounded by other strong, healthy women. So, I always like to preach, lift the weights, and eat ALL the food. WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS (PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL)? I was part of the team that created an Industry First, Customer Experience Digital Twin. Using many sources of corporate data, we produced a machine learning model that predicted which of our customers struggled to pay for their water bill and who may benefit from extra support. Within its first month of deployment and the actions we took from the insight, we had a 25% increase in customers signing up for our affordability tariffs and help schemes, thus seeing a significant difference in overall Water Poverty in the UK. Last year I was nominated for Award of Rising Star at the everywoman in Tech awards for my work in the Data Science space. I was thrilled that I became a finalist and even being nominated was a career goal for me. I graduated with a 1st Class Hons Degree. As someone with ADHD I struggled through school and sixth form, always feeling like I had to overcompensate and try so hard to get my target grades. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled with my results, but I know I had to put a lot of work in to get there due to the way I learn and take in information. I think it helped that I am so passionate about computer science so completing a degree in it, the coding, and the practical assignments, I made it my goal to graduate with a 1st and did just that. I bought my first house at 18 because I chose a Degree Apprenticeship over University. It was a goal of mine to save and own my own home rather than rent. This is not possible for all, but it was a goal of mine and I was so thankful to Northumbrian Water for the apprenticeship scheme and working full time as I was able to make that possible. ANY LAST WORDS OF INSPIRATION? It sounds cheesy but if like me you begin your career quite shy and lacking in confidence, find your allies, take every opportunity you are given even if it scares you. Because stepping out your comfort zone and challenging yourself is what opens your horizons and opportunities. If you have ideas to increase the number of women in tech, preach them, surround yourself with people in your company who will get involved and support your initiatives. To me your job doesn’t just stop at your job description, you can make it so much more, add the extracurricular activities to that as you go along and find what inspires you. You could really make a difference in your workplace and to someone’s life! Thanks Amber, you rock 🀘 Interview by Bella Snell  

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