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!

Mariam  Hussein | Slalom
WOMEN ROCK2023-11-07

Mariam Hussein | Slalom

"Fall seven times, get up eight.” This Japanese proverb really sets the scene for this week's Women Rocker Mariam Hussein, whose phone screen holds the mantra "it all works out" to remind her, that perseverance and resilience pay off in the end. Mariam works as a full-stack engineer at Slalom, is a UN Women Delegate and a Code First Girls Ambassador and her journey into tech has taught her that even the best-laid plans, sometimes don't work out. Originally looking to study and learn about how to improve workplace wellbeing in the UK and Japan, the global pandemic put an end to that dream with a tough marketplace and little opportunity. But, undeterred, Mariam discovered her skill in coding when she came across the incredible Code First Girls, an initiative to transform the tech industry by providing the skills, space, and inspiration for women to become amazing developers.  From having candid and passionate conversations with H.I.H Princess Tomohito of Mikasa in Tokyo about how young people need to start upskilling to keep up with the ever-evolving tech world, to working with Code First Girls to give those from underrepresented groups a pathway into tech, Mariam continues to persevere to help diversify the ever-changing tech landscape.  THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPEAKING WITH ME TODAY, TO START US OFF, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY SO FAR. So, I was born and raised in Manchester and my career in tech and my journey into tech is an unconventional one. My initial passion was to study and learn about how to improve workplace wellbeing in the UK and Japan. Unfortunately, I graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic and not only was the job market tough but there were little to no opportunities to pursue this academic passion of mine. It was during this time that I worked at my university's incubator, and I came across the growing demand for people in technical and non-technical roles to support a lot of tech-based initiatives. I then gave myself a couple of months to learn how to code and to see if I even liked coding. It was during this time, that I came across the Code First Girls organisation which provided accessible ways for women and non-binary coders to get into tech. Currently, I work as a full-stack engineer at Slalom, which delivers digital transformations using modern tech stacks for our clients.  Currently, my focus has been on digital skilling advocacy and promoting accessible support for new techies in Manchester. My efforts include being a content creator to provide accessible information and insights on how to enter tech, but also what to do once you’ve entered your first tech job.  I NOTICED ON YOUR LINKEDIN THAT YOUR CURRENT FOCUS IS ON INCREASING DIVERSITY IN THE WORLD OF TECH, SPECIFICALLY THROUGH CODE FIRST GIRLS. COULD YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THIS? Through Code First Girls, we have been focusing on transforming tech by providing the skills, space, and inspiration for women to become amazing developers, data whizzes and future leaders in tech. We have the largest community of coders, instructors, and mentors who provide free access to coding education and help more women break into the industry. What makes Code First Girls particularly amazing is that we partner with local and global businesses to connect them with talent to provide their first step into tech. Currently, we’ve taught around 145,000+ people how to code over the past few years, with over 55% being from underrepresented communities.  Aside from my work with Code First Girls, I’ve been focusing on creating content. It’s primarily aimed at those looking to enter the tech industry, or what next steps they should take once they get that first role. I found that opportunities such as Code First Girls, the Skills for Life Bootcamp, the Institute of Coding, and more are only known if people are aware of these opportunities and where they can take you. With this, my content’s focus has been on educating people on roadmaps into tech, and how to navigate your first year as an engineer. It’s important for me to showcase these opportunities for women and marginalised communities. Throughout my past year as an Engineer, I’ve engaged with local communities, organisations and events to talk about how to get into tech, but more importantly how organisations can support them. My most recent focus has been an internal panel at the BBC to help provide insights to senior leadership and hiring managers on how to best support their diverse talent, but also attract a variety of talent.  Although I do work with Code First Girls and by myself, there has been an immense amount of effort brought on by a variety of organisations to promote intersectionality in tech. For those looking to tackle their first role in tech or to just upskill themselves – check out what’s happening in the North! We have so many opportunities from apprenticeships, boot camps, academies, and community efforts. πŸ˜€  COULD YOU TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR RECENT ENGAGEMENTS IN JAPAN?  My work as the UK Delegate for MIRAI relates back to my previous master's in workplace relations in Japan. Being part of the MIRAI Programme was an opportunity to learn about Japan’s economy, business and sustainability initiatives, but it also really gave me a lot of appreciation for Japanese culture. The highlight for me was presenting our learnings back to Japan's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and being able to really see the social and economic trends in Japan. Since then, I went on the Top Outstanding Young Persons Award Programme with JCI Osaka. This was an opportunity for me to bring what I do in my current role as a Software Engineer to talk about all things technology, digital skilling, and the mindset needed to transition to a Web3 landscape. On top of connecting with some amazing people making amazing changes in Web3 and Tech, I had the opportunity to present to students how Web3 can be used to improve labour and human rights issues globally. My focus was to tie in my current tech knowledge with my previous research during my Masters. Throughout this trip, the message I left with Kansai’s population is in order to make the change to Web3, existing companies need to be more open to general digital transformations and utilising Web2.0 technologies to create a ‘Web2.5’ for them to easily utilise and benefit from Web3.0. Alongside this, my other focus was to encourage students to consider digital skilling and the impact it can have on their careers and professional toolkits. The world is ever increasingly becoming more digital – in work, life, and even leisure. Being able to understand those changes and work with them is essential for our future. It was this particular topic I was able to talk about with H.I.H Princess Tomohito of Mikasa in Tokyo and was a particularly engaging conversation as she was excited and passionate about Japan’s youth developing the mindset for technological changes.   HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DIVERSITY IN THE WORLD OF TECH AND WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK COULD BE DONE TO SUPPORT PEOPLE FROM A DIVERSE BACKGROUND? There is a lot happening in Manchester. From increased diversity in a lot of companies to opportunities to enter tech, and even the thriving community and ecosystem we have to uplift new and existing talent. However, I personally found there can be a lack of representation at the top levels of companies within Manchester.  There are a lot of amazing and talented people who come into organisations, and a lot of effort needs to be put in to ensure companies can retain and celebrate their diverse talent. It’s important because when we’re making software, solutions, or digital products for people to use, we need to consider all types of people who will use them. If the primary designers, coders, and individuals making the key decisions for organisations don’t have the insights and understanding of all their audiences, it can cause our digital solutions to not meet all the needs of our users.  The other aspect to this is if organisational decisions or changes need to be made, having diverse leadership with an awareness of what their employees’ needs are can help cultivate and nurture an environment that enables their talent to flourish. Over 50% of women leave their tech roles before age 35, but 81% would have stayed if they were given chances to upskill in their roles. Ensuring you have knowledgeable, talented, and diverse leadership starts with attracting, retaining and uplifting existing talent! DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR YOUNG WOMEN OR PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS IN THE INDUSTRY? See what you like! There’s a lot out there and you don’t need to go into technical roles. Although I advocate for techies and those learning to code, over 82% of jobs now need digital skills. Learn a new language, software, tool, or skill set. Put yourself out there to learn something new. If it doesn’t work out, the fact you went and learned something new is still amazing. I thought I’d never have to rely on my niche knowledge of Japanese Workplace Practices, but I was able to leverage that knowledge in my recent engagements in Japan.  The other aspect is to find a community and build with them. There are so many passionate people in Manchester advocating for women in tech but also for diverse talent and experiences in tech. If you’re unsure of where to start, there are many groups you can join that have meetups, workshops, and activities for you to build your network and skills. I found when I started to engage with the local ecosystem and started to understand what was happening in Manchester – I got a lot more opportunities to contribute and engage with others. At the end of the month, there will be The Manchester Tech Festival, which is a week-long mix of tech events, socials, and opportunities to meet others. Signing up for events like these is an opportunity to meet diverse talent, but also tap into potential resources and networks! A QUOTE OR A MANTRA THAT YOU LIVE BY? Discipline over motivation The idea to always work towards something slowly, regardless of the passion or goal. I found myself that focusing on small habits every day – like coding a little bit or prioritising my physical/mental health helped me achieve my goals! It all works out.I have this on my phone screen to remind me to keep having and adopting an optimistic perspective on things. This has helped me during a lot of difficult times and has prompted me to build my resilience and perseverance when needed. I will say it’s important to know when to tap into your community for help and not take everything on at once. But a mix of community help and resilience has supported me so much!   Thanks Mariam, you rock 🀘 Interview by Rob Marsh

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Carla Ruiz Martinez | Bippit
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-31

Carla Ruiz Martinez | Bippit

Did you know a mere 22% of autistic adults are in some kind of paid employment? No, neither did we until we met this week's incredible Women Rocker Carla. Carla is a woman on a mission. A mission to revolutionise how tech companies engage with and support the neurodivergent community. Carla's own personal experience as an autistic woman in tech has unfortunately meant she now deals with imposter syndrome and her journey has been more of a fight to get where she is now. But don't for a second think this is a story of woe...that would be far from the truth. This is a story of strength, perseverance, integrity and full to the brim with advice for companies who are missing out on the hugely talented minds within the neurodivergent community! From re-writing job descriptions to having an "Employee Directory" Carla's tips and advice are golden. As we come to the end of ADHD Awareness Month we celebrate all the neurodivergent folk out there, smashing it in the tech industry and beyond πŸ‘ŠπŸ‘ŠπŸ‘Š HEY CARLA, WELCOME TO WOMEN ROCK. I’M SO EXCITED TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR. YOU’RE CURRENTLY A SENIOR DESIGNER AT BIPPIT, HAVE YOU ALWAYS KNOWN YOU WANTED TO BE IN TECH?  Hey there! I'm so happy to be a part of Women Rock – thanks for the warm welcome! You know, diving into Tech wasn’t initially on my radar. University days had me dreaming about design studios. All the projects and examples shown were rooted in those environments, making them seem like the ultimate dream. But, as it turns out, many of these studios weren’t my kind of place. With their heavy drinking culture and endless social events, they weren’t exactly a great fit for someone like me with autism. Now that I work in Tech, I realise it is where I was meant to be. I love the challenges that come with a product, how to make users’ journeys smoother, the neverending path to innovation… There is always a new challenge for me. And Tech companies are usually pretty good in terms of benefits: I get tons of perks at Bippit, such as ‘Me Days’ for when I am not feeling myself, and professional coaching. And here's the best bit: Tech is bursting with companies driven by meaningful missions. Take Bippit for instance. One of their core objectives is ensuring everyone has equal access to financial education. This is close to home for me. Growing up, I saw the financial struggles my family faced, which made me wary of spending on myself. My understanding of money was skewed, to say the least. But, thanks to guidance from my coach at Bippit, I’ve managed to fix my relationship with finances and even set aside a budget for mental health therapy. Tech is changing people’s lives, and I love being a part of that.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DATE? Being taken seriously. In one of my first jobs, I was rejected. They had gone with somebody who, according to them, had more experience. Surprisingly, a few days later, they told me I was hired. When I joined the company, their designer reached out to me because she didn’t agree with how they had acted. She let me know the first time I was not hired because I am Spanish and the other candidate was British. But the other candidate wasn’t great, so they got rid of them and hired me instead. The designer had insisted on hiring me from the start: I had done very high-quality work and she didn’t understand why they would go with somebody that didn’t fit the job requirements. During my time there, I always went above and beyond, despite frequently being met with racist comments from both clients and my boss. On my last day, my boss tried to make me work for free on a personal project for him, lying to me and saying it was a company project. When I challenged him about this, his response was a threat. Needless to say, I was very happy I left. But that made me realise a grim reality: as a foreign disabled woman, it will take a lot of work to be taken seriously. I have proven my expertise: at the age of 23, I was headhunted to become a Senior Designer, an accomplishment that not many people can claim. But this isn’t enough for many businesses. There was always a designer who was thought to be better than me, just because he was a man and he was older. Regardless of the fact that they would ask me to teach them how to use their design programs; regardless of the fact that every time-critical or important project was assigned to me; when it came to who would be getting a promotion, they would tell me either the man would become my senior or they would hire an external “old man” to do that job. In my current company, I am trusted and valued. They listen to me. I finally have a say in things. It has taken me 3 years of hard work, nights of study and improvement, tons of scary projects and tears, lots of showing people my worth and being ignored… As a result of how I have been treated in the past, I now deal with imposter syndrome. We need to teach women and girls we are worth it. We work very hard to get where we are, nobody gifts us anything. We have to work twice as hard than our male counterparts to be taken seriously. We actually have to prove ourselves, time after time, to have a say in meetings that, on top of that, talk about our area of expertise. It is ridiculous. AND YOUR BIGGEST SUCCESS? Would you class being stubborn as a success? Honestly, it’s the main reason I am here. I never gave up. Many times I thought: “go back to Spain. There is a warm room and nice food waiting for you. Your family is there.” But I also knew that going back to Spain would have meant no future for me. Finding a job there is hard, finding a job that allows you to have a life is impossible. Salaries are very low, benefits are non-existent, and treatment of autistic people is poor, to say the least. Giving up would have meant living in my parents’ house for the rest of my life, with a job (if I was lucky enough to get one) that would barely pay for food. I am proud of fighting so much. I am proud of all the nights that I cried and didn’t give up. I am proud of all the times I told myself “It will get better, you are good, you just need that little push.” I am proud of not listening to the many rejections I got. Having the skills that I have wouldn’t have mattered if I went back to Spain. Women face many rejections in the workplace, regardless of our skillset, just for the fact of being a woman. We need to be stubborn to succeed. Always remember, you are here because of all the work you have put in. If they don’t value you, it’s their loss. WHY IS DIVERSITY IN TECH AND MORE SO DESIGN SO IMPORTANT? I love this question! I talk about this at work all the time. First of all, diversity is good everywhere. Teams that are diverse make better decisions 87% of the time, according to Forbes1. Having diversity also ensures young people have a role model. Did you know that I wanted to be an astrophysicist? But with a lack of female role models in astrophysics, I couldn't picture myself there and ended up being drawn to design. Diversity is especially important in Tech because not having diverse teams has dire consequences. Artificial Intelligence (AI) models have been mostly built, trained and tested by white men2. As a result, AI has a bias against People Of Colour (POC), women, LGBTQIA+ people, neurodivergent people… Did you know that Joy Buolamwini, a Black scientist in Boston, found out that an AI system recognised her better when she wore a white mask? Three experts have flagged this issue, but not many companies are listening. Leaving AI aside, there are tons of issues with products, particularly with their design. Let’s have a look at websites. WebAIM Million does an annual accessibility analysis of the top 1 million homepages. In 2023, it found that 96.3% of homepages had WCAG 2 failures4. WCAG, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a set of recommendations designed to ensure that web content is accessible and user-friendly for individuals with disabilities.  Despite recent efforts in diversity awareness, in the last 4 years the detectable WCAG issues have only been reduced by 1.5%. This is astonishing, considering how many guidelines there are out there indicating how to make what we do accessible. I have found that many times, this is due to a lack of diversity in the teams involved. A recent example of that was an advertisement by the Barbie movie5. Yes, the recent Barbie movie! I know it’s not technology, but it is a reflection that regardless of budget or size of the team, you need diverse people in order to make the best decisions. I saw on LinkedIn a post where they showed an underground stop sign. The Barbie movie team had covered the sign with a sticker. The stop now read Barbiecan instead of Barbican. The poster had praised the cleverness of the marketing team. People were applauding how witty it was. But I didn’t find it funny. First of all, British people may know what Barbican is, but someone like me, who is not native to the UK, doesn’t. So I wouldn’t have a clue of where I am. Second of all, I am autistic. And one of the things I have because of autism is no sense of direction. I cannot tell buildings or cars apart. I get lost going to the shop next to my house, the shop I can see from my window by the way. I can’t use GPS either. So imagine how I would feel arriving at the station, getting off the underground and seeing that sign. Add to this the fact that I do not understand train announcements because of auditory processing issues, and you get an incredibly anxiety-inducing situation. The Barbie team didn’t have the intention to hurt anybody. But by not having disabled people in mind, they did. Talking about social media… Almost all posts I see don't use CamelCase! CamelCase ensures screen readers can read the hashtag, improves readability, and creates a more user-friendly experience for all. I always let the authors know, but this is something that could easily be fixed by improving a company’s diversity. Did you know LinkedIn doesn’t use CamelCase in the “Talks about” section? You can see this in people’s profiles that have creator mode ON. Going back to design in Tech, accessibility issues happen ALL the time. Most apps I have on my phone aren’t accessible for colour-blind people or people with visual impairments. Not to mention the use of incredibly saturated colours, which gives me migraines because of my autism (I have sensitivity to light). There is no way to turn these down, so you have to deal with it. And don’t get me started on senseless trends… There was a “minimal” trend in design not a long time ago where everybody wrote the text as small as possible, and as tight as they could. It was unreadable, but they did it all for the sake of what they considered aesthetic. This is going to be a controversial opinion, but as designers, we have the duty to put people first. What we like doesn’t matter. If we want to make something aesthetic, we should make a personal project, or something artistic rather than a product that people are going to use, or a document people are going to read. DO YOU MIND IF WE TALK ABOUT NEURODIVERSITY AND SPECIFICALLY AUTISM? I STARTED WOMEN ROCK ALMOST 6 YEARS AGO AND IT WAS A PLACE FOR DIVERSITY BUT MAINLY AROUND GENDER. HAVING GONE THROUGH MY OWN JOURNEY BACK WHEN I WAS 12 AND MOST RECENTLY THIS YEAR WITH ANOTHER DIAGNOSIS, I WANT TO MAKE THIS A PLATFORM FOR REAL INCLUSIVITY. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS AUTISTIC LOOKING FOR A ROLE IN TECH RIGHT NOW? My biggest piece of advice is to pay special attention to the way a company writes its job posting: it can tell you so much about how they treat disabled candidates, and how they will treat you once you are employed. If they start with the benefits, it’s a green flag. Most companies write the benefits at the end as if this was a chore rather than something to be proud of. Why are they not shouting about them? Are they embarrassed? They probably know they aren’t offering enough. They probably also treat benefits as a tick-box exercise. Make sure to keep an eye on what benefits they offer as well. Pension is not a benefit, it is compulsory by law6. So unless they are giving you above minimum contributions (3% on the employer’s side), and they mention this, I would treat it as a red flag. Also, do they talk about diversity, or are they limiting it to that disclaimer that all companies have to include? You know, the statement that means absolutely nothing. That one that says “Oh, we are an equal opportunities employer…” Sure. But then they don’t offer adjustments in the interview. What can I say, I am pretty sceptical of those words. Look for things like interview accommodations. Do they mention they offer any? Do they have an actual statement about diversity? Do they mention any policies? Visible salary bands are vital too. Otta revealed that women are setting their salary expectations 7-20% lower than their male counterparts7. If a company posts their salary band, it makes it easier and fairer for everybody, as we don’t have to guess what the company will offer. Keep an eye on how they write the description. Do they want a wizard or have they written an actual job description? Autistic people like me take things very literally. So if you tell me you want a design wizard, I am expecting you to hire a cat wearing a witch hat. But if you call me by what I am, a senior designer, and give me a detailed list of requirements and responsibilities, then we are talking. And last but not least, check if they have any other autistic employees. Stalk their LinkedIn. If you find one, message them. It doesn’t hurt to ask for information, and nobody is better than an autistic employee to tell you how that company actually is for us. Remember, only 22% of us are in employment, 16% in full time paid employment8. Being unemployed is no reflection on you. Struggling in your job because of a lack of adjustments, is no reflection on you. It is a reflection on the many companies that refuse to support disabled employees. Don’t forget: your skills are valuable, we have unique abilities as autistic individuals that make us key team players. If you ever need to talk to someone, feel free to send me a Direct Message (DM) on LinkedIn!  THERE IS A HUGE AMOUNT OF GREENWASHING AROUND, COMPANIES STATING THEY ARE ‘INCLUSIVE’. I’M WITH YOU THAT INCLUSIVITY ISN’T A TREND OR A MARKETING STRATEGY. WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO SHARE YOUR TOP 3 TIPS ON WHAT A COMPANY CAN DO TO TRULY BE INCLUSIVE? I recently wrote an article about this for Neurodiversity in Business, you can read it here: “The Power of Autistic Minds: How to Tap into It and Why You Should” My top 3 tips would be: Revamp your job postings.Start with the benefits! Show that you are an actually inclusive employer, be proud of what you offer. Have disabled people in mind when creating and expanding your benefits offering: for example, professional coaching is very helpful for autistic people because it is hard for us to access the workforce and the education system is not made with us in mind. After listing your benefits, make sure to write about interview accommodations. By being proactive you are letting us know you are an employer we can trust. In the role description, be as descriptive as possible and avoid vague language. You can read more about this in the article I listed above. Educate yourself and your workforce.But do not put that responsibility on your disabled employees’ shoulders A lot of companies rely solely on disabled employees to educate the workforce. This is often unpaid and adds to the already heavy weight we have to lift every day, as society does not adapt to include us. A good way to educate yourself and your workforce is to invite external speakers to talk about it. These workshops allow employees to ask any questions they may have and it is also a great opportunity to train managers. Another way to educate the workforce is having an Employee Directory, just like we do at Bippit, where employees can write about themselves, their hobbies, how they like to be managed, their preferred mode of communication, how they like to receive feedback… It’s a great way to learn about adjustments, and it also makes disabled peoples’ lives easier. For example, as an autistic person, I struggle with socialising. It drains me so much to think about conversations I am going to have. By reading the Directory, I can think of topics to bring up or maybe things we have in common ahead of time. It also removes the weight from my shoulders of having to meet everybody when I first join a company. This Directory also helps others in how to give me feedback: for instance, I need direct language and examples when given constructive feedback. I prefer written communication over verbal because I struggle with auditory processing issues. It is a win-win situation for everyone.Make sure to also follow disabled voices online. Lived experiences are vital in creating a better environment. For example, I post a lot of tips for both employers and employees, you can check my LinkedIn profile here. Thanks to one of my posts, many people learned about the Sunflower Lanyard scheme. It is a card you can order with your hidden disability and it lets other people know how to help you. It is super useful in airports. You could link these profiles to a Notion page, or maybe share them in Slack, so your employees can have a look at them.On top of that, you can follow organisations like Neurodiversity in Business, who post interesting reports and articles on how to make businesses a better place for disabled people. Practise what you preach.I have spoken with many disabled employees who say that, even though their companies look good on paper, in reality, they don’t practise what they preach. This is usually due to a lack of actionable policies and unclear reporting processes. Yes, you may have the policies written down, but are they actually being followed? Are you creating a safe space for disabled employees to report if something bad has happened? Or if they have any opinions on how to improve the workplace. To ensure policies are followed, you need to provide training for everybody, including C-Suite. You also need to have a feedback loop with employees, perhaps submit an anonymous survey every quarter to check how things are doing, if policies are being followed and how to improve. I have seen so many employee surveys that don’t include this information!But being a great employer isn’t limited to policies. You should take an active part in the support of disabled people during the year. For example, run a charity event during Autism Awareness Month to raise funds for an autism charity. Outside of awareness months, run workshops to educate the workforce, and ensure work activities are inclusive by offering remote options on top of in-person events (you could have a remote pizza cooking class!)...  WHAT’S NEXT FOR CARLA? Since I was diagnosed in early 2023, I realised there is a lack of disabled women role models in design. I want to become that role model for young girls so that when they are in university, they see me and realise it’s possible to go up the corporate ladder as a disabled person. I also wanna be a support for women who are pursuing design careers. I want to be there for them, I want to listen to them, talk about our experiences, and inspire them to keep fighting for the place they want and deserve!  And I want to transform companies because I have the privilege of having experienced how amazing it is to work for an actually inclusive employer. I have already spoken to quite a few to improve their approach to diversity! For example, a very well-known design studio now offers remote options for disabled employees thanks to a conversation I had with them. Going back to wanting to become a role model, most of the big names in design are men. All the seniors I have met are neurotypical men. Did you know that some 79% of female designers have changed careers to another field?9 This is due to the many inequalities we face. I am hoping to one day become a Chief Creative Officer (CCO), or something along those lines, to show everybody it is possible, despite it being a male-dominated industry. We need more women in leadership, we need more people fighting for equal opportunities. And that is what I want to do!  ANY BOOKS OR PODCASTS YOU’D RECOMMEND? Definitely! My favourite book is The Little Prince. I know the author didn’t have autism in mind, but The Little Prince is the perfect depiction of autism in my opinion. He is curious, he sees the world differently. Unlike adults, in this case, society, the Little Prince questions everything (just like autistic people do!).  He places a lot of value in what he likes, and he is very specific about it: his special interests are his rose and his lamb. Two particular entities. Even though there are millions of roses and lambs, he likes those specific two. Autistic people are very similar. For example, I am obsessed with the side profile of the boars in Rimworld10. Yes, that specific. My boyfriend is not allowed to eat the boars in the game because of this, and all boars need to be pets and given immortality or I will cry. People don’t understand the love the Little Prince has for his rose, just like some neurotypical individuals don’t understand us whenever we talk about our interests. “Grow up” is two words I hear a lot as soon as I mention my passion for Rimworld boars’ side profiles. The Little Prince follows specific routines on his planet, just like we have our own routines we don’t break. And when these break, both the Little Prince and autistic individuals suffer. Also, the Little Prince challenges the nonsensical universe he lives in. He is not like the banker who hoards stars or the king who rules on his solitary planet. When he meets them, he asks questions that unsettle them. Questions that, to everybody on Earth, make sense. Because we don’t live on a planet that hoards stars as currency. But think about all those times that autistic people have raised their voices and others haven’t understood our struggles. Maybe we don’t hoard stars, but we are forcing people to go back to in-person environments when it’s not necessary. And when autistic people say no, we are told to deal with it or face unemployment. Society doesn’t comprehend the Little Prince because he is different, and they try to make him fit their norms to no avail. Autistic people have to constantly challenge our environment. Things were not made with us in mind, we have to fight to create a world where we are welcome. When I feel misunderstood, alone, lost, or doubting myself, or anything negative, I open my Little Prince book and I read it. It is very short, but it fills my heart with so much warmth. So yes, I recommend The Little Prince to both autistic and neurotypical individuals. I think it will help others understand our perspective. And it can be a great support for autistic people when they aren’t feeling well. In terms of podcasts, The Sunflower Conversations is a must. It features a wide range of people with hidden disabilities talking about their experiences. This is very helpful to ensure proper accessibility in Tech: there are so many things we do not know because we don’t get to hear disabled people’s lived experiences very often! But it is also great on a personal level: we need to constantly improve our knowledge of all disabilities, as well as diversity matters, to be able to make this world a better place for everybody.  IF YOU WERE A SONG, WHAT SONG WOULD YOU BE? You know the song Phoenix by Raizer? It's about overcoming challenges and rising stronger. It also speaks about revolution. Honestly, it feels like it's about me. At the age of 20, I was faced with a tough decision: continue my studies in Spain or find work in the UK. I chose to work. It was very challenging, I was living in a tiny house with four other people, with no electricity in my room. I remember being incredibly cold because the windows were broken and the heater didn’t work (obviously, no electricity). The bed I slept in was broken. I went from surviving on 10p a day to becoming a Senior Designer in just 3 years. All of this while struggling with undiagnosed autism and tons of mental health issues: anorexia, body dysmorphia, depression, anxiety… Life was hard, I cried almost every day but I never gave up. I was stubborn, I have always been. And it paid off. Being an autistic woman, I've faced my fair share of challenges. But like a phoenix, I rose above them. I once believed my autism held me back, especially remembering my school days, where I had no friends. But now, it's my strength! Because of the experiences I have lived, I am now advocating for autistic people in the workplace. I have started my own revolution, just like the phoenix in the song. Thanks, Carla, you rock 🀘Interview by Alicia Teagle

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Becky Tsao | ITV
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-24

Becky Tsao | ITV

Meet Becky, an Engineering Manager at ITV who is shaping the future of technology and the workplace. Becky is an influencer - not the type you'll find endorsing protein, standing in tree-pose on the top of a mountain...oh no! Instead, she is a leader who wields influence to build thoughtful, high-performing, and inclusive teams and workplaces, knocking down the barriers that she has come across far too often as a woman and ethnic minority.  Becky's thoughts and views on ED&I in tech are so insightful and Just. Make. Sense. From why women can be more susceptible to motion sickness- while using VR, to how CVs are reviewed which could lead to someone getting or not getting a job interview - she reminds us all that "diversity in tech is important because there's diversity in humanity" Get your mind blown this morning and read Becky's story... PLEASE COULD YOU START BY TELLING US ABOUT YOUR TECH JOURNEY? I started my career as a graduate technical consultant after graduating in Computer & Information Engineering for BAE Systems in its financial services department.  I spent a few years working to deliver social network analytics solutions in spaces such as insurance and trade finance for various clients. Eventually, I was a technical lead, leading implementation teams. I wanted a new and meaningful challenge, so then moved into the law enforcement side of the business, where I worked on projects including a proof of concept for early detection of child abuse which was featured in the New Scientist and building bespoke data engineering solutions. During my time as a consultant technical lead for various projects, I found that I needed to wear different hats, ranging from coaching people to technical design. I loved all of these things, but wanted to see what engineering was like in the commercial sector as well as explore my passion for people development - I'm at a point in my career where I want to learn more about people and organisations; the variety and depth that different people bring can be so unique. I'm now working as an Engineering Manager at ITV (working on the ITVX streaming app!) managing two teams. YOU’VE MOVED FROM CONSULTANCY INTO A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT INDUSTRY. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT IMPACT (ED&I OR IN THE INDUSTRY IN GENERAL) YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE? One of the reasons I really enjoy being an Engineering Manager is the opportunity to influence the shape of teams and workplaces. I want this shape to be a thoughtful, high-performing, and inclusive one, as I don't believe that these qualities are mutually exclusive. I also want it to be one where women and other minorities in tech aren't unusual.  WHY IS DIVERSITY IN TECH SO IMPORTANT? As a society, we are becoming more and more reliant on technology to augment or create shortcuts in our lives. You can have a small team working on something that could impact thousands of lives. You are ultimately designing products for humans to use (directly or indirectly), and if you have a limited worldview within that team, you are likely to build something that doesn't handle all the cases it needs to. Something like name field validation can look very small on a project plan or as a ticket but can lead to people being told that their name isn't valid because it's not long enough, doesn't have a vowel, or has "unexpected" punctuation. Women can be more susceptible to motion sickness after using a Virtual Reality headset - not because of biology, but because headsets are often designed for male heads by default. Humans can be biased, so we need to be careful about training that unnecessary bias into our machine learning algorithms, especially if they're being used to, such as sifting CVs which could lead to someone getting or not getting a job interview, or whether social services should visit that child or not.Ultimately, diversity in tech is important because there's diversity in humanity. If we're not aware of that in what we build, then it's just not going to be truly fit for purpose.  CAN YOU SHARE WHAT BARRIERS YOU HAVE FACED DURING YOUR CAREER TO DATE AND WHAT HAS HELPED YOU OVERCOME SOME OF THESE BARRIERS? Throughout my career, I have often been either the only woman or ethnic minority in the room - or both! There is that saying about "having to work twice as hard to get half as far" and without getting into too many specifics I have definitely had that experience. I've had the stereotype of suggesting something where it wasn't taken on board until a white man re-suggested it, and I've also had experiences where I felt like I was being held to a different standard to my colleagues. Studies have shown that women and ethnic minorities are more likely to be penalised more heavily for making the same mistake compared to their peers, and I feel like I can relate to that. That pressure of being the sole representation of a certain group can get a bit heavy. I have found that a combination of being clear on expectations as well as seeking out more inclusive teams to be really beneficial for my professional and mental wellbeing. I also love my role as an Engineering Manager at ITV because I can help to change processes to dismantle some of these barriers for other people. HOW HAS MENTORSHIP OR SUPPORT FROM OTHERS IMPACTED YOUR JOURNEY OR SUCCESS?  So much! I owe a lot to my previous manager at BAE Systems, Clare Cornforth, who is an extremely accomplished architect. I could be so confident that she cared about my development and wellbeing, and that she trusted me, but she also didn't hesitate to call me out on mistakes. I also had a fantastic mentor at BAE Systems a few years ago in Jo Massey who is just such an inspiring and insightful leader. Being exposed to great role models really shows you the art of the possible sometimes. I'm also very fortunate to be surrounded by a strong cohort of Engineering Managers where I'm not the only woman or ethnic minority, and we're all very good at supporting each other with various issues that come up at work.  WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS STARTING IN THE INDUSTRY? Be ready to learn, find the learning opportunity in everything you do, and don't specialise too early. Role models are amazing but remember that you're your own person with your own brain, and that you don't have to be exactly like the senior people in your company. Also, get used to the idea of networking - even if it's just the ability to small-talk with a stranger - and ask questions; the sooner you build these skills the easier they are to maintain.  IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT INSPIRES YOU OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT? I think inspiration can be found in all sorts of situations and people; you just need to be open to seeing it. I really love seeing a 'spark' in people when they're engaging in problem-solving and coming up with ideas, so a big motivation for me at work is enabling people to showcase their skills.  SOMETHING FUN TO ROUND THE INTERVIEW OFF - WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR MANTRA YOU LIVE BY? I'm not really a quote or mantra person but I do like these two words: "Be Brave!". Sometimes they're just what you need to hear before you go and do something a bit scary. :)  Thanks Becky, you rock 🀘 Interview by Gracie Sparks

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Neela Rai | Glue Reply
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-17

Neela Rai | Glue Reply

As kids, we weren't entirely sure what our dads did every day as they left the house, briefcase in hand and tie swinging while we shovelled soggy cornflakes into our mouths. He'd then return from saving the world (?) with stories of "firewalls" "bugs" and "crashes" as we wondered where he kept his laser gun...So when Neela Rai decided a career in tech was her destiny, she turned to the one person who had ALL the answers when it came to this complex and fascinating world - her dad. With his 30-year career in IT as a database developer, Neela's dad not only offered knowledge and advice but invaluable support and perspective as she joined as a grad at Glue Reply.  So this one's for all the dads who spoke in code before we could, but more importantly, became our allies when navigating this male-dominated industry. TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU DO Hi, my name is Neela and I'm a Business Change Consultant at Glue Reply. I joined as a grad and I've been at Glue for two years now. I have a BSc in Economics and Management and an MSc in Computer Science. I’ve loved the range of work I’ve been exposed to during my time at Glue. I've worked on digital transformation projects for both public and private sector clients as a business analyst and a user researcher. I’m really interested in how data analysis can be used to make more informed decisions in both user research and business analysis and love working in such a fast-growing field! I love learning new skills and haven’t stopped studying alongside working. I'm currently studying to get my BCS International Diploma in Business Analysis.  YOUR BACKGROUND IS INTERESTING, TALK US THROUGH YOUR MOVE FROM AN ECONOMICS DEGREE INTO A COMPUTER SCIENCE MASTERS I've always had a really keen interest in technology and people, so I thought naturally, a career in consulting would merge two of my interests together. However, when I graduated with an Economics degree I wasn’t the best candidate for a job in tech, and I struggled to find a job in the market no matter how much I was reassured by recruiters. I was told that technology companies like "people with business degrees because of our ability to articulate ourselves and communicate with others," but it felt like that wasn't always the case when you compared my application to someone who had three years of studying a technology-related degree. As a result, when I graduated, I panicked and took the first job that was offered to me  -  an audit role, even though I knew I had no interest in audit! Safe to say after 6 months I handed in my notice because I wasn't enjoying it. I took some much-needed time off, and then the pandemic happened. I was toying with the idea of doing a postgraduate course but wasn't sure what direction I wanted to go in, I’d considered going into strategy, behavioural economics or something tech-related, like computer science. What drove me to choose tech was spending time with my dad.   During the pandemic, my Dad inspired me to look into SQL and databases as they rely on logic and the answers are black and white and, as he knows, I thrive in logic-based work. After this discussion, I finished a couple of database courses and loved them. I continued to learn and took some courses in software engineering and found that I enjoyed both coding and database design. At this point, I knew that a career in tech was what I wanted and what I found exciting. I applied for jobs in tech but they still wanted people with relevant work experience. It was at this point that I decided I wanted to do a Master's so I could get qualified and widen my job opportunities. I remembered a conversation I had with a friend after graduating where she mentioned her interest in a Computer Science conversion course.  I did some research on universities, courses, and modules offered, and I ended up applying to and getting accepted at the University of Birmingham for their MSc Computer Science course. The course is specifically designed for people who haven’t studied computer science at undergrad. The course was great as it was paced perfectly. I could learn a lot quickly, but also had the time to practice what I was learning. This gave me the time to find out what I liked about Computer Science. I finished my masters with a project that developed a  web app that would suggest Spotify playlists to Twitter users based on the emotion and sentiment detected in their Tweets.  DID YOU HAVE ANY ROLE MODELS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER THAT ENABLED THIS? Yes! My family has always encouraged me to explore all the opportunities presented to me but it was really my Dad who's been my biggest role model. He's a database developer and he was the first person to suggest I try programming. He's been in the IT industry for over 30 years and it amazes me how much he knows and how he’s watched the industry change. He's a very knowledgeable person and has always helped me when I needed career advice or help in my core programming modules. My family have always made me feel like I could do anything I wanted no matter what.  WHAT DO YOU THINK THE TECH INDUSTRY COULD BE DOING DIFFERENTLY, TO ADDRESS UNDER-REPRESENTATION? Personally, I think the tech industry could do a lot but I understand change is incremental. As a female working in tech, I know that we're severely under-represented at all levels across the industry. I read a statistic the other day from Wise that said the number of women IT professionals has actually fallen from 21.0% to 19.9%, and 21.0% was very low to begin with. There's a multitude of things the tech industry could be doing differently to address under-representation, my three key suggestions are education, awareness and visibility. We need to start encouraging women early on to join the IT industry and inform young women on the opportunities available. If we start promoting the IT industry, and the roles available in the early years of education, then women will be exposed to career opportunities in the IT industry at the start rather than considering it as an afterthought or "second choice". If we educate people early on, we can also debunk the myths surrounding opportunities and roles available in the tech industry. When we think of the tech industry, people predominantly think of software engineers, a lot of coding and people stuck at their desks. Firstly, the majority of those people are men and secondly, there’s the perception that the technology industry is only cool if you're a programmer. There are so many "non-technical" roles in technology. To name a few there is project management, product management, business analysis and user research. These roles are often referred to as "fluffy" or not that complex but there's so much to what we do. If you think of it, programmers solve problems by writing code and developing IT solutions but the roles I've mentioned above do the exact same thing through talking, prototyping and writing requirements - we're all contributing to solving the same problem just from different perspectives. In my eyes, I would still consider these as  "technical roles" because of the depth of understanding required to understand client problems in order to formulate ideas and solutions to help them. When advertising job opportunities, businesses could do more to raise awareness and bring context to these other roles. Finally, we need more visibility. It’s hard to join an industry where you don’t see yourself represented. We need more female role models and mentors at all levels, not just leadership positions. This stems from the idea that with more female mentors, we can encourage more women to join the industry, giving them a visual representation of what their career path could look like. I’m lucky that I work in a company with such an array of visibility across all levels. Since my first day at Glue, I was able to see what my career path could look like because I could see myself represented. YOU’RE PART OF THE TEAM AT GLUE REPLY AND YOU HAVE AMAZING CULTURE FROM WHAT I’VE EXPERIENCED. WHAT’S THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THAT TO MAKE IT SO GREAT?  The driving force is the people. Since my first day at Glue, I've always been encouraged to come into the office and meet the team and the senior consultants and managers around me have always made me feel welcome and included. I like the fact that Glue has created an environment where people can grow and develop their potential as consultants. We're all given positions of responsibility as soon as we join, and that enables us to take ownership of the things we do both internally, for business development, and externally to our clients. As well as this, I know my voice and opinion have always been valued and that applies to everyone. We're encouraged to speak up and make suggestions no matter how junior or senior you are at the company. WHAT PROFESSIONAL ADVICE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GIVE READERS WANTING TO GET INTO IT? Do your research! You have so much knowledge available to you through LinkedIn and other social media platforms - people are always sharing their journeys and providing advice. I took the non-traditional route to work in IT and I don't think it's talked about enough. There's this perception that you have to be able to code to work in IT and that really isn't the case. If you are looking to get into IT without an IT background, show your enthusiasm in the industry by taking courses, building a portfolio and networking. Employers are looking for enthusiastic and proactive people, so make sure that comes across in your CV and when you're interviewing. Make sure to keep your LinkedIn and Github (if relevant) up to date to showcase your skills and interests. Thanks, Neela, you rock 🀘 Interview by Charles Hoskins

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Dr Shirley Cavin | Leidos UK
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-10

Dr Shirley Cavin | Leidos UK

Career and family: the balancing act for women continues and despite significant strides towards gender equality in recent years, women still encounter barriers on their journey to achieving both career excellence and fulfilling family lives.  However, there is hope, and that hope comes from stories like this one: Dr Shirley Cavin has just been announced as the winner of the Women in Tech Employer Awards 2023 as an Outstanding Woman in Tech. Dr Cavin is Head of Data and AI Accelerator for Leidos UK and Europe, she is a mentor and a mum. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Computer Sciences & Engineering, an MSc and PhD in Advanced Manufacturing and Operations Management from The University of Nottingham. She has a Harvard Leadership Business Certification and other technical and business qualifications, and as a STEM ambassador participates and collaborates in various community activities encouraging young people into the disciplines of data, sciences and engineering. As a strong advocate for self-growth and education she still regularly speaks with her own mentor about areas she is interested in exploring further. BUT HOW? We hear you cry??! Read on to find out more... HI SHIRLEY, THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK TO US. FIRSTLY, CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING ANNOUNCED WINNER OF THE WOMEN IN TECH EMPLOYER AWARDS 2023 AS AN OUTSTANDING WOMAN IN TECH. PLEASE CAN YOU START BY EXPLAINING WHY YOU WANTED TO GET INTO THE WORLD OF TECH AND HOW YOUR JOURNEY BEGAN?  Hi Bella, thanks for this opportunity. Winning the Women in Tech Employer Awards 2023 as Outstanding Woman in Tech is a wonderful feeling. All the finalists are remarkable females in the tech world, with great achievements on their own, hence I feel very moved that I was selected for this award, still processing professionally and personally the impact of it, but overall, very grateful and honoured for this recognition.  How did I start my journey? I will say at a very young age. I was always very inquisitive, and curious about my surroundings, especially on the ability of humans to use our intelligence, skills and ingenuity to overcome challenges for the greater good, with the use of engineering, sciences and technology. Hence, my interest in understanding, and directing my efforts in making things better for us. I believe this was reflected also in my academic performance, taking subjects in sciences and engineering was the natural flow at school, followed by a first university degree in Computer Science and Engineering, which I truly enjoyed. It was wonderful to see how theory and experimentation can be joined together to bring innovation and resolve critical challenges.  This led me to build a professional career in those areas, and to continue my academic path, into a deeper understanding, hence continuing academically with an MSc and a PhD in advanced manufacturing and researching in industrial automation (robotics), and work-related opportunities in high-tech organisations.  WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT POSITION AT LEIDOS AND THE EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES YOU ARE WORKING WITH?  My current position at Leidos is as Head of Data and AI Accelerator for Leidos UK and Europe. I am responsible in supporting customers, programmes and divisions in their adequate adoption of emerging capabilities and technologies in the areas of Data and AI. This includes the recent advances in AI/ML such as GenAI, LLMs and the application of these technologies for our business and deliverables. Also, the promotion and education of staff in these capabilities, and most importantly in supporting our customers in the opportunities that arise due to their adoption of these technologies. It is an exciting area to work on, which I am very pleased to lead, as technology, innovation and the applications of the most advanced technologies for various challenging problems and processes is where I believe my team and I can provide the most advantage and support with the knowledge, skills and experience we have acquired throughout time. AS AN ACADEMIC YOURSELF, HOW HAS EDUCATION IMPACTED YOUR CAREER IN TECH AND WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WOMAN IN YOUR CHOSEN FIELD OF STUDY?  Education has a great impact on my career and professional development. Since childhood, I understood the value of it. Firstly, by enabling me to understand various aspects of our daily lives, and to foresee opportunities from applied learning. I value education quite greatly, as it has been a key driving force that allowed me to get into exciting areas in science, engineering and technology. I was able to progress in my career through education and provided me with new opportunities. I continue educating myself in various areas, as it is more than an activity, it is a practice and a way of life. I found that great education not only depends on formal learning but also by applying this learning, transferring and sharing it with others, getting feedback and increasing awareness, in diverse and multidisciplinary teams and bringing minds and ideas together for the greater good. Hence, widening access to education for everyone is the pathway to great opportunities to improve our communities and make a real and positive impact on people’s lives.  DO YOU FEEL THAT EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT IN CHANGING THE GENDER GAP IN TECH OR ARE THERE OTHER WAYS FOR WOMEN TO START THEIR CAREER?  I think education is important in solving some of the most difficult gender gap challenges. It should be accessible to everyone regardless of their background, gender, or status. Education should be seen as a means to accelerate the intake of a more diverse and inclusive population in tech areas, and within that, a means for women to succeed in their careers, and improve themselves and those around them. Education should be complemented by other important avenues such as apprenticeships, mentorships, work experiences supported by experts, community and group initiatives. Also, pairing and shadowing, learning by experimenting, and seeing other people on the job, is a good way forward to start a career in tech. I have seen organisations increasing resources and initiatives to incentivise women to take a role in science, technology and engineering areas, as there is a growing understanding that a larger female presence in the tech sector will bring great benefit and value to their organisations, so I believe we are moving in the right direction, and I am hopeful for the future. I AM AWARE THAT HAVING A WORK-LIFE BALANCE WHERE YOU CAN HAVE BOTH AN INCREDIBLE CAREER AND A FAMILY AT HOME IS IMPORTANT TO YOU. HOW CAN COMPANIES SUPPORT WOMEN TO ENABLE THIS AND AS A RESULT HELP CHANGE THE STATISTICS OF THE GENDER GAP IN TECH? I think it is important for companies to realise that in order to close the gender gap in tech industries, it is critical to support women in their multiple roles – e.g., professional, social, and family-related ones. For me, my family is very important to my career and professional development, therefore, having the opportunity to fulfil both makes me a better and a whole person, who will enjoy the challenges and joys of a good work and life balance. I have two daughters one at school age and another at pre-school age, so working in a company that is flexible, supportive and that enables me to achieve my professional goals with a healthy family life, is a key requirement I have, when choosing where I can or cannot work. I am fortunate that the company I work has put in place processes and policies in those areas, such as flexible working, maternal care, parental leave, and others. Companies need to realise that there is a great opportunity and an important workforce in women, hence, changing and expanding their working and business practices alongside an inclusive culture, is critical for women when choosing an organisation to work for, and for organisations to reap the benefits that could bring from a diverse and inclusive work environment. Also, women need to feel that their voice is listened to and respected and that companies care about our professional aspirations, by providing career opportunities, access to promotion routes and higher levels roles, upskilling, training, spaces and groups for women to put forward their views and ideas.  YOU MENTIONED THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORS AS A STEM AMBASSADOR YOURSELF TRYING TO CLOSE THE GENDER GAP. DID YOU HAVE GOOD MENTORS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER AND HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE INFLUENCED HOW YOU MENTOR INDIVIDUALS NOW AND LEAD YOUR TEAM AT LEIDOS?  Yes, I think mentorship provides a very good structure for learning, guidance and professional growth. Throughout my academic and professional life, I have been fortunate to have great mentors and very experienced and knowledgeable people who provided me with the guidance and support I required. Sometimes you only know and appreciate what you know in your level or area, and what others are willing to share, so having a mentor that provides you that further insight and awareness, enables you to open to new ideas and opportunities. Also, having access to their experience and connections, it is a great way to upskill and network. For a successful mentorship experience, you need to have the confidence and trust that your mentor will support you in your career development with honest feedback and counsel. At all levels of your career path, mentoring is a great way to grow professionally and personally. At the moment, I have a great mentor, someone who is very experienced and knowledgeable in the areas I am interested in exploring further. We have very insightful and great conversations. It is important that you feel comfortable with your mentor, and that you appreciate the value of sharing. Having mentors and appreciating their style has helped me to understand the best style attuned to me, when receiving and delivering mentorship to others and when working with teams. Within my teams, I encourage good dialogue, openness (candour), and other positive attitudes, such as sharing, trust, communication, respect, transparency and inclusivity. I take great responsibility when leading teams, and make sure that every team member feels included, listened and aware that their contributions are critical to the success of any outcomes. One of my passions is to share the knowledge and experience I have acquired throughout the years with others who are receptive to receiving it, and more importantly to see the positive impact of it, hence I see myself returning to academia at some point. I love talking to people that are interested in similar areas, and are willing to grow their understanding, and for my side to learn from others too. This is how I see the way to grow awareness and new skills - by sharing and providing environments that give opportunities to others -and how innovation and technology could grow and evolve. FINAL QUESTION! DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE QUOTE THAT RESONATES WITH YOU?  Sure, I have various quotes that resonate with me depending on the moment I am in, so I might share more than one if it is ok. “Embrace the power of diversity and inclusion, you will be amazed at the benefits they will bring to our communities and workplaces.” “It is important to look at the end goals, but the journey is what enables us to learn and to grow”. “Technology is a means to make our lives better and to solve our pressing challenges, never forget its end goal”. Thanks, Dr Cavin, you rock 🀘 Interview by Bella Snell

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Susie Piggott | Operations Manager
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-03

Susie Piggott | Operations Manager

Fear of failure can often be a reason that people don’t go through with certain ideas, regardless of gender. However, for women embarking on a career in a male-dominated field like the tech industry, this fear can often feel magnified, But here's the truth: failure is not a gender-specific challenge, and it certainly should not be a deterrent for women pursuing their dreams in technology.  And if the world of tech makes you nervous - what about standing up in front of a room full of people, waiting for you to make them laugh? TERRIFYING! And that is exactly why this week's Women Rocker, Susie Piggott is the perfect person to talk to us about courage. Not only has Susie been working in the vibrant world of tech, but she also does a spot of stand-up comedy in NY and she is full of advice on facing your fears. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPEAKING WITH ME TODAY, TO START US OFF, WOULD YOU MIND TELLING US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY SO FAR?  I worked for OVO for 8 years, most recently as Ops Manager, took redundancy and travelled solo to Thailand and America. After many adventures, I returned to Bristol and volunteered at St Paul’s Carnival, connecting to my community and celebrating the wonderfully diverse cultures.Passionate about mental health, I live with depression myself, and I'm in the process of developing a new project collaborating with my accountabilibuddy from across the pond, focussed on female perspective getting back into work, and the importance of laughter in the most difficult moments! I enjoy flexing my creative side by performing stand-up comedy and I'm now looking for a new role that promotes my values of sustainability, technology and DEI. WHEN DID YOU REALISE YOU WERE PASSIONATE ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY AND USING YOUR SKILLS AS A FORCE FOR GOOD?  I remember when I was 16 making a promise to myself, whatever I do, I want to make a positive difference. It can be so easy to get caught up in your own path that you forget that the most rewarding path to walk is the one we build together. I’m passionate about building teams that make positive changes to the world we live in - accountable to one another, small things make a big difference. SO FAR, WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS? (BOTH PROFESSIONALLY & PERSONALLY)  It sounds cheesy but seeing individuals I’ve worked with develop and progress in their lives (not just their careers). Personally – I’m proud of some of the courageous decisions I’ve made in my life, taking redundancy was not an easy decision, but 2023 has been full of new experiences, and growth, and opened my eyes to the possibilities that are out there.  DO YOU FEEL MORE COULD BE DONE TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?  Yes definitely - for me, one of the things I reflect on is the lack of insight into tech I had throughout my education, yes it was the 90s and computers were massive, but it was very gender stereotyped in school, and this can have a huge impact - we had no women teaching IT or science, girls can have the message reinforced to them ‘you won’t understand this, this isn’t for you’ - I’m hopeful this isn’t the case now, but I still believe that women can be put off working in tech fields due to incorrect stereotypes that are set in stone from an early age. We must continue to challenge these!  WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG WOMEN WANTING TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY?  Stay true to yourself. Utilize your strengths. Seek out a mentor/work experience Be courageous, what’s the worst that can happen? Fear of Failure can often be a reason that people don’t go through with certain ideas.  WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A STRONG MINDSET AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE FEAR OF FAILURE?  It can be so debilitating, but you have to cut through all the anxieties in your mind and ask yourself simply, what's the worst that can happen? And who deems things a failure? It's learning, part of the journey. SMEs are often the most worried about getting something wrong, like to have all the knowledge before jumping in, but there’s not always time, we have to try, experiment, and get stuck in, after all, if you don’t try, you’ll never know! A collaborative team and the best leaders will still be there to support you whatever the outcome. Last year I started stand-up comedy, did a spot in NY in the summer, and asked myself, what's the worst that can happen? No one will laugh, but that in itself would still make me laugh!  DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR YOUNGER WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY TO CREATE A STRONG AND RESILIENT MINDSET? One of the best pieces of advice I was given was ‘It's your race Susie, no one else’s’ – again it’s so easy to compare journeys with peers but everyone’s experience is unique and individual with different highs and lows - focus on what you want. Importance of work-life balance - you don't want high stress = low resilience, if you’ve got a good balance, you'll have the energy and resilience to handle those tough situations!  PLEASE GIVE US A QUOTE OR A MANTRA THAT YOU LIVE BY OR JUST LIKE. ‘We can do hard things’ - taken from Glennon Doyle ‘Untamed’. It’s an amazing book that I go back to and have quotes from it all around my apartment! This quote affirms that although life can be full of hard things, we can get through it, the ‘we’ makes it collective and inclusive, a positive affirmation that we are doing hard things all the time and we’re not alone in our journeys. Thanks Susie, you rock!  Interview by Jake Ramsay

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 Melody Sylvestre | iO Academy
WOMEN ROCK2023-09-19

Melody Sylvestre | iO Academy

"It's not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves" This famous line penned by William Shakespeare for his famous tragedy, Julius Caesar, sets the scene for this week's incredible Women Rocker - Melody Sylvestre whose tech journey was sparked through her career as an astrophysicist.  Recently graduating from the iO Academy, Melody is now journeying into the world of tech as a software developer and we just know her career is about to skyrocket... CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU FIRST GOT INTO TECH AND WHERE THE PASSION FOR IT COMES FROM?  I got into tech through my previous career as an astrophysicist! I was studying climates of other planets with space mission and astronomical observatory data, so 80% of my time was spent coding either to analyse the data or develop atmospheric models. I always loved finding solutions to scientific problems through coding. I realised that coding was not just a tool but an activity I really enjoyed! I have always been fascinated by the fact that it is like solving a puzzle but with a creative side. When I decided to change career, I knew coding had to be part of my next role!  HOW DID YOU FIND THE BOOT CAMP AND WHAT ADVICE HAVE YOU GOT FOR PEOPLE THINKING OF A CAREER SWITCH? WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU WERE NERVOUS ABOUT, OR STRUGGLED WITH AND WHAT DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST? A career switch is quite an adventure, and I had so many questions. Where do I start? What do I need to know? What am I doing with my life?!  I think boot camps are a great way to navigate this. I really enjoyed my time at the iO Academy boot camp. It was very intense and there was a lot to learn! But the best part was that I was not alone! The trainers are amazing and teach you exactly what you need to know, at the right time! It is also great to be part of a cohort.  It was great to be surrounded by like-minded people who were also on a career change journey as we supported and learned from each other.     I would definitely recommend joining a boot camp or another type of coding learning group if that’s a suitable option for you. You will learn faster, and it is so much more motivating. If you are in a boot camp, make the most of it! Ask all the questions! Finally, and most importantly, career changing is a journey which can be exciting but also long and daunting. So, be mindful of that, and be patient with yourself and with the process. YOU’VE BEEN IN BRISTOL FOR A WHILE NOW. HOW HAVE YOU FOUND THE LAST 8 YEARS AND HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO PARIS AND GUADELOUPE? HAVE YOU STRUGGLED WITH ANY PARTS OF MOVING TO THE UK? WHETHER THAT IS A LANGUAGE BARRIER, FOOD, WEATHER (ALL THE RAIN πŸŒ§πŸ˜…), CULTURE ETC. AND HAVE YOU GOT ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE MOVING HERE? I have had the most wonderful time in Bristol! It is a very vibrant and welcoming city and a great place to move in from overseas. And the food scene here is fantastic!  I think the difficulties have encountered are not especially related to Bristol or the UK but to moving abroad in general. Life admin was a bit tricky (getting a National Insurance Number, banking, housing, healthcare etc.) simply because each country has their own way to proceed! The best solution is to do your research: get official advice from government websites, your country’s embassy or consulate, or any local contact you have here. Building that “feeling at home” was also quite difficult, especially as I moved on my own. I recommend meeting people outside work through activities, exploring your new town and building local habits (e.g., buying coffee in your local coffee shop, running in this nice park in your neighbourhood on Sundays etc.).   BEING A WOMAN IN THE TECH/RESEARCH/ACADEMIC INDUSTRY, HAVE YOU FACED ANY UNIQUE CHALLENGES OR BARRIERS? IF SO, WHAT HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME AND HAVE YOU SEEN ANY POSITIVE CHANGES TO THE INDUSTRY SINCE YOU’VE BEEN IN IT? I think the main challenge I have encountered as a woman in STEM was perception bias: I have been told several times by colleagues that I don’t look like a scientist! What does that even mean?! The issue runs deeper than random remarks. My female colleagues in academia and I have too many stories of times when we or our work was overlooked. Besides, this leads to women and under-represented ethnic groups having to work harder just to get the same opportunities as everyone else, which is frustrating and makes them more likely to leave the field.  However, I think STEM industries are slowly getting better. People have more and more awareness of these issues and are trying to take measures to improve the situation. There are also more and more initiatives geared toward women and ethnic minorities in order to promote STEM careers, and the workforce is slowly getting more diverse.  YOU HAVE ACHIEVED SO MANY MILESTONES IN YOUR CAREER ALREADY AND HAVE SOME AMAZING EXPERIENCE BEHIND YOU - WITH YOUR PHD AND YOUR 5+ YEARS AS A RESEARCHER – WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE SOMETHING SIMILAR? My 1st piece of advice would be: “Go for it!”.  I have learned incredible things, and I have been to amazing places such as the Atacama Desert in Chile! And it all started with me deciding to become an astrophysicist and working toward it. You totally have your place there. However, academic careers can be quite difficult to navigate as the expectations and career milestones differ a lot from more “traditional” careers. So, I would also advise you to find mentors or at least people you can ask questions about the different stages of your journey (e.g. a lecturer in your favourite course, your Ph.D. supervisors, colleagues in your department, formal mentoring offered by your university etc.).   WITH THE MARKET BEING AS COMPETITIVE AS IT IS RIGHT NOW, WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN WITH TRYING TO FIND YOUR FIRST ROLE IN TECH? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’VE STRUGGLED WITH, OR FOUND CHALLENGING AND WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS?  It has been difficult to find entry-level positions, which is obviously quite frustrating. I realised that it was going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, so I had to find sustainable ways to search for jobs and stay motivated. There were two main game-changers for me. The first one is engaging with people, either through LinkedIn or events (meetups, hackathons etc.). Looking for jobs is a fairly lonely activity, and it is so much more interesting to actually talk to people. My second piece of advice is to have consistent goals for each day. For instance, each day I try to do a job-search-related activity (e.g. applying for a job, learning something new), a productive activity (e.g. laundry), and something just for fun (e.g. having coffee with a friend, going out for a walk etc.). It helps me stay consistent in my job search, keep a sense of purpose and achievement which is a big motivator for me, and maintain a good work-life balance.  WHAT IS THE MOST FASCINATING/INTERESTING THING YOU WORKED ON IN YOUR PREVIOUS ROLES? AND WHAT AREAS WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN WORKING IN NEXT?  I studied Titan’s atmospheric particles with the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. Its atmosphere features a very dense haze made of small dust-like particles. Scientists think that they are made of big molecules that are quite similar to building blocks of life (e.g., proteins) and that they could help understand how life appeared on Earth. So, the more scientist can learn about their composition and formation, the better! I designed an observation project to observe Titan’s haze with the Very Large Telescope (VLT). It was a particularly challenging project: I did not know much about this observation technique and it had never been attempted on a Solar System planet or moon before! I had to learn a lot to plan these observations and analyse them. I really enjoyed working outside my comfort zone, exploring new things, and learning from my colleagues! It was also an incredible experience: I travelled to the VLT (Chile) to lead the observation. It is a fantastic place with state-of-the-art technology and passionate people, and it was inspiring to work in such an incredible facility. The night sky there is also incredibly beautiful because the observatory is in the Atacama Desert, 2,635m (8,645 ft) above sea level. I have never seen so many stars in my life!  WOMEN ROCK IS A PLATFORM TO HELP INCREASE DIVERSITY IN THE TECH WORKPLACE – WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING A MORE DIVERSE WORKFORCE AND WHAT COULD COMPANIES DO TO HELP PROMOTE THIS?  More diversity in the workplace means bringing more diverse perspectives and ideas to the table. If we want a more socially responsible tech industry, we have to keep up with the fact that we live in a diverse society and how having a diverse workforce is a great way to achieve this.  As a jobseeker and a black woman, I tend to apply more to companies that demonstrate that they are interested in improving their diversity, either by obtaining accreditations or awards (e.g. Clear, UK’s Best Workplace™ for Women, Stonewall etc.) or by supporting events and scholarships from organisations like Coding Black Females or Women in Tech. I think taking active steps to show that diversity is valued helps the tech industry to spread the word that diversity is welcome.  Besides, I think companies should also promote a “diversity-aware” culture where there is clear communication around problematic behaviours and what they look like, and clear processes to raise concerns or report issues.  IT'S TRADITION TO FINISH THESE INTERVIEWS WITH A FAVOURITE QUOTE, MOTTO, OR PIECE OF ADVICE. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE? I recommend reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. There were some insightful ideas about how to foster a workplace culture where people can communicate openly and bring their best ideas to the table. I think everyone could learn from it, whether you are in a leadership position or not!  Thanks, Melody, you rock 🀘 Interview by Matt Johnson 

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Dr Ailish McLaughlin | Flexa
WOMEN ROCK2023-09-12

Dr Ailish McLaughlin | Flexa

The journey into tech when you are in the midst of a career change can be a little like an assault course and a maze and an imposing mountain...all rolled into one. It is littered with obstacles, there can be some dead ends and can leave you feeling exhausted. So you need determination, endurance and it's vital that you prepare. So when Dr. Ailish McLaughlin went from completing a PhD in exercise physiology, competing internationally at three different sports and coaching in strength training, to Product Manager at Flexa...you could say she already had the athlete mindset to compete in the journey - she just needed someone to see it. This story is truly inspirational and is a must-read for anyone who is at the beginning of a similar journey or even in the middle of it and they are losing sight of the finish line... Ready, set, go... I WAS SO INTRIGUED BY YOUR BACKGROUND, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AND HOW YOU GOT INTO TECH?  Yeah, it’s certainly been quite an eclectic path! I did a PhD in exercise physiology because I’ve always been into sports and exercise, having competed internationally in three different sports myself. This gave me an opportunity to get paid to study the physiological demands of elite sport. About halfway through my PhD though, I realised that the typical career paths post PhD, academia and working in elite sport, were not something I wanted to pursue. During this time, to bolster my income and out of general interest, I was also doing some personal training as well as coaching the strength training for some of the athletes I worked with. I noticed a gap in the market for helping people with pain that was not quite an injury but needed something more specific than yoga. As I was wrapping up my PhD, I started to explore this as a business idea by delivering in-person classes to help people move better. And then lockdown happened. As an effort to bring some solace to people stuck at home, I decided to offer some of these online classes for free. Very quickly, I realised the power of technology for scaling a business; whereas previously I was able to deliver these classes to people in east London at set times, I was now able to deliver them to anyone anywhere in the world at any time of day. Instead of helping 50 people a week, I was now helping 500 plus. And so my love for tech began….I spent the next 18 months trying to scale my business taking it from it’s infancy as ButtahBody to it’s current form The Body School, including building a platform to host the live and on-demand classes, joining forces with my former business partner Lenny, setting up a bespoke filming studio and generally learning how to run a tech business. It was a WILD ride and I learned so much but eventually, I got to the point where I felt like I was no longer learning and that the business wasn’t going to get to where I wanted it to go. Ultimately, I decided that it was time to step away and pursue something new and there was zero doubt in my mind that tech was the place for me.After a long hard look at my skill set and the things I enjoyed during my career so far, I decided product management was the perfect direction for me. And so began my lengthy struggle to break into product. Over the course of 9 months, I applied to hundreds of jobs and interviewed at dozens of companies and was largely met with one of the same two rhetorics: either I wasn’t experienced enough for a more senior product role or I was too experienced for the less serious roles. It was an extremely frustrating time but truthfully, each pushback made my stubborn self more determined. About 5 months into the struggle I decided to try an alternative tactic; I had had regular feedback that I didn’t have experience working with developers. So I decided, if no one would give me a chance to gain some experience working with them, I’d take matters into my own hands and become one myself! I took the General Assembly 3 month software engineering bootcamp while continuing to apply and interview for roles. An invaluable course, I learned so much about how technology works. Ironically, a week after finishing the course, I had lunch with my brother who mentioned that an old school friend of his was a founder at a tech company in London and they were on the lookout for a product manager. He suggested I reach out and see if they were up for a chat. I had actually just gone through a horrifically painful break up and his words “you’ve got nothing to lose, just go and convince them how great you could be” rang in my head as I met Molly and Maurice in the east London container that constitutes Flexa’s offices on a super hot August day.  We had a really great informal chat where I was brutally honest about my struggles to find a role but also about what I felt I could add to a product team. They mentioned that there were at least 3 months of organisational, and project management work to do before any real product work could start so I jumped at the opportunity and asked them to give me a chance to at least do that. Luckily, they agreed and offered me a short-term contract but just a few weeks in, they offered me a full-time role. And I haven’t looked back since! I AM WELL AWARE OF THE BARRIERS IN TECHNOLOGY FOR FOLK WHO ARE CAREER-CHANGING AND NOT GOING THROUGH THE TRADITIONAL STEM ROUTE. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE LOOKING TO GET THEIR FIRST ROLE IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?  Hmmmm, yeah it’s so tough. I’ve actually had lots of conversations recently with people in a similar boat and they are tearing their hair out trying to get their breakthrough. Frustratingly, I think my advice would be, first and foremost, to have patience. It’s a bit like dating; you’re going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a company who can see through what you might not have on paper to the value you can bring as a person and your potential for growth.  After that, I would say to ask for feedback at every opportunity; if you hear the same thing more than twice, it’s probably something you need to do something about. Maybe that’s changing how you answer an interview question or upskilling yourself in a certain area; often just showing how willing you are to learn and grow by yourself can be enough for an interviewer to give you a chance.And finally, network, network, network. An intro will always give you a foot up the ladder. Go to meetups, tech events, networking drinks etc. If you’re an introvert like me, it will be a struggle but I used to set myself a goal of just speaking to one single person and exchanging LinkedIn details and then I could go home. Almost all of my applications that went to the 1st interview stage and beyond came from referrals of some kind; it may not be fair but it works. Sometimes you just have to play the game! WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DATE?  The biggest challenge for me was finding the job; it took so much resilience and perseverance. But in my current role, I would say the biggest challenge has been building a product strategy from the ground up. Having not been in a traditional product environment before, I’ve had to teach myself what a product strategy actually is in the first place and then how to create one from scratch. Luckily, I work with amazing colleagues and have some incredible external mentors who have helped and guided me through this process. I’m feeling really good about it now and seeing it pay dividends to our roadmap and product delivery process makes all the times of extreme frustration totally worth it! WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST THING TECH COMPANIES COULD DO TO ATTRACT MORE DIVERSE TALENT? AND I GUESS IF IT WAS YOU LOOKING – WHAT WOULD ATTRACT YOU TO A COMPANY?  I mean, I work for Flexa so it’s clear to me that flexible working is a key contributor to attracting diverse talent as inclusivity and flexibility go hand in hand. Interestingly, a lot of bigger tech companies actually offer good flexibility options but they often don’t shout about them as they mistakenly believe if they are not fully remote then they are not flexible at all. So I think shouting about how they work is a good place to start (and Flexa is a great place to, ahem, do that!). But additional to that, I think there is an important piece around being open to different backgrounds and experiences. There is always a ramping up phase for anyone at a new company, it’s possible that they can also learn elements of a new role and/or industry at this time with the right support (which should be even more accessible in larger companies). I actually spoke to a friend of a friend recently who was previously a graphic designer before having kids and now wants to return to work in the product design space. She’s done a tonne of additional training in UX but is having a nightmare finding a role; she just needs a couple months in a good team and she would be a total rockstar but hiring managers are not seeing that in interviews; super frustrating.And for me personally, I would want to see evidence that there is autonomy in the role, room to grow in a range of directions and that there is some flexibility in how I get my work done. WHY IS DIVERSITY IN TECH AND MORE SO PRODUCT MANAGEMENT SO IMPORTANT?  Product managers are the voice of the user. Users of tech products are women as much as they are men. They are from ethnic minorities as much as they are from ethnic majorities. They are LGBTQ+ as much as they are heterosexual. They have disabilities as much as they don’t. To accurately represent the voice of a user, to build something that will delight and engage a diverse user base and ultimately achieve business outcomes, you have to have representation of that diversity in the team.  YOUR LINKEDIN BIO SAYS. ‘ I GET OUT OF BED EVERY DAY TO GET A LITTLE BIT BETTER THAN THE DAY BEFORE.’ WHAT DO YOU DO TO CONTINUE TO LEARN AND I’M SURE YOU HAVE SOME AWESOME BOOK OR PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS FOR US. CAN YOU GIVE US SOME GREAT RECCO’S TO GET STUCK INTO?  That’s hilarious, I must have written that quite a while ago. But it’s very much still true today! To me, getting better each day is about reflecting on the day before and finding ways in which I can do a little better the next day. I’m very self-analytical (read: over thinker) so I try to utilise that in a constructive way to make sure I’m learning from things that didn’t go well. This is usually the catalyst for my learning; when I am frustrated with or stuck on something, I’ll chuck myself down rabbit holes to try and figure it out. From a product perspective, I have found the Hustle Badger articles by Ed Biden super useful recently and enjoy Lenny’s podcast by Lenny Rachitsky .  But I also have quite an eclectic range of interests so read and listen to a relatively random variety of things! I am currently enjoying the Femtech Insider and ByteByteGo newsletters and reading a book about the opiate epidemic in the US (Dreamland by Sam Quinones). I am also a podcast queen, some of my current favourite shows include: Modern Wisdom, Where should we begin (by Esther Perel), Freakonomics Radio, Possible (an GPT inspired show). And for comedy I lovvvve Berning in Hell and My Therapist Ghosted Me. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR MANTRA YOU LIVE BY? “This is it” I often find myself getting caught up in all the things I want to do and achieve and have. And all the ways in which I have not yet got there; beating myself up for my past mistakes and feeling like I can only enjoy myself when I have achieved a moving goalpost list of things.. Subsequently,  I forget that this moment right here is all we really have. So these three words remind me to try and stay present. They remind me that the highs and lows, the frustrations, the disappointments, the failures, the wins, the sadness, the stress; that these things are actually the living. That striving for goals is fine but it is in the striving that life happens. ARE YOU UP TO ANYTHING COOL IN THE SUMMER?  Nothing major, actually. Typically, I love London in the summer (although the weather has failed me miserably this year) so I like to stick around for most of it. I am thinking of planning an extended trip to Costa Rica in the winter though, so I'm looking forward to that! Thanks Ailish, you rock 🀘 Interview by Alicia Teagle

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Cathrin Hirling | Ostrom
WOMEN ROCK2023-08-29

Cathrin Hirling | Ostrom

To say Cathrin Hirling knows a thing or two about ED&I would be an understatement as People and Culture Manager at Ostrom - a B Corp certified, digital energy management platform based in Berlin, Cathrin makes it her mission to create an enjoyable, inclusive and psychologically safe environment for everyone that works there. Now you will know if you work within the tech industry in particular -  this is often a complex journey and goes beyond ticking boxes and Cathrin has worked hard to build structures and practices within Ostrom to make them the diverse and incredibly supportive organisation they are today.  To avoid any confusion - if you are searching for advice on diversifying your workforce - YOU MUST READ THIS. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT OSTROM?  I work as a People and Culture Manager; in summary, I am responsible for co-creating an enjoyable and productive work environment by building structures and practices that support this.  WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH?  As an organisation, you need to actively demonstrate diversity is valued and it is actively supported. To start you need to create an environment that is welcoming and attractive for diversity to be part of. This includes not only transparent internal practices and/or programs such as clear development and career paths but also having diversity within leadership.Secondly, as individuals have varying needs, there needs to be an element of flexibility. Practices such as offering a hybrid work model and/or flexible hours can create an opportunity to invite more diversity and be attractive to a larger pool of people.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY? Clique but: diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice.  WHAT SPECIFIC PRACTICES HAS YOUR BCORP RENEWABLE ENERGY COMPANY IMPLEMENTED TO ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY AT ALL LEVELS, FROM ENTRY-LEVEL POSITIONS TO LEADERSHIP ROLES? We offer relocation and visa support, which allows us to actively recruit across the globe. This provides us with the opportunity to access a wider pool of candidates and bring on board new ideas and expertise.  Across Ostrom but especially within leadership, we have been very conscious from the beginning regarding gender. We want to strive towards having a gender balance within leadership. Currently, we are 50/50 male, female representation.  Learning and development is important at Ostrom, our view is that we are continually learning together and no matter what seniority you are, your ideas are valuable and important. We offer individual learning budgets and continually encourage people to seek learning opportunities whether that be a workshop, conference, or mentoring. We try our best to provide learning and stretch opportunities to all our employees, whether you are just starting as an intern or you are further on in your career. With frequent development conversations, it allows us to understand what each individual’s needs are to grow, be successful, but also have fun.   IN WHAT WAYS HAS YOUR COMPANY PROACTIVELY ADDRESSED UNCONSCIOUS BIAS IN THE RECRUITMENT AND HIRING PROCESS TO ATTRACT CANDIDATES FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS? To start, we are very clear on the why behind the need to hire for the given role. What skills do we want to bring on board, what does the team require, and what will be the milestones for this role in the first 6-12 months? Further, to minimise bias, we do not read each other’s interview notes until after we have spoken to the given candidate and completed the evaluation. When we make the final decision, we do not mention gender, ethnicity and/or nationality. We actively ensure we are assessing each individual on their given skill set in comparison to the role requirements. We do not mention gender, ethnicity and/or nationality rather again we focus on skill set. HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY FOSTER AN INCLUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT VALUES AND RESPECTS THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVES OF INDIVIDUALS FROM VARIOUS ETHNIC AND GENDER BACKGROUNDS? With Ostrom having over 15 different nationalities, this makes diversity a working reality but we understand this requires inclusion. We actively try to cultivate an environment where people feel understood and valued for who they are. Psychological safety is cultivated through continually seeking perspectives and ideas from across the organisation, no matter your seniority, and openly acknowledging the feedback. The general culture is that feedback is always welcome and sought. All leaders have received training on cross-cultural communication and the importance of learning individuals’ communication styles. Individuals who are softer-spoken, leaders actively seek their perspective to ensure their opinion is heard.  Further, we continually communicate we are an open learning culture and it is okay to make mistakes, it is not only human but also beneficial as it allows us to learn and progress quicker. Through sharing what we have learnt in our monthly company-wide knowledge-sharing sessions it further fosters openly sharing various perspectives. We understand that not everyone feels comfortable voicing their ideas publicly, therefore we have two anonymous feedback initiatives: “Ask Me Anything” questions for the co-founders and our company-wide engagement surveys. We view the workplace as being co-created by everyone who is part of it and therefore value feedback.  WHAT INITIATIVES HAS YOUR COMPANY UNDERTAKEN TO PROVIDE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING FOR ALL EMPLOYEES? We have clear development pathways with four touch-points per year with your manager to speak solely about your development. Further, we have clear career paths regarding individual contributors and people leaders with it clear both are equally valued. To support this each team has a clear capabilities matrix which provides clarity on role expectations at each level. As already mentioned, we offer individual learning budgets which allow it to be personalised to what the given person wants to learn and what they see fit. Hand-in-hand we ensure a fair remuneration review process with using an external marking tool and having an internal sense check.  IN WHAT WAYS HAS YOUR COMPANY COLLABORATED WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS TO ENCOURAGE YOUNG WOMEN AND INDIVIDUALS FROM ETHIC MINORITIES TO PURSUE CAREERS IN TECH AND RENEWABLE ENERGY? We have been present at various university career days/fairs and had a female leader provide a workshop.  HOW DO YOU MEASURE AND TRACK THE PROGRESS OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION EFFORTS WITHIN YOUR COMPANY, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY? As we are small it is relatively easy to keep track of but as Germany has strict regulations around collecting data on diversity there are limitations to what we can do. As already mentioned, we try to keep a balanced gender split across the organisation but also in leadership.  Main lessons would be to ensure it is clear to everyone, no matter your level, that you have a role to play to create a positive work environment. Through ensuring clear guidelines such as having an inclusive language policy to ensure a shared language and relevant for us, and clearly stating your company language as being English. Further, as early as possible setting up processes around the onboarding, development, and promotions to provide an environment that empowers the people within it. Thanks, Cathrin, you rock! 🀘 Interview by Louis Hampton-Jones

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