WOMEN ROCK

WOMEN ROCK.

Thanks for being here and welcome to Women Rock โ€“ 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!

Candice Storm | Design In Focus
WOMEN ROCK2023-07-13

Candice Storm | Design In Focus

What is the Value & Impact of Creativity, Innovation and Design (CID) in Business & Society? Look around you, how much of your own environment has not been created, innovated and or designed? Think of all of your engagements beyond yourself, how much of that has been created, innovated and or designed? Your communications, entertainment and work, all have been shaped by CID. The value & impact of CID is present in all of our lives, and yet, a great deal of those who make the functional world are often underrepresented, exploited or disabled to do better. Enter Candice Storm. Candice started building DesignInFocus.org, a multimedia & professional platform serving CID in April / May 2022. Having worked in Government, Retail, Entertainment and Technology, she connected the dots to develop DesignInFocus.Org in such a way as to enable humans to step up and also do more with less. While DesignInFocus.Org was started as a side project sponsored by StormCIS 360 Corporate Identity Solutions (her design agency), it now is a full-time activity - from the design, production, organisation and development, to creating multimedia with professionals and companies. And if that isn't enough, Candice also designs gamified workshops to convey challenging topics in synthesizable interactions. Women Rock ambassador Cameron chatted with this incredible trailblazer about her multi-faceted journey into tech... TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOB AND WHAT A DAY IN THE LIFE LOOKS LIKE FOR YOU? I do several things. When I'm working for clients my job includes analysing and improving existing digital products and services through creative problem solving, from Design Strategy to Digital Design to DesignOps. I work on branded experiences also, creating corporate identities, marketing and promotional content as well as web and social media.I also spend a great deal of time building DesignInFocus.Org. A lot of time goes into designing and building the actual platform and its content. Next to that I also engage with stakeholders in various capacities such as participants to talk with in the Design in Focus media, or to speak at our events, collaborating with professionals and organisations to create interesting professional activities and working with volunteers. I'm having to develop and learn in areas that I'm not familiar with, such as learning Velo to implement code on the platform, making podcasts, and growing a sense of business administration and organisation.Lastly, I manage the Design in Focus flagship network Randstad UX, which was launched to demonstrate how the platform could be leveraged for others who would like to start their own networks and communities relating to creativity, innovation and design. I organise monthly events and share relevant information with the network. Most of the events tend to be informative and so I organise talks and presentations, but for example this month I'm organising a networking event with cocktails at a skylounge in Amsterdam, and to celebrate the one year anniversary of the network, I'm working on throwing a gala in October! WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY? I have quite an unusual background and a lot has happened on top of all the winding roads, personality-wise, I also deviate from the norm. When I started school, I passed the first year and went straight to the 3rd year. I liked school but after a traumatic experience at boarding school, I lost interest in and stopped paying attention, after that my marks were average. To deal with the situation, I started drawing. I was kind of good at it and received positive treatment or rewards such as my teacher printing my drawings for everyone to colour in, or people giving me attention (I also grew up in a culture where "children must be seen but never heard", so it was more impactful). Well, skip forward to my final year, I had to decide what profession to get into. I was deciding between Psychology or Archaeology when I became expectant with my daughter, and so thought I should better take Psychology, but when I went to enrol at Uni, there was no space and that's when my guardian suggested law.   After completing the year, I faced two challenges, one was that I did not have the finances to study the next year, and two my feelings towards law were pretty negative  - I perceived it as an inadequate attempt to establish justifications within a flawed system. So, I ended up doing a short study in Public Relations, and there is where I discovered that I really liked media and creating media kits. After that, I went for an aptitude evaluation at my local university. Their advice was to study design, which I resisted at first because I did not want to become "a starving artist", but because I had no real vision for the future, I took the advice. My focus was on Corporate Identity which marries with PR in many ways, but I mainly worked on digital projects after my studies.  After working in digital for 3 years I realised that I had more talents and additional interests and so started growing towards product/project management and UX. And the rest I guess is history. WHAT WAS THE REASON YOU WANTED TO START BUILDING THE "DESIGN IN FOCUS" WEBSITE /PLATFORM? There were many influences in starting Design in Focus. It would make more sense to understand that what the platform is today is not what I started with, but more of something that evolved. Last February I registered my company StormCIS and built a website for it. As an Identity Experience creative, I was planning a podcast with someone to help him elevate his professional digital presence in order to get hired. Next to that I also made a connection with someone who organised a conference who wanted to cocreate on podcasts. Things didn't quite work out as planned and so I started reworking the concept. I used my own experiences to conceptualise a product that would be able to solve some of it, and I also listened to what my stakeholders had to say.As a designer, I've had to create portfolios throughout my career and as a digital / web designer, I needed to showcase my capabilities. So I guess if we strip it down all the way to the core, then building websites is just something that is an average activity for designers. However, I found it very challenging to create a portfolio because that tends to serve only the owner, and because of some of my background, I found it difficult to care for or nurture myself only, which meant that I was never satisfied with anything I made. But knowing that I exist and that my situation existed, I thought "What if someone else has this challenge", and so started working on a concept that could be beneficial to any creative, innovator and or designer. The platform is growing continuously and I keep conceptualising solutions to common problems.You can read more about this in an article I wrote here. YOUR QUOTE IS "EMOTION IS THE PALETTE OF THE SOUL", WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU PROFESSIONALLY? That is a very layered quote that impacts a few key areas. Firstly of course from an experience design perspective, how the person engaging with the design perceives the value of doing so is an integral aspect of my profession. From a brand perspective, the leveraging of human behaviour, which is mainly governed by emotion, tends to be the foundation of a company's communication and products / services they develop. So professionally emotion is an integral part of my work.Then there is the personal layer. Having survived a thing or two and experiencing life in different roles, I am all too familiar with how emotion shapes the existential experience. As much torment as I have endured as a victim and a mother, I also would not change it because I value the good emotions that my child has brought into my life. As much anger and resentment as I've felt due to unfair situations, I also feel a certain level of accomplishment for coming through. NOT ASKING FOR MORE by the way! The extremes between emotions which are so fantastic that one seeks to maintain for as long as possible and the emotions which make you wish that life itself would come to an end, has given me an understanding of humanity and myself which I see as a living painting of exchanges that reveals a rich and vibrant notion of creativity and the creative nature of life. There are also a few different angles which weigh it in different perspectives. Even as professionals and entrepreneurs, we are every bit as exposed to the effects of emotional manipulation as everyone else. So somewhere between the professional and personal, there is an interconnectivity that cannot be avoided. There really is a lot more to be said and a few cases that I could mention that tell the stories associated with this, but that is too much for an article. I presented my talk on the Human Connection last week and there has been a request to share it on LinkedIn, which you can watch here. HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN HELP TO CHANGE THE "OLD WAY OF THINKING AROUND EMOTION IN THE WORK PLACE"? There is no easy answer because of the extent to which emotion drives business, politics, education and every other aspect of our behaviour. Recently I discovered a whole collective of professionals spanning in the thousands who are doing what they can to make changes through ethics, human-centered design, accessibility and a lot more. If you read my article about AI & Ethics  then you will notice just how complex a topic such as ethics can be. To try to find some tangible and effective solutions, I've just launched the #ImpactCollective last month, which is a listing page of professionals who are engaging in conversations and building awareness of some of the biggest challenges we face. Our first Northstar is Dr Robert Kozma, author of Make The World a Better Place, Design With Passion, purpose and Values, released earlier this year, pretty much at the same time as Don Norman has released his book Design For A Better World. You can find a conversation between the two in the #ImpactCollective portal here, and there will be more to come. On the Experience portals you may find Trine Falbe , founder of the Ethical Design Network, and we've also created events such as Design For Good ,  Design for Accessibility and coming up this summer, Design for Tomorrow There are a lot more happening under the bonnet, but as I am also doing so many other things and with limited resources, it may still take a while to surface. (Volunteers are highly valued, hint hint, wink wink) What I can say is that from my first talk with Trine early last year to where I am today, I have somewhat more trust in humanity. When I first spoke to Trine, I had tremendous respect for her work and balls to take on this delicate matter but told myself to not focus on this kind of topic too much because of the penalties we pay as professionals, especially when we are in vulnerable positions as I had been, just is not worth the effort. But earlier this year when I was organising the Design for Good event, I saw a different perspective. Although I've seen the emergence of CID professionals taking charge, I am all too aware of the interconnectivity of things.The systematic structure that rendered law hypocritical bs to me, is evident not only in law and design, but in a lot of other areas too. I think if we were to ever hope to create change, then first we must call a spade a spade and honestly reflect on the totality of cause and effect. Based on the themes of the above-mentioned professionals and activities, for me, it is pretty evident that there is enough of a force to incentivise professionals to address these challenges, but with that also comes buzzwords and terms. So, it is very very complex! For me the lens to look through that might yield the most impact is through the value we place on human emotion. Personally, I highly value business which is rooted in exchange of value. I love fine art, jewellery, luxurious homes and furniture, I love my amenities such as clean water, electricity and telecoms. I think business is super important because none of this would be possible without it, but I also believe it to have been perverted due to profit pushing at all cost. I think certain sectors must never be privatised or profit-driven, especially when those industries are involved with aspects that are integral to human survival and thriving. WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU THINK COMPANIES CAN GAIN FROM THIS? Well, that depends on the companies. some companies would not be able to survive were it not for the human violations. I'm not really sure how to shortly explain fully, but the structures that enable their existence have been put in place through loopholes and conceptual justifications created by those who profit from it. Next to that, there are not always many options for alternatives. Just recently I was in a group conversation where someone said that those wanting to make valuable changes in the world should volunteer and work for good causes. It sounded ridiculous to me. In my eyes, those who are solving real issues and delivering solutions should be the most rewarded, not work for free or for scraps. I think if we start building businesses based on the foundation of exchanging value, then it would change the landscape completely. Many companies use the buzz term design thinking, and designers have long been involved in the reward aspect of creating value. And yet, at the same time, some companies really miss the mark in understanding that design is meant to creatively solve problems, more than to create problems to force compliance.That said, there are companies that exchange value and do profit from being human-centric. Trust and loyalty is one massive metric that yields bountiful harvests. Ok, we all know this, that is why it is exploited by harnessing the darker aspects of humans and human emotion, but at the same time sports and academic achievement is as high as ever. What this tells me is that we do have the desire to feel victorious and with that, I think we can rely on a metric of achievement to benefit from how we measure success. I think if we centre our businesses around building legacies instead of bank accounts, then we will really reap the benefits. Because we go through quite a lot of conformist validations throughout our educational backgrounds, we are often more able to just do a thing, than to actually be original and unique. Add luxury mindset and power struggles to the mix, and you end up with the economy we have today, which if we were competent and able, would be less volatile and we would see less recessions and economic disasters. Applying more human-centric techniques and solutions would enable us to build stronger economies and cement our positions as true champions in business. Maybe companies are satisfied with ephemeral accomplishments, but I personally believe that winning business champs are akin to a house with a strong foundation. It can stand its ground for a really long time and survive the worst weather while offering comfort and reassurance.   Thanks, Candice! You rock ๐Ÿค˜ Interview by Cameron Daniel

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Namrata Sarmah | INTO University Partnerships
WOMEN ROCK2023-07-04

Namrata Sarmah | INTO University Partnerships

ED&I. Many people can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? The proof is in the pudding - or hiring in this case. Meet Nam. Nam is the Chief Product Officer at INTO University Partnerships – a global higher education company that works with 30+ top universities in the UK, US, and Australia to help recruit international students from 70+ countries for undergrad and postgrad degree programmes. She has also built a diverse product team at INTO made up of folk representing 10+ nationalities and languages and a 50/50 split in terms of gender diversity, she runs a community group of 500+ called "Women in Product UK" AND is also a Founding Member of Chief in the UK - phew.  To say she knows a thing or two about ED&I in the tech industry is the understatement of the year... As you can imagine, Nam has insane amounts of insight and advice on creating a more diverse workforce, so if you're looking to break into the industry or are a company looking to enjoy the huge amounts of benefits in hiring a diverse team - read on! It may be the start of something amazing...   KICKING THINGS OFF, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT INTO UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIPS? I work as a Chief Product Officer at INTO University Partnerships – a global higher education company. We work with 30+ top universities in the UK, US, and Australia who we help in recruiting international students from 70+ countries for undergrad and postgrad degree programmes. We help students throughout their academic and career journeys. I’m accountable for INTO’s digital platforms, digital experiences, and our student employability business.  STARTING AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY? I started my career as a software engineer, the first 1-2 years of my career was focused on tech only. I didn’t know about product management at that time; it wasn’t a structured discipline. I entered the world of product management after my MBA, it was a chance encounter, a bit of an experiment. Product management was quite new in the UK at that time (circa 2013), so not many companies had a product team. I saw this as an opportunity!  AS A WOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY, HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES OR BARRIERS IN YOUR CAREER? Entry wasn’t a challenge, but I had no role models. Most of my bosses have been male. During my early career, I was often part of the CTO org, there was no CPO role. I’ve been lucky as most of my managers have been quite helpful, but I always yearned for a female role model. There was no structured career path either, I learnt a lot of things by doing. Things were different few a years ago, the product community wasn’t as big as it is today, and the support network was small too, especially for women in tech.  WHAT DOES DIVERSITY MEAN TO YOU AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT? Diversity should be at the top of any leader’s agenda, especially for product leaders as we build products for such a wide audience; our users can be anywhere in the world. Our users are diverse, this means that the teams building products must be diverse too. I am very happy to say that my current team is very diverse, we are about 50/50 in terms of gender diversity, and we represent 10+ nationalities and languages. We have been successful in building a very diverse team, this was my goal when I joined the company.  IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN PRETTY SUCCESSFUL AT EMPLOYING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION WITHIN INTO. THIS IS SOMETHING MANY COMPANIES WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ARE TRYING TO IMPROVE ON. WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH? First, having a diverse senior/executive team is very important, even at the board level. It all starts at the top! Role modelling plays a big role when it comes to building diverse teams. My advice to other companies would be to look at your board and exec team and challenge them on diversity. This is important if a company wants to attract diverse talent. This has happened to me personally, and I feel proud and grateful that I tend to attract diverse candidates for jobs in my team.  But what matters more is inclusion and belonging. Hiring diverse talent is much easier than keeping them for the long term. People need to feel included and have a sense of belonging and for a company to be a safe and positive place to work.  IF YOU COULD GIVE ADVICE TO SOMEONE FROM AN UNDERREPRESENTED BACKGROUND WHO’S THINKING OF GETTING INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD THAT BE? Knowledge is power! My advice would be to upskill yourself and work hard to achieve your goals. There is so much free knowledge and resources around. There are several certification & training programs that can also make the entry into tech industry feasible. Internships are a great way to enter the sector of your choice. As a person of colour, one thing I have learnt is that “we must work twice as hard to get half as far”. This means there is no time to waste, just keep going… WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPIEST IN YOUR FREE TIME? Oh, that’s very easy to answer. Playing with my two kids makes me very happy. I’ve got 2 cheeky boys aged 5 years and 7 months. Every little spare time that I get is devoted to them.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY? I’ve had one favourite quote throughout my life since my school days, I don’t know where I heard it from originally. It goes  “Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you”. I live my life based on this mantra. I like to give, and I give without expecting anything in return. I know that the universe will pay me back in some shape or form if I truly deserve it.  TO ROUND THINGS OFF, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO COVER? I would like to mention my community group “Women in Product UK” which is very close to my heart. This group has been going strong since 2020, and we have 500+ members now. It’s completely free to join! So, if you are reading this interview and you are a product manager or an aspiring product manager, please do join this group. It’s available on LinkedIn, Facebook, and WhatsApp and you can find the LinkedIn group here.   Thanks, Nam, you rock ๐Ÿค˜ Interview by Annie Everitt

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Tanmaya Kulkarni | Henry Schein One
WOMEN ROCK2023-06-27

Tanmaya Kulkarni | Henry Schein One

Last Friday it was ‘International Women in Engineering Day’ and we celebrated all the amazing female engineers within the Women Rock community. So, this week’s guest on the blog: Software Engineering Manager Tanmaya is extremely fitting, and we are thrilled to have her join our growing network. Tanmaya always knew she wanted to be in computer engineering and strongly believes the support and encouragement from her family and colleagues has played dividends in her successes within the industry – did we mention she was listed as a finalist for the "Women in IT" award for her outstanding contributions to leading a team and delivering tangible business returns in 2023?  Now being a parent herself to twins – one boy and one girl, Tanmaya uses her own experiences to make sure she fosters an environment that promotes equality – there are no ‘pink and blue jobs’ in the Kulkarni household!  FROM BEING PLACED INTO INFOSYS DURING YOUR STUDIES IN THE EARLY 2000S, TO BECOMING A TOP 50 SOFTWARE ENGINEERING LEADER 2023 & WORKING WITH RENOWNED COMPANY XERO, HOW HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN INTO TECH & BEYOND? I grew up in Pune, a famous city in India, and from a young age, I was interested in technology and fascinated by how computers worked. As I grew older, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in computer engineering. I am proud to be the first girl in my family to pursue engineering, and I received exceptional support from my parents, who encouraged me to pursue my dreams and provided me with the resources I needed to succeed. I also credit my husband, who is a Software programme manager, for being a constant source of support and inspiration throughout my journey. During my studies in computer engineering, I spent long hours in the computer lab, writing code and debugging programs. I also took part in extracurricular activities such as coding competitions and hackathons to hone my skills and gain experience. After graduation, I worked with multinational tech companies in India such as Infosys and Persistent for a few years. During this time, I learned a lot, working on various projects and collaborating with a team of developers. In 2008, I moved to the UK to join my husband, who was posted there on a deputation. Soon after, I landed a job at EADS Astrium, now known as Airbus Defence and Space. I was excited about the opportunity to work in the space industry in a new country and learn from world-class colleagues. I quickly proved myself to be a talented developer, writing clean, efficient code and delivering projects on time. Over the years, I changed companies and continued to advance my career in the UK, taking on engineering leadership roles managing teams of developers and ensuring that projects were completed to a high standard. I found this role challenging but rewarding, as I enjoyed mentoring and coaching my team members and helping them grow their skills. I became known for my technical expertise, leadership skills, and ability to deliver high-quality projects. In 2021, I joined Xero, a leading SaaS provider for accounting and bookkeeping software, where I lead a cross-functional team of engineers, designers, and product managers. In 2023, I was listed as a finalist for the "Women in IT" award for my outstanding contributions to leading a team and delivering tangible business returns. In the same year, I was also listed as one of the "top 50 software engineering leaders to watch." Looking back on my journey, I am proud of what I have accomplished. I credit my success to my hard work, determination, and passion for technology. I also recognize the importance of having a supportive family and colleagues who have helped me along the way. I am excited about the future of women in technology and look forward to continuing to make an impact in the field of software engineering. WITH 11-YEAR-OLD TWINS (A BOY AND A GIRL) AT HOME, YOU HAVE WITNESSED FIRST-HAND HOW CHILDREN ARE EXPOSED TO GENDER STEREOTYPES FROM DAY 1. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE WAYS IN WHICH YOU PROMOTE EQUALITY AT HOME? My husband and I are both work in software engineering and we both share the household chores equally. Growing up in such a family setup reflects in children’s behaviour naturally. We do not have the pink vs blue in our household - since a very young age, both have been encouraged to equally play with dolls and construction toys. We are selective when it comes to which books to read and shows to watch. In the holidays, the twins are given small chores to do at home to foster the environment that promotes equality. WHAT HAVE YOUR KIDS TAUGHT YOU ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF EMBRACING DIFFERENCE (WHEN IT COMES TO DIFFERENT APPROACHES ETC.)? The dynamic between my twins never ceases to amaze me, as their unique ways of thinking complement each other beautifully. To illustrate this, both of them are currently learning the programming language Python. My son takes a systematic and methodical approach to his assignments, ensuring that the program is robust and comprehensive. Meanwhile, my daughter adds a touch of usability to her projects, incorporating a user-friendly interface along with solving the core problem at hand. Witnessing their distinct approaches to the same task is a constant source of wonder, and I often imagine the incredible projects they'll create together in the future. Moreover, I'm grateful for the alternative perspective my daughter brings to programming, and I can't imagine what I would have missed if I had discouraged her from pursuing this field. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU DO, AS A HIRING MANAGER/INTERVIEW PANELLIST, TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY WITHIN YOUR TEAMS? Making the hiring process inclusive and fair to all applicants regardless of their background is the key to hiring diverse talent. As a hiring manager, I ensure that wordings in job postings are inclusive and welcoming to diverse candidates. Additionally, I take steps to train the interview panel to recognize and eliminate unconscious biases during interviews. Wherever possible, I like to include at least one of the underrepresented groups, such as women, people of colour, and people with disabilities on the interview panel. During interviews, I emphasise the values and culture of our team. This approach has proven to be effective in attracting a diverse pool of candidates. HAVING MOVED TO THE UK FROM INDIA, YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO CULTURES, AND HOW INDIA REMAINS MORE PROGRESSIVE THAN THE UK WITH REGARD TO DIVERSITY RATIOS. IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN LEARN FROM THE INDIAN CULTURE, TO FOLLOW IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS? To better comprehend why India has a greater proportion of women in STEM than the UK, it is essential to analyse the contrasting approaches to recruiting women in IT and the cultural perspectives surrounding the technology industry in both countries.  In India, fresh graduates from a range of STEM disciplines, including technology, are recruited by companies directly from universities. The recruitment process, including exams and interviews, takes place on campus, and successful candidates receive on-the-job training before working on live projects. Conversely, in the UK, I see students are more likely to attend job fairs and often need to gain additional training or experience before joining firms that are difficult to access. Apart from recruitment strategies, the cultural environment in India is more welcoming to women in the technology industry than in the UK. In the UK, stereotypes about the types of individuals who typically fill technology roles can discourage girls from considering technology careers at a young age. In India, women are regarded as an indispensable part of the technology industry, and many pursue technology careers due to their passion for the field. Women in India are exposed to media such as adverts, brochures, and public billboards featuring other women in the technology industry, which serve as role models. In the UK, the lack of role models in the technology industry is a significant problem that even young women have voiced concern about. Furthermore, there needs to be a mindset shift among parents and teachers to eliminate gender stereotyping of STEM subjects. WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO GET UP TO OUTSIDE OF WORK? When I'm not working, I spend a lot of time driving my twins to their various activities. In my free time, I enjoy exploring my creative side through arts and crafts such as quilling and acrylic painting. Additionally, I have a passion for cooking and love trying out new recipes to satisfy my inner foodie. IS THERE A MANTRA THAT YOU LIVE BY? I would like to mention two quotes that really resonate. "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." - Steve JobsThe quote highlights the importance of finding work that you're passionate about, as this can be a key driver for achieving greatness in your field "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." - African proverbIt reminds me that working together can lead to more significant achievements that can have a greater impact - while working alone might be faster but may not necessarily lead to long-term success.   Thanks, Tanmaya you rock ๐Ÿค˜ Interview by Izzy Morgan-Davis  

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Violet Snell | iProov
WOMEN ROCK2023-06-20

Violet Snell | iProov

Uncomfortable thoughts and questions are often the unwelcome visitors in our minds that we try to silence or avoid. There is of course no harm in this avoidance, however in order to learn more about ourselves, sometimes we have to let them in and address them. When it comes to job interviews, we'll probably find these thoughts creeping in and then if we are unsuccessful in the application it seems like these feelings have been validated. But it's how we learn and grow from this, that matters. Violet Snell, Head of Platform AI at iProov urges us to always ask for feedback when an application is unsuccessful - to get perspective and shape how we can adapt to move forward - especially in the tech industry. A self-proclaimed engineer, Violet thrives on the prospect of building useful things to help others. As a woman in the computer vision space, she hopes for a bigger female candidate pool and thinks this can only be achieved if companies take a more holistic approach to hiring, by involving changes in company culture and recruitment practices. HI VIOLET! PLEASE COULD YOU START BY TELLING US ABOUT YOUR STORY SO FAR? I have worked in tech since my teens, first as a programmer, then gradually specialising in image processing algorithms such as compression and eventually moving into computer vision. I have done both academia and industry but continue to self-identify as an engineer whatever my job title. To me, engineers are people who build useful things that ultimately help others. I really enjoy passing on my accumulated knowledge and supporting the next generation in learning how to make their contribution to the world. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE WOMEN STARTING OUT IN TECH? Do not be afraid. You are perfectly capable of doing this. Just keep practising and the mastery, and its recognition, will come. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS ON HOW COMPANIES CAN REMOVE BIAS FROM AN INTERVIEW PROCESS TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE HAS A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD? Ensure that interview panels always include at least one woman and listen to their view. This also provides a great step-up opportunity for less experienced staff. WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED HIRING WOMEN IN COMPUTER VISION? The very basic challenge of a tiny number of candidates. Their standard may be high, but they often have heavily academic backgrounds which are difficult to transition into industry. WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THESE CHALLENGES AFFECT COMPUTER VISION MORE SO THAN OTHER AREAS OF DS/ML? As a guess, it could be the association with more 'nerdy' areas such as optics and robotics, in other words being more closely related to hardware and greasy overalls than the more abstract and mathematical vibe of general ML and DS. This image (ha-ha) is not true: pixels are features like any others, just a bit more strongly correlated. And the visuals are so much better ;-) WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO WOMEN CONSIDERING APPLYING FOR ROLES BUT WHO MIGHT HAVE RESERVATIONS? If your reservations are about the merits of your prospective employer or their line of business - listen to them most attentively, and make sure to resolve them if you do go ahead. If, on the other hand, your doubts are about your own merits - there is never harm in trying. By seeking feedback on any unsuccessful application, you can learn highly valuable information about yourself, how your skill set is viewed from different application standpoints, what does or doesn't fit, and what you could do to change things. This information is critical to finding the right direction for you but can only be obtained by evaluating a rich range of options. And this does require making contact with the enemy potential new friend. IS THERE A MANTRA OR QUOTE THAT YOU LIVE BY OR JUST LIKE? I strive for balance, maintaining which is a never-ending task. And the best quote about that is: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein   Thanks, Violet! You rock ๐Ÿค˜ Interview by Jamie Forgan

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Tobi Olowu | Diversifying Agencies
WOMEN ROCK2023-06-12

Tobi Olowu | Diversifying Agencies

One of the best ways to improve ED&I within the tech industry is to talk about it at grassroots level and make sure the next generation of tech professionals are aware of the huge breadth of roles available to them and inspire young individuals from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in tech, to create a pipeline of talent that reflects the world we live in. As a recruitment agency that feels so strongly about this, partnering up with Diversifying Agencies was a complete no-brainer for us. Diversifying Agencies was born to help recruiters like us, help fix the ED&I issue within the tech industry. So this week we are chatting with Tobi Olowu, Account Executive at Diversifying Agencies and an incredible young individual passionate about equity, diversity, and inclusion.  Tobi is an artist, has her own business customising clothes and quotes Burna Boy, aka she's fabulous and we LOVED chatting with her... HI TOBI! COULD YOU START BY TELLING US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, WHERE DID YOUR PASSION FOR ED&I BEGIN? HOW YOU BECAME A PART OF DIVERSIFYING AGENCIES? Hi! My name is Tobi, and I’m a 26-year-old Black woman living in the UK. I currently work as an Account Executive for Diversifying Agencies. Where my passion for ED&I began is very simple – I have lived my whole life as a Black woman. Being a woman and Black brings not just one but two challenges. It also gives me the drive and passion to want to make a change in the world we live in, to be accepted without having to put up a fight all the time - not just for myself but for everyone. I came across Diversifying Agencies by scrolling through LinkedIn one night while I was looking for a new job! I saw the job advert and it was exactly what I was looking for in a role, so I started looking into the company and read up on their mission and values. And I thought to myself, why wouldn’t I want to be a part of such a great movement and be able to achieve something like this at a time in my career? I went through the interview process, which was a great experience, and was successful in getting the role! CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT HOW AND WHY DIVERSIFYING AGENCIES WAS CREATED? Diversifying Agencies was co-founded by the amazing Cynthia Davis and Luke Davis, who both have extensive experience in the recruitment industry. They’d previously created two other job boards for employers to advertise roles directly but realised there was nothing out there specifically for recruitment agencies. As more and more employers are asking for proof of inclusive recruitment practices and diverse shortlists, it is SO important for recruitment agencies to show how they are proactively supporting diversity and inclusion. So that’s where Diversifying Agencies was born. We believe recruiters have a massive role to play in moving ED&I forward, so we’ve worked hard to create a safe space and a real community for recruitment professionals to exchange opinions and ideas as they grow. We provide them with the tools they need to make recruitment more representative and inclusive. This means that we only work with agencies and consultants who truly care about making a difference and who are willing to commit to adopting inclusive recruitment practices and advocating for ED&I with their clients. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE DIVERSIFYING AGENCIES MOST SUCCESSFUL METHODS WHEN SUPPORTING ORGANISATIONS ON THEIR JOURNEY TO INCLUSIVE WORKING? One of our guiding principles is that ED&I is about “widening the gate, not lowering the bar”. To us, diverse recruitment is about broadening the talent pool from which candidates are sourced so that we can find the best person for the job, regardless of their background – and it’s something we teach every single one of our partners. We believe it’s all about education, so we offer tailored guidance and support to each of our partners, as well as exclusive ED&I resources and learning materials to support agencies (and their clients) on their journey to building a fairer and more inclusive world of work. Another really successful avenue, in my opinion, is how we connect with our partners on a personal, human level, with a dedicated Account Executive attending to their journey at every step. I love working directly with inclusive recruiters and creating that sense of community! CLEARLY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IS SOMETHING YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT, WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY - OR ANY INDUSTRY FOR THAT MATTER?! Every organisation first needs to commit to their ED&I journey – it doesn’t matter if you’ve just started or if you’re not “doing ED&I” perfectly yet, what matters is that you’re showing an interest in making a difference for people of all backgrounds and committing to support a diverse talent pool. Once candidates see that you’re making the effort, they’ll be more likely to trust you and want to join your organisation – or your industry as a whole. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to ED&I organisations (like Diversifying Group and Diversifying Agencies!) – there are tons of experts out there whose mission is to support companies and give them the tools to better themselves. It can be hard to find that diverse talent pool if you don’t know where to look, so don’t hesitate to reach out to people who can help. AS A WOMAN OF COLOUR, HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY CHALLENGES AND BARRIERS IN YOUR CAREER? As a woman of colour, I would say yes, I have experienced challenges and barriers in my career but not to the great extent I would say many others have experienced. I think I have been quite lucky in not being exposed to too many negative impacts from being a woman of colour, but what I can say is I have felt like at times I have been picked for a tick box exercise more than for my actual experiences and skills I have gained. Other times I have felt I have been treated fairly by my other counterparts. I have had to take other measures to be treated fairly, for example changing my name on my CV, so It’s not discarded to the side because it’s ‘too hard to pronounce’. WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR AND ALSO PERSONALLY? My proudest achievement in my career, to be honest, is this job that I am currently in now as an Account Executive at Diversifying Agencies! I feel like I have come such a long way in such a short time in this role, more than I ever have in any other job in my life. This job challenges me in many ways, but it’s also helping me grow, and I’m very grateful for that. In my personal life, my proudest achievement is my side hustle as an artist. I’ve loved to draw from a very young age and even though I stopped during university, I picked it up again during the pandemic. I started my own small business customising clothing during the pandemic too, and I have been able to sell my own work. It took a lot for me to come out of my shell and do such a big thing but I’m so happy I took the leap of faith and did it. Check my work out here! WHO WOULD YOU SAY INSPIRES YOU? THIS COULD BE A COLLEAGUE, FAMILY MEMBER, FRIEND OR CELEBRITY. I always find this to be a tricky question! I feel like everyone else can say what inspires them off the top of their head, but I always have to sit there and think before I can answer. I’d say what inspires me changes frequently to whatever is motivating me at the time to do better. For example, If I can see my peers doing great things in their field, it just makes me want to do better. But if I had to choose one, it would definitely be my parents. I admire them very much and they inspire me every day - how strong they are, their resilience, their work ethic… I could go on. I am the person I am today because of them. WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPIEST IN YOUR FREE TIME? What makes me happy in my spare time is drawing and painting. I would consider myself to be a street artist. I love street art, graffiti, and old-school art. I recently went to the ‘Beyond the Streets’ art exhibition in London which featured some really dope artists and I felt like I was in heaven. Drawing feels peaceful to me, and I love being able to just get carried away with my creativity. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY? My favourite quotes always change throughout my life, to be honest. It really depends on what stage I am in my life or what’s going on in my personal or work life. But right now, my favourite quote is by Burna Boy: “I can’t come and kill myself!” (a common Nigerian saying). This means that no matter what is going on in my life, especially situations I have no control over, I can’t stress myself over it and make myself potentially ill and allow it to affect my mental health. I’d rather take things one day at a time and do what I can but not stretch myself. I’m only one person!   Thanks, Tobi! You rock ๐Ÿค˜Interview by Sophie Eadon

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Fleur Thompson | Tumelo
WOMEN ROCK2023-05-30

Fleur Thompson | Tumelo

What does a job title actually tell you about a person? And in this day and age, are all job titles completely reflective of what we do day-to-day?  When Fleur Thompson decided a change was due after being with the same company for 9 years she struggled to identify with a specific role and what would suit her experience. After studying Computer Science at Uni and spending the first few years of her career as a software developer the tech skills were obvious, however, she had also picked up a load of soft skills along the way, opening up many more options in her new job search. Now Principle Solutions Architect at Tumelo, Fleur gets to use all her skills in an amazing culture, surrounded by amazing people - the dream!  Are you ready for a move? Or feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed with what is out there? Then give this a read and take the leap... KICKING THINGS OFF COULD YOU PLEASE TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, YOUR JOB AND WHAT YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LOOKS LIKE? I'm currently working as a Principal Solutions Architect at Tumelo. I've been here nearly 11 months now, and so far my job has mainly involved helping our customers to integrate Tumelo's technology and then feeding customer requirements back into our engineering and product teams internally. As the first person in this role, I've had lots of opportunities to improve our processes and my previous experience in dealing with contracts has been very handy! In the last couple of months, my focus has shifted more towards our internal engineering practices, and looking to improve how we work so that we have a stable foundation to support Tumelo's future growth. I've had a fairly traditional path to get to where I am today - I studied Computer Science at university and then after spending the first few years of my career as a software developer, I gradually moved into customer-facing roles. Ireally enjoy being able to blend my technical background with the soft skills that I have. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO COMPANIES TO ATTRACT MORE DIVERSE FOLK INTO THEIR TECHNICAL ROLES? You can normally tell fairly easily whether a company is just saying that they care about diversity, without actually meaning it. If you look at a company's leadership page and it's all white men then that's a pretty big indicator! I think something that's really important is recognising that women will typically not apply to jobs unless they feel they meet all of the criteria for the role, so take the time to craft your job listing carefully, and call out that you aren't necessarily looking for applicants to tick every box. Celebrate the diversity that you have within your organisation on your careers page and social media profiles, and highlight any company policies that you have in place which may be particularly attractive to underrepresented groups. DEGREES, I HAVE HUGE RESPECT FOR FOLK WHO SPENT YEARS (AND MONEY) ON A DEGREE BUT EQUALLY, I THINK TOO MANY COMPANIES REQUEST THEM AS STANDARD AND CAN BE A BLOCKER FOR MANY (AND MOSTLY UNDERREPRESENTED FOLK) INTO THE INDUSTRY. DO YOU THINK A DEGREE IS ESSENTIAL TO GET INTO TECH? My former boss not only required applicants to have a degree, but if it wasn't a Computer Science degree from one of a handful of universities then you didn't really stand a chance of getting an interview. This then resulted in an environment where there was very little diversity of background and perspective as everyone had had extremely similar experiences. Technical ability is objectively measurable, so there's absolutely no reason to make a degree a prerequisite for a role when it's so easy to determine whether someone has the right skills in other ways, for example asking them to complete a technical assessment as part of the interview process (although ChatGPT presents an interesting challenge there for companies given candidates could be using it to complete the assessment for them!). I also think some companies focus too much on requiring very specific experience in certain technologies rather than evaluating candidates as a whole - it's much easier to teach someone how to use a particular technology than it is to mould someone's behaviour. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DATE? After 9 years with the same company, I decided to look for a new role. It was only then that I realised that having a job title that doesn't accurately reflect what you do or how senior you are is a significant barrier when it comes to applying for jobs. I struggled with knowing what kind of position would suit my experience, and I found it challenging to find suitable jobs to apply to and work out how to highlight the value I could bring. I definitely learnt a lot from this though, and my advice to anyone in a similar position would be to focus on what you enjoy doing and your strengths and highlight those areas when applying to appropriate roles. WHO INSPIRES YOU MOST IN A PROFESSIONAL/PERSONAL SENSE? As someone who follows a lot of sports, I am naturally inspired by sportspeople,  particularly elite-level netball players in the UK. As the sport isn't professional here, the athletes have to balance their sporting commitments with their full-time jobs (doctors, lawyers, teachers...), and some of them are mums too. Netball is such an underrated sport, I really encourage anyone to go and watch a Superleague game if you have the chance, it's so much faster and more physical than the game you'll remember from school! In a professional sense, I have to mention Tumelo's CEO, Georgia. Not only does she have an unwavering drive to succeed in Tumelo's mission, she is passionate about creating a great culture within the company and really strives to ensure that we have a diverse team. I love that at Tumelo, I'm never the only woman in a meeting, even if it's just with engineers, and I have male colleagues who will call out the use of non-inclusive language (not that that's a common occurrence!). I’D LOVE TO KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON CULTURE. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE A GREAT CULTURE? Culture isn't just words on a page, it's a living, breathing thing. It's great if a company has a defined set of values that underline its culture, but if the leadership team doesn't embody those values, or if employees aren't actively encouraged to live by them, then it's effectively meaningless. Psychological safety is something that I think is really key when it comes to creating a great culture, particularly because people need to feel able to call out when they've seen something that goes against the company's values. WHAT ONE PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS? Don't be afraid to speak up and share your views. It's unfortunately often the loudest/most vocal people in the room that get themselves heard - if that doesn't suit your personality then try and find another way to make sure that you have a voice. YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR MANTRA YOU LIVE BY? Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.   Thanks, Fleur you rock!   Interview by Alicia Teagle

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Jenny Strickland | Vistair
WOMEN ROCK2023-05-23

Jenny Strickland | Vistair

What's your superpower?  Jenny Strickland's is her dyslexia. Since being diagnosed at the age of 14 Jenny has learnt to embrace her dyslexia and we are HERE FOR IT! The tech industry thrives on diversity and inclusion, valuing different ways of thinking and unique perspectives, so as Development Director at Vistair Systems, Jenny harnesses her ability to solve problems quickly in her own way and celebrates her uniqueness.  She's also a mum of two, a huge ED&I advocate and has recently set up Women @ Vistair to make sure the company are as inclusive to their needs as it can be...basically she's a superhero, without the cape - they don't all wear them you know... HI JENNY, THANK YOU FOR BEING INVOLVED WITH WOMEN ROCK! COULD YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU FIRST GOT STARTED IN TECH? I actually got into tech by pure luck! When doing my A Levels I was really into sport (you wouldn’t think that now looking at me) and thought that would be the career path for me, however near the end of my studies I realised that it was just not for me as a career. Fairly quickly I had to look for an alternative path that was interesting to me, one degree really stood out. Business information management systems (BIMS) just ticked so many boxes. Coming from an entrepreneurial family I am really interested in how businesses are run etc. I was lucky that I worked with great people on the course and the engineering side was extremely interesting. I was then fortunate to get a placement year that cemented that this was the career path for me. YOU ARE THE DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR AT VISTAIR SYSTEMS IN BRISTOL, WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE TO SEE A WOMAN LEADING FROM THE FRONT WITHIN A TECH COMPANY. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE AND WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE JOB? I often get asked these questions in interviews and I find it difficult to answer. I like to think that my style is to empower people, get buy-in by ensuring people understand what I am trying to do, and being as transparent as I can be - what you see is what you get.   I am passionate about my job; I love to see what the team can build and share in their successes. My favourite type of meeting is when we are all swarmed around a whiteboard collaborating on ideas and feeding off everyone’s energy and excitement. AS A WOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST AND WORST THING YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED WITHIN THE INDUSTRY OVER THE YEARS? Good question! The worst thing I have encountered was quite a few years ago, I was in a meeting where I was the only female representative and was completely ignored. When I made suggestions, these were then repeated by someone else in the room! I felt completely invisible. Although the above is an extreme example of not feeling noticed, I see this behaviour on a surprisingly frequent basis, especially in interviews, where the interviewee cannot look me in the eye etc (let’s just say that they do not get the job!). I think people are still surprised to see a female leader in tech. As someone that suffers from imposter syndrome, I think it’s important to have a community of women that support each other. When you have this, you can really thrive and feel supported in whatever you do. My time working at Vistair has been amazing, I never think of myself as a female leader or woman in technology I am just part of the team, and everyone is supporting you. QUITE A LOT OF WOMEN HAVE FELT THEY HAVE HAD TO MAKE SACRIFICES WITH FAMILY TO PURSUE THEIR CAREER CHOICES, AS A MOTHER YOURSELF HAVE YOU EVER COME UP AGAINST ANY BARRIERS LIKE THIS AND IF SO, HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM? I have two wonderful but slightly demanding children (7 & 9), I am lucky that now that they are at school, I can spend time focusing on myself and my career however this has not always been the case. The hardest time for me was going on maternity leave and not working for that period. I was really honest with my employer at the time and they added lots of keeping-in-touch days so that I felt like I was still part of the company. After my first, I decided to work part-time, but unfortunately, this did not work for me so went back full time quickly. This meant that they had to go to nursery at a young age, I was very critical of myself at the time and trying to juggle the best for me and also my children. My advice to anyone in a similar situation is to be transparent with your partner and your manager about what is and is not working for you. But also don’t be hard on yourself and compare yourself to others. I KNOW THAT YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT BUILDING A DIVERSE TEAM AT VISTAIR, AND YOU’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL WITH DIVERSE HIRES RECENTLY – HOW DO YOU ENSURE YOUR INTERVIEW PROCESS IS INCLUSIVE AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER HIRING MANAGERS AROUND THIS?  I always try and keep interviews as informal as possible; I believe that you are not going to get the most out of the interviewees if the candidates are not relaxed. A successful interview for me is when the candidate does not actually feel they were in an interview. I think it is also important to talk about your company values and what type of candidate you are looking for, this makes them already feel like they can add value to your company. If possible, bring people into the interview that would make the candidate feel at ease or they can relate to, they are much more likely to accept an offer if they feel like they “belong”. WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT VISTAIR IS A GREAT PLACE TO WORK FOR PEOPLE FROM ALL DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS AND WALKS OF LIFE? Vistair has a great culture of inclusiveness and hiring great people no matter what their backgrounds are. The fact that one of our company values is “Inclusive: We’re friendly, welcoming and see strength in diversity” demonstrates our passion. I am always sceptical about company values and if they are followed etc, but working at Vistair is converting me. There are so many examples of where actions support what we say we do. For example: Diwali celebrations: favourite time of year for me when we all get together and celebrate Diwali and eat samosas. Mental Health: We have trained mental health first aiders that provide the support that is so important. Social events organised by the social committee and varied to support different backgrounds e.g. board games night, movie nights, pub, cricket matches, football matches ……. I don’t think any company/organisation is perfect, but we are always trying to make ourselves better. Currently, the director of people and I are doing Women @ Vistair sessions where we are asking all the women at Vistair what we can do to make it more inclusive. Feedback on what a company can do better is essential to supporting different backgrounds. LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR SELF-PROCLAIMED SUPERPOWER! WE HAVE TALKED PREVIOUSLY ABOUT YOU GROWING UP STRUGGLING WITH UNDIAGNOSED DYSLEXIA AND HOW LATER IN LIFE IT HAS BENEFITED YOU AND BECOME A BIG STRENGTH OF YOURS. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT AND THE IMPACT IT’S MADE ON YOUR CAREER? I’ve had Dyslexia all my life, but it wasn’t diagnosed until I was about 14, before this time I was just put in the not-very-bright group. Once I was diagnosed everything started to make sense. I now really embrace my “superpower” as it makes me different but also relatable. I am not perfect and frequently say the wrong thing in meetings which can often break tensions or makes it more memorable. If anyone is neurodiverse, they tend to look at situations differently. For example, I think my dyslexia gives me better problem-solving skills. This ability to solve problems quickly and logically has helped me get to where I am now. ON THE TOPIC OF NEURODIVERSITY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU PERSONALLY GIVE TO HIRING MANAGERS/EMPLOYERS WHO ARE TRYING TO ENSURE THEIR INTERVIEW PROCESS IS ALSO ATTRACTING NEURODIVERSE CANDIDATES? Be careful with any type of technical tests, a lot of the time you are just testing people’s ability to complete the test rather than their technical ability. For example, as someone that suffers from dyslexia, I need more time to read the questions and I would rather discuss the answer in person than write anything down. Don’t be too critical if they don’t use the exact technical terminology just ensure that you are confident that what they are explaining makes sense and that they understand the concepts. Be conscious of the environment you are doing the interview in to make sure there are as comfortable. Sometimes an over-stimulating environment can be distracting. Perhaps send the format of the interview in advance to the candidate and ask them if they are comfortable with the format. IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO YOUR 16-YEAR-OLD SELF, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE HER? Just go for it! Be brave and ambitious and don’t fear failing – it’s the best way to learn! I sometimes just wish I had more faith in myself. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST THING TECH COMPANIES COULD DO TO ATTRACT MORE FEMALE TALENT? AND I GUESS, IF IT WAS YOU LOOKING – WHAT WOULD ATTRACT YOU TO A COMPANY? I think it’s important to be able to see what diversity already exists, so I would look at the ratio of women in the senior management team or Board. Flexible working and good benefits including maternity and paternity leave. But the most important thing is the overall culture of a company. WHO IS SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE THAT INSPIRES YOU? (THAT YOU KNOW PERSONALLY OR IS A FAMOUS PERSON) Lame, I know but I would say my mum. My parents set up their company when I was very young, and I have seen how much she helped grow the company in a very male-dominated environment (building contractors).  She has so much strength and self-belief. FINALLY, COULD YOU LEAVE US WITH YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE? (THIS WILL BE THE HEADING ON YOUR BLOG/INTERVIEW POST WHEN IT GOES UP ON THE WEBSITE) Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. -Margaret Mead   Thanks Jenny, you rock! Interview by Steph Jackson

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Felicitas Coulibaly | Mambu
WOMEN ROCK2023-05-16

Felicitas Coulibaly | Mambu

If we had a magic wand, we would wave it in the general direction of the tech industry, utter something along the lines of "Expelliarmus" and get rid of the ED&I issue for good. But the fact remains there are no magic wands as much as there are no "quick fixes" when it comes to solving this complex and multi-faceted matter. "The problem doesn’t actually start at the business: it starts with the early years where you need to be encouraging people from all backgrounds to go for all sorts of opportunities." explains this week's blog guest, Felicita Coulibaly.  THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME TODAY. SO, TO BEGIN WITH, IT WOULD BE GREAT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR ROLE AT MAMBU. I’ve been at Mambu coming up to 2 years now and I’ve built the Global Insides Sales function which in layman’s terms is looking after pipe gen, booking sales meetings, qualifying opportunities and so forth. I’ve had a really good time so far. Mambu has been going through major growth and has scaled up rapidly since last year. As well as looking after the business development functions, I also work really closely with marketing partners to ensure BD excellence within the EMEA region. It has been an interesting time over this last year with everything going on in the tech industry, but we’re still growing, customers are still expanding, and there’s lots of work to do in the finance sector, especially in modernisation! I ALSO SAW ON YOUR WEBSITE THAT MAMBU IS A KEY CHAMPION FOR DE&I, I’D LOVE TO KNOW A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CELEBRATE DIVERSITY?  What I’ve noticed about Mambu is that there is a genuine care about the employees and, on a parallel, the employees equally care about DE&I. So there are a lot of things that we do that are not necessarily even organised by the “officials” but are prompted by employees who have the drive to organise events. We have Cultural Ambassadors in every office at Mambu as well as remotely. These people look after the culture from all angles so that may be from organising events or sending care packages during COVID to also ensuring that our panels and events include internal and external speakers. When it comes to DE&I, for International Women’s Day and Black History Month, we run events that show a combined effort and visibility from both the business and the employees which is really good.  I LOVE THE IDEA OF CULTURAL AMBASSADORS. MAMBU CLEARLY HAS A GREAT STRUCTURE THAT’S BEEN IMPLEMENTED SO WHEN YOU THINK OF THE TECH BUSINESS’, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY COULD BE DOING MORE OF IN REGARD TO DIVERSE HIRING?  I think it’s tricky, it comes down to both talent attraction and making sure you get the best for the role and you’re never going to hire just to tick a box. The problem doesn’t actually start at the business: it starts with the early years where you need to be encouraging people from all backgrounds to go for all sorts of opportunities.I think businesses are starting to and should continue to partner up with universities and schools. Having employees during volunteering days visit schools and explain the range of tech jobs that are available. I didn’t have that when I was growing up - I didn’t know that Fintech was a thing as it was never discussed. I always assumed that people who work in IT had IT degrees for example. There are so many assumptions that people make depending on their background but by reaching out to different communities, you’re ensuring that everyone is included. That’s what I think businesses could be doing more of: being proactive in sharing what the tech world is like. We’ve recently implemented charity days and I think it would be awesome if we could do more like this. From a business leadership point of view, I believe this should be really encouraged because even though it may not have an immediate consequence as we have talent pools ready and available, the long-term effect would be so impactful. For every job that we put out, we probably always get 80% male versus 20% female applications. And, if you go deeper with it, it gets even worse.I would urge companies, particularly in tech, to get involved a little bit more in some shape or form through community work, particularly for schools. Because you can see that big consultancies will go to certain universities, like Oxford or Harvard, and pick the top of the crop. But, there are so many schools and universities that have equally brilliant talent and they deserve a chance.I remember I went to a Black People and Banking Event in London a few years back and there was a lady on the panel in her early 20s. She just started her career in finance and asset management and she said the school she went to in South East London had told her that there was “no way you’ll ever work north of the river”. That sort of mindset was being established in schools – so there’s definitely a lot that we can do.  ABSOLUTELY, IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO FOCUS ON THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. SO, ANOTHER AREA THAT I’D LOVE TO DISCUSS WITH YOU IS IN REGARD TO THE CURRENT MARKET. WE’RE SEEING IN THIS MARKET THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE REACTING TO THE TECH GIANTS LAYOFFS AND ARE LOOKING TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESSES. AS THE HEAD OF BD, WITH DIVERSITY IN MIND, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE? Oh, great question – it’s a big question, for sure! I would say surround yourself with people that are not like you. If you are starting a business, obviously you’ll need to surround yourself with people that you trust first and foremost. That is the most important thing. But as you build out your leadership teams and when you start hiring, surround yourself with people who are different from you. We tend to attract people who are similar and focus on the ones that we know, that make us feel comfortable and look like us.  I mean it’s no joke that if you look at all of the boards of the top Fortune 500 companies, they all look kind of similar don’t they? Luckily, we are seeing small changes. But, if you are to give yourself the best chance of growing, so many studies have shown that diverse hiring is important. There was a study done by McKinsey who found in 2020 that businesses with more diverse boards have 36% above average profits. Another report I read last week from 2018 published that boards with gender diversity outperform boards without gender diversity. Also, I think it was BCG who found in 2019 that diverse teams drive higher innovation. And then, Deloitte in 2018 found diverse teams outperform competitors by 80%. So really? It’s all out there. If you’re starting a business and you want to be successful, this is the way forward. Even from a capitalistic and for-profit perspective, diversity is important.  THOSE STATISTICS SAY EVERYTHING! FINALLY, IS THERE ANY MESSAGE OR THOUGHTS YOU’D LIKE TO END ON? I’d like to say that whilst I’m speaking from the female lens, I’m also speaking from the lens of a woman of colour and I’m very mindful that diversity comes in all shapes, forms and sizes. You can’t get it 100% right all of the time and I think people sometimes look at this and they get really scared because nowadays you get called out more for what you do wrong than what you do right. I think it’s also really important for companies and business leaders to celebrate how far they have come in being inclusive because you can’t fix it all in one day. It’s all about mindset and the willingness to do the work and keep going for long-term impact and results. So yeah, it’s important to create visibility, go to events and continue the work you are doing to help improve diverse hiring. It’s something we all need to get on board with!   Thank you Felicitas - you rock! Interview by Lizzie Murray

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Ciara Conway | Opencast
WOMEN ROCK2023-05-09

Ciara Conway | Opencast

Who remembers the first Apple Macintosh Computer at school? There was usually just one if your school was lucky enough to have the budget and IT lessons were basic computer literacy and productivity software, such as word processors and spreadsheets. It was hard to imagine how these learnings would ever translate into a career. Thankfully technology education has come on leaps and bounds and as this week's interviewee Ciara Conway says if we "start them young!" we can attract a more diverse workforce in the world of tech. Ciara herself has experienced some challenges being a woman in the tech industry and shares with us how these experiences have given her the strength and voice to speak up for herself and others in similar positions. Now Head of Architecture at Opencast, Ciara speaks passionately about the 'Don't Step Over the Milk" culture and is here to tell us all about the 'OpenHouse' Opencast will be hosting this month... CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT OPENCAST? I am Head of Architecture at Opencast. I lead a team of Enterprise, Solution and Technical Architects. I have come to Opencast to help build and develop our Architecture Practice and ensure we have the right skills to support our diverse range of clients. I GUESS WE SHOULD START AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR TECH STORY, HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY? When I was growing up, we always had a computer in the house. I learned to program from quite a young age and always thought of it as a hobby and not as a career. Tech education in the 80s and 90s was lacking, and I couldn’t equate what we did in technical subjects to something that would translate into a career. I tended towards more arts and language-based subjects, and I had an innate desire to travel. This led me to study French and Spanish at University. Although my dissertation did have a Neuro Linguistic Programming slant. I finished university and moved to France almost immediately, followed by Spain and then Italy. I worked as a TEFL teacher and taught English to diverse groups of students. It was one of these students who offered me a job at an internet start-up. This is where all the things I enjoyed started to converge. I was speaking Italian every day, I was programming, and I could see the relevance of all the skills I had developed through hobbies, passions, and education within a work context. I formalised my experience there by returning to university to read for a Masters in IT. From here, my career blossomed. I gained more experience and experienced different technology roles until I found architecture. It’s always been the perfect role for me but, as they say, is the journey and not the destination that matters. And they, whoever they are, are right! I gained so much experience and breadth in my career by trying new things and being open to my career moving in unexpected directions! I QUITE OFTEN GET ASKED BY PEOPLE WHO ARE EMBARKING ON THEIR JOURNEY INTO THE INDUSTRY AND PEOPLE WHO ARE LOOKING TO BREAK INTO TECH, WHERE DO THEY START AND IF A UNIVERSITY DEGREE ESSENTIAL?  For those wanting to break into tech, it’s important to understand where you want to break into tech. If you want to be a developer, it’s a very different career pathway than that of a Technical Project Manager or technical business analyst. Understanding the breadth of roles available in technology today and which ones spark your light is the most important place to start. Some of those roles may require formal education or accreditation and some may not. When you have an idea of what kind of roles you want to target, look at the roles that will give you that experience and then look at the effort to get there. Make decisions based on the amount of time and effort you want to expend getting there. AS A WOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY, HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES OR BARRIERS IN YOUR CAREER? Unfortunately, I have faced challenges and barriers in my career because of my gender. I have always been in male-dominated environments. I have frequently been the only woman in the team or in the whole department. There are a few ways this has impacted me. Earlier in my career, it did make me feel very isolated and I found myself trying to emulate my colleagues to ‘fit in’. I have faced different levels of misogyny throughout my career. Comments like ‘Menopause isn’t a thing’, ‘Are you on your period?’, ‘When are you thinking of starting a family?’ and others were more prevalent in the early 2000s than they are now. However, I have also been paid significantly less than my male equivalent on more than one occasion. It happened four times during my career (that I know of) and it ultimately has made me a more skilled negotiator, but it has created an economic disparity with my male equivalents over the span of my career that so many women experience in the industry. I reflect on these moments in my career often. I wonder if I handled them all with the courage I have today and if I gave my consent to be made to feel inferior. I was frightened to complain in some of these male-dominated environments for fear I would lose my job and had rent to pay. I am more settled in my career now and not living pay cheque to pay cheque and it has strengthened my voice. I use it for myself and for those like me at the start of my career who need someone to rock the boat for them. I am glad I can pay it forward now. DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IS SOMETHING MANY COMPANIES WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ARE TRYING TO IMPROVE ON. WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH? Start them young! Early STEM programs are so important to introduce girls and young women to the breadth of exciting careers in the Technology sector. It’s very challenging ensuring diversity in an architecture team today when those women would need to have existed 10/15 years ago to be applying for a senior position today. In the early 2000s, only 30% of people studying technical subjects at university or college were women. With career drop-off due to the inequalities women face as a result of a number of mostly gender-related factors, this leaves an ever-dwindling pool of women who are applying for these roles. Investing in pipeline talent, training and career-switching programs helps create that pipeline and helps a lot of women come into or come back to architecture (and other technical disciplines). Workplace inequality around pay, maternity/paternity leave, maternity leave being delayed until x months into a job, and childcare support all have to be addressed to ensure that women have a level playing field at work. We also need to work as a society to remove biases pertaining to the roles that we assume people should play based on their gender. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE OPEN HOUSE OPENCAST ARE RUNNING IN GLASGOW NEXT WEEK? WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE WHO WANT TO ATTEND EXPECT? We are so excited to be officially opening our Glasgow office on 16th May 2023. We would love people to come along to find out more about who we are and what we do. We are always looking for the best people to come and work in our incredible culture. The line that sums up our culture is ‘Don’t Step Over the Milk’. We are not a company burdened with hierarchy and no one is too important to step over the milk….or unpack the dishwasher! We genuinely care about diversity, and we create a safe space in which people can be their authentic selves. There are many companies for whom culture is just a word. We really do have an amazing culture at Opencast that I like to call the ‘secret sauce’. Do come along to meet us in Glasgow and experience it first-hand! WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPIEST IN YOUR FREE TIME? I have always had about 100 hobbies all running at once and that’s what makes me happy! I love knitting, crocheting, painting and really anything artsy or craftsy. I sing in a number of choirs, and I absolutely love the camaraderie and excitement when we are preparing for a concert or a show. I love the great outdoors; walking and wild swimming but I draw the line at camping out! WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY? “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt, former U.S. First Lady and U.S. Delegate to the United Nations. Join Opencast to celebrate the opening of their Glasgow Hub on Tuesday 16 May, 6-8pm by saving your space here - Opencast OpenHouse. Thanks Ciara - you rock ๐Ÿค˜ Interview by Sophie Eadon

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