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!

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 🀘 Interview by Sophie Eadon

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Grace Witter | Patchwork Health
WOMEN ROCK2023-05-02

Grace Witter | Patchwork Health

When contemplating a career that means you can transition from stay-at-home mum to working from home, not all of us would immediately think of looking into the tech industry - especially those of us who don't have previous experience. But when Grace Witter's youngest was still a baby she taught herself to code and followed her heart - and we're so glad she did!  Grace is now Technical Product Manager at award-winning health-tech company Patchwork Health AND founder of Tech Sisters - a community that exists to celebrate and support Muslim women in tech - which we are totally here for!  HELLO GRACE! CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOU, AND WHAT YOU DO AT THE MOMENT? Hi everyone! I'm thrilled to be part of SR2's Women Rock series. I'm currently working as the Technical Product Manager at Patchwork Health, where I lead the technical team and oversee the development of our workforce management solution for the NHS.Throughout my career, I've always been passionate about Tech for Good and using technology to positively impact people's lives. That's why I feel so lucky to be working in the healthcare industry and making a difference in the lives of patients and healthcare workers.In addition to my work at Patchwork Health, I'm also the founder of Tech Sisters, a community that I started in 2019 with a mission to help Muslim women feel seen and validated in their tech journeys. Through Tech Sisters, we aim to create a supportive community where Muslim women can network, share experiences, and find inspiration and guidance to build fulfilling and long-term careers in tech.I believe that diversity and inclusivity are crucial for the tech industry to thrive, and I'm proud to be part of the movement that's working towards making tech more accessible and welcoming to everyone, regardless of their background or identity. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GET INTO TECH? When my youngest child was still a baby, I was researching ways that I could transition from being a stay-at-home mom to working from home. I was looking for a career that would be flexible, challenging, and rewarding, and I stumbled upon tech as one of the options. I was intrigued by the idea of being able to create something out of nothing and seeing the impact the things that I built had on the people who used them.I began teaching myself how to code HTML, CSS, and Javascript and started doing some freelance work building WordPress sites for small businesses. I loved the feeling of bringing someone's vision to life on the web and seeing their business grow as a result of my work. As I gained more experience, I realized that I wanted to go deeper into tech and explore new areas of development.That's when I decided to pursue a career in frontend development, and I was fortunate to get a position at HappyPorch, a B Corp just like SR2. Working at HappyPorch was a fantastic experience, as I was able to learn from and collaborate with some incredibly talented people, while also contributing to projects that had a positive impact on society. MORE SPECIFICALLY, WHY DID YOU MOVE INTO PRODUCT MANAGEMENT? WHAT WAS THAT TRANSITION LIKE? While I loved my work as a frontend developer, I found myself getting a little bit burned out with coding and I realised that I was increasingly asking more "what" and "why" questions rather than "how". I was curious about the bigger picture of how the software products we were building were fitting into the overall strategy of our clients, and I wanted to be involved in shaping that strategy.During my time at HappyPorch, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing Product Managers, including Lauren Dudley, who had a fantastic ability to organize work and keep everyone aligned with the product vision. Seeing how she worked and how much impact she was able to make inspired me to explore the world of product management further.I started taking advantage of more product-related opportunities at HappyPorch, took courses, and gained certifications. Gradually, I transitioned into a more product-focused role and when the time was right, I was fortunate to be able to transition to the Product Manager role at Patchwork.The transition was not without its challenges, as I had to learn new skills and adapt to a different way of thinking. However, I found that my experience as a front-end developer gave me a solid foundation in understanding the technical aspects of our products, which has been incredibly useful in my role as a product manager. WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE HARDEST, AND MOST REWARDING THING ABOUT BEING A PRODUCT MANAGER? The most rewarding part of the job for me is the discovery work, where I get to listen to our users' needs and brainstorm ways to solve their problems. It's a fantastic feeling to know that I've helped someone solve a problem or meet a need that they had.Hearing positive feedback from the users is incredibly fulfilling like them saying that I really listened to them. It's a testament to the hard work that we've put in to make their experience better, and it's what makes being a product manager so worthwhile.However, there are also some challenging aspects of being a product manager. For instance, it can be hard adjusting to the more zoomed-out way of thinking, rather than just focusing on each ticket like I did when I was a developer. As a product manager, I am accountable for the product during its entire journey, and that can be overwhelming at times.Keeping everyone inside and outside the business aligned is sometimes like herding cats. It requires strong communication skills, a clear understanding of the product's goals, and the ability to manage multiple stakeholders. I KNOW THAT YOU ARE ALSO THE FOUNDER OF TECH SISTERS! CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THIS? I founded Tech Sisters in 2019 after working as a developer for a few years but never meeting any other Muslim women in a similar space. I would go to huge conferences in London, but still be the only person there wearing a hijab. I reached out online and verified that a lot of other Muslim women in tech shared my exact experience.That's when I decided to start the Tech Sisters newsletter. Initially, I just cold-messaged people on LinkedIn who I thought would be a good fit for an interview. The response was overwhelming, and I quickly realized that there was a real need for a community of Muslim women in tech.Since then, Tech Sisters has grown to become a Slack community and a podcast. We provide our members with mentors from the community and facilitate career and skills workshops. Our goal is to help Muslim women in tech find support, advice, and guidance from other women who have been through similar experiences.Our members frequently tell us that they've gone for many years in their careers being the only Muslim woman at work and that they've looked for a space like Tech Sisters for a very long time. We let the women in this community know that we see them and that their experiences are valid. We give them examples and stories of women like them who are successful in their careers without sacrificing their identities. And we connect them with a supportive community who are on similar journies.  WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS JUST STARTING OUT IN THE PRODUCT SPACE? If you're just starting out in the Product space, my first piece of advice would be to learn from your users. Take the time to understand your users' needs and preferences. Conduct user research, engage with your customers, and gather feedback. By putting your users' needs first, you can build a product that truly solves their problems.Remember to build relationships across the business, not just with your immediate team. Your colleagues are an amazing source of information, especially those in customer-facing roles like sales and customer care. They know what matters most to your customers and their pain points, so take the time to engage with them and learn from their insights.Also, make sure you're metrics-driven and can effectively communicate your work's impact. Identify metrics that matter to your various stakeholders, so you can easily communicate the success of your product to them. Being data-driven is crucial in making informed decisions that drive the product's success.   Thanks, Grace you rock! Interview by Gina Sumner

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LORAINE KIELY | RAINMAKER SOLUTIONS
WOMEN ROCK2023-04-25

LORAINE KIELY | RAINMAKER SOLUTIONS

Who's up for a heavy dose of inspiration this morning?  "I’ve never let myself think that I’m disadvantaged for being female" - simple but extremely effective words from this week's blog guest Loraine Kiely, Director of Culture and Strategic Projects at Rainmaker Solutions. Both creative and technically driven, Loraine created her own path into the world of tech helping to digitise an interior design business - and hasn't looked back since. Loraine's story really shows that a focused and positive attitude and a strong mindset can really get you to where you want to be - especially when faced with strong hierarchical cultures and male-dominated environments.  HEY LORAINE! THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WITH US. LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING – HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY? When I had to choose what I wanted to do at university, I went for where the jobs would be. Business information systems (coding) very quickly became something I didn’t want to do, so I went into interior design. I’m very creative, but also very technical and process-orientated. I ended up working for an interior design business that needed digitisation. The role required a balance of both creative and process-orientated approaches. It took me a while to figure out the need for creative and technical/logical balance, so in the end, I created my own path. I don’t really think about myself being a “woman” in tech – I’m just a tech professional who tries to do her job well. WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN THE INDUSTRY? I was once part of a very hierarchical culture – I was managed in a way that wasn’t allowing me to get the outcomes that were needed. I had to push against that management style to get the outcomes but in a respectable way that didn’t clash with the culture and established structure. I had to be careful about how I did that. I based everything on facts, and having good insights – keeping the emotions out of it and maintaining calm in all of the conversations. I’ve never let myself think that I’m disadvantaged for being female. I’ve always believed I was good at what I did and deserved to be where I am. I’ve had support from a lot of strong female leaders, but I appreciate that isn’t always the case, and that it isn’t always so straightforward for others. I’ve been really lucky in that respect and acknowledge that. I don’t allow myself to have the mindset of being targeted or disadvantaged. I was doing the job as well as (if not better) than everyone else. I just kept pushing and refused to take NO for an answer.  HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? I’d say the highlight of my career is getting to a point where I’ve proven myself enough that people give me the autonomy to go and get the job done. Not having to always actively apply for roles because people I’d worked with before would seek me out or recommend me, demonstrating that I’ve built a solid reputation that I can be proud of. In previous roles, I was shadow-supporting leaders with data and information, which led to me being trusted and having the autonomy to get the job done in any way I saw fit, allowing me to capitalise on my creative nature. This means a lot to me because it means I’ve got it right and found an effective solution. Being appreciated for my effort and being rewarded with trust and autonomy makes all the hard work worth it. This is the foundation for tangible external results – it all begins with trust. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS WHO WANT TO GO INTO THE SAME CAREER? Gain insights, do your research, and come up with a solution that everyone can understand. It's ok not to be pigeon-holed or boxed in – allow yourself to be more fluid and allow lateral thinking. Don’t let people force you into something you’re not comfortable with.  WHAT AREA OF D&I ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT AND WHY? I can’t pick just one – race, sexuality, gender, accessibility/disability, they’re all important and worth addressing. It’s just not right that there isn’t equality. Keeping the conversation strictly gender-based isn’t telling the full story. Break down the defensiveness and have open conversations about all areas of D&I, not just one. WHAT AREA OF D&I DO YOU FEEL IS MOST UNDERREPRESENTED AND WHAT DO YOU THINK THE INDUSTRY COULD DO TO CHANGE THAT? I think Race, Gender, and the LGBTQ has a lot of media coverage. But “physical disability” doesn’t have people constantly in the media educating people. I believe the quietest voice in the room is for the physical disability minority. People that have disabilities don’t have a choice – and it’s something they have to deal with every day, often even just for simple tasks. I believe shedding some light on this would require society to approach the conversation openly - don’t point the finger or throw stones as this doesn’t actually solve the problem. Have the conversations and focus on education. Come with solutions, not problems.  FAVOURITE MANTRA/QUOTE YOU LIVE BY? Love is love!   Thanks, Loraine, you ROCK! Interview by Andrew Delsol

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HANNAH GRINSTED | RORYN
WOMEN ROCK2023-04-18

HANNAH GRINSTED | RORYN

There is no 'quick fix' when it comes to ED&I in the tech industry - or any industry for that matter - and we're thankful for that.  We don't want senior managers to cut corners or rush processes when it comes to equality and equity and neither should they. Hannah Grinsted beautifully sums this up in this week's Women Rock interview with Women Rock founder Alicia Teagle. Hannah's insight into ED&I is incredible, stemming from her HR experience in many different industries and her volunteer work with Pregnant Then Screwed who exist to reduce the penalties women face when they become mothers. This interview is a must-read for start-ups, scale-ups and leading brands alike who want to take a real look at their culture and ask the tricky questions about what they can do better.  Read on to have your mind blown and expanded at the same time!  I AM A BELIEVER THAT TO IMPROVE ED&I WITHIN AN ORG IT NEEDS TO COME FROM MANAGEMENT, BUT 9 TIMES OUT OF 10 IT FALLS TO THE PEOPLE OR HR TEAM – MOST OF WHOM ARE WOMEN. BUT IT’S A JOINT EFFORT, RIGHT? YOU HAVE WORKED IN HR, PEOPLE AND CULTURE ROLES FOR A WHILE AND I’M SURE YOU HAVE SEEN A LOT, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?  The biggest challenge I have faced has been to call out the day-to-day actions of a Senior Leadership team. People often like the idea of diversity but struggle with it if it means making them change the way they do things or the status quo. Working in high-growth start-ups means they want to move quickly, which means relying on normal habits and patterns of behaviour. Asking leaders to step back and do things differently can feel like you’re putting up blockers, stopping them from doing things which they feel are harmless. To really create something different you must proactively strive for it, it doesn’t just happen, and the small cumulative behaviours can count for more than the big extravagant ones. Confronting that can feel uncomfortable. Overcoming this means you must have high-trust relationships and a culture of feedback for this to work. But also, I’m more ruthless in not working with people who don’t want to create change, even if they say they do. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT THINKING ABOUT DIVERSITY, AND HOW HAS YOUR THINKING CHANGED OVER TIME? There has historically been a lot of individualism, if you try hard enough, ask for something in the right way, and present yourself in the right way then you’ll ‘make it’. For women’s advancement this has been showcased through the ‘Lean In’ movement. I’ve been learning a lot more about the deep and unseen systems, beliefs and structures that are at play and have a huge impact. For a long time, people thought that women didn’t ask for pay rises as often, which is why they didn’t get them. But recent research has shown that women ask for a pay rise just as often as men but are 25% less likely to get one. It’s lit an even brighter flame in my passion for organisation and culture design. How we consciously create our businesses, ways of working and frameworks for decision-making can create real change. WHAT KINDS OF EXPERIENCES HAVE YOU HAD IN RELATING WITH PEOPLE WHOSE BACKGROUNDS ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OWN? Working in different industries has given me exposure to so many different people and backgrounds, across financial services, retail, manufacturing, construction, tech, charities, healthcare etc. For me, the most important thing is to ask questions to seek to understand. So many people ask questions to confirm what they think, rather than challenge assumptions they already held. And diversify the information you consume! I actively choose to read, follow, and engage with people and creators who are women, neurodivergent, disabled, black and other minority groups. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR VOLUNTEER WORK WITH PREGNANT THEN SCREWED?  PTS are an absolute force! They exist to create radical change to reduce the penalties women face when they become mothers. It’s something that I feel so passionately about. I’ve found that my career has materially changed since having my 2 daughters, it’s impacted people’s perception of my ability and the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve been able to confidentially navigate this because I know my rights, from working in HR. Not everyone has this knowledge, or access to it in their immediate circles. So, I volunteer for PTS on their helpline for pregnant women and mothers every week. I can give women the knowledge and confidence to challenge the treatment they are facing at work, which feels awesome. WE SPOKE ABOUT FINDING YOUR TRIBE AND YOU HAVE FOUND THAT IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE BUT NOW LOOKING TO FIND IT IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE TOO. ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO FIND THEIR TRIBE?  Something I’m still working on! The best connections I’ve made with like-minded people have been connecting without an immediate purpose or ask, and being my authentic self. Networking based on interests and offering generously with your time and knowledge. The more we build others up, the more they build us. I very much believe in community over competition, sharing ideas, passing on work to others and creating goodwill, goes a long way. Pretty much all my work comes from within my network, not cold calling, or cold reach outs. Having a tribe and community is so important, for building my work but also in bringing joy to my work.    I FOUND IT FASCINATING TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE PENSION GAP, AND HOW 70% OF BRITAIN’S HOMELESS ARE WOMEN. YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF POLICES WAS SO INSIGHTFUL AND WE DIDN’T GET ENOUGH TIME TO SPEAK ABOUT IT. I FEEL LIKE WE ALL NEED TO HEAR THIS, PLEASE CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT THIS?  There is a huge economic gap between men and women, but most conversations don’t go any further than talking about the gender pay gap. But the inequality between men and women is so much more complex than that. There are pervasive myths and historical legislation built from that which influence us throughout our lives - like women aren’t good with money and were grouped with those who are mentally unwell or infants in terms of their ability to do taxes. In fact, it’s only become possible for married women in Jersey to do their own Tax returns in 2022 (blows my mind!). And historically women were unable to own property because legally they were classed as property. Even today, 80% of land globally is owned by men. I SPOKE TO A START-UP LAST WEEK AND I ASKED THEM ‘WHAT’S YOUR CULTURE LIKE’ THEY ARE 3 WHITE GUYS AND THEY SAID, ‘WE DON’T HAVE ONE’ – HOW DO START-UPS PRIMARILY CREATE A CULTURE?  I’d start off by saying, every company has a culture. If you don’t notice it, it’s probably because it feels very normal and comfortable for you. Culture is just the accumulation of behaviours that people show day to day. If you want to start looking at your culture, ask your team who epitomises ‘Company Name’. Then ask them to describe what they do. You’ll start to find behaviours in there that shape your culture. If you want to shift your culture, or consciously maintain it when you’re scaling then think about your company values and what behaviours would live this. Find flash points in an employee’s experience at work and bring these to life. WHAT ARE YOU READING AT THE MOMENT?  I’m fascinated by financial services and economics because, like it or not, we’re all impacted by money, and money has the potential to be such a force for radical good. So, I’m reading: The Cost of Sexism, by Linda Scott. I’d also recommend the book Why Women are Poorer than Men, by Annabelle Williams. But next on my list is Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn. Healthcare and medicine is another area that society needs to address with issues like the gender pain gap, where on average women wait over 30% longer than men to be given pain relief when in A&E presenting with the same issue. Also, the fact that black women are 4 times as likely to die in childbirth than white women. IF YOU WERE A SONG WHAT WOULD THAT BE?  I think this is the hardest question you’ve asked me! I’ve been going through my playlists for days trying to find the right song. I don’t think it exists… So here are a couple: Fuel – Metallica – It sounds how I feel when thinking about feminism and dismantling the systems and beliefs that enable poorer outcomes for women and minority groups. Frontier Psychiatrist – The Avalanches – Because I think people find it far-fetched when I start talking about some of the things I’ve learned. The Middle – Jimmy Eat World – To keep going with setting up my business, it’s not as easy but it allows me to be me and do things, I feel passionate about. It just takes some time. AND TO END ON DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE QUOTE OR MANTRA TO LIVE BY? "The second-best time is now." The full quote is: "The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second-best time is now." It gives me hope for the actions of today when it comes to changing some of those deep-seated systems, which won’t change overnight. It’s now looking like it will be 300 years until we achieve pay equality (longer if you’re not white), but the actions of today will create change. And, I can be a terrible procrastinator! So, reminding myself to be kind, okay maybe I should have done it yesterday, but the second best time is now. Thanks, Hannah - you rock! Interview by Alicia Teagle

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Iffat Rose Gill | The Code To Change
WOMEN ROCK2023-04-17

Iffat Rose Gill | The Code To Change

When it comes to ED&I in the tech space, companies need to start putting their money where their mouth is. For too long, the burden of fixing equality in the workspace has been on the underrepresented folk that need support, when the responsibility lies with the companies and brands that claim they want to be part of the solution, rather the problem. Enter 'The Code To Change', a diversity and inclusion organisation set up to empower, mentor and support women looking to get into the tech space - either at the beginning of their career or after a breakaway or looking for a career change. The Code to Change founder and experienced international NGO leader-activist Iffat Rose Gill shares her story about how this amazing organisation came about and what we can do, right now, to diversify this industry once and for all.  THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME TODAY. WE’RE REALLY INTERESTED TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE CODE TO CHANGE. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT IT AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU? Sure! First of all, thank you for inviting me. So, The Code to Change is a diversity and inclusion organisation. We started off as a boot camp in 2015 because of a problem that I faced myself, as a woman of colour, who moved to a different country and was looking for economic opportunities. Whilst I was at university, I was in Pakistan and a young woman asked about me going to university as she was not even allowed primary education. So, for her, coming across someone who was at university was really unusual. I stood there with this privilege and realisation that I got this opportunity and she, who I considered smarter than me, wasn’t offered the same opportunity. That’s what triggered my interest to work for economic empowerment and inclusion for women through education. There are so many challenges when faced with accessing job opportunities in a new place when you must build your connections from scratch. What I had though was my digital skills: I knew how to build a digital strategy and create a meaningful online presence. I built on that skill and started consulting local, non-profit, organisations. I noticed then that a lot of women around me were in similar positions. And this wasn’t limited to women of colour, like me, but also local women who were looking to step back into work after a break for various reasons. It was a huge challenge for them because the technological landscape had drastically changed so they had to become “eligible” again by upgrading their skills. Now let’s be honest, if you are a guy, it’s easier to put yourself out there and get new connections and knowledge. In this industry, because of how women are judged so easily and harshly, we have become more shy and reluctant to ask for help. This is where the mentoring program that we had designed helped re-establish their confidence. They would go through the digital boot camp for a week where they would build websites; connect with mentors (for up to 6 months); learn and work together and become attractive to recruiters. Before that, they didn’t even get the chance to go to interviews. Fast forward to today, we’re operating in 8 different countries both in Europe and Asia with a focus on delivering customised bespoke boot camps. We understand where these candidates are currently and then tailor the boot camp to their needs. But it isn’t just about upskilling. We need to look at the ecosystem, the roots of the problem. We find it very important to build the capacity of the ecosystem stakeholders as well. Moreover, we’ve taken the lessons we’ve learnt and shared them to platforms such as the UN WSIS, government, and other business conferences’ to show why and how we need to tackle these problems. HOW CAN SOMEONE GET DIRECTLY INVOLVED WITH WHAT YOU ARE DOING? There are so many ways that they can get involved with The Code to Change from being a volunteer mentor or donating, or even being part of the team. We’re looking for volunteers with a knack for problem-solving. They have to love a challenge where they can break problems down into small bite-size chunks. We’re quite versatile with the groups that we’re working with from refugees and migrant groups who speak different languages; to native tribes in the US; to female entrepreneurs from Pakistan. They all have their own unique set of challenges which require strategic insight to solve them. So people can write to us and share what they can contribute. We are always looking for mentors – whether Subject Matter Experts or Trainers or Mentors. People can also nominate us for things too! NICE. THERE’S SO MUCH THAT YOU DO TO TACKLE THIS CURRENT LACK OF DIVERSITY IN THE TECH SPACE. ON A MORE GENERAL LEVEL, WHAT DO YOU THINK WE CAN DO MORE OF TO ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY IN THE TECH SPACE? What we’ve been doing in the past is focusing on programmes and initiatives that put the burden of fixing this on women, right? And it takes the approach of “we need to fix women so that they can become eligible for this kind of environment” which is toxic for them in the end. We’ve seen this so many times.Our female graduates end up in the workforce for 6-12 months because they get burnout as they don’t get the environment where they can learn so they end up leaving. This is something we need to solve but the burden shouldn’t lie on women: we need to focus on systemic changes. The workplace needs to change policies around. The systemic change needs to come above the policy-making level – both on the government and corporate levels. It’s all well and good to see that they have goodwill but we need actionable change! We see a lot of campaigns where they’re featuring a lot of these women, but does it actually impact their lives?Whether positive or not, it’s simply just more window dressing for those companies. I’ve turned down many opportunities because we need to stop capitalising on the issue. Of course, there are women looking for exposure and allyship and we shouldn’t discount this! At the same time, it shouldn’t just be for the company image. It should have a long-term impact on the lives of the women that you are trying to feature in your campaigns. The situation is the same if you’re a female founder for example. Not only are you judged more harshly when you go to pitch desk for funding but the ridiculous amount of pressure and the kind of pressure that you have to perform and show results or financial projections. If you compare it with how the male founders would be judged as compared to female founders, it’s quite ridiculous. And the amount of pressure that female founders have is immense. And despite all that, despite her pitch deck being exceptional, she might still not end up getting funded because we’re not used to trusting women with money. But we would instantly trust a white male for a very similar, possibly less developed project. So two things could be said and interpreted completely differently depending on the gender of the person speaking. Exactly. I get you. You’ve actioned a lot of your beliefs, for example at the UN, Government and Conferences, and seen a lot of lives changed. What’s been a highlight of your career? When we talk about changing lives, I know it’s such a cliché, but you hear the stories of how someone’s life has changed their earning capability 6, 12 months down the line. We see the journey of graduates who have set up brilliant careers and see them develop from the first time we sat down with them to now. That gives me so much energy and power to go on with the work that we do. I have to say, I have an amazing team, a diverse panel of experts and advisors who truly believe in what we are doing, and this is what we all take great joy in. From hearing the stories and feedback to finding out what they are doing now and what projects they’ve created. It gives me absolute joy to be a part of these stories whether directly or indirectly. WHAT WOULD BE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE SOMEONE FROM A DIVERSE BACKGROUND WHO IS LOOKING TO JOIN THE TECH SPACE AS IT CURRENTLY STANDS? If you start your learning journey today, in 6 months’ time you will be amazed at how many opportunities open up to you. From strategic courses where you build your skills to aligning yourself with like-minded people, you will find yourself in a completely different spot. The sense of community and sense of belonging is so important - so start connecting! Thank you so much for your time. Do you have anything, in particular, you want to end on? Thank you! Cindy Gallop’s quote really resonates with me, as we hear more and more stories from female founders and Women in Tech; “Don’t empower me, Pay me.” And this should be the tone for all women-focused campaigns and programs now in my opinion. Whether it is an indigenous woman in the Americas, an artisan from rural Pakistan or a tech entrepreneur in the city of Amsterdam, they all want to just run their businesses. And be financially independent! It’s important to build confidence and endorse our technical and leadership skills: but, at the same time, please don’t use those things as excuses to not pay women their due share. It’s time they got their fair share in the economy of 2023! That’s what I would like to end on   Thanks, Iffat, you rock! Interview by Lizzie Murray 

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Gaia Armellin | Backbase
WOMEN ROCK2023-03-28

Gaia Armellin | Backbase

Developing curiosity helps a child to be willing and able to continually grow, learn and question what is around them. So when Gaia Armellin started exploring her granny's loft she stumbled across piles of magazines. Fascinated by the layouts, storytelling images and psychology, that was the moment Gaia realised her passion for design...and boy did it grow. Now Principle UX and Chapter Lead at Backbase, Gaia manages the design consultancy team, supports client projects and even has time to promote internal initiatives. And if that isn't enough, she is also a mentor, offering free career and UX coaching to UX designers looking for their first job or transitioning careers - which is clear based on all the AMAZING takeaways, scattered throughout her story!  Why don't we all take ten minutes today to revisit our inner-child passions and see if they are related to what we love today... TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOB AND WHAT A DAY IN THE LIFE LOOKS LIKE FOR YOU? I work as Principal UX and Chapter Lead for the Customer Success Europe team of Backbase, a global fintech company in the financial industry. The role entails managing the design consultancy team (e.g. building the team, growing talents, on and offboarding, creating regional UX strategy...);  supporting clients' projects (e.g. handling escalations); and driving or promoting internal initiatives mainly related to the Backbase UX Guild and other departments. Usually, my day starts at 9:00, checking emails and Slack messages. I quickly triage the requests, handle the most important ones then jump into calls with other UX leads to align on initiatives and work on to-dos. From 11 am until lunch I'm generally free, to work on such initiatives, create workshops, and take care of urgent demands. After lunch, I have biweekly 1:1s with my reports, interviews with new candidates, meetings with department leaders to align on initiatives and work on to-do's, or supporting projects with design consultancy. The end of my day is focused on writing documentation and knowledge sharing (e.g. new career framework, UX WOW,...). Every day is different and there are always unexpected challenges that come up. This is what makes it interesting :)  HOW AND WHY DID YOU GET INTO DESIGN? It's a long story but for time's sake, it's thanks to hours spent in my granny's attic. When we visited her, I sneaked up there where grandma stored piles of magazines. I was fascinated by the ads. The layouts, storytelling images, the psychology and intention behind it. It was all so compelling.  My love for design sprung from psychology and visuals, but it stuck because it's an incredibly wide topic. How the medium influence design, how to create a service, how business and finance impact decisions, how to work with politics and cultures…It's a never-ending learning experience. WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU THINK WOMEN FACE IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY? HOW DO YOU THINK THESE CHALLENGES SHOULD BE TACKLED?  Premise: 1- I don’t feel comfortable answering for the whole “women” category as I assume challenges are different based on world regions, cultural and societal backgrounds, and working industries. For this question, I’ll use my experience only, and being solely my experience and privileged, it’ll be biased and limited. 2- As much as we're pushing for inclusion, the design industry for tech and banking is still largely male-dominated. Therefore, to tackle women's challenges we should first solve the systemic issues of this male-dominated industry but that's too wide of a topic for here. Having set the premise, I can now deep-dive into the daily challenges because they act as symptoms of the root cause and they are more easily recognizable..  Paternalization and not being taken seriously. At times, it's about warnings and forecasts about risks management being laughed at, or peers utterly unaware of context and problematics explaining my job to me; at times, it's about not being accepted as a manager, or having to patch up the backlash peers received for not following direct instructions; at times it's being told women are good at something just because of gender. My way of tackling this is the UX way - by taking a step back, observing, asking questions, and gathering data to understand why men are acting that way. What part of my message is not clear? What part of me are they reacting to? And what part of their human experience (memories, fears…) is present in the interaction? This plus morphing into what the audience feels familiar lower barriers and make space for human connection beyond stereotypes, first impressions, and biases.Sexualization and focus on looks & appearance. Although I live in the Netherlands and my work experience is mainly in northern Europe where gender bias is lower than in other countries, it truly makes a difference in what clothes I wear and how I present myself at work, especially at events or client meetings. It’s fairly usual to be told that I look tired when not wearing make-up or that the first thing noticed is the attire. Worse cases are colleagues addressing me inappropriately at the workplace, making suggestive comments during interviews with candidates, or in work communication channels. However, these comments come from any gender and they seem more related to the societal normalization of focusing primarily on looks than anything else. Not being woman enough, but also not being man enough. Any person can incorporate a plethora of sides that make external expectations based on gender stereotypes limiting and biased. Hence, hearing about how caring, pleasant, and accommodating I should be being a woman is quite funny, as much as it is being told that I’m not aggressive enough, that I should be more dominant, and less emotional if I want to go ahead. Violence or physical risks. In some regions of the world, challenges may lead to abuse. For example, while hiring in Saudi Arabia, we discussed in depth the option of having a full-male design team in order to ensure the safety of each person when visiting clients. We then decided to hire female UXers and arrange for stronger preparation for them and any other category at risk. I’d like to stress that these negative experiences are a limited number in a much wider positive pool.  WHAT HAS INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO THE TECH/DESIGN INDUSTRY? It happened by chance. My background was variegated and I just knew I wanted to work for an international company with international clients because these places overflow with innovation, creativity in the wider sense, and a growth mindset. Once I spoke with Andreas Gerolemou, I knew I wanted to learn from him and that’s why Backbase was my choice. DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR PEOPLE COMING INTO THE DESIGN SPACE THAT THINK IT MAY BE TOO OVERWHELMING? Be patient with yourself. It’s good to be hungry and ambitious, but you will not learn everything in a matter of months. UX is such a wide topic that it’s simply not possible - and even though companies will want you to know all and be all, you don’t need to in order to be successful.  Learn detachment and not take things personally. As a UXer, your role is to interpret the needs of your users and come up with solutions that will best serve them - or nudge them in the right direction (see #3). Things will come and go. No matter how expert one is, ego doesn’t have a place in UX.  Listen and speak the language of your audience. Are you job hunting? Research the company and show your value using their wording. Do you want funds for your initiatives? Listen to what your CFO is asking for and build your case in terms of profits and costs. Interviewing users in a non-English speaking country? Listen to what words they use and use them to bridge the cultural gap and create familiarity. Read the room, listen beyond the words, and use your findings to gain deeper insights, negotiate, or nudge. You are there for your users. WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN YOUR DESIGN CAREER? Access to information and transitioning careers. 2010, Italy was the moment I started looking into a design career. Historically, Italian "design" means graphic design, interior design, fashion design, architecture, and advertising, and I choose the latter. It took me another 5 years to find out about UX design - and that Milan has one of the most renowned service design faculties. The same happens to a lot of other people who'd like to work as UX designers but they just don't know the path exists - or find out later in life and have to start from zero. Defining the path. Once UX became a trend, boot camps popped up everywhere. In spite of that, the right path is still unclear and the more time passes, the more sub-specializations seem to appear. One can take a university course, a boot camp, or a Google course, and all of them release a certification. One can also be self-taught and do the work, and still be a UXer. This makes for a vague definition of which syllabus to follow and the basic skill set level for entry-level positions. Recruitment done wrong and unclear market needs. The vagueness described above reflects in the industry and UX recruitment. In 2017 -when UX became hype- everybody wanted a UX designer but nobody knew what it was. Example: a company I collaborated with swapped employees’ email signatures from “content manager” to “UX designer”. For more insights on how painful it was doing interviews, feel free to reach my Medium article "Why I Hate Job Hunting". Although UX is now more established, the lack of clarity remains. To solve this, I enlisted the help of recruiter friends in giving me a "reality check" of what the upcoming job market needs and how my experience ought to satisfy them.  Imposter syndrome and self-doubts. When the definition of something is loose and each person shares opinions, it makes it almost impossible to run a valid self-assessment and define proper KPIs to reach. To handle this better, my process begins with setting an ideal goal and figuring out milestones with backward design. The second step is trial and error: test out different strategies, adjust and mix them until I find something that works for me and with the goal I set, and is in line with the person I aim to be. Not every time it turns out successful - which takes to the last and probably biggest challenge. Managing (self)expectations. I always believed in following the job. In the course of my design career, I moved 17 times across 8 countries; got fired 1.5 times; resigned once from a toxic job; embarked 3 times on ventures I strongly believed in and didn't pan out - the 1st didn't have funds to hire me, the 2nd wasn't ready to scale up, the 3rd I built the wrong business model; or got ahead of myself and managed to be successful at work sacrificing my health. All of this while maintaining (and struggling to) a 7-year long distance relationship, going through sicknesses and death in the family, and living from the sidelines the births and growth of my nieces and nephew. I’d lie if I’d say that everything was easy peasy and that I never wished for things to turn out differently. I’d lie if I’d say that I never felt guilty for not being more present at home when my home is split between Italy and any other country I live in - or that I never felt guilty for not feeling guilty enough because I love doing my job even when it’s crazy. I’d lie if I’d say that I never wished I could do more and be more. For a few months now, I’ve reached some balance - maybe I’ve learned my limits by straining them, or maybe I learned to let go and give less f*** (thanks, Mark Manson!). For sure, I forgive and am more patient with myself and this, for now, is enough. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT TO DATE, BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY? Since 2016, I started offering free career and UX coaching to UX designers looking for their first job or transitioning careers. During COVID, it became my second "job". When the 1st mentee reached out to share they got the job they wanted and just a few months earlier didn't believe they could get it, that meant the world to me. Every time it happened, it means the world - because it means they started to believe in their own value and learned how to present it in the correct way for their target audience. That's the trait of a great user experience designer. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE A MENTOR IN YOUR INDUSTRY?  Mentors and coaches can be of great support in developing one personally and professionally. They can share their knowledge and guide you in finding your way. However, they shouldn't be one's only lifeline. In fact, they may be the last resource to reach out to, after exhausting everything else. On any given topic, there are plenty of resources to learn from, starting from your peers, LinkedIn posts, Medium articles, books, movies, videos, feedback from friends and family… And then, there is the old-but-gold trial and error. Put yourself out there. Create a strategy and give yourself some time to test it. Gather data and feedback from that. Once this is done for a couple of rounds and things still don't work out, then get a mentor - and keep those other resources at hand, because nobody has the perfect recipe for everything and personal accountability is key for growth. DO YOU HAVE A STORY TO TELL ABOUT IMPOSTER SYNDROME YOU WOULD BE HAPPY TO SHARE? So many stories! Due to how I was brought up, perfectionism and imposter syndrome have been my personal and professional life companions for many years; they still resurface every now and then. One example: when someone talks to me aggressively out of the blue, I tend to freeze and it takes me a couple of minutes to find my words. No matter how prepared I am, it leaves me with the feeling that I'm dumb because better answers come to mind after the interaction has ended. "So I should be able to reply faster, wittier, better. Right at that moment. Other people can do it! Why can't I?!".  It recently happened at a company party and haunted me for days, ruminating on my reaction and the answer I gave. My mentor's advice was to ask for 2 minutes to collect myself before responding, or to kindly ask to postpone the conversation to another moment in time, to better prepare myself and share value; in case I still wouldn't happy with the outcome, to send an email or meeting invite with the object "Upon reflection, these are my thoughts". As simple as it sounds, those simple hacks and letting of control helped massively in handling the aftermath of the party conversation and another couple of events that happened afterwards. CHALLENGES WHEN IT COMES TO HIRING IN THE DESIGN SPACE? Although there are several diverse challenges depending on the job grade, the main ones I've encountered are the following: Lack of unified job title vs skillset matrixUX designer, product designer, interface designer, service designer, UI expert… Unfortunately, design titles rarely match a clear job description and a precise understanding of what skills the job entails. This confusion permeates the industries as well as the candidates’ profiles. E.g. Companies in need of developers ask for a UX designer because it's trendy; graphic designers label themselves as UX designers because they built a website once.   Assessing skill levels remotelyDue to COVID times, hybrid or remote work has become a norm. The side effect during recruitment is that evaluating skill level has become more challenging because digital conversations only let 20% of the message pass through; moreover, there has been a tendency for candidates to refrain from sharing portfolios or work samples, or being willing to sit through design tests as it takes time and effort. Without facts, it’s impossible to make a valid decision and it’s up to the recruiter's street-smartness and intuition to make the right choice. Hiring globallyGlobalization has allowed for recruitment horizons to expand. While it increases the talent pool, hiring globally inherently raises cultural and language barriers making candidates' assessments more problematic, and can backfire when companies that offer visa sponsorships are used as launching pads for candidates to access the new market, increasing turnover and operational costs.   Thanks, Gaia, you rock!  Interview by Cameron Daniel

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