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!

Evie Skinner | Queertech Bristol
WOMEN ROCK2022-11-22

Evie Skinner | Queertech Bristol

Women Rock advocate and all around amazing human being Evie Skinner is back to talk to us about her most recent venture - Bristol Queertech - a space, where LGBTQIA+ people can get together and talk about their shared passion for tech and generally let their hair down to momentarily exist outside the CIS heteronormative structure they find themselves in.Queertech just had their second meet up last week and SR2 had the great pleasure of sponsoring, so Women Rock ambassador Rachel Comber sat down with Evie to see how it is all going...EVIE WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE YOU BACK! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? WE KNOW YOU FROM BACK IN 2020, WHEN YOU HAD YOUR FIRST INTERVIEW ON OUR WOMEN ROCK PLATFORM TO CHAT ABOUT YOUR STORY INTO TECH. SINCE THEN, I HAVE SEEN LOTS OF GREAT STUFF OVER LINKEDIN THAT YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN. HOW HAS THE PAST TWO YEARS BEEN, WHAT’S CHANGED?Hiya, it's beautiful to see you again! I'm blessed to be able to say that I've had some great changes in my life, along with the weird ones we've all been through since 2020. I've settled down long term in my beloved hometown of Stroud, got my life back after lockdown, and this year went to Pride for the first time! Good vibes! I'm very lucky.ALTHOUGH OF COURSE WE LOVE MEETING UP WITH YOU TO CHAT, THE MAIN REASON WE ARE HERE TODAY IS TO TALK ABOUT YOUR NEW TECH GROUP CALLED ‘QUEERTECH BRISTOL’ OF WHICH YOU ARE A COFOUNDER. WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM? WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE GROUP?The idea came from my visionary co-founder and colleague Harriet. They planted the first seeds of the meetup by noticing that, while Bristol has both a vibrant tech scene and a great gay/queer scene, there was no community event focussing on LGBTQIA+ people in technology like they had seen when they lived in London. Through hanging out together at work, we realised we shared a huge passion for technology and in person queer spaces! We both saw the need to create more of them, given that in London alone, the number of in person queer spaces halved during the pandemic. The aim of the group is to provide such a space, a comforting bubble where LGBTQIA+ people can let our hair down and momentarily exist outside the CIS heteronormative structure we live in. Being queer isn't all Kylie Minogue and drag shows: it's tough, especially for our trans and non-binary siblings, so it's massively important to us that the meetup should act as a support network as well as a fun techie get-together.WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE A SPACE OF LIKE-MINDED INDIVUALS WHO ALSO SHARE THE SAME PASSION?IE WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE YOU BACK! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? It means everything for us to position the meetup as a community-led DIY initiative. Community led as in we take all the input we can from our participants, because they are the most important part! They've given us many ideas for upcoming events, and it feels lush to be together with others who share that passion for tech, so we're very thankful for their support.RUNNING A MONTHLY GROUP ISN’T EASY, HOW DID YOU FIND GETTING IT OFF THE GROUND? VIE WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE YOU BACK! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? You're right it takes work, especially as we want to keep it as DIY and independent as possible! We're lucky to have inspiration to draw upon from other great meetups like Codebar. There's so much to think about: from negotiating with potential sponsors, to learning to make social media that generates engagement, to developing our website in an environmentally sustainable way. It's been great learning so far! One thing that's helped get us off the ground has been the three of us networking and spreading the word. We're also very grateful to Made Tech for sponsoring our first two events, and to those who've voluntarily contributed to our open source website during Hacktoberfest.IT IS STILL EARLY DAYS HAVING JUST HAD YOUR SECOND MEET-UP, BUT WHAT ARE YOUR AIMS FOR THE GROUP, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE COMING UP FOR QUEERTECH BRISTOL?November's event is a side project show and share, in collaboration with Control Shift, a Bristol based creative organisation. In our first event, we asked our participants to contribute ideas for future sessions, and we were humbled to see them give us loads of ideas to keep us completely stocked for at least the next eighteen months of the meetup! December will see us give a talk about public speaking skills, and then go on a night out. We're also thinking about co-running a hackathon, and running an expo to showcase local LGBTQIA+ speakers and business owners. Currently, there are three of us in the South West organising QTB: Harriet, Sam and I. We're also in discussions with friends in Manchester about starting a QueerTech there.WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO GO BUT IS NERVOUS/NEW TO TECH/ NEW TO QUEER COMMUNITY ETC?My advice would be to visualise all the fun you'll have at the event and imagine us welcoming you there! We're a really warm and friendly bunch and we would treasure the chance to welcome anyone who's nervous and help calm their nerves with great banter and food. Also, you can always get in touch with us directly before the event if you feel particularly nervous, maybe questioning your sexuality/gender, and we'll do what we can to help. Did I mention we have free food??THE GROUP IS BASED DOWN AT THE WATER SHED EVERY MONTH, WHY DID YOU PICK THIS LOCATION IN PARTICULAR TO BE YOUR BASE?HAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE A SPACE OF LIKE-MINDED INDIVUALS WHO ALSO SHARE THE SAME PASSION?IE WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE YOU BACK! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN?The Watershed is such a gem in the city. It emerged as the perfect location because it's already a very LGBTQIA+ friendly venue, and Harriet had a great experience attending the trans and non-binary creatives meetup there before we started ours. Everyone we've interacted with there has been an absolute dream: they even let us use the venue for free. Not to mention they have a cracking bar too!IF INDIVIDUALS WANTED TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS GROUP WHERE WOULD BE BEST FOR THEM TO HEAD FOR MORE INFORMATION?You can check us out at queertechbristol.com, and @queertechbristol on Instagram; or reach out to me, Harriet Horobin-Worley and Sam Fallowfield on LinkedIn.YOU ARE INVOLVED IN A LOT OF COMMUNITY AND TECH EVENTS BUT MORE RECENTLY I HAVE SEEN YOU HAVE ALSO BEEN COMBINING IN THE USE OF MEDITATION SESSIONS TO THE GROUPS. THAT IS REALLY INTERESTING TO PUT EMPHASIS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF A HEALTHY BODY AND MIND WITHIN THOSE SPACES, HOW DID YOU GET INTO MEDITATION AND HOW HAS IT CHANGED YOUR MINDSET ABOUT LIFE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF WORK?I got into meditation as a very stressed seventeen year old: I was struggling at the time, and my Mum's friend recommended me a local Buddhist group in Stroud. We all find it hard to stay present and avoid following our thoughts down a rabbit hole at times! The teachings I received at the group gave me the tools I needed to completely change my life. Since then, my mindfulness practice has enabled me to revolutionise my relationship with my thoughts, by becoming their critical observer rather than their frightened follower. I'm very proud to say that many people I've met are now meditating because I taught them at a club I started or an event I attended. When I'm having a bad day that's something lush to think about!I KNOW YOU ARE A BIG ADVOCATE FOR REDUCING YOUR SCREEN TIME, HOW DO YOU LIKE TO RELAX IN THE EVENING?My fave way to relax is any practice that involves bringing the mind home to the body: something that gives my thinking mind a break. I love playing the drums, training in karate, and I've recently started Japanese jiu jitsu as well. I always find drumming and training to be really beneficial, mainly because they help me activate a deeply relaxing state of flow and contentment. Apart from that, a good cackle with my Nan on the phone will do the trick!Thanks Evie - you rock 🤘Interview by Rachel Comber

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Rayhana Rahman | Neighbourly
WOMEN ROCK2022-11-08

Rayhana Rahman | Neighbourly

Meet the incredible Rayhana Rahman, a Software Engineering Manager at Tech For Good, funding platform Neighbourly💙She's here for women in tech, she's here for the BAME community in tech, she's here to talk about how the menopause can have a huge impact on women's careers and what companies can do to support and empower the team throughout this period of their lives.Rayhana shows up for all these things and we can all learn a thing or two from her!Read her story today and have a think about what you can do to help make the tech industry more inclusive and diverse - it could just be sharing Rayhana's amazing Women Rock blog post!HEY RAYHANA CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF…I have always worked in IT, it was something I was interested in when I was studying my O levels. That slightly gives away my age! At the time the idea of being a Systems Analyst interested me as I liked the idea of talking to people to understand what they wanted and then making that happen.My first manager said what caught his eye when looking at my CV was the degree I had completed. I started as a report writer and then within a few months became a project manager. It was so empowering to deliver a system that supported numerous training providers who were submitting returns to the Regional Government Office for funding. That a system we implemented could collate all the individual details from each provider into one submission. This is where my desire to improve systems and make users lives easier came about. From that I did a variety of management roles to understand the needs of business and implement change. I have realised through my career that alongside this I enjoy building teams and coaching individuals to be the best they can be even if they don’t see their strengths at the beginning. That is how I found my current role as I wanted to continue to build a team by coaching and mentoring.SOMETIMES IT CAN BE DAUNTING TO TAKE THE LEAP AND CHANGE YOUR ROLE AFTER BEING IN THE SAME ORGANISATION FOR A LONG TIME. HAVING RECENTLY TAKEN UP A NEW ROLE IN A NEW COMPANY, WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO ANYONE CONSIDERING A CHANGE?I would say that the market has changed so much and there is so much opportunity out there. You will be surprised how much you match your wants to a job. Maybe you want to work remotely, maybe you want to work 4 days a week, maybe you want to work for a social impact company. They are out there, but first find the right recruitment company (like SR2), that makes a great difference! YOU HAVE RECENTLY EXPERIENCED THE MENOPAUSE AND THE EFFECT THAT IT CAN HAVE ON WOMEN'S CAREERS. WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE? WHAT MORE DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE BY EMPLOYERS TO SUPPORT WOMEN GOING THROUGH THE MENOPAUSE?My first symptom was pain suddenly in my left shoulder that I thought was repetitive strain injury for which I was given very strong painkillers, but I didn’t know it was the start of the menopause. I was naïve, I thought I’d gone through all the symptoms, and it was plain sailing. Actually I had put many of the signs down to too many meetings, maybe overworking myself. It was actually after an interview when I found I was still upset. I thought something was wrong. I then was told it was the menopause.It wasn’t until I went through it that I realised that actually the solution is individual to each woman, and it takes time to find the right solution for you. There is much more awareness out there, but I think all managers need to be more understanding as there so many symptoms (not just having a hot flush) that have an impact on our working lives. FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW IMPORTANT IS DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE?As an Asian woman in IT, much of my career has been in a mostly male environment. Over the years I have built teams who are diverse and have seen the beauty of different thoughts as well as different working practices. It’s about giving people the space to air their views and work towards a solution. Once you see the benefits you never look back! The best part of a team is when they respect each other even if their views are different as they recognise each of them are working towards the same goal.WHAT MORE DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO GET MORE UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITIES AND WOMEN INTO TECH?I recognise as an individual every person I come in contact with has an opportunity to see the strength of me being in my role and think I’d like to do that, and I can do that. It’s finding ways to get to communities and schools to show the young that this is interesting as well as exciting and it makes a difference. LASTLY, DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE QUOTE THAT YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?It’s not a quote as such but my own belief - Be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through, be there for them and listen to what they have to say.Thanks Rayhana you rock! 🤘Interview by Rosie Fearnley

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Chloe Bishop | Gresham Technologies
WOMEN ROCK2022-10-31

Chloe Bishop | Gresham Technologies

This week Women Rock Ambassador Josie met Chloe Bishop: Software Engineer at Gresham Technologies, FDM Everywoman in Tech Award finalist and all-round amazing human being! Chloe is an advocate for young women wanting to get into the industry so here she shares some wonderful advice and inspiration – including the importance of experimentation when it comes to finding out what you’re passionate about…HEY CHLOE! THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WITH US. LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING WITH WHEN YOU FIRST REALISED YOU WERE PASSIONATE ABOUT SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT…I think my generation was one of the first to grow up surrounded by technology. We didn’t just know the basics of how to use a computer, we could pick up the latest smart phone and intuitively know how to use it. High-level programming languages were introduced to me right before I picked my GCSEs, and I was completely hooked. It was an insight into the technology I used every day that I had never had before. The idea that I would be able to fully understand and contribute to the creation of new, exciting technologies is what motivated me to study computer science.WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN THE INDUSTRY?My passion for learning made me think that technology was the perfect career for me. It is one of the fastest growing industries, and learning new things constantly is a big part of my job. That being said, it never occurred to me until I got into the industry that constantly having to learn also means never being fully in your comfort zone. This can sometimes make people feel like they aren’t qualified enough or don’t deserve to be in their current role. I have definitely had a few battles with Imposter Syndrome, but it is really common in the tech industry. The way I got past it was by hearing other developers talk about it openly and diving right back into learning.HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?Definitely a highlight for me was being a finalist in the Apprentice Award category at the 2022 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards. My goal for years in school was to become a software engineer, so to achieve that goal and simultaneously empower young women to follow their own passions was extremely important to me. Being recognised for that work and being able to make those that had given me those opportunities proud was such an honour. Not to mention being able to meet some of the most inspirational women in the tech sector and learn about their respective experiences in the industry.WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS WHO WANT TO GO INTO THE SAME CAREER?My advice would be to do work experience, internships, apprenticeships or just ask current developers about their experiences. There are so many different types of software engineer roles, and finding the right role for you is so important. I did work experience at a games studio and had an amazing time, but ultimately, I left knowing I didn’t want to program games. At the start of your career, experimenting to determine what kind of development you are most passionate about – as well as what you are least passionate about – is just as important as furthering your technical skills.DO YOU THINK ANYTHING MORE CAN BE DONE TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN TECH?I think programs that encourage young women to take STEM subjects are doing really well, although I think that equal work should be put into teaching young men that women belong in those industries as much as they do. Ultimately, we want women to find the confidence to follow the career path they are passionate about, and having peers who are supportive of their choices is a big part of that process.WHY WERE YOU NOMINATED FOR THE APPRENTICE AWARD AT THE 2022 FDM EVERYWOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY AWARDS?During my time at American Express I was nominated for being an advocate for women in technology, particularly for young women who have just come out of the education system. I used my own journey into tech and experiences within the industry to give advice to those interested in a career in technology. I also volunteered to help organise outreach events, spoke about how teams could improve the onboarding process for junior engineers, and was a ‘buddy’ for new apprentices and graduates.WHO DO YOU FIND THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMAN IN TECH?I can’t name just one woman as the most influential woman in tech, but I will say that women such as Joan Clark and Grace Hopper are great examples of what I think it means to be an influential woman in tech. They didn’t allow the male-dominated workplaces to prevent them from giving their contributions to the field in a time when it was a lot less common to see women in the industry. Their work has inspired millions of women to join the industry and campaign to end the stigma so that the next generation get an equal chance, regardless of gender.IS THERE ANY SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF WORK IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT THAT YOU FIND INSPIRING?At the Everywoman Awards, Eleanor Harry the CEO of HACE was announced as Woman of the Year. The work that she and her team do to fight child labour using artificial intelligence is absolutely amazing! It is so inspiring to see people using technology to solve problems they are passionate about, and I can only hope that in the future I will be able to make a similar impact.WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING OUTSIDE OF WORK?I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone a lot, so I am always trying new hobbies. Travelling is by far what I enjoy the most, as it allows me to experience different cultures, learn new languages, and meet new people.FAVOURITE MANTRA/QUOTE YOU LIVE BY?“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”We couldn’t agree more! Thanks Chloe – you rock! 🤘

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Noga Mann | Figma
WOMEN ROCK2022-10-17

Noga Mann | Figma

Aged 9 she organised and rolled out her own birthday party, project managing her own parents. Aged 10 she built an Olsen twins, fan website. As a student in Israel, she co-founded ‘QueenB’ – an organisation that teaches middle school girls how to code…Noga Mann is a force to be reckoned with and an absolute inspiration! Women Rock ambassador Naomi Douglass spoke to Noga about her incredible journey into the tech world and how she has been able to combine her artistic and scientific interests to carve out a career that she adores!HEY NOGA! SO GREAT TO MEET YOU AND THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WITH US. COULD YOU PLEASE GIVE US AN INTRODUCTION TO YOURSELF?My name is Noga, and I’m an engineering manager at Figma as well as a social entrepreneur.Growing up, I often had to choose between my artistic and scientific interests, but I was fortunate enough to be able to study both Computer Science and Design at university, as part of a combined program. I believe design is a powerful tool that can put people at ease with technology, and technology can enrich and expand the boundaries of design to new and exciting places. This is why I am so excited to work at Figma, where technology is used to empower teams and enable them to build better products.As a university student back in Israel, I co-founded QueenB, an organization that teaches middle school girls how to code. Since we started, we’ve been able to get thousands of girls interested in technology and consider it as a career. By connecting young women with tech companies, the organization also helps them land their first industry jobs.WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A CAREER IN TECH?When I was about 10, I built a fan website for the Olsen twins. This was my first coding experience, and what inspired me to try it out was the ability to create something that wasn’t there before and share it with the world. As I learned more about this discipline, I realized how creative and fulfilling it could be.YOU ARE A MANAGER AT FIGMA, COULD YOU TELL ME HOW YOU BECOME A LEADER AND YOUR MOTIVATIONS BEHIND THIS?From a young age, management was a natural interest of mine. At age nine, I organized my own birthday party – I loved putting together the schedule, thinking about the activities, making to-do lists, and assigning tasks to my parents. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I seated them down for a retro session after it was all over.I feel most impactful when creating processes – I enjoy solving problems not only ad hoc, but thinking about how we can learn from every issue, and find solutions that improve efficiency. It is one of the things I enjoy most about being a manager. As part of my role, I also assist my team in setting their own growth goals and building plans to achieve them. Seeing their accomplishments is very rewarding.FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE HOW IMPORTANT IS DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE?Companies that manage to create inclusive spaces where everyone feels welcome, are more successful in building great products. Moreover, they are more likely to attract and retain top talent.Figma is a great example of this. The way we work is highly collaborative, not competitive, and as managers, we strive to foster psychological safety in our teams and build trust so people can be themselves.We also have our Engineering gender minorities group, which is an employee group that’s dedicated to building a welcoming and inclusive community for engineers at Figma who identify as gender minorities. This group serves as a safe space for engineers at all career stages to solicit advice, find mentorship, and celebrate each others’ wins.WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.”There is a false assumption that a team’s manager should be its smartest member. In reality, different individuals have different strengths and skills that make them better suited to fill different roles in a team, and the manager is no different.Not only is being the smartest in the room not a requirement for being a good manager, but it might also mean that you’re not hiring the right people. Talented individuals on your team make your team stronger, as well as giving you more opportunities for personal growth as a manager.Leading a team of people who are smarter or more experienced than you might be daunting at first. However, by developing the ability to admit you might not know the answer to every question, I believe you actually become a better leader.WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?Having founded QueenB and being able to introduce many young girls to coding, and helping women land their first engineering job. The fact that I am part of a much larger community that drives gender equality in the tech industry is something that I am extremely proud of.With my friend Daria Ackerman, I recently started recording a podcast in Hebrew called “The Impostors”, which provides advice for people early in their engineering careers.WHAT IS A BOOK THAT INFLUENCED YOU AS A MANAGER?“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. Through a five-part model of dysfunction, the book describes how teams fail to work cohesively together. The dysfunctions are: Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Lack of Accountability, and Inattention to Results. The model resonated with both successful and unsuccessful teams I witnessed. In my view, a manager’s role is to create an environment in which a high-performing team can thrive. Finding the root dysfunction of the team and addressing it is a great tool for that.Even the most minor change in team structure, such as someone joining or leaving, can shake things up, so even high-performing teams have work to do to maintain their performance.Thanks Noga! you totally rock 🤘

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Gavin Kimpson | Black Valley
WOMEN ROCK2022-09-27

Gavin Kimpson | Black Valley

There is so much talk around creating a diverse workforce and the importance of equality and inclusion which is great! However, as the saying goes “actions speak louder than words” more needs to be done to level the playing field – especially in the tech industry. It is one of the many reasons Alicia Teagle created the platform Women Rock – to champion underrepresented folk and give them a platform to help raise their voices. So when we come across A-MA-ZING initiatives like Black Valley we will shout about it from the roof tops! If you haven’t heard of Black valley within the tech community then you are now in for a treat. Women Rock ambassador Doug spoke with Software engineer/ mentor Gavin Kimpson about what Black Valley is doing for the black community in tech and the incredible success stories that come out of it!This is such a great read and we are so grateful for the opportunity to share Gavin and Black Valley’s incredible work…HI GAVIN! WHEN I READ ABOUT BLACK VALLEY I THOUGHT IT SOUNDED LIKE A FANTASTIC INITIATIVE! FOR PEOPLE THAT MAY NOT HAVE HEARD ABOUT IT BEFORE, CAN YOU GIVE THEM AN OVERVIEW OF THE WORK BLACK VALLEY DO?The initiative started in 2020 by Leke Sholuade, the events of George Floyd was the catalyst for him and he wanted to help make a long-lasting positive change for the black community. Leke spoke to a number of people working in tech about ways to help bring more black people into the tech sphere, it wasn’t long before more mentors signed up and Black Valley was born!Black Valley provides free mentoring to anyone of black origin within a number of tech roles – these include UX Design, Software-engineering, Product Management, Customer Success and much more! We provide mentees with a dedicated mentor in their field and over the 8-week cohort, we look to accelerate their career by providing them the tools and know-how to level themselves up in their chosen career. We also have a network of recruiters that provide mentees with the information they need to nail those interviews and dreaded technical-tests!Along with the ever-growing community via tools like Slack, Black Valley is enhancing the careers for mentees all over the world. We now have over 200+ mentors from all sorts of companies like your traditional ‘one-man-band’ to multinational corporations such as Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon & Google.SO WHAT WOULD THIS SUPPORT LOOK LIKE TO INDIVIDUAL MENTEES?Each cohort lasts for 8 weeks – over this period we carefully select each mentee so that they are paired up with the best mentor possible to help them get the most from the 2-month programme. Due to the relative short-time frame, we don’t see ourselves in the same light as bootcamps (these tend to be much much longer & more technical by their nature) however we do provide mentees with the expertise from people in the industry that know what it takes to succeed. Each mentor provides a few hours each week to their mentee – this would generally be over video calls (I’ve mentored people as far as Canada and Nigeria!). The mentor would look to understand what their mentee goals are and help develop the 8-week programme around the mentee’s long and short-term objectives.We encourage mentees to work on new or existing projects, this allows them to build up their portfolio, which alongside ‘industry visibility’ weeks, allows them to market themselves better on LinkedIn. Additionally, CV & interview preparation, helps put them in good stead for when they are ready to jump into their next role.BLACK VALLEY SOUNDS LIKE AN AMAZING ORGANISATION TO BE A PART OF; HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED?I came across Black Valley via Facebook quite by chance – it was during the covid lockdown that I saw a post by Leke asking for mentors willing to help inspire the next generation of black people within technology. As someone who has been in the software engineering industry for some time and already mentored a few friends myself, I jumped at the chance to be part of something bigger. We had an initial phone call and Leke explained to me what his vision was and I never looked back. Having mentored a number of people I’ve also since got involved with some of the decisions with interviewing people for the following cohorts. Due to the numbers of people applying for each cohort we unfortunately have to be quite selective however we do ask anyone who is unsuccessful to keep applying! Many of our best mentees have had to apply two or even three times to get on the programme! But as we grow and add more and more mentors to our community, we’ll be able to provide more and more mentees with the opportunities.I CAN IMAGINE A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD BE INSPIRED TO BECOME A MENTOR FOR BLACK VALLEY. CAN YOU TELL US HOW PEOPLE CAN GET INVOLVED AND WHAT KIND OF COMMITMENT IS REQUIRED?Literally anyone could be a mentor, there aren’t any requirements from the mentor all we ask is a commitment of around 2 hours per week. This will involve your lesson prep & the actual video call with your mentee – personally as I’ve enjoyed it so much, 2 hours a week soon became 3-4 hours a week as I saw the great progress my mentees were making. A lot of our mentors have come through word of mouth. I myself have reached out to and managed to get another colleague of mine to also take part in mentoring. This organic method has worked well and we get new mentors joining each month.IT SOUNDS LIKE BLACK VALLEY HAVE HELPED A LOT OF PEOPLE DISCOVER A NEW CAREER PATH AND I’M SURE PEOPLE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR SOME OF THE POSITIVE STORIES TO HAVE COME OUT OF THEIR WORK – IS THERE ONE PARTICULAR EXAMPLE THAT STANDS OUT TO YOU FROM THE WORK YOU’VE DONE?On our ‘Good News’ slack channel we hear so many positive stories from both mentors and mentees that it would be impossible to mention them all, there are just so many 🙂 However personally I had the pleasure to mentor Dennis Musange. Dennis and I first met in 2021, he is a Canadian student just finishing his studies and applied to Black Valley to give him the know-how to get his first software engineering job out of University. Even with the massive time-difference, we soon clicked and really enjoyed talking every weekend. Being big football fans (or soccer as he calls it) we both have a love for our beloved Arsenal football team (even though Arsenal hasn’t been blessed with much success over the years!)We sat down and spoke about what he wanted to achieve, he told me from the off that he wanted ‘to get his hands dirty’ so we went straight into creating a project that we could both work on and contribute to and this would become his ‘signature’ portfolio piece for potential future employers. I really wanted to challenge and push him, so we even picked a programming language and framework he wasn’t familiar with to build a small MVP – each week I’d set him goals and every week he’d go above and beyond the expectations I set. At the end of the 8-week cohort all of the mentees come together for a final ‘graduation’ video call. I was so happy with the progress of Dennis I asked him if he would like to showcase his work (he jumped at the chance!). Even after the cohort was finished, we kept in contact and I coached him through with his job applications and interviews. It wasn’t long before he told me the good news and that he had been hired to join a large software engineering team! It is those moments that make it all worthwhile for me, he is doing well and enjoying the role, hopefully in time he will even mentor others too.MAYBE A STUPID QUESTION, BUT DO YOU NEED TO COME FROM A PARTICULAR BACKGROUND TO GET INVOLVED IN BLACK VALLEY AS A MENTOR?Noooo of course not :). A few people have asked me this question before & we don’t care if mentors are black, white, blue or green (well… you might need to see a Doctor if you were green!?). We have mentors from all walks of life, as long as you are willing to give the time and pass on your wealth of knowledge to the next generation, we are more than happy to bring you on board!FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO PURSUE A CAREER IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT, BUT DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO GET STARTED?Lots of people think that you need to go to university to work in software engineering – this simply isn’t true. The explosion of the web in the last decade has brought so many options for people that don’t (or can’t) take the ‘traditional university approach’. Many developers are self-taught and come through learning their skills through bootcamps, online tutorials and even the tried and trusted ‘reading books’ (although books aren’t so popular in 2022!). The main thing to remember is to keep at it – software engineering keeps evolving all the time and it can be hard to keep up, so I tell anyone that it is impossible to know everything but keep learning – if you improve your skills by 1% every day by the end of the year, you’d have made a massive improvement!FINALLY IS THERE A QUOTE, MANTRA OR ATTITUDE THAT YOU LIVE BY EVERYDAY? (THIS IS COMPLETELY OPTIONAL, SO DON’T WORRY IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE THAT COMES TO MIND INSTANTLY)While this has nothing to do with software engineering – it is my motto that I live by, a not-so famous comedian by the name of Stephen K Amos mentioned it once on a show and it has stuck with me & it is certainly how I approach the world. In life you have to ‘Find the funnies’ no matter what troubles life brings you always try to see the funny side & try to see the good in people. Living this way keeps me smiling & hopefully will lead to a very long & happy life!Thanks again for sharing Black Valley’s incredible work Gavin – you all rock! 🤘

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Alexandra Wood | Dynamic Planner
WOMEN ROCK2022-09-20

Alexandra Wood | Dynamic Planner

A feel good story from Alexandra Wood this week 🥰We love to hear about someone – especially a woman – who’s had a great journey into the tech industry – surrounded by incredible mentors and learning new skills on the job…enter Alex! It’s so important to share these feel good stories to prove it CAN happen that way!Women Rock ambassador Izzy chatted with Alex last week about her journey and there’s some sound advice here for anyone looking to get into tech, including the importance of taking a break! In this case – making plum jam! We’ll await for our jar in the post Alex…Enjoy 🥰HEY ALEX! CAN YOU START WITH GIVING US AN INSIGHT INTO YOUR STORY SO FAR PLEASE?Sure! I started by doing a Maths degree, well actually, although I had really enjoyed my Maths GCSE and A-Level I didn’t think I would be able to do Maths at university level so I applied to study Adult Nursing originally. It turns out I didn’t really have the right personality or skills for nursing and I wasn’t enjoying it so I quit after about 6 months and applied to do Maths instead, it’s hard to know what you should do when you are 18 but maybe trust your gut instinct and try and ignore the “I can’t do this” thoughts, if you enjoy it then you probably can do it with a bit of commitment and hard work.Anyway, I studied Mathematics, I had the option with my course to do a placement year – I highly recommend doing this – I wasn’t so keen about the statistics side of Maths so I looked for something a bit different (the careers department at my university helped with this) and applied for a placement position with an engineering company called Renishaw, they placed me in the software department and that’s how it started. After the placement year had finished they offered me a graduate place and I went from there! I had an amazing team who taught me so much, I owe a lot to them. I worked primarily with C# on desktop applications, after 5 years there I decided it was time for a change and worked for a company building websites in C# using ASP.NET and Blazor, I’ve been there over 2 years and its now time to start the next challenge, still doing web but using a slightly different tech stack and for a different type of product.AWESOME. IT’S SO ENCOURAGING TO HEAR WHAT A GREAT START YOU HAD IN THE INDUSTRY. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT THE WORD “DIVERSITY” MEANS TO YOU PLEASE?It means different.Applied to a single person I think it would mean keeping yourself varied having lots of interests… a career is important but make sure you have other hobbies outside of work, a relationship with one person can be nice but make sure you regularly see friends and family too. Too much of one thing can be bad.Applied to the context of a team I think it means having a group of individuals who have contrasting but complimentary personalities so that they can work together to achieve the best possible outcome.IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE BIT OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO’S THINKING ABOUT FORGING A CAREER IN TECH – WHAT WOULD IT BE?You don’t need to be obsessed with coding to have a career doing it, I really enjoy my job but I don’t code in my spare time and I rarely look at my computer outside of work hours unless I’m trying to learn about something.Also, it’s worth noting that there are a whole range of roles that make up a software team, to name the ones I’m familiar with: Business Analyst, Product Owner, Product Manager, Software Developers, Quality Assurance – there is such a variety of roles that even if you don’t feel that you are naturally a ‘tech’ person there is probably still a place for you, as I mentioned in the previous answer, for me diversity means different and different is good.GREAT TIPS! AND WHAT DO YOU THINK COULD BE DONE TO PROMOTE THE REPRESENTATION OF FEMALES AND DIVERSE HIRES IN TECH?It’s difficult. Personally, I’ve never had any problems with being in software because I’m a woman, the men and women (mostly men) that I’ve worked with have always treated me with the same respect as they have others and I’ve not had problems getting hired. I think it probably boils down to what pathways are taken at a younger age and what a person feels they are capable of. I hadn’t thought I would be capable of doing a Maths degree but luckily I eventually went for it anyway and it worked out really well for me in the end. Telling others of the success stories I think helps, SR2’s Women Rock initiative is a great way to do this, it inspires confidence.THIS IS SO REFRESHING TO HEAR! IS THERE ANY ONE THING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT THIS INDUSTRY?For me nothing, I’ve had a great experience working in the tech industry. Pretty much everything I’ve needed for my job has been learnt as I’ve gone along and I’ve had fantastic mentors. The people I’ve come across in the tech industry are great – please don’t be afraid!YOU’VE MENTIONED HAVING AN AMAZING TEAM AT RENSHAW, BUT WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE?Friends and family.Family – my parents worked really hard to bring me and my sisters up, my whole family is really supportive, I just want to make them proudFriends – those who are also in software know so many things, they’ve been doing it a bit longer but I want to be able to have the confidence and knowledge they have so I can do my job as well as themWHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING IN YOUR FREE TIME?Lots of things! I’m lucky to have a garden so I do enjoy doing some gardening – I planted a small plum tree last autumn and made plum jam this summer. I decided I wanted to be able to make my own clothes so I am learning how to sew – to date I’ve made 1 top, 2 skirts and 1 dress, I’m in the progress of making a 3rd skirt (this is over a period of about 3 years so its slow progress). I have a dog so I walk most days and I like to go on longer walks with friends and family on the weekend. I also like to read, and to do Pilates and I like to make and eat nice food and sometimes I like just sitting and doing nothing at all.WOW! WHAT A WHOLESOME LOAD OF HOBBIES! DO YOU HAVE A MANTRA YOU LIVE BY?Don’t compare yourself to others, only compare yourself to you.It really doesn’t matter what other people are doing and if you try to constantly compare yourself to others you are probably going to make yourself unhappy, enjoy your achievements.Expressed much more poetically in Haemin Sunim’s ‘The Thing You Can See Only When You Slow Down’:“My dear young friend, please don’t feel discouraged just because you are slightly behind.Life isn’t a hundred-meter race against your friends, but a lifelong marathon against yourself.Rather than focusing on getting ahead of your friends, first try to discover your unique colour.”Wonderful words Alex – you rock 🤘

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Heather Lockley | DWP
WOMEN ROCK2022-09-13

Heather Lockley | DWP

The conversation around the gender pay gap continues as the government’s latest gender pay gap report has revealed that last year, women in the UK were paid 90p for every £1 earned by a man – there is still so much to be done. However, there are other gaps we should also definitely be minding – like the class gap. And that is exactly what Heather Lockley from DWP is here to talk to us about! Heather’s passion for social mobility and championing leaders from working class backgrounds is apparent in her chat with Women Rock Ambassador Matt Fullford as she describes her own journey through education and into a STEM role she NEVER thought she would be in!You can’t help but feel empowered to do something new after reading Heather’s story…so we would like to take this moment to apologise for any career plot twists this week!!HEY HEATHER! THANKS SO MUCH FOR GETTING INVOLVED WITH WOMEN ROCK, WE FEEL LIKE THIS ONE IS GOING TO RESONATE WITH SO MANY! SO CAN YOU START WITH TELLING US ABOUT YOUR STORY SO FAR?Unsure how far to go back, but my story and feelings start on reflection from my upbringing!I’m from a single parent family and was the first member to go to university, so my journey through education was an experience I went through without much first hand knowledge and experience from family. My journey through education was interesting as I was diagnosed late with dyslexia during my A-levels.I’m now in a STEM job which is strange to think as I still to this day don’t quite consider myself a techie. It wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing as back in school I wanted to be a barrister!I graduated with a degree in Philosophy which meant my career choices were quite open. I heard about the Civil Service fast stream programme, which was a way for graduates to train in several disciplines and was able to get on to that scheme.I essentially fell into a Business Analyst role after my first 9 months which really led me down the path to where I am now as a Product Manager working on the Universal Credit service in DWP.FOR THOSE OUT THERE THAT MAY NOT BE COMPLETELY FAMILIAR WITH THE ROLE OF A MODERN PRODUCT MANAGER, WHAT DOES YOUR DAY TO DAY LOOK LIKE?I think a Product Manager is someone who’s responsibility it is to figure out what the most valuable thing is for a user and a business. Then the rest of our job is bringing lots of people together to educate and inspire them to bring them on the journey.BEING SOMEONE WHO ENGAGES WITH PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF THE TECHNOLOGY WORLD, HOW DO YOU FIND THE DIVERSITY SPLIT WITHIN CIVIL SERVICE?I’ve personally had a very good experience throughout DWP and HMRC. Generally, our make-up is a 50:50 split, however, the types of roles that women tend to hold in tech are on the business facing side of things such as BA’s, Product, Content, Design etc.Almost exclusively developers have been male with a couple of women front-end devs or QA’s.HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN CHANGE THE NARRATIVE TO ALLOW AN EASIER ENTRY FOR WOMEN INTO TECHNOLOGY?The challenge when talking about technical roles is that people don’t often have the ability to re-train once you’re in the workplace without taking a hit on your progression or pay. So you have to combat this is by capturing women before they enter the workplace and giving girls role models. There are fantastic organisations like “girls who code” that try to combat this, but I don’t think it’s systemic yet from a school curriculum standpoint.When I was at school, ICT classes weren’t about how to build software, it was all about how to use software which is the wrong strategy altogether. That wasn’t all that long ago (kind of!) so it feels like we’ve got some catching up to do in the UK on that front!WHAT COULD BE A MAJOR DIFFERENTIATOR FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO BE EDUCATED ABOUT OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THIS IF NOT PRESENTED THROUGHOUT SCHOOL?I’m passionate about social mobility and I’m proud of being a woman in tech from a working class background. A big barrier for me when coming into the workplace was that I didn’t have many professional role models as my family were in different types of jobs. It wasn’t until I went to university and met some of my friends and their parents that I had my first civil service and tech role models.I’m most passionate about working-class children seeing themselves as leaders. In my opinion the class gap is far bigger than the gender gap now. For example, in the BBC it’s less than one fifth of employees are from a working-class background which is crazy to think about, given its influence on society. I would like to see more conversations about class diversity in organisations, and how we can encourage more working class people in professional environments. Diversity of thought, gender, class, race etc are all so important for building public services that properly represent the people we serve.WE’VE SPOKEN A LOT ABOUT ROLE MODELS AND WE KNOW THIS IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT! DO YOU HAVE A STAND-OUT ROLE MODEL THAT HAS PLAYED A HUGE IMPACT IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?Yes. I have two, maybe three!I have such a great privilege through DWP. Their female leaders are truly exceptional. In my first universal credit piece of work, we had two outstanding leaders. Deborah Boore and Lara Sampson. Lara was what became our Head of Product and Deborah was our Head of Operations. I’ve worked with them both multiple times throughout my career and they’re the people that drastically improved my confidence and belief in myself. Deborah is now a Director at DWP, and Lara is a Partner at Public Digital.If there’s room for a 3rd one, I need to mention Nancy Kelley. She is now the CEO for Stonewall but we worked together for a short time in DWP and she had a huge influence on me. Her background and knowledge and the way she thought so inclusively about so many groups of people when building a public service was impactful and has influenced how I managed public services even now.WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS (PROFESSIONAL OR PERSONAL)?Personal – raised just short of £5000 for ovarian cancer due to an impact in my family.Macro – I’m privileged to be in a position I never thought I’d be in as a child.Micro – nominated for young digital professional of the year, for my role in the Kickstart programme.WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN STARTING OUT IN TECH?“Take up space” – advice that Nancy Kelley gave to me early in my career and I always come back to it.WHAT QUOTE OR MANTRA DO YOU LIVE BY?Have the confidence to put yourself forward. It’s very rare people get plucked from obscurity so you have to put yourself forwards and advocate for yourself, even when it feels uncomfortable.Right, we’re off to get uncomfortable! Thanks Heather – you rock! 

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Charlotte Richmond | Aiimi
WOMEN ROCK2022-08-30

Charlotte Richmond | Aiimi

We are all to aware of the struggles lots of women face when trying to juggle childcare with work, not just logistically but also mentally. There may not be a simple solution for everyone, but here at Women Rock we make it our mission to speak to like-minded women in tech that are navigating this very journey, in hope that these stories resonate and offer advice and inclusivity. Just like Charlotte Richmond’s story! Charlotte share’s her experience with Women Rock Ambassador Aoibheann and also talks about her journey from Mental Health Nursing to an internal recruiter and how understanding mental health is crucial when building teams and businesses…HEY CHAR! DELIGHTED TO BE SPEAKING WITH YOU AND SHARING A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR CAREER JOURNEY SO FAR. A GREAT PLACE TO START IS YOUR AWESOME “ORIGIN STORY”. SO, TELL ME HOW YOU WENT FROM STUDYING MENTAL HEALTH NURSING TO TECH RECRUITMENT TO YOUR CURRENT ROLE AS HEAD OF EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AND WELLBEING IN A TECH & DATA COMPANY?When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do… I just knew that I wanted to work with people. I took some time out to travel and worked in a local recruitment agency before a friend told me about Mental Health Nursing. It sounded perfect for me so off I went to complete my training at the University of Hertfordshire.Life doesn’t always take us in the most direct of paths and I found myself on a bit of a zig zag journey after uni. I worked for a charity but was struggling financially to support myself, so ended up joining a consultancy in their in-house recruitment team.I spent 10 years working in internal recruitment, the skills I gained studying and working in mental health really came in handy for growing teams and businesses. I always worked with wellbeing at the forefront and last year the time felt right to move away from the recruitment element of my role and focus in on engagement and wellbeing.YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU HAD A CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE ADJUSTING TO LIFE AS A WORKING PARENT IN TECH. HAS THAT EXPERIENCE SHAPED HOW YOU SUPPORT WORKING PARENTS IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE AT AIIMI?Most definitely. I have always used the phrase “it takes a village” when talking about raising my daughter, and Aiimi is a huge part of my village! I struggled with juggling childcare, a partner working shifts, commuting into the city 4 days a week… I could go on! Luna was 14 months old when I joined Aiimi and they gave me the space I needed to be both a mother and a employee. My approach to others in the company that are starting or growing their family has been led by that example. I take the time to understand what their specific needs are and then work with them to get the right support in place, adapting as needed as any working parent will know it is never a smooth ride!(Here is a blog I wrote about it for context if this helps 😊)A LOT OF WORKPLACES MAY SAY THAT THEY SUPPORT THEIR EMPLOYEES WITH THEIR MENTAL HEALTH, BUT IT’S ONE THING TO “TALK THE TALK” AND A WHOLE OTHER THING TO ACTUALLY CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THEY CAN BE OPEN AND ACTUALLY ASK FOR SUPPORT IF THEY NEED IT! HOW COULD SOMEONE GO ABOUT CREATING A SUPPORTIVE WORKPLACE?Openness and honesty is key to this, but it really needs to be driven from the top down. Seeing our CEO, Steve Salvin, talk about his own journey with their mental health in my first month at Aiimi was such an eye opener! From there, other people started opening up and soon I found myself standing up at a team meeting talking about counselling I was having via Aiimi and encouraging others to seek support if they needed it. Fostering a safe environment to talk about mental health isn’t easy and takes time, we are always working at getting this right, seeking feedback, adapting as needed. It should be seen as an ongoing process that needs to be nurtured.FOR INDIVIDUALS WHO PERHAPS DON’T HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON SPECIFIC MENTAL HEALTH POLICY IN THEIR WORKPLACE, WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO THEM TO SUPPORT THEIR OWN MENTAL WELLBEING AT WORK?If I were in this situation I would consider who might have the influence needed to impact change and speak to them. Rallying others who are similarly passionate about mental wellbeing in the workplace and seeing if as a collective you could be more impactful would be my advice. Setting up an internal initiative that focuses on finding ways to support both yourselves and each other can be a great starting point and is likely to open up ways of looking after your own mental health that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.AS A CAREER CHANGER MYSELF, I ALWAYS LOVE TO HEAR HOW OTHERS HAVE MADE THEIR OWN CAREER TRANSITIONS AND WHAT ADVICE THEY’D GIVE TO OTHERS. IF THERE’S SOMEONE READING THIS WHO WANTS TO BREAK INTO TECH BUT DOESN’T KNOW WHERE TO START, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?Research, research, research! Really take the time to understand what it is you want to do in tech, where you want to do, the type of company you want to work for, the values they have and how the align to you. Once you narrow down the field, tech is a much less daunting place and you can then do a really focused search and find the right role, at the right company that will see you flourish in your new role in tech!FINALLY, ARE THERE ANY QUOTES/MANTRAS/WORDS OF WISDOM THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR WOMEN ROCKERS?Something I wish I had realised earlier on in my career is that you don’t always need to know everything about a job to be able to do it… sometimes having the passion and drive to gain the experience on the job is just as attractive to an employer!We couldn’t agree more! Thanks Char – you rock! 

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Tim Bardell | NTT DATA UK
WOMEN ROCK2022-08-19

Tim Bardell | NTT DATA UK

Meet Tim. He’s an engineer, a technologist and a management consultant. Husband, a father and a brother and a runner, a woodworker and VW camper van enthusiast – maybe not in that order! He’s also been a huge advocate of Diversity and Inclusion for the whole of his career – our kind of guy! Women Rock Ambassador Ryan, chatted with Tim about everything from fighting for fairness – to the mind-blowing legalities surrounding homosexuality underneath Thatcher’s reign as PM in the early 90’s. It’s a fascinating read – get stuck in!HI TIM. THANKS SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH US! COULD YOU PLEASE GIVE AN INTRODUCTION TO YOURSELF?Whenever I’m asked to introduce myself I’m reminded of the Jack Nicholson character in Anger Management who puts increasing amounts of pressure on Adam Sandler’s character to “Tell us about yourself”. Not what he does, or where he works, or his his hobbies, or his personality… “Who are you Dave?”It feels like we are always under pressure to define ourselves so that others can decide if they want to get to know us or listen to our story. That’s hard because it means that we’re always second guessing our audience and trying to conform to our perceptions of what other people might think about us. So with that in mind, here is me on a few different dimensions.I’m an engineer, a technologist and a management consultant.I’m a husband, a father and a brother.I’m a runner, a woodworker and VW camper van enthusiast.I’ve built chemical plants, made shampoo, helped save jobs, implemented IT projects, transformed working practices and been part of building some amazing teams.I’m an ageing rude-boy, a left-wing idealist and an optimist who looks for the silver-lining in every cloud.Importantly in this context: I’m a middle aged, middle class, straight, white man that wants to use whatever privilege I have to fight for fairness, equality and opportunity for all.BEST INTRO EVER! WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?I’m not big into self-help or management books but a friend recently recommended Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman who wrote for The Guardian for years and who’s columns I used to look forward to reading.It’s a hugely positive and uplifting book once you get past the stark reality that the average, human lifespan – at least in the part of the world that I’m lucky enough to live in – is just 4,000 weeks.This isn’t a direct quote but it sums up the message that I took away from the book. “You are going to die and your life will amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Now go and do something that really matters to you with the time you have”This isn’t about contemplating what higher meaning we should be searching for, or a hedonistic licence to do whatever we want. It’s about looking at what is important to us, the things that we feel we can and want to contribute to. That might be as a partner, a carer, an entrepreneur or an employee. But equally it might be as an activist, a campaigner or a revolutionary. No matter what the history books say, the best that most of us can hope for is to be thought of with love by those that we have touched as we pass through this world so we should focus our efforts on that not trying to hack our productivity and respond to every email and IM that comes our way.YOU ARE PART OF NTT DATA’S DIVERSITY & INCLUSION STEERCO, COULD YOU TELL ME HOW YOU BECAME PART OF THAT AND YOUR MOTIVATIONS BEHIND THIS?I have been active in various aspects of what would now be called D&I initiatives since being part of a team that re-wrote The Boots Company’s “equal opportunity policy” in the early 1990s.This was at a time when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government had introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 that made it illegal for schools to “promote homosexuality” or “promote the teaching… of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. This was awful for young people growing up who had their identities denied and were left with no one to talk to at a very confusing part of their lives.We worked with Stonewall and several other FTSE100 companies to include LGBT equality alongside gender and ethnic equality for the first time in the company’s history. This was a huge step for what had been a very conservative business and I remember very clearly going out celebrating to a club in Nottingham with gay friends the night the board signed it off; we couldn’t believe what we had achieved within that environment and in the prevailing political climate.A few years ago a colleague, and I’m proud to say friend, within NTT DATA, was setting up a D&I initiative. Kim Gray is an absolute visionary in this space and took the approach that this should be a grassroots-led initiative rather than a top-down, corporate mandate. She recruited various of us on the leadership team to sponsor initiatives and to support the actions of those who stepped forward to participate.Thanks to Kim’s leadership we now have active Women’s Business Network, LGBT+ and Allies Network, Cultural and Ethnicity Network, Mental Health and Wellbeing Network, and an emerging Neurodiversity Network.I am very proud to sponsor the LGBT+ and Allies Network that has been brilliantly led by a couple of colleagues over the years, initially Paul Barwick-Copeland and now Gareth Lewis-Jones. My job is really to find budget, remove organisational barriers and say “yes” to the amazing ideas around education and celebration that emerge from within the community. When I consider the progress this country has made from when I started work to where we are now I am hopeful that my children will get to work in a genuinely inclusive environment where “equal opportunities” policies and D&I initiatives are, eventually, no longer needed.COULD YOU PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE OF THE TYPES OF ACTIVITIES YOU ORGANISE?The things that we do fall into three overlapping categories: education, networking and celebration.On the education front we make a point of sharing individual stories and highlighting key aspects of the LGBT+ journey during LGBT+ History Month and days like IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) and the International Day of Pink.We’re a sponsor of the myGwork community which is an LGBT+ networking platform and we regularly organise networking events internally and with client and partner organisations.Finally, we celebrate. Often! We organise events for Pride and regular informal get-togethers as well. The emphasis is on inclusivity and the invite regularly goes out to the all-company distribution list.WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE IMPORTANCE OF RUNNING ACTIVITIES LIKE THIS?I recall a conversation with a colleague a few years ago. He told me that he didn’t attend the get-togethers because he didn’t want to be defined by his sexuality in work. He then confessed to feeling guilty for not supporting them as the knowledge that they happened and that this was something that his employer was actively supporting was very important to him. It was one of the reasons that he loved working for the company.The real importance for me is in keeping D&I initiatives and changing behaviours at the top of the agenda. It is important that we keep creating and supporting safe spaces where people can share stories, seek support or just celebrate together with colleagues, friends and allies. And it’s really important that the company shows that its support is both active and genuine.WHAT AREA OF D&I ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT?The topic that I keep coming back to is “fairness”.The whole point of D&I initiatives, to me, is to create an equal workplace, organisation and society. That means equal opportunity, equal treatment and equal rights. It also means that people need to see themselves reflected in their leadership, arts and society to know that the opportunity really exists and to have role models to learn from. It means that we have to remove conscious and unconscious bias so that everyone is treated with respect and in a way that enables them to flourish. It means that fairness, which is very much a two-way principle, is enshrined in every way of working, policy document and law.I read a brilliant book recently about the Slung Low theatre company in Holbeck near Leeds. The Club On The Edge Of Town tells how the theatre company did a deal with the Holbeck Working Men’s Club to take over the running of the club in exchange for creating a performance space. Because they followed through on their principles of fairness they ended up running a non-means tested food-bank supporting the families of Holbeck and beyond.Their principles are: ”Be kind. Be useful. Everyone gets what they want, but no one else gets to stop others getting what they want.” which emphasises the two-way nature of fairness. As Alan Lane, the Artistic Director of Slung Low says in the book “no one gets opera until every child has crayons”.YOU HAVE DONE SOME AMAZING THINGS IN YOUR LIFE AND CAREER TO DATE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?I am always proud when I see others carrying on something that I started. While the LGBT+ and Allies Network takes a lot of organising in the background, it is now being done by a passionate group of volunteers who are making it their own. I’m asked for my input but the team have strong ideas about what they want the Network to be and that is as it should be.I’m proud to have been part of starting and enabling the journey and I feel the same about many of the causes that I’ve been part of over the years and now have differing levels of involvement in.AND FINALLY, YOU ARE A PRETTY KNOWLEDGEABLE HUMAN BEING! WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK?My stand-out book of the last few years though has to be Benjamin Zephaniah’s autobiography, “The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah”. I have long been a fan of his poetry, first his performance work and then the written stuff. I’ve also deeply admired, and tried to emulate, the thoughtful and compassionate way that he addresses issues of equality and rails against the inequalities that he sees around him, taking practical steps to address them as well as using his platform to lend weight to the cause.It’s a harrowing read of what it was like growing up in a racist culture where opportunity wasn’t just denied, it was taken away based on issues of race and class. It is also a message of hope and love, and the redemptive power of both of those. It made me realise (all over again) the importance of using whatever privilege we have to create solidarity with those who don’t enjoy the same opportunities.Thanks Tim – you absolutely rock!

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