Connect. Inspire. Collaborate: A Conversation with Women In Technology

Today is National STEM Day, a day founded in 2015 by MGA Entertainment (creators of Bratz and Project Mc2) to celebrate and inspire students to enter into the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. From then, the day has taken on quite the life of its own, with companies using the day to shine a light on their female and BIPOC tech gurus. We thought we'd do the same, so we got in touch with three women in senior tech positions to ask them a few questions. 

Hello! What are your names and what do you do for a living?

Joanne: Joanne Bowden. I am the IT Director for the Premex Group. My function looks after 5 businesses under the Premex Group, and we have a team size of 45 based in the Northwest and in Vietnam.

Sue: Sue Davies, Programme Manager.’

Clair: I’m Clair and I’m Project Director at Blue Beck. Day to day, I oversee projects in the company but mainly work on the development of our app for our partner, SMARTY mobile. I also get involved in the Ops side of the business.

When did you first become inspired to be in tech?

Sue: Late 1990’s with an internet start-up, TopJobs on the Net. Loved it and still in touch with people from there.

Joanne: I actually always wanted to be an architect but the thought of 7 years of learning after my A-Levels put me off, so I focused my degree on Design and Mathematics – weird combination but I was always good at maths and enjoyed it. While at university the whole “internet thing” was taking off (yes, I am that old!) and I became really interested in how websites were built –technically, but also aesthetically. From there I got the tech bug and loved building things.

Clair: I think way back when I worked for the British Council; we were producing content for an online UK culture magazine, and that’s when I first realised how the medium of tech was helping in bringing different cultures together.

If you hadn’t got into tech, what would you be doing?

Sue: Accounts! BORING!

Clair: I would have loved to have been a Vet but came to that realisation later on in life, which would have been difficult to retrain. Plus, I don’t think I’m clever enough for it.

Have there been any challenges you’ve faced from being a woman in tech? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

Sue: Sadly, there still are: not being paid as much as men, taken for granted you’ll take notes even though you’re more senior, being given the task oriented rather than strategic jobs. Being literally the only woman at the table a lot of the time - although that is changing, I’m happy to say.

I also have to say the misogyny I’ve witnessed of men taking advantage of, even grooming, female colleagues has been disgusting. I have raised a few instances and it’s ruined my career in some organisations to the point of being completely destroyed emotionally and professionally. Senior male leaders did nothing to support me or other women I’ve seen this happen to.

Joanne: I have been lucky that at most places I have worked I haven’t been the only female, but as I first grew into more leadership roles, I found that sometimes you have to work a bit harder for others to see that you are as good your male counterparts, especially when it comes to behaviours. It’s harder for a woman to be task focused than it is for a man, as women are then categorised as “hard task masters” or even aggressive. Where I work now the board room is pretty much a 50/50 split and the culture is far more equal. The key, I think though, is to not see yourself as a woman in tech, just a person in tech, and as long as you are working hard and doing your best you will succeed, regardless of your gender.

Clair: Yes, a few times sadly! Mainly when your ideas or thoughts get ignored. Me and a male colleague used to play a game where he’d repeat what I said 5 mins on in the conversation and often that was the best idea they’d heard, but from him. I’m glad to say, personally, there are less challenges now, and if there are, I feel confident to address them. There’s a really great book called "How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings” by Sarah Cooper, which is a humorous but ultimately a serious take on the issue.

What advice would you like to give children who would like to enter a STEM profession?

Clair: Be confident and take time to learn from others. If you’re still at school, then hopefully you’ll find there’ll be at least one teacher who is extremely passionate about STEM and will talk about their experience. You don’t have to head to university but try and find yourself in a work environment where you can have a mentor, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or step up and say “I can do this” rather than waiting for the opportunity to come to you.

Joanne: Work hard, try new things, don’t be scared of what you don’t know and never let anyone tell you it’s too hard or you can’t work in these professions.

Sue: Get a good mentor and don’t pigeonhole yourself to a role. There are lots of roles and opportunities. Be authentic. Take risks.

Would you rather win the lottery or work at the perfect job? And why?

Joanne: Work at the perfect job! It’s true because it’s not about the money, it’s about enjoying your life. Working at the perfect job isn’t just about the job but about the relationships and friendships you make along the way. To be able to challenge yourself and use your brain day in day out is rewarding and gives you a sense of purpose. When I’m 60 then I can win the lottery.

Sue: If it was a significant amount, not just £10, then lottery!

What would an amusement park designed specifically to make you happy, be like?

Joanne: No spiny rides; they make me sick. Big up and down coasters without long queues. Good places to eat. Games like the basketball in the hoop because I like the challenge, but not the ones that are designed for you to always lose as that just frustrates me. Donuts and popcorn are a must too!

Sue: Nothing, can’t stand them— ok, maybe Dollywood, but that already exists.

To find more women in technology, why not browse UK Business Directory.