IWD 2018 – What you can do to attract more women into tech #2


To mark International Women’s Day, we spoke to a varied group of females new to the technology industry to find out what attracted them to be part of the minority that is women in tech

Following on from my earlier IWD 2018 article highlighting women just starting out in their tech careers, here is part two featuring another diverse and talented group.

The intern – Lahini Sivaganeshan, technology evangelist intern at Oracle

Lahini Sivaganeshan’s early passion for maths and computing was positively encouraged by her family and friends – she was their go-to person for troubleshooting hardware and software issues, after all.

Sivaganeshan is following the traditional route into the tech sector of taking Computer Science as a degree, and is now part way through a third-year work placement at Oracle. Based on her positive experience so far, she would like to continue working in a technology company after university.

I’m lucky in the sense that this year in industry has aided me to create goals for my career after university. Attending meetups and organising hackathons has all helped to develop my learning and understanding of the tech industry.

Presenting the Bloodhound supersonic car story to a large conference has improved both my confidence to deliver a story and technical knowledge, and presenting skills.

Sivaganeshan recently attended the TechHer event, which brought together women from different industries to learn about the various technologies used today. A short clip was shown, featuring girls from six years old to university students, who were all asked to name inventors. They could name lots of male inventors from Benjamin Franklin to Leonardo Da Vinci; when then were asked to name female ones, they couldn’t name any. She correlates this with a lack of female role models in tech.

There are lots of female inventors who have made significant impacts in the world we live in today and do not get taught about in classrooms, such as Ada Lovelace, who essentially created the world’s first computer program. It’s all about encouraging more women to be influential, whether attending meetups, submitting papers to speak at conferences or leading coding workshops.

Moreover, you don’t have to be technically minded to be in the tech industry. Being able to understand and translate what developers do to a business audience is another valued skill to have.

The award winner – Sarah Binney, software developer at Softwire

Working in the technology sector was top of Sarah Binney’s career wishlist, due to its reputation for posing interesting problems, and offering a better work/life balance than academia or finance, both of which she has found to be true.

What I didn’t know before I got here was how meritocratic this industry is. I’ve found Softwire anti-hierarchical, in that you get respected for your achievements, not your job title or how long you’ve been working here.

So while I’d intended to be a developer for a bit and then maybe move into another industry – video games, perhaps – Softwire has offered me lots of opportunity to try different roles in different projects, from technical work to project management. I’m still at an early stage in my career and it feels like all my doors are still open, but I’m definitely not planning to leave any time soon.

Binney has certainly thrived in her role so far, recently winning Graduate of the Year at the Women in IT Awards. She attributes some of this success to having a female managing director, diminishing the idea that technology is just a boy’s club and proving women can take the lead in the sector.

I’d never thought about my own capacity to lead in this field before, but the experiences I’ve had over the last year at Softwire have really made me consider what else I may have to offer throughout my career.

Binney feels that while getting more female and other minority applicants to apply for tech roles is vital to the industry, it’s equally important to make everyone feel included once they arrive. Introducing company initiatives to improve diversity are a great step, as long as you also take the time to listen to those involved and act upon what you learn.

The career switcher – Amanda Thorpe, product owner at Wolters Kluwer

On completing her physics degree, Amanda Thorpe decided the next logical step was to get a job in accounting.

During my time as a tax advisor, my colleagues called me their personal IT department. I’ve always had a natural affiliation with software, and I was always being asked to help fix any issues they had.

When I was considering a change in job and a business analyst role working in tax software arose, it seemed like a good fit for me and the skillset I had.”

She joined accounting software specialist Wolters Kluwer two years ago, and has recently been promoted to Product Owner. Thorpe hasn’t felt opportunities for women at the company are limited, helped by the fact she works under female CEOs and MDs.

I’ve always had great support from my managers as I’ve progressed in my career. I’ve been involved in helping the team design apps and browser-based solutions, plus I now know a lot about APIs. I enjoy learning new things, and find the prospect of working with some of the cutting-edge technologies out there really exciting.

The mentor – Humera Tariq, Systems Engineer at Tata Consultancy Services

Humera Tariq is relatively new to the tech sector herself – she joined TCS three years ago straight after getting a degree in Information Technology Management for Business – but she has already thrown herself into tackling the IT skills shortage.

Working as a systems engineer at TCS has given her exposure to a wide range of industries, such as retail, banking, insurance, automotive and utilities. She has also benefited from TCS’ career development network and gaining a mentor who matched her aspirations and supports her personal goals.

Realising how valuable mentorship and encouragement is, Tariq regularly speaks to those who are yet to join the industry.

I’m passionate about developing the careers of future tech stars. As a volunteer TechFuture Ambassador, I spend time in schools educating pupils about futures in the industry. I’ve seen first-hand the determination and drive of today’s young people to get the digital skills they need to succeed in today’s IT industry.

The only girl in the class – Shajida Akthar, software engineering associate at Accenture

Shajida Akthar decided to study computing and electronics in college – where she was the sole female student – as she was interested in programming and the underlying technologies behind devices like smartphones.

Being the only girl in my computing class and having a knack for problem-solving encouraged me to go on and pursue a career in technology.

Akthar joined Accenture’s ‘Go Tech’ work placement in 2015, and then moved onto its apprenticeship programme before getting a job as a software engineering associate. In the near future, she hopes to get training on different cloud platforms and rotate on projects, with an eventual ambition to manage her own team of DevOps professionals.

Akthar believes we’re on the right track with the number of initiatives that have been introduced to encourage young women into technology or STEM.

Technology firms are becoming more diverse because you don’t necessarily have to be very ‘techie’ to work in technology these days.

However, given the number of inspirational women in technology, I feel young girls should have more opportunities to meet and learn from them, to understand how they got to where they are. A lot more needs to be done to expose women to technology and computing at a young age so they have the option of considering a career in tech in the future.

My take

Speaking to this diverse group of women, some key messages have struck me. Hopefully these will prove useful tips for organisations wanting to attract a more varied range of candidates to their businesses and retain women currently working for them.

  • Businesses need to open up more routes into technology careers for those not keen on studying computing at college or university. IBM’s Nicole Covey and Avaya’s Ella Jenkinson both had the perfect aptitude and enthusiasm for careers in tech but their education choices were not a natural fit.
  • Young girls need more opportunities to meet and learn from other women working in tech of all ages and experience levels, to understand how they got to where they are.
  • Find ways to convince women that being a tech whizz isn’t a pre-requisite for working in the tech sector. There are plenty of opportunities for those less technically minded.
  • Promote women to senior roles. Working for female MDs or CEOs or CTOs was highlighted by many women in these articles as a way of dispelling the notion of a tech boys club.
  • Diversity initiatives don’t stop at the recruitment process. As Softwire’s Binney notes, you need to make sure everyone continues to feel included.

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