How to get more Black workers in tech? Why networking opens as many doors as a degree

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett October 16, 2023
Summary:
Patricia Williams, Lead Business Analyst at Just Eat Takeaway, shares her tech journey so far and tips for Black people wanting to join the sector

Patricia Williams
Patricia Williams

Patricia Williams didn’t follow a conventional route into the workplace. While most people go to university straight out of school, Williams did her degree as a young mother. 

Having had her first son at the age of 21, Williams knew she didn't just want an admin job: 

I really wanted to have a career to make sure that I could give him everything that he needed and beyond.

When her son was four years old, Williams went to university to study for a degree in Information Management and Business IT:

I chose tech simply because it seemed like a career that I could grow in. It paid a lot.

The choice was a good one. Williams passed her degree with flying colors, and secured a job as a junior Oracle programmer at her first interview. She’s worked in the tech industry ever since, for 25-plus years, but has changed her field.  

After eight years programming, Williams felt that as a developer writing code, she was too far away from the business and the customer. So she made a gradual, sideways step over to business analysis: 

I was always wanting to know how my piece of code was affecting the business, how did it make a difference to the customer journey, to the product that the organization was serving.

Change

Williams has been a Business Analyst (BA) for almost 20 years now, with roles at BskyB, TalkTalk and Close Brothers. Currently, she’s Lead Business Analyst at Just Eat Takeaway, where she looks after a team of five BAs, helping to deliver change: 

That could be an IT change, a different way of working, new processes, a cultural change. BAs are the ones that help to land change. We help to quantify problems or even come up with problems, we document solutions, and we work with IT and developers to help land this change.  We work on change from conception when someone talks about it right through to implementation right through to the end.

Despite working in the same function for nearly 20 years, the BA role is one of huge variety, according to Williams. Even staying in the same organization, as you’re working on different projects, it's always fresh, according to Williams: 

A BA will start on a project knowing nothing apart from an idea of what the company does. But good investigation skills mean they can quite quickly understand the scope of the work, and support the business in getting consensus around the problem and the solution. 

Even when a project doesn’t go to plan, Williams doesn’t see this as waste or failure:

When I work on a project which doesn't go live, because maybe we've run out of budget or there's been a change in direction, I don't think that was a wasted six months or two years. I think, what did I learn, who did I become, did I deepen my BA skills, did I meet new stakeholders, who did I impress, who did I influence?

Challenges

While Williams has progressed in the tech industry in a career she loves, it hasn’t been without challenges. The first of these was being a working mother back in the late 1990s and 2000s. Working from home back then just wasn’t an option, and Williams was in the office Monday to Friday. In terms of childcare, that was always an obstacle. 

She recalls starting a new job on the belief her working hours were from 9-5, to arrive on her first day and find out it was actually 9-5.30. 

I just said, 'I can't start this job'. There was no way I was going to be able to find an extra half an hour of childcare for my son. 

Fortunately, her manager was understanding. Noting that Williams wasn’t the only person at the firm with childcare issues, they agreed to work something out around her hours. 

Williams faced other challenges in terms of race. When she first started in IT, she was the only Person Of Color in her function and the only woman. She had to put up with a lot of sexist jokes, and assumptions that she’d be the one to do the sandwich run or always make the tea: 

There was lots of bias, some prejudice, some bigotry. It didn't really hold me back, but it made my career progress a bit slower.

Other challenges were ones Williams created for herself. One was the assumption that as a working mother, she couldn't progress, or if she did progress, she'd have to work more and work harder: 

I couldn't eat into the time I spent with my son. It was important that work was containerized, so then I could focus on being a great mom. That was something that I should have challenged, but I didn't.

If she could go back to that period, Williams would have asked for a lot more support and leant into her leadership team, managers and other staff more: 

I wouldn't have made assumptions. I would have asked what other people are doing, and seeing that I still need to leave work at 5 or 5.30 on the dot, how can I progress? I just assumed that it was one or the other.

But that experience has made Williams a more supportive leader and manager, a role she takes very seriously as she is guiding people's careers:

I say to my team, because you are going to grow, because you might go through a promotion, you might want to do a different role, doesn't mean that I expect you to work harder. It doesn't mean that you have to increase the amount of time that you are in the office or at your desk.

For those wanting to join the tech sector, Williams shared her advice on alternative routes to the traditional ones of university, a graduate scheme or an apprenticeship:

If you haven't got access to that, there's so many resources out there. I love using LinkedIn. I connect with a lot of people on there, I give a lot of advice on there. I have seen people put up a post saying they want to get into tech and they have a card with something written on and people start saying, I can help, I can mentor, I can coach, have you thought about talking to this person.  My advice is get on LinkedIn, definitely go to Black Tech Fest, connect, network. That just starts to open doors for you.
 

Loading
A grey colored placeholder image