To coincide with International Women’s Day, the BCS North London Branch ran the first of a series of ‘Wominspiration’ events that aim to shine a light on some of the talented women currently working in the IT arena, with the aim of helping inspire the next generation. BCS Editor Justin Richards MBCS reports.

With 2018 becoming such a key year for highlighting gender diversity and equal opportunity issues in both business and public worlds, the BCS North London Branch, led by the ever-enthusiastic Dalim Basu, decided to run a series of events, labelled ‘Wominspiration’ for all those wanting to know more about gender diversity and equal opportunities in IT. Six gifted and interesting women from across the UK were invited to attended and share their experiences of working and progressing their careers within the UK’s IT landscape.

Charlotte Hutchinson

Cloud Technical Consultant (IBM UK), Charlotte Hutchinson, was up first, and divulged how she had originally been a computer science graduate from the University of Kent before joining IBM, where she pushed herself forward to become their European Subject Matter Expert for their API platform.

Through her work at IBM she learned how to work with clients on strategies and on coding APIs, and, more recently, has moved toward consultancy work. She’s particularly enjoyed working on a project at Wimbledon during the tennis tournament, where she’s been their technical consultant, thus mixing her twin loves of computing and sport.

Katie Hopkins

Katie Hopkins is a senior consultant within the Technology Consulting practice at Deloitte MCS, and, in her own words, is a ‘social architect implementing merchandising planning systems, and aligning European and US landscapes.’

However, she’s about to change projects and will soon be helping to deliver TOGAF certification within Deloitte, whilst also maintaining her role as a mentor and partner with local schools, delivering mentoring guidance for kid’s careers. She is currently part of Deloitte’s Gender Balance working group, which seeks to attract, retain and develop female talent.

However, Katie wasn’t always involved in IT; in fact, she originally studied English with History of Art whilst at university, and ended up embarking on a career in technology by chance! She started out on the John Lewis Technology Graduate scheme, and spent time in roles which spanned the project lifecycle, from project management, through business analysis and development and finally to focus on architecture.

Katie admits that it was hard for her to ‘integrate initially, being the only female on a tech team, and surrounded by men who sounded like they were speaking a foreign language!’

Nadia Abouayoub

Working as a strategist and improvement lead in investment banking, Nadia Abouayoub first launched her career with JP Morgan 15 years ago and has worked in fields as diverse as risk management, product control and technology in trading applications. More recently she has worked on a GDPR project. Nadia has an MSc in Computing, and an MSc in Formal Methods and the Security of Systems from Royal Holloway, at the University of London.

Nadia says that at JP Morgan she learned to change her mind-set, and to broaden her horizons, which allowed her, in turn, to develop new skills and learn more about financial products. She even created apps for herself.
Jennifer Wetton

Currently an ‘innovator in residence’ at Santander, Jennifer is focussed on machine learning, but, previous to that, she was looking at how to bring the principles and practices of open source and communities into Santander. Prior to working at the bank, Jennifer had done a bit of everything from market researcher to e-commerce start-up founder to management consultant, helping organisations build and deliver strategies for growth and advising them on how they could leverage technology.

Jennifer Dean

Although currently semi-retired (she was a barrister), Jennifer Dean is still very much in demand, whether it’s sitting on a national ministerial advisory committee at DEFRA, running a business advice company, being the Chair and a Trustee for the ‘Music 4 Children’ Charity, or as an author (she’s a best-selling Amazon author) or filmmaker (her last film premiered at the National Film Theatre).

Starting off with a science degree, Jennifer didn’t finish her PhD in bio-physics, but instead found herself drawn towards environmental law, and almost became a lawyer by accident, although she was also a COBOL programmer for a while. Interest has always been paramount for her, providing the motivation needed for choosing her roles and jobs.

Sue Milton

Sue Milton, an advisor on good governance, didn’t originally set out to work in IT, but rang the Bank of England, on her dad’s advice (‘aim for the top’) and took a test to be a computer programmer, working, at that time, with tapes and cards. Having a degree in economics and in German, she was used to dealing in languages, a bonus as a computer programmer.

Since her bosses wouldn’t let her physically crawl around as a network engineer, because she was a woman, she ended up moving across into audit management, and integrated into IT assurance programmes. Her current focus is on the intangible aspects of governance that influence working relationships within and between companies, and looking at the impact of Brexit.

Final take-home messages

Event organiser, Dalim Basu, quite rightly stated that the types of job roles within the IT industry are always changing, which surely must be a good thing for gender diversity within IT. He also urged the industry to make a difference to the way in which gender is handled going forward.

During the closing panel discussion, based on questions posited by the audience, the speakers all seemed to agree on the fact that men need to be engaged in order to achieve better gender parity in future. After all, gender balance is better for everyone. Nadia Abouayoub, for one, didn’t think that men were consciously restricting female numbers, they just didn’t think about it.

The panellists all displayed a passion for IT during the event, and all the women saw IT as being a great career, even though most of them have met with gender prejudice at some point during their careers. Jennifer Dean believes that working in IT can ‘provide you with such a great skill-set, you can take those skills into any career.’

But she sees IT as such a massively growing field, which encompasses so many different types of roles, from cell animation to civil engineering, that one ‘shouldn’t want to ever leave it as it’s a great space to be in with so many career options’.

All the women felt that diversity of opinion (and gender) is so important and always improves business decisions, hence raising the profile of equality in gender representation throughout all of society is to everyone’s benefit and can only be a good thing.

Shared knowledge

All the speakers were asked to share their tips for would-be women in IT as part of their presentations and pretty much all of them agreed on one thing – to get a mentor, someone who can help guide them through their career, or at least different stages of it. And if a more senior mentor figure isn’t available, find a trusted ‘buddy’ who, as Sue Milton says: ‘can help you see yourself in an impartial way, and be someone you can use as a sounding board for new approaches for your work.’ Nadia Abouayoub urged everyone to ‘be curious and ask questions.’

Charlotte Hutchinson reminded the audience that ‘not knowing something is okay; it’s fine to ask a work colleague if you need help’. All the speakers were keen to encourage attendees to challenge themselves, and get used to ‘challenging yourself to be the best you can be’. Jennifer Dean urged people to think about their personal goal-setting, and be realistic in their expectations. And Jennifer Wetton advised that one should take on the ‘lessons of mistakes and come back stronger’.

Abouayoub encouraged the audience to ‘be true to yourself’, and to ‘visualise where it is you want to get to, career-wise.’ Charlotte’s comment of ‘follow your passion’ echoed Nadia’s advice. Perhaps more pragmatically, Katie Hopkins encouraged people to ‘understand your strengths and shout about them’, and she extolled the need for the audience to ‘say “yes” to opportunities’. And Hopkins also felt that people needed not to fear questioning their job grade, especially ‘if you think you’re worth more.’