My parents always encouraged me from an early age to work hard and helped me to believe that I could achieve anything if I put my mind to it. It was only later in life that I truly recognised this and gained the confidence that I previously lacked earlier in my career.
Looking back, I now realise that role models have had a significant impact on my career and have really helped me to become the successful woman in the IT industry that I am today. It is for this reason that I am passionate about providing guidance and support to women in the career choices they can make.
The message I would like to convey is that you don’t always need a degree in computer science nor have to fit the stereotypical tech-image to have a rewarding and successful career in technology. In my opinion, we need to ensure we provide inspirational role models, male and female, to encourage women and give them confidence to believe anything is possible.
I started my career in customer services at a utility company and at the tender age of 20 I met my first inspirational role model. Wendy was my line manager who had faith in me and gave me the confidence and opportunities to develop as a young working mum. Back in the seventies the recession had a major impact on the UK job market and many young women struggled to find employment.
As one of those women myself, after many interviews, my heart sank as I was repeatedly asked by the numerous HR Managers if I had any children. As a mother with a young son, companies were reluctant to recruit a woman in my position and seemed to favour single women over married mothers.
Luckily for me, Wendy broke the norm - she was supportive and even though the HR Manager tried to discourage her from giving me the job, she persuaded him that I could be as dedicated as any other single woman with the same experience. Thankfully, things have moved on and interviewers are no longer allowed to openly ask the question about children - and quite rightly so.
I went on to have a successful career by securing a promotion very quickly thereafter and eventually became a manager. Ten years later, the HR Manager moved on and I reminded him that women with children can be successful and will not always be distracted by family commitments. I have had two further children and maintained my career progression; firmly believing that they are not mutually exclusive and that you can have both. I believe I have instilled this ethos in my children, who have grown into three very independent and successful individuals.
My interest in technology was first born more out of curiosity than design. Being a working mum, I was always looking for ways to make my life easier and quicker and so when the first computer arrived in our office I was immediately keen to get involved. The new technology inspired me to develop a database that improved customer service and saved invaluable hours of additional work.
Technology was beginning to transform the way we worked and it seemed like an exciting area for me to get involved in. Many years later I started to get involved in a number of really innovative projects for the companies I worked for. These projects included the first voice activated system (IVR) for our call centre and the first integrated customer system. This all stemmed from my desire to learn and after working on these projects I was hooked on how technology could change the world.
I firmly believe that women should consider a career in technology, regardless of their age or what stage they are at in their career. There are so many different roles and opportunities available - the variety is endless and it is so exciting to be at the forefront of technological change and seeing the impact it can have on our daily lives. After many years of working in technology, I still get a buzz from a new system that has been delivered and seeing the benefits it can bring. It never gets boring!
My mission, before I retire, is to help as many young women as possible realise that they can be anything they want to be, ensure they have the confidence to do this and realise that they have choice. I want people to realise that technology is fun, contradicting the stereotypical view, and use me as a role model to prove that you can have both a family and a successful career in IT.
Sue Sumner is the global Transform lead for Global Finance Technology and Solutions within Barclays. Her strategic focus areas include driving change to deliver significant cost reduction benefits, innovation in technology and improving IT reliability.
Sue has over 30 years’ experience in business operations and information technology, having managed many medium and large scale business and information technology projects.
She has held a number of senior leadership roles working for companies such as United Utilities, BUPA, Heinz and Vertex, and has been recognised for her contribution to change and innovation.