“When are you having kids?”
“Are you married?”
“Why don’t you wear heels at work?”
“Why don’t you smile more?”
“Is your husband intimidated by your job?”
We’ve all had them. The inappropriate questions at work. While we may feel more empowered to call them out these days, it sadly doesn’t seem to stop them from coming.
Being a woman in the tech industry, I’ve encountered small-mindedness more often than I’d care to remember - and surprisingly, it’s come from men AND women in almost equal measure. Whether it’s people telling me I’m lucky to have a husband that’s willing to feed or “babysit” our child, or questioning my abilities or position as an authority figure, the struggle is real.
I’ve made a career out of kicking down doors and breaking down norms. It’s in my nature; a constant desire to question the status quo and speak out against the things I don’t agree with. This probably harks all the way back to my childhood and being raised by parents who represented a strong and impenetrable unit, and in particular, having a strong, self-made, self-motivated working mum as a role model. I got to witness her embrace the tech revolution and break out of traditional secretarial roles to become an IT trainer and ultimately a brilliant project manager - needless to say, the apple has not fallen far from the tree. My family was always there to boost me up, ingraining in me the ethos that I should always be myself, work hard, never follow the crowd, and stand up for what I believe in whilst always remembering you catch more with sugar than you do a stick.
This is pretty much how I’ve approached my career as well. When I started out in tech as an inexperienced 24-year-old, I always had ambitions. I wasn’t going to be one of those people that sat in the back of a meeting nodding along and watching the clock tick by- I wanted to make my own impact and I wanted pride and enjoyment out of what I did.
Throughout the years I’ve had my fair share of good and bad managers, some of which seemed hellbent on holding me back, and others that allowed me the opportunities I needed to develop my skills. One particular manager, an amazing man called Doug Wilton, must have seen some kind of spark in me and happily handed over the reins when I asked to take the lead on a Global ServiceNow implementation project - something I had never done before. His approach of encouragement and coaching, rather than directing and managing, helped me show myself and others what I was capable of and see the project through to success. Once it was done, I knew I’d found my niche so I took the terrifying leap from corporate to consultancy.
This is one of many things that have happened in my life that have led me to where I am today as it gave me the experience that brought me to UP3 and Ruth Weatherall. She has shown by example how to be the kind of leader who helps people up the ladder, rather than kicks them down it, and takes more pride in other’s successes than she does even her own. I now aspire to be that type of leader. While you may be sitting there thinking “what kind of leader doesn’t want to help those that they lead?”, let me tell you, they exist and there are plenty of them.
While there are many industries where women are dominating the top spots, in tech we’re still somewhat rare. While being a woman at a “man’s table” might give you a unique selling point, it doesn’t necessarily make you any better at your job. In fact, it gives you a new job - make sure you’re not lonely for long, ensuring that those coming after you don’t have to experience the same struggles as you did! It’s important that we don’t see other women in our industry as a threat or something that needs to be held back. We should be encouraging each other to succeed, cheering each other on and offering support, advice and guidance wherever we can.
At UP3, we have a pretty even ratio of males to females, which for a tech company is phenomenal. Gender equality is a given here; a completely unspoken rule that everyone lives by. This culture has been bred from the top down, cascading through the organisation with everyone rallying around to help anyone who needs it. Whether you’re male or female, everyone is treated the same. Within such a fast-paced and busy industry, this certainly isn’t the standard but is something I’ve found to be incredibly important.
The company also cultivates a very family-friendly environment. While it’s important to get your work done to a high standard, your needs outside of the business are also taken into account and there’s an understanding that it can’t always be a priority; family requirements sometimes have to come first. My youngest daughter was born not too long after I joined UP3, and instead of questioning me on how much maternity leave I was taking and halting my progression while I was out of the business, Ruth and Matt were full of support and allowed me to come back on my own schedule, managing my priorities like the grown up that I am. This attitude is the same for everyone; male or female, parent or not.
If you look at the women we have in the company, they’re all strong in their own right. Their achievements are celebrated business-wide and I take inspiration and learn from them all daily. No matter your responsibilities outside of work, everyone here is given the chance to juggle their lives as they see fit. If you get your work done, everyone’s happy. If you need help in any area of your work or personal life, it’s always there for you.
While I admit I sometimes do still feel as though I have to work a little bit harder to be recognised for my knowledge and talent, I’ve come a long way since that 24-year old starting her journey in the tech world.
In truth, while it’s always nice to be a rarity, I don’t want my gender to be what I’m known for. I want to be recognised for my knowledge and the experiences that pushed me to where I am today. I’d love to see more women in leadership roles, especially within the traditionally male-dominated tech industry.
I always tell my daughters not to take the first answer they are given. If you strongly believe in something, be assertive but respectful. Prove your potential and stand up for yourself. These are the kind of traits that are celebrated in men but typically labelled as ‘bossy’ or ‘stubborn’ when associated with a woman. We need to be actively encouraging girls and women to honour their achievements and celebrate how strong they are and encourage our boys and men not to be threatened by this and instead embrace it. This is the kind of thing that helps move us all forward.
I’m one of those very lucky people who get to say that they love their job. I love the industry, I love the people, I love UP3 and I love that I have the chance to inspire my children to be whatever they want to be when they grow up - just as my mum did for me.
And of course, I have to admit there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from sitting in a room full of men and seeing them realise just how much they underestimated you when you first walked through the door - but there’s even more satisfaction in knowing that happens less today than it did yesterday.
To find out more about working at UP3, visit our Careers page or get in touch.
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