IWD 2023: The tech leaders who inspired us

March 17, 2023By Paula ElliottInsights

With International Women’s Day (IWD) last week, I have been speaking with many brilliant women in STEM from across my clients about what the day means for them. Helen Mott, Principal at Netcompany,  struck a chord with me and spoke directly to this year’s theme of DigitAll: Innovation and technology for gender equality.

What resonated with me when interviewing Helen for an article about women in technology were her views about the future and how we build solutions and services that represent the whole of society’s needs. I hadn’t thought about this perspective, but today more and more of our services, processes, decision-making and the information we use to make decisions are driven by technology, influencing how people operate and think without society even realising it.  

During the interview, Helen remarked: “Think about it – 80% of developers writing code algorithms are men. So, you have male thinking embedded into the code we utilise. As society becomes even more reliant on technology, it is critical that we get more balance and I’m not just talking about gender balance, but social, economic, cultural and life experience. Going forward we must ensure the teams that are building society-critical services are representative of the society that we live in and serve.” 

Inspired by Helen, I asked my team to share the insights from their clients that best encapsulate the spirit of International Women’s Day.  

Ameesha Patel – Senior PR Executive

As a woman of colour, it is a terrific time for me to witness the achievements of other individuals of colour in their professions. This year, I found real inspiration in content from Seshika Fernando, VP and head of BFSI practice at WSO2.  

When starting, Seshika advises you to establish your objectives in your career but remain receptive to unexpected opportunities. The most excellent chances often differ from the ones we initially envisioned or planned; much like Seshika’s career path, mine was also rocky, to begin with, when starting a career in PR on the cusp of the pandemic. But three years on, PR has provided me with the skills and experiences I never thought I would achieve! 

This quote resonated with me from our conversations with Seshika: “I am inspired when I see other people who are very passionate about what they do. When you’re in a career field for a long time, especially working for a particular organisation, there are periods where you lose excitement or passion. But then when you see other people who are excited and passionate about what they do, especially people within your team who are reporting to you that really kind of rings a bell and gives you a wake-up call and I find that inspiring.” 

Here’s to raising the bar in digital transformation while we #ChoosetoChallenge gender bias and inequality. 

Natalie Young – PR Executive

For International Women’s Day this year, I interviewed Samantha Sene, the UK Channel Lead at A10 Networks, who is a very successful individual and has a passion for inspiring those around her and sharing her success. In the interview, her passion for mentorship shone through, and anyone would feel invigorated by how she spoke.  

“One of my greatest pieces of advice for women entering the industry is to ask for help. Even the most adaptable and bright professionals can feel overwhelmed at the start of their career, and it is not a failure to admit this. It is hard to know where to start, whom to talk to and where to begin on the pathway to leadership. Female mentorship programmes work to inspire young candidates to aim high for themselves, allowing direct access to the women who have risen through the ranks before them. Programmes such as these are essential to drawing and retaining more women in the industry, by providing transparency into the female leadership makeup of an organisation.” 

Megan Mackintosh – Senior PR Executive

This year, I was lucky enough to profile Heather Bouvier, 11:11 Systems’ Director of Channel for North America, about her life, career, experiences as a woman in the industry.  

I was particularly struck by her advice to young women, which focuses on finding your confidence in the unique perspective and skills that you bring to your role. She writes, “Learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, build a strong network and find the core strength or talent that will drive your success. 

For me, I have found a lot of success in how direct I am. Where I’m from, we tend to talk fast, and this efficiency runs over into every aspect of my life. I like to get to the point quickly, and this personality trait has proven a real asset in this industry.” 

Heather applies this same approach to the women around her, and it was touching to see how she finds inspiration in the strengths of her colleagues. In a month about empowering and celebrating women, Heather had no difficulty finding an example of this inspiration: “My Channel Territory Manager, Larissa Tietjen, leaves me in awe at how well she builds relationships and works a room like no other.” 

Michelle Hatcher – Associate Director

When I asked Sabina Sandia, a Cyber Security Analyst at ThreatSpike Labs, what International Women’s Day meant to her, she quickly turned question on its head.  

It is essential to talk about the role of women in technology, but Sabina highlighted the role of technology and innovation in broader gender equity. This still stands out to me as a brilliant articulation of the 2023 theme, DigitAll: 

“Shockingly, women comprise only around 20% of the current cybersecurity workforce. This fact highlights the need for more women to be represented in these fields, not only for gender equality but also for the diverse perspectives and innovative solutions that women can bring.  

I’m passionate about inspiring the next generation of young girls to pursue careers in technology and cyber security so that they can make a difference and shatter the glass ceiling for good. A more diverse and inclusive industry will pave the way for a better future for everyone.” As Sabina says, “by being a woman in tech, you will inspire future generations.” 

John Vignaux – PR Executive

I’ve chosen to highlight Cate Lochead, CMO at JumpCloud for International Women’s Day, her inspiration and advice to the ever more critical next generation of women in the Tech industry and shines a spotlight on an essential but often overlooked point: “Working in tech doesn’t mean you have to be an engineer, there is a huge variety of roles in tech that are just as important as coding. If maths or physics isn’t your thing, that doesn’t mean tech isn’t for you, you don’t need to be a maths genius to excel in a technology career.”  

As many of my colleagues have expressed, Tech is the backbone of modern life; and it is becoming increasingly influential. The recent developments in AI brought about by viral chatbots will no doubt shape the future. But representation in developing these technologies is a must to create the fair future women and girls deserve.  

Reflecting on this, Cate concluded “Tech is constantly evolving, and it continues to innovate itself and the world around us. Women – and other underrepresented groups, need a seat at the table where so many things that are ubiquitous in our everyday lives are getting developed. There have been some very revealing studies that show how discrimination makes into UX, AI and beyond. There are so many places around the world where women face discrimination, violence, and misrepresentation, and I believe having more women in all functions of tech can help to combat this. Whether you code or communicate, no matter your skill set, tech could be the place for you, a place where you could have a role in moving society forward. Seize the opportunity.” 

Ceren Akkaya Marshall – PR Executive

I got to talk to Michelle DeBella, Chief Financial Officer at Jumpcloud, about her personal story as a woman in the finance and technology sectors. Her experience shows how far we have come regarding gender equality as she pointed out the positive changes during her time in the industry for women and all kinds of underrepresented people.  

I particularly find awe-inspiring her thoughts around professionalism and how content she is that the representation of professionalism is changing. As Michelle said: “thank heavens that looking “professional” for women doesn’t have to mean a skirt, suit, and pantyhose every day. I love that we continue to expand our ideas of what “professional” means, which isn’t defined by some white, euro-centric, patriarchal standard set in the 1950s.”   

On the other hand, I am impressed by how she explained her vision to make parental leave equal for all genders. Her aim to “build company and work cultures that recognises pregnancy is a normal life event that shouldn’t impact anyone’s long-term career opportunities” reminded me that it is the strong female leaders who will lead the change for equal opportunities for all underrepresented people in the workplace.