Celebrating International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered twelve of London’s biggest female voices in tech. We asked them to share some advice for the next generation of women thinking of getting into tech. Looking at how they started their careers themselves and the challenges they had to face, they talk about their own role models, and even debunk some tech myths. Ready?
Following the Part 1 of our interviews, here are the next six women in tech:
Remco Chair & NED at Saietta Group Plc
Devyani is an experienced Independent Non-Executive Director. She is Remco Chair & NED at Saietta Group Plc, Audit Chair at Norman Broadbent Plc , NED on the Audit Board at Mazars and on the REMCO Committee at The England & Wales Law Society.
Devyani is CEO of the HR TECH Partnership which runs The Human Capital Digital Innovation Hub focused on Digital/AI solutions around leadership, culture and talent management.
Prior to this, Devyani was an international and multi-sector FTSE 30 Group CHRO and board member, effectively leading large, diverse and multi- billion complex organisations through transformational change.
She has held global roles in successful organisations across various industries such as Citibank, AT&T, British Gas, Rolls Royce and BSI.
Having lived and worked in China, Singapore and Europe (and managed teams in the Americas & Middle East) she has a very international outlook.
Devyani is considered a thought leader around the future of work, inclusive leadership, digitisation of the workforce and is a well-known speaker at business events.
Devyani has received several international accolades:
2021 - Top 100 Digital Influencer around the Future of Work
2020 - Finalist-Asian Woman of Achievement, Technology & Digital
2017 - Financial Times Ethnic Leaders List
2015 - 100 Women to Watch, Cranfield Business School
Tech can sound scary, difficult and not very exciting! In reality, it’s the opposite of all these things. Let's look at the top 3 myths about tech:
You need to have a maths/computer science /engineering/technical degree
No, you do not! There are a range of roles in the tech space that need a variety of skills - creative, marketing, project management, design, administration, and more. Coding/technical design is only one part of the tech industry. Personally, one of the things I learned working in tech is that many things are being done for the first time (had anyone heard of AI a decade ago?). You have to be willing to ask the stupid questions, plunge in and learn. Don't be put off by this misperception that you need a hardcore sciences background to be in tech.
You will end up working in a sea of hoodies
It is true that coders/technical product analysts tend to be males and certain functions in tech tend to be male dominated. But, there are many women in tech and even companies with mostly female employees like Skillcrush. IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty has been a positive influence on expanding female leadership within the company and IBM’s blockchain division of 1,500 employees is now led by women, which is a tremendous contrast to other blockchain start-ups in Silicon Valley, which are most predominantly run by men.
There are very few senior women in tech
Whilst there is clearly a lack of women in tech, compared to men, there are still notable role models in the industry for women to look up to. Apart from well known leaders such as Susan Wojcicki, Youtube’s CEO, Poppy Gustafsson, Chief Executive Officer for Darktrace and Fei-Fei Li, Co-director of Stanford’s Human-Centred AI Institute, there are hundreds of successful senior women professionals, especially in the start-up/scale up area.
Data from Tech Week (2022) showed that 68% of respondents believe gender perception to be the biggest obstacle to women entering tech, so if we can change this by having more successful women for people to look up to in this field, it will help to diminish this stereotype.
CEO & Co-founder at FilmDoo
Weerada is an international entrepreneur and the Founder & CEO of FilmDoo, a platform using innovative technologies to bridge film content with edtech. After living in 11 countries across 5 continents, Weerada launched FilmDoo to bring together her three greatest passions: films, languages and technology.
There has never been a better time to be a woman in tech. There is a growing community of female entrepreneurs, female investors and female exited-founders-turned-investors who are actively looking to help nurture and mentor the next generation of amazing female tech entrepreneurs.
The most important piece of advice I would give to women of all ages looking to break into tech is: believe in yourself and every good thing in life will follow. Even if you don't have the necessary tech skills or resources today, do not let that stop you. Everything can be learnt if you have the dedication. Here are some things you can do:
You can grow your network in tech by joining the myriad of vibrant tech communities and events around the world.
You can join a coding or programming school to acquire new skills.
If you have revenue or funding, you can use those to help bring in key technical hires to join your team.
The most important thing to remember is that tech is just an enabler to do things faster, better or at scale; tech is a way to help you achieve your vision, but the vision must still be grounded on economics fundamentals that work and serve a real consumer demand.
Weerada’s role models
When I started my company, these were the female role models that most inspired me:
Melanie Perkins, Canva
In her first company, Fusion Books, Melanie was able to turn that company into a multimillion dollar company without any external investment or significant technical experience. Her company was a great example of how organic and bootstrapping growth driven by profitability at the core value is still the best way to achieve a sustainable and profitable business. When you have revenue, and more importantly profitability, you will be able to fund any growth, including expanding your technical capabilities yourself, even without external investment.
Sara Blakely, Spanx
Just like Melanie, Sara was able to grow her company SpanX into a multi-billion retail empire without ever needing external investments. Her dedication to invention, understanding consumer needs and appreciating mass media as key distribution channels were all vital elements behind her success.
Dimitra Christakou MSc, DIC, MBA
Chief Operating Officer at BusinessLDN
Dimitra is BusinessLDN Chief Operating Officer. She has over 20 years of experience in international business management and strategy, leading private and non-for-profit strategic partnerships and business development teams, stakeholder management and board level participation.
She is an expert on data driven research and the use of data analysis and statistics to connect evidence and action.
In 2021, Dimitra co-authored WISE’s Exploring Pathways into Tech Careers report. She is a passionate advocate for increasing female participation in tech roles.
Dimitra is also the co-founder and director of Sustainable Blueprints, an intellectual property and strategic analysis consulting firm.
In the past, she worked at Bloomberg, where she was responsible for a product’s overall strategy and direction and a global team of analysts.
She has held positions at Accenture and the Corporate Executive Board (currently
She received her Bachelor's degree in Physics from the University of Crete in Greece and holds an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College of London and an MBA from London Business School.
There’s never been a better time for women to start their tech careers. Employers are keen to attract diverse talent in tech and, most importantly, they recognise that a computer science-related degree is not a prerequisite for success in tech roles. Bootcamps and apprenticeships are excellent entry routes in tech careers. Having said that, it is imperative to connect with other like-minded individuals and learn from women that are already working in such roles – social media and women tech networks are great resources.
Founder at 3 Colour Rule: Branding and marketing agency
Flavilla Fongang is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur and an international and multilingual keynote speaker.
Computer Weekly named her the number one most influential woman in tech in the UK, among a list of more than 600 women in tech nationwide.
She is a neuroscience brand expert covering strategy, design, marketing and customer experience.
She is the founder of 3 Colours Rule, an award-winning branding and marketing agency and Global Tech Advocates – Black Women in Tech, the first and largest organisation of black professional women in tech.
Flavilla is BBC’s chosen brand advisor and regularly provides actionable brand strategy advice.
She hosts the Tech Brains Talk podcast providing insights and advice to tech entrepreneurs and companies.
Be curious and cultivate great conversations, new experiences, new perspectives to grow and innovate.
Spend time with 5 people who elevate you. You’ll become like them.
Be yourself while learning to adapt to different situations.
Founder and CEO ar Instatalent.ai
Sahiqa Bennett was born in a place of poverty, but thanks to her dad moving countries and getting a job, her life changed forever. Sahiqa has lived and worked in NYC, San Francisco, London and spent over 10 years in the Middle East.
She spent half of her working life building things such as digital marketing agencies and tech companies using artificial intelligence. Before that, she worked at a corporation looking at venture capital, private equity, industry trends and data.
Now she is working on creating a Metaverse University for people to truly have access to the future of jobs because the skills gap is getting wider. Parent company Instatalent.AI is designed for employers to pre-plan and build out talent pipelines at scale; she’s looking at developing that with artificial intelligence.
She believes through an upskilling and employability approach, more people will have an easier route into the workplace. She has worked with many leaders globally and enjoys helping humanity.
Straightaway, I would say go for it. Being in technology gives you so many options and I think a lot of women think “oh, I can't do that because, you know, I would need to have done that at school” or “I should have done a degree in computer science.” Yes, that helps, of course. But I think there's a perfect opportunity for people to re-skill and a lot of women end up leaving the workplace.
You get much more choice and flexibility in tech and you’re able to pick and choose which role you want. The first year or two are going to be difficult; it's all about the learning curve. But if you rally through those early months, there's an incredible future waiting for you that really works around your family life and all that you can achieve professionally.
Sahiqa’s role models
We need more role models and I think democratising access to upskilling and learning is really, really important.
When I first worked in the private equity venture capital, we'd go to conferences and there was probably about 1% of women representation in the whole room; it was extremely male-dominated. Whenever I came across women who shared their stories, I was always fascinated by their backgrounds and realised they're people just like me and you. Listening to that advice and listening to what they've gone through will make your path easier.
One of those examples for me is Anousheh Ansari, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation. Here’s why: she went on an 11-day space expedition, accomplishing her childhood dream of becoming the first female private space explorer, first astronaut of Iranian descent, first Muslim woman in space, and fourth private explorer to visit space.
I heard her description of how she felt watching Planet Earth every night and made me think about how she just went and pursued her dream. That dream can be traced back from being a young girl, right? And you may sound crazy when you are young and dreaming but she used to actually say she would sit under a tree looking at the stars, fascinated by the moon.
Senior Customer Solutions Manager, EMEA Aerospace and Satellite
Amazon Web Services
Olga Shoraka is a Senior Customer Solutions Manager at Amazon Web Services' (AWS) Aerospace and Satellite (A&S) business unit, based in London.
Olga runs strategic programs for EMEA satellite communications customers to help them accelerate their cloud adoption journey.
She has been with Amazon for 4.5 years, initially joining as part of the post-MBA leadership rotation program.
Before A&S, Olga held program and product management roles in Amazon Advertising and ran sales strategy and operations in EMEA for AWS Startups org.
Olga's first career path was in the financial services industry in New York City in institutional equity business where she worked across the technology lifecycle, helping hedge funds and mutual funds build their investment portfolios.
Olga received her MBA in General Management at London Business School in 2018 with concentration in entrepreneurial studies and change management.
When I think back to when I started my career in tech, there were a few things that helped me, practically speaking. Even though I covered the tech industry from the investment perspective for eight years on Wall Street before making the career change, I didn't know what knowledge domains and roles were out there.
The first thing I did was immerse myself in the tech startups scene by getting involved with now defunct Google Campus London (I co-ran the Women at Campus community).
Secondly, I attended a number of “Introduction to…” type classes at the General Assembly, such as Introduction to Digital Marketing or Introduction to UX Design, diving deeper in areas that seemed interesting.
Thirdly, I had lots of coffee chats with people in the industry, learning what they did, how they liked the company they worked for and inevitably asked to introduce me to a couple of people in their circle.
These activities helped me a lot to narrow down my own plan, which was:
Starting my own company
Working for a startup
Working for a scale up
Trying out VC
Working for a big tech company
I managed to try all of these during my 2-year MBA program. I ended up joining Amazon straight out of business school where I've now worked for four and a half years. However, the career path refinement never ends and even within Amazon, I’ve finally made my way into AWS' Aerospace and Satellite business unit, an industry I always felt passionate about and also always considered out of reach for me. Everyday feels like being in Disney World!
Something I've seen happen time and again is that people (and women more so than men) are not going for their dream job or their first choice because they start off by compromising with themselves and aiming lower. I've heard things like “I'm not ready” or “I'm not good enough for X yet, so I first 'have to' do Y or Z instead”. I have to remind myself to be brave, go for my first choice and then if that doesn't pan out, use that experience to learn and re-adjust accordingly.
It’s also my reminder to not short change myself from the start. And this is the main piece of advice I'd like to pass on to you: be bold, go for your first choice, that dream job, even if it feels out of reach - because everything is possible if you give it a go. You got this.