It is hard to imagine a more unpromising start to a career in technology. I left school aged 16 with no qualifications and undiagnosed dyslexia. I was lucky enough to get spotted in London by a model agent when I was out shopping with my mum. I then spent the next few years traveling the world as a fashion model. I was a single mother in my early 20s. Pulling together a few savings and with the help of friends and family I decided to invest in my education as I needed a long term career that would provide security for me and my son. With a lot of hard work and the support of some amazing people, I began to acquire qualifications: ‘A’ levels, a degree and eventually an MBA, at Imperial College Business School where I became interested in technology.
I have worked in a variety of roles, including in sales for a pharmaceutical firm, and as a technology management consultant for Accenture. At one time, I became an independent consultant working for a local authority in the North of England. I have developed a lot of experience of the challenges of using technology in the NHS and in pharma. Two things became increasingly clear to me. First, that technology was crucially important in shaping the modern world. Second, women and girls were severely underrepresented when it came to technology careers.
The absence of females in technology careers is more than just a case of bias, it is fundamentally a critical issue for society and business! By involving women you not only get the brainpower and insights of half the world’s population, you also access their skills of creativity and collaboration which are so essential in the world of today that is increasingly being shaped by technology.
When I joined PwC in 2010, there were very few females in its tech workforce, but over time with lots of initiatives and learning in what works and what doesn’t, we have doubled the percentage of women to over 30%.
There is a fundamental issue to increasing this number though for PwC and all firms as the pipeline of girls and young women choosing tech subjects at schools and universities is persistently low. The ‘PwC’s Women in Tech: Time to close the gender gap’ research I commissioned, found that only 27% of females would consider a career in technology, compared to 62% of males and only 3% of girls surveyed said technology would be their first career choice.
I established The Tech She Can Charter along with some other passionate women from organisations such as RBS, Zoopla and Tesco in 2018 to address these problems. There are now over 150 organisations signed up to the Charter to further technology careers for women. And we have a female-friendly technology curriculum ‘Tech We Can’ developed for school children being used in over 200 schools and growing daily.
When I was younger I thought dyslexia was a barrier to working in tech but what I”ve learnt is the things I’m good at make me ideal for working in tech. I’m innovative in how I look to solve problems, have good emotional intelligence and favour collaborative ways of working, I’m also a very determined person and it’s these skills and characteristics that have led to my success, not being academic or a brilliant coder. When you’re young, you don’t know what you don’t know which is why it is so important for me to make sure that girls and young women are educated and inspired whilst still at school about the possibilities of working in technology.
Not having a background in technology, or having a disability such as dyslexia, is not an obstacle to having a career in technology. What matters is being persistent in reaching the ambitions you have for yourself and passionate about developing your skills and using them to do good in the world.