UpScale visits 10 Downing Street

This post was contributed by Kate Dodgson, UpScale’s Employability Project Manager

Kate Dodgson (right) at networking event at 10 Downing Street

Kate Dodgson (right) at networking event at 10 Downing Street

On 24 November 2016, UpScale went to 10 Downing Street to attend a Women in Tech Networking and Mentoring event. The event was on the invitation of Rt. Hon Karen Bradley MP – the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and was organised by one of UpScale’s partners – DevelopHer – a non-profit organisation elevating women in tech.

100 women in tech were invited to attend and were divided into mentors and mentees. I was invited to represent Birkbeck as a mentor. Birkbeck’s UpScale programme aims to encourage Birkbeck students to pursue work in technology and has a strong focus on under-represented groups including women in technology. Partnerships with organisations such as DevelopHer support UpScale to achieve this important aim.

While nibbling on cucumber sandwiches and sipping elderflower cordial, the fifty mentors began networking with the fifty mentees. Roughly ten minutes were allocated to each conversation before a gavel was hit and the women rotated. Ideas, business cards and laughs were exchanged, and there were women representatives from the public sector, higher education, the private sector (ranging from huge multi-national companies to brand new start-ups) and everything in-between.

The Rt. Hon Karen Bradley arrived and gave a speech highlighting the gender gap in STEM industries and emphasising the need to close the gap. She said that the event was designed to allow prominent women in tech to get their heads together to try and find ways to combat the inequality. She invited the women attending to suggest to her ways that the government could address the under-representation of women.

downing-st-4The evening ended with a hundred selfies by the front door of No.10 and a walk to a nearby pub. Here the networking continued, and the wine drinking commenced. Ideas on how to lessen the gap and make technology a sector of choice, for all women, continued and relationships were built and no doubt will continue to be nurtured in the coming weeks and months.

Birkbeck’s UpScale programme helps promote women in tech by exposing female students to the tech industry and offering ideas and thoughts, directly from industry on how to support them to enter it. Through partnering with numerous companies and organisations, UpScale provides students with a series of co-curricular events which improve their digital and soft skills. Providing female students with these skills gives them greater confidence to enter a currently male-dominated industry and over time will reduce the gender imbalance.

UpScale is delighted to have been invited to No. 10 to act as a mentor for women in tech and looks forward to continuing the incredible work being done to boost women’s prospects in this substantial industry.

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Women Talk Tech: Continued…

This post was contributed by Birkbeck MSc computer Science student Liudmila Veshneva. She attended the Women talk Tech event organised between Birkbeck’s Careers & Employability service and Girls in Tech. This blog follows from fellow student, Aida Zibaite’s recent blog article.

Women in TechI have recently attended “Women Talk Tech – How I transformed my career”, an event organised by Birkbeck and Girls in Tech. Because I found the speakers so incredibly inspiring and because I believe so much of what was said will resonate not only with many women on their journey into tech world, but also with anyone going through career change I decided to share my own thoughts on the subject.

Sinead Mac Manus, Founder & CEO of Fluency, Nathalie Richards, Founder & CEO of Edukit and Harveen Chugh, Entrepreneurship Consultant to universities, start-ups and government shared their experiences of leaving successful corporate careers and well-paid jobs to start their own businesses in the social enterprise sector.

A number of interesting issues came up during the talk. One that had me nodding in agreement was on the topic of confidence. It seems that women are particularly prone to suffer from lack of confidence and I am not an exception. On numerous occasions it has been mentioned to me that I need to be more vocal. Knowing about this shortcoming and making conscious effort to overcome it has definitely helped. I have never done anything as drastic as Nathalie Richards who became a stand-up comedian to overcome her fear of public speaking, but even small steps can make a big difference and open new opportunities which women are systematically missing because they underestimate what they are capable of. Rita Usanga, Digital Media Specialist and Cofounder of InvestWell, who was moderating the event, encouraged everyone to “feel the fear” and do something outside of their comfort zone as a way to improve on the front of confidence.

Finding a mentor was another good piece of advice shared during the talk. It is especially relevant at the start of one’s career. Having had a supportive and encouraging manager myself, I appreciate the impact he had on my professional journey. Unfortunately, finding the right mentor can be a challenge, at least in my recent experience, even with numerous schemes set up to encourage women into tech. Of course it is not the reason to stop looking; the benefits of support and guidance are irrefutable.

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

One question from the audience that I would like to highlight was whether sharing your ideas with other entrepreneurs is good practice. And Sinead was very adamant in answering: “yes”. She explained that majority of success in starting your own business comes from right and swift implementation. Share your ideas without revealing your “secret sauce” was Nathalie’s advice. I would like to expand on this topic and encourage sharing good advice, experiences and opportunities.

Listening to these strong-willed, hardworking and purpose-driven women, their stories, learning about challenges they overcome on daily basis and seeing how determined they are to persevere made me feel less alone and, to put it mildly, “insane” about starting my own journey into tech. It certainly was not an easy choice in my case, especially after some reactions I got from my friends, family and colleagues when I told them about my decision to quit my hard-earned job in banking and start all over again in a completely unrelated industry. When I am feeling particularly doubtful about my choice to take a plunge, I only need to imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t and it all falls back into place. It also helps to remember a quote by Beverly Sills: “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try”. For me personally, regret is one of the worst feelings I had to deal with, and regret of not trying your best has very long shelf life.

Read more about the Women in Tech event here

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Women Talk Tech

This post was contributed by Aida Zibaite, current student of Birkbeck’s Foundation Degree in Information Technology.  Aida attended the Women talk Tech event organised between Birkbeck’s Careers & Employability service and Girls in Tech.

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

Women in Tech (l-r) Rita Usanga, Nathalie Richards, Harveen Chugh and Sinead Mac Manus

Last week I attended ‘Women Talk Tech –How I transformed my Career’ held at WeWork Spitafields. It was a talk with three truly inspiring Birkbeck alumnae: Sinead Mac Manus, Founder & CEO of Fluency; Nathalie Richards, Founder & CEO of Edukit; and Harveen Chugh, Specialist in Entrepreneurship & former Growth manager for the UK government`s Sirius Programme.

Firstly, Rita Usanga, the moderator and a very passionate woman in tech herself, set the mood by asking the panel to reflect on their careers over the past decade – a question I would personally dread the most in a job interview! Their responses captured my attention and compelled me to share my own thoughts.

These very successful ladies studied Bioinformatics, Arts Management and Migration Studies at Birkbeck whilst pursuing their respective careers, at some point realising they didn’t quite enjoy it and they needed to make a change. Through trial and error, high challenges and risks they became who they are now – digital technology entrepreneurs.

At that point I had a few questions buzzing in my head:

  • What message are they trying to convey by sharing their success stories?
  • What are they trying to achieve?
  • What is the driving force behind their success?
  • What are their core values?
  • Or simply, from my bewildered girl in tech point of view: What problem are they trying to solve tonight?

The conversation made me think about my own experiences as a woman studying computer science. Recently, I attended a tech workshop at Birkbeck held by a software development firm. I was one of three women in the room with another 20 men, the majority of them tech students. I couldn’t help thinking that, although the men had many questions and were taking full advantage of the opportunity to seek advice on their own career development, the women remained silent.

I raised my hand and asked: How many women are there among the 30 employees in your company? Suddenly, the room went silent. There was a very long pause and then I got my answer: five female employees. Only two of them have some software development skills and not a single one of them are in an IT role.

So the key message I took from the event is that there is an evident lack of women in this field yet, believe me, there are so many of us who can code, solve problems, create innovative ideas and overall add so much value to bring success to any business. However, at the same time, it made me more determined. A passion for tech has life-changing potential. Moreover, reflecting back on that evening’s truly inspirational stories I have to agree with Rita’s opinion that books cannot prepare you for the reality of working in Tech. You have to get out there, network, make valuable connections, find your passion and possibly find mentors to guide you along the way into finding your own magical path to this ever-evolving world and make your own impact. The question is what is holding you back and why don’t you start today?

I would like to sum up with a final thought: One’s time is very valuable and irreplaceable in terms of how one chooses to spend it. I certainly made an investment that night and only time will show its return. Hopefully it will turn out to be something I can measure and share in value to be able to humbly give back a similar yet very unique gift to my own to college community and other women in Tech.

Read more about the Women in Tech event here

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