Hosting a joint event on the 5th December, I went along to the The WIT Network and Microsoft UK –‘Make Change, Move Forwards’ day of inspiration at the new Microsoft store in London’s Oxford Circus.

It was my first visit to the venue at the top of Regent Street, with impressive displays of tech and a range of free workshops for adults and children that left me feeling super positive and upbeat about the current culture at Microsoft.

Until recently I had deliberately avoided ‘Women in’ events, preferring to stand on the side-lines, questioning if they are really needed, as TVision’s management team is 75% female with women working in every part of the business.

Fortunately, a chance meeting at a TEDx event helped me look beyond my own bubble and consider the wider issue, addressing the imbalance that still exists in the UK IT industry when it comes to women.

These are the numbers from the 2018 workforce WISE campaign, based on the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey data, generating statistics on women in the UK STEM workforce.

In 2018 women made up only 22% of the STEM workforce, and when you start breaking that down further, only 16% of IT professionals are women.

So it was with real interest I sat down to listen to the guest speakers/interviewees listed below:

  • Anushka Davies, Head of Learning and Development at Softcat plc
  • Bethany Hedger, EMEA Partner Success Lead, Financial Force and joint The WIT Network UK Lead
  • Joe Marci, Vice President, UK Commercial Partner at Microsoft
  • Julie Simpson, Global VP The WIT Network, President IAMCP UK, Founder and CEO ResourceiT Consulting
  • Kate Wood, Co-Founder Engage Your People and joint The WIT Network UK Lead
  • Katya Linossi, CEO and Co-Founder Clear People
  • Mariana Azevedo Knoedt, Chief of Staff, One Commercial Partner Microsoft UK
  • Richard Ellis, Small, Medium & Corporate Leader Microsoft UK
  • Sam Bramwell, Modern Workplace Solutions Director and Chair of Women at Microsoft Board, Microsoft UK
  • Sam Mud, Managing Director at Phoenix Software Ltd
  • Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, Founder Ginger Training and Coaching

With just 120 invitees, it was a real pleasure to be part of this intimate group who really opened up with frank personal presentations of their career journeys to date.

Most of the women speakers talked about how, like me, they didn’t know what they wanted to do on leaving education and had often ended up in tech by chance. Once through the door, their enthusiasm and willingness to embrace new challenges and change had helped them become women leaders in technology.

All talked about the need to balance career with family life, and be open with employers as to what you need from them. How confidence and ambition does ebb and flow at different times in your life, and how important it is not be frightened of making mistakes.

One of the challenges discussed in detail was maternity returners, how much pressure ladies often put on themselves to get back to ‘normal’ in the workplace, and how businesses can help support their employees during this difficult transition.

Another common theme through speakers’ careers was mentors. Don’t be frightened to have one or more, you’d be surprised how many are happy to help and if you can think about putting yourself forward to mentor others.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a business coach work with me since March 2016, and he has been a great asset to not just me, but the whole management team.

The male speakers and interviewees gave us an insight into how they are helping business leaders reconsider the tools they use to team build, entertain customers and reward staff. I can’t be the only woman who has considered getting golf lessons because of the amount of business/networking opportunities that happen on the golf course.

By simply asking the question, “will any women be attending?” helps bring into focus often unintended exclusion. Businesses now give formal guidance to staff to not participate in male only events, the Lancet call theirs the ‘No All-Male Panel Policy’.

Tech businesses that want to grow are constrained by resource shortages, encouraging girls and young women to think about a role in technology is a must if we want a larger pool of talent to choose from.

It was hard not to be inspired by The WIT Network and Microsoft vision of, “Diversity is good for business. Gender diversity introduces innovation which fuels better business, builds stronger relationships and increases profitability. We will attract a strong membership by example – by acting ethically, honestly and courageously and through an ongoing commitment to community outreach activities.”

Women at TVision

When TVision was a small start-up we offered part-time and part-time term time contracts to allow us to recruit skilled resource into roles where we couldn’t afford, and didn’t need, a full time headcount.

We had some amazing people join the team that helped spur us on. This led to a need for more physical desk space to fit everyone in, but what a fantastic culture we created without even knowing we were doing it.

Staff were never made to feel awkward leaving to do the school run, unable to come in due to sick dependants or having to put family first. We understood as we had family too and out of that grew our ‘People 1st’ guilt-free, flexible culture.

A lot is said by big business about work/life balance and flexible working, however very few do it well – their culture often applying pressure or making women (although men are affected too) feel guilty if their child is sick for instance. Women don’t want workplaces where judgement or contrition is applied.

We simply don’t work that way here. With so much technology making it easier for people to work remotely, and at times that suit them, it’s time the industry who created our technologies really use it to become more inclusive.

Not just a childcare issue of course, however, the timeframe in which childcare could be considered an issue is actually really small in comparison to a career as a whole. As we live longer and work longer, it’s only right that we all benefit from a guilt-free work scenario.

Whether the TVision team is in the office or working remotely full-time, part time, term-time, contracting or otherwise, I’ve found their return to the business to be considerable giving us great staff retention.

Trusting and supporting my team of fantastic women and men is one of the reasons we’ve been so successful over our 20 year history.

Also, more understanding of the cost of maternity leave needs to be considered. I’ve had too many conversations with C-suite friends, colleagues and peers who think it will cost their business too much money, when in actual fact the government pay 92% of it. So there really is no excuse.

Offering flexible returns to maternity leave here at TVision, we understand there isn’t a once size fits all approach, and want the transition back into work to be as smooth, and guilt-free as possible.

Having a family shouldn’t call an end to a meaningful career, and we back all our women – in order to give them the confidence they need to get back in to work and their role, forging the careers they desire.

By Managing Director, Pippa Odell. To find out more about Pippa, you can read her team bio here.

If you’d like to find out more on women in tech, read our blog ‘Not enough women in technology’ written earlier this year.