I’ve worked in the tech industries and with techie people for the whole of my working life and this is the first time I’ve really considered sharing my experience.
I love maths, problem-solving, getting things working, making things. I love a starting with a challenge, thinking big with others to figure out a design, working out the core functionality, getting excited about what this thing might do, and then getting stuck into the practicalities of actually making it happen. Evolving ideas, questioning the dream against the practical, testing whether it works. Then the thrill of seeing the finished product.
For me, the thing that tech gives me is the ability to have a go and make something. Test it out, see if it works and if it doesn’t either go away and figure out if it could be possible, or tap into my creativity and find another way.
In the early part of my career being in the minority was something I relished. I was proud to be the only girl taking further maths a-level, and one of two girls (with 20+ guys) in my physics class. It meant I got to know the guys well.
There was a practical element to this too – I’d always been a bit of a tomboy – playing football, climbing trees, getting dirty. But during my early teenage years, I’d found that girls were super bitchy. Girls would be nice to your face and then talk about you behind your back. Boys just seemed so much more simple and straight forward – so as I moved into 6th form, many of my mates were boys and doing science and maths fit pretty well with that.
I held this approach through most of university and into my career. I had female friends, but I preferred to hang around with guys. So being in a male-dominated engineering company fit me quite well as my first job. When I was first promoted into a management role I remember looking around the other managers in the company and being proud to be one of the few women to have reached such a position and feeling pretty comfortable being there.
The turning point for me came around the time I discovered coaching. I went on a course to learn to coach and we did an amazing exercise where we looked at a photo of us as a child and described the child we were seeing and all the things we would want for that child when she grew up.
What was interesting was that I talked about girliness a lot. Whilst I’d been a tomboy as a child I had also loved playing with dolls, getting dressed up, reading fairy tales. Things that I’d now shunned because they weren’t practical and didn’t fit in the male-dominated world I’d lived in.
That one conversation started to unpick the way I saw my life and I realised I’d been living the way I thought I needed to in order to fit in. I wasn’t being the whole of me – and that was holding me back. I had created a life of structure and analysis, where everything needed to be logical. In the process, I’d also lost my connection to my creativity.
It wasn’t that my logical, analytical side wasn’t an important part of me – it’s just that it was out of balance and as a result I had lost the connection with the creative, imaginative, free-flowing part.
It was around that time when I started to notice the male-dominated environment more. In many of the meetings I attended I was the only female, and when those meetings were making decisions, for example about where to invest money, I realised that those decisions were more likely to lead to investment in tech that men understood.
This increased awareness meant I started to think differently and realise that I brought a different perspective to discussions. Slowly, as my confidence grew, I was less in the background and more willing to speak out. I wasn’t always listened to – but I don’t feel that was just because I was female – I also had to learn how to use my voice. This was a really important part of my development into a leader.
As my career has progressed further I’ve moved more into roles where I am guiding and mentoring the people I work with. Whether that’s in creating a business from their tech, how to become a leader in their tech field or even how to interact with others in different disciplines to build inclusive teams, all of these need a balance of male and female traits.
Of course, when providing this sort of support in tech, the majority of people I’ve worked with are male, but I have also worked with a good number of women too. These women have really deepened my own reflection and understanding of what the tech industries need.
With a little support, many of these women have gone on to become strong leaders themselves. Once they reconnect with who they are and become comfortable with the idea that it is ok to bring female energy into the tech world (in fact, the tech world is screaming out for it), once they have tapped into the confidence they need to go out and share their skills and share their message, they have stepped up and made a difference, and really start to be noticed.
It takes a leap of faith to be different. The tech world has been created by men, and the male structures have been reinforced. But in a world that is accelerating so fast, a world where businesses need innovation and creativity to stay alive, female leaders are needed more than ever to bring these different ideas and approaches.
Where do I fit into this now? Well, my mission is to help those female leaders stay connected to their truth. To help them to have and maintain the confidence and belief in themselves so that they instead of adapting to fit in, they know that they have the most impact when they stand out.
Do you panic and get stuck into figuring out what you should do next?
Does your mind go into problem-solving mode, looking at all the options, everything that might go wrong in the hope that you come out with the right answer?
This used to be me – and to be honest still is sometimes. But a couple of weeks ago while working with a client I discovered that my reaction is changing.
My client was stuck. Things were moving fast and beyond the limits of his knowledge. He was looking for guidance on what to do next, but this was beyond my knowledge too. I don’t know how many times in that session he said “I don’t know”, but it was a lot.
What do you immediately think of when I mention computer games?
Do they suggest shoot-em-ups or racing games, games that appeal and are marketed to teenage boys? Or maybe you’ve come across some of the amazing games that are emerging, often from indie studios? The games industry now produces a rich and diverse set of games, but people don’t yet know about them.
I was invited to speak for an event on Ada Lovelace day at Anaplan this year, and I realised that this was an opportunity for me to share the impact that games have had on me, and are already impacting the world.
I’ve played some amazing games with powerful messages, which had me fully immersed in their gameplay, and the more I look, the more I find that I want to play. I’ve shared an overview of some of these games in my talk, as well as how I think each of them are changing the world.
Don’t you just hate uncertainty? That feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen, how things might turn out, and whether we’ll be able to cope with what life throws at us.
For me, I feel uncertainty in my stomach. It starts to churn, I feel queasy. Sometimes I get a flutter in my chest too. My brain will not stop whirring. Trying to figure out all the options for might happen, and what I can do in every single case. Its like I have to convince myself that I am prepared for every eventuality, and the more prepared I am, the more I am convinced I will be able to cope.
Does this work though? Does anticipating as many possible futures as we can really help us in how we respond to the events of life? Do we actually respond better?
How do you respond to failure? Are you one of those lucky people who believe the mantra “there’s no failure, only feedback“, or does the fear of failure stop you from doing things?
What if failure was an important part of being creative? What if it was actually a signal we were on the right track?
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve recently discovered that I can actually draw and paint after many years of believing I was terrible. But in picking up my paintbrush and giving it a go, I’ve not only learnt about painting, but it’s also taught me a huge amount about the creative process.
Over the last 6 months, I’ve painted a picture of each of the places we visited on our travels – and loved it! I’ve loved getting lost in creating something and seeing what emerges. However when I say I loved it – I didn’t love every minute of it.I’ve noticed that in the process of creation there always seems to be a turning point. A point where I want to give up. A point where I want to rip up the painting and start again. A point where it just doesn’t look as good as I thought it was going to look… it doesn’t fit the image in my head!
Then, maybe after a few days away, sometimes after a couple of months, I’ve picked up my brushes again and kept on going, seeing if I can do something with it. Tweaking to start with, eventually getting lost again in the creative project. I’ve also found that after the turning point, what comes out is actually much better and more connected to me than I’d imagined in the first place.
When I was younger I wasn’t great at drawing. I was ok, but I found it difficult to draw things that looked realistic from my imagination – and I thought that made me no good at art. So I stopped doing art at school and because I was good at maths and science and focused my effort there. I told myself that I wasn’t creative, I was logical! Somehow I’d got the idea that the two were mutually exclusive!
That story carried on for a long time – through university and the early years of my career. I think it was early in my coaching journey (around 10 years ago) that someone challenged this belief that I’d made up by questioning whether creativity was just the ability to draw.
What does it feel like to be truly listened to? When someone is really interested in what you want to say? We like it when people listen to us, but how often do we expect people to do this for us without us taking the time to listen to them?
Listening is an essential communication skill. Improving our listening skills can have a valuable impact on all areas of our lives. It can improve the relationship with our loved ones, lead to improved connections with friends, help us to understand better what’s needed from us at work, help us to understand what a customer really wants.
I like to think of a conversation like the creation of a piece of art. The speaker is the artist (and in collaborative work, there might be multiple artists). At the core of their artwork is a message or emotion that they want to convey. As they speak they might paint a picture in your head, or a film of video, a story or a composition, or completely immerse you in an event. You will get their message most clearly if you can start with the blank canvas of a clear mind, and are able to resist adding your own thoughts, judgements and assumptions into the creative mix.
Some parts of the message will be clearer than others. By asking questions you can make sure that the understanding you are getting is what they want to communicate. Immersing yourself mentally and physically into their world will lead to a much deeper understanding, increase your connection with them, and lead to new learning and insight for you.
Do you find that some days you wake up and everything feels wrong? Or that someone says something to you and you completely overreact, putting you in a low mood for the rest of the day? Those things that you were feeling excited and happy about yesterday suddenly seem risky or scary, you find holes and reasons to feel bad about them.
What can we do to get out of this low mood? Especially as once we’re there there’s often a little part of us that enjoys wallowing in it, that for some reason doesn’t want to get out, or we feel there’s a lesson we need to learn before we can allow ourselves to feel better.
Have you ever come out of an interaction feeling like they won and you lost? They got the thing that they wanted and trampled all over you (whether overtly or covertly)? It really makes you question whether you want to work with that person ever again?
Over the last 15+ year I’ve worked in industry and in academia. I’ve managed people and built collaborations with many people. My approach is to be generally open and interested, trying to help people align their goals and achieve more together.
Occasionally I’ve come across someone who’s approach to achieving their goals is to bully people into submission. To use threats, throw their toys out of the pram and have a full out tantrum (yes we are talking about adults here – and because of the industries and disciplines I work in – usually men). Sometimes their behaviour is more subversive, passive aggressive – agreeing to do one thing to your face, but then never quite getting round to it while they focus on the thing they want to do, or undermining your authority by spreading rumours or gossip.
This behaviour often throws me. I like to see the best in people, and I truly believe you can achieve more by working together. So when someone comes along and abuses that trust, taking what they need and not stopping to understand what you need what do you do?