From being asked to play the ‘dumb blonde’ early in her career to running the show at Sotic. To mark International Women’s Day 2020, our Operations and Finance Director Kate Maunsell shares some fascinating insight about being a woman in the tech industry. She explains how her experience as a lead singer in a heavy metal rock band has helped her and offers sage advice to girls and women considering a career and working in the digital/tech sector.
What is your role at Sotic?
“I’m the Operations & Finance Director; responsible for all technical and delivery teams, HR and finance. My job is to ensure our staff are happy, our processes are efficient, our output is successful, and our efforts are profitable.”
What are the barriers (real or perceived) for female employment in general and are there any specific barriers in the digital/tech industry?
“There still exist many implicit beliefs about the female skill-set, which can limit opportunities for women in any industry. The male dominated tech sector is unfortunately no exception.
Early in my career I was asked to ‘play the dumb blonde’ by a senior manager, the implication being that no one would believe I understood the ‘technical stuff’ anyway. I was suitably outraged, but I challenged that assumption and found it met with contrition and apology.
It’s crucial that women in male dominated environments challenge these outdated assumptions. More often than not, they’re unintentional and I’m pleased to say that thanks to the continuous influx of young talent, I’ve seen the sector take a much more enlightened approach to gender equality over the last few years.
For many of my female friends working in the private sector, the time restrictions imposed by motherhood have felt like a barrier to career progression. However, I think the business world is beginning to address this. I have found the tech sector in particular, has an admirably enlightened approach to flexible working. The focus in tech on productivity as opposed to a ridged adherence to clocking in and out, makes this the perfect industry for working mothers.”
We as women need to get out of our own way!
“Saying that, PWC recently found that only 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector are held by women, and although there is much employers can do to address this, we as women need to get out of our own way. Whereas a man might see a job specification and confidently apply, despite having only 20% of the required qualities, a woman could have 90% of the requisite skills, but that 10% will put her off applying. I’d challenge any woman to go for that dream job, because you can bet your salary that your male colleague will be!
Sadly, the evidence suggests that trans women have an even harder time than cis women in the workplace. A 2018 report revealed a strong prejudice among UK employers towards transgender workers with 1 in 3 employers admitting they are ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender person. There is a long way to go before we see full inclusivity in the business world, but to me, the tech sector feels like a place that welcomes diversity.”
How do you think we can encourage and nurture employment among women (in the digital/technology industries in particular)?
“The Tech Talent Charter is going some way to promoting diversity in recruitment in the sector, but more needs to be done. The Guardian recently reported that the number of women in tech has barely moved over the last 10 years, demonstrating that women still feel the sector is ‘not for them’.
Campaigns like WISE (Women into Science and Engineering), encouraging young women into STEM subjects, are beginning to make a real difference, but you don’t HAVE to have a technical qualification to consider a career in the sector. I’d encourage women with transferable skills, such as project, financial and client management, to consider a career in tech. You don’t need a maths degree or a technical qualification to enter this world. And if you do want a technical career, there are thousands of quality free courses online that can get you started.
As a tech employer I know we need to do more to encourage and promote diversity and inclusion. Much has been done in this sector to expel the perception of a ‘bro’ culture, but employers need to recognise the different perspective women have to offer and create environments where that perspective is welcomed and valued.”
What would your advice be for women starting out in your industry?
“Recognise your worth as an employee and get a hold of your imposter syndrome (IS); that feeling that despite an impressive CV and long list of accomplishments you are somehow unworthy and are bluffing your way through it!
So many women suffer from IS, which at its worst, manifests as crippling anxiety and self-doubt. However, if you can harness it, there’s something very valid about constantly challenging yourself to become better, questioning your decisions, and holding yourself to account. The lack of entitlement that engenders IS, means you’ll exercise humility and caution in your choices, an essential skill for a senior manager. Employers take note! I think a little imposter syndrome in many of the male bosses I’ve had, might’ve done them the world of good…
However, you must not allow IS to stop you from growing. Own your expertise and don’t be afraid to wield it when necessary. Have the courage to challenge colleagues when you spot inefficiencies, but ensure you have the evidence to back up your claims. A little courage goes a long way. Trust in yourself and your unique abilities, you have just as much right to be there as anyone else. But, don’t kill yourself trying to prove your worth, it’s not necessary.
Most importantly, there’s a perceived expectation that to succeed, women need to be more authoritative and more aggressive than their male counterparts – this is simply not true. Regardless of your gender, empathy and honesty are your most powerful allies in the workplace.”
What woman inspires you most?
“I am particularly inspired by women who have succeeded in male dominated environments – I suppose it’s no coincidence that I’ve found myself heading up a tech agency working exclusively in sport!
Since a child I’ve been a huge fan of Billie Jean King. I recently watched the film ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and was reminded of how much she achieved for women in and beyond sport.”
What was your dream job when you were growing up?
“For a long time, I wanted to be a heavy metal singer and spent many years touring and recording with various bands… alas, it didn’t pay the rent! However, I learned a lot being the only woman in a very male dominated scene. Most of all, I learned that we all have different and complementary strengths and weaknesses, and that for the chemistry to really work, diversity is an essential ingredient.”