Guest Post: How do we encourage the next generation of female technology leaders?

Guest Post: How do we encourage the next generation of female technology leaders?

On International Women's Day, Paula Felstead, chief technology & operations officer of HBX Group, says that the odds are improving but are still stacked against women trying to work in the technology industry. She emphasises that they shouldn’t be discouraged - anything is possible

As a technologist, it might surprise you to know that numbers haven’t always been on my side. Throughout my education and career, I have often found myself in a significant minority. In my year group at college, for example, out of 100 students in my cohort, there were only four women.

Only three per cent of CTO’s are women, that’s a shockingly small number. And, as a neurodivergent woman in the tech industry, the chances of breaking into this role are even more remote. According to the statistics, someone like me shouldn’t be in this position. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s not to be discouraged by what the numbers say. Everyone is more than a number or probability.

In my current role and throughout my career, my aim has been to see other women overcoming the odds and, over the years, I've witnessed more and more women entering the tech or STEM fields, which fills me with promise. 

And yet, we continue to face many barriers. 

One of the biggest obstacles to women entering tech, particularly those without a traditional STEM background, is the industry's image problem. Despite what many assume, you don´t have to be a lone computer geek working or gaming in solitude into the early hours. This image is far from the reality of what technology roles entail.   Technology requires more than logic, it requires design, empathy, and an understanding of what end users want and need.  

We contend with scepticism concerning our authority to speak about technology, with people doubting our depth of knowledge. This can lead to issues of confidence or being believed, often manifested as imposter syndrome, which affects both men and women. On top of this, many recruitment processes are biased towards what’s easy, favouring male candidates due to the higher representation of men in STEM fields. Looking outside the majority takes effort and focus.

How do we tackle these issues head on? I have three recommendations to share with you. 

Challenge recruitment biases 

Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach. It involves fostering confidence in women to take on tech roles, challenging biases in recruitment processes, and actively seeking gender balance in candidate pools and interviews. 

I've pushed for a more balanced CV list in recruitment processes, which led to greater gender diversity in candidate selection, proving that it's possible to overcome biases with deliberate effort. It's essential for businesses, recruiters, universities, colleges and HR departments to actively challenge norms and strive for gender equality in the tech sector. 

Challenge stereotypes 

We need to challenge and ultimately change the perception that tech careers are for one type of person and encourage people to look beyond stereotypes in order to understand that successful technologists can come from all walks of life. In reality, much tech work involves listening, understanding and creatively translating people's needs into design and code. The more diverse and creative your thinking is, the better suited you are for a career in tech. It's not just about ones and zeros; it's about creative problem-solving, much like being an architect, artist or philosopher. 

Throughout my career, I've worked with individuals from diverse backgrounds, not necessarily traditional STEM ones, and encouraged them to believe in their potential in the technology sector. People from various backgrounds are drawn to tech not necessarily because of the technology itself, but because it appeals to their creative problem-solving abilities. 

Whether you come from the arts, humanities or sciences, if you can translate someone's needs into a practical design, you can excel in tech. It's about tapping into that creative aspect rather than focusing solely on technical skills. 

Mentor others 

For me, it's important to lead by example and demonstrate that success in the tech industry is achievable for anyone. I strive to support and sponsor as many women as possible, reminding them of their skills and capabilities. I believe that taking the time to mentor and encourage others can truly make a difference in their journey.   I'm committed to showing women that with the right opportunities, anyone can forge a career in tech. 

I've made a point of actively supporting other women in the industry by championing ‘Women in Tech’ organizations wherever I've worked. These initiatives aim to connect women together whether in tech, data, security or in business and encourage more to pursue careers in whatever field they choose. Navigating my career has involved working closely with colleagues, listening to their perspectives, and learning from them. I believe in supporting and sponsoring others to try new things and embrace diversity in the workplace. 

I’ve had many opportunities and worked with some great colleagues in my career, I encourage others to believe in themselves and to try something new, especially women who may doubt their abilities in the tech industry. 

My journey

Reflecting on my journey, I would advise my younger self to have more faith and belief in my ability to thrive in the tech sector. Despite the challenges, I learned the importance of staying focused, not giving up and maintaining self-belief even in challenging situations. I encourage anyone looking to pursue a career in tech to understand your interests and unique strengths. 

I've seen firsthand how combining your passion with technology skills can lead to success. Identify your interests and find ways to integrate them with your desired career path.

Personally, being dyslexic and dyspraxic presented significant challenges at various points for me. However, I've learned to leverage my strengths and unique perspective. Ultimately, finding ways to contribute effectively to the organisation and teams that I work with. You can too.