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The Brilliant Women Making a Difference in Tech

Published on March 2nd 2020

by ZoeBagnall. All rights reserved

A person sitting at a table using a laptop computer
At Candide, women are celebrated every day. But for International Women’s Day, we interviewed Bristol’s most inspiring leaders in tech, who happen to identify as female.

Rav Bumbra, Tech Recruiter and Founder of Structur3dpeople and Cajigo.

A lady looking at the camera and smiling
Rav says she grew up with a lack of role models and was unsure about the field she wanted to go into. Her first stint in the world of technology constituted of an I.T course which she admits she "absolutely hated" but as she got into her mid-twenties when the internet was just starting to take off, she joined the "fresh and exciting" sales team at Compuserve, Bristol.
She later worked for a consultancy company, followed by a complete career change at 40 years old into tech recruitment.
It was during this role that she began to notice the low number of women entering the workforce or progressing within it.
"I saw a problem folding out in front of my eyes and I wanted to do something about it in a way that would help women and employers."
This frustration is what her business, Structur3dpeople, was born out of. It aims to help organisations develop a diverse workforce and helps women succeed in tech.
She says that a particular issue at the time she started the company was the level of detail in job descriptions. She noticed that women were more likely to try and tick every item off on the list of role requirements, and if they found they didn't have all of them, they didn't put themselves forward.
She made it her goal to mentor and support women through a structured programme, whether they were already in the industry, looking to change careers, or hoping to become entrepreneurs.
These programmes were organised at company sites in the evenings, but they found the time restrictions limiting because not all women could attend.
"We needed to think of an innovative way of delivering our programme, so Cajigo was born, a mobile learning app which mentors women of all ages."
"We've trialled it with students, women in the industry and we've especially had a powerful impact on schools. We can see that girls aren't taking up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) subjects as no one has shown it is a viable career for them."
"The girls have come into our workshops, uninspired, demotivated and with no role models. They can name a few role models, but it's usually Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, but no women."
"After three hours of working with them, they're full of energy and bouncing off the walls. They can see what their bright tech future is going to look like, and they can name industry role models."
Bristol at night
Bristol is one of the leading UK tech hubs
Rav says that after attending the workshops, 80% of girls have wanted to work in tech with 98% wanting to work in senior leadership positions.
"For them to say we'd love to be the decision-makers, we'd love to sit on boards. We want to take charge. It's fantastic. Especially those girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. We raise their aspirations, and that's the start of it all."
She says that the most important thing is "instilling the belief that anyone can do anything."

Lisa Brodie, Head of Engineering, Design and Mathematics at the University of the West of England (UWE)

A lady smiling at the camera
Lisa's professional life is not limited to making sure courses run smoothly for 140 staff and over 1,000 university students.
She is a Chartered Engineer with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and mentors young engineers who are working towards their professional registration.
She sits on the board of the Engineers Professor Council (EPC), which is the representative body of engineering education in the UK.
She's also involved in The Centre for Digital Engineering Technology Innovation initiative that will develop and accelerate the adoption and application of world-class digital engineering practice for the future generation of engineers and engineering products. Last but not least, she's also a Trustee of Aerospace Bristol!
She first got into engineering because she was lucky enough to have supportive role models who showed her that the career was well within her reach.
"I grew up around factories. My dad was a maintenance engineer and I would spend Saturday mornings swinging around in a chair waiting for him to fix machines when they went down. It never seemed to be a career that wasn't possible for me.
"My mum and dad always made me believe that anything I wanted to do was possible, and I chose to go on to study manufacturing engineering at university.
"When I started my course, I was disappointed to see that there were only a few girls in the room, even more disappointingly, this is still the case today.
"After finishing my degree, I spent ten years in a variety of roles, mainly manufacturing, engineering, procurement and five years in consultancy.
"I travelled around a lot as a senior consultant, and when I came to the point of deciding to have a family, I realised that I had to think about a different career. I decided from there that I wanted to do a PhD and went on to study at the University of Bath. I then went full circle back into academia."
When asked what she enjoys most about her role at UWE, she said:
"I feel like I'm in a unique position in my role at UWE. I can transform the journey of our student engineers. There are exciting developments in the way engineering is being taught as a discipline. I feel lucky to be a part of this movement."
Her advice for people looking to get into engineering is that "nobody should be put off."
"There is no one way to be an engineer. Engineering is about being creative, innovative, and for me, it is all about changing the world for the better."

Tiffany Dawson, Founder, Tiffany Dawson Coaching

A woman standing on a sidewalk
Tiffany wasn't sure what she wanted to do during school, but she knew that she loved maths and physics.
Her school careers counsellor urged her to study radiography, but she was drawn to the excitement of the engineering world.
After eight years working in the construction industry, she decided to follow her true passion that "had been brewing over at the time"; helping women in STEM to create careers they love.
She now says she "has the best job in the world" and that "empowering women with the tools and knowledge they need to take back control of their lives is "so rewarding."
"I get to watch women transform into confident and joyful leaders in their fields, without having to compromise their family and social lives."
Her proudest engineering career project was "refurbishing a resource centre for homeless and vulnerable people. Using my skills to help others has always been important to me."
"I also got to work on the Stonehenge visitors centre which I get to show off about every time we drive past!"
Her advice for women thinking about getting into the sector is that "If you're not sure whether tech is for you yet, find a low investment way of 'trying' the career first.
"This could be in the form of meeting someone who works in tech for a coffee and picking their brains (if you don't know anyone, message a few people on LinkedIn - people love to talk about themselves!). There are also some amazing free online mini-courses to try out - commit to completing one of them.
"If you've already decided to move into tech, great! Meet as many people as you can in the industry. The more people you know, the more opportunities you open up to work on something you're deeply passionate about."

Serrie Chapman, Founder of Women's Tech Hub and Principal Safety Engineer at Fusion Processing

A lady smiling at the camera
Bristol-based Serrie Chapman says that her route into tech was "pretty circuitous." She was strong at Maths and Physics, and while she loved all things about engineering, she was advised that it was not a career she could pursue.
"The only real option they suggested was graphics, but I wasn't interested. I then went and trained as a beauty therapist – which was actually great fun, and I made many friends in a very female world.
"I never followed it as a career as I fell into catering whilst being a student (somehow I had to pay for the partying!). I was then recruited directly into restaurant management from my waitressing job and spent five years running restaurants and pubs and moving around the country.
"I eventually burnt out due to the hours and took a break to go travelling, deciding that nannying would be the best route to travel. That didn't get very far as when I reached Belgium with the diplomat community I ended up meeting a guy and racing sidecars with him for a few years (as you do)."
After living the travelling lifestyle, she decided that it was time to get a degree. She started by looking into business management but ended up doing computing for real-time systems.
When asked what she loves most about her job, she said, "I simply love being an engineer. I spent many years working in pre-silicon verification, moved through to requirements engineering for Safety in an automotive company, then moved into some product management.
"I then worked in Rail with model-based systems engineering and now am working on a fantastic automotive product, which is the most exciting project to date."
Her advice for women looking to get into tech is not to listen to the "naysayers."
"If you are interested then find out about it, it's never too late."
As the founder of Women's Tech Hub, which provides support for women and gender non-conforming people who are working in, or wishing to move into the tech industry, she is all too aware of the barriers for women looking to get into tech.
That's why they run workshops on alternative Wednesdays to provide a friendly, supportive environment for people to learn about career paths into the industry.
She says, "Don't try one thing and then dismiss tech – it's a vast field and there's probably a job in it for everyone, it's simply a case of finding the one that makes it fun for you!"

Serena Chana, Product and Marketing Consultant

A woman smiling for the camera
Photo by Viran Chana
Serena is passionate about encouraging women to pursue their passion for tech and she has been a mentor for women on the Digital Pipeline scheme. She's also previously been the STEM editor/writer for the online publication Lucy Writers which inspires more women to work in STEM
Serena began working at 23 Code Street, a women's coding school teaching women in the UK and India and run by Anisah Osman Britton.
Serena says this is where she had her "tech awakening," and learnt tons about things such as programming, the women in tech movement, tech for good and about job roles she had never heard of, like product management.
"The rest is history," she says, "I now can't imagine not working in the tech sector."
At 23 Code Street, she launched its first online coding course, putting her marketing skills to the test and getting her first taste of product management.
She says this project is the proudest moment of her career as she had never led something so ambitious before.
"It enabled us to reach more women and make learning to code more accessible. We taught thirty women to learn code, all from different backgrounds and ages, who have all gone on to do incredible things."
The aspect of working in tech she most enjoys is getting to know your customers: "both in marketing and product you need to understand how your customers feel and empathise with them. I love speaking to customers and learning what attracted them to our product or service and understanding their motives and actions."
She also says working cross-functionally is something she enjoys because people have the opportunity to learn different skills and learn and grow in different areas.
"As a product manager, I work with scrum masters, developers, UX designers, business analysts and lots of other teams. I love being able to work alongside different teams and go from talking about marketing emails in one meeting to deploying a new feature in the next. It allows me to use my creative, problem solving and analytical skills."
Her advice for women getting into tech is to "remember tech can be whatever you want it to be."
"When you think of a career in tech, you might automatically think of someone who codes. While coding is awesome - this isn't all that tech has to offer.
"You could work in areas like user experience, design, product, marketing, or combine tech with your passions. Check out websites like We Are Tech Women and 23 Code Street to learn more about the places you can work."
She urges women not to be afraid of "learning some basic technical skills to help you feel confident working alongside technical teams and understand what programming actually is. I promise it's not as scary as it looks. Websites like Codecademy are a good place to start."
She says "breaking into tech can be hard," but there are "so many amazing women in tech groups you can join to help with your journey, like Ada's List, Hustle Crew, and Like-Minded Females."

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