Demystifying tech will help reduce barriers for women

Beth Gildersleve, Managing Director of Technology

It’s important to me that we demystify working in technology – to be successful in technology you don’t have to be brilliant at coding, I don’t even know how to code! By clarifying what a technology career is and the experience you should have to succeed, I think will open it up as a career route for more women who face barriers whether that’s because of their educational background or work life balance due to childcare or caring responsibilities.

There are not many female tech leaders around which makes it difficult for women out there to find a role model they can look up to and learn from – at Sky Betting & Gaming we’re fortunate to have some excellent female tech leaders and three of them have moved into new positions within my team during 2021: Jo Prosser (Director of Technology, Customer Tribe), Sommer Croft (Head of Central Delivery and Agile Performance) and Rachael Morgan (Head of Engineering).

Each of them brings such great leadership skills and experience to their tech roles and they’re not from a STEM technical background, they’ve come from different technology disciplines and they’ve brought a diverse set of skills which we needed at SBG.

They show a lot of bravery to ask questions and challenge those around them and they’ve each become influential voices that are shaping the future of our technology function.

We had a catch up about the challenges/learnings we’ve faced being female leaders in tech. I hope you find what we all say helpful and a step towards helping to demystify technology.

How DID YOU GET INTO TECHNOLOGY AND WHAT DRIVES YOU?

Jo Prosser, Director of Technology

I used to work in operations management, I was considered a bit of a trouble-shooter and was moved around lots of different departments. I had my end of year appraisal with the COO, and she told me that to move upwards I first needed to move sideways so I was asked ‘how do you fancy running the IT department?’. This department wasn’t in great shape, and I knew nothing at all about technology and had been asked to run a failing IT department!

“I was told that I just need to transfer my leadership skills from operations to technology and so I went and did just that, it was the biggest challenge of my career and I’ve never looked back.

“What drives me in technology is firstly, the people – it’s not the tech that drives me it’s having the opportunity of creating an environment where people love to come to work, and they are inspired by our culture. And it’s a real privilege to be able to create that team environment. And secondly, I love to deliver, to see things completed on time, I love all of that, it gives me such a buzz.”

Sommer Croft, Head of Central Delivery and Agile Performance

“It’s the people that drives me, and I enjoy understanding what drives our people; it’s wonderful sitting with a group of engineers who you think you might have nothing in common with, but you realise that you are all striving towards a common goal. Getting to know and understand them is a wonderful thing to do and experience, to explore that diversity across our business, there’s so many different skills that make us such a brilliant place to work.”

what’s a typical challenge you’ve faced being a woman in tech?

Jo Prosser, Director of Technology

Being able to have a strong voice, to be heard and influence other people in the room who are very technical. I don’t generally think of myself as a ‘woman in tech’ but I do sometimes look around the room and I realise I am the only woman in a meeting of many, and I think ‘wow’.

“You need to cut through the stereotypical technical chat. Break through that and realise that you have something useful to say, it’s not all about writing code, it’s the practical side of it – ‘have you thought about how you’re going to do that?’”

(Beth) I totally agree with Jo, our comfort zone is leadership. If you’re not a techy you can get blown away and feel inferior – you need to feel strong and brave to ask; ‘what is the goal here?’ ‘what are you talking about’ it helps everybody else.

You need to reflect on yourself and think what skills and experience I individually bring to this that nobody else has.

I always think about the fact that women tend to look at job descriptions and won’t apply if they don’t meet all of the skills required – you should just go for it!

HOW DID YOU ‘FIND YOUR VOICE’ IN TECH?

Sommer Croft, Head of Central Delivery and Agile Performance

“When I first started out in my career, I was so painfully shy, I’d go bright red when anybody spoke to me. The one thing that’s made me get through this is being encouraged to try new things, but being allowed to fail, and actually being ok with that.

“I went for a job 20 years ago and I was told I wouldn’t be suitable because the group I would work with were men and I wouldn’t have a strong enough voice as a young woman. And then I went on later in my career to lead in a programme where I was 1 of 7 women with 150 men in the team!

“Being in an environment where you’re really encouraged to try things, fail and keep trying – it inspires courage and that’s what gives you confidence. The thing that will stop you from being confident is when you stop trying.

“That’s when you need that inspirational leadership; people who give you autonomy and enable you to fail and that’s why at SBG we have such a strong focus on leadership so that we have a safe environment. The more confident you feel, the more ideas you will want to try.”

Rachel Morgan, Head of Engineering and Test

“Appreciating that it can be a challenge is key, finding the confidence to say ‘how in the world am I going to do this, I know I can, I just may not know how yet…’. When I feel like this it gives me a boost to chat to someone I trust and respect, to send them a message and say ‘oh my goodness I don’t know how to approach this, I’m thinking this…but can I have 5 mins of your time’. Then creating a plan, based on that.”

What IS A KEY LEARNING THAT’S HELPED YOU DEVELOP IN YOUR ROLE?

Rachel Morgan, Head of Engineering and Test

“Having an open mind, recognising I have and can keep learning, and using that learning to step forwards. I believe full heartedly in the Gandhi quote: ‘the future depends on what you do today’, so everyday I try to take positive steps forward.

“Develop mentoring relationships has been key to my success, I have been fortunate to leader from some amazing people. For anyone out there who is reading this and wondering, how do I get a mentor, my advice would be to reach out so someone you admire and ask for some of their time to discuss a particular subject you are learning about, the worst they can say is no.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ANY WOMAN IN TECH RIGHT NOW?

Sommer Croft, Head of Central Delivery and Agile Performance

“Always ask the stupid question! Half the time you ask the question that everybody else wanted to ask or perhaps never actually considered. I’m not a coder but I am technically very proficient in my profession which is programme/project delivery. I look through things with a business lens, so I question things from a different perspective.

“Our tech experts get so excited about new shiny technology, which is great from an innovation perspective; but will it make us deliver faster? Will we get our benefit realisation from it? This is what goes through my head, and coming in to ask those questions helps our people to stop and take a breath. You get more benefits out of what it is you’re delivering by having a different perspective.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

If you’re a woman considering a career in technology or perhaps, you’re already in a tech role, here are some takeaways from all of us to you:

  1. Be brave and find your voice – be that person who asks what the goal is and ask that ‘stupid’ question that nobody else would’ve considers but helps to keep you moving in the right direction
  2. Great leadership is key – every department, including technology, needs a vision and something to guide you. Have honest conversations and make sure everyone is aligned.
  3. Build your confidence by failing – find an environment where you can be yourself and are encouraged to try things and fail
  4. Develop mentoring relationships – don’t be afraid to ask for help and build strong relationships with those around you that you admire

Author: Marion Duncan