“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”

The stories of women that inspire me everyday

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I would wear tutu’s and perform in front of hundreds of people and get flowers from Prince Charming after the show. I would epitomise everything society said a girl should be. Thinking of that now makes me sad, but unfortunately I didn’t know better. Nobody ever showed me a ‘girly girl’ could be a CEO, a Lead Developer, a Politician, an Engineer. And no one ever told me that being clever and motivated was actually really damn cool. Growing up, many of the women in my life were house wives, and a woman with a successful career was pretty much unheard of to me. At all girls school, we were never encouraged to think about our careers. At my school, IT, Maths, Physics and Sports were for ‘boys’, and Home Economics was compulsory (Seriously? How does perfecting an apple crumble equip me well for the future?).

The oppression I felt in certain working environments as I entered the adult word gave me a new lease of enthusiasm to prove myself in the areas I was not only underestimated in, but underestimated myself in: intelligence, ambition and tenacity. I had grown accustomed to not speaking up for fear of ridicule. I had grown accustomed to being judged for my outward appearance and not my mind. Now, at 24, I’ve led the UX design of an app released to tens of thousands across the globe, with a 4.7 rating on Google play. Had you told me this at 16, I quite literally wouldn’t have believed I could do that (particularly given I failed IT in school…sshh).

Here I am working in an industry dominated by men, yet never have I ever felt more empowered. I’m surrounded by passionate and bold women that are incredibly talented, have each others’ backs and encourage growth. I’m also surrounded by incredibly talented and supportive men that want to lift women up in an industry that remains male dominated. And I’m so lucky for this. I finally have those female role models now, and this is not a story about oppression. This is a story about perseverance, passion and success.

Devon Young — Head of the Digital Studio

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“Oh my god I was such a dork. I was never the smartest person, I didn’t care, I hated studying, I hated school but I loved anything to do with software. I was President of Computer Club in high school and always just always gravitated towards technology. We had the first mobile phone in our town growing up and I remember it was in a big bag. My dad was very techie so we always had the newest technology. Growing up I never felt, or was told that computers for just for boys. It’s the one thing that anonymises our sexuality. You can be anyone you want. There is no gender within computers.”

How do you feel as a woman in the IT industry?

“All the time I’m the only woman in the room, it’s always been like that. You get used to it, how to hold your own, you have to learn how to be resilient and fight your corner.”

How do you think women can help each other in the workplace?

“At some point we will want to stop having a conversation about the differences between men and women in the workplace but I know we aren’t just there yet. It would be great if we didn’t need to have an International Women’s Day. I really don’t want to have special moments dedicated to me. I know that we’re in a very privileged time because of the hard work that’s been done by courageous women before us, but I have a daughter now so I want things to be even easier for her. I want to be able to share experiences and talk about some of the different types of struggles that we’ve had.”

How do you feel being a woman in a male dominated industry?

“I think Avanade have been amazingly supportive of me and my career. They have taken care of me through having a baby and having had cancer. A couple years ago I was able to launch my own team, and they give me the tools and training I need to constantly be at my best. I love how they fully empower their employees to make changes for the better. They’ve been completely amazing all along the way.”

Any advice to young girls thinking about their future?

“My daughter is four years old and she knows what the word ‘persevere’ means. I think we could all put that into practice a bit more.”

Kitty Wong — Visual Designer

What were you like as a young girl?

“Tomboy. Still a tomboy. When I have to dress up for social events I use the term ‘girling’, and it’s when I have to think about what society would consider to accept as a female. Whether that is yes I need to brush my hair, or yes I need to put make up on.”

Did you have any female role models? If so, who?

“I don’t think I had any role models at a young age. During University I saw certain friends finding their thing. I have a few friends that work for big global companies, and seeing them talk about their passions was very inspiring. Especially because most of my female friends are in tech. Successful and passionate women are very inspiring.”

Did you find any obstacles in getting to where you are now?

“Being from an ethnic minority and a woman, and due to amazing genes from my parents, I know I look really young. I don’t tend to disclose my age because there is a fear of agism as well. So, because I look quite young, am asian and I’m female I sometimes think I’m judged. Women are also viewed as quite submissive. It’ s bossy instead of taking charge.”

What advice would you give to young girls thinking about their future?

“Be bold. Just because society and perhaps your friends or family think that you should be someone that you’re not — take charge. Be the change and difference that you want to see in the world. There’s no harm in finding other people on the internet to support that. There’s always someone else in a similar situation. Collaborate lots and help each other.”

Megan Sibbald — Manager: Business and Tech Integration

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“My career choices have always been driven by my mother, who is my biggest role model. She has always told me anything is possible and I can do whatever I want if I put my mind to it. Given she has been in the IT space for my whole life, it was always something I saw as being a great career. She never highlighted any gender barriers, so I thought I could do anything! It isn’t until years later, having had more adult conversation, that I now know the many challenges she had to face during her career in such a male dominated space — I am glad she kept this from me in a way as it may have altered my choices down the line.”

How did you get to where you are now?

“Looking back at my other influences, I went to an all-girls school and I don’t think they spent much time focussing on careers and how we can get to where we want to be or how we can be successful outside of education. School primarily focussed on getting us into university and making sure our grades were good. They didn’t talk about empowering women and having women leaders as much as they could have. I think it is important in this day and age for schools to rethink the curriculum, focusing on topics that enable children for their future life as not everyone is going to be a scientist or lawyer — How do I get to be a Richard Branson? This type of change may have helped guide my career choices, but I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to do from school”

How do you feel being a female in a male dominated industry?

“I have so many male supporters, especially in Avanade. People rooting for me. Men that are hoping I develop, men that help me develop. All I can say is that at Avanade UK specifically, I do feel that we have a lot of allies. Sexism is not a massive part of my career at all”

How do you think women can help each other in the workplace?

“I think the obvious one for me is that girls shouldn’t think of themselves as girls, they should just think of themselves as professionals. Be open and talk. If you’re feeling that someone is doing something that is not right, speak out. To help each other out…really build relationships with other women, get mentors, get coaches, speak to women out there that you respect. But also, be allies with men. Talk to men about how you are feeling.”

Tuesday DeMairt — Visual Design Lead

Have you faced any obstacles as a woman in getting to where you are now?

“I never felt oppressed growing up, even though I didn’t necessarily have female role models. Growing up in Asia, it’s not common to have ‘men should be the boss’. A lot of my bosses were female, even as an architect. I wasn’t really aware of the gender disparity. I think I was quite lucky to be surrounded with broad-minded, strong men and women in my life”

How did you get to where you are now?

“I was always a woman who wanted to work. When the recession came in Ireland it was a really big blow and I didn’t really know what to do. There was no demand for architects and that’s all I know at that time. I have to reinvent myself so I’ve decided to further my studies, switched and start my career in tech. I have to start from scratch and put away what I knew before. I was humbled by the experience, it was a huge awakening for me, I’ve interned and freelance to expand my portfolio until I got a full-time as a UI Designer. Even after what happened, there’s a new future for me. In 2015, I started again when I moved to London, I worked harder, made connections and persevered and accepted a job in Avanade”

Where do you think you got that perseverance and motivation from?

“I think it’s about doing what I love every day. It sounds cliche but that’s really how I feel. Also, I think, it has something to do about understanding myself better. With everything I’ve done, I’ve realised that it’s my curiosity in others led me to grow into who I am today. I am a lifelong learner and I am always seeking inspiration. I always find something interesting in people.”

What’s your advice to girls growing up?

“Live with total integrity. Be transparent, honest, and authentic. Be yourself. Do not let any label — mother, daughter, sister, wife, or girlfriend — limit or define you. Above all else, you are in charge of your body and your sexuality. Use them wisely as you see fit. Invest in your mind and learn what you can.”

Emma Holliday — Experience Technologist

How did you make the decision to go into Computer Science?

“What I realised and what was getting me down about Physics was that, until you’ve done loads of Physics, you’re just doing what other people have done before. That’s a lot of what you do for quite a long time, the same experiments, the same research etc.. Computer Science felt a bit more like you could apply it, and you can do stuff with it. As a person I get a lot back from creating something which was something I didn’t see happening in Physics. I thought it would be much more fulfilling to be designing, creating and building things.”

Studying Computer Science at University, did you ever feel conscious of being a girl?

“There was one time when we were all sat around the table having lunch, talking about applying for summer jobs. We were discussing applications and this guy says ‘I’ve applied to 30 places and no one has replied or given me an offer’. He also told us how he forgot to change the name of the company in one of his emails. I said ‘I’ve only applied to 3 but I’ve had 2 offers’ and they immediately told me ‘it’s because you’re a girl’. At the time I accepted it, thinking they were probably right but when I had time to reflect I realised that I had put my heart into those applications — I certainly wasn’t emailing a company using the wrong name! There’s so many more things than my gender that play a part in this so to put it down to that ignores my hard work and is incredibly hurtful. Thankfully, that was the only time in three years that I specifically felt discriminated against.”

How have you found it since leaving Uni and working at Avanade?

“I think Avanade deal with gender diversity really well. There’s a very careful line to draw between encouraging diversity organically versus hiring to get numbers up. I want to feel like I was hired on my own merits — not that I was favoured or chosen to make someone’s metric. I sometimes worry that companies can run the wrong line of that. For ages I felt like I didn’t deserve my place at Cambridge because people made it seem like I was only accepted because I was a girl. It was the most crushing feeling and made me doubt myself for a long time. I would hate to feel that about my job too. However, a lot of things at Avanade prove their commitment is genuine. We did a ’15 for 15’ scholarship where we gave 15 young women a scholarship to study Computer Science as part of celebrating Avanade’s 15th birthday. That’s an amazing thing and incredibly meaningful — I’m a buddy for one of the scholars and without it, she wouldn’t have been able to study at UCL. It’s encouraging women to do Computer Science in a more general sense, not just for Avanade’s benefit. It’s not just diversity, it’s actually trying to make the world a better place.”

How do you think women can help each other in the workplace?

“Be more supportive. Even women can turn against other women who are bold and powerful, but we need to support and celebrate them rather than just thinking they are “bossy” or “bitchy”. Let’s view them in a more admirable way as I think it’s a really great trait.”

Julie Evans — Global talent community lead: Business and Technology Integration

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“I’ve not decided yet. I have always just wanted to love what I do…and I do!”

Growing up, who inspired you?

“I think it would have to be my grandmother. She wasn’t a typical grandmother, she was very forceful and outspoken. She always taught me not to follow the crowd, to forge my own way, to not settle down and have kids, but to go live my life first. She went against the grain and taught me how to challenge the ‘norm’ along the way”

How did you get to where you are now?

“I have mostly just been offered the right roles at the right times. I’ve never been afraid to stand up and offer my opinion. But I also liked to be challenged. How I thought 5 years ago is different to how I thought 10 years ago. We all learn and adapt and change our outlook and opinions as we grow. To stay the same, with the same views and opinions would be such a waste!”

How do you feel being a woman in a male dominated industry?

“It honestly doesn’t affect me! I work with some very capable and strong leaders who are women and the gender issue hasn’t come up. I do think that to get more women into IT and into Leadership roles we need to teach them from a young age that you need to stand up and be counted. Have a plan, be ambitious and go out and wow the world.”

How do you think we can teach this?

“Women will typically ‘over row the boat’, and are less vocal about their skills. We need to teach confidence, how to be authentic, how to silence that inner critic, that ‘imposter syndrome’. Your career is yours for the taking, its not a gift from anyone.”

How do you think women can help each other in the workplace?

“Be nice! Pass on what you have learnt. Encourage each other. Don’t stand in judgement of each other. Understand that everyone has their own story and journey to where they are now. Be understanding and supportive. Be kind! Be passionate about what you do.”

What advice would you give to young girls thinking about their futures?

“If you see a glass ceiling where you are, smash through it or go around it.”

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Charlie Phillips

UX Designer with a background in Social Sciences and Human Research. Currently working in Just Eat’s global design team.