The lack of diversity in the technology sector is a hot topic, and one which is increasingly gaining media attention across the board. The lack of women in the industry comes into the spotlight frequently, and despite many senior, high-profile female appointments within the industry, there is a general acceptance that more needs to be done to encourage women to join – and stay – in tech. To coincide with International Women’s Day, we thought it would be interesting to share the views of some of the women who are working within the tech sector.
We caught up with Nicki Aitken, Senior Vendor Alliances Manager at cloud-native Microsoft partner RedPixie, and also the UK chair for Diversity and Inclusion for Microsoft partner group the IAMCP (International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners). Nicki is also a runner-turned-triathlete-turned-cyclist, with a UK Athletics gold medal to her name.
Hi Nicki. Firstly, do you think there is a diversity issue in the European tech sector?
Yes. There is a lot of focus on women in tech and diversity tends to get lost or bracketed within this, which I find frustrating because it is so much more than that. When you look at the Equalities Act, this protects nine characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or beliefs, sex, and sexual orientation. We need to move away from focusing on just one because this, in effect, creates a siloed group, rather than an inclusive workplace.
How did you find yourself working in the technology sector, and what made you pursue this area?
I was a complete technophobe going through school, and if I could do anything to get out of a computer class, I would! It always seemed a boys’ class with boys’ talk! I fell into technology. You could say it found me, rather than me finding it! After 12-13 years in health and fitness (my degree is Sports Science) I decided I needed a change. My colleagues at the time couldn’t understand my desire to move to an IT Solutions company as a fitness fanatic, and they thought I would find it boring. They couldn’t have further from the truth and I wish I had made the move earlier. I am so glad I followed my instinct (although a little scary at the time).
Do you think technology is appealing as a career choice for young women and why?
From my experience, no, but I think this is changing. Moving into the industry has opened up my eyes as to how many different roles there are and how good the progression path can be if you want it. It’s great to see some of the vendors I work with so passionate about educating the next generation and I believe you have to start young before children are pushed down the stereotypical route (unconsciously or otherwise). Apprentice Schemes are a great option for youngsters and good to see these are not just focused on gender balance but also autism, for example.
What could be done to improve its appeal?
There is now more emphasis given to wording on recruitment adverts, where these are placed and who they are aimed at. I still believe more can be done (and should be done) at an earlier age to encourage youngsters (of any gender) into STEM subjects. I watched the news last night and great to see a school embracing a class project sending miniature models of cows into space and the child’s appreciation of how amazing what they are taking part in is – STEM subjects do not have to be boring!
Do you have any funny stories – or horror stories – about being a woman in tech?
It still always raises a wry smile when I go to a global conference and it’s the one time there is no queue for the ladies’ bathroom – the day I see that change will in itself be a sign of change!
Any other thoughts on the topic of women in tech?
I am fortunate to sit on the IAMCP UK Board as their Diversity and Inclusion Chair. This has really opened up my eyes to the value of difference and this being so much more than gender. Women in Tech definitely has a place but I think we need to start looking at a bigger picture and this starts at the top. “Inclusive Leadership” to encourage all colleagues/employees to have not just a seat at the table but a voice.
Lastly, What do you enjoy outside of your work?
I am a huge sports fan (and advocate of women in sport!) whether it be taking part or watching. Privileged to have competed over both team and individual sports at varying levels including GB representative honours at ETU Long Course Duathlon Championships (Bronze Medallist) and Virgin London Marathon Gold Medal Winner (Championship – Ladies Team). More recently have challenged myself to long distance open water swims including a 10km, 14km and 10 mile river/lake swims and the solo female in a group of 30 to cycle from Henley to Paris in 24 hours raising over £30,000 for Trinity School, Henley and Chiltern Centre for Disabled Children. Currently midst marathon training and ticking off the World Marathon Majors (London, Berlin, Chicago, Tokyo, Boston and New York) – aim to complete them all by 2020!