From a Girl Who Codes, to a Woman Who’s Agile

Jenny Brandon, Agile Coach

  • Agile. It’s a bit of a buzzword, and it’s used in different contexts depending what industry you work you in. But for Jenny Brandon, it’s actually part of her job title. As an Agile Coach, Jenny helps software teams to work in more efficient, collaborative manner.

“Agile software development is a way of more collaboratively creating a product with the customer,” explains Brandon. “With coding, it’s creating a process that means both parties are equally engaged. It’s a constant collaboration process and things change. You need to be able to accommodate that.”

Jenny is a legitimate girl who codes and has had an interesting journey to get to where she is today. From snapping bra straps to travelling Europe as a scrum master, she’s had quite a career. 

Jenny’s first job was as a junior programmer at company that makes machines to test objects to their breaking point. The example she gives testing the resistance of a bra strap to pull it until it snaps. She saw the job as a gateway to the industry. “I had been learning Pascal programming language. I was pretty good at it and could see there was a decent future in programming, so I went for it!”

She enjoyed the role so much that she went to university to expand her skill set and increase her confidence. She was the only female programmer in her first job, and then at university she was only one of two girls in the entire year. “It’s a technical vocation, with modules like advanced maths and ‘blokey’ topics. But I don’t remember gender being an issue at uni. We were all just trying to get through to course and get good grades.”

A lecturer saw Jenny’s potential and put her forward for an internship at Sony Entertainment Europe in London. “I think I got the role because of the novelty of being a woman in the tech sector. If I was a guy, I think would have been asked more questions… But there were more women there who were engineers, and I made good friends and gained great experience before I went back and finished my degree.”

She the went on to work for a company that made e-commerce websites for a few years and had a stint at ITV before landing a role at StepStone, where she still works today. “I went in as an intermediate dev and was hired at same time as another female developer, so I was in good company. It was a great environment; a good opportunity for training and growth. Then in 2009 there was a big transformation: the whole tech team and product team went agile. Everything was carried out in this new way of developing software that allows for feedback from the customer.”

Just another day in the office…

Becoming a Scrum Master

So how did this new way of working change Jenny’s day-to-day job, and her career? “We weren’t producing stuff quickly or prioritising our work. So the entire tech team went on scrum training and started again. I began to realise that I didn’t love programming as much as I thought I did. [With code] you can’t learn your craft and then be done with it; you have to keep up to date with new languages and new patterns. Tech moves so fast and I didn’t have the drive to keep up to date.”

So, when a new role appeared for a scrum master during the agile transformation, Jenny took a chance on herself. “I’d been doing meditation in the morning before work and I had this clear voice that told me to apply for the scrum master job. I’ve got innate organisational skills and people skills, so I’d be perfect for it. I convinced people to give me a chance and it worked! I pivoted from a dev to scrum master, and eventually my career progressed to becoming an Agile Coach.”

On a daily basis, Jenny works with one scrum team. (For those not familiar with the scrum style of working, it’s a “framework of project management that emphasises teamwork, accountability and iterative progress towards a well-defined goal.” ) They have a stand-up meeting every morning, along with a planning meeting and a retrospective every fortnight to improve their process. She also works as an Agile Coach. “The tribe I’m in focuses on internal IT systems – anything from coaching other scrum masters or working with the tribe support group to answer queries about training or access. We have a sister tribe based in Belgium just starting their agile journey – so my time goes into supporting them.”

She also gets to continuously develop her management skills thanks to a StepStone initiative that allows employees to travel around Europe and train in various management techniques while meeting colleagues from other parts of the business. “We went to Warsaw, Vienna, Belgium, London, and Dusseldorf. In terms of networking and getting exposure to other parts of the business was great. You even get to pitch a business idea to a member of the board. Getting the exposure and meeting people was invaluable. The course content was good – reaffirming techniques that I knew, but the pitch and coming up with a new business case was biggest learning point.”

Finding the right working environment

While Jenny now works in a very supportive environment with plenty of opportunities, it hasn’t always been such plain sailing. In her first role as a programmer, she was one of only two women and experienced some (sadly not uncommon) uncomfortable situations. “Unfortunately, there was an incident of inappropriate behaviour. One of the guys had been touchy-feely with me. As an 18-year-old girl, I had no idea what was appropriate. It wasn’t until the other girl joined that we raised the issue together. Even then I was embarrassed, especially when HR just wanted to dismiss it as friendly behaviour and joking around.”

She also recalls working in what she describes as a “toxic, pressured environment” in another job. This wasn’t anything to do with gender, but finding herself pressured into working tight, stressful deadlines to write code that neither she nor the dev team had ratified.

Having worked in both toxic and nurturing environments, she now really appreciates the ethos of StepStone and the people that work there. “Rapport and getting on with the people you work with [is what makes a great working environment]. Even with the best intentions to create a culture, if it doesn’t have the right people it’s not going to work. Trust and freedom of expression are also important. You need to autonomy to not have to ask for permission and get sign off. And the autonomy to talk to different people to ask opinions, or to get help.”

Good times at StepStone

Be your own mentor as a woman in tech

While being a woman in a male-dominated industry can seem like a drawback, Jenny thinks that it can be seen as an advantage. “You will need to work hard to prove yourself, but don’t be put off by being one of a few females – it takes women in the STEM area to push it forward for everyone. If you have the drive and enjoyment, then it’s up to you to do it for others.

“More women are putting themselves forwards for roles, but when it reaches management in tech – there’s far more men. The higher positions is where it drops off. I’m reading Lean In at the moment – what Sheryl Sandberg says is that not many women would say they see their career leading to a C-level role and that’s a contributing factor. We should do more to support them. I, personally, have resisted line management for as long as I can because I personally prefer being on the ground. I also don’t want to be in that boys’ club with the middle age white men at the table. If the leadership teams in industries were more equal, then maybe I would feel differently.

“If you don’t have role models that look like you then you automatically feel on the back foot. We’re starting to make moves in that direction. We’ve started up a women’s network in our company: sharing our experiences of inappropriate behaviour or being passed up for opportunities throughout our careers. There was some talk about the gender pay gap and a lot of responses of guys was that they promote based on skills not gender – so they’re missing the point. There’s still lots of work to be done, but we’re getting there.”

There’s lots of work to be done for female equality, but as more women support and lean on each other, like Jenny is doing with her colleagues, then we can welcome more women into the scrum and climb the ladder together.  

Quick-fire questions

Are you a morning lark or a night owl?    Midday is perfect for me. So I guess an afternoon pigeon!

What do you usually have for breakfast?    Protein shake

Do you prefer a bath or shower?    Shower

What TV series can you watch again and again?    Mad Men

If you were an animal what would you be? A Hare, my spirit animal

What’s your biggest weakness? Procrastination

What’s your favourite sport to play?  Weight lifting

Favourite meal/cuisine?  A good vegan lasagne

Favourite holiday destination?    Glastonbury

Name your favourite female icon  Someone I have a girl crush on at the moment is Esther Peral. Her podcasts ‘How is work?’ and ‘Where Shall We Begin?’ are great. She just nails it

Making Waves in the Charity Sector to End Global Malnutrition

Nicki Connell MBE, Nutrition Technical Director

  • Like many of us, Nicki is struggling with working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic. She’s having to get creative with how she runs her face-to-face meetings and lots of her projects have been put on hold. But when Nicki’s work projects are delayed, it’s a big problem. It could result in thousands of children becoming malnourished.

Nicki is the Nutrition Technical Director for The Eleanor Crook Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to ending malnutrition around the world.

“We are funding a project in Tanzania, which involves groups of mothers and fathers meeting together and talking about critical health topics to help them support their children to grow well; obviously they can’t meet together in groups anymore, so they’ve had to stop the research” she says. “Outside of our direct projects, the biggest challenge we’re seeing now is the level of COVID across Africa is really unknown. They’re not doing widespread testing, so they’re not finding the cases. And even if they find them, many contexts will not have the resources to treat it properly.

“Because of the social distancing and travel restrictions that are being put in place, people can’t plant their harvest or get to market. As a result there is a huge food crisis looming across the whole of Africa, which will cause levels of malnutrition to vastly increase. There are 50 million children with malnutrition in the world at the moment, and we expect there to be an increase of between 10-50% over the next year. We’re trying to raise awareness about this new reality and the impact on malnutrition, to ensure the funding is mobilised to address this increased need before child deaths sky rocket.”

As well as raising awareness of the current imposing threats from COVID-19, Nicki spends her time talking to UN agencies, like UNICEF and WHO, to support them to coordinate across the nutrition sector and facilitate better malnutrition treatment services for children on the ground.

Although Nicki now spends most of her time coordinating projects from her desk, she says her favourite part of the job is working out in the field. “[I love] going to clinics located in the middle of nowhere and working with the staff, helping them understand how to treat children with malnutrition. You think you’re really remote when you’re three days away from anywhere, but that’s their reality. They stay there day in and day out and keep these kids alive.

“I don’t get to do it so much anymore, but in my current job I love going into the field and meeting different people. I’ve always been pretty hands-on; this is the first job I’ve had that has been less so – it’s more about creating impact and opportunities at the global level, and then translating that down to the country level, reaching those staff in the middle of nowhere.”

She says she has a different perspective now that she’s on the other side of the fence, providing funding to organisations rather than chasing funding. “As the custodian of the funding, you’re trying to make sure you’re giving the money to the right people…  There’s a lot of inefficiencies and wasted money in how nutrition services are typically set up, so we’re trying to revolutionise it. We’re a relatively small player in a huge public health space… but that makes us flexible, we don’t have the red tape to navigate or ties with government institutions so we can try to be a bit more disruptive and push for change in ways that others can’t.”

Working in the field

Nicki’s first job in the charity sector was as a Nutrition Program Manager in Bangladesh. She spent a year helping to run malnutrition treatment programs for refugees from Myanmar and supporting new mothers to breastfeed their children.

She then progressed to a series of jobs with other charities. “The next job was in Pakistan; I was there responding to flooding, which meant Pakistan had a lot of internally displaced people, so we were providing the same malnutrition treatment services there. I then went on to South Sudan and worked as a Nutrition Coordinator. I was based in the capital and travelled around to different field sites to train staff, coordinate with the government in South Sudan and ultimately make sure that the right services were being provided in the clinics.”

Nicki working with Save the Children

Her longest position was almost five years with Save the Children. “It involved being deployed to and supporting emergency response scenarios. So, I would wait for the phone to ring and be prepared to jump on a plane in 24 hours – so I always had a bag packed. Or sometimes I would travel to emergency contexts and take over from staff to give them a break, or gap fill when there was a vacancy in the nutrition team in country. I did start to develop a love/hate relationship with my suitcase!”

Nicki’s career has taken her all over the world. And in the process of saving children’s lives, she sometimes has to risk her own. “The reality is that the work I do is in places that are lawless or at best not typically law abiding. You have to undertake hostile environment awareness training. You learn what to do if you’re kidnapped, shot at, if the car you’re in is stolen… It’s part and parcel of the job. You have to make a decision that you feel comfortable enough to travel to different contexts, which are often war zones or conflict settings.

“There are different risks depending on where you go as a white woman. For example, in Pakistan – there’s a risk of kidnap, and in Yemen the risk is higher still. People assume that your family is wealthy enough that there would be a ransom paid if you were kidnapped.  

The most dangerous situation I found myself in was in Yemen in 2017, after the most recent war had started. There was bombing going on and gunshots could be heard in the streets. Our guest house had shatterproof glass and an underground bunker for when the bombs started dropping. We were there during the world’s biggest cholera outbreak, and I was really ill, to the point where I was wondering if I had cholera. I was thinking about this in the bathroom and bombing started so I was faced with the choice: do I run for the bunker or stay in the bathroom? It was ok – I didn’t go to the bunker, the closest bomb was dropped a block away from where we were. And it wasn’t cholera. But it was a hairy situation!  

From Ranch-hand to MBE

Thankfully, these situations are rare, and Nicki enjoys the work she does. Despite the risk of kidnap, Yemen is Nicki’s favourite place where she worked. “It is such a beautiful country and there is an amazing heritage. The Yemeni people are lovely – most are surprised to learn they are a very generous, quiet and humble people, given what is portrayed in the media. It is really interesting working there, but it has changed a lot since there has been a new outbreak of war; lots of the architecture has been flattened. But it’s still a really interesting setting that was rewarding to work in.”

Her other favourite place is Argentina, which is where she spent a year working on a cattle ranch as a horse-riding guide, while she decided on her career path. “It was a really fun place to work. I would take the tourists out on horseback and make sure their wine glass was topped up. Then I met someone who worked in nutrition. I had graduated from Bath University with a degree in Natural Sciences, and I thought nutrition would be good way to build on that,” she says. “I wanted to do something where I felt like I was making a difference… I was never going to choose something with an easy path, that’s not my style!”  

Nicki is obviously well-suited to this work, as she’s helped so many people already, and her dedication has been recognized with an MBE for Services to Emergency Nutrition. I’m in an atypical career. It’s not about aiming to progress up the career ladder; I’m not speaking at events or publishing books. I guess the highlight has been my MBE, but that makes me cringe a bit! I don’t feel I’ve done anything special, and there are so many others doing more than me” she says modestly.

“I didn’t expect to be recognized with this award. I made peace with accepting it through ensuring I accept it on behalf of everyone I work with. I try to use it as opportunity to raise awareness of the he amount of work still needed to reach a world where malnutrition no longer exists.”

Nicki at work in Yemen

Seeking out opportunities in the charity sector

Charity is a very competitive sector. “Surprisingly, it is hard to get very far without a master’s degree in this sector,” says Nicki. “It’s very competitive.”

As well as completing her own master’s degree in nutrition from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she raised money to help a friend named Chaplain in South Sudan do his master’s degree at Leeds University. “He graduated with a distinction – and was able to go back to South Sudan and impart and utilise his newfound knowledge. He was a refugee back in the 80s when the war was happening – he now supports a huge family. He’s done great things over the years, and is a truly inspirational person. We now fund a project he is the lead on in Uganda. He did the hard work, pitching up in the UK and managing to study, and in English which is not his first language.

She says that fortunately, she personally hasn’t experienced any gender-based prejudice in her industry. In fact, while the older people in nutrition work tend to be men, there are a lot of younger women coming through into the sector these days. The bigger discriminatory issue is actually colour. “As a white woman in the sector, I have been exposed to an unfair amount of opportunities over national staff, or women of colour, or even men of colour.

“You hear stories even of men of colour applying for jobs and getting nowhere, but when the name on the CV is changed to Brown, the interviews start getting offered. That’s the level of prejudice there is… even though it’s usually better to have people working in their own countries, because they know the context, the language, the culture… and where there are less security threats to them because they don’t stand out. It’s really unacceptable and is something we all need to make huge concerted efforts to improve, and immediately.”

That’s why she sees the importance of helping people like Chaplain, who is now running a charity in Uganda called The Refugees Resilience Initiative. Even if he faces prejudice climbing the corporate ladder, it hasn’t stopped him from setting up his own charitable organisation to help others, which at the end of the day is so hugely important.

Nicki is continuing to do great work helping those suffering with malnutrition around the world. And as she mentioned, her job is only going to get harder as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Take a look at the Eleanor Crook Foundation website to find out more about the work they do.

Quick-fire questions

Are you a morning lark or a night owl?    Morning

Active holiday or relaxing holiday?    Active

What are you watching on Netflix right now?     Ozark

Go-to karaoke song?  I hate karaoke! I was singing Foals songs around the house earlier though

Biggest weakness?    Perfection

What’s your favourite season?     Spring

Most used app on your phone?    BBC app

Favourite meal/cuisine?    Roast pork

Favourite weekend activity?     Horse riding or long walk

Who’s your favourite female icon?     Judi Dench

Soaring to Success: From the Airforce to Global VP for Workforce Solutions

Sam Smith, Global VP, Life Sciences & Healthcare, KellyOCG

  • Sam Smith has had a varied career, from working as an engineer with the RAF, to supporting Welsh railway workers and now she is a VP in the Life Sciences division at KellyOCG, a global provider of workforce strategy, solutions, and operations. She’s bold, brave and ambitious, everything a strong female lead should be.

“I always wanted to join the air force; there was never any other path for me, I made that decision at a very young age… I was in the air training cadets and that really carved a path to get to where I wanted to be. Being in the mechanical side, we were fondly called riggers or fitters, you’re there to keep the rotors turning, the aircraft in good condition and in the air. It was exciting. We worked with pilots and a real variety of professionals, we felt valued as part of a team and I really enjoyed it, in fact I loved it.”

Her next role came about by chance after unexpectedly leaving the RAF. She actually applied for a job with Jaguar Land Rover in their stores department, but ended up working for the recruitment agency who were filling the role. “I didn’t know that recruiting agencies existed. I thought to get a job you went to the job centre or the newspapers.”

When she got to the agency, the manager spent 10 minutes telling her why she wouldn’t get the job and why he shouldn’t put Sam forward. “I decided to put him right. I said if you put me forward for the job, which I think I’m overqualified for, I’ll get the job, you’ll get paid and we’ll never have to speak to each other again!

“So, I convinced him to put me forward, went to the interview, and got offered to job. But I had to go back to the agency to sign the paperwork. This guy said, “Don’t work with them, come work with me, you’ll be really good at this!” And I started the following week – it was light industrial, supporting a supermarket warehouse distribution centre. It was a fortuitous, lucky incident, chaos at times but the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Now Sam leads the Global Life Science and Healthcare practice at KellyOCG and is responsible for $3.4 billion in spend under the management portfolio. “ We’ve really connected with customers whose primary purpose to improve patient outcomes. When you work in that space every day, you see the sense of purpose and passion in those organizations which has an ongoing impact into my teams, into the talent that we engage. Life science and healthcare companies’ sole purpose is to prolong life, improve lives, give people pain-free lives, dignity, mobility and independence. It’s such a privilege to work in that area of the business.”

Living the highlight of her career

Day-to-day, Sam crams lots into her working hours – mainly looking after her global teams. “I would be a complete liar if I told you I was up at 4am juicing kale before yoga and running a half marathon. That’s not my life. My life is full of graft… [I have] team members all over, the majority in North America (the company HQ is in Michigan), which affords me a wonderful gap in the day where I can think. I take advantage of those mornings. Even on occasion I get into a routine with my Pelaton.” 

Sam is clearly passionate about her work, and her team, and she has obviously found her niche at KellyOCG. She says that there is a unique, combined sense of purpose to what she’s doing now, both in terms of the fulfilling work she’s doing and the feeling of acceptance. “I feel genuinely blessed to be working with a very diverse and inclusive organization.

“KellyOCG is a really cool place to work. We’re not the biggest and don’t pretend that we are, but we have a unique sense of who we are. That gives me a sense of joy about where I work. I’ve been lucky to win awards, well, I’ve worked bloody hard to win awards and worked hard to be recognized with performance and with team members. But the sense of team that I have built with this Life Science team is a massive highlight. They’re phenomenal.

“When you have a combined sense of purpose and build in a commitment to kindness, it changes the dynamic of how you work with people. You and they feel invested in the outcome of what you’re doing, so it changes the mood. You can get through challenging times in a different way. I don’t mean friendship, but a connected sense of purpose – everyone is on the same page. You don’t have to be friends to respect each other. And that’s he differentiator for what we’re doing here in this team”

Video by KellyOCG: https://kellyocgemea.com/Industries/Life-Sciences-Healthcare

Comradery, brothers and resilience

From the beginning of her career, Sam has always worked in male-dominated environments. In the air force, she was the only female there for quite some time, before she was joined by a female on the electronics side, and then one more in the administration part of the squadron.

“It was odd, but I ended up having 80 brothers, and about 19 uncles, and a few grandads. It was very much a family environment. If you don’t mind getting stuck in and proving yourself, you’re accepted. I was fortunate that my humour and sporting nature helped me integrate in that male environment quite quickly. I’m still friends with many of these guys. Some of them have been to my weddings – I’ve had two, and they’ve been to both – so some of them are lifelong friends.”

Sam has witnessed discrimination and a variety of behaviours that with the passage of time fall into the category of inappropriate. With many men on the ground in heavy construction, on the railways or elsewhere the talk would certainly cross boundaries that have been firmly marked out. Back then Sam just put up with it and took it with a pinch of salt but wonders how she may react to the same language, behaviours and scenarios today. Differently for sure.

Nobody puts Sam in the corner

“There’s an age-old issue that assertive, confident women continue to be classified in different way… We’ve got to get to a point where we eradicate that type of gender flip of narrative that impacts women. Do women go to work feeling as confident as men do? Probably not. There are some people like me who flip the bird and think, I’m rocking it. There’s no guy who’s going to put me in a corner or label me aggressive when I’m just being assertive.

“You have to look at the data; look at the number of women in senior leadership and board roles. In the boards of FTSE 2000 organizations, the data doesn’t lie. There is clearly a problem, a measurable issue of women not moving forward. She’s right. In the largest 500 companies in America, there are more CEOs named David than there are women CEOs.

“I’m really lucky that I work for what I consider to be one of the most inclusive and diverse organizations in the world. And that’s my experience as a gay female. In my early career, I wasn’t able to be myself or talk about my homelife. Then you become a liar because you’re not telling the truth. I do think that women feel that they have to be somebody different and can’t be their whole selves all the time because that is seen to fall short or fall into the bracket of being over confident.”

While she feels included and accepted for who she is at KellyOCG, that hasn’t always been the case for Sam. She appreciates that in today’s society, sexuality has become much more of an open conversation, but there are still areas where gay people face homophobia. She recalls that it wasn’t that long ago that two women on a London bus were subjected to homophobic comments and physically attacked, just for showing affection towards each other in public.

“To say its better is true, but it’s not a place of real comfort. In my career I’ve worked with and for homophobic people, who have made it clear it is better for me not to disclose my home life, but then took great joy in watching me try not to lie.” It’s quite upsetting listening to her recount how these colleagues would back her into a corner. Thank goodness she doesn’t have to put up with that anymore. “I’m now in a company that acknowledges my son and my wife. You only have to meet me and it’s pretty obvious which side of the rainbow I fall on.”

The rainbow is used as the gay pride flag to represent the diversity of people within the LGBTQ+ community. But to many, the rainbow is also a symbol of hope. Rainbows appear when the storm has passed, and the sun is shining. This seems appropriate for Sam now, who can happily bask in her success that she has worked so very hard to achieve.

Quick-fire questions

  • Cats or Dogs?    Dogs
  • Would you rather read fiction or non-fiction?     Non-fiction
  • Most recent film you watched?     Notting Hill
  • What’s your signature dish to cook?    Roast beef
  • Drink of choice?      Gin and tonic
  • Most used app on your phone?     Outlook / news app / twitter
  • Would you rather go on a relaxing or active holiday?      Relaxing
  • Where do you do your best thinking?      In the shower
  • Biggest weakness?      Guilt
  • Favourite female icon?      Rosalyn Franklin – pioneer from science perspective but overlooked. She came up with one of the most phenomenal elements of modern sci, but people attributed work to the men around her. Discovering DNA, but the work went to Watson and Krik.

Leading Excellence in Automation Technologies

Suzanne Nichols, Leader of Global Applications & Business Process Automation

  • Suzanne Nichols leads a Process Automation Centre of Excellence for a Global Manufacturer of Consumer Goods. For those of you who don’t know what this means exactly, she sets the standards of how her organisation should use automation technology to ensure best practice and reap ROI on their projects.

I first met Suzanne when I worked with her on a presentation for a tech conference, I was instantly impressed by her attention to detail, positive attitude and technical expertise. So, I was delighted when she agreed to take part in the Strong Female Lead blog.

Suzanne is located in Racine, Wisconsin, USA, which is on the shores of Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago. But she manages a global team, which means trying to schedule meetings across multiple continents. “Is there ever a good time for a single meeting that includes Europe, Asia and the Americas?!” she says.

Her job certainly keeps her on her toes. She describes her day as less of a routine and more like “a wonderful dance between clients (who help me understand business needs), architects (who help me define solutions) and delivery management (where I monitor performance and identify ways to get better). This is an extremely fulfilling way to spend my workday.”

Specifically, her current role revolves around Digital Process Automation where she is helping her organization gain efficiencies by leveraging Workflow and Robotic Process Automation tools. “I love the fact that no two days are alike, because it means I’m always learning, growing, and discovering new ways to help my employer thrive.”

Her IT journey started with an Operations & Service Desk role at Computer Center, before she moved on to Applications Programming, then on to Desktop and Network support. “Those roles helped me to see that I had an aptitude and passion for delivering solutions that helped meet business needs. From there, I journeyed toward EDI (Electronic Data Exchange), and Integration Services, and then moved on to Website Delivery.

For anyone who wants to get into the tech field, she advises getting exposure to multiple jobs/roles early in your career. “Internships are a great way to start!  Having good breadth of experience will not only help you find your passion and talent, but it will also help you to better understand end-to-end impact that your work can have, which will definitely increase your overall value.”

Suzanne speaking on a panel at Bizagi Catalyst tech conference

Global success

One thing that is clear from Suzanne is that she is modest about her success. Even when asked what the highlight of her career has been so far, it’s all about team effort and the result for the company, rather than personal gain.

“I think the achievement I take the most pride in is the fact that I was able to step into a situation with a struggling team, immature processes, new technology and overrunning costs and turned that situation into a success. The end result was a high performing team; clear, continuously improving processes; proven technology; and 70% reduction in costs. Beyond that, the team involved became a loyal, close-knit group that thrived.” And just to prove it wasn’t luck or an ideal situation, she’s achieved this more than once with the same results. 

She clearly takes pride in her team. And she admits that global team management has its challenges, including language barriers and building relationships remotely. “These challenges require a lot of extra management time to help global team members to thrive as valued, engaged, motivated team members who clearly understand what is expected of them.”

But it also has a number of rewards. Suzanne says that her global team brings diversity of thought, which can help drive innovation, follow-the-sun support, which can improve everyone’s work-life balance, and the enjoyment that can come from learning about cultures and traditions around the world.

Suzanne and her colleagues

She also recalls a sense of achievement from a project early in her career when she had an opportunity to do some pretty innovative work for the local county jail. “I may be revealing a bit too much about my age here, but I was involved in digitizing two aspects of the Inmate Booking process.

“Firstly, building a digital ‘mug-book” so witnesses didn’t have to flip through pictures of suspects manually, but could search on characteristics such as height, hair color and tattoos. And secondly, digitizing the inmate’s fingerprints and doing an immediate check with the NCIC to see if they’re wanted elsewhere. While that is a given nowadays, it was REALLY cutting edge at the time, and when I later talked to my kids about it, they thought I had really worked for one of those popular TV crime shows. Gee, maybe I did?!”

While that may not seem innovative now, it was for the time. And that’s what Suzanne continues to do now: find innovative ways to deliver solutions for her organization through technology.

Female mentors and sisterhood in the tech world

Like many women in the tech space, Sue has sometimes found herself lacking in female colleagues, and struggled to get her voice heard, literally. “Once, when I was the only female on a leadership team, I had a recurring experience where anything I said in a meeting seemed to be ignored until a male counterpart would repeat the exact same words.  It was rather surreal – I felt like I was being punked or living in a sitcom! 

“Thankfully, I am no longer in that situation.  And I’m really fortunate to have spent much my career surrounded with talented peers and leaders who value results over gender, or other characteristics.” Perhaps a female voice being ignored in a room full of men is a common occurrence in business. Sue appreciates that there are more barriers for women to overcome, but we need to have the confidence to speak out.

“So many studies have shown that there are some basic differences in how men and women are wired, and some of the characteristically ‘male’ traits can make women feel overpowered or bullied.  But as smart women who are aware of these differences, we can more than overcome them – we can embrace them and use those differences to our advantage! How? By being aware and prepared! Our differences can be leveraged as strengths. But that can take effort on our part: to define how we want to be known, find a coach/mentor to help if needed, and take charge of our own destiny!” 

Suzanne comments that she’s been fortunate to have a couple of great mentors throughout her career, and that has helped her to recognise her own strengths and address areas in need of growth.  “To me, it’s especially helpful to have had female role models who could demonstrate how a woman can be a strong, no-nonsense professional while maintaining the parts of her personality that make her unique.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Quick-fire questions

  • Are you a morning lark or a night owl?     A morning lark
  • Cats or dogs?     Dogs
  • Favourite book?     Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
  • Go-to karaoke song?     That Old Time Rock and Roll
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now?     I don’t watch much television! 
  • Favourite holiday location?     A cottage on a lake in the “Northwoods” of Wisconsin
  • Where do you do your best thinking?     During my evening walk
  • You’re favourite food/meal?    Mexican food!
  • Favourite gadget?       My apple slicer/corer
  • Your favourite female icon?      Eleanor Roosevelt

Conquering Cloud & Championing Talent in Tech

Nabila Salem, President of Revolent Group, Board Member of Tenth Revolution Group

  • Nabila Salem has a quiet confidence about her. She is calm, poised and eloquent when she speaks, but it’s clear she means business. The topic of confidence comes up several times as we’re talking. It’s what she believes got her to where she is today, and what others need to instil in themselves as they pursue their own ambitions.

As the President of Revolent Group, a leading cloud talent creator, she tackles the global tech skills gap and helps build a new generation of cloud professionals. “We recruit, cross-train, place and continue to develop ambitious people for the Salesforce ecosystem, but it can be applied across all cloud technologies as well,” explains Nabila. “So, we’re training the next generation of certified tech talent and making sure organisations have access to the skills that they need.”

Technology has been present throughout Nabila’s career in one way or another. Her first job was at an internet café in Spain. Then, after graduating from Brighton University she worked in Internal Comms at IBM before she made the move to a smaller company where she felt she could make more of an impact. At FDM Group, a professional services group, she worked alongside the founders for 12 years. She saw the organisation grow from 300 employees to 4,000. “What was a small, UK family-run business transitioned to become a FTSE 250 company that was operating globally,” she says proudly. “In the 12 years that I was there, I wore lots of hats… it was a fantastic part of my career.”

Now she is President of Revolent Group, part of  Tenth Revolution Group, the arm that creates talent. “For me, launching careers in tech and diversity and inclusion in the workplace are two things I’ve always been passionate about and my role at Revolent encompasses both,” she says.

Nabila was the first and youngest woman to be appointed to VP at FDM. “It opens the door for others, but also it can be a lonely space, being the sole woman there. So, at Revolent I didn’t want to be the only person in this role. I wanted others to follow. Of the management team that reports to me, 40% are women. And I love the fact that two thirds are working mums.”

No two days are the same for her, although it was slightly more varied prior to the COVID lockdown. She still gets up early and does an hour’s exercise before she starts her day working from home in London, which is efficiently planned out. She makes lists of things to do the night before; so she knows what to focus on the next day.  

“We use Teams and Zoom to conduct meetings now, so they go on as normal, but just virtual. We have various exciting projects in the pipeline, so I’m busy with those. But ultimately, my role is to make sure the team at Revolent is as efficient and productive as they can be. It’s about communicating targets and monitoring performance. I believe performance is driven by having the right people and the right processes in place.”

Revolent Group remote working during lockdown

Backing women in tech

Nabila has always been an advocate for other women and minorities in business. In fact, she started the Women in Tech initiative at FDM. “In 2011, we had clear goals in terms of diversity. We grew the company to have 50% women on the management team. And that’s something I’ve always been really proud of.

“I thought at Revolent Group, we’ve got to do the same thing. So, we’re now at 40% women on the management team. But diversity obviously goes beyond gender, and if you look at Revolent Group, 63% identify as BAME [Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic]. So, it’s not just diversity in terms of gender I’m passionate about, also ethnicities and social mobility and giving people opportunities,” she says.

She (quite rightly) points out that leadership is not about you, its about others. “Once you’re a leader, your job is to help other people grow and progress. True leaders don’t focus on their role, they focus on the goal.” She says that working directly with two founders of successful businesses has in turn given her the confidence to push boundaries in her own career, which helped her to become FDM’s youngest VP.

“The tech sector has always been male dominated. I’ve been lucky because I’ve always had supportive managers. The big challenge I see in women is having the confidence to go for it despite being the minority –being the minority can give you a competitive edge. The barrier exists in our own minds. So, if we can overcome that, there aren’t any barriers. Women have to believe in themselves.”

Boards, summits and mentoring

Her confidence to push boundaries has not gone unnoticed. She was named in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List 2019. “It was a nice surprise,” she says modestly. “Being recognised amongst so many other inspiring women was quite humbling. It’s important to highlight achievements and celebrate accomplishments of women in the industry, but more so to give others something to look up to. Wherever possible, showcasing the achievements of women is a good thing because there aren’t that many women in tech. But honestly, I’ve never chased awards for myself. I was usually the one nominating people for awards!”

Nabila is also on the advisory board for the NY Women in IT Summit. She was asked to help shape their inaugural New York summit two years ago. She moderated a session, sat on various panels and participated in workshops where topics varied from mentoring to cyber security.

Nabila presenting a ‘Star of the Month’ award at Revolent Group

One of the topics she spoke about at the event was diversity in Artificial Intelligence. “AI has some serious flaws because the majority of those developing AI are white men. A self-driving car was more likely to run over a black person when tested, because it hadn’t been tested with that group of people. Then AI on Google phones wasn’t recognising black males because the black community wasn’t involved in the development of this AI which is ludicrous.”

Even during her down time, Nabila likes to get involved in helping people. “There’s a group called Migrant Leaders, a non-profit that trains aspiring leaders from migrant backgrounds in the UK. “Generally, I tend to get involved in these sorts of things because I’m passionate about it. In the past [when she was based in the US] I mentored Veterans who wanted to launch a civilian career,” she says. But she does also find time to relax by losing herself in cooking or unleashing her creative side by painting with oils and acrylics.  

The future is in the Cloud

“Almost everything digital is already connected to the Cloud. Companies used to keep data in local storage for security purposes, but we’ve advanced so much. Cloud will continue to become an integral part of our lives. And it’s just much more practical: it doesn’t take up physical space and you can access it whenever and wherever we want… It’s 100% the ‘now’ and the future,” she says.

“[Cloud] is the fastest growing industry in the world. The thing people misunderstand is that a career in tech does not have to be super technical. There’s a lot of people who work in tech, like myself, who aren’t that technical. There are opportunities for everyone.” Indeed, the tech space needs all sorts to work, people skills, creativity, leadership and management. It’s not all about building circuit boards and writing code.

And the velocity of this year will require more minds than ever to forge a path forwards. “All the tech trends that were predicted for this year have gone out the window now,” she says. “I think by the end of the year, 40% of jobs will be fully remote – if not more. The world has changed. 90% or more, I think, will have some sort of flexibility in their jobs if they didn’t previously. It’s a huge opportunity for business; you can save costs, target different demographics… the world has gone virtual. This is no longer the future, it’s the now. The next normal has arrived.”

Achieving a diverse  culture will also become easier, which Nabila says is harder to create than it sounds. “People join companies and look for people like themselves. It’s difficult to be what you can’t see. So, we encourage and support all our employees with progressive ways of working…You can’t expect one size to fit all. In my experience, if you’re flexible with people they actually work even harder.”

“At Revolent Group, we built an inclusive culture that encourages meritocracy. So, we highlight role models internally and give others something to aspire to,” she says. Indeed, Nabila has made herself visible, and someone that women and people in tech can aspire to be like.

Quick-fire questions

  • Are you a morning lark or a night owl?    Morning
  • What music are you listening to at the moment?   Cher – she’s taken me through lockdown
  • Favourite film?  The Green Mile
  • What’s your signature dish to cook?    Spanish tortilla
  • Most used app?   LinkedIn
  • If you could have a superpower, what would it be?   To be invisible
  • Favourite holiday destination?    Aruba
  • Where do you do your best thinking?     Kitchen
  • Favourite gadget?     Fitbit
  • Favourite female icon?     Oprah Winfrey

Reaching the Top in Radio

Grace Hopper, Radio One Producer

  • “I was very lucky I always knew I wanted to work at Radio 1 and be a producer there,” Grace Hopper tells me over the phone in her usual chirpy voice. And with hard work and determination, that’s exactly what she does now.

You may recognise Grace’s upbeat tone of voice from Radio 1. She is currently working on The Scott Mills show, which broadcasts on weekdays on Radio 1, and she used to work on the Greg James drivetime show before he moved to his current morning slot. Her CV boasts working with some of the most well-known voices on national radio, but the road to being a Radio 1 producer wasn’t easy: it required a lot of perseverance, and putting in a lot of hours… 

Grace first tried her hand at radio when she was just 15 years old at her local hospital radio in High Wycombe. “I knew what I wanted to do, and was lucky to have that drive, ambition and vision… I threw myself into it as young as I possibly could.” And she took all the jobs (paid and unpaid) along the way.  Following her degree at Exeter University, her first freelance position was at BBC Radio Devon. She also worked at Exeter Hospital Radio, Heart Radio, BBC Cornwall and BBC Somerset – and squeezed in a few shifts at her local pub!

“I got lots of beginners’ experience, but I was working seven days a week and doing loads of different roles,” she said. “Local radio is a great starting point – one minute you’ll be producing a sports show, then reading the travel news, then playing and discussing a band featured on BBC Introducing, then taking call-ins on a political story.”

She then moved back home to South Buckinghamshire and started freelancing at BBC Berks and BBC London – sometimes a double shift. “I wouldn’t advise working seven days a week, but as a freelancer sometimes you have to take all those opportunities when you want to get further up the ladder.” She got her foot in the door when she got a job as a freelance team assistant for Radio 1 for six months, before she gained a fulltime position in the role at Radio 1. “It was nice to get that first full-time job – because I thought, ‘This is where I want to be.’ All that hard work, like working at 5am on a Sunday morning all paid off! And then it was my chance to work my way up the ladder at Radio 1.”

Grace with presenters and fellow producers at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Hull 2017

Producing the Scott Mills Show

The role of a producer is being responsible for the output of the show, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. “We make sure the presenter knows exactly what they’re saying, and they’ve got all the accompanying audio and facts. I prep callers before they come on the show and keep things to time. We have to hit the top of hour, hit the news on time, and make sure the programme is going to plan.”

There’s plenty of prep work involved too. In the morning we have a team meeting to see what they can bring to the table for that show. “For live radio you have that personality and voice… Scott Mills and Chris Stark bring so many stories and input, it’s great. You have to have the presenter’s buy-in, or it won’t work.

“Then we go set things up for the show, find some callers, edit a funny clip from TV the night before, and provide the supporting tools for Scott and Chris to use in the studio. We’re an entertainment show, but also a music show, so that needs to be put in the schedule.”

Grace in a Scott and Chris sandwich

Plus, if they have any celebrities in for interviews, they need to think of a way to make it novel and interesting.“We have a no-straight interview rule now. We get them involved in a game or regular show feature and it lifts the chat.” Then the interview will have to be edited (if it’s not live) and Grace has to highlight potential press lines, make sure the social media team have all the details they need, as well as videoing segments for social media and TV. All while making sure the show is reactive and reflects what the audience are experiencing and expecting that day.

Hello, from Sir David Attenborough

Grace fondly looks back on the two years she spent with Greg James on his afternoon drive time show. “We did some amazing content together. We had the royals come in and co-present which was so rare, and so brilliant.”

The Gregathlon was another highlight for Grace. Greg climbed the three highest peaks in the UK for Sport Relief, but it coincided with the Beast from the East storm in February 2018. “We travelled around with a mobile radio station and he did the show from there. The Beast from the East felt like it kind of reflected the mental health story and challenge that people go through. Sometimes these things in life come and you have to pause, and that’s ok.”

Grace and Greg James at the finish line of the Gregathlon for Sport Relief

She’s also met and worked with numerous celebrities during her time on Radio 1. She admits she was nervous briefing high profile guests when she started out, but now she can greet them with complete confidence.

“I try to be really professional when briefing guests, but sometimes it’s easier to maintain the coolness. I have been starstruck when I met The Killers. I’m such a big fan! I think meeting so many celebrities has also made me realize that they are just people.” She also says she got starstruck when meeting Sir David Attenborough. And it ended up being one of her most memorable moments from working on Greg’s show.

“Adele’s video for ‘Hello’ had just come out… We wrote [Sir David] a script to narrate over the video and it had all been signed off and pre-approved. But when he came in, he was a little nervous and said do you mind if I didn’t do it, which obviously is fine – David Attenborough is allowed to say ‘no’. So, Greg and I tried to make him feel as comfortable and at ease as possible because we knew it would be a big moment and really fun, good content. But he decided just to have a chat.

“Then live in the middle of the interview, he said ‘Don’t you want me to narrate something?’ And he took this script without having read it before and read over the video so perfectly. And it became a massive global video and was written about in the press. It felt like a real success story. He said afterwards, ‘You created such a comfortable environment for me, you made me feel comfortable enough to do it.’ And that’s what it’s all about. You want the radio to be friendly and be a voice of comfort. We did that with him, and that’s why he did it.” The video now has 4.5 million views on YouTube alone.

Grace’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed. She was named in the Radio Academy 30 Under 30 in 2017. “I was so delighted to be named in that line up. It was a lovely moment and I feel immensely proud and grateful for that accolade. It helped opened the door to the Radio Academy, so I feel like it was just the beginning.”

She is now a Radio Academy Trustee. “When you can do something for an organization you have a passion for, it’s a nice thing to do. They do amazing things like launching a benevolent fund to support those who are affected by the current financial climate. We’re overseeing the decisions to support the industry it’s quite a tough role. Now I’m helping lead on the 30 under 30 award, which is a nice full-circle moment.”

Grace receiving her Radio Academy 30 Under 30 Award

Switching off and speaking out

With such a full-on job, it’s no surprise that Grace likes to switch off in the evenings and leave her work at the door. “Although I’ve fallen foul of it on many occasions. Especially in the current climate, working from home makes it hard to distinguish the two. I tend to switch off my emails and get outside for fresh air and exercise. Netflix is my best friend at the moment. But I also love swimming – we live on our phones, especially in my job, as I always need to be up to date with what’s going on in the news. I love swimming because I have to leave my phone on the side of the pool, and I can totally switch off.”

Switching off from work and the digital world can be hard to do sometimes and can have a negative effect on our mental health. This is something that Grace is very aware of. She realizes the pressures that can build up at work, which why she is a Mental Health First Aider for the BBC.

 “Sometimes you get so wrapped up in your line of work, it’s important to stop and think am I supporting others? Am I being supported? Am I looking after myself? A lot of people have taken me up on it, more than I thought would. When you have such a big workload we often don’t stop and reflect.”

As well as offering mental health support to her colleagues, Grace is also mentoring a team assistant – a role that she has done herself before, to pass on some of the wisdom she’s learnt along the way. She especially wants to reach out to women who may have had negative experiences in the workplace. “We women have to work hard to change certain perceptions. If a woman speaks up or speaks out, they’re seen as being cocky, whereas men are seen as being confident,” she says. “Especially as a mental health first aider, I think that comes into play a bit. It’s important to encourage women around me to feel more confident.

“For example, I was in a meeting once where everyone was talking over each other. A couple of males were speaking over a girl. A female producer colleague stopped everyone and gave the girl a chance to speak. She was naturally spoken over, but this woman gave her that platform. That’s what we need more of; everyone championing each other.”

Radio in lockdown

Grace is still working during the Coronavirus pandemic, although she’s not limited to just producing Scott’s show. She’s been working with Jordan North, Clara Amfo and Maya Jama while the BBC work with a reduced staff to aid social distancing.

“I feel like radio is more important now than ever. We’re really supporting our listeners. People have more time and space to pay attention to things like radio, and a lot of people are isolating on their own, or feel lonely or overwhelmed by the situation,” she says.

“You can react [to the current situation] and be that supportive voice… It’s important to strike a balance between letting them know that we’re here, but also being an escape. Radio can sometimes suffer because the competition is so much bigger with TV shows, Instagram, streaming etc. I just hope that continues past the pandemic because we’ve highlighted how powerful radio can be.”  

Grace says that she doesn’t do radio for the praise. She does it because she enjoys it and she likes knowing that she’s supporting an audience. But with all her success, she certainly deserves any praise that comes her way. Thanks for giving us a peak behind the curtain into the world of Radio 1, Grace!

Quick Fire Questions

  • Books or movies?      Movies 100%
  • Cats or Dogs?    I’m not a big fan of either… but probably dogs.
  • Active holiday or relaxing holiday? Relaxing – my job is so busy I like to relax.
  • If you had a superpower, what would it be?    Teleportation
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now?    Just finished Unorthodox… also Normal People
  • What music are you listening to right now?   I really like Arlo Parks – she’s an emerging artist. Very soothing, she writes about things that are real in a relatable way. Also, upbeat music is good right now – I’m listening to some dance music and old pop classics
  • Biggest weakness?    I’m an overthinker
  • Ideal date night?    Going out for a really nice meal, and watching a movie
  • Favourite food? Italian. Specifically pasta, tortellini.
  • Who’s your favourite female icon?  Fearne Cotton has always inspired me. She was on the radio as I was getting into Radio 1. I love her passion for music and I have a similar style and taste to her. She’s great at talking about her feelings and being a strong female in my industry.

Mastering Marketing & Rising to the C-Suite

Laurie Ehrbar, CMO

  • Laurie Ehrbar is someone I speak to nearly every weekday. She is the CMO of the company where I currently work. So, she is my boss’s boss! We obviously talk about work a lot and have the occasional chat about our family and leisure time. But it was great to hear about her career and quick ascension in such a male-dominated industry to the C-Suite at a software company.

Laurie began her career in the B2B and the technology space of event marketing before she ventured into financial services. “My combined interest in marketing and technology found a home in the banking industry at Waterhouse Securities,” she said. “I was hired to aid in their rebranding, strategy, and announcement of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of TD Waterhouse across all online media.” 

She obviously made a good impression; immediately following the IPO, she was asked to co-head Customer Acquisition for both the bank and brokerage arms of the company, making VP at just age 26. “The rest is, as they say, history. I went on to attract the attention of other large financial institutions like Citigroup and software companies like ServiceNow, and continued to work in digital strategy, media, and partnerships in some form ever since.”

Now she is the CMO of Bizagi, a Business Process Management and Automation software organization. She describes her average day at work as making her way through a very long laundry list of both strategic and tactical initiatives – a list that seems to grow throughout the day. “I try my best to catch up with members of my team and department heads around the organization every day. I think internal meetings, over those with external agencies and vendors, should always be where I spend most of my time,” she said.

Solving problems and paying it forward

Laurie has done well to crack the world of financial services and tech marketing. I asked her what she liked so much about finserv, as it’s the area that she’s spent the majority of her career. “Simply put: creative solutions and problem solvers are celebrated,” she said.

Both in the financial services and software spaces, her marketing expertise has helped her to succeed. For anyone who is considering a career in marketing, she says that internships are key. “It’s that foundational, on the job learning, that can really help you find what you enjoy. Marketing covers a lot and not all of it is for everyone so finding what you enjoy and where you can add value is essential.”

She also credits where she’s got thanks to people who she’s met along the way. “The people who inspired me the most were those that had faith in me, gave me more responsibility and supported me and my career. It’s because of them that I pay it forward and do the same. I often think about how their faith in me, made me have faith in myself.”

Now she’s paying it forward by supporting her co-workers at Bizagi. Managing a global team, and various projects, she’s spread thin but always makes time for everyone. She’s keen to use new initiatives to push the boundaries and is well aware of the importance of tech trends in tech marketing.  “I think companies will begin to use all the data they’ve been collecting more efficiently. For example, they’ll use data to create more intuitive customer experiences. Also, cloud will be viewed as the only option and on premises will be considered no more secure than a rusty old file cabinet.”

Laurie and the Bizagi marketing team, October 2019

Marking the calendar for family time

Laurie’s professional life has had some incredible highlights so far, including making VP at age 26, and even doing a deal with former Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer. “All were very exciting, but I’d say career highlights pale in comparison to family highlights. I’m most proud of how I’ve found balance during it all. I should rephrase…how I insisted on balance and wouldn’t budge,” she says with a wink. “It’s made it possible to do what I do and be a good mom.”

Juggling a family of three children and a dog means it’s hard to turn off, but Laurie says it is necessary to take the time to be present with her family. “I work from home and that allows me, when I’m not traveling, to be there for dinner, sports and the day to day. The most important part is being available to listen when they have a problem. As my kids have gotten older just being present as much as possible is the most important thing I can do.”

Laurie is very organized at the work, and the same can be said of her personal life. “My family calendar is everything. My kids often mimic me by saying, ‘Is it in the calendar? If not, I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ which is my go-to statement if something falls through the cracks like a birthday party or sporting event. If it isn’t in the calendar, then it’s not on my radar!”

When she’s not juggling work and whatever is written in her calendar, she’s certainly not one for sitting still (unless it’s in a yoga pose or reading a book). “I’m a mom of three, so my spare time is spent doing anything and everything for them. I try my best to incorporate the two. For example, cooking involves trying new recipes, often desserts, with my kids helping me create and eat them. I even read side by side with my youngest on my evenings.”

Challenging male bias

Like many career-women, Laurie has experienced sexist behaviour and male bias, and says it is far more prevalent in software than in any other industry she has worked in. “My list of examples is long and 90% of them are in software.”

“An example of one of the many ‘boys’ club’ conversations I’ve experienced in software was with a man I respected both personally and professionally – as a result it stung a bit more than if I didn’t like him. However, this example illustrates how male bias slips into daily conversation.

“Me and this person, we’ll call him Mike, were talking about someone in another department who kept dropping the ball and on everything we requested from them. The person who dropped the ball happened to be a woman. I explained to him that I honestly didn’t know how to get around her to accomplish what we needed. And Mike’s response was, ‘Laurie, you just don’t like her. That’s all.’

“I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. He boiled down my valid concerns into a ‘girl’ thing. I’m 100% certain that he never would have said that to a man. Can you imagine? Jim, you just don’t like Bill. That would never happen. It’s those comments, however small, that pile up.”

Rather than seeing it as active prejudice, she sees it more as bias; conclusion bias. Laurie highlights the dichotomy that women are so often faced with: if a woman is quiet, she’s seen by men as weak. But if she’s vocal, she’s seen as bitchy. She’s not the first woman I’ve heard use that example.  

“No matter what a woman says or does those conclusions are stuck in their heads. I think as women we get used to being talked over, so we become either much quieter or much louder.  The middle is simply not an option. In a room full of men, all day, every day, it certainly makes those more prone to shyness, shrink in certain situations.”

One thing’s for sure, Laurie is no shrinking violet. She is confident enough to speak her mind in the office and get things done, which has driven her success to where she is now. And perhaps most importantly of all, she’s found the balance between work and family life. If you want to have some time with her though, just make sure it’s in the calendar!

Quick-fire questions

  • Are you a morning lark or a night owl?    Morning 
  • Active holiday or relaxing holiday?   Active, definitely! 
  • Cats or dogs?    Dogs 
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now?   Ozark, and I just finished Tiger King 😉 
  • All-time favourite music album?    WOW that’s hard. Maybe Prince Sign O The Times but I like all kinds of music so it’s hard to name one album 
  • Biggest weakness?   Personal – I care too much. Food related – Cheese covered French fries 😊  
  • What’s your favourite season?  Fall 
  • Favourite snack?   Avocado on wheat toast 
  • Favourite weekend activity?    Hiking  
  • Your favourite female icon?   Louisa May Alcott or Harper Lee (I love great female writers). But also Helen Keller so inspirational

Triumphing in Tech & Computer Science

Dr Sue Black OBE, Professor of Computer Science & Tech Evangelist at Durham University

  • How do I introduce Sue? She introduces herself as: Professor Sue Black, Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University. But her list of job titles and achievements extend way beyond that…

She has a PhD in computer science, is a bestselling author, a founder of BCSWomen – the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and founder of #techmums, a social enterprise which empowers mums and their families through technology. Oh, and she was awarded an OBE by the Queen for her services to technology in 2016.

I met her when I worked at Mumsnet; I chaired a roundtable where she was talking about #techmums, but she came to my attention during my first job as a tech journalist: how could she not with all the exciting things she does for women in tech? So, I was honoured when she agreed to be featured on my blog.

Sue’s career is varied and incredible. After she left school with 5 O levels, her first job was as a Clerical Assistant for Essex County Council, before she moved to London where she worked for the British Refugee Council, and then the Ockendon Venture with refugees from Vietnam.

In a whirlwind summary of her career and education, she recounts that she was then a student nurse at UCLH for a year, an Accounts Clerk then Accounts Assistant at RCA Records. She went on to be a stay-at-home mum when she had three children by the age of 23. She then got back into education and completed a year-long maths course at Southwark, followed by a four-year computing degree, and then a PhD in software engineering, both at London South Bank University. From there she went on to found #techmums social enterprise, then wrote her book, Saving Bletchley Park, became an Honorary Professor at UCL, and is now Professor at Durham. Phew! That’s a lot…

And for someone who left school with the equivalent of just 5 GCSEs, she’s gone on put herself though plenty of education, all the way up to a PHD. “[Education] helps you to understand yourself, the world around you and the best way to get interaction going between the two,” she said.

When she spoke to The Guardian in 2018, as she was starting her new role at Durham University, she said, “My focus will be on women in technology and helping to increase the number of women studying, researching and working in Durham computer science.” Her passion for women in tech is one of the reasons that I, and so many others, admire her so much.

Sue being interviewed on BBC One

Saving Bletchley Park

Sue has been instrumental in saving Bletchley Park, the site where mathematicians and scientists broke the Enigma code during World War II – some of you may be familiar with it from the 2014 film, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.

“I raised the profile of the 8,000 women that worked at Bletchley Park, and ran the successful campaign to save Bletchley Park from 2008 to 2011 using traditional and then social media [campaigning], particularly Twitter,” recounted Sue. The BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones highlighted Black’s sophisticated social media in her campaigning (his 2009 article Bletchley Park’s social media war is an interesting read, and shows how well Sue did to save this significant historical site).

Sue’s Bestseller

At the end of 2015, she published a book about her experience, Saving Bletchley Park. It was initially funded via Unbound, and became the fastest crowdfunded book of all time. It’s the story of saving the home of modern computing, and praised by Stephen Fry as “a triumph”.  

When I think of Sue, her campaigning for Bletchley Park and work with #techmums is what first comes to mind, but when I question her on the highlight of her career, she quite rightly has a hard time narrowing it down. “I think starting my role as Professor at Durham is definitely up there. Mind you, being on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs was a life goal achieved!”

But these things all reflect Sue’s heart – she is passionate, articulate and happy to talk about the things that she enjoys and believes are important.

The original #techmum

In the midst of her eventful career, Sue has also had a turbulent personal life. She got married and had her first daughter at the age of 21, before having twin sons at 23 and was a stay-at-home mother until the age of 25. Sadly, it was an abusive relationship and she had to flee the domestic violence of her husband wither her three young children in tow. “I lived in women’s refuge for 6 months, then left refuge for a council flat in Brixton. Once I got the kids settled, I did my one-year maths course at Southwark College,” she said. She now has four children and is a grandmother of five.

Sue with her family, the day she was awarded her OBE

She says it’s easier being a working mum now that she just has her youngest at home. “When my older kids were younger and I was a single parent, it was much harder. I tried to help them to be as independent as possible from a young age so that they didn’t get stressed having to rely on me to do more than I possibly could.”

And in between all this, she still finds time to do charity work. “I enjoy all of the not-for-profit work that I do. I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve managed to get to where I am today and want as many other people who haven’t had the best chances in life to be able to realise their potential.

“I’m currently on the board of #techmums, Comic Relief, UK Government Digital Service, Fawcett Society Commission for Gender Stereotypes and spend much of my time encouraging and supporting people to get out there go for it.”

The Director of Communications at The Open University describes Sue as “a phenomenon: she brings to life social media and IT.” And indeed, if you reach out to Sue on social media, she will likely respond. She is a self-confessed social-mediaholic. She tells me that she spends her mornings drinking a cup of tea in bed (brought to her by her husband) and drinks it while she checks her phone for WhatsApp messages, her diary for the day, the news, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email before getting up and tackling the day ahead.

Infiltrating the Computer Science boys’ club

Her days at work vary widely, with no such thing as an average day. “I could be at Durham University, giving a talk somewhere in the world, recording a podcast, in a meeting with my book editor, at a TechUPWomen residential, chatting with some of our #techmums or 100 other things…. All great fun,” she said. Although during the current Coronavirus lockdown she says she spends her days working from her laptop.

The #techmums crew

The tech and computing industry has a reputation for being something of a boys’ club. It’s unsurprising when you look at the gender divide even at school when pupils pick their A-Levels – boys tend to take the science and maths route, while girls usually opt for humanities and the arts. At Durham University when Sue began lecturing, just 12% of the department’s undergraduates were women.

Sue has seen the gender divide in the industry and wants to break down the barrier for women. She has spent the last 20 years campaigning for more recognition and support for women in computing.  “I set up BCSWomen (British Computer Society Women’s network) – the UK’s first online network for women in tech in 1998 to do something about it. BCSWomen is a women-only virtual community which supports and encourages women in tech,” she said.

Like many other women who have climbed the ladder in their career, she used to doubt herself, but with her success, her confidence has grown. “I used to suffer massively from imposter syndrome, but as I’ve overcome challenges which I never thought I could during my life and career, I’ve gradually lost that, and don’t remember the last time I felt intimidated. It’s taken a lot of work to get to where I am and kind of came as a by-product of trying hard to be successful so that I could earn enough money to give my kids the life I wanted them to have.”

Listening to Sue’s incredible story, it’s clear that she’s a fighter. She’s driven by love for her family, a passion for computing, and the determination to give other women a voice, helping others infiltrate the tech space as she has done.

And what would she say to any women considering a career in tech? “Go for it! Think about the things you like doing most and then work out what tech and which job roles that relates to, or think what your tech start up could be. What problems do you see in your life that tech could help solve?”

So if you ever want to pursue a career or hobby that you love, but are worried about your lack of education, or concerned that you won’t “fit in” (whether it’s due to gender or anything else), take Sue’s advice and just go for it! I think we could all do with being a bit more like Sue.

Quick-fire Questions

  • Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Night owl
  • Cats or dogs? Both
  • TV or books? Both
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now? Just finished Ozark season 3
  • What music are you listening to right now? The Weeknd, Lizzo, Cardi B, Travis Scott, Faure’s Requiem, Kendrick Lamarr, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Mozart’s Requiem.
  • Snack of choice? Gluten free chocolate chip cookies
  • Favourite gadget? iPhone
  • Where do you feel most at peace? In my back garden with my husband, kids and grandkids
  • When did you feel the most star-struck meeting someone?        Meeting Stephen Fry after getting him involved in the campaign to save Bletchley Park campaign in 2009
  • Your favourite female icon? Arlan Hamilton

Making it as a Journalist

Michelle Johnson, Editor & Journalist

Michelle Johnson

  • Michelle is all about collaboration, the little wins, and resilience – all of which have helped her to climb the ladder in the competitive world of journalism and media. She worked for over six years at HELLO! before her latest role as Director of Editorial at Vantage Media.

“I always wanted to be a journalist, I always wanted to write. But I didn’t like the cutthroat nature of journalism,” said Michelle. But after university graduation, she did what many budding journos do to cut their teeth in a short-course magazine NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course to get experience and develop expertise and she loved it.

Following some time freelancing and a stint of work with local papers, she secured a 6-month placement as the acting editor for West Essex life, a local free distribution mag. It was a trial by fire, but the role put her in good stead for her career-defining position at HELLO! She initially took a job as an editorial assistant to the managing editor, and ended up staying with the publication for six and half years, working her way up to an international features writer, before seguewaying into her passion: film.

Michelle Johnson BAFTA
Michelle at the BAFTAs

“There was an opportunity to make more of film, but nobody [at the junkets] was talking to tabloid or print press. So, I campaigned for a video camera and created an in-house film department to get access to A-list actors. Soon we were getting interviews every week. I’ve never been afraid of talking to people, so interviewing seemed natural way of telling stories… Red carpets are fun, not least because people think its super glamourous, but a lot of it is waiting in rain for a celebrity to ignore you!”

After six and a half years, Michelle wanted a new challenge. She took on the role as digital editor of Tempus, a small luxury lifestyle mag. They had no website, app, or digital presence, so it was a great opportunity to take everything she’d learnt and apply it to a niche audience. Tempus found a new publisher in Vantage Media in 2018, where Michelle is now director of editorial and editor of Tempus.

Now her average day at work is all about making sure she’s abreast of what’s going on in the world of luxury lifestyle, planning and coordinating a variety of editorial projects for clients and in house, and working with writers and interviewees. She also has lots of meetings. “Relationships with PR and marketing are crucial. It’s important to work very collaboratively.”
It’s clear collaboration is something she values highly, as she also recalls one of the standout moments in her career as seeing the publication of her first magazine as editor. “To see that come together after working so closely with our creative and sales teams was amazing. The collaboration process was incredible. I felt very lucky.”

For the love of film

There’s no doubt that Michelle is a hard worker, but she also admits that she’s had some luck in landing her role. “The cool thing is I love it, but it’s challenging. In the early part of my career especially, I managed to lilypad between different roles and jobs and met some incredible people.”

She has had some amazing opportunities. She recounts when she had the opportunity to interview Angelina Jolie when she launched her preventing sexual violence initiative. “As a subject matter, it’s something that I’m very passionate about. I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity to do an interview on such as serious topic, and her answers were amazing. That was a real privilege. It was cool to do something that could impact someone’s life in print. I’m very interested in charity, so I want to talk to ambassadors and bring attention to deserving causes.”

But it’s not just speaking to superstar A-Listers, she celebrates the day-to-day too. “I talk a lot about the little wins. One of the things I like to do when I’m stressed out or got a lot on my plate is find those tiny wins.”
She isn’t afraid of a challenge and her drive and passion has helped her career, for sure. Michelle is a huge film fan, and thanks to her determination to chase her dream, a large chunk of her career so far has involved watching, writing about, and interviewing the stars of films.

Michelle Johnson
Michelle hosting a panel

When I asked her when she felt most star struck, she struggled to pin down just one person. “I’m a big geek about directors, so when I met Joss Whedon [Director of The Avengers] or Martin Scorsese at the Wolf of Wall Street premier. I was obsessed with Casino, so I asked him questions comparing the two because I think the beats of the films are so similar.

“Ah, and then there was Dame Judi Dench – she’s so nice, but if she doesn’t like your question, she’ll tell you. The vast majority of my interviews have been positive, and both celebrities and press are at a premiere or junket for the same reason, so it’s actually quite hard to be star-struck during these events… Tom Cruise is still the pinnacle of a ‘Hollywood star’, though. When you’re face to face with him it’s a bit surreal. And every co-star will have something nice to say about him. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

How to make it as a journalist

Michelle has three tips for anyone who wants to make it as a journalist:
You have to be resilient: People who go into journalism will likely intern for a long time; you can expect to be doing that 12-18 months. It’s about not giving up and taking every opportunity you can. Even when you feel like a task might be quite boring, it might turn into an opportunity.

Accept and learn from criticism: When you do get the chance to write, take any criticism that comes your way. It’s not about you and what you’ve written. Any red pen teaches you more about the style of your publication. It’s about the collaborative approach. If a young journo sees their writing has been significantly edited, find the Sub Editor and get them to walk you through it. Writing is a collaboration.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself: For example, if you want to be sportswriter, but opportunity comes up at a local paper, take it and you can refine your skills. Your first job is not necessarily what you end up in. Always take the opportunity to learn.

Michelle Johnson’s mentors:

Marie Dawson – taught Michelle on her NCTJ course. She’s an author who worked in UK and New York, published a book, then went on to teach budding journalists. “She had the most amazing stories about her freelance career both in London and New York, and was always happy to share advice to help you pull out the real heart of your features.”
Linda Newman – another NCTJ mentor, who recommended Michelle her first editor role at West Essex Life. “Linda is an editor, writer and teacher who is super positive about magazines, full of brilliant stories and insight and always really fun to be around. She’s the biggest champion for her students.”
Juliet Herd – former International Managing Editor at Hello! “I started at Hello! as Juliet’s assistant and so learnt a lot about the practicalities of working for international magazines at high pace and quick turnarounds.”
Amanda Nevill – former CEO of the BFI. Michelle interviewed her a few times, including when she was leaving the BFI after 17 years, when she told Michelle inspiring stories about her about leadership and being a CEO as a woman.

Early in her career, Michelle was focused on print, before she moved over to video for her film work. But she is astutely aware of the importance to move with the times and embrace digital. In her role at Tempus, she created the daily news website that the publication now has and was able to flex and push her digital skills in the process, including playing with analytics.

The front cover of Tempus, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio

“Many journalists think [SEO] takes away creativity, whereas I’m of the opinion that it’s just another facet of your creativity. In fact, news writing itself is almost algorithmic, it’s the basis of what SEO is now. You wouldn’t write a Q&A in the same style as a long form piece, so why would you write an online piece in the same way as a print piece? It’s all about adapting to your media.” Flexibility and a willingness to learn have obviously contributed to her success.

Working with women in media

The role of media is so important, but also at a unique turning point at the moment, as Michelle highlights. “You have leaders of countries accusing CNN of ‘fake news’. It fascinates me… Whether the media we consume is aspirational, escapism, current affairs, it’s all essential.”

Michelle Johnson Iron Throne
Michelle on the Iron Throne

She has a real love for magazines as a medium, thanks to the huge variety you can get in one publication. But she’s enjoying the challenge of shifting to digital. “People talking about the golden age of newspapers, but I also love being in the industry at this sometimes-difficult time; we see new things happening all the time. Who’d have thought social media manager would ever be a job? It’s amazing seeing the industrial changes in real time.”

Reflecting on the gender balance in her industry, she recognises that magazines, in particular, have a lot of women in leadership roles, and for the majority of her career she has worked mostly with women. “I’ve felt very supported as a woman in my industry, but I’ve internalised certain things… You can start to paint a picture of how to assert yourself more kindly and more authentically.

“I think I’ve got a work persona; you’ve got to have tough skin if you’re going to put your work out there. I’ve had a few ‘Silly little girl’ comments from online commenters when I wrote for the Guardian as young journo. That filled me with absolute fear. But you get over it quickly and find that resilience. We have so many amazing women breaking barriers in every part of our industry: war reporters, content creators, editors… it’s really inspiring to see.”When asked if she’s experienced any sexism in her industry, she says she’s experienced a healthy dose of mansplaining – particularly in the world of film. But for the vast majority, no, she has not.

“Journalism is seen as a middle-class profession, so I had more doubts about my class than my gender. I was worried I would stick out like a sore thumb, but you learn to adapt very quickly. I don’t think I’m easily intimidated.”
But what she does admit she’s struggled with is asking for a promotion or pay rise. It’s important to know your worth, she says.

“In general, I feel women could be served better by knowing how to negotiate… And we could all do with trusting ourselves a bit more. Certainly, I don’t remember being taught about business or leadership in school, but I don’t know why. I think this is why I’ve become interested in leadership as a concept – what makes a someone a great leader, an innate leader?”

It’s a great question. But as the editor of a successful magazine, and a firm believer in determination and collaboration, it looks like Michelle is on her way to becoming a great leader, herself.

Follow Michelle on Twitter, @chelleajohnson to see what she what films she’s watching, how work is going, and how she’s handling life in lockdown!

Quick-fire questions

Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Night owl.

Sweet or savoury food? Savoury.

Summer or Winter? Winter

All-time favourite film? Impossible question! Interview with a Vampire.

All-time favourite music album? Any 80s compilation album (currently obsessed with the ‘You spin me right round, baby…’ playlist by Audrey Mathena on Spotify).

Biggest weakness? Wine

Where do you feel most at peace? At home

Drink of choice? A Sauvignon Blanc

Favourite holiday destination? The last place I went to was Belize and it was amazing! We went trekking in a rainforest and had a Maya temple site to ourselves due to lack of tourism. It’s a must-visit.

Your favourite female icon? There are too many to count! Once I learn of someone I find inspirational – whether it’s Emma Thompson, Hillary Clinton, Ava DuVernay, Papusza – I just learn everything I can. Currently I’m recommending Naomi Alderman, because I’m STILL obsessed with her novel The Power since reading it last year. Plus, I found out she wrote the Zombies, Run! Game, which has been a lifesaver to me during lockdown.

Growing a Marketing Agency

Renaye Edwards, Director & Co-Founder, Digital Radish Marketing Agency

Renaye Edwards

  • – Renaye is a great leader, full of grit, tenacity and resolve. But she also has a nurturing side, she loves to help her ‘Radishes’ grow, as she fondly calls her employees. I should know, she gave me my first job in marketing.

Renaye started her career in the post room at Reed Business, a publication company. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I had no idea. I started with maternity cover, stayed there and I was able to network around. I weighed up marketing vs sales, but I took the marketing route. Having done a performing arts degree at university, I liked the creative element.”

As a goal-orientated person, she started to climb the ladder at Reed and worked her way up to Senior Marketing Executive. Then she moved to eMap, now Ascential, where she worked her way up to Head of Marketing. She realized that the tech boom was just beginning and decided to grab hold of it with both hands. “An ex-colleague of mine asked me to help him out with some marketing, and I liked that better than my day job, and felt there was a gap in the market for a B2B agency.”

She teamed up with her eMap colleague Lorna Charlish, and they set out to do some consultancy work. “Neither of us had worked in an agency before, but we felt like there wasn’t [an agency] out there that got under the skin of the audience. We had felt the disconnect ourselves. We had consultants and agencies but the two needed to be blended. Since then more agencies have been pushed to do that, so it’s not quite so niche now.”

Renaye Edwards and Lorna Charlish
Renaye and Lorna

The two of them worked together consulting other marketers, and built up a good word-of-mouth through recommendations from friends and colleagues. And soon, Digital Radish was born…

Named after the world’s fastest growing vegetable, Digital Radish’s motive was to accelerate clients’ growth, using a mix of insight and creativity. They began working with a mix of start-ups, as well as more established companies, such as gaming platform Unity, and even Sport England. Fast forward five years later and the agency has an established team of marketing professionals and provides content, creative and helps businesses with their go-to-market strategy. Not to mention, they have won numerous B2B Marketing awards for their campaigns.

Building a business from the ground, up

Renaye appreciated that it wasn’t going to be easy starting up the agency, but she tackled the opportunity with gusto. “Some people can get lucky, but the set-up of a business and getting the wheels in motion does require long days and nights. You need to be in the right place mentally and financially and have the right framework around you. It’s good to have family and friends to support you. You need to have your mind 100% on the job.”

Digital Radish
The Digital Radish Team, 2016

She and Lorna are both very diligent and have devoted themselves to their start-up. Their bond and shared tenacity are certainly what helped to get the agency off the ground. “If you’re looking to go into business with someone, choosing the right partner is key. You need to set expectations and boundaries from the outset and know the value you can both bring to the table.”

Lorna is very analytical and detail orientated, while Renaye is excellent at networking and drumming up new business. And their both brilliant at thinking outside the box and rising to the challenge.

“Confidence is really key,” says Renaye. “I was told by a grey-haired old man once when I started out that I wouldn’t succees because I didn’t have at least 10 years of consulting experience behind me. When you get the bumps in the road it’s easy to question yourself… But you have to have self-belief – people can smell it on you going into a pitch. If you’re not confident, then the person you’re speaking to won’t buy what you’re selling.”

As the agency grew and they employed more full-time staff, Renaye, Lorna and the business all went from strength the strength. “We won a few awards which gave us more exposure. Then the more interest we had, we were able to carve out more of a niche for ourselves, concentrating on what drove the most value… We like to put a twist on things. We have a strategic offering, and a creative side, and are very results-focused, which puts us in good stead. When it comes to awards entries, we have the data and insight to back up what we say and do.”

Growing a successful team

While Renaye values the awards Digital Radish have won, when questioned about the highlight of her career, she talks about the team that she’s built up at the agency.

“I love now seeing things happen with little input from me – I love watching other people grow in their roles; I love watching them step up to the plate and see them flourish. I get more satisfaction out of that. You know that you’ve influenced it in your own way and nurtured the staff.

The Digital Radish Team, 2019

When hiring, they look for people that would make a good ‘radish’. “It’s someone who shows that they’re hungry for development, a willingness to succeed, that wants to climb the ladder, and has a focus on what they want to do. You need the over-achievers and someone who’s a team player, you need a balance.

The agency world is fast-moving and requires people to do all sorts of work, and at a start-up like Digital Radish, that sometimes means working outside your remit. Renaye says it’s easy to see who those people are, which has helped them build their Radish family.

Running a business and a family

Renaye and Lorna both had their first children within Digital Radish’s first few years. Renaye took maternity leave in 2016 to have her daughter, and, understandably, saw a significant shift in her life.

“In the early stages when they’re young, you feel guilty and dead on your feet because they’re up all night and you’re still trying to work. I felt like I wasn’t being a good enough mum, and two steps behind at work, not being a good wife or friends. But you need to be kinder to yourself. You can’t do all of it.

“I learnt to be better with time – and we’ve developed a second layer of management in the business so can get back for bath time. We’ve made the business work for us. And I’ve seen a shift in the business, since I went on mat leave as other staff had to step up to the mark.”

At Digital Radish the two-tier management means that Renaye is not as entrenched in the everyday, but she can quickly add value to accounts and be involved in the strategy or content. “My role is in New Business; I go out for coffee and have speaking slots at events – that takes up the majority of my time.”

Renaye Edwards
Renaye at work in the office

Running their own business, Renaye and Lorna are fortunate enough to be able to make being working mums feasible. But she appreciates that it’s not always that easy for women in business, whether you’re a mum or not.
“I would like to think that things have changed a fair bit, but I still feel in some industries it can be the old boys’ club mentality. Although with women like Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obama around us, the world has changed, even in the last four years. People are more in tune with the issues. But there are women who are higher up are feeling that they have to behave a certain way… women potentially take on a harder character at work rather than show their true persona. They still prove themselves every day and work harder and faster to earn their right there.”

One thing’s for sure, with a successful marketing agency, a team of keen and bright staff and a string of awards under her belt, Renaye doesn’t need to prove herself anymore.

I chose Renaye as the first woman to feature on my blog because I admire her work ethic and appreciate the opportunity that she and Lorna gave me in my first job moving from journalism to marketing. I enjoy seeing the new work that they are doing with Digital Radish, and I recommend you check them out… www.digitalradish.co.uk

Quick fire questions

Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Morning lark.

Sweet or savoury food? Savoury.

Cats or dogs? Neither . not an animal person!

What are you watching on Netflix right now? Tiger King, or Safe – I love crime & murder mystery.

What music are you listening to right now? I always go back to Whitney Housten, the classics.

Biggest weakness? I’m not good with detail and I hate negativity.

What’s your favourite season? Spring.

Drink of choice? Vodka Lime and Tonic.

Favourite holiday destination? Thailand.

Your favourite female icon? My mum.