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Women in Tech Hampshire - March Event

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Julie Bassett User Group

Expert speakers joined us for the second Women in Tech Hampshire (WiTH) event, after our successful launch at the beginning of the 2024.

We were honoured to welcome Adriana Wilde, Electronics and Computer Science Lecturer at the University of Southampton; Claire Goodall, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at STEM Returners; and Eleanor Dearman, Solution Engineer at VMWare by Broadcom. Each speaker brought their own experiences to the table, as well as sharing their insights on different ways into the tech industry. Delving into topics around working as a woman in tech, restrictions and misconceptions, and key advice for newcomers, our attendees enjoyed the thoughtful and experienced responses.

We had a great turnout once again, with an enthusiastic group of like-minded people taking the opportunity to network and bond over a shared interest. The event attracted a wide range of people at different stages of their tech career, from current students and recent graduates, to others just starting out in their tech career and those who’ve been in the industry for over 20 years.

Our panel of speakers engaged the audience with their own personal stories. Adriana is herself a tech returner, so has experience of entering the industry at different points in her life; she has written on a great blog about women returning to computing. Claire shared positive success stories from her role with STEM Returners, a program to help employers recruit, develop and retain tech talent, and give qualified and experienced candidates the chance to restart their careers. Eleanor has experience working with apprentices, and having been a Computer Science graduate, can appreciate the challenges of making those first steps into the industry.


Insights from the panel

For this event, we were interested in delving into our experts’ own journeys into the technology industry and what they’ve learned along the way. We also wanted to know if they faced any barriers or restrictions, and what advice they’d share with those coming into the industry for the first time, returning after a break or considering a career change. They also spoke about common misconceptions about the tech industry that newcomers should be aware of.

One thing that emerged from all three panellists was that careers aren’t linear; they often progress in different ways at different times in our lives. For Eleanor, there were hurdles from a young age – her all-girls’ school didn’t offer the IT A-level she wanted to take as there wasn’t the demand for the subject. Even after graduating, Eleanor still faced struggles in her chosen career path. She was the only woman in her team in her first job after university, receiving comments about her age and assumptions about her status. This led to some interesting audience engagement, with women sharing their own experiences and comments, and struggles they had faced.

Claire found that she experienced “a shift in personality after maternity leave”; motherhood can often be a pivotal point in a women’s career when priorities and responsibilities shift. She also noted that the “brain doesn’t fall out just from having a career break”, whether that break’s due to having children or for other reasons. The acquired knowledge and skillset remain, so there should be support to help women return to a tech career. It can be hard, however, as there is still a misconception that you can’t be a mother and work in the tech industry.

There were some great conversations around the current industry gender bias and what needs to be done to help change the status quo. Claire suggested that this needs to start with truly inclusive advertising. Gender neutral advertising, for example, can attract a wider pool of applicants. It also needs to be acknowledged that diversity comes in many forms, which aren’t always visible. There needs to be psychological diversity too, and knowing that you’re safe to be your authentic self within the workplace.

The tech industry has always been a male-dominated industry. Even though more women are finding their place in the field, still only 29% of tech professionals are women or non-binary, 20% of software professionals are women or non-binary, and 21% of senior tech role holders are women (according to data from the Tech Talent Charter’s latest Diversity in Tech annual report). In order to retain and attract more women to tech roles, it's important to ensure female representation on hiring panels to help dispel the myth that the industry is only for men.

This myth busting needs to start at a young age; mentoring young women to explore tech opportunities needs to start in years 8 or 9, before GCSE choices are made, but the earlier the better. Some people in our audience mentioned they’ve been to schools to speak to younger girls to inspire them and build an interest in the tech industry. It’s also important to share different ways of getting experience in the tech industry. It’s often thought that only through getting a degree can you get the relevant experience for a successful career, but there are apprenticeships, bootcamps, and online courses that all offer a route to knowledge and experience. In fact, another common misconception is that tech roles are all about programming. But there is such a diversity in the roles available now, and lots of other skills are transferrable into tech. For example, a psychology degree can be used in UX/UI, understanding how users interpret and engage with different interfaces and approaches.

Another part of the panel conversation was about the importance of mentorship. We had some great engagement around the topic of mentors in the workplace, as well as having strong allies in both men and women. This helps create an environment of safety and trust, where women feel able to speak up and confront behaviours or comments that make them feel uncomfortable. By building workplaces that are truly diverse and inclusive, this can encourage more women to make the step into tech.

The panel discussion rounded off the evening with encouragement and a message of persistence. Whatever challenges you might face, others have been there and made a success of it – you’re not alone! For those looking to get into tech, or return to it, the panel suggested finding a mentor, reading stories and experiences of other women. As Eleanor said, “Give it a go! You won’t know until you try.” And yes, you will make mistakes along the way, but “that’s how you learn”, advised Adriana. The good thing about tech is that there’s always something new happening and opportunities to retrain or add to your skillset. One of the big take-homes from this event was not to be afraid of failure.

Thanks to the engaging and educational conversation with the speakers, the fantastic participation of the audience, and the positive networking, attendees left the event enthused and uplifted. We hope to continue this success at our next meeting!


If you’re interested in speaking or learning more about Women in Tech Hampshire, please reach out to Amy Lee and/or Lauren James. Details about upcoming events can be found on the Women in Tech Hampshire LinkedIn page.