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Women in Tech Hampshire - May Event

Women in Tech Hampshire - Juyl Event

Julie Bassett Spectrum IT Updates, User Group

Being a female leader in the tech industry

Did you know that only 5% of leadership roles in the tech industry are held by women? What does it take to work your way into one of these positions? That was the focus of the most recent Women in Tech Hampshire (WiTH) event, a topic that proved so popular it sold out and we had to release extra tickets! This was our third meet-up and WiTH is going from strength to strength, building connections among women in tech.

For this month’s expert panel, we welcomed Deniz Onar-Uluer, Director at Deep Culture; Donna Wayman, Chief Operating Officer for Zurich Legacy Solutions; and Jayne Sibley, Co-Founder and CEO of Sibstar. All three women recounted their experiences of working in the tech industry, as well as sharing insight into how they got to the leadership positions they’re in now.

This inspiring and motivating session was delivered to a packed room, with thoughtful questions and answers, plenty of enthusiastic networking and lots of ideas being thrown about.


Getting to know the panellists

We wanted to get to know our panellists, and in particular how they worked their way through the industry to take up roles in senior leadership. Each of our three experts followed a different path through their careers.

Deniz’s 35 years’ experience spans several well-known multinationals, including Unilever, Heinz, GSK, Microsoft and Amazon, as well as global start-ups. Her role at Unilever came when she met someone from the company while playing tennis with a friend; “networking at any level is so important,” she advises. She has held a diverse number of roles across different fields, giving her a broad knowledge and insight into how businesses develop and grow. During her career she also became a mother, learning to juggle the demands of family life. She was made redundant, unaware of the reasons behind it, but was then recommended for a role at Microsoft while she was job hunting, where she stayed for over 11 years, before joining the leadership team at Amazon Web Services.

Having now successfully led many international teams, Deniz puts her progress down to curiosity, ferocity and a willingness to work with other people. By working in many industries, she has been able to pool her extensive knowledge from 25 different fields, believing that this diversity is can contribute to sucess. Deniz is passionate about paving the road for other women to make a change. Now in the fourth ‘quartile’ of her career, as she describes it, and having spent her career until now learning and earning, she is dedicated to giving back to others. She does this through coaching, mentoring and advising women entrepreneurs and companies.

Donna’s path to the top was slightly different; with a degree in drama, she fell into insurance and IT. While looking for the right opportunity to start her career, knowing that she wanted a business operations and IT role, she came across Zurich Insurance. She spent the first three years learning everything IT in a graduate scheme, with several rotations through the department to ensure a comprehensive understanding. Upon finishing this, she started in project management, again working in various departments and on different projects across all areas of the business. The advantage of this was that she made key connections and had a broad exposure to all areas – being inquisitive was a personal strength here.

At one point, Donna was almost made redundant, before securing a role working with over 4,000 people on a data transformation project. This experience covered business engagement, PMO, change and transformation activity, helping her to better understand the wider reaches of project work. With over 15 years’ strategic leadership experience, Donna is now COO for Zurich Legacy Solutions with a wealth of expertise and experience backing her up. She’s also a trustee and ambassador for Aching Arms, a charity that aims to bring comfort following baby loss, and is passionate about improving baby loss bereavement support in the workplace.

Finally, Jayne talked about how ambition and passion for a business helps you to grow and develop. Her professional career began with The Body Shop as a Global Product Executive, before an 11-year stint with the BBC working in Marketing and Communications. This led her to a Managing Partner role with Bold Creative, a communications agency. However, she says that she has learned more through her FinTech start-up Sibstar than any other period of her life.

Sibstar was born out of the challenge she faced in helping her mum, who had dementia, to remain financially independent, while also keeping her money safe from scams or overspending. Sibstar, a debit card and app designed to help families living with dementia to safely manage their daily spending, launched in March 2023 and is partnered with Alzheimer’s Society. Jayne brought her own wealth of experience to the project, but cites her ability to learn as an important asset. Coming into the FinTech industry meant learning banking processes and business management; she says you have to know where you’re good, where you can learn and where you can get people to plug the gaps.


Facing challenges in a male-dominated industry

Being a woman in the tech industry, particularly in senior leadership roles, can come with its own challenges. This can be especially true when it comes to balancing the challenge of being a businesswoman and a parent. It’s not uncommon to want to work harder to prove capability; something that Donna experienced herself. She felt left behind after taking two maternity leave periods, but having children made her want to prioritise her work/life balance. She was in a very intense senior role with an entirely male senior team who didn’t know how to work with a part-time team member. As a result, she spent a lot of time trying to prove herself and be available; a difficult challenge when it comes to finding a balance with family life.

But, with support her husband, she learned to lay out clear boundaries and only be accessible in an emergency outside of those. She made sure to find ways to fill her days when not working, helping build her mental health and social life.

Deniz also describes having outworked herself to try and prove her worth, but with hindsight she realises that she didn’t have to work so hard. She struggled to see at the time that just being ‘okay’ at something is fine. “Being human shouldn't be seen as a weakness".

Deniz has, however, faced discrimination through her career, especially as a 26-year-old coming from Turkey. However, she has never let this stop her from succeeding and never felt that there was a glass ceiling limiting her. She has always seen herself as an employee, not a woman, and had a drive and determination to succeed. "Perseverance, curiosity and understanding what motivates people are the 3 big traits that propelled me. It's not about being a woman or a man but being bloody good at what you do is what counts."

Jayne, being newer to the tech industry, has found it generally supportive, both in the wider industry and also in her team. Having such a strong and passionate story behind her start-up has helped people to engage with it and want to be on board. They have had help pro-bono to bring the app to life and combat challenges in the tech build, and her team share common goals. There have, of course, been challenges. She was part of a roundtable at House of Lords; she describes a feeling of imposter syndrome, given she was only one of a couple of women present. But despite the conversation being dominated by men, they were supportive of the story behind her business endeavour.

Jayne was also knocked back twice by Dragon’s Den, but she persevered and got through, securing a £125K investment. While the television airing only showed a couple of minutes, she was in the room with the Dragons for an hour and a half, negotiating and advocating for her business, which she couldn’t have done without the support of her husband and family.

How to break into a leadership role

All three women show passion around getting more women into leadership roles, and all agree that passion for what you want to achieve is a key asset.

“It's so important to be passionate,” says Donna. “Find what you love; find projects that make you passionate.” She advises that even if you don’t love everything you do, you need to find the parts that you do and focus on them.

Believing in what you do matters, something that Jayne drew upon when launching Sibstar – that unshakeable belief in her product and a refusal to be beaten. She wants to encourage women to step outside their comfort zone and believe in their ideas.

Being in a senior role also means learning about what kind of leader you want to be and working with your team. Donna says that she had to learn to delegate and accept things that were out of her control, which as someone who’s always been a doer and not a watcher, is a hard balance to strike. She also wanted to come across as authentic and powerful, so she dressed and acted for the role she wanted, not the role she had, helping with her determination to succeed. Deniz explains that her assertiveness can come across as aggressive, but she has learned to adapt to situations, knowing when to be strong and when it’s time to listen.

There is a lot that current hiring teams and managers can do to bring more women into the tech industry at a senior level. The panellists agreed that introducing data apprenticeships and training opportunities increase diversity, along with taking away certain minimum requirements e.g degree requirements. They discussed the data which suggests a 40% increase in women applicants when offering ‘part-time’ and ‘job-share’ positions. The panellists agreed women bring certain skills to the table that hiring teams need to acknowledge: “Naturally understanding where peoples skillsets lie and having a better understanding of women’s natural skillsets (i.e. empathy, negotiation, emotional intelligence), and seeing them as strengths not weaknesses”.



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.