Invite challenge, but don't be afraid to challenge back, says Rachel Ruston of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council

clock • 4 min read

Women are as capable of IT success as anyone, and supporting each other is key

Computing interviewed Rachel Ruston, head of IT service delivery and commercial services for Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, about addressing IT's diversity issues.

Why is the drive to have more women in technology such an important issue for you and your organisation?

I'm really lucky to work for Barnsley Council. One of the exciting things about working here and within local government is that it's totally inclusive and people are acknowledged for the great work they do, regardless of gender. I know I'm really fortunate to work with such an organisation that supports and drives an ethos of the right person in the right role, and provides us all with the best tools, support and training to allow us to be the best that we can be. Obviously, we've got to choose to seize the opportunities that are afforded to us that allow us all to flourish within the roles we do within the Council.

How do you think we can get more women into technology?

My top tip would be for women to not view their gender as a restriction to achieving their goals and continue to drive forward with great enthusiasm and passion to achieve their career aspirations.

We must accept that we will not always succeed, we must take each knock back as an opportunity and learn from it, combine it with advice and guidance, and keep going. We will strive to build support networks, both internally and externally, as relationships are key in business, and then utilise them to our advantage. We need to form partnerships to supporters with knowledge gaps, and appreciate we can't possibly know everything.  What we should do is know someone who does attempt to immerse themselves with career-focused individuals who can mould us and we can then mould ourselves around and drain every bit of knowledge we can to inspire ourselves further. It's vital that we research and seek out the right technical skills, read articles, become members of forums, social media, join websites, to keep abreast of the ever-changing technology around us.

Click here to view the Women in IT Awards 2021

To compete on a level playing field, we've got to ensure that we're informed, knowledgeable and able to be challenged, and also to challenge. Most importantly, we must share drive, ambition and enthusiasm to win the support and trust of colleagues. We need to show commitment to IT and respect its challenges, yet grow within it, and learn that anything career wise is possible for women in IT if you show the right attitude and have an aspiration to succeed.

In terms of what we're doing to support younger people coming in, we've created groups working with local schools and colleges, to allow students to come in to work with us. We've tried different things because we do appreciate the importance of women working in technology.

What's your one piece of advice for younger people looking for a career in the IT sector?

My advice would be to absolutely push yourself to strive to be the best you can be. Be like a sponge, soak up all the things you see around you that you admire. Don't be afraid to ask and seek support, look for opportunities, volunteer perhaps during the school holidays or at weekends.

To ensure you're doing the right qualifications, seek advice from schools, or colleges. Look for apprenticeships, which could be straight from school, college or degree apprenticeships, research and keep up to date with the fast pace of it and prove you are adaptable to change, and that change excites you. Understand the many careers too. It's not all boxes and wires!

As a team we've volunteered and worked alongside external groups and third parties who run events in schools to demonstrate to all how exciting it can be and equally how diverse it is in terms of roles. These events have taken the form of World of Work days, CV writing, and interview skills, all of which give us the opportunity to talk about the wider roles that are available within IT. My strong belief is it's not about targeting women, it's about talking to everyone inclusively to be clear about the IT industry, and to leave them with that little spark of interest that may want them to look further into working in it. It's vital we open the doors of IT to allow us to gain colleagues with ideas who think outside of the box, and those who want to drive transformation and drive us forward in a very challenging workspace.

Together we can achieve great things far, far quicker and with much more success.

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