Success in tech is about having a mixture of hard and soft skills - though the latter often get overlooked
Be bold. It's the main lesson Emma Sahota, head of client services at Women in Tech Excellence Awards finalist Astound Commerce, has learned in her career. Too often, women sit quietly and allow men to talk over them, but that's not good enough.
"Don't be afraid to demand, rather than ask, for a seat at the table," says Sahota. "And refuse to engage with imposter syndrome - every opinion is valid."
It has certainly worked for Sahota, who has held several roles in the tech industry before arriving at Astound. And, she says, more women are starting to speak up and make themselves known in the tech world, with women increasingly taking on technical roles - although, she adds, "you don't have to be technical to have a career in tech."
Astound Commerce is certainly doing its part to nurture its employees, appearing as a finalist in four different categories - including Diversity Employer of the Year. With an incredibly strong showing from Astound and its fellow competitors, this year's Women in Tech Excellence Awards will certainly be a night to remember.
Why do you support Computing's Women in Tech Excellence Campaign?
I started working in the tech industry at a young age and had to navigate my own way, learning as I went. While I hadn't envisaged a career in technology prior to my first role, it turned out to be the best decision and consequently it's a priority for me to champion female participation in the industry. The constant pace of change, the ability to work remotely, and the focus on ongoing learning and upskilling make it a vertical that provides women with the potential for a long, varied and lucrative career. At the heart of the industry there is an extremely strong network of women who support and inspire each other, but the perception remains that this is a male dominated industry, which can be very offputting. Initiatives like the Women in Tech Excellence campaign lead by example proving that being a woman and having a career in technology are not mutually exclusive.
How did you get into IT industry?
I studied languages and business at university and had expected that would lead to a career in international trade. But as with all best laid plans, that changed when I came out of further education and had the opportunity to join O2 Telefonica supporting the field sales team, followed in quick succession by a role in their nascent online team. That was my first introduction into the world of online direct-to-consumer selling and it was a steep learning curve. But this role, for a business with a very commercial focus, significant budgets and backing, was an incredible foundation. From there, I took a role at Ancestry.com, essentially a subscription business with a focus on personal storytelling and familial roots, which provided a wealth of knowledge around analytics and user behaviour. My language skills came back into use during my role with Digital River as I advised and guided global blue-chip customers on scaling their business's internationally. And all these hard and soft skills now come into play in my current role as I work alongside some of the UK's largest and most exciting brands.
What you think is the main reason why the IT industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?
Fundamentally I think it is down to a lack of focus on engaging girls and women in the key STEM subjects at school. As such, more women have moved into client-facing and marketing roles in the tech industry. But, in my experience, that weighting is starting to shift and in the last five years I see many more women taking technical roles. This is so important because it creates a diversity of experience and perspective that is hugely beneficial to businesses and the clients they work for.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
You must dare to be bold. Don't be afraid to demand, rather than ask, for a seat at the table. And refuse to engage with imposter syndrome - every opinion is valid.
What advice would you give to young women aspiring to take on leadership roles?
You don't need to be technical to have a career in tech. You can achieve anything you want, by having a desire to learn. My three top tips are: always put the customer first, strive for excellence in everything, and constantly seek to improve yourself by being open to learning and always evolving.
The Women in Tech Excellence Awards take place on the 24th November. Tables are now sold out, but individual seats are still available on a first-come, first-served basis.