IT has gone from being seen as a male domain, to a valid career path for women. Change is coming, but it's slow, says Stacey Wills of Unilever
Next week, the IT industry will come together to celebrate the Women in Tech Excellence Awards in London: an event dedicated to honouring, recognising and celebrating the work of women at every level of tech. From graduates to CIOs, everyone has a voice.
Finalist Unilever acknowledges the importance of that message, as its shortlisted entries show: it is competing for the hotly-contested Diversity Employer of the Year, as well as Diversity and Inclusion Initiative of the Year.
Stacey Wills has been with the company for more than 20 years, starting in marketing before moving into IT. Alongside her full-time role as a project manager and transformation lead, she heads Unilever's Women in Tech Network, and is an advocate for diversity and inclusion. We talked to her about the importance of these initiatives, and events like the Women in Tech Excellence Awards.
Why do you support Computing's Women in Tech Excellence Campaign?
I believe that not only gender balance, but diversity as a whole is key to success for future business. People are not aware of the careers they could have in tech, and these events increase the visibiliy of the great work individuals and companies are doing. I also believe campaigns like these inspire others to drive the women in tech agenda, which is close to my heart.
How did you get into IT industry?
I had been working at Unilever for six years in HR, not consciously realising everything I was bringing to the table was about automation of the processes and how we could use technology to drive improvements, such as online applications. The organisation was going through a transformation and I was looking at my next career move when a few of the senior IT managers suggested I consider working in IT.
My first response was no! Then after further conversations I could see how the skills I had were all relevant and transferable and that I would learn the technical knowledge needed. Honestly, I have not looked back since, it has been a brilliant 15 years. Supporting the business grow in the new digital world is so exciting.
Why do you think the IT Industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?
Change takes time. Up until recently IT was not considered a career path for women, or an area that was ever encouraged. With the new digital world, it would be difficult not to know the importance of IT, but STEM is still an area that sees a big challenge with both gender and diversity when it comes to careers. It has been reported we will have 3.5 million jobs that need to be filled by 2025, up 79 per cent since 1990.
The biggest concern is the drop in school-age girls expressing an interest in STEM, which means we don't have a strong pipeline of diverse female talent. Girls are less likely to take STEM subjects: engineering 14 per cent, physics 22 per cent and computing 15 per cent.
It is great to now see this changing over time but it is still very slow, and we need to do everything possible to inspire the next generation and encourage current the work force to re-skill.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
My advice would be to take opportunities, learn and be brave. Think big, move out of your comfort zone, always challenge yourself. Most people don't know what they can achieve until they take that first step.
What are your top tips for women looking to start a career in IT?
Think about the skills and experience you can bring to an organisation, and not just the technical ones: so much is about your confidence and the ability to learn. Women and diverse groups have been proven in recent research to be strong in the skills of the future - both STEM and leadership.