Claire Talbot in a finalist in the Women in Tech Excellence Awards, CIO of the Year category.
The numbers of women choosing to pursue a career in technology are inching slowly upward, both in terms of the women starting out in tech at a young age, and also career switchers who are moving to tech from other industries. However, whilst the statistics on women entering IT look a little better than they did five years ago, the picture is significantly less cheering at a leadership level. Women account for 15% of FTSE 100 CTOs and in the US, 19% of Fortune 500 CIOs identify as female. The same research found that the average tenure of a female CIO was 18 months shorter than that of their male counterparts.
Claire Talbot, Global VP of IT with SmartestEnergy, has successful track record of technology leadership and also mentors other newer entrants to the industry.
Why do you support Computing's Women in Tech Excellence campaign?
I support the Women in Tech Excellence Campaign because I believe we need to recognise and celebrate women in the industry. I've been in IT for quite some time and see the need for us to make other women aware that there are good career opportunities in this industry. It is not just for men, and the more we celebrate successful women in the industry, it will help us engage more women to come into our business.
How did you get into the IT industry?
I got into the IT industry in quite a unique way. After leaving school, I took a year out with plans to go to Oxford university to study English, and during this year, I took a summer role as a PA for the director of IT at a company. He thought going to university to study English was a waste for me and offered to pay for my study at university if I decided to study IT instead. At the age of 19, this seemed like an excellent idea, having the opportunity to get a degree without any debt, so off I went to study computer science, and the rest is history!
What you think is the main reason why the IT Industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?
I think the main reason IT is such a male-dominated environment, especially in management, is we don't have women coming up through the ranks to be promoted into those positions. The pool for senior positions is largely male-dominated, so it is less likely that we will get as many women into higher-ranking roles.
As far as the more technical roles are concerned, women don't start early enough. Currently, most young girls don't see a career in IT as an option because we don't offer them that opportunity when they're young and at school. After-school clubs are largely boy-dominated and are directed towards boys; for example a club to learn how to write a program that shoots monsters doesn't appeal to an 8-year-old girl. I think the reason we aren't getting girls into the more technical roles is that we are just not appealing early enough to those girls to put that seed in their minds that IT could be a potential career opportunity.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
The biggest lesson I have learnt is when somebody tells you that you can't do something, that is their restriction, not yours. You should always believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you and the notion that women should be in technology. You have to be tenacious, set your sights on what you want and don't let people stand in your way or plan your destiny for you.
What advice would you give to young women aspiring to take on leadership roles?
The advice I would give to women considering a career in IT would depend on what stage they are at in their careers. If they were younger or still at school, I'd advise them to join STEM groups. There are a lot of STEM groups out there now that support girls and a wider diverse community, and introduce them to IT. If you are already in a profession and want to change career paths into IT, there are some great organisations that help women retrain and support them in finding a new job role afterwards.
Another piece of advice I would offer to anyone interested in being a woman in technology is to get a mentor. Look for somebody you aspire to that is a woman in IT now who has worked their way up and had those experiences to help guide you on your journey and challenges in your career transition. Mentoring is a valuable tool and can help you build on your own development and understand what is possible.