08 Mar A new frontier for flexibility: what a career in technology can offer women
Co-authored with Jolene e Sousa, Gemma Jordan and Hannah Sohail at Eighty20 Solutions
As a sector that’s long been dominated by men, technology is changing. Three of our Eighty20 team members got together to chat about the challenges and opportunities they’ve had in their careers and what they’ve experienced working in a growing tech consulting business.
Jolene e Sousa, Gemma Jordan & Hanna Sohail
For 2023, the UN has selected the theme DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality for International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March. As a business on a mission to maximise the opportunities for technology to improve the quality of people’s working lives, this is an issue that goes to the heart of our culture and how we operate.
“Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of this digital gender divide. The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is therefore crucial for a sustainable future.”
UN Women, International Women’s Day 2023: “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, December 2022
To highlight the value we place on supporting and empowering all our people at Eighty20, we asked three female team members across the organisation to share experiences about their journey in the technology industry. As a group of incredibly smart, honest and positive people, Gemma, Hannah and Jolene offer up their wisdom and insight on where they see workplaces and technology heading and what this means for them as women.
A new way of working
Sales Operations Manager, Gemma Jordan joined Eighty20 in August 2021. Her career up until then had mainly been in financial institutions and big corporates, places where – according to Gemma – she had to be available in the office for the hours that they required.
“While I was on maternity leave with my first child I was made redundant from my job in professional services,” she says. “Within six or eight months of joining Eighty20 on a part-time basis, I switched to a full-time role. I never thought that would be possible as a young Mum but having the freedom to work from home and during the hours that suit me has given me the flexibility to do the work and enjoy family life.”
“The culture at Eighty20 is really good for me as a working Mum,” she adds. “You really feel empowered to use your time and the technology we now have available to get the best from work and home life.”
Jolene e Sousa, Senior Consultant agrees that Eighty20 has created a supportive environment that helps her to be more productive and do her best work “They have a mature mindset and trust you to get the work done whenever it suits you,” she says. “You’re not being monitored to check if you’re online at the ‘right’ time. So, if I’m not being productive, I might go to gym and then continue working when I’ve had time to reset and refresh.”
“Having worked for other IT services, I can say that not all technology companies are levelling up or are as forward-looking,” she adds. “While it makes sense to our leaders and workforce to let people choose their schedule and location so they can really apply themselves to their work, some businesses aren’t ready to make the change.”
Of our three career women, Hannah Sohail, Senior Agile Delivery Consultant is the only one who started out in a technology role straight after graduating. Both Gemma and Jo held traditionally female roles like executive assistant and receptionist and then made the move into technology later. According to Hannah, her choice of industry was seen as unusual for a woman, but she believes she has never been held back because of her gender.
“I come from a home with very clearly defined gender roles,” she says. “I was always the one trouble-shooting technology for my family, so it felt natural for me to choose computer engineering for my university degree. Lots of people said to me that it’s too hard for a woman and that I should go for something less demanding.”
“When I was studying, I would sometimes be the only woman in a room of 60 or 70 students,” she adds. “And even now it’s not unusual for me to be the only woman in some of the very technical meetings we have. I’ve learned to feel comfortable with this but find you do need to work a little harder to find your place when you’re outnumbered.”
Learning her technical skills on the job has given Jo plenty of confidence in her role as a Senior Power Platforms Consultant. “In my experience of working in technical roles it doesn’t matter what your gender is,” she says. “But I do think there are times when I’ve experienced a cultural bias from others about the technology industry and they have this opinion that it’s more a place for men than women. My experience, though, has been nothing but positive.
Using your voice
Jo goes on to the add that the number of men in management roles in technology is still noticeably higher than for women. But Gemma and Jo agree that they’re starting to see this change.
“During my childhood my mum ran her own business,” says Gemma. “She was a great role model for me, she taught me to not hold back when I want to make something happen. But I think a lot of women are more afraid to speak up when there is a senior role on the table because they’re worried they only have 80 or 90 per cent of the skillset they need. When leaders say they can’t find the female candidates for senior roles I think it’s because some women aren’t confident about putting themselves forward.”
“I would encourage any young women working in technology to put your hand up,” she adds. “At Eighty20 it helps that we see many female leaders at Microsoft and at NCS so there are role models right in front of us. And if I once thought there’s too much pressure in senior leadership roles, Eighty20 has changed my perspective on that. At first, I couldn’t believe you can be on a conference call and have toddler in the room, but I make it work. More businesses need to see the benefits that women can bring to senior roles, including our multi-tasking talents.”
Gemma also thinks that having women step into senior positions in greater numbers takes more than good examples to follow. “Making positive changes in your career depends a lot on the network you are a part of and the people you have exposure to,” she says. “I have a voice and know how to use it and not everybody can. At Eighty20 I have a manager who has an open mindset on what women can contribute in their career and that’s something I cherish.”
Being self-directed in developing skills and setting goals is something that comes to Jo naturally. She’s found that working at Eighty20 offers her learning and development opportunities thanks to the access she has to team members with different skills. “You get to talk to the right people to help you move towards your goals,” she says. “I’m always learning from the people around me. One of our values here is to be the change that you want to see. So, if you see a way to move forward in your skills and career you can ask, and you’ll have an opportunity to make it happen.”
It’s all about people
Compared with Gemma, Hannah had very different female role models in her younger years. “I was born in Pakistan and only one of my Aunties worked and had a career,” she says. “As a woman, having a tertiary education wasn’t something you expected and that meant being locked out of opportunities to use technology as well as limited career prospects.”
This is one reason why Hannah has made a career out of working on technology solutions and finds it so rewarding. “Working in technology in any sector you get to create tangible solutions to real life problems,” she says. “You can see the immediate impact and outcomes for people and the systems they work with. And I have a chance to connect with lots of people, get to understand what work they’re doing and collaborate with them on making their work easier.”
Jo agrees that working with Power Platform technology is very empowering and rewarding. “Low-code app platforms (LCAPs) really remove the barriers for people in the workplace,” she says. “Introducing these technologies means anybody can code and it creates opportunities for women to be more creative and show what they’re capable of.”