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IWD2024: 5 things my kids taught me about being a Woman in Tech.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is 'Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress', and it's got me thinking about what my experience has taught me about gender equality and women's wellbeing throughout my 25 year career in technology. Not only am I a woman in tech, which is relatively unusual in itself (fewer than 25% of tech roles are filled by women), but I'm also one of only 10% of senior tech leaders who is female. I'm also a mum to 2 kids, and I've been a single mum for 13 of those 25 years.

Being a mum has taught me many lessons in life - not least to pity, rather than judge, the mum with the screaming kid at the checkout! But it's also very true that our kids are often our best teachers. So here are some of the lessons I've learned in my journey as a mum and woman in tech.

Take up space (lesson by Ellen, aged 3)

Whether you're asked to wrap up warm for the school run or choosing your outfit to go into the office, do it your way. I've had comments from men about how I dress throughout my career (and believe me, I don't style it out like Ellen does!). I'm not going to change that now though. I will wear what makes me feel good when I'm working, just as I hope everyone is able to do. I'd love a world where no one judges you for what you choose to wear in the office.

Speak up for yourself

When I was pregnant with Jacob, I was scared to ask for accommodations to my working pattern. I drove over 100 miles each way each day into an office to work on a bid. When I returned to work after having him, I was told that it was unlikely there would be anywhere on a customer site for me to express milk. 3 years later, when I was pregnant with Ellen, I set and enforced my boundaries, confident that I deserved to be listened to. No one else will stand up for you if you don't tell them what you need. And by doing so, you make it easier for the next person who needs to do the same thing.

Softness isn't weakness

One of the most powerful gifts that having a daughter has given me is the ability to project her into any situation I'm in. Now, when I'm struggling with intimidating alpha-male behaviour in the workplace, I imagine my daughter sitting in my seat. Rather than criticising myself for 'not being strong enough' to retaliate in a situation where people are being aggressive, I now imagine what I would say to my daughter if she told me she was in this situation at work. Self-compassion and strength in empathy was such a massive lesson for me.

Getting your hands (and the rest of you) dirty is part of teamwork (lesson by Jacob aged 13)

Particularly when you're managing a large number of different teams across diverse locations, many of whom are doing highly complex work that you only vaguely understand, it can be difficult to feel that you're really contributing in a positive way to their working lives. So, taking a leaf out of my rugby-mad son's book, I've found that getting my hands dirty by getting involved in some of the nitty gritty problems that are making their daily lives more difficult can really help with team morale and trust. I draw the line at mud baths, however. And I'm still not a techie!

Never apologise for having commitments outside work

The biggest thing for me as a single mum has been the pervading feeling that I need to hide the fact I have children, no local support network and no flexibility or contingency in their routine and my commitments. By admitting I need to leave at 4pm to pick my kids up or that I can't join a networking event with a customer in the evening because I need to be there for my children, I feared that I would somehow be seen to be inferior to those people who either don't have caring commitments or have a partner at home who can sort stuff out if they aren't there. But if that's what the decision-makers in the organisations truly think, then maybe the culture isn't right for me. I don't hide it any more. I often lead with it, in fact. If it's a problem, I know sooner that way and spare myself a lot of anxiety.

So as I'm reflecting on my journey as a woman in tech, I'm also very conscious of the massive delta that still exists in making workplaces and society a fairer place for women. The UN's #InvestInWomen campaign is vital to ensure that the impacts on women of gender inequality and poverty continue to get the focus that they need. As conflict, rising prices and environmental crises continue to have a disproportionate effect on women, supporting feminist change-makers and doing what we can to champion the voice of women is more important than ever.

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