International Women’s Day: women in tech (I)

Despite a flourishing tech industry in the UK, women are still significantly underrepresented in the sector.

While 50 per cent of workers in the labour market as a whole are women, in tech it’s just 26 per cent. Take the statistics of female leaders in the sphere and things are even bleaker, with just nine per cent of C-Suite leaders in tech companies and three per cent of Chief Technology Officers or Technical Director Roles in the UK, held by women.

These statistics change dramatically depending on the regional variances and company, of course – while the huge increase in flexible working options across the country since the pandemic has seen a rise in tech role applications by women. However, it’s clear there’s still much work to be done.

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme is about embracing equity, with the message that gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA.  Equal opportunities aren't enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion requires equitable action.

To celebrate IWD 2023, SQLI has spoken to four inspirational digital leaders and asked them what advice or message they might pass on today to their younger self, trying to break into the tech industry for the first time.

Rachel Tonner, VP Global Marketing at Klevu

A message to my younger self

It's often said that there could be more women working in tech, but I'm seeing more peers in the industry now.

I think the real issue might be that the roles tending to be more inhabited by women, such as marketing, haven’t had a seat at the C-Suite table. There are lots of companies that don't have a CMO. They have a CEO, CFO, COO. I'd like to see that changing and I think it might happen as more women take other routes into tech that are now opening up.

Tech: a great space to be

Tech on the whole is a great space to be in right now. I'm also a member of the MACH Alliance and I think it's amazing how there are so many easy-to-use plug-and-play technologies that have free trials or aren’t that expensive, that could actually help women to be entrepreneurs at a young age. There are so many opportunities to build something like a microservice or an app at a low cost. Everything is so much more accessible than it used to be.

I think now, more than ever, it’s a great time to get into digital as there's just so much opportunity to start small, test an idea and see where it goes from an entrepreneurship angle. On the other hand, if you want to go to work within a company, there are so many brilliant companies out there right now doing amazing things. Technology underpins everything, so find something you value, and you can find a company using technology to innovate in that space.

Don’t fear what you don't already know.  I think it's a superpower to realise that you don't know everything. Maybe that's where women or other minorities have a bit of an edge because I think that we tend to be a little bit more self-reflective, often because of our experience of being second to white cis men in many areas.

Trust your gut

Women need to trust our gut with the strategy that we’ve put in place. Women can easily get strong-armed into changing something that’s been planned when it isn’t working after a certain amount of time. If you still think it's going to work, say so! If it needs to change, change it. But don't be strong-armed into anything. I think that's very important for women and it’s something I’ve seen consistently throughout my career.

Talk like a man, walk like a man

If you can think about what the C-Suite cares about early in your career, it will help you. It’s nice to put together a campaign that will result in soft metrics like impressions or brand equity, but how does that lead back to revenue? If you think in this way, it will help how you pitch ideas and help you strategise. I began doing this quite early in my career and developed a framework for reporting, where I understood all of the conversion metrics and was able to then speak to people at various levels, on their level.

Recognise what is and what isn’t in your control

There's no magic formula for anything. As much as the gurus on LinkedIn say there is, every single business is its own ecosystem of issues. But when you get confident, get curious too. There is always a way to improve. Not every success or failure in your career is driven by you. You're not that powerful!

Don't devalue yourself. Don't be afraid to ask other people what salary they're on. If they don't want to tell you, they won't tell you, but that's how I've been able to understand my own worth.

Remember people’s names

Do try to remember people's names. Even if you have to write a funny description about them in your phone, do it. If you remember somebody's name, it’s something that people don't do very well so they will remember you. Find out what drives people; find out what they care about and use that when you interact with them.  When people feel cared for and listened to and you remember their name and know their goals, then you can position yourself and your story in a way that they're going to understand.

And one last thing - you don't have to wear makeup to work, and, yes, you are always camera ready.

Rachel Tonner bio:

After studying to be an Opera singer when she was younger, Rachel changed direction, initially temping at a PR agency in New York before taking the plunge to study graphic design. This led to a move to Florence, Italy, to study the same subject for her Masters.

Various marketing manager and head of marketing roles in the UK followed and saw her move to site search solution Klevu, where she has risen to the role of VP Global Marketing.

A wealth of experience in e-Commerce, retail and UX, as well as international travel, gives her a unique perspective on the digital sphere.