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The Importance of Role Models as a Woman in Tech

22 Mar 2022 - 8 minutes to read

The Importance of Role Models as a Woman in Tech

The Importance of Role Models as a Woman in Tech

International Womens Day 2022 has kickstarted our 'So She Did’ podcast — a celebration of the incredible women across our community as we venture forward on our mission to inspire women to believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to. 

Women have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and although we've seen improvements in representation in recent years, we still have a long way to go. Tramshed Tech is soon to expand to new locations across Wales and beyond and we want women to be front and centre in this growth. 

Over the coming months, we’ll be hearing from women and girls across a spectrum of age groups, ethnicities, backgrounds and industries. We'll learn from women who have trailblazed their way to the top, ones who are still figuring it out and those who are just getting started.  

According to Accenture, if all countries increased inclusion by 10%, that would drive innovation and increase global GDP by $8 trillion. This week, Lucy Hopkins, Communications Manager at Tramshed Tech caught up with Janet Onyia, Delivery Lead at Accenture and Founder of Onyi Gifts. 

Janet shares the challenges and opportunities she’s faced as a woman in tech and ‘mumpreneur’. They also discuss the importance of role models and how can we act today to ensure a more diverse, inclusive and equal Wales and world for future generations.' 


Listen to the full conversation with Lucy Hopkins and Janet Onyia now. 


It's lovely to meet you Janet. Tell us a little bit about how you became an award-winning technology delivery lead at Accenture…

Like a lot of people, I didn't start out with the intention to presume a career in technology. When I grew up, I actually wanted to be a flight attendant. My Dad used to travel around the world, bringing back amazing gifts, so as a young child, I wanted to travel around the world.

Following my studies at Aberdeen University in Scotland, I started my career in the oil and gas industry as a Project Manager. I worked on many different aspects within the company - HR, commercial, and engineering across many different digital transformation projects. Very quickly, I realised that if wanted to pursue a career in transformation, then developing a skillset around technology was the way to go. That's the way my career started.

I came into Accenture as a fully functional, change professional. As I engaged in projects, I started learning more about the software development lifecycle – and the role technology had to play in day-to-day delivery of work across various sectors.


That's really interesting. Would you say you became an accidental woman in tech? 

I would absolutely say so. Even at the time, I was delivering some of these digital transformation projects, I just did not see myself as being someone who could be technical. But the more I embedded myself, the more I realised that in order to do a good job, I had to understand some of what I was asking my team to do – either as business analysts, testers, or developers. 

So yes, I'm definitely an accidental tech person and I'm really pleased for that actually.


Technology can feel intimidating just because it changes and evolves so quickly and there's just so much to learn. How did you overcome some of those challenges as a women in tech?

Definitely and even now, I still feel that way. But I think one thing that I'm glad I did early on was to be a sponge and absorb as much as I could so full credit to the people early on in my career who used to bear with me asking so many questions! 

There are some people who can skim through the work they are supposed to do and just have a surface level of knowledge and be comfortable with that. In the role I had as a project manager, the buck would stop with me. I always wanted to make sure that in sharing updates with our senior leaders, if they asked me a question then I'd be able to answer or give them a credible response. I used to ask a lot of questions. I think that curiosity and thirst for knowledge is so I can understand better and walk the talk. 


Who are your role models? Was there anyone you knew of with similar experiences who have you looked up to? 

To be honest, I didn’t have any! There’s a number of reasons for that. I would say 8-10 years ago I was actually aware of any role models in the technology sector in delivery and financial services, either as women or as an ethnic minority. But there were experiences that helped me to belief in myself. 

When I joined Lloyds Banking Group several years ago, it was a completely different world to what I had experience before. They were very active in trying to promote inclusion and diversity. Their mentality was very much “if we are going to serve the banking needs of the whole nation, we need to be like the nation.”  

They were really good at pushing forwards ethnic minority role models, both internally and externally and they actively developed and encouraged women in both technology and the corporate world. Slowly, I started seeing more people like me a few years down the same career path. Seeing that really helped. I thought to myself “Okay, I can do this, this is what my next steps can be like, these are the rule, here are the rewards I can get for it. These are the people that I can inspire.” That experience marked a change in my own journey and I’m sure many others. 


Yeah, that's really powerful, isn't it? Accenture did some research back in 2019 which gave some powerful statistics suggesting that if all countries increased inclusion by 10% it would drive innovation and increase global GDP by 8 trillion, which is just mind blowing, isn't it? 

I remember when I saw that research – I tried to picture what 8 trillion looks like… I had to Google how many zeros are in a trillion! An increase of 10% might not sound like a huge amount, but a 10% increase globally in productivity to the value $8 trillion is huge. In terms of that research, it had a crucial point around how if we increased inclusion within the workplace it would lead to greater innovation and productivity which in return would GDP and bring money into the business.

One of the ways that we can encourage companies is to just show them this research by Accenture. Say to them “If you are looking for ways of making more money of eternal more profit, increasing inclusion within your organisation could be one of the low hanging fruit.” I think we should also be asking, what are the needs specifically of women in your workplace. Not what the rest of society and research says they need, but specifically, in your workplace. Are your female colleagues being promoted at the same rate, paid the same as their male colleagues? Because all these things are factor how much a person decides to put into their work.

We have to foster the correct environment for them to thrive. Understanding the problems is the first step towards addressing them. Little by little, these people will start to feel happier about their work, they'll give you more output. Innovation and productivity will increase and before you know it, you're going to increase your bottom line. 


Let's talk a little bit about age. 41% of tech workers have experienced discrimination when it comes to age, which I think is really sad. I recently did a project with Girls Who Code that a stat showed that 50% of women leave by 35. Why you think that is, do you have insights around that research? 

50% of women leaving tech by the age of 35 is a shocking statistic. It's one that unfortunately I'm not surprised that. To be the only x type of person in the room and try to connect with people on level that they do not see is such a challenge. It doesn't surprise me that more and more women are leaving the industry in their formative years in their career.  

What I would say is, it’s really important to understand: Why are women leaving? Is it because of discrimination? Is it because they aren't advancing as quickly as their male peers? Once we understand that we can start changing the tide over the next five to ten years.

"I think it's really key that we look at diversity across the spectrum. Even if we're just looking at age, what are the various ways you can be impacted. Women who tend to go through the menopause will need more support in the workplace, than a 30-year-old woman, who isn't going through these physiological and emotional challenges. It’s so important for us to look at diversity from an intersectionality perspective, as well as within the actual pillars of diversity."

– Janet Onyia

I'm really glad that you've mentioned age because the subject is also absolutely paramount in the context of the workplace. I've been privileged to deliver at a leadership level but have experienced age discrimination for example when entering rooms with clients or senior leadership, they're surprised that I have the experience or the knowledge to safely deliver this project for them because I look quite young. That shouldn't be the case at all.

I think it's really key that we look at diversity across the spectrum. Even if we're just looking at age, what are the various ways you can be impacted. Women who tend to go through the menopause will need more support in the workplace, than a 30-year-old woman, who isn't going through these physiological and emotional challenges. It’s so important for us to look at diversity from an intersectionality perspective, as well as within the actual pillars of diversity. 


How can we support neurodiverse talent? 

Knowing about neurodiversity in your organisation is so important. Even before people get hired in your recruitment process, you need to try and understand how you can support neurodiverse talent and future colleagues throughout the recruitment process.  

A lot of companies will state that if you need adjustments to be made for you at work then please let us know, but I think it needs to be a bit more explicit to say: “Tell us about what situations you find challenging.” Don’t just stick with standardised testing or assessments because for people on the neurodiverse scale, this might not be the correct kind of test to show their strength. We need to build the right processes for neurodiverse people to actually enter any kind of workplace and ensure they are supported to succeed.

Especially now as we're coming out of lockdown and encouraging more people back into the office, I see that this is an opportunity for a discussion on neurodiversity in the workplace and how we can do things better for our colleagues on the diverse scale.


Discover the story of these successful women entrepreneurs. 

Listen to the full conversation over on Business News Wales now — 

Listen to all episodes of So She Did on the Business News Wales podcast hub —