It’s International Women’s Day today so we’re getting into the spirit of things and celebrating women in the workplace.
We had a chat with Shomila Malik, who is the head of the Enterprise Lab at O2, about being a woman working in the technology industry. She’s in charge of the team which develops new ideas and solves problems by creating apps and websites, and making use of the latest technology. Shomila is a rare finding: 70% of the technology industry is male. We had a chat about how that has affected her career.
“I have felt that [rarity] and I think that’s quite commonplace for women in this industry,” she says. “All through my career and study it’s always been a male environment so it’s always been a challenge. I don’tthink I’ve let it get in my way but you’re very aware that you’re usually the only woman in the room. And it does affect the way you do things. It certainly hasn’t stopped me doing what I’m doing but I think you can feel sensitive to it sometimes.”
Shomila says that there’s a real lack of women role models in the technology industry but she likes what Sheryl Sandberg, the COO and first woman on the board of Facebook, says. “One of the things that she tries to get women to do is to not hold themselves back,” she says. “And that’s made me think a bit because sometimes you can pre-empt things and think ‘maybe I shouldn’t put myself forward because I’ve got to think about my family’. It makes me try not to think like that.”
The challenge of balancing a family and work life is one that a lot of women will face at some point in their lives. Shomila says that she has to be strict with herself and make sure she leaves work at a certain time and switches off thinking about work when she’s spending time with her children.
And what advice does Shomila offer to young women wanting to get into the technology industry? “Get in and don’t feel that you're not good enough, technology can sometimes feel like magic to some people. There are a lot of geeks out there who make it sound that way so don’t be put off by that,” she says. “And also, your voice really needs to be heard. It is a struggle and can be quite disheartening at times but don’t give up because you really need to be there.
“If there was just one message it’s that we really need more women. It’s kind of lonely here. Just don’t be put off,” she says. “Diversity is going to be a really key thing in the future because of the things we do, if it’s all going to be a bunch of geeky guys in one room then they’re not necessarily going to come up with the best ideas, it’s just really important to get more women into the industry. I have two daughters and one thing that I’ll be trying to do is to get them to learn to code.”
We also spoke to the HR Director of Telefonica UK, Ann Pickering, for tips on how to get your first job. At O2, a quarter of the people that they employ are under the age of 25.
“In this digital age, now is the time to capitalise on the fact that you have digital skills in abundance. It’s off that at a time when growth and jobs depend on the digital economy, the very people who hold these skills are being excluded. Draw these skills to a potential employer’s attention and show us why you think they are valuable.
"Get experience – I’m not talking about carrying out months of unpaid work but rather gaining valuable experience that will benefit both you and your employer in your new position. This could be anything from taking part in a local sport or interest group, undertaking work experience or volunteering with a local charity. It all counts and shows that you have a range of skills to draw from.
"When employers receive thousands of applications each year it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. Make it easy for a recruiter to put you through to the next stage by matching your skills with the ones that they’ve asked for in the job description.
"When you’re getting ready for an interview make sure you’ve done all the necessary preparation. Take time to plan what you’re going to wear or how you’re going to get to the interview. These simple measures will make you feel more relaxed and you’ll be able to concentrate on the important job of selling yourself!
"When we recruit young people at O2 we don’t expect them to be experts at this stage in their career. What we are looking for is the potential to develop. There’s an untapped wealth of skills and knowledge that sits within the youth community but many employers are not yet making the most of them. Your application or interview is your opportunity to show them what they’re missing out on.”