Tracy Westall speaks on ‘Women in tech’ for International Women’s Day

Jodie | 08 Mar 2023 | News | Uncategorised

Sharing her views on women in tech, the myths when working in the industry and why change matters.

Tracy Westall is a non-executive member of the Department for Transport Board, a former non-executive board director for Innovation Birmingham, TechUK and Governor for Birmingham City University and non-executive board member of West Midlands 5g and Chair here at Curium Solutions.

Until 2017, Tracy was the Director of Corporate Services for SCC and the director of the UK Public Service from 1999 to 2013. In 2016, she was one of the Digital Leaders Top 100 and named by CRN as one of the Top 50 Influential Women in IT Channel.

With a background in sales and business development, previously responsible for the establishing and running of SCC’s successful public sector business, culminating in a £350M, 100+ staff operation, she holds a demonstrable track record.

When asked to take part in our International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign, Tracy was the first to volunteer. She added:

“Being  a woman in a tech leadership role was rare, being the only woman in the room was commonplace and often it felt a bit like being a unicorn! The stat was about 1 in 10. One thing I have reflected on since is that I am not sure we [women] were always our authentic selves.  In my case I know I often emulated more masculine behavior as I thought this would enable me to be able to compete better.

So as a result, sometimes I suspect I could be just simply unpleasant, I guess.  Not because I was being slightly masculine but because I wasn’t being myself. The point about International Women’s Day and the mantel ‘embrace equity’ is recognizing that you need to do different things to help people succeed. It’s not simply enough to get women in the room. What you’ve got to do is create a place where we can be our best and feel we can thrive by being ourselves. This is something I saw from the moment I walked into Curium – creating culture is in our DNA and part of everything we do inside the business and for our clients.”

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We asked Tracy, in the 90’s were women potentially seen as ‘not strong enough’ to lead?

“It was a very fast paced environment. So, I think in those days, certainly the assumption was that you needed to be tough and this often translated into you needed to be aggressive and strong.  Did that mean other skills like empathy or emotional intelligence were not as highly prized – very possibly. Thank goodness some of that has changed or at least is now challenged and I’m always proud that developing fully rounded leaders is one of our key client offerings”

Tracy spoke at the women in IT awards on the effect the pandemic had on females in this industry, saying:

During the pandemic, the world went through huge transformation and I hoped issues like diversity, inclusion and gender pay could be resolved so we could move onto other things –  surely these are no brainer issues  to solve in the face of a global pandemic?

It would make a lot of sense to address this. But, it was clear that actually the pandemic potentially made it worse.

The pandemic economically affected women, in part because of the high representation in hardest hit sectors, retail, leisure and hospitality. More women were furloughed in the UK and during the first lockdown, low paid jobs per more likely to be furloughed or have their hours cut which affected women in particular as there are 2 x as many women in the bottom 10% of earners.

There is no doubt that tech does have some of the answers – It can be well paid, it has great career prospects, can be challenging and is always at the forefront of what is happening. And a reminder, the UK had more VC tech funding in 2018 than any other European country and 80% of tech investment in the UK is in fast growing businesses, which means the creation of new jobs, revolutionary products and innovative services.

But the frustrating truth is that women are still not getting an equal slice of the action.

We can’t get away from the fact that the dial hasn’t moved much in 10 years. It has been fairly constant that only 17% of tech jobs are held by women and only 1 in 10 tech leadership jobs are held by women and so it is even more important to drive change.

I don’t claim to have answers and I don’t think we are going to solve this overnight either. What I have recognized though is that I have had to try to move past being angry and frustrated about it, and think about how we mobilize to push businesses to remove the barriers so we can meet in the middle. I know I am fortunate working with companies like Curium to help amplify these messages and champion change whenever possible. Using my personal platform to speak about this and help create discussion and change is really important.

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So, let’s share some urban myths or things that have been said to me about why a career in tech might not work.

1. ‘Tech isn’t for me – I’m no techie’

One thing awards show is there are lots of women who love science and technology which is great, and we need to make sure we continue to develop that pipeline and interest at every available opportunity.

However, it’s also important to remember that a career in tech is not just for those –

I’m no techie but still managed to scale the tech corporate ladder becoming a Board Executive at SCC running a £350m business and regularly being recognized as one of the Top influential Women in the Tech since 2016 by Computer Weekly.

For me, my love affair with tech has always been about technology innovation.

This type of barrier is something that can be said about many sectors for sure and helping an organization recognize its talent and work out how to empower is a core purpose we work on every day.


2. ‘It’s tough to get started or break into tech.’

Well, again that’s probably true of many sectors, but I think there are some things that can make a difference.

The good news is that there are great support networks and having one is really beneficial whether it’s one you join or one you build yourself. It  gives extra confidence to progress or apply for promotion as well as offering the chance to learn from others, maybe helping get a mentor or simply connecting with inspirational folk. We build on this at Curium and everyone in our business has a performance coach to help them achieve and thrive. It’s so important to recognize everyone needs different things to be their best self.

Encouraging access to that type of support and recognizing the value of a network is also one of the reasons that I have been involved with a wonderful lady called Rav Bumbra who set up Cajigo – an app based service aimed at encouraging young girls to consider a career in tech.

Roles models are so important, but role models for me must be real – must be achievable, down to earth, everyday ordinary – maybe doing the extraordinary but ultimately women (and men) I can relate to.


3. ‘I don’t want to live in London and that’s where tech really happens isn’t it?’

Well let me tell you, I have managed to be part of the 10% of women in a tech leadership position and I have never lived in London, commuted to London or worked away in London.

We have plenty of tech opportunities right here in the heart of the West Midlands. We have Global brands like JLR creating great tech career opportunities and there are now so much more. Curium is a Birmingham headquartered business delivering to clients across the world showing that vibrant businesses are what this great city is all about!

I am often asked if I encountered blockers be they gender or anything else and I can honestly say that I don’t know. I flinch when I say that as it isn’t meant to be a ‘cop out’ it’s more that I am sure I probably have but I simply didn’t recognize them as blockers at the time.

However, I know that it is not that simple and that blockers for women are real so that’s why International Women’s Day matters – using the chance to amplify our voices, create a discussion, build allyship, drive change and recognize that  if we strive for equality and equity we all win. #EmbraceEquity

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