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It’s been an inspiring year for women in STEM. Kate Bigham, chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, alongside her team developed what has been one of the world’s most impressive deployment strategies. She studied biochemistry at university and has worked as a venture capitalist for many years, bringing a science background and business acumen to the challenge. Meanwhile, Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, spearheaded the team that delivered the Astra Zeneca/Oxford vaccine in record time. I hope the achievements and impact of both of these women sends a clear message out to girls everywhere: don’t let anyone tell you STEM is not for everyone, or that it can’t be a thrilling career.
This message matters even more in the tech sector because gender diversity is poor, despite the fact we are building digital solutions for everyone. At Nominet we work hard to try and tackle this diversity issue. One simple approach is to draw attention to the potential of a tech career for women via a series of profiles on our blog, shining a light on our own ‘women in tech’ to show how diverse they are and how different their career paths have been. A technology career can offer something for everyone.
Consider Juliette Dalitz, Head of Audit and Risk, who has been with Nominet almost 24 years and yet had no childhood interest in computers nor any career plans. She applied to join us purely for an adventure (she moved from Scotland to Oxford for the role) and some much-needed post-university income. She has stayed because, for her, “technology is completely fascinating and constantly reinventing itself”. Juliette urges young people not to assume the tech sector “is only fun for coders and programmers”. She is neither.
Nor is Business Analyst Emma Duncan, who finds her fascination in the way technology can be used to improve the outcomes for a business. She studied Business Systems Design at university and, upon joining the sector, was surprised by “how many different jobs there are,” she says, declaring that the industry would appeal to “anyone who enjoys understanding how things work.”
It can also appeal to someone who loves fashion – the two are not mutually exclusive, argues April Forsyth, Head of Product (Registry). “Who says you can’t love technology and have a fabulous shoe collection?” she asks. That being said, April was a student who got hooked on IT and computing at school and became the first from her all-girls institution to take the subject at degree level; she studied Information Systems and has worked in the sector ever since. She particular relishes that she has become ‘something of a domain name specialist’ and confesses that, four years into her job at Nominet, she still gets “a nerdy satisfaction from knowing how crucial Nominet is to the internet and that the work I do has an impact on the future of the .UK domain”.
While many of our women moved straight into industry after their education, we have also gained some incredible talent from academia, bringing Nominet a more specialist skillset. Jelena Ilic, our Research and Data Science Lead, spent most of her career immersed in experimental particle physics, seeking work in industry when she had her family, as it meant less travelling. She was surprised to discover how poor the UK’s STEM diversity ratios are; growing up in what is now Montenegro, she was never in the minority when studying sciences. “Why should my gender have anything to do with me studying physics?” she asks, “we have to change whatever is putting young girls off studying fascinating subjects like physics and maths in the UK and encourage more talented women into technology; it’s the future”.
Family reasons also moved Uzma Khan, Java Developer, out of academia. After earning a degree and a masters in Computer Science, she worked for many years as a lecturer before moving to the UK to marry and start a family. When re-joining the workforce, she was pleasantly surprised that her experience was valuable in the private sector – and to find work that fulfilled. “I certainly get great pleasure in my work,” she says, “but what also matters to me is being a role model for my daughter, showing her that you can be a mother and have a career, not least a career in tech.”
Her daughter will also hopefully recognise that she doesn’t have to be a Java Developer like her mum, or even be that keen on programming. The tech sector has an incredibly broad range of roles that are directly shaping our digital future – simply bring your talent and you will find your niche