Celebrating our ladies on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and as a woman in a leadership role, I am delighted that we have an opportunity to celebrate all of our fantastic Hyphen8 ladies.  It makes me glow with pride to share their stories of how they are all thriving in techie roles in a typically male-dominated sector.

Diversity is so important in any business.  A healthy gender mix brings perspectives, experiences and personalities that contribute richly to our services and our approaches.  Our company is currently 100% owned by women, 40% of our staff are women and two thirds of our leadership team are women.  Everyone is treated with the same levels of respect and have exactly the same opportunities for personal development.  Having spent many years in the automotive and financial sectors, I like many women experienced misogyny and inequality first-hand.  As a female business leader, I feel that it is my responsibility to promote equality and to inspire other women to overcome the too often innate feeling that they are not good enough.

How we got into tech!

I never dreamed when I studied languages at university that I would end up running a technology consultancy! The start of my career was in marketing and I soon developed a fascination for database marketing and finding innovative ways to use new technologies to manage customer relationships. It was exciting to explore new possibilities that the internet brought (yes I am that old – email was innovation in my day!) and to witness the revolutionary shift from software products to flexible platforms like Salesforce.

I made the transition to Salesforce consultancy after I was made redundant from a marketing communications role at a mortgage lender as a result of the credit crunch in 2008. Four years later, I co-founded Hyphen8 and I must confess it is not always easy being ‘in charge’ – imposter syndrome can flare up. However – I know that I have the support of our fantastic team of passionate, smart and supportive people – irrespective of their gender.

I got into the tech sector by way of the charity sector. Working in programmes in grant-making initially, I took what I thought was going to be a short term secondment into grants operations and systems. During this time I became passionate about the impact that technology can have on how people can carry out their work effectively, both positively and negatively. For me it’s always been about the humans behind the technology. In grant-making this means the programme staff, applicants and grantees who can work more efficiently with the right tools, and ultimately the communities they serve that benefit because of it. 

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The charity sector is female dominated so I’ve always had strong female role models and influences throughout my career. Since making the switch to a tech organisation I feel totally inspired being in a team of talented women in tech and leadership roles, who are smashing through a male dominated sector.  

But there’s still so much to do in the sector to even the diversity balance – even more so when it comes to the representation of BAME women – so everyone feels like there is a place for them in tech, if that’s the route they choose.  

Of course there’s a role for men to play here too. My biggest career step upwards in tech happened when a male manager and mentor put his faith in me and promoted me twice in a relatively short space of time.  

Recognising talent, nurturing and encouraging women to develop in this sector is a role for everyone to play.  

I love that International Women’s Day is giving us a chance to reflect on that,  celebrate each other and what we’ve achieved, and hear more about the journeys that got us here.  

Ten years ago, if you told me I’d now be working in tech, I wouldn’t have believed you. There are a lot of stereotypes about people in our industry, and I don’t fit any of them. I’m not a gamer, I didn’t enjoy maths at school and I thought dnd was a type of explosive used on Wacky Races. And of course, I don’t have a Y chromosome.

I’ve been fortunate, though, in that I’ve been able to work across lots of different industries in my career so far, including the nonprofit sector. What’s been common to all of them is that, whatever my actual role was, I always ended up being the unofficial tech support person. So last year I decided to finally take the leap, and now I work full time on Hyphen8’s Evolve support team.

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Anecdotally, I think this sideways path is relatively common for women in tech. We’re less likely to have taken a traditional route with formal training in computer science, and more likely to have picked things up on our own initiative along the way.  

That’s not to say, of course, that no women are formally trained, and we definitely need to do more to encourage girls to consider tech earlier in their career paths. But I also think that our industry benefits from the breadth of experience that those of us who are self -aught can bring to the table. And if we are to serve our diverse client base well, we need diversity within our own team too.  

Seven reasons to join Hyphen8 as a woman working in tech 

This might be my first full-time tech job, but it’s not my first time in a male dominated industry. Now I’m a little further on in my career, I’m fortunate that I can afford to be choosy about where I work. Having more than my fair share of gender-based workplace horror stories, this time round, I specifically looked to join companies where women were well represented at all levels of the organisation. 

I’m now three months in to my employment journey at Hyphen8, and here are seven reasons I like working here as a woman in a male dominated industry. Like a true millennial, I have presented them for you in listicle format (you won’t believe number 7!) 

  1. People call me by my name.When people email me, they start ‘Hi Sophie…’ Not sweetheart, not honey, not dear, nor any of the other infantilising terms of address that may or may not have been commonplace in other workplaces. 
  2. I have never been asked to take minutes. Confession time: I suck at taking minutes. I’m not great at names, and I have a tendency to forget everything I know about typing when under pressure. Luckily, Hyphen8 didn’t hire me for my minute taking ability, and so I’ve never been asked to do it, even when I’m the only woman in the meeting.  
  3. I get to take credit for my own work. The other day, a man congratulated my (male) superior on some work I’d done. “Thanks,” he said. “Sophie did that.” I then did a very eloquent goldfish impression, because if my boss is a man, I still don’t expect public acknowledgement for the work I’ve done. 
  4. In meetings, I am able to finish my sentences. We all know how frustrating it is to be interrupted, and research tells us that women are interrupted more than men (1). I’ve noticed that I’m listened to in meetings and able to finish my contribution before the next person speaks.  
  5. I’ve never organised a workplace social. As a company where everyone works remotely, Hyphen8 is great at organising regular events where we can get to know each other (and keep our spirits up during lockdown). I’ve been invited to all of them (no old boys’ clubs here), and haven’t had to organise a single one.  
  6. People assume I am able to do the job I was hired for. I don’t have to smile and nod while someone less qualified explains basic parts of my job to me. The culture here is that people are able to do things, and if not then they’ll ask. 
  7. I don’t have to choose between being seen as either likeable or competent.This has been a big issue for me in the past, and to be honest, I’d assumed walking the likeable/competent tightrope was part of being a professional woman. But no –  it turns out that in fact I can explain something technical, without being perceived as arrogant. Likewise, I can smile and be friendly, and people can still trust me with their databases.  

Back in the day I started as a temp in a monitoring role and had to use a collection of spreadsheets to complete some analytics. It was, quite frankly, painful, so I had the idea to use Access 97 (yes incredibly old tech – pre millennium!!) instead, and then moved into the world of Access 2000!! I built the organisations first relational database outside of the SAP system they were using (not successfully).

The database was heavily used for monitoring and it piqued my interest in data analytics and system design. I then took a role in database marketing to further these skills. My next role then enhanced these skills as I took on Sql Server, providing an abundance of metrics back to the business. Then came Salesforce.

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Intended as a pilot for the Sales teams I was supporting; it took a global turn, and I became part of a project team responsible for amalgamating several legacy systems and a couple of Salesforce systems into one giant Salesforce org!  It was great exposure into being part of a project team, moving from one system to another and refining processes.  Post project I became a system admin within the EMEA region.  I have since broadened my knowledge of the Salesforce platform and business processes by working in customer service and non-profit consultancy. 

I have, from that first job in monitoring, had strong female managers who have influenced, supported, often challenged in a positive way, and believed that I could deliver what I set out to do.  My first believed in my ability to create the Access system, and that it would give them more than they ever had (they used it for several years after I left).  My current female role models make me believe I can deliver fantastic projects that make a difference to the non-profits that will be using them; they are great to bounce ideas off and quell the panic moments that sometimes set in, and they also have the vision to successfully steer the company and be recognised in the industry as a deserving Salesforce consultancy partner.   

I have also been lucky to be supported by some fabulous male colleagues who have challenged and given different perspective on what I am trying to achieve. 

I almost fell into working in tech, it certainly wasn’t something I thought of perusing a career in. I was working as a project manager at a small charity trying to work with a historic and horrid access database. I was tasked with finding a better solution, along came Salesforce and I developed a keen interest in improving the system, so with no budget for training, I had to find out how to make the changes myself. Over time the whole organisation was using Salesforce. I used to incentivise people with chocolate each week to login and use the system and built I up my love of delivering training by hosting sessions on reporting, dashboards and new functionality.

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I took a massive leap in leaving my safe project manager job and stepped into the scary new world as a full time Salesforce admin at a global software company, shortly after joining my new company I sat the certified Admin exam which I passed with flying colours. I then very quickly learnt the joys and pitfalls of managing 250 end users globally, including deactivating users at 11pm at night and I carried on with my love of training with new user inductions etc.

I started studying for my advanced admin exam which after a lot of blood, sweat and tears I finally passed.  During this time, I managed to become a Trailhead Ranger and developed an interest in all areas of Salesforce, not just the areas I was familiar with using!

Since joining Hyphen8 I have collected a couple more certifications, but also rekindled my love of working with nonprofit organisations.

I am keen to continue on my path of knowledge around Salesforce but most importantly for me is learning more about how Non-Profit organisations run and how we can further help them in the way they work.

The tech world is sadly still dominated by men, and it can sometimes be quite daunting to attend events and speak, I think my first few user groups, I sat there quite shy and very self-conscious, but remember you have a voice so use it. I love getting involved at user group meetings now and networking. So, give yourself chance to absorb the situation and surroundings.

I have felt that working with a strong female leader at the helm of the company means that Hyphen8 (and each and every team member) live and breathe our values and ethics. Openness and honestly is at the heart of the organisation with no secrets. Hyphen8 has a clear pathway as to where the organisation is heading, but also that the team’s wellbeing is at the heart of what we do at Hyphen8. But most importantly each and everyone is treated fairly and equally regardless of gender, race, role or religion.

I got into technology almost by accident. I’ve always been more of a ‘creative’ person, but even during my degree I found myself gravitating towards the more technological side of the craft. Technology is always growing and evolving. There is always something new to learn and a new puzzle to solve. And I love the fact I can harness my creative side when working with customers to help visualise who processes are going to work and to help find inventive ways to solve problems.

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I was actually working as a regular office admin at a Salesforce partner consultancy.  While the job did have it’s challenges, I wasn’t really excited by it so I was always looking for something else.  Surrounded by Salesforce on a daily basis, I was intrigued by what I would see the (90% male) team getting up to on a day-to-day basis.  So, I signed up to trailhead and started learning in my spare time.  After achieving my admin 201 certification (much to the surprise of everyone in the office, whom I hadn’t told what I was up to) I got my first role within the salesforce eco-system as a Junior Salesforce administrator. 

Fast forward two years, with a promotion to lead admin and a couple of large projects under my belt, I was looking for my next challenge.  So, I took the step from end user to consultancy and Hyphen8 is where I landed. I’ve been with Hyphen8 for nearly two years now and I’m so happy with the direction my career is now headed. 

I want to continue learning and growing my knowledge. Salesforce is going from strength to strength and it’s always growing with new tools and functionality.  At Hyphen8 I have seen first-hand how the systems we build can make a massive difference to how non-profit organisation work and I want to continue to play my part in that, to the best of my ability. 

Unfortunately, the ‘imposter syndrome’ mindset can be very difficult to shake especially in the tech industry that still very male dominated, it can sometimes be challenging to make yourself seen and heard.  

However, joining H8 has been an eye opener for me.  There is nearly a 50/50 split of male & female colleagues and it makes for a great, supportive work environment.  Working for a female CEO whose primary driver is her values and the wellbeing of her team makes, in my experience, such a difference to having a male leader. 

I became interested in technology as a young girl when I asked for a ZX Spectrum 48K for Christmas 1985.  I loved playing the games and decided there and then that I want to become a Computer Programmer.  I was also a little bit determined to carve my own path and do what I wanted to do.  In the 80s there was still a lot of gender bias, but I was lucky to have parents that always encouraged me and repeatedly told me I can be and do anything in this world.  In 1987 I walked into my Electronics class at school and the male teacher actually said “Bloody hell it’s a girl”.

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My educational path was focused on Computing from the very beginning at school, where I picked my options for my GCSE’s to include subjects that would be suitable; Computer Studies, Electronics, Business Studies e.t.c.  I then progressed to A-levels and finally went to University to study Computing for Business.  During my University years I had a placement year and worked at Northumbrian Water as a programmer.   

After Uni, I joined Northern Electric as a Cobal programmer.  I stayed there for 9 months and then moved onto Motherwell Information Systems.  I stayed with this company for 10 years and in that time I became an Oracle Developer and Team Lead.  The Company changed names over the years, by the time I left it was Business and Decisions.  I joined Accenture in 2007 as an Oracle Developer/ Team Lead.  At Accenture an opportunity arose to join the Salesforce Capability in 2015, as the capability lead.  In 2020 I made a further career change and joined Hyphen8 as their Operational Manager. 

I am very happy with how my career has progressed over the many years.  I am now looking forward to continuing with Hyphen8 in my role.   

I have had a very mixed journey in IT.  I have worked alongside some tremendous men that have been positive role models.  I have also experienced some negative attitudes along the way over the last 20+ years.   

All in all, there has been some significant progress with women working in industries that have been dominated by men.  Having gender balance in teams is proven to be more creative.  Diversity brings new and fresh ideas into the group which do open up new ways of working, developing and leading.   

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