Women in Tech: Interview with Nicky Saner

Increasing gender diversity and encouraging women into the tech sector has been a topic in the news for many years, yet women still remain largely under-represented in IT and Tech focused roles.

In the latest Tech Nation 2021 report, 25% of the tech workforce are women and while still disproportionately low, it is encouraging to see that this has grown since 2018 when it was only 19%, which shows momentum in the right direction. Within leadership roles, only 22% of UK tech directors are women, so while we need to encourage more women into the sector, we also need to do more to retain and support women into leadership roles.

We are proud to be a female-led organisation, with our Managing Director, Nicola Saner heading up Chorus and with an even mix of women and men on our board of directors. We know the importance and value of increasing diversity in the workplace and want to encourage more women into the tech industry.

We have interviewed Nicky to share her journey, advice and experience to help put the spotlight on female tech directors – and with the hope to inspire more women into tech and leadership roles.

What has been the driving force to get you where you are today?

Since an early age I have always enjoyed setting goals for myself and striving to achieve them, even if this has forced me outside of my comfort zone. This is one of the reasons I love being a Managing Director and why I also became a professional life coach, in which I provide Confidence and Empowerment coaching on a voluntary basis to different charities. I enjoy the reward of seeing people excel and achieve their full potential by breaking down barriers and limiting beliefs that can hold people back – which everyone has. Whether it’s an individual or an organisation, it is a great feeling to have a plan in place, empower and support people to achieve their best and to achieve goals. There is nothing more satisfying in business than working in a team to overcome challenges and barriers along the road to success.

How did you get into the technology sector?

I remember watching ‘Tomorrow’s World’ as a child with my family and being fascinated by the various visions of the future and how technology would evolve, but never did I think it would happen this fast, and now, day by day it is speeding up even further. For me personally, I have a huge interest in security, the risks businesses face and what we can do to mitigate them, along with how evolving technology brings better efficiency and capability such as through the use of AI and automation.

However, I didn’t begin my career in technology, and I think it is particularly important today for people to realise that they can change careers. Your experiences in every role will shape you, build your skills and help your career. When I first started working in the tech sector, I didn’t have much technical knowledge but the more I started learning, the more I loved it. It is such an exciting industry to be part of, combining innovation, creativity and problem solving. But at the heart of technology and IT is people – all the innovations and services are to make people’s daily lives easier, better, safer etc. – and this is why I will remain and continue to enjoy working in this sector.

How has COVID-19 impacted your work-life balance?

I think everyone has felt the impact of the pandemic on work-life balance with some impacts being positive and others being a real challenge. As part of my role as Managing Director, I felt it was critically important that we as a business did everything possible to be accommodating to employees with families. I myself have two children, so I fully understood the pressures that many were struggling with, such as juggling home-schooling and work. I did not want any of our employees to feel concerned or anxious about a child attending a Teams meeting – goodness knows my own children joined plenty of them and not once did it hinder the meeting, in fact it often lightened them!

For me personally, I made sure I would have a walk once a day, eat well and tried to be strict to not let work creep into family time, which is often easier said than done! For the business, employee engagement became one of my biggest focuses. Our people and culture are the heart of Chorus, so mental wellbeing and work-life balance was a key priority – and will continue to be.

I feel that Covid has been a great eye-opener for how companies can conduct business and has changed the employer-employee relationship. It has showed us that we can be more flexible, more adaptive, and still continue to successfully operate.

It has put more responsibility onto employees to be more self-managing of their time, which has given people a chance to shine and show initiative. To the employer, it has driven the responsibility to support employees more, focusing on looking after wellbeing, mental health and finding new ways to connect. By doing this, the relationship has changed in many healthier ways – taking away many of the stricter rules and any tendencies for micromanagement – instead, creating a more relaxed and trusting working environment.

Why do you think there are still so few females in the technology sector?

We have a substantial mix of legacy of issues that we need to overcome. For me, the top issues are stereotypes, education, confidence, and lack of role models.

Firstly, a general stereotype labelling of certain industries as being male or female is something we are all working to overcome (and technology is one of many in this regard). Additionally, I think that there is a misconception of the IT sector and the opportunities within it; there are many diverse fields and areas available to newcomers such as cyber security, robotics and AI. These are fast moving and exciting fields to be in for women looking for interesting and challenging careers, but the industry doesn’t always do a good job of conveying this.

There is evidence that one of the reasons the industry is still very male dominated is due to education, with the syllabus and course content in many colleges and universities still being very male orientated – resulting in less females completing their studying. I am hopeful that educational institutions will engage with businesses, and it is our duty as leaders of business to be more involved and to help change this.

Finally, I think there is an overall lack of confidence from women getting into the sector and I think some of this stems from a shortage of female role models and female leaders within the industry.

How can we get more women into technology?

I think that there is still an embedded belief that women are not technical, which is from years of engrained misconceptions, so we need to start by empowering women, building their confidence in the sector, and showing them that they do belong here. It is clear that more women are entering and growing within the industry. This should have a fantastic impact as we will start to see a rise in inspiring female leaders and role models that women will look up to, inspiring them to work in the tech sector. However, it’s not just about female role models – male role models will also be vital. Male allies have a strong positive impact and there are lots of great strategies and advice for better male allyship in the workplace.

Education will play a big role too. With more women presenting at schools, teaching IT courses, and being involved in creating a more diverse and inclusive syllabus, this will build diversity into the system much earlier.

I also think the change in working habits and increased flexibility will encourage far more women into the sector. With the pandemic, organisations have moved to remote working, and like Chorus, are moving to a long-term hybrid working pattern to give people more flexibility. We need to look at benefits that might appeal to a broader and more diverse range of employees with as much flexibility as possible – recognising that different benefits will appeal to different people.

However, to succeed in increasing diversity in technology it is important that all of us work together and start with the right attitude and drivers. Organisations shouldn’t recruit more women to tick a box (it will not work), instead recruit because of the talent and value that diversity can bring into the business. Rather than taking successful women from one tech business to another, we should instead recruit across sectors with aptitude and capability in mind. Then, through development and support we can work with junior females to encourage and develop them to become future leaders.

What advice would you pass on to other women to help them progress in this industry?

There are several points I would say to anyone wanting to develop their career:

  1. Get a mentor
    While we still have a long way to go, female leaders and women in tech have come a long way and I think that women supporting each other has been key to this. I strongly advise women to find a mentor to learn from and be able to freely ask questions and gain guidance. There are many great mentor programmes out there to help you find the right person to support you, which can help your confidence, knowledge, and career progression by learning from their experiences.
  2. Network
    Get yourself out there! I know it can be daunting but there are lots of great communities and events – especially within IT – where you can find experts in their field and listen to and talk to them. Even if you’re not 100% set on a career in technology, going to events or watching virtual talks is a great way to know what is going on in the world of technology, hear what people are talking about, and get a better understanding of the industry.
  3. Keep learning
    The tech industry is rapidly evolving and it’s such an exciting industry to be working in. Staying up to date with the latest technology advances in the industry will really help your confidence in different conversations. There are plenty of great courses available, many of which are free, so you can continue learning and exploring new areas.
  4. Listen and ask questions
    Two ears and one mouth as the saying goes, so listen and listen. Learn from people’s knowledge and experiences but be conscious that not everything should be taken as absolute truth. Then, ask lots of questions. You will be better off asking questions and knowing more than the person who didn’t, so don’t be afraid to ask.
  5. Be prepared
    Preparation and practice builds confidence, and lack of confidence can be a challenge in a male-dominated industry. Go to meetings fully prepared and don’t be afraid to stand firm in your opinions and make your voice heard. I know that this is tough at first, but it will get easier.
  6. Learn to negotiate
    Women are still paid on average 61% less than men so learn how to speak up confidently. Do your research so that you know industry salary benchmarks and have a clear view of your expectations and go into a salary or career discussion with a strong business case built on facts.
  7. Speak up
    Finally, when you do well and are proud of things you have achieved then let it be known! Be proud of yourself and share your wins, as it is important in a male-dominated industry that we hear the success of women. You never know who needs to hear it and you yourself can become a role model to inspire other women.

There will be challenging times of course being in a male-dominated environment, but change is well under way and you can be a part of the future of technology. Be confident, find an area that interests you and go after it!

If you’re looking for a role in the tech industry then have a look at our job vacancies and join our team.