Women in Tech: Time to close the gap!

Join us for Episode 7 of XMA Plug-in where ahead of International Women’s Day, we will be discussing women in technology with Helen Workman, Head of Marketing and Jen Norman, Infrastructure Solutions Director at XMA.  Our key discussion points include:

  • Why are STEM subjects at school so important to enable young adults to enter tech careers?
  •  Is there a correlation between girls pursuing STEM subjects and the number of women in the industry?
  • Why is there such a gender gap in senior leadership roles in the tech industry?
  • How important is having more female role models and who is responsible for making this happen?


Helen Workman
Head of Marketing

Guest Speaker

Jen Norman
Infrastructure Solutions Director

Encouraging more women into tech careers needs to start with education.

  • Terms that suggest that women are biologically less skilled at STEM subjects than boys is a myth that should be tarnished for creating sterotypes. 
  • STEM subjects are key starting points for any young person looking to advance a career in technology.
  • Primary school sees a more joined up method of delivering STEM subjects vs Secondary school where the interest gap seems to begin.

Technology is now pervasive in our every day lives. 

  • Generation Z are growing up surrounded by technology meaning women are more likely to be comfortable with tech from an early age.
  • There is now an endless list of technology careers that sit outside the IT idustry, from app developers to digital artists and more.
  • The evolution of technology will naturally evolve career paths too.

Women shouldn’t be afraid of the challenges they might face.

  • An arguable lack of female role models in tech can only be developed if women enable personal growth and overcome fears of putting themselves in the limelight.
  • Organisations and media outlets can also support in highlighting female role models in the industry, to increase awareness for younger generations and exisiting women in tech.
  • Stigma around starting a family can impact women in any career however, no matter what you do, women should trust their abilities and not fear change when returning to work.

Helen Workman: A very warm welcome to all of our listeners to episode seven of the XMA Plug-in podcast. My name is Helen Workman. I’m your host for today. I’m the Head of Marketing here XMA. I’m excited to bring to you today ahead of International Women’s Day. A podcast where we have chosen to discuss women in tech and the challenges faced trying to get more women into the industry. So, joining me today is our guest speaker, Jen Norman. Jen is our Solutions Director for infrastructure XMA. Welcome, Jen.

Jen Norman: Hi.

Helen Workman: So, Jen, just a little bit of background. What is it that you do here? I mean, it sounds like I don’t know, but just for the benefit of our listeners.

Jen Norman: So my job title is the Solutions Director for infrastructure. And here at XMA, I look after our datacentre and our networking architecture and design teams and I look after the infrastructure strategy for XMA as well.

Helen Workman: Amazing. How long have you been with XMA for?

Jen Norman: So I’ve been here four years now, just over four years. But I was also here eight years ago as a technical consultant. And so as part of the datacentre, what is now the datacentre teams, as a technical consultant as well.

Helen Workman: So you are an excellent veteran, so to speak. Always been in tech, always worked in IT?

Jen Norman: Mostly, yes. Although I had a bit of a an unusual introduction into the industry because I used to do ballet dancing and I was headed in that direction. And that was my career. And my career was all mapped out for me as a dancer. And I suffered an injury to my knee and ended up having several operations on my knees and was unable to dance anymore. And at that stage, my dad offered me to come into his office in and help out at his office. And he was working for an electronics company making components for keyboards, mice, monitors, terminals, PCs at the time. And because I was bored and sulking as a as a a young girl been just been told that she wasn’t allowed to dance anymore and I thought my career was gone.

Helen Workman: How old were you at?

Jen Norman: Nineteen. And so I went and worked in his office. And that’s how I found out that I could do this. That technology was a thing for me, that I really enjoyed it. And that was how I found out what I loved. And what I really loved was fixing things and finding problems and solving problems. And that’s when I really knew what I love doing.

Helen Workman: What sort of things were you fixing? What was that turning point?

Jen Norman: Oh, so obviously, I’m going back quite a long time now. But at the time, what the company was trying to do was set up what it called a swap house service because they manufacture components. So they had customers with contracts and they would phone up and try and describe what was happening to me over the phone. And I would have to work out which of the components had failed in the devices that they had and terminals mostly. And then so having figured out which of the components had failed, I then had to order replacement components and get them sent out and get them replaced and then bring those faulty components back in.

And it was then that I worked out that that figuring out piece, that problem solving piece, that figuring out what was wrong and which bit had failed. And and then the the knowing that I was right at the end and knowing that I’d figured it out, knowing I’d got it right and that I’d fixed the problem. That was when I knew that was what I loved doing

Helen Workman: And would’ve been 19 at the time. Did you did you have any educational background when it came to tech or is that something that you then once you decided that, you know, this is what I want to do or want to start fixing things, I want to be part of this industry because the ballet thing sadly went out the window. Did you then did you have to go on courses? Did you have to do any studying? What was your what was your background at that point?

Jen Norman: Yes. So I obviously had no no experience and no qualifications in technology. At that time, and having worked out that, that was the thing that I wanted to do now. I put myself back through college. I went and did an evening course at college and did some qualifications in hardware and software engineering and then went and got my first job in technology on an IT helpdesk. When I was 21.

Helen Workman: Amazing. And now you are solutions director for our entire infrastructure division. You’ve done pretty well. What do you enjoy most about your role?

Jen Norman: Actually, it’s still problem-solving, but just in a different kind of way. So we’ll see back in the beginning. When I was on an IT helpdesk, a problem solving was was very much on an individual basis. You know, person to person. And in that sort of customer and supplier relationship, whereas now the customer supply relationship and the problem-solving element of that is a little bit bigger and a little bit wider. And now the kinds of problems that we’re looking to solve for our customers are more strategic and transformational based problems. And they’re all around business outcomes. And that, again, is just another element to problem solving and another thing that you have to find a solution for, and that’s ultimately what we’re doing is we’re finding solutions all the time. But now the solutions that we’re looking for and the problems that we’re looking to fix are a lot bigger. So we’re talking about large scale transformation or a large scale network refreshes or the implementation of brand new technology and innovative technology and innovations. And those kinds of problems and those kinds of solutions that that we’re looking to solve now are just a bit bigger.

Helen Workman: Sounds like no, no day is ever the same.

Jen Norman: Yes. It’s very interesting. And obviously, every customer is different. Every customer has a slightly different set of problems that you’re looking to solve. And every solution is going to be ever so slightly different because it’s obviously it’s always going to be tailor made. But yes, that definitely makes it very interesting.

Helen Workman: And you you I mean, you lead quite a large team. What do you what do you do to motivate them?

Jen Norman: Gosh, that’s a tricky one. Trust, trust and confidence. I’d like to think that every member of my team knows that I trust them to do their job. And I do. So as long as you keep communicating and you keep ensuring that they know that they are trusted and you build the confidence in them. Then you always know that they’re ready to do their best job and they’re ready to work in the best way and put their best effort in. In order to solve the problems and work for the customers that we try and work on the solutions that we’re trying to deliver. As long as you continue to ensure that they know that they are trusted and they know that you have confidence in them, then they’ll always be motivated to do their best.

Helen Workman: Yeah, absolutely. Then they’ll deliver the best outcomes which transpires in terms of customer satisfaction and the quality of the projects that they deliver. And success. Yeah, absolutely. Well, what we’re talking about today in terms of women in technology. I want to just gain your perspective on women in the IT channel and why we see such a gender gap in terms of women with careers in IT senior roles. I I’m going to share his statement. I saw online earlier because I think that this, you know, it comes down to we have to start having a look at how can we prepare young girls to start pursuing careers in IT in terms of an educational background. And I think that kind of starts with STEM subjects. And there was this quote online earlier and I’ll read it out loud that says it was a headline statement, actually. Big, bold letters, are girls biologically worse than boys on STEM subjects at school?

I mean, so what’s your opinion on that? Do you think that STEM subjects is a male only area?

Jen Norman: No, I don’t believe that there’s any biological reason for that. I do have to have some interesting perspectives on this just because I have a son. And having seen him go through primary school and seen the kind of educational activities and the educational process around STEM subjects that my son went through and having helped out some of the events and activities, I was very aware and I was very interested to see and actually very excited to see that throughout primary school, at least all of the girls within his class and the girls involved in the activities were just as interested and just as engaged and just as excited about all of the STEM activities that they did.

So I don’t necessarily think any of the problems or that gap starts to widen or in fact, even if there is a gap at primary school age. So it’ll be interesting to see as he goes through secondary school what transpires when it comes to STEM subjects there as well, because I do suspect that that’s where the gap starts to widen.

Helen Workman: Absolutely. I mean, the Department of Education have said girls are substantially less likely than boys to consider taking science, technology, engineering and mathematical subjects at A-level. And whilst the number of girls taking STEM A-levels have increased by 26 percent since 2010, research shows that 15 year old boys are more likely than girls to see STEM subjects as being useful when it comes to getting a job, and that girls are less likely to consider STEM subjects as their favourite. So at what point do you think the girls end up losing interest in pursuing STEM subjects? I mean, like you say, it’s all that interest is there in the early stage of education. It’s more as they start, you know, really get into A-levels and university degrees that it seems to then be that gap seems to seems to become more prominent.

Jen Norman: That might be the case at the moment. And certainly I don’t know that I can necessarily say officially what is or isn’t happening today. But one thing I do hope for the future is that as we see technology become so pervasive in our everyday life and more interestingly, in every part of every industry in which people have careers and have jobs, because it’s not just technology is no longer just about the technology industry. And technology is pervasive through throughout our everyday life. And certainly, children today are growing up with it. So it’s pervasive from the moment that they’re able to sit up and hold a pen.

Helen Workman: I mean, social even things like social media that the products that they have at home with voice recognition, you know, we’re quite literally living and breathing technology more than ever now. And it’s not just about it’s not just about computers anymore. And it’s not just about, you know, devices and things that, you know, technology probably used to be associated with. It it’s everywhere. And, you know, I think. Would you agree that, you know, we will see Generation Z women flood into the IT sector as a result of that in the future?

Jen Norman: Yes, so I mean, not necessarily flood, but but certainly that gap of that percentage of women versus men in the technology industry do definitely think that that will even out as Generation Z come through because of technology and the technology industry is no longer going to be something that is viewed in a specific light or with a specific history, because technology will just be every day. And it will be so commonplace that actually taking a job, writing apps for mobile phones or taking a job, writing code for games or even, you know, in art and digital art, writing, drawing and characters and creating digital landscapes for computer games is just something that is going to become so commonplace. And it’s something that Generation Z that have grown up with that it’s not going to be something that is considered with any wariness anymore.

Helen Workman: Do you think that schools. Because maybe there might still be this perception that pursuing a career in technology or whatever is still going to be, you know, hardware and all the old school stuff that we produce do you think that a bit of educating needs to happen a little bit earlier on to say, you know, listen, you know, like you say, coding for websites, building apps, you know, everywhere that a career in technology can go nowadays, it’s so, so vast in terms of the career path they can take and the things that they can learn. Do you think that we need to give them visibility, gives girls visibility to say, you know, this is there is all the different doors that can open for you if you pursue if you pursue a career in IT and therefore want to pursue, you know, further qualifications in STEM.

Jen Norman: Yes. And just going back to what we were talking about earlier, when it comes to qualifications and school, certainly just by taking a STEM subject at either A level or university level will definitely open up such a huge and vast career path. And in almost any industry, just by having a qualification in one of the STEM subjects.

Helen Workman: Hundred percent. I mean, even if it were coming to social media, Facebook, something that’s, you know, living and breathing. I mean, Instagram, Tick-Tock, all these things, I can’t even keep up with it. And I work in marketing so many different platforms at the minute. But let’s just take Facebook as can go. So in 2014, Facebook workforce was 31 percent female and in 2019, this increased by 5 percent. Not a huge increase, but the CEO of Facebook is Sheryl Sandberg. Surely that is someone to look up to. So why don’t we hear more about women like that? Do you think one of the main issues is that the women role models in IT is quite it’s quite scarce? Do they not get enough airtime?

Jen Norman: Yes. And both of those things. I agree with. So Sheryl Sandberg is doing an absolutely brilliant job at being a role model and being a very public role model for young women and young girls coming through the technology channel. I do think that there are more women in technology and more women role models out there than we’re potentially aware of. And one of the things that we are not very good at is putting ourselves forward. We tend to sort of just carry on with the day job and sit there in the background. And we’re not very good at pushing ourselves forward. So I do think we do need to raise the profile and make more of the female role models that are out there in technology, because they are out there and they are some really, really good role models out there that we’re just not hearing enough about.

Helen Workman: Yes, absolutely. I completely agree. And do you think that’s down to those individual women to try and put themselves out there a bit more? Do you think it’s down to the organization? How do you think that we could give them more airtime, the airtime that they deserve? Because like I said, there are so many out there. What can we do? Is it down to the employer to show a little bit more about what she’s achieved?

Jen Norman: It’s probably a bit of everything. It’s a little bit about the employer and the organization and the shouting about their own employees and highlighting their own employees and their own role models within their own organization. A little bit about the press as well. There are technology press organizations out there that are already doing some great work to highlight women in my team, women in the technology channel. So we need to carry on with that. And it’s also a little bit about personal growth as well and this willingness to put ourselves forward that we are just not very good at sometimes. And I think we need to realize as well as women, you know, IT, we need to realize that we need to do this in order to help the next generation, because we tend to sort of want to stay in the background and not put ourselves forward. And we just want to get on with the job. But we need to realize that helping the next generation actually needs to be part of our job and we need to be doing this for the next generation.

Helen Workman: And that comes on quite nicely to my next point in terms of pursuing senior roles in IT. So in 2017, 26 percent of professional computing jobs were held by women, not the worst stat in the world, but still a major difference in gender. Do you think that there is a fundamental issue in terms of women achieving these senior roles in IT? Do you think it’s because we’re not puting ourselves forward enough? Do you think it’s because it’s offices is such a male dominated industry that to try and find a woman to pursue a senior role in comparison is probably the mounds of, you know, male applications that an organization will receive. Where do you think the issue lies? Being in a senior role yourself as well. So probably speaking from experience, I assume.

Jen Norman: It’s tricky. You’re right. It’s a numbers game because there are more men out there ready and able to take those positions than there are women. So it is a bit of a numbers game. Things that can help are things like awareness. You know, the work that is going on at the moment within the industry to highlight the gap in women in senior roles and women coming through the ranks within technology organizations. And awareness can definitely help that. But we are going to find that at the moment because it is a numbers game. And right now we are in a situation where we do have less women in IT than we do men. So there are going to be issues with the numbers and availability of the numbers.

Helen Workman: What do you think about this, this idea that women should you know, when you’re creating a shortlist of candidates, there should be at least one woman in there? Do you think, do you agree with that, with that approach, or do you think, well, actually, regardless of gender, it should be the right person, the right person for the job? Because that’s an argument that employers will have, isn’t it saying, well, you know, if on paper and if on experience, you know, like, you know, some of the male candidates are stronger than the women, but then to try and balance out the diversity side of things, they should just consider women regardless. What’s your opinion?

Jen Norman: So I think I can probably say that I’m speaking for every single woman out there working in the technology channel and in IT in general that we only ever want to take a job because we are deserving of that job and we have the skills and the experience to do it. Nobody, want to be a tick box. Exactly. And I don’t think anybody does. You know, no matter who you are. Nobody ever wants to believe that they’ve been given a job or have taken a job based on a numbers game. People only ever want to believe that they have that job because they deserve it and they have the skills and experience to do it. So the other side of the coin is that just being aware helps, you know, even if there are a list of candidates and there are no women on there, then just being aware of the fact that there are no women on that list, is the start of solving the problem.

Helen Workman: Yes. And maybe that is the start of solving the problem. That’s not necessarily a reflection on the organization. It’s a reflection on the people that are available out there and the talent pool of candidates that there are. Not necessarily anything to do with, you know, an organization trying to think every organization needs balance. But absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. It has to be the right person for the role. Whether you’re a man or woman, whatever it is, you know, it has to be the right choice and it has to be the right fit for the organization. And just some final words from you, women that are already in the IT sector. I mean, we’ve spoken a lot about trying to get women into, you know, the IT channel and pursuing careers in technology. Let’s say let’s speak for the women that are already in technical roles. You’ve done incredibly well in terms of progression, you now direct an entire division, a massive part of XMAs organization, women that are looking to progress into more senior positions. So you know, maybe that they sort of are, you know, just a few years into their career. What words of advice would you give to a young woman or anyone for that matter? In fact, not just women, but anyone in the early stages of their IT career looking to advance themselves. What tips would you give them that you think is really important when it comes to progression?

Jen Norman: So the first thing I want to say when I want to touch on two things, then the first one is find your passion, find the thing that you really love about your job or find the thing that you really love doing and be 100 percent dedicated to it. If you love it and if you’re passionate about it, you will be dedicated to it. You will be committed to it. And that will automatically make you do your best. If you’re working on something that isn’t your passion and that you don’t really like doing it, it’s really difficult to do your best. And it is really hard work to do the best and put your best effort in. And it becomes a chore if you find the thing that you love doing and you figure out what it is about your career and what it is about your industry that you really love, then that will shine through and you will always do your best and your work and the quality of your work will always shine through.

And those are the things that are going to help you progress. The other thing that just want to touch on very quickly. Because it’s something that I went through personally is when you look to start a family. And when we’re talking about having children and taking maternity leave and this is something I was completely guilty of when I took maternity leave was when I returned to work, I thought I was going to have to start all over again. I really thought that I was going to have to go drop back to levels and start again from scratch in my career. And I was going to have to start my career all over again and build it all back up when the reality was that I didn’t have to do that at all. And that was something that was my own assumption. That was something that I put on myself. It wasn’t something that anybody else put on top of me. That was my own assumption. But the reality was that the industry hadn’t really changed that much in nine months. And I was able to come back into work and I was very lucky to come back into work at exactly the same place where I left off and pick up almost immediately as if I’d just been on holiday for two weeks. And it really isn’t that difficult to go away half your maternity leave and come back to work and continue in your career.

Helen Workman: That’s really encouraging to hear. I think that that’s something that a lot of women worry about, of course, is and especially as you start to get into the more senior roles you worry about being forgotten about, you know, gosh, if I’m if I’m away for six months a year, you know, am I am I going to be replaced? Am I going to forget absolutely everything that I’ve learned? I’m going to have to start again. And I think that it’s a it’s a worry no matter where you are. No matter what organization you work for and you know how dedicated you are and what level you’re at. Yes. It’s always going to be a concern. So I think that’s really comforting. Good to hear from you as well. Thank you for that. From my own personal perspective as well. Thank you.

Jen, thank you so much for joining us, and I hope our listeners have, I certainly have felt so much more enlightened by this topic, it’s such a huge talking point at the moment. And I know that we’re making some real strides to encourage women to pursue IT careers. But, you know, as discussed the work really probably begin earlier in schools, encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers in further education. Like you say, the interest is there at the very beginning. How can we try and latch onto that interest and have them carry it through? female role models? We need to give them more airtime. You know, they are they are out there and they’re doing an absolute stellar job. So, you know, we had more visibility of that. And hopefully, you know, as technology is such a big part of our lives at the moment, it’s just ingrained in absolutely everything that we do. You know, the next generation, hopefully we will see a major increase in women pursuing careers.

So thank you so much, Jen. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you to all of our listeners. And as always, you can find all of our details and references to our statistics on our Website. Thank you very much. Catch you next time.