Completely by chance – really! – I found myself on Saturday morning in a roomful of students from the University of Edinburgh, listening to Kate Ho speaking about her career in technology, as part of the university’s International Women’s Day celebrations. Kate – a former Edinburgh undergraduate, with a subsequent career in games design, software development and digital user interfaces, and now at Skyscanner – was one of the founders of the university’s ‘Hoppers’ society, a student-run university society for women in technology, named after the great pioneer of computer programming, Grace Hopper, and it was a joy to listen to her.
The need for tackling unconscious gender bias (in the technology field, but equally in others), was brought home when Kate reminded us of the Colombia University Business School study into how employers reacted differently to the same CV when the name Heidi was replaced with the name Howard. Quite apart from her reflections on the state of computer development (and women in tech) over the past 20 years, however, Kate was particularly insightful in her thoughts on how young people could develop their careers. She explained how she had been very deliberate about her career, making choices to engage in a number of different industries, and to build a number of different experiences, in which she learned and grew. She recommended a book: Designing Your Life (which I now have on order, but I am certain will be good). She also returned – frequently – to the theme of networking and mutual support. She emphasised that the students present were surrounded by their peers, who would go on to have interesting careers; who better to turn to for help in the future? Build these relationships now, was her message – and reach out and network more, participating in networking groups and events. One of the best time investments you can make, she told her audience.
I loved hearing Kate speak – and it was all the more special because it was so unexpected. In fact, a big shoutout to the young woman who spotted me waiting for my tech-mad daughter to test some digital games as part of a research project for some MSc students, and who invited me in – support and networking in action (she now has my card, and I will willingly help her going forward). My favourite sentence Kate said? This one, which made us all laugh:
‘Networking is a little like going to the gym – once a year doesn’t help …’
So – message of the week, for #IWD2020, is ‘go network!’. Reach out, connect, give as much as you receive, and be generous in giving back. Share your learning, and we all grow.
What a great message for us all.