Women in technology: embracing change - we can do it and so can you

6th June 2022
By: Gillian Bailey, Operations Director, Maintel

There’s been a shift in Maintel’s culture – a conscious effort has been made to tackle gender inequality in the workplace, embrace change and create more opportunities for women. But there are still many companies within the technology industry that don’t seem to be committed to doing the same. Why is that? Gillian Bailey, Maintel’s Operations Director helps to address that question and offers advice to any women who are considering a career in tech.

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I’m really proud to be part of an organisation with such a modern, progressive and increasingly diverse culture, and it’s a bit damning that the changes I’ve seen during my time at Maintel haven’t been reflected across other parts of the industry. 

I feel a bit of a fraud representing “women in technology” because I’ve never done a hands-on technical role, but after leaving university with a general business degree, I’ve always worked in this industry.

In 20 years, I have never had a female boss and looking back, my management meetings would always be a room full of male peers. I’m now Maintel’s Operations Director, and I sit as part of the Executive Management Team which is 50/50 men and women – that’s not something that this organisation had ever seen before Ioan MacRae joined as CEO, but he is very committed to diversity.

I’m shocked that I’m not seeing the same culture shift in other companies. I haven’t seen much change in terms of the women I interact with externally – the balance of males to females in supplier, vendor, partner, and customer meetings is the same as it’s always been. I’m still quite often the only female in those rooms.

And when you go into those meetings with people that don’t know you, there can be a subtle reaction when they realise you’re a female in a senior role. When I introduce myself and my position something visibly changes, or I go to a meeting with male direct reports and the conversation is being channelled to them until we do our introductions, then I notice that it shifts to me. Sometimes it’s good to be able to pull rank in situations like that!

But if you’re a female engineer or a junior manager and you’re not in a position to pull the seniority card – what happens then? Does the conversation never come to you?

Everybody feels able to speak and be heard in Maintel meetings, regardless of their level or role. I think it is part of the bottom-up culture that we are trying to embrace.

Operations is a big team, accounting for around two-thirds of the people within the organisation. I started out in a non-people management role, and just gradually took more teams under my wing! It’s a male-dominated environment but we have lots of female engineers coming through. I’m proud of our apprentices, proud that the team has encouraged them, and proud that we have got some long service as well, so we are obviously creating a positive environment.

While we’re bringing a new wave of young female talent in, it’s disappointing that there is still a lack of women in my team. I currently have three female managers in a team of 300. We get very few CVs from women when we recruit managers, so it’s hard to grow that number. The few we do receive are from women already working in the industry, but managing in tech is no different to managing in any other industry, so why aren’t we able to attract women from other sectors. Is there a stigma to it?

Whatever industry you’re in, if you can lead by example, you’ve got empathy, you can multitask, win hearts and minds, bring your team along with you –– if you’ve got those leadership and management skills, you’ll be a success.

I have always worked for men, and they have always given me a chance and believed in what I could do. I’ve obviously taken responsibility for my own career, and I’ve worked really hard to prove my worth, but I owe a lot to those guys for having the confidence to not just go with the status quo. I’ve learned a lot from the current leadership of Maintel, which fits my philosophy well. We work hard and play hard, but we do both with compassion and understanding.

The support I’ve had wasn’t signposted as mentoring, but it always helped me get to the next level. I did a coaching qualification years ago and I’m now part of the Women in Technology Mentoring Programme as well as using my coaching skills internally. It sounds corny but I wanted to give something back. It’s been interesting and surprising – I’ve always thought that what I’ve achieved is nothing revolutionary, but I find I can share advice and insights with women who are facing some of the obstacles I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid.

I would tell women considering a career in tech to definitely go for it but find the right organisational fit. If you find a company with your values and principles, you’re going to find likeminded people, and you’ll be able to ask what you think are silly questions (and you should ALWAYS be the one who is prepared to ask the silly questions!), you’ll be able to build a really good network of support, male or female, and you’ll get to work in a team where you can achieve lots and have a really good laugh. We spend enough time at work – we should definitely enjoy it!

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