Archive by Author | Bharti Lim

Will you choose to challenge?

Celebrating International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021. Each year there is a new theme and for 2021 this is “choose to challenge”.

It got me thinking about what this means and I realised that a challenged world is an alert world, and from that challenge can come real and meaningful change.

What does it mean in practice?

Some of the topics that will be discussed during IWD 2021 include:
• A gender equal world
• Celebrating women’s achievements
• Raising awareness against bias
• Taking action for equality.

All of these issues are still required in so many countries and companies.

We’ve made great progress but more is needed.

What if you are lucky enough to work at a company that treats these issues seriously and has a progressive culture that fosters an environment where it is doing them quite well too? Do you pat yourself on the back and mark it off as done?

I work at a company that I have to say is doing amazing things in these areas.

One of the first things I came across when I started working at Computacenter is the ‘Growing Together’ programme. This was created with to retain and advance female talent in middle to senior-level roles.

This is about action. It is not good enough just to identify the problem, make some suggestions and then nothing really changes as happens at many organisations. A company needs to put a programme in place to make sure the change can take place and have an on-going impact.

This programme is all about ensuring that women feel supported, can grow within the company and are mentored to help them continue their careers should they wish to.

Computacenter also has many diversity and inclusivity programmes. It is not down to a single person to manage this activity. It is actually the responsibility of everyone and every team. Employees are encouraged from all areas of the business to help take this role on.

In effect it is run by the people that want to see change happen. This doesn’t feel like a management activity but a people activity. The saying ‘People Matter’ is not just an exercise in branding but something that is part of the DNA of the company.

Celebrating women

I’m proud to say that in addition to Computacenter recognising the achievements of the female members of staff that work for the company, they also sponsor a range of events such as the CRN Women in Channel awards, Women in Tech festival, FDM everywoman in Technology awards just to name a few.

Women are also recognised alongside their male counterparts at internal awards ceremonies. Externally, Computacenter recognises female talent across the organisation and nominates them for various awards every year.

In 2020 Julie O’Hara, Group Delivery Director was named Woman of the Year at the CRN Women in Channel awards. What an amazing achievement and very well deserved it was too. This has inspired other females working at Computacenter but it also means we have a good role model, at an Executive level at the company.

Julie O’Hara, Director – Group Delivery & Winner ‘Woman of the Year’ at the CRN Women in Channel Awards 2020

Challenging the future talent pool

What about the future females and males that will enter the workforce in 2 years or even in 10 years? I have been working with Computacenter’s Future Talent programme that focuses on the next generation of employees whilst they are still in education.

The number and type of events that Computacenter is involved with is impressive. It is helping to empower the future talent pool, giving them opportunities and visibility into what careers in the IT industry can look like as well as show the pathway to different roles and how skills can be transferable.

Photograph of Doris Webb, Computacenter's Future Talent Specialist
Doris Webb, Future Talent Specialist #ChooseToChallenge

So, with all this in mind and the great things we are doing why are we still choosing to challenge? Quite simply we cannot afford to stand still and there is always room to do more. For an IT company it is important that gender bias is removed, the stigma attached to the typical IT employee is changed and that we continue to educate.

It is vital that we choose to challenge our friends, family, colleagues and others around us.

During my career in IT, I have frequently faced gender bias, and I was not always strong enough to speak up for myself, but I had amazing work colleagues who did this for me.

Therefore, the commitment made by management, colleagues and the leadership teams at a company really do matter. Everyone needs help and support at some time.

Blair Crawford, Head of Customer Solutions – ServiceNow Centre of Excellence, Computacenter #ChooseToChallenge

An inclusive culture impacts on loyalty

When I started working at Computacenter, I got introduced to a lot of people that had worked here for a long time. Five years of service, ten or even 20 years is not unusual.

I began to wonder why people stayed for so long at one company. However, when I saw how the company treats everyone equally, operates on a meritocracy but is also supportive of women in the workplace, then I really do understand why people choose to develop their long-term career at Computacenter.

The link between mental health, wellbeing and movement

Today is what is known as ‘Blue Monday’.  This is the third Monday in January every year and is the day that people’s mental health is said to be at a low point due to a number of factors:  the weather is cold, people don’t have much money after Christmas and are waiting for payday to come around, and you can add in the guilt of New Year’s resolutions falling by the wayside before the end of January.

However, I think the last year has had lots of blue days, so this year is a little different – especially as we are in lockdown again! For me it’s the fact that home-schooling begins again on a Monday whilst I try to work. A sentiment many parents will be feeling today and every Monday.

Have you been feeling blue for a while?

With the announcement of another lockdown, I could just hear the entire country groaning at the thought of further disruption as we wait for the vaccine to help take us on the path to emerging from the Covid-19 induced nightmare of the last 12 months.

We are sure to see and feel more troughs and peaks before we are out of the woods.  That’s why I have been encouraged to see the important topic of mental health is being talked about more openly and more often than ever before as the realisation that this is a major challenges to people’s health on top of the physical symptoms of Covid-19.

Talking about it is one thing, however, there isn’t much said about how to find ways to enjoy better mental health.

If you are in a low place what kind of things might help?  Or what can you do to prevent you reaching a low point?

How getting enough exercise can help your mental health

There are some simple things which may prove useful in both scenarios and one of them is exercise. All forms of exercise count from walking to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes, yoga to weight training – many of which can still be enjoyed at home even during a lockdown.

Exercising indoors during lockdown

When gyms closed in the first lockdown, many people in the UK turned to outdoor exercise, meeting friends for walks and getting out into the fresh air.  Unlike other countries where the temperature is still conducive to exercising outdoors, we are now deep into the long, cold winter months in the UK where the days are wetter, shorter and darker.  As a result, it can be hard to summon up the motivation to get those 10k steps in, or to build some exercise into your routine before or after your working day, particularly if you are having to fit home-schooling in too.

One of my colleagues invested in a treadmill.  That’s a real investment and sign of commitment! However, he is the type of person that will actually use it.  As for me, I’m fairly confident if I bought one, it would quickly become somewhere to hang items from.

Avoiding distractions

During the first lockdown I dug out the limited weights that I already had, dusted off the step machine and invested in some exercise bands. But with home-schooling and various other demands on my time, I found that workouts dropped off the radar.

I accepted exercise was too difficult to fit in. The effect on my mental health was so much bigger than I expected.

I use exercise to channel the thoughts in my head out of my body via movement. So, I got back into the routine of walking, added some new workouts and as the original lockdown restrictions eased, I went back to the gym slowly.

And then we went back into lockdown, a bit like the hokey cokey. With announcements seemingly made every other day, there is great uncertainty about when we might emerge from the latest lockdown and this uncertainty keeps throwing our plans into chaos.

Routine, routine, routine

There is saying that to build a routine, then make it a habit takes approximately 30 days. Most of us are finding it hard to maintain a routine these days. I was an avid gym member pre lockdown #2.  But the break has made it more challenging to get back into the swing of things.

When I did, I wasn’t consistent and found excuses for not going.  So, this time I decided I was going to get back into a good routine.

Back in Lockdown #2, I decided to commit to a 28-day challenge run by a personal trainer called Courtney Black that I found on Instagram during the first lockdown. She runs the challenge every other month, the alternative months also have daily workouts.  The 28-day challenge involves more intense exercises designed to challenge your body. I have previous experience of trying a 28-day challenge on the Courtney Black app. I quit after 6 days!  It is a tough challenge of weights and HIIT workouts, 6 days a week for 28 days.

There is a 28-day food plan but as Diwali fell in the middle of that 28 days, I decided I would focus on the exercise.

One step at a time after all.

An immediate challenge was how am I going to build a routine that I can stick to?  I am pleased to tell you I completed the challenge albeit a few days over the 28 days due to my body screaming at me to take a few days off.  Always listen to your body.

I made sure that even though I had taken a few days off I wasn’t going to allow excuses like “well I am almost done now anyway” or “I will start again next week” to creep in.

Here are some of the ways you can make a routine into a habit:

  1. Commit to something for 30 days, a month is a good target to aim for.
  2. Make it daily. It is easier to form a habit if you are used to doing it every day.
  3. Start simple, try not to do too many things at once.  Over committing will stop you in your tracks.
  4. Consistency is key. Think ‘same again tomorrow’.
  5. If buddying up or joining a team is out, look for a virtual version to help keep you motivated.
  6. Be imperfect. If you don’t get it right all the time, that’s okay. Trying is better than not trying.

Now in lockdown #3 I am back on the 28 day challenge and almost half way through.

What exercise will do for you

What I really noticed was the difference a 45 min workout can make.  I never look forward to a workout if I am honest. Throughout the workout I want it to be over because it is tough. But at the end, I am proud I made it through, and thankful its over for the day. These are all physical aspects.

But here are the mental benefits. Before starting a workout, my mind feels confused, full of lists, worries about what needs to be done at home and at work, home schooling my child. I have been emotional and in tears, stressed and tired prior to a workout.  After 45 to 60 minutes of exercise I feel much more balanced.

“The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts — or, at least, the hot shower after your exercise is over.” Source

I have often said that my brain functions better post exercise; I think quicker and feel more awake. My mind is clearer as to what needs to be done and I feel less emotional, which I believe makes me work better and deal with trying to wear the teacher hat better too.  Using up 30 mins of my work day to fit in exercise often makes me more productive for the next 7 hours and has far more benefit compared to a day where I don’t exercise.

There are lots of free workouts available and most of these Personal Trainers, such as Joe Wicks, Courtney Black, other online trainers, including Bez from the Happy Mondays, have offered free workouts during lockdown. Remember exercise can be a bike ride, taking the dogs for a walk, going for a run, movement of any kind will help you and your mental wellbeing – some people swear by an hour of gardening or even housework – done at a brisk pace.

Fitting it all in – tips on getting enough exercise during the working day

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Time! We are always short on time.  Here are my top tips for getting some exercise into your working day:

  • Start early – I find exercising first thing in the morning means it is out of the way before I start work. As mentioned, I always focus better after a workout. This can be any kind of workout including a brisk walk listening to music or podcasts.
  • Steps – use walking meetings. I often take calls where I don’t need to be in front of a screen on a walk. My manager and colleagues are very familiar with my walking 1-2-1 meetings. Even two x 10 minutes walks are better than none.  Crucially, it gives you a break from your desk and screen.
  • Use the furthest bathroom – most of us will go to the closest bathroom in our house. Go to the furthest if you have more than one. You get do more steps and get a longer break from your desk.
  • Do a YouTube walking workout – this is a thing and you can do it whilst on a call. There are videos that help you achieve 5k (or other amounts depending on time) steps in 35 minutes. Not recommended for video meetings!
  • Scheduled lunch break workouts – this helps you get a workout and gets you away from your desk. Most people that work from home don’t take a proper lunch break often enough.

The value of getting away from the desk

This brings me to my final point around wellbeing and mental health.  I’ve talked about the value of getting away from your desk.  But make sure you are not just raiding the food cupboard! When I started working from home 8 years ago, I was guilty of doing this too often and soon realised I needed to find another way to force me to take a break.

I’ve managed to build something into my lunchtime that is easy to do.  Before I tell you, promise not to judge? I got into watching an Australian soap, I am sure you can guess which one.

I did this originally because we almost moved to Australia and – well – it made sense to watch an Aussie soap, right? But when we didn’t make the move, I realised by watching it every day, I had to take a lunch break.

Of course, you can choose something better if soaps aren’t for you.  Aim for a programme that lasts 30 to 45 minutes that you can watch daily.  This gives you enough time to make lunch or heat something up, watch a programme and eat.  You might have time to make a cup of tea before going back to your desk.

People normally laugh when I tell them what I watch.  But then I ask them if they take a lunch break, the answer is normally no and then they get my point.  It’s not about the programme but what it indicates to my brain.

By taking a break and watching something harmless my brain can switch off from work.  The show is series-linked to I can be flexible with when I take my lunch break too.

Look after yourself and be more productive

We all have a job to do. But you will only do your job well if you look after yourself.

Lockdown or not, this does not change. The options may seem limited but there are plenty of ways to take care of yourself.

Taking the first step is always the hardest.

So, take that break, do some exercise, eat and sleep well. Your body, your mind and your employer will thank you for it.

Put your faith in Zero Trust Security

The world of work has changed significantly in the last six months with millions of employees now working from home.  Perimeter defences that businesses previously relied on are proving insufficient because the controls that were applied when employees were predominantly office-based, with approved devices connected to the network, do not work as well for a distributed workforce.  Many organisations are now finding that Zero Trust Security offers a better approach.

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a security concept that requires all users to be authenticated, authorised and have their security configuration and posture continuously validated, before being granted access to applications and data.

The concept was introduced by Forrester Research over a decade ago but is more relevant than ever.

Zero Trust uses a variety of advanced technologies that are able to continuously monitor and validate that a user and device have the right privileges and attributes.  Organisations must ensure that all access requests are also continuously verified prior to allowing a connection to any enterprise or cloud asset. The policies rely heavily on real-time visibility of attributes such as:

  • User identity
  • Endpoint hardware
  • Patch levels
  • Vulnerabilities
  • Applications installed
  • Security or incident detections

Why Zero Trust is important

Zero Trust is one of the most effective ways for organisations to control who and what has access to their networks, applications and, more importantly, data. Adding preventative measures like next generation firewalls, often called the micro-perimeters or micro-segmentation, can effectively segregate and manage the network.

This will help deter attackers and limit access in the event of a breach.  It is a critical layer of security that organisations require when they have a remote or global workforce with a growing number of endpoints.

‘Never trust, always verify’ principle

Zero Trust is a methodology, not a tool or a product.

At its heart is the simple concept: do not trust anybody operating inside your network and, instead, make them continuously authenticate their identity.  It is targeted at both attackers outside of the network that have breached it and malicious insiders.  The aim being to prevent them moving laterally through the network as they seek out sensitive data.

The importance of this approach was demonstrated in the case of Edward Snowden, the American whistle-blower who copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013.

Snowden had legitimate credentials to operate as a subcontractor within the National Security Agency (NSA) network. Once he was granted access there was no further authentication procedures and he was able to download top-secret material. 

Had Zero Trust with its core principles of least privilege and real-time monitoring of malicious activities been in place, it is likely that he would have been discovered earlier.

Key principles of Zero Trust Security

There are a number of key principles behind a robust Zero Trust policy, which are explored below:

Know your Architecture – including users, devices and services

It is critical to have comprehensive information about your assets.  In order to get benefit from a Zero Trust approach, you need to know about each component of your architecture – from users and their devices, through to the services, applications and data they are accessing. 

There are several pre-requisites that must be considered:

  • Storing component information in a centralised place
  • Business process mapping
  • Identifying all potential connection points — both physical and virtual
  • Determining if the device accessing your services is up-to-date, compliant with your device configuration policies and in a healthy state

Together, these represent some of the most important signals used to control access to services and data.  Having policies that govern the above, in a place where they can easily be managed, reviewed, and updated are fundamental to the success of a Zero Trust environment.

Services also need to be kept up to date with the latest software patches.  You need to be able to determine the version and patch level of the service you are using and, it goes without saying, that patches fixing vulnerabilities should be applied at the earliest opportunity. Identifying and prioritising patching can minimise the effect of users suffering from ‘patch fatigue’ and ensures that the most vulnerable devices are at the highest patch levels.

Create a strong device identity

Each device should be uniquely identifiable in a single device directory. This enables efficient asset management and clear visibility of the devices which access services and your data.  This will help when applying policies and compliance as well as managing the health of the device estate.

Leverage a variety of preventative technologies

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a major requirement for a Zero Trust architecture.  But it should be implemented in a way that does not hinder the use of the service.  Therefore, it is important to select where additional authentication points are or where additional authentication factors are used.  For example, authentication should be used when requests are high impact or important, or when the user is accessing sensitive data or requesting privileged actions, such as creating or deleting users.

To enable granular access control, specific roles for each user should be created.  Then ensure the access control and device directory can be employed by all the services you plan to use, both internal and external.  This will also allow the organisation to use least privilege access, granting the user and devices the lowest level of access required in order to carry out their role.

The micro segmentation technique can be used to create small zones within the network to help maintain separated access to different parts of the network.  This could be invaluable in helping to contain an attack if a breach occurs.

Focus on monitoring devices and services

Organisations should also incorporate real-time monitoring capabilities to improve their “breakout time” — the critical window between when an intruder compromises the first machine and when they can move laterally to other systems.

Real-time monitoring is essential to the organisation’s ability to detect, investigate and remediate intrusions. Automation and orchestration can also be a benefit here in helping remediation to take place quickly if an attack or breach is identified.

Set policies according to value of the service or data

The power of a Zero Trust architecture comes from the access policies that you define.  These policies can consider several signals from the connection in real-time and from the signals database to a build context for the connection. This context is then used to gain confidence in the connection request and decide if it is trusted enough to continue. The role of the Policy Engine performs this policy evaluation and decision.

Focus on the broader security strategy, not just the technology

A Zero Trust architecture is just one aspect of a comprehensive security strategy. Whilst technology plays an important part in protecting the organisation, digital capabilities alone will not prevent breaches. Companies must adopt a holistic security solution that incorporates a variety of endpoint monitoring, detection and response capabilities to ensure the safety of their networks, but another challenge is getting staff to think along new lines.  Moving to a Zero Trust architecture takes time and should be part of the organisations digital transformation strategy involving the CISO, CIO and others at this level so they can prioritise the actions needed to move to this operating model.

Audit everything!

While not a glamorous activity, auditing should be a central part of your security strategy.  With a documented record of all actions performed by a user, these data sets can be used in forensic analysis and help to identify suspicious activity in real-time with the option to terminate sessions. In addition, audit data can be leveraged to prove compliance, with reports on every user’s privileges and associated activity.

How can you leverage ServiceNow to achieve Zero Trust Security?

Achieving all of the above is not easy.  But there are a number of ways ServiceNow can help. The diagram below shows some of the key points.

The architecture

ServiceNow’s configuration management database (CMDB) and IT Operations Management (ITOM) capabilities provide device, service and asset visibility. The CMDB allows you to build logical representations of assets, services, and the relationships between them to develop a better understanding of your organisation’s architecture.  Using ServiceNow we can build relationships to the assets and services to the users who have access or are assigned to an asset. This supports the auditing and visibility of the risks to the organisation’s architecture.

Details about these components are stored in the CMDB which you can use to monitor the infrastructure, helping ensure integrity, stability, and continuous service operation.  It gives you the central repository of all information which is key to achieving a Zero Trust model.

Greater visibility

ITOM Visibility gives you an accurate, up-to-date view of your IT infrastructure and services, spanning both multi-cloud and on-premise environments. It automates the end-to-end infrastructure discovery and service mapping process—including tracking ongoing changes—creating a complete and reliable record in your CMDB.

This infrastructure and service information is seamlessly leveraged by other ServiceNow applications such as ITOM Health, ITOM Optimization, and Software Asset Management.  It can be easily enriched with additional configuration information/items. Software Asset management allows you to see who is using the software, provides approvals for access to software applications and workflows.

SecOps & GRC

Ensuring that your devices are kept up to date with patches can also be done using ServiceNow SecOps and the Vulnerability Response (VR) application.  VR helps organisations to identify and quickly respond to vulnerabilities, helping to track, prioritise, and resolve them efficiently using a single platform.

Configuration compliance within ServiceNow SecOps can also help ensure that assets are configured as per the company policy. Improperly configured software can create a risk for the organisation and can go unidentified for a long time. Configuration compliance leverages the CMDB to determine which assets are most critical and using third party security configuration assessment scans can quickly remediate misconfigured devices.

Coordinating the response

ServiceNow’s workflow and automation capabilities can coordinate an IT response, from a single platform to address changes and updates.  Configuration compliance can also be fed into the continuous monitoring feature of ServiceNow Governance, Risk and Compliance to further mitigate risk.

There are a number of preventative technologies that can be leveraged, including:

  • Identity and access management
  • Privileged access management
  • Cloud access security broker or policy orchestrator
  • SIEM or other user and entity behaviour analytics
  • Network segmentation
  • Next-generation firewall

As the platform of platforms, ServiceNow provides a unified experience across multiple technologies deployed across the enterprise.  ServiceNow has seamless integrations with many of the key vendors working in this space.  It brings the ability to leverage the above technologies and add context using the CMDB and ITOM to make the task of identifying high-risk assets much easier.  Whilst ServiceNow supports security teams in responding faster there is significant value in its ability to provide a single pane of glass to monitor these various technologies.

Focus your monitoring on devices and services using ServiceNow SecOps. As mentioned above, the platform has the ability to provide a centralised place to capture the information from your security technologies.  The platform can utilise that information along with workflows, automation and if possible, orchestration. Moving to this stage of the Zero Trust model can ensure remediation can take place quickly should a breach or attack occur. 

By also monitoring your devices, ServiceNow gives you visibility into your organisation’s security posture using detailed dashboards and reports. This visibility over what is baseline will help establish normal behaviour.  In turn this can assist with identifying abnormal behaviour, that could be a sign of malicious activity, as is occurs.  Using the reports and dashboards can provide administrators with an insight into how well the security tools are working, if anything needs changing or if further automation can be added to further secure the network.

Auditing using the ServiceNow platform

To ensure everything is captured correctly, audit logs should be created automatically. ServiceNow has a dedicated audit table that can be configured to audit a wide range of things and, by default, the system tracks changes to the incident, change and problem tables, among others. The audit information is invaluable in creating the reports to ensure that your security posture is correct.

Implementing a Zero Trust Model

Zero Trust is not a new concept – however it is one that can be implemented using some of the existing technologies already in place within the corporate IT infrastructure.

Starting a Zero Trust architecture is a process that requires careful planning and execution.  However, I recommend that you progressively add layers as per the various sections described above, rather than attempting a big bang ‘jump’ to Zero Trust.

Using a platform that can bring lots of disparate systems and information together in one place can help make the transition smoother.  For example, a key aspect of the Zero Trust model is knowing what devices, assets, services and users you have and how they work. This is more difficult to attain since large swathes of the workforce began working from home, but the ServiceNow CMDB lets you know exactly what assets are in your IT environment using current, accurate configuration data.

In addition to using existing technologies to achieve Zero Trust Security, new technologies may also be required to feed into this model. Computacenter can provide an agnostic view on the optimum technology to use in each case to help create a Zero Trust architecture and also advise on how to best utilise the existing technologies that you already have.

Only then can you have the confidence to put your faith in a Zero Trust model.

Bharti Lim is an experienced Senior Security specialist at Computacenter’s ServiceNow Centre of Excellence – part of a highly skilled team using solutions built on the ServiceNow platform that deliver innovation, efficiencies and a world class experience for customers.  Bharti has worked across a variety of security technologies over her career, specialising in network and data security. She has worked with a number of large organisations, advising on how to use ServiceNow for Security Operations and how to address Governance, Risk and Compliance challenges.  Bharti is also a passionate advocate for Women in IT and mental health issues.

If I Could Turn Back Time: My Top Tips For Women in IT

This year, Computacenter UK sponsored the Women in Tech Festival 2020. As part of our sponsorship, we asked inspirational people from across our organisation to share their thoughts on different issues facing women in technology today.

In this blog, our Cyber Security Solution Consultant Bharti Lim shares some top tips for other women in the IT sector.

Being female in a male dominated world isn’t always the easiest ask, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. If I was able to go back in time and give the younger version of me some advice, then I would probably do things a lot differently.

Here are my top tips; things that I wish I had been told much earlier in my career.

1. Getting your personal branding right

What do you think of when you hear this word? Maybe a business or a product? How about celebrities – do you think of them as having a brand? 

But what about your personal brand? If you Google your name, do you appear and what do you find on that all-important first page?

Branding is all about how you are perceived; whether that’s on the internet, on social media, or in the workplace. Branding is important in a male dominated career as it helps to ensure that your ability and talent are not overlooked. Effective branding can open doors for you with new career opportunities, it can help you win clients, secure you a slot on an industry speaking platform, an article in a business publication, or even a nomination for an award.

In order to create a personal brand, you have to put yourself out into the world – to see and be seen:

  • Create content and engage in the right conversations
  • Ensure you have the right profile picture
  • Choose the perfect headshot
  • Focus on the wording in your bio on social media

This is important because what people see of your brand will form their opinion of you – most likely before they even meet you.

Women often do all the above but less proactively than our male counterparts. Why? Is it a lack of confidence? Imposter syndrome? Taking the first step is hard, but once you begin, it will get easier.

A great starting point is by engaging with social content that is already being shared by other people. This could be commenting on a blog, tweet, or LinkedIn post.

The next step is to publish credible content and feed this into your network. Make sure it contains information of value that your contacts will be interested in. This can be your own original content or by using other people’s content as a source to expand on.

The final step of creating your personal band is being visible in person. This is harder than ever during the restrictions imposed by lockdown.  But it’s not impossible. Volunteers are still required for outreach programs at schools, universities and charities. There are lots of virtual events taking place such as ServiceNow’s Now at Work annual conference.  These types of event always need speakers or people to participate in panel discussions.

Personal branding is not about self-promotion or bragging about your achievements but about sharing knowledge, giving back and even encouraging others and showing what you represent. Its is also a fantastic way to create and develop relationships.

2. Recognise the benefits of networking

Although women are seen to be more sociable then men, surveys suggest that women still network in the workplace far less than their male counterparts.

Networking has lots of benefits. Some of them are simple – getting to know more people in your field and learning from others. There are plenty of benefits such as finding sponsors or mentors, expanding business opportunities and of course finding a new job.

According to a joint study by the Adler Group and LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are filled through networking. But it is not just about finding a job at a new company. Networking can give you access to senior leaders where you currently work, and that regular interaction can lead to awareness and ultimately, to new opportunities and even promotions

You need to network with purpose if you want to have a seat at the table where your voice and opinions can be heard. You have to be seen and become known.

Networking can also help with your personal development if you take advantage of opportunities to learn and share ideas. Many people believe that a small network is best but if you are only surrounded by people that think like you, how will you be challenged?

Networking in larger groups gives you access to a different pool of experiences, views and opinions. Also, statistically a distant acquaintance is more likely to recommend you for a job than a close friend.

Networking should be something that you incorporate into your regular routines. You shouldn’t think of ‘doing a bit of networking’ – it needs to be thought out and proactive.

Think not ‘what can you do for me’ but find a way you can potentially work together and collaborate with other people. It is about creating a relationship and genuine connections; it doesn’t need to be for an immediate purpose.

Another common mistake is to try form this relationship solely based on work, some of the best connections you will make can come from areas outside of work such as hobbies, travel, even pets. You can form deeper, more meaningful connections which may last longer than the position you are currently working in.

Networking should also be about giving back. This can be about opening doors for others, mentoring and training. This ties back into personal branding and what you represent. This kind of activity gets noticed even if it isn’t talked about overtly. 

The world of IT is a small place, it is likely that you will bump into the same people again and again in your career.

3. Know your worth

Women often downplay their abilities and achievements – it doesn’t come naturally and sometimes feels like we’re bragging. We are, generally, not great at shouting about ourselves and our achievements. This is not something that you associate with many of our male colleagues and peers. If we are not shouting about our achievements, then who will?

This does not only apply to telling people on social media or the workplace about your achievements, it also applies when we’re interviewed. You have to know your worth and believe in it, no one else will do it for you. Think how hard you have worked to get where are you are today. 

The same applies when you are offered a job – this is the perfect time to negotiate the package on offer. Know your worth in the market.

There is a fundamental difference in the way women and men behave when it comes to work, interviews, job offers and promotions. Women are less inclined to put themselves forward if they do not fully meet the job spec and less inclined to put themselves forward for promotion if no one has suggested it first.  

Women tend to accept the job offer with the salary mentioned and never try to push the boundaries. That’s one of the reasons behind the gender pay gap.

What it comes down to is self-belief, the ability to accept failure and celebrate successes. Failure is not the end but an important step in the road to achieving success.

Speaking of successes, you need to remember what you’ve done; whether that’s noted down as a written reference point or something you make as a mental note. One of the best ways to highlight your successes is to shout about them.

This could take the form of telling your colleagues, posting work successes on social media or listing them on your CV. You are where you are because you worked hard for it, if you can believe in your own abilities, this will change the way you work and how you are perceived.

The saying ‘fake it until you make it’ comes to mind. 

Men have no problem working to this saying, it is time women practiced the same techniques.

How can following these tips make a difference?

A while back I made a conscious decision to work on aspects of each of the tips outlined above. 

Over time, I have noticed a change in how I am seen and just as importantly, how I feel in my role. This has had a knock-on effect on how happy I am in my role, too.

So, what have you got to lose, why not give it a go? 

Please leave feedback at the end of this article or connect with me on LinkedIn if you want to share your experience.

Spotting a Hidden Disability

Today is the International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD), a United Nations-sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally.

IDPWD promotes equality for people with disabilities in all areas of society. This day was first announced by the UN in 1992 with the aim of advancing disability rights and protecting the wellbeing of people with disabilities.

The theme this year is “not all disabilities are visible.”  This focuses on raising awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent just by looking at someone, such as:

  • mental illness
  • chronic pain or fatigue
  • sight or hearing impairments
  • diabetes
  • brain injuries
  • neurological disorders
  • learning differences
  • cognitive dysfunctions

Would you recognise the sunflower lanyard?

As soon as I saw the theme, I instantly thought of 2 things: the sunflower lanyard and face masks.

If you have not heard or seen the pictures about the sunflower lanyards, then let me explain.  It is a brilliantly simple idea – a sunflower on a green background with some text.

It was introduced so that it discreetly indicates to people around the wearer that the person wearing it may need additional support, help or a bit more time. It launched in 2016 and has now become more widely adopted. 

Awareness of the sunflower lanyard has increased a lot in the 12 to 18 months.

People without facemasks

The other thought that crossed my mind was facemasks. Facemasks are now part of our daily lives and by law you have to wear one when inside a retail outlet, including pharmacies.

I’m sure you will have seen someone without a facemask when ideally, they should have been wearing one. 

What was your first reaction?  Many people will inwardly shake their heads having pre-judged the person within the first 2-3 seconds.

I know I’ve done the same. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there are people that are unable to wear them for a multitude of genuine reasons to do with hidden disabilities. 

Here are just some of the reasons you can be exempt from wearing a face mask in public:

  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate

Wearing a lanyard signifies to people around you that you are exempt from wearing a facemask due to a hidden disability.

You might be wondering if this is really needed, but in the above cases the person may not look any different to an able-bodied person. Our perception of disability is not necessarily the same for everyone.

Some of the people suffering from a hidden disability will be sitting next to you in an office, walking by your side at the supermarket or present every day on the school run. It is easy for us to identify the person with a visible disability but so many people around us have disabilities that we aren’t familiar with seeing or hearing much about and therefore assume that they might not be affected.

When the smile doesn’t show what is happening on the inside

This year I came across an amazing lady called Nicky Newman, @nicknacklou. I found her account on Instagram almost by accident. She posts funny videos, dances around, is always smiling and she has a very bubbly social media presence.

And then I saw what was going on behind the smile.  Although it looks as though she is having a great life, she is living with secondary or metastatic cancer.

This is a cancer that has spread from the part of the body where it started (the primary site) to other parts of the body. This cancer is still named after the place it originated, for example if it was originally breast cancer it can spread to your lungs but still be called breast cancer.

This cancer cannot be cured. It can however be treated but it requires a never-ending long-term treatment. Continuous ongoing treatment means that the body is always having to work against the cancer, often this can be painful, cause fatigue, breathlessness, as well as other symptoms.

If I met this woman on the street, I would never guess the pain her body is putting her through. I would never know what mental struggles she might be having as she makes trips in and out of hospital, the never ending scans followed by the anxious wait for results. I would never know what mental struggles she might be having as she makes trips in and out of hospital, the never-ending scans followed by the anxious wait for results.

She hasn’t lost her hair. She looks fit and healthy so would I question her using the disabled facilities or parking in a disabled parking spot?

Sadly, if I am honest, I would have done, until now.  Just to be clear Nicky does have a blue parking badge and secondary cancers are classed as a disability.  However, we are so used to looking at the person that in this case there is not a single thing to suggest otherwise.

After following Nicky’s Instagram, I have to say I have changed how quickly I judge the person in the supermarket not wearing a mask, or someone who is taking ages to do a simple task.

We hear much more about about mental health, learning difficulties and of course physical disabilities but there are so many we still don’t know or think about. At the moment and for a long time to come mental health for many people will be at a low point.  So many people are struggling, and we could all do with being a little more sympathetic and less judgemental.

How do you spot a hidden disability?

Until facemasks were a legal requirement, I didn’t hear anything about the impact on people that rely on lip reading and how difficult this was going to make life for them. I still haven’t seen many masks available to help those with hearing impairments.

And what about the helpers that also need to be mask free in order to provide support?

This is truly unprecedented times we are living in. It is tough on us all. 

There is fatigue at the on-going limitations placed on our daily lives. One of my teammates remarked that it was strange to see people hugging on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ because by and large, we need to remain socially distanced from the majority of people we know.

It can be easy to lose our temper at situations, especially with people that may appear to be breaking the rules by not wearing a facemask or acting in what may seem an inappropriate manner.

But I urge you to take a moment to think how hard it is to spot a hidden disability, look for that bright yellow sunflower on a lanyard and give people the benefit of the doubt a bit more often. 

You might just help to make their life a little easier.

Mental health for all should mean ‘all’

The 10th October is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘mental health for all’.

After the year we have had I think that theme is very appropriate as the effects of social distancing, lockdowns, not seeing friends and family, not being at school as well as the loss of friends and family have all had a huge impact on our mental health.

More and more people will suffer mental health issues

A report by the centre for mental health published this month states:

“Nationally, in England, the model predicts that up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis. 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18.”

Mental health in the younger generation

When we went into lockdown my biggest concern was actually my children’s mental health.  Whilst we traditionally concern ourselves with whether or not our children are happy, we rarely stop to think about their mental health.  In fact, it is not a topic you usually associate with children.

But they have had to deal with so much that is new to them in 2020:  lockdown, school closures and social distancing.  I have never spent so much time with my children stuck inside the house before, especially at this age.  They lost so many social interaction opportunities with anyone else outside of our immediate family, and on top of that they have experienced home schooling with yours truly as a teacher!

My children are still quite young so the impact on their mental health may not be the same as older children who will be more aware of what is going on in the world.

  • 11 years old children have missed out on graduations or prom as they move up to secondary school.
  • In addition to missing out on school events, 16/18 year olds have had the uncertainty of important exams and University places to consider.  All of these are hard enough at the best of times.

For any parent struggling with how to support their children during Covid I highly recommend  One of their articles said:

We carried out a survey with 2,036 young people with a history of mental health needs between Friday 6th June and Monday 5th July, a period in which the Government announced measures to ease restrictions, including the target for schools to reopen to all students in the Autumn term.

The results reveal that:

  • 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. 41% said it had made their mental health “much worse”, up from 32% in the previous survey in March. This was often related to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.
  • 87% of respondents agreed that they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period, even though 71% had been able to stay in touch with friends. 
  • Among more than 1,000 respondents who were accessing mental health support in the three months leading up the crisis (including from the NHS, school and university counsellors, private providers, charities and helplines), 31% said they were no longer able to access support but still needed it.
  • Of those who had not been accessing support immediately before the crisis, 40% said that they had not looked for support but were struggling with their mental health
  • 11% of respondents said that their mental health had improved during the crisis, an increase from 6% in the previous survey. This was often because they felt it was beneficial to be away from the pressures of their normal life (e.g. bullying or academic pressure at school)

I’m quite lucky.  My children’s primary school sent out information during the pandemic about how to support children’s mental health.  They have made plans to celebrate World Mental Health Day at school by asking children to wear a yellow accessory.

The school has held discussions about feelings, mental wellbeing and coping mechanisms.  More schools should be including this as part of the education they provide.

But this level of support shouldn’t be limited to just whilst we are living with the pandemic.  What’s more  carers and parents should have easy access to resources that can help them to better support their children at all times.

Mental health issues in parents

I had a conversation with a friend during the lockdown who was struggling with home schooling her daughter.  When she told me that she would get into arguments with her daughter and that it was hard to juggle home schooling with her own work, I offered the following advice:

“Focus on her mental health and your mental health. Catching up with work and schoolwork might take a few months but it will take years for your mental health to recover.”

My friend described a sense of release.  She was relieved that she wasn’t alone in feeling like she had been feeling. My response to her was, “I didn’t want to force him to learn when he wanted to play, I didn’t want to argue with him to sit at a table, he was already going through so much change.”

She has since thanked me for sharing my experience. It helped make the rest of their lockdown a more pleasant experience. It’s so easy to forget when under pressure what is important and what can wait.

Many parents have described the feeling of inadequacy that comes from reading social media posts from other parents. It can easily seem like they have the perfect life – they were having an amazing time and doing super cool things with their children. It is easy to feel like I wasn’t ‘doing enough’ too.  Unintentionally or not, posts can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing.  The knock-on effect is that it doesn’t help the children either.

Once children start nursery or school, they are typically away from us 7-8 hours a day.  During lockdown, I suddenly had to get used to having the children around 24 hours a day.

My children have gone to nursery from the age of 1.  The transition to working with our children at home has been difficult.  I am lucky that I have a role that is relatively flexible and a great employer.  The first thing our Divisional Director did issue a message to all staff about working under lockdown conditions.  He explained that we were entering unchartered territory and that we shouldn’t feel bad about children or pets interrupting our calls – something that definitely happened to me.

This was invaluable guidance, because at a stroke, it took the pressure off everyone working from home.

I cannot imagine how people cope if their employer is less understanding or if you were in a role that requires you to be at your desk during set hours.

I am fortunate that I already had a home office.  I have heard stories of parents working around the children in the kitchen or even the living room, or even taking turns at using the only workable table.

Covid must be one of the most stressful times we have ever had to experience.  Trying to combine entertaining the children and find time to home school older children will have affected so many parents.

Mental health in frontline NHS staff

We all know what these heroes have done and continue to do during the crisis. And as much as the applause, retail discounts and the public gratitude means to them, I cannot begin to think what they must have been going through mentally.

I watched the BBC documentary Surviving the Virus: My Brother & Me and although I was aware this has been hard for the hospitals and their staff, it was an eye-opening experience watching the documentary.

The helplessness that they all felt, the uncertainty of having a job where you no longer have any control, seeing all that grief it was enough to bring anyone to tears.

You have to feel for the admin teams struggling to get PPE, medical equipment, manage staff and avoid burnout. There is not enough clapping that can be done for these heroes.  But what I worry the most about is how this will have affected them mentally.

How easy will it be for them to get the support they need?  When will it really dawn on them what they have been through?  This is trauma and it can take years to manifest.

The British Medical Association carried out research in May. It found that one in five doctors feel they do not have access to the help that they need.  45% of doctors are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout or other mental health conditions relating to, or made worse by, the COVID-19 crisis.

It is essential that support is put in place for the NHS staff. Not just for now but long term.  Therapy is vital but also support for time off, some flexibility in working, and also other support methods.

There are of course many more vulnerable groups such as those living alone, the elderly and those that have been shielding.  Then there are the mums to be who have had to go to medical visits alone.  Some have lost babies and had to deal go through this with no one to hold their hand.

Patients with other illnesses have also suffered, as have their families.  The list goes on, I have only looked at 3 groups.  Every single person has suffered in some way.  Some may have found a way to get through and others may have struggled more.

Access to therapy has been limited over the past 6 months.  Ditto for medical support.  So, what can businesses do to help their employees?

How are your employees coping?

We have a workforce that is largely working remotely.  Some people will be thriving and others not doing so well. There needs to be some way to check in with people.  A questionnaire might work well in the absence of physical check-ins.

A lot of virtual events sprung up, especially during the early part of lockdown but the world of work has not moved on with most people still working from home.  More team/company events are still required so colleagues can still feel connected to each other.

Some employees that must attend their place of work may also be struggling due to using public transport. They may be worried about safety when working inside a building and alongside other people.  We shouldn’t assume that they are okay just because they are back in the workplace.

Are mental health services such as a mental health first aiders available to staff?  Is it available without any judgement or stigma if employees choose to use the service? Is the availability of these services clearly signposted across the organisation on the intranet?

These services should be confidential and easy to access.  The NHS support and charities are really struggling with the sheer volume of people contacting them.  Could employers help ease the burden by offering their employees more assistance and thus reduce the burden faced by the NHS and charities?  There are some great resources for organisations offered by the charities and they are always happy to talk in more detail about options.

  • Mind has lots of useful resources of how your organisation can be prepared to help their employees that may be struggling. Training for mental health first aider and and e-learning courses are also available.
  • Mind has lots of useful resources of how your organisation can be prepared to help their employees that may be struggling. Training for mental health first aider and and e-learning courses are also available.

  • The mental health foundation also has lots of information around supporting mental health at work. The PDF has lots of useful information about different ideas that can be used to create a mental wellbeing programme and advice.
  • Acas – the workplace expert in the UK. Acas has a framework for positive mental health at work which can be downloaded.
  • The mental health foundation also has lots of information around supporting mental health at work. The PDF has lots of useful information about different ideas that can be used to create a mental wellbeing programme and advice.
  • Acas – the workplace expert in the UK. Acas has a framework for positive mental health at work which can be downloaded.

If your organisation doesn’t offer much in the way of support, maybe you could suggest some ideas to the right people in the organisation, how you feel things could be improved.  There is a lot of information out there regarding the support available to organisations. The above links are a good place to start.

How I deal with stress

In several of my previous blogs I have talked about the role that exercise plays in my mental health.

I consider myself to be very fortunate to work at an organisation that focuses on this quite heavily. At Computacenter, they have provided access to a Community Online resource that features lots of online content that is delivered live every Thursday and is also available on demand.

There are many fitness, well-being and mindfulness sessions to name but a few.  It goes much further than that – there are sessions for children of all ages, and you can dip in and watch as many or as few as you like.

A happier employee is a more productive employee.  We should all be looking out for each other at time when we have never been so far apart.

After all, mental health support should be open to everyone, and the more people that receive support, the better off we will all be as a whole.

What to do if you’re struggling with your mental health

If you are struggling with your mental health and need to talk to someone the following charities can help, please do reach out to them and don’t suffer in silence:

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