Smarter upskilling. Greater team diversity. Better work life balance. They can all help to boost employee productivity, engagement and retention. But getting these elements right is a big challenge – especially when the world of work is undergoing radical change.
Introducing new processes, technologies and workstyles at such a turbulent time can do more harm than good if not managed and communicated correctly. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, 57% of companies said organisational change was a major risk to employee wellbeing1.
And employee wellbeing is going to be a big focus in 2021. Mental health experts predict that up to 10 million people in England will need either new or additional support as a direct consequence of the Covid-19 crisis2.
As well as conducting wellbeing initiatives, business leaders need to help employees get smarter at managing their work life balance – especially as more people are now based at home instead of an office. This will not only help to reduce the risk of mental health issues and absences but also increase talent retention: 49% of employees prefer to work for an organisations that protects their health and financial wellbeing3.
But that’s not all. Employees also want their work to give them a sense of purpose. When people feel they are making a difference, it can have a massive impact on employee retention: businesses rated highly for a purposeful mission experience 49% lower attrition rates4.
With skills gaps and availability still a major concern, maximising employee retention needs to be a top priority not just for HR departments but every leader and manager. And that means rethinking how best to harness the potential and passion of your people.
From flexible hours and assistive technologies to talent marketplaces and collaboration tools, they can all make a difference to how people work. And how people feel about work.
But where do you begin? Our latest Insight Guide will help you identify the strategies and solutions needed to inspire stronger employee engagement and retention. Produced in partnership with Microsoft, the Insight Guide combines industry research with expert advice and best practice checklists.
By investing in your people today, you’ll also be able to attract – and retain – the talent of tomorrow.
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.
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:
- Commit to something for 30 days, a month is a good target to aim for.
- Make it daily. It is easier to form a habit if you are used to doing it every day.
- Start simple, try not to do too many things at once. Over committing will stop you in your tracks.
- Consistency is key. Think ‘same again tomorrow’.
- If buddying up or joining a team is out, look for a virtual version to help keep you motivated.
- 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 Health.Harvard.edu
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
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.
2020 was a tough year in many ways. But it’s also taught us a vital lesson: how to work smarter.
The pandemic has accelerated the journey to modern work. Lockdown and social distancing forced IT departments to adopt technology that allowed employees to work in new ways – ways in which fixed location, fixed hours and fixed devices became less important.
Now, traditionally office-based employees are more likely to begin their day in an open-plan kitchen than an open-plan office. Contact centre agents are taking customer calls in their lounge. And frontline hospitality, healthcare and retail staff are using new mobile devices and collaboration tools that allow them to work safely and effectively, either remotely or within an adapted environment.
The changes have shown us the advantages of a more modular, blended approach to a day’s labour. We can see a path towards a world in which many of us will work more convenient hours, from a location that suits our lifestyle, and with technology that empowers us rather than frustrates us.
Work can fit around our lives, rather than the other way around.
It’s an enticing future. But we’re not quite there yet.
Many businesses are struggling with the aftermath of such rapid change. They’re worrying about security now their IT assets are in suburbia. They need to rationalise their recently enlarged IT estates. They’ve realised their vast technical debt hampered their ability to be agile. And they’ve accepted that their ‘quick fix’ changes may have to become something more permanent.
So what’s the next step?
Businesses know new hybrid ways of working can lead to competitive advantage through better employee engagement, enhanced productivity, greater collaboration, cost savings and being able to attract top talent.
So they have to reimagine their workplaces for the long-term. The quick fixes have to become long-lasting solutions. And business leaders have to ask themselves how they can make their employees feel empowered, and invested in, while maintaining productivity, collaboration, innovation and security.
It’s a conversation that inevitably leads to technology. And that’s where we can help.
Working with Microsoft, we’ve outlined some thoughts on the challenges facing CIOs in our new insight guide The Great Workplace Reset, which you can read here. We’d love to know what you think.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Employee Experience is now firmly embedded into the conversation around the Modern Workplace, so what does it really mean?
Employee Experience largely borrows concepts and approaches from the customer experience mind-set and applies these to the employee perspective.
It seeks to understand and improve all the employee touch points. This could be anything from attracting talent and on-boarding through to how the employee performs their job and how they get rewarded.
Let’s break it down into the three focus areas Technology, Culture, and Physical. Each of these areas need to consider how they impact the employee experience.
The technology an organisation uses is a crucial component in a positive employee experience. It needs to consider the right tools and resources people need to get the job done. This usually starts with a discussion around the kind of devices employees have, do they have the right laptops, mobile phones and tablets etc, but it’s also needs to broaden to cover other elements such as their collaboration tools and business applications. Increasingly, we are aligning to user personas, where we are giving the right user the right services with a level of choice that is relevant to them.
This element is the traditional heartland of Computacenter’s services and solutions and something that has been integral to our Digital Me strategy for some time.
The key consideration here is to ensure the experience is consumer like, robust and reliable. Giving the user that modern workplace capability and supporting their needs.
Above all else, technology should make it easier for people to do what they need to do when and where they need to do it.
The culture consists of the values, attitudes and relationships that exist in the workplace. It’s the feeling we get from being at work and working with our colleagues. This can manifest itself into a series of statements about the company that result in how we feel about our work.
- Do you feel energised when you go into work, or do the hours drag by?
- How does your company treat you?
- How do you get communicated to? – Do they have an email culture, or do they use other methods and channels?
- How do you like to be communicated to? – Do you ignore emails and only respond to calls?
These emotions and statements and many more like them, make up the culture of an organisation.
As part of Computacenter’s Workstyle Analysis service, we often find that we are uncovering various aspects of the culture within an organisation. This provides us with great insight into how employees feel about their work and the services that they use and how the other elements such as technology and physical effect their overall experience.
The physical environment is an essential part of the employee experience. Providing the employee with flexibility in how and where they work is a hot topic right now.
This often means we need to consider and factor in the ways people want to work. Increasingly this means choice; providing environments from hot desking to huddle rooms ensures the employee can work how they want to. Providing the right environment for the right task.
Computacenter are ideally placed to help with these challenges, our raft of capability from Meeting room solutions, video conferencing through to our smart building infrastructure and cabling services means we have solutions to meet these needs and create that engaging and modern environment.
The goal here is to provide the right spaces that can foster more connections, improve collaboration and even act as a representation of the customers values and culture.
EMPLOYEE OF CHOICE
The combination of all these elements makes up the employee experience.
This sum is key to the overall success of the organisation and how it is perceived by its employees. Improving the individual elements will only improve the overall employee experience and in turn make that organisation a go to place for its future employees.
Driving a better employee experience has always been at the heart of both Computacenter & Microsoft’s strategy.
Read our Many Faces of Work – Employee Experience executive briefing for further information on the subject.
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.
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
- 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.
Major industry developments are coming in waves. And just like surfing, catching a wave requires knowledge, skill and the right equipment. The fourth big wave is now coming towards us at full speed. How do you prepare yourself, your organisation and your industrial IT network to safely surf this next wave?
Experts and trend watchers agree: the fourth wave is upon us. This fourth wave is called “Industry 4.0”. This new phase will see machines and other means of production supplemented with intelligence, communicating with each other, and being interconnected. The so-called Internet of Things allows sensors and smart machines to collect valuable data in the production process. For example, they can collect data about wear level of parts, measured temperature, or simply the number of goods produced.
IT and OT
IT systems collect and analyse the data, and then, for example, combine it with data from ERP systems. In short, the world of OT (Operational Technology) is increasingly linked directly to IT (Information Technology).
This combination of both worlds offers many advantages. Monitoring purposes are obvious. But smart planning of preventive maintenance before failures occur is another. The possibilities can go much further. Forerunners in the industry can create fully automatic production lines with smart machines and robots that can control and adjust themselves based on data. And they can do this without any human intervention whatsoever.
This close connection between IT and OT also creates new risks. Risks that cannot be underestimated. Production machines accessible to IT systems via remote connections are also accessible to people with less than honourable intentions.
The possible consequences for the manufacturing industry are disastrous. A hacked machine can literally bring a production line to a screeching and grinding halt. Utility companies particularly, for example, are in the firing line. It does not take much imagination to predict the possible consequences of a hacker taking control of the systems in a nuclear power plant or drinking water treatment plant.
Big waves? No excuse
Grab your board. Big waves are no excuse for not getting out to surf. In fact; they offer opportunities for a better experience than calm rippling water. The same goes for Industry 4.0. The risks of the fourth wave cannot be underestimated. The secret of enjoying success with that wave is to take a “frontside” approach to it – to face up to it. Be aware of the risks, make sure you have the right equipment, and get yourself in the right mindset.
My advice to avoid security wipe outs in your digital factory:
What does that mean in practice? First of all, IT and OT must work together. This may be a culture shock for some organisations. Previously, these worlds work often separately. But this mindset is no longer acceptable when navigating the fourth wave. IT must know what OT is doing, and vice versa. They must learn to communicate and overcome their differences.
2. Create visibility
Another important point is to create visibility. In particular, by mapping all the connected assets in a production facility. That is not an unnecessary luxury. If you do not know exactly which assets may be at risk, you cannot secure them.
3. Secure it
As said: surfing big waves requires good equipment. For industry, the required material is not a surfboard, but solid security solutions. Security services tailored for production environments. Solutions that not only keep a close eye on the connections between IT and OT, but also intervene when things go wrong.
Getting more information about Industry 4.0
Would you like to know more about how to safely surf the fourth wave with the right equipment and mindset? We would like to invite you to a no-obligation one-to-one expert session with our surf instructor (no really, he actually is a surf instructor!) to discuss this topic further.
Reach out to me or click here to claim your free session
Continuing on from Part 1 of our blog following Annette, Bharti and Sukh through their respective IT careers, this second part focusses on the career progression of each of these talented women.
We discover how their experiences influenced the choices that were made, and how they dealt with the more challenging aspects of both their roles and a career in IT. Has the industry changed in its attitude to women over the years?
These 3 very different experiences from such extraordinary women will challenge you to decide.
Q1: How has your career progressed from its initial start?
“I had completed my first and, thankfully, last programming assignment as an Andersen Consultant. Although, with the benefit of hindsight, I say “thankfully” with some reservations.
“That’s because I now recognise the satisfaction that male contemporaries of mine still get from solving technical problems in ServiceNow, the platform that we all work with. The technology has changed dramatically from clunky old IMS DB/DC and COBOL to the elegance that is ServiceNow.
“But there still remains the challenges of knowing how best to use the technology to meet the customer’s requirements. And this is clearly an enjoyable challenge for my contemporaries, as well as for my younger colleagues such as Bharti and Sukh.
“After finishing the assignment on the Slough Trading Estate – where, incidentally, the Mars factory recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – I did a series of small assignments, working for American oil companies who were just beginning to arrive in Europe on the back of the oil (and later gas) boom in the North Sea.
“I was subsequently assigned to a big systems delivery project for Wates, a construction company. I remember we replaced their existing back office systems, some of which were probably paper based, with a set of applications running on an ICL ME29. The ME29 was put into its own air-conditioned room, to which the whole team had access.
“I still recall the Andersen Consulting manager on the project announcing one day that he’d skin alive the next person who accidentally unplugged the computer, by tripping over the cable at the back of the machine.
“These were the days when the lifeblood of a company could be unplugged by the cleaner wanting to use the socket to plug in a vacuum cleaner! Thankfully a scene that would be unimaginable to IT professionals today, all of whom are used to seeing their hardware tightly guarded in secure data centres.
“I became responsible for understanding the requirements for the Wates payroll systems. Amongst other challenges, I had to get my head around the processing of all the construction work related payments, such as inclement weather payments and protective clothing allowances.
“I quickly learned about managing difficult customers as the weekly payroll manager had direct access to the Managing Director’s office. The weekly payroll process was business critical to Wates because if it didn’t run on time workers wouldn’t turn up on site and construction would stop.
“On reflection it is clear that some of this stress was self-inflicted as I would argue with the partner on the project, particularly about issues affecting women in the workplace. These were the days of the Guardian’s women’s page and I can remember regularly telling him to read the page to better inform himself about the challenges I was describing.
“Interestingly, many years later, when I was living with my family in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley), I bumped into the same partner in the queue to eat at Il Fornaio. In the late 90s, Il Fornaio was where the VCs and other Silicon Valley hotshots all hung out, so I’m not quite sure why I was even there. I went over to speak to him despite him being the number 3 worldwide in the Andersen Consulting hierarchy.
“Much to my surprise he was not only pleased to see his old sparring partner but he introduced me to his two colleagues with great positivity. He proceeded to bring me up to date with all the changes The Firm had introduced to make careers in the company better for women.
“Who knows, perhaps some of what I told him had penetrated after all?
“After the Wates ordeal, I realised that a career with Andersen Consulting, where such work-related stress was not uncommon, was probably not in my long-term interests. I started looking around for my next career move.
“I eventually found a position as a pre-sales consultant for a US software company whose European base was in Maidenhead in Berkshire.
“When I resigned from Andersen Consulting, the same Head of Recruitment that I encountered on my first day with The Firm informed me that I ‘had only one chance to leave Andersen Consulting.’
“The clear implication was that I was wasting this opportunity. I’m pleased to say I proved him completely wrong – but that’s for another blog.”
“Once I had stumbled into the area I so badly wanted to work in – cyber security – it was time to start figuring out what happens next. On the one hand, I had my foot in the cyber security door where I had always wanted to pursue a career, but on the other hand, it wasn’t the job I wanted to do.
“In cyber security I discovered what it was like to be a woman in an almost totally male dominated sector. Male colleagues were selected over me for work, even if I had the ability and the interest to learn.
“My male counterparts made inappropriate comments and there was some hostility because I was younger and female. When your male colleagues point out to you how you’re different, you start to realise that something isn’t right.
“As the reality of my situation dawned, I had to choose whether to carry on in this unfavourable environment, or quit. I knew this was not a place where I could grow, so I made the decision to leave and to pursue the career that I wanted, but in a company that would support me.
“I now believe that the company has since made efforts to change this hostile culture, and to support women in IT careers in a way they clearly didn’t support me. I don’t know how exactly, but I hope that these steps help them to retain their female talent in the future.
“In order to progress, I felt that I needed to upskill myself if I were to be taken seriously in an interview, knowing that I would be asked lots of technical questions. My previous interview experience had only led me to conclude that negative assumptions would be made the minute I walked in the door. I had to prove I was just as technical, if not more so, than my male counterparts on the subject of networks and security.
“To prepare for the interview, I spent a week reading the Checkpoint firewalls book. I knew I was pretty good at networks, as it was my degree subject. I think it did the trick as the look of shock on the manager’s face during the interview process still makes me smile today.
“But in hindsight, it makes me sad. Sad that his initial look conveyed his low expectations of me and sad for the shock I saw, when he realised that I knew my stuff. This was also the first interview where I had decided to wear a skirt suit rather than trousers. This may not sound like much, but for me this was a big statement.
“Consciously or subconsciously I was separating myself from the men they were interviewing.
“I was offered the job. I didn’t negotiate the salary, as I was just grateful they wanted to hire me. I took hold of the opportunity I was given with both hands and gave my all to the job. I had proven myself in the interview and knew I had set the bar high, which meant I finally had the chance to grow. I was, of course, the only female in the support team, something that I was now getting used to.
“I picked things up very quickly and, although the role covered both networks and security, I found myself wanting to focus on security. I had always known this at the back of my mind, but never thought I would be good at it. Turns out I was pretty good at understanding what was needed and how to use that information.
“My aim was to be a well-rounded security person, not just a specialist in one area but one who saw the bigger picture. I enjoyed several roles over the years that gave me different experiences within cyber security.
“Eventually I progressed into the role of technical support engineer. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I do love a good puzzle, and this is how I see cyber security and IT.
“Throughout my career, the support I received from my male colleagues has steadily improved. I am not sure whether this is due to a mind shift about women in Security/IT, or because I have become much better at identifying a good manager, and being more confident in myself.
“Now when I go to an interview, I interview them. Will they be the right fit for me? Do I want to work for them? Will they help my career? I know how important it is to have the right manager more than ever, especially now that I am a mum and my life has very different priorities.
“I have also been incredibly lucky to have some great supporters amongst the male managers that have hired me, worked alongside me, opened career doors and the colleagues who provided full backing.
It did not go unnoticed and I will never forget.”
“My IT career started about 4 and a half years ago at TeamUltra (now the ServiceNow Centre of Excellence at Computacenter), when I joined their Graduate scheme. At the beginning everything was new, the first few weeks were a whirlwind of crash courses in ITIL and ServiceNow.
“I was assigned to the Service Desk, providing support whilst managing day to day tasks with the rest of the Graduates. This was probably the most daunting part of my career; I was not only new to ITSM and ServiceNow, but new to customer management, another set of skills that I had to acquire quickly.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect working in IT and at the time I was hearing all sorts of chatter from my old classmates which wasn’t filling me with much confidence. I began to wonder if I was out of my depth.
“It was around this time that I began to notice and appreciate the company culture. Everyone was, and still is, so welcoming and supportive. I benefited greatly from an inspiring team spirit that was nurtured from the top, coupled with a community of ServiceNow experts.
“I was soon promoted to an implementation consultant. This was quite a jump and I’m thankful for colleagues that patiently supported me through the transition from the support desk to a whole new way of working on projects.
“Before I knew it, I was gaining experience, learning how to work alongside different colleagues and creating bespoke solutions for customers.
“I have progressed in my career and now proudly occupy the role of a Senior Consultant. From working on a wide variety of engagements and interacting with a diverse number of people there have been many challenging moments for me.
“Reading both Annette’s and Bharti’s stories, I am grateful that I haven’t experienced anything like the obstacles they faced. A part of me feels very fortunate to have received great support from all of my colleagues, regardless of gender.
“Or perhaps I’m not lucky at all and this is the way it should be in all companies? Nonetheless, I will take this moment to thank everyone that has helped and supported me throughout my career so far. I’m sure I’ll be relying on them in the future as I continue to grow. I only hope that, in return, I can be someone they can rely on too.”
Reflecting back on your career can elicit a mixture of emotions. For many, our interactions with colleagues evoke the strongest emotions. Because of this, many of our memories stem from events that revolve around people; whether this is our clients, peers or managers.
In this two part blog, Annette, Bharti and Sukh – 3 generations of highly successful women – to talk candidly about their experience of working within the IT sector. We ask them to share how they first entered the industry, memories of their early experiences and how these influenced decisions on three very different pathways on the career ladder.
Q1: What was your first exposure to computers?
“My earliest exposure to the world of computers came from my father who was a Patent Office Examiner. In the early 1960s, when many patent applications were being made for inventions related to computers, he was assigned to the team reviewing them.
“Sadly, much as the technology fascinated him as an electrical engineer, it also overwhelmed him as he wanted to understand it all. Even in the early 60s, this was too much for one person and so he transferred to electronic switchgear.
“But I think he always regretted giving up on computers and remained fascinated by them. He did pass his enthusiasm for them to my brother Neil though, who’s been a software engineer for most of his career.”
“My first exposure to the world of computers was when I was quite young and had a Sinclair ZX spectrum to play games on.
“Later on, when my Dad started his own business, I had access to a desktop PC that ran DOS. We had a few games on there so I would play them when the computer wasn’t being used by my dad.
I had my first experience of the Windows operating system back in the early 90s when I was still in primary school. I didn’t realise at the time that not many people had desktop computers at home.”
“My exposure to computers started out in school during the late 90’s. It was mainly using them for basic Microsoft applications.
Over the next few years, I had a desktop computer at home and I started using it for learning, research, gaming and social media, like MSN and Myspace.”
Q2: When did you decide to work in IT?
“I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I just found myself accepting a position in my mid-20s with Andersen Consulting – the forerunner to Accenture.
When I left school in the early 70s, and was undecided about what to do, I did a “computer aptitude test” for the engineering consultancy WS Atkins. I failed their test and was dogged for some time by the belief that the world of computing was not for me.
But I was an ambitious young woman. Indeed, for my 18th birthday, a supposedly good friend gave me Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and inscribed it with the dedication: “To Annette – on the start of her career as one!” I was also determined to show my doubting mother that I could be more than a housewife and mother.
Working in the computer industry – the term IT industry came later – seemed an attractive option for women like me in the 1970s, especially as it was not seen then as a particularly male dominated industry. But dogged by my perceived lack of “aptitude” I pursued my ambitions elsewhere.
Many years after leaving school, and after a year at Warwick Business School studying for an MSc in Management Science and Operational Research, I accepted an offer from Andersen Consulting.
Consequently, I found myself on 2nd October 1979, in a room in 1 Surrey Street, WC1 with 10 men and 1 other woman, with no clue what lay ahead!”
“Because I was exposed to a PC from quite a young age, when the A-level option to do Computing came up at school, I decided it would be something I would be good at. We were one of the 1st schools to have the Computing A-Level being taught as a subject, as part of a pilot scheme.
“Ironically, I didn’t think I was particularly good at computing and had decided not to pursue it after A-levels, but as I worked though my coursework every evening I realised I really enjoyed investigating the possibilities that computing offered.
“I did much better in my A-level Computing exam than expected, and my teachers told me that I should have more belief in my abilities.
“Following this, I decided to do a U-turn on my chosen degree and to apply for a Computing degree course instead. I wasn’t great at programming, nor did I enjoy it, so I decided to do a degree that focused on networks and communication.
“During my degree I had the option to select certain modules and I chose security. Choosing that module determined the route my career would take, as I was fascinated by security. In particular, the rapid changes needed, how clever the hackers were and how important it was to stay ahead of them. I always did love a good challenge!”
“Working in IT wasn’t a career I had considered initially. In my senior school there was a compulsory course on IT. This focussed mainly on Microsoft Excel and there was little or nothing taught about IT or Computing. After completing my A-levels, I started training to be a dental nurse.
As I had some free time (my working hours were 09:00 – 15:00), I decided to find a course to fill in the free hours and attended an open evening looking for a suitable course.
I remember walking past the computing stand and thinking it looked new and interesting. After a chat with a few of the people on the stand, I abandoned the idea of becoming a dental nurse and enrolled in a BSc in Computing.”
Q3: What was your early experience of working in IT?
“During my early years I acquired a set of analytical/IT skills and work habits that have stood me in good stead throughout my career.
“Our first few weeks were spent learning to program in Assembler. Back in the 70s this low, almost machine level, language was considered the only one that would give us a sufficiently good grounding in programming to enable us to be thrown into any client situation.
“As part of our training, we were sent for 3 weeks to either their main training headquarters near Chicago, or to the newly established World headquarters in Geneva.
“The Firm had the concept of a worldwide workforce all trained, developed and managed according to a consistent set of standards. This meant that, as project sizes grew, the project teams could be staffed from anywhere in the world The Firm had an office. Imagine my disappointment to discover that my first project was for a company on the Slough Trading Estate. There, after very little exposure to COBOL, I was given an assignment to build a stock control program in IMS DB/DC, a database and an online system I’d had prior exposure to.
“I was given 5 days to complete task, 3 days to code and 2 to test. I did deliver the program but, unsurprisingly, it took me rather longer than 5 days to complete it. Hardly a surprise as, in those days, we were allowed just one compile a day.”
“The experience from my first couple of jobs was not great, to put it mildly. I had to deal with sexist comments, with my peers thinking it was not my place to do such technical work. One male colleague decided I was ‘one of the boys’, and therefore much more acceptable than a female.
“But I also had men who were fighting my corner. Their support included helping me to progress my career, providing me with new opportunities to learn and giving me advice.
“I started in IT in a support role and was told by the owner of the small business I worked for that I would never have any issues progressing my career in IT if I could do the basics. Fix a computer, fix software issues, know Exchange and Active Directory, etc.
“He was right, and I took that advice with me to my next job where I learnt more about networks. I became a network support engineer, I did my server exams, my CCNA, and learnt how servers work and are managed. I then moved into security and for some time did both a network and security role in support.
“During the first few years of my career I did consider quitting IT because I realised it was going to be a battle to reach my full potential. I wasn’t sure it was one I would ever succeed in winning. I am glad I never gave up and luckily for me, I always had great supporters which helped to balance out those people that just wanted to hold me back.”
“My experience in IT really began in college where I was one of only two girls in my class. It was definitely an odd experience but, as the rest of my (male) peers were welcoming, I didn’t feel out of place. During my studies I was often called ‘one of the lads.’ I also overheard someone shouting from the class next door ‘they have girls in their class’, as if this was something worth noting!
“My first experience of the extent of male dominance in the IT sector happened about 3 months into my first year when I was offered an opportunity to work for an IT support centre. I politely declined, as I already had a part-time job, but was then informed that the employer was looking for women for this role.
“I asked why this was and the response was that ‘hearing a woman’s voice on the phone, especially when someone is angry, is believed to help defuse a situation’. I laughed it off but was left disappointed that my gender was the main focus, rather than the hard work and effort I had dedicated to gain my IT skills.
“This experience had a huge impact and made me realise there will always be stereotypes in this industry and occasions where I would have to prove myself in a way my male counterparts would not have to. But the experience just made me more determined to succeed.
“I have been lucky to have peers, teachers and friends who have supported my journey and made the overall experience positive.
“I’m still fairly new in my IT career and, reading Annette’s and Bharti’s stories, I’d say I’ve been pretty fortunate to enjoy a positive experience of working in the IT industry.”
Come back soon for part two of this blog, which will continue the story of 3 Generations of Women in IT and bring you up to date with where they currently are in their careers.