by Jennifer James, TechUPWomen Mentor
Please tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to mentor for the TechUPWomen project.
I’d read about Prof. Sue Black’s herculean efforts to save Bletchley Park and the more I discovered, the more inspired I became by the sheer force for good that she is. Both TechUPWomen and #techmums caught my eye.
Having spent over 20 years leading digital, buying and marketing teams creating experiences customers love at Boots UK, I now run Little Things Digital, a strategic marketing business specialising in digital. I love developing meaningful relationships and nurturing talent, so mentoring is the perfect opportunity to do that whilst running my own business.
I’m passionate about the diverse nature of skills needed within STEM. With many specialist roles, it’s easy to think there’s not enough space for generalists (like me).
I’ve spent most of my career solving problems and creating solutions through diverse, cross-functional teams. From Business Analysts to User Experience Designers, Scrum Masters to Front-End Developers, Project Managers to Product Owners, the better we understand each other, what we do and how to work together, the better the end result.
There’s a great book on the topic; Range by David Epstein that talks about the need for joining the dots across specialisms.
How have you found the mentoring experience so far?
A Perfect Match
Thank you to EmJay and Johanna who paired me up perfectly with my mentee. Both of us having left corporate, commercial careers to date to set up our own businesses, meant a lot of common ground. It was lovely to finally meet my mentee in person when she stayed at our house on the eve of the Nottingham graduation weekend. My children want to know when she’s coming back!
Whilst we talked about course content, progress and which options best suited to future ambitions, we also focused on the transition from corporate employment to setting up and running a business; from financial planning to creating and marketing a brand. It’s a huge change and the adjustment is often underestimated. The Squiggly Careers Podcast is a brilliantly helpful and relevant listen (book available too) for anybody wanting to take control of their career development. As an old boss once said to me, ‘Fierce resolve and true humility’.
I’ll be collaborating with my mentee and one of my clients as a direct result of TechUpWomen. We’ll be working together later this year to launch a new product range. I’m pretty sure it’ll be the first of many collaborations.
How do you feel projects such as TechUPWomen can have an impact on the gender imbalance in STEM subjects?
Confidence & support are key. Women are already less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t feel they fit 100% of the criteria. At the heart of the emotional graduation celebrations in Nottingham was a palpable sense of humility and belief in each other and what can be achieved. These incredible women have extremely valuable skills that are desperately needed and at risk of being forgotten. The flexible and accessible nature of the programme took away barriers that can be an issue otherwise. Having Sue spearheading the programme is great for raising profile and awareness of the opportunities for women in tech.
Are you working on any other projects for women at the moment? Can you tell us a little about that?
I’ve joined the #TechMums Advisory Group, a team of #techmums who want to shape the future of our work. I also support D2N2, the local enterprise partnership with careers events in schools to increase awareness of the broad range of opportunities and roles they’ve probably never heard of.
What would you say to any older women contemplating pursuing a career in a STEM subject who feel discouraged by the lack of women in STEM disciplines?
Be brave, be curious and trust your instinct.
Try to find your tribe; the confidence and support I’ve gained from surrounding myself with the right type of people is incredible. Whether it’s following on social media, going to an event, contacting somebody you admire, or somebody already in your network to find out more about something you care about, you’ll find you’re not on your own.
And don’t underestimate the value you bring. You have so many transferrable skills that you probably don’t realise you have, and there are hundreds of roles in and around STEM that need them. Another great read to remind us what we’re capable of is Tara Mohr’s Playing Big.