Our Head of Machine Learning & AI recruitment, Anna Heneghan, is back to discuss diversity in tech and the huge benefits of not just more women in tech, but diversity in all areas. Her guest for episode 2 is the talented Priscilla Boyd, who has worked in various software engineering jobs in the UK and US and has been an integral part of forming a diverse, high-achieving team at iTech Media. Don’t miss what Priscilla has to say about how diversity is propelling the company forward below.
“When I was five, my parents had a computer at home and now and then my Dad worked from home and I’d start playing with Windows 3 and it soon became natural to me,” recalls Priscilla Boyd, talking about where her love of tech was first apparent.
“Growing up, I was also very obsessed with Lego just because I wanted to build things, but I eventually realised it doesn’t just have to be hardware that I can build, but it’s software that can make the hardware more useful.”
This was a big realisation for Priscilla, who has built a very successful career working in data and engineering roles for the likes of Siemens, and currently works as senior engineering manager at iTech Media, involved with all things data analytics and AI machine learning – a role I’m delighted to say I placed her in. She’s also been a TEDx speaker and is an all-around diversity champion.
“For me, it started by having exposure to tech at home and having the encouragement from my parents to just go out and try stuff,” reflects Priscilla on what shaped her career in tech.
But like for most women in tech, her timeline wasn’t the most direct and there was a journey and a mindset shift that got her to where she is now. “I didn’t consider software engineering as a career until I had already started a different course at university and realised that wasn't the thing for me.”
How can we drive more diversity in tech?
I launched this series due to feeling the need for more open conversations about diversity in tech and what better place to start than with this stat: PWC research states 78 students can't name a famous female working in technology, 16 of females have had a career in technology suggested to them, as opposed to 33 males, and 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women. There’s obviously no quick fix to this, but where can we start?
“As a female in engineering I just want to see more of us, but it is going to be a process. Over the years, it’s been changing and growing up I saw others’ parents labelling computers as a thing for boys and I think this has continued throughout the years,” comments Priscilla.
“Some people grew up with that perception, so they started tailoring their education with other things in mind because engineering wasn’t necessarily for women. We’re at the stage where we’re seeing a bit of shift, but it might take a bit of time until we see a more equal split.
Working and being a leader, these statistics do paint quite an accurate picture. When we look at role models in technology we talk about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but we also need to talk about the Grace Hoppers of the world too.”
How can recruitment processes create a more diverse tech industry?
Priscilla is a fantastic example of a woman in tech making strides in changing things for the long term, and her company are clearly invested in making change happen.
“In my current role, we’re increasing the size of the team quite substantially and diversity is a focus and a goal,” she explains. “It’s not just a matter of attending a diversity event and being aware it’s about trying to bring more of it in the pipeline by all means.” This means making sure you put in the effort, whether through hiring-related events or working with agencies that specialise in it, according to Priscilla.
Later down the pipeline, iTech Media has many practices focused on ensuring candidates are treated the same way, including having as diverse interview panels as possible, consistency in what is asked of candidates so they are evaluated the same way and having a consensus-driven decision-making process. The company also uses tools including gender decoder for job descriptions to use gender-neutral language as much as possible.
Priscilla stresses that it’s not solely about the way jobs are listed, but the whole recruitment process being as open as possible; “If the pipeline is no different then you’re not solving the problem you’re just waiting for it and being reactive – there is lots that can be done.”
Diversity: more than a box-ticking exercise
From my perspective, I feel some people almost need to change the narrative in their head that isn’t just about trying to get as many women in possible as technology. It’s more about focusing on the value of a diverse team environment, which can bring so many different experiences and skills to the table. It’s about having the full scope and doing everything everywhere to have an impact, not just doing a talk or pledging alliance to something. It's about looking at everything from job adverts to the structure of your company and how people are allowed to progress.
...it’s important to flag I’m not just talking about gender diversity, but neurodiversity, people with disabilities and other backgrounds that may not have had the same opportunities as others.”
Diversity, of course, is about more than gender – it’s about openness to everyone and not being afraid to change how you operate. “We have opened up our jobs so you can be either London or Warsaw-based, but also remote, and we’re exploring the possibility of offering roles in other countries,” states Priscilla.
“By opening up locations and being a remote-first team, you start with the idea that we can hire people from diverse backgrounds and different perspectives. And it’s important to flag I’m not just talking about gender diversity, but neurodiversity, people with disabilities and other backgrounds that may not have had the same opportunities as others – this is really important for getting a mixed team.”
Why aren’t there many women in engineering?
In my last interview with Catherine Oxley, we talked a lot about education and how certain biases can hold women back from pursuing a career in tech.
With platforms like Coursera and Udemy, YouTube and loads of other resources, accessibility to learning about tech has never been easier, yet often degree requirements are still a barrier to entry into the industry. This issue feels certainly pressing from my everyday experience working recruitment, and Priscilla is a big advocate of not looking for certain criteria to be met when it comes to candidates’ academic backgrounds.
“We don’t have requirements when it comes to degrees or education on purpose,” explains Priscilla. “The reason being you could have had an amazing education, but you decided to move sectors or maybe you didn’t have that privilege to start with, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a job.”
“...you could have had an amazing education, but you decided to move sectors or maybe you didn’t have that privilege to start with, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a job.”
Priscilla questions the need behind putting out there you require proof of computer science degree to show you can do the work; “I’ve come across amazing people who didn’t have a degree and did the job very well.”
I fully back this approach, and that some of these requirements are holding women back from a career in engineering right now, which is especially problematic when you consider women growing up aren’t encouraged to take up subjects relevant for a career in STEM.
“I think this is changing, but it’s also for organisations to not just say they are going to get diverse candidates for a role, but think about requirements and the level the person that you actually need to fulfil the job and how you're going to grow that person to learn your skills and progress and become more senior.”
She adds, “Don’t just look to fulfil the role with senior candidates that only have this degree with first-class honours, as you are lowering the pool of potentially diverse candidates you can get. It’s really important to think of the why rather than just putting the requirements out there.”
Why is diversity in tech so important?
“I’ve been fortunate that every team I’ve worked in I’ve had great people around me from diverse backgrounds like me,” says Priscilla on how a diverse workplace has helped her in her work and life.
“I’m from a half Brazilian and half Japanese family, so diversity is part of who I am and is key.”
She continues: “There have been situations in my life where I would maybe dress or talk a certain way, and I think over time I realised that there is so much value for me as a human being to the authentic self that I am everywhere and not just at home.”
This feels more important than ever to remember when you are perhaps part of a minority at work, especially early on in your career, and perhaps mimic the corporate environment around you to try and assimilate, says Priscilla.
“If you have fewer female role models out there, then all you can do is mimic what role models you do have (which are men), but it’s important to be true to you whether you are at a coffee machine having a chat or meeting with very senior people.”
It’s clearly part of the culture of iTech Media to nurture a diverse workforce, not just in gender, race or another differentiating factor, but in personality type. Everyone shares their Myers Briggs personality type, so the team is aware of everyone’s preferred communication style and strengths and weaknesses – something Priscilla notes particularly helps from a leadership perspective.
What is Priscilla’s advice for a career in tech?
I couldn’t sit down with Priscilla, who has made a name for herself in tech on both sides of the pond, without asking her advice for those who don’t feel like they fit the typical ‘tech employee’ stereotype on a long, happy career in tech.
“Challenge the status quo, honestly, as cliché as it sounds,” says Priscilla. “If you want to work for a company and you don’t meet the requirements reach out. Let them know you’re interested, and you’d love to work for them, even if you don’t meet the requirements but have relevant experience and can show you’re eager. Reach out on LinkedIn and the company’s contact page – be proactive!”
“I didn’t hear back for 3 weeks and I thought my application had been discarded, but then out of the blue I was invited for an interview and 2 weeks later I had an offer.
It’s easy to look at a job advert and think you don’t fit the bill, and studies show it’s increasingly common among women, so I echo this sentiment completely.
Priscilla concludes, “I always tell the story of when I was working as a systems engineer, and I saw a project manager job at Siemens. I looked and thought ‘this is cool – I don’t think I’m going to get it, but I’m going to apply anyway!’”
“I didn’t hear back for 3 weeks and I thought my application had been discarded, but then out of the blue I was invited for an interview and 2 weeks later I had an offer. People always say if you don’t ask, you don’t get and if you don’t try you won’t either, so challenge things and even if you see a job that doesn’t fully fit with what you’ve done, show interest.”
She adds: “I will 100 percent value a candidate more if they reach out with a unique cover letter and makes it personal and human showing genuine passion about the company and that can demonstrate they’ve got the skills.
Our process is designed to explore the person and that they can solve problems and work in a team setting and meet the culture of the company. We’re not interested in the long list of huge courses you’ve done or your degree, we’re just interested in your experience and your ability to work well in a fun environment.”
Thank you to Priscilla for the inspiring insight she shared about how diversity is the backbone of her team’s success and for sharing her wisdom on how to build a successful career in tech. Looking to expand your AI & Machine Learning team? Feel free to get in touch to have a chat about how I can help you expand your team to reach your business goals, or if you have any feedback about the series.