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We speak to Marlene Spensley, one of the winners of the TechWomen100 awards!

Women in tech

Introduction

Can you tell us about the industry you’re in and the role you play?

I work for Hitachi Vantara, the digital arm of Hitachi which is made up of hundreds of industrial companies. We build hospitals, make car parts, mining machinery, wind turbines and trains for example. Hitachi Vantara as a digital business focuses on the modern datacentre, data operations and enterprise digital transformation.

I have spent my career in the technology channel; selling solutions and services within the eco-system of partners to end users. I’ve worked within a number of large partners, distribution and now within a technology vendor; where I am focused on recruiting and developing partners, building compelling propositions, sales coaching, marketing, and developing joint business which is my field of expertise.

I have worked in technical fields including DevOps, application test and development, infrastructure and service management. I did a technical degree based on electronic engineering where I was one of only a handful of women amongst over a hundred men (which gives an indication that these types of courses are not appealing to women). My course was an interesting mix of engineering, computer science and business. I quickly realised that coding did not come naturally to me, and that I was far better suited to the business side of things.

In our final year project prize, I excelled when it came to creating documentation, delivering the pitch and looking at the business outcome we were trying to achieve. After university, I started working in business development focused on sales and relationship management but having a foundational understanding of how things work definitely helped me to apply my knowledge and differentiate myself.

Winning the award

Tell us about your award win and what does it mean to you?

I was nominated by a colleague and was really surprised and flattered when I saw my name on the list. I provided information on my background and interests. And I spoke about the fact that I am looking to drive a change for women in tech which is why my colleague nominated me.

I’ve often had confidence issues in the past and suffered from imposter syndrome in a few of my roles where I felt I wasn’t good enough to be there and questioned myself. Working with a business coach has helped me to overcome that and learn to appreciate my capabilities and what I have achieved. I now mentor a number of other individuals internally and externally to help them with similar confidence issues and personal development; and I love able to help others overcome the same issues and see them thrive.

I want to see the world progress from one which continues to perpetuate biases and where women are followers rather than leaders. I am pushing to drive a change in the tech industry. So that women are taken more seriously, are treated equally and get the same opportunities as men.

Having recognition for my achievements was fantastic, and it has made me feel even more strongly that I want to speak up and support other women.

Recognition

Why do you think awards like TechWomen100 are so important?

We need to showcase the amazing female talent that we have in the tech industry and change perceptions that it isn’t just for men. Tech is still very male dominated, but there are many fantastic women too. If we highlight their talents and achievements will inspire other women and raise awareness of the challenges we face. The awards are important to illustrate the broad diversity of jobs available in tech – there are so many more roles out there than just programming and the other technical jobs that women might shy away from.

Do you think people have any misconceptions about women in Tech?

Yes, I think women are often seen as ‘the support’ – administrators, assistants, and part-timers. Imposter syndrome exists, I believe, because of how we have been conditioned in society and because many workplaces have not been designed with women in mind. I don’t think people realise that there are amazing women out there in tech who are leading businesses, creating innovation and coming up with amazing ideas that have a huge impact.

Overcoming challenges

Early on in my career, I was always the only woman in the team. I’ve never had a female boss, which says a lot about the incredibly low percentage of female leaders. I have two daughters and I’m a single parent, so I have had to do a lot of juggling to sustain a full-time demanding job with parental responsibilities and childcare. I have felt compelled to hide a lot of that, so that I was taken seriously and seen as reliable compared to male colleagues, who didn’t appear to have those challenges. It was often difficult because they didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t work long hours or travel at short notice and I felt my career opportunities were limited.

I have felt that having children has held me back professionally. I’ve not been able to get to the top table because I couldn’t put in the same hours as others. It’s not fair that many women feel they have to choose between a family and a career; or sacrifice time with their family to get on professionally. Many working women are, or wish to be parents. Unless things change, many organisations are never going to increase diversity; and reap the benefits of diverse thought, ideas and innovation.

Encouraging more women into the industry

What do you think would encourage more women to work in the tech industry?

Highlighting the diversity of roles will inspire more women and girls to consider a career in technology. Showcasing the potential benefits, earnings and travel opportunities will demonstrate what an exciting and fulfilling career women can have.

Revolutionary innovations, industry events, digital and social media are all related to tech but do not always mean technical roles. I think there is a real misconception between “technology” and “technical”. The world is becoming digital which has been even more apparent since COVID, which means broad opportunities in many areas. We need to show women that they can be part of the innovation of the future; rather than be stuck in a workforce that is declining.

Advice

What advice would you give to other women looking to begin or further their career in the industry?

Look at what you can achieve and what you can learn! I talk to my daughters about how technology is the future, the growth industry. Many jobs of today that don’t require insight, human relationships or complex communication skills will be automated. It’s an unfortunate fact that many of the jobs that women do today will be affected.

We all increasingly interact with the online world, and its formed of technology-powered businesses. Which means a world of possibilities for tech careers. Look at the possibilities and how you can be a part of that. Don’t think you need a computer science degree to work in technology; there are many avenues and lots of diverse roles available.

What piece of advice would you have given yourself at the start of your career?

It’s a tough piece of advice to put into practice, but I would say be BOLD. There is nothing wrong with being unapologetically ambitious as a successful friend advised me recently. It’s quite tough if you’re a humble person but I would say to myself, push yourself forward; and ask for what you want, that pay rise, that promotion. Make it clear where you want to go. I would also advise myself to find a mentor or sponsor. It really helps with personal development, confidence, and progression.

Lastly, I believe organisations could do a lot more to increase diversity as well. I am part of the ‘Women of Hitachi’ leadership. It’s group that works to support the women within the company. To build our networks, develop careers and challenge some of the issues women face. We promote our successes internally and externally, form allyship and create learning and development programmes for women within the company. Without a fair and supportive culture, organisations will lose their female talent if there is no opportunity to progress. It is important for businesses to do more.

Looking at everything I have talked about, we can create an industry movement. Where all of these small changes across the spectrum will eventually make a big industry change.

Feature in our series!

You can have your story featured on our Focus on Women in Tech series. Email us at [email protected]

Women in tech

Catch up on past interviews

Read our first interview with Anastasia Perysinakis here

Women in Tech

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