Department for International Trade – Madeline Lasko, Service Owner

We interviewed Madeline Lasko, Service Owner at Department for International Trade on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.

Madeline Lakso

1. What does your job role involve?

I lead a portfolio of digital services, aligning teams’ outputs to strategic objectives relating to the UK’s trading environment. This includes trade negotiations, supply chains, tariff data and border transactions. My role is to bring together a team of digital and data experts. I make the best use of their skills to provide a consistent user centred approach to the research, design and development of products. I also connect the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) directorate to the wider organisation and help the Department for International Trade (DIT) deliver its priorities.

2. What made you choose a career in technology?

I was working at a charity which had an outdated content management system. I had to learn basic HTML to write and publish updates on the website. I found that I enjoyed figuring out how to make the code work and decided that I wanted to work in digital. When I realised that the Civil Service had a DDaT Fast Stream pathway, this seemed like a great opportunity to switch to a different specialism. It also fulfilled my long-term ambition to join the Civil Service.

3. Did you study an IT or technology related subject at GCSE, A-Level or University?

I studied French, Spanish and European Union Politics at university. So, whilst I don’t have a technical background, I am a rare case of having studied something which was directly relevant to my role having worked on delivering Brexit-related digital and data services at DIT!

4. Did you get any work experience in IT or technology before this role?

No I didn’t, but I started attending digital and technology events when I became interested in the field to see what the opportunities were. I gained some technical experience outside of work by taking online coding courses and managing websites for organisations I am involved with, such as the Gay Women’s Network.

5. Do you think there is a lack of females in the IT and tech sector?

I would say that IT and technology are still quite male dominated, but digital and data not so much. At DIT, our DDaT senior management team is majority-female and the overall gender balance in our directorate is almost even. 48% female and 52% male. This seems to be fairly consistent across government with strong female representation usually in digital, strategy and data, rather than IT, cyber and security.

6.Do you find there is a stereotype that a career in IT or technology is just for men?

Yes to an extent, but I think this is changing with women being more visible in a wide range of digital, data and technology roles.

7. What would entice women to study technology related courses?

Seeing other women studying technology-related courses and working in the field. Bear in mind that there are lots of other subjects that are relevant to tech, including design, research and strategy.

8. Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into tech?

The main barrier is probably the perception of it being male dominated, which can put some people off.

9. How could we encourage more women to start a career in tech?

We need more visibility of women working in digital, data and technology. This can be achieved through female-specific organisations like Women in Tech and Lesbians Who Tech, or events and initiatives that create supportive environments for women in tech. Hearing so many women fronting tech-related shows also makes a difference for me. One of my favourites is Aleks Krotoski who presents the BBC’s Digital Human podcast – she is a really respected authority and a great presenter.

10. What advice would you give to young women at the start of their career?

The available roles in digital, data and technology are more varied than you might think. There are plenty of product, strategy and design roles that don’t require a technical background, and if you do want to move into a more technical role there are lots of opportunities to get the relevant training and experience.