We spoke to Kath Cooper, Delivery Lead at dxw on her thoughts and experiences of women in tech.
I arrived at dxw in 2019 as the company’s first ever Associate Delivery Lead. Having successfully made the move into tech a couple of years earlier, this felt like the perfect opportunity to further develop my skills whilst working for a company where I could make a real difference to people’s lives. A year later I was promoted into my current role as Delivery Lead.
One of the things that attracted me to dxw is that it works exclusively with the public and third sectors. I lead expert multidisciplinary teams on projects to build national and local digital solutions, keeping them motivated and ensuring better outcomes for the people who depend on the services we design, build and run.
My day-to-day work involves supporting others to do their best work by co-creating project roadmaps, managing important stakeholder relationships, removing blockers and looking after the team members.
Last year, I was elected by my colleagues as one of dxw’s first employee trustee directors. In this additional role, I sit on our Trustee Board which ensures the company is run in staff’s interests and in line with our mission to create life-improving services. So far in this role, I have been a signatory on the multi-million pound deal to buy dxw for its employees and have supported setting up our staff council.
I knew I wanted to work in technology, and in particular a space that lived and breathed that idea of ‘Tech for Good’. But I just had no idea how to go about it or whether my skills could be applied to a job in the industry.
One day at a job interview, the interviewer asked me if I’d heard of something called delivery management. From the conversation that followed I discovered that I could use my organisational skills, my people skills, my empathy, and apply it to leading teams of people in technology. I didn’t have to be the technologist in the team. This opened my eyes to just how transferrable my skills were and just how many options were likely to be available to me in the world of tech.
I definitely feel like I’ve found my career purpose within the technology industry, supporting the public sector to deliver new digital services which make a positive impact on society.
I didn’t do A-levels – I did a national diploma in art and design. And my degree was in print and surface design, working with hand printed textiles and that sort of thing. So the straight answer to that, is no. But the beautiful thing is that technology is so broad.
Design and research is definitely valuable for technology roles, and it gave me a strong foundational understanding about how to research and design things for humans, in a way that isn’t focused on the need to write code to achieve that.
I was working at a PR agency years ago as an office manager and one of my jobs was to handle the technology for the company. I found that I was drawn towards that. As time progressed, I realised I lacked knowledge about how technology can be used, and how we can be safer online, and it sparked my interest in moving to a technology specific role.
Again, the simple answer is no (or at least not in my experience). My understanding and personal experience of the tech sector, and the variety of roles within it, means I’ve been fortunate to see a diverse range of female peers working in tech. I have also had plenty of senior female role models to learn from. I’m almost never the only woman in the room. That does happen occasionally, but not often. Of course, my perspective is limited to the particular areas of tech that I’ve worked in.
If you were to ask me that question 10 years ago, I would have said yes. But I feel pretty strongly that we shouldn’t listen to those stereotypes. Go forth as a woman, and just go for it.
I have been fortunate to work for companies that have a diverse workforce where everyone is treated equally regardless of their gender. Sadly I know this is not always the case though, which is why it is so important to choose a company with the right values and culture, where diversity is seen as a strength. It feels like a lot of progress has been made in eliminating discrimination in some areas of the tech sector but there is still much more to be done.
What really helps is seeing somebody like you doing a job that you didn’t think you could do.
The education system has an important role to play. It’s about giving students exposure to people who look like them and can talk about what they do and their roles within technology. That’s not just when young women are making decisions about college or university, but much earlier than that. We need to show that there is a path available for women in tech, and that there is a much wider range of experiences and skill sets needed within the industry than you might think.
I only really feel qualified to talk about my own experience. For me personally it’s been about my own perceptions of the type of opportunities a career in tech might offer, and that my background in the arts and management roles probably wouldn’t cut it.
In practice, my arts degree didn’t hold me back at all. dxw doesn’t ask for any formal qualifications when they’re recruiting – instead they focus on your skills and how you are able to respond to real life challenges. It’s worth looking for companies that value what you bring as an individual, rather than your ability to meet a tick box of qualifications.
Right now I don’t feel like any routes are closed off to me. I feel fortunate to be in that position, and I’d encourage other women to be confident and keep an open mind about the opportunities that are out there for them.
It goes back to that point about seeing people who are demographically similar to you, succeed in areas that you thought were closed off to you. If people see a woman like me succeeding and pushing boundaries, I hope to show that they can too. Often we don’t like to talk about our successes, but as women we should feel proud to celebrate our achievements and use them to encourage and inspire other women to do the same.
Make sure you’re using the right resources, too. Peer and community support are invaluable.
Patience is really important. It’s going to take time to develop your career. You need to be willing to put in years’ worth of effort to develop your career, learning and growing that whole time.
And you don’t necessarily need to have an end goal in mind, like a 5 or 10-year plan. Just try things out, move roles upwards and sideways to different companies, and over time you’ll see the rewards from that.
Lastly, you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room in order to be remembered. You can be yourself. If you do a good job and talk about it in a way that works for you, people will notice.