Freelance Professional – Toni Kent – Professionally funny speaker, author and compere

We interviewed freelance speaker, author and compere Toni Kent on her thoughts and experience on freelancing as a woman in tech.

toni kent

1. What have your freelancing roles involved / currently involve?

As a writer, I ghost blogs, speeches and presentations for senior leaders at large tech companies – because my emphasis is on being humorous and human this has included raps and poems for kick-offs and company meetings.

From a performance perspective, I deliver stand up and motivational speeches at corporate women in business network events and as part of gender-parity and diversity programmes.

I have also delivered sales and storytelling training both in-person and, most recently, online.

2. What made you choose a career in technology? And more specifically what led you down the freelancing route?

Initially, it was all about money. I grew up in challenging circumstances which meant there was no practical or financial safety net. I saw technology as offering me a route towards the financial stability that I craved. And I was right.

The freelancing part came in when I realised that (for me) being a parent of two young children and managing career at a global tech firm were incompatible. I’d had friends with children of my age who were diagnosed (and later died) of cancer and it made me reset my priorities. What I would say is it’s thanks to all the time I invested in my corporate career that I had the financial freedom to make that step.

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

No! I did English and Psychology at A-level which have proved to be extremely valuable throughout my entire career. Being able to communicate well and having a desire to understand what motivates people will serve you well in all industries.

4. Did you get any work experience in IT or technology before starting your career?

Again, no. I did work experience at a company that distributed beauty products. What I do find ironic is the place I grew up – Basingstoke – is now home to some very large technology businesses.

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

Overall, yes. My personal experience is that there are a lot of women in tech resellers, distributors and vendors. Where I see a big gap is in system integrators, software developers and ISVs. It shocked me to see how few women work for global system integrators. There’s also most certainly a gap at senior level –if you can’t see someone like you in a senior role you’re less likely to aspire to it.

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

I think there is a stereotype that technical roles are just for men. I know lots of women in tech in sales, finance, marketing, ops, support and HR. But I don’t know any female developers or solutions architects.

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

I think being clear about the benefits and talking about the industry in its broadest sense. I have given a talk at a couple of girls schools on “How to make £100k p/a without a degree”. It lands a lot more powerfully than “Learn to code – it’s fun!”.

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

Some of the barriers will be removed as a result of the changes in working practices brought about by COVID-19. We have to be honest that women are more likely to have a caring role and therefore more likely to value flexibility. One of the most senior women I worked with would get the call when one of her family was ill…and yet her husband had the lower profile job.

We also need to call out culture that is ‘old-school’. The days of public humiliation via the ‘hairdryer treatment’ and ultra-macho environments should have ended a long time ago but I know they persist.

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

You can’t be what you can’t see! More case studies, more sharing, more well-rounded stories. If you’re a woman that wants to begin a career in tech but your perception is that successful women in tech are born rather than shaped over a period of time, it can be quite daunting.

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

Be clear on what you want. Be even clearer on what you don’t want. Be curious about everything and everyone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire to find out how they got to where they are – ultimately we all enjoy helping others, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results. And finally, if you’ve got an issue that feels insurmountable, ask for help.