Phoenix Group – Catherine Maika, Information Security Consultancy & Engagement Manager

We interviewed Catherine Maika, Information Security Consultancy & Engagement Manager at Phoenix Group on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.


  1. What does your job role involve?

I am responsible for two services in the Information Security department – one is delivered by a team of specialists (Info Sec consultants) and the other by a team of generalists (business operations).

My consultancy team support change and transformation initiatives to ensure secure delivery of solutions across the company. My business operations team manage the processes that keep business functions running, such as project triaging, commercial oversight, performance MI analysis and production, engagement across the wider organisation.

My role across the two services include people leadership, team setup and structures, ways of working and ensuring delivery our objectives. My two services/teams are significantly different and, with that, so are the people who choose those sorts of careers. Every day is a learning day because what works for one team does not necessarily work for the other!


  1. What made you choose a career in technology?

I never knowingly chose a career in technology. My first experience in technology was as a PMO Analyst delivering technology change projects. I moved across to HR for a period before applying for a newly created change role in Information Security. It was the only non-technical role in the department at the time. I actually applied for it because I had always wanted to work with the then CISO rather than having a goal to work in Information Security.

Once I was in role I realised how much I liked working with my colleagues – they cared so much about what they did and were more than happy to share their knowledge and experience with me. What I have found I really like is the ways of thinking needed when you work in technology/security.


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

No. It’s probably showing my age but I learned to type on a typewriter! It was an electric one but it was still a typewriter!

It goes without saying that IT wasn’t a subject available to anyone when I was in school. When I left school I worked a variety of jobs in local government before doing a business degree at university. I was a mature aged student so chose to do a non-specific degree in the hope it would give me a broader range of options for my career after. I’m not sure my degree has played any part in my career, to be honest, other than it gave me a huge confidence boost (I was more interested in playing sport at school and didn’t realise I was good at academics). That confidence then helped me in developing my career.

Phoenix have been really supportive of me in terms of doing relevant courses and on-the-job training and it wasn’t an issue that I don’t have relevant tertiary education. We have also taken on Modern Apprentices and more experienced external hires from a variety of backgrounds, so not having a relevant degree is not a blocker to having a career here.


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

Other than working on technology change projects (on the project management side), no.


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

It’s still a male dominated field, yes, although there do seem to be more women coming in. In my experience, there is a heavy ratio of men to women in the technical roles and senior leadership. I find there to be more females in team management space. People management doesn’t necessarily need relevant technical skills, so there’s a bigger variety of career backgrounds that female team managers have behind them.

The Information Security department at Phoenix has quite a high percentage of females, compared to the industry average. While it’s great that we have an improving gender balance, everyone brings their unique perspectives and are all viewed by the skills and experience they bring with them to the job.


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

Yes, I do, which I find frustrating because it is not the reality at all. A good mind for IT or technology is genderless.

On that point, the biggest surprise to me as a non-technical person, was to learn how creative my technical colleagues are. Any occasion I get to have their input to a challenge or complex issue is a learning opportunity because their approach is always so different to mine! The teams are quite empowered here, so it really opens the door for people to develop their thinking.


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

I think having more female role models – and having access to them – for younger girls at the age when they are making decisions about studying these courses. Seeing women who work in technology would help dispel the stereotype of IT being for men, so girls can make informed choices.


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

I think parents play a big role in this – parents are the biggest influencers in their children’s lives and if they believe tech is not a good idea for their daughter, it’s going to be much harder to get more women into tech.

Another barrier is a clear understanding of the types of careers there are in tech. There are so many options for roles in tech that are unseen or underrepresented in schooling, and the ones that are offered may not generate interest in technology as a career for females like they do for males.


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

Showcase the variety of careers available in technology – it’s not all software development. And accessibility to role models who work across the variety of tech roles for young girls.


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

Recognise your value! Don’t focus on the things you can’t do or aren’t good at, those can always be improved. Instead, understand where your strengths are, and it won’t always be in the technical domain; that doesn’t matter. In my experience, your attitude in the workplace counts for more than anything else!

Just jump in and give it a go. If it doesn’t work the way you want, at least you’ve tried it and have some lessons learned for the next adventure.