SearchSmartly – Hesseltje van Goor, COO & Head of Partnerships

Hess WiT case Study (002)

We recently interviewed Hesseltje van Goor, COO & Head of Partnerships at SearchSmartly on her thoughts and experience on women in tech.

  1. What does your job role involve?

My role is a three-way split between building partnerships for our business, product development and operations.

2. What made you choose a career in technology?

Technology is at the heart of all the changes we see in our society. Some of those changes are positive, some of them are problematic. I was drawn to a career in which I could be part of that change and help shape the outcomes to something positive and worthwhile.

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

I studied Media Production Management with a minor in Computer Games Design for my undergraduate. I later did an MSc Creative Industries (mixed degree of Arts, Management and Computer Science) at Birkbeck University of London where I majored in Computer Science.

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

Yes. I started in graphic and web design, moving over to animation, UX and product in due course. Having basic front-end web development skills came in useful at several points throughout my career. I expect it will be the same for anyone entering the field with basic data science skills today.

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

Without a doubt.

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

There used to be. Today, the industry is doing more to celebrate the phenomenal women (e.g. Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, Margaret Hamilton) who paved the way for us.

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

I think we need to move away from describing technology as a purely ‘quantitative’ enterprise. While having STEM skills is helpful, especially if you are looking to code, there are lots of roles out there that require empathy and social skills. To work in technology (in any capacity) is to be part of a deeper conversation about society. I think a lot of women would resonate with that.

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

Yes. We still see a bias amongst employers for Oxbridge and Ivy League graduates with Computer Science, Physics or Maths degrees. That, by definition, is a very small pool of applicants. If we want our industry to change, we need to look further afield and do more to accommodate candidates with non-traditional backgrounds – whether it’s by providing them with opportunities to ‘skill up’ within the firm or work flexible hours. It isn’t just a case of employer branding or culture (although these things matter) – it’s also case of organisational design. That said, if you’re an applicant from a non-traditional background, you can still hack your way in – either by making a lateral move within your career or by taking free online coding courses.

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

Explicitly invite women into the public forum as decision makers and key contributors – not just in technology, but in all fields. We still have a lack of representation of women and minority groups in positions of power – whether that’s in government or business. There is a growing awareness that we need to listen to alternative voices when designing our public spaces (digital or physical) – yet we still see a chronic lack of diverse representation amongst the designers of these spaces.

On a related note, we are not doing nearly enough to support working parents.

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

Develop resilience – there is a wealth of opportunities out there if you are willing to make a lateral move every now and then. Far too many people fall into the trap of thinking that growing your career is about ‘queueing’ behind the person just above you – this kind of thinking will stymie your creativity and make you dependent on other people’s success. Look for roles in which you can either move laterally and build new skills (e.g. within a large corporate) or in which there is no natural ceiling holding you back (e.g. at a start-up). In this market, being willing to upskill, re-skill and/or take a lateral move now and then is far more important than your university degree.

And – while I realise that not everyone has this luxury – try to prioritise roles that you enjoy over those that merely pay well. Enjoying what you do 8 hours a day makes everything much easier.