TSB – Sally Aitken, Head of Workplace Services

We interviewed Sally Aitken, Head of Workplace Services at TSB on her thoughts and experience on women in tech.

  1. What does your job role involve?

My job is to make sure that all of our partners here at TSB have the technology services they need to do their jobs brilliantly, every day of the week. Whether one of our partners works in a branch, in a call centre or in one of our head offices, my job is to make sure that all the different technology services they need work effectively, so we can collaborate with one another and keep servicing our customers 24*7.

  1. What made you choose a career in technology?

I’ve always been interested in engineering. My dad was a civil engineer and he’s a real inspiration to me. When I was little I always got Lego and Meccano for Christmas, never dolls or prams. I started off my career in engineering but I realised early on that could make more money in financial services. I moved to London and I worked in accountancy and in banking first, but I realised neither really interested me as much as engineering. Eventually I went to work in the IT team in Bank of Scotland and I found that I really loved it. The IT department of a bank is basically the engineering bit. I’ve stayed in technology ever since.

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

I went to university in Manchester and I studied Aerospace Engineering, and a big part of the course was ‘Avionics; which is the technology side of aeroplane design. Avionics teaches you how to understand the systems needed onboard aircraft, satellites and space craft. That might sound like its got nothing to do with banking, but actually the skills are transferrable to any industry. An engineering degree is a brilliant way to get into technology because it teaches you all the basic building blocks of IT : project management, system design, system testing and live service management.

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

I’ve been working in IT since 2007, at Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and TSB. I’ve had roles in IT Programme Management, Service Management, Technology Operations and now this role in workplace services.

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

Yes I do. Definitely. When I was at university in the nineties studying engineering there were 97 people on my course in first year and only 3 were female! I still keep in touch with the other two – one is now an accountant and the other is a BA pilot. Things have improved a bit since then, but there’s still a hugely unhealthy slant towards men in both engineering and technology. I believe the average in IT these days is around 20%, which is frustrating.  There’s no reason why it can’t be much higher.

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

Yes I do – and I think it’s a social stereotype that’s ingrained in girls from the moment they’re born. I actually think we have a fundamental cultural issue to deal with. Girls are surrounded from the time they’re babies by pink clothes, dolls, dolls houses, prams and encouraged, whether overtly or not, to practice the maternal, ‘home-maker’ role. It feels like social media now continues and amplifies these messages to teenage girls because female ‘success’ is determined online by how you look, not what you do.

We really need to break away from this. We have to be much more gender neutral in the way that we develop children otherwise we’re never going to solve this problem. By the time teenage girls start to choose what university courses their pre-determined roles are established, and its too late.

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

Kind of answered this one in (8)?

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

There are barriers to women getting into work, period.  Feminism has come a long way, but we live in a society where women are still expected to bear the brunt of childcare and domestic work, as well as working. Until childcare truly becomes a balanced family activity, this ‘double burden’ will always be a barrier to progression for women in any career.

That said, I actually don’t think the barrier is larger in technology that in other sectors. In fact I think the barrier is possibly slightly lower. The good thing about working in IT is, because we need to cover 24*7 shift patterns, and we often work in a project based environment, we can be less ‘9 to 5’ than other industries such as Finance and Risk for example. I think this is a selling point for women coming into IT. Certainly I benefitted from the flexibly that working in IT brings when my childcare demands were at their most intense.

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

We need to sell the flexibility that some roles in IT can provide.

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

Find your voice. Never be afraid to speak up. Your point of view is just as valid, just as interesting and just as relevant as everyone elses.