Whilst the tech industry is becoming a much more inclusive place to work, only 16% of people working in the UK tech industry are female. More work needs to be done to bridge the gender gap in the industry and this month we are celebrating female thought leaders in tech who are making it their mission to encourage the next generation of women in tech.
We sat down with the brilliant Kam Chovet, Technology & Delivery Director at FLOWERBX. Having studied Computer Science at University, Kam has gone on to work for some of the biggest and well-known companies in the UK, from British Airways, Amazon, Rightmove and Net-A-Porter.
Discussing what needs to be done to encourage more women into the industry, Kam revealed that a collaborative culture, strong leadership and mentoring opportunities are crucial factors. Kam shares her personal experiences and advice for other women navigating their careers within the tech industry.
Tell us about your role as Technology & Product Delivery Director at FLOWERBX?
We are a very small start-up and in start-ups you wear many hats. So, my responsibilities range from a Business Analyst, Tester, Product Owner all the way through to Programme Director. I’m responsible for a Development Team as well as managing our project roadmap to make sure we have correctly prioritized the key initiatives that we want to work on in the business. I work with the whole business to shape and define the roadmap at a strategy level and then translate that into individual project components, working with the development team to make sure that we build it and roll it out. I also manage the support side of the website – if anything goes wrong, I am the one who needs to make sure we get it fixed as soon as possible. So, it’s quite a broad and encompassing role!
What do you think makes the technology industry a great industry to work in?
First of all, because it’s relevant anywhere and everywhere - finance, creative arts, medicine, health, education, retail. Tech is all encompassing in all those areas. And it’s certainly not boring, the change and evolution of technology I think is the most interesting.
The other part is the evolution of the internet and online shopping. Having worked in ecommerce extensively with the likes of Net-A-Porter and Amazon, it has been phenomenal in terms of the global impact it’s had. I was at Amazon when it was 2 years old and at the time they offered books, music and DVD’s. Now Amazon runs the world when it comes to ecommerce and it’s created a whole new tier of sellers.
With there being far fewer women in the tech industry, especially in leadership positions, did you have any role models to aspire to towards the beginning of your career?
In the beginning of my career I was mainly inspired by many men in technology because as you say it was rare to have women in senior technology leadership positions. I was lucky enough to have two visionary Managers who were men, who really gave me a lot of direction and inspired me to think big in terms of the skillset I needed to devise strategies around technology and improve processes and businesses. So earlier on sadly I would say no, not really.
But I think the change for me in terms of realising how powerful women can be in this industry came when I joined Net-A-Porter, which at the time was a 70%+ female company. We were the first pure player in the luxury space. The women that were involved in shaping and scaling the organisation and defining the products were awesome. I’ve met some of the most talented Web Designers, Developers, Delivery Managers and Product Owners there.
The most inspiring person of course was Natalie Massenet, who is exceptionally visionary and an amazing influence that epitomises to me great leadership. She has this amazing ability to bring everyone together on the journey with her and she truly believed in the vision of delivering luxury fashion online in a seamless and beautiful way and of course she did it! It’s wonderful to see a female in that leadership position who paid everyone that due-care and attention and was very focused on the identity, the brand and the end-to-end customer experience. That is probably why the company was so successful. As NAP grew so did the many, many phenomenal women on the journey with us and I am so proud to have been part of that growth and see them in great leadership positions in their own right.
What more do you think needs to be done to help drive more women into tech and into leadership roles?
Women definitely have a better chance now than they have ever had before. But the key thing is that some of us choose to have children and perhaps want to have a job that’s challenging but maybe not all too consuming, so employers need to continue to be more flexible in working arrangements. If you have taken maternity leave for a year, you can often feel out of the loop and perplexed about how you are going to get back into the loop in the workplace. Even just having continuous contact throughout leave or keep-in-touch days is important. Now with the world of COVID, remote working is even more of a possibility, and your employers should be able to utilise this to support working mothers getting back into work after having a baby.
One of the things I also did at Net-A-Porter was become a mentor for the school I attended. I organised a day where the girls could come and listen to talks from the Head of Design, UX Designers, Developers and Product Managers, all of which were women. It opened their eyes to the potential careers open to them and the different fields within IT – it’s not just coding.
Women in tech have a responsibility to the younger generation to really be able to leverage their network and to help shape and guide careers of the future. Companies should run more programmes for girls, in college or university, where companies and institutions work together a little bit more to allow girls to understand the industry even further.
You’ve worked in a number of roles and companies, across several industries. For you, what elements make the best culture and working environment to be part of?
Culture is the way you do things. The best culture I’ve experienced is when you’re in the process of growing, building and shaping something that you firmly believe is going to make a difference. It’s important to join an organisation where that buy-in is high, and there’s a sense of excitement. Leadership comes into this as everyone has got to be brought into the product, and the responsibility for shaping the product comes from the leader and direction they’re suggesting. They have to trust the team also to make decisions and do their job to the best of their ability. If everyone in the team feels really empowered and there are clear goalposts, then I feel as though you have a good culture. For me, this was in the early days of Amazon and Net-A-Porter.
When you're rewarded for your hard work and you can contribute honestly and openly with your colleagues, you’re in an environment where you can seek constructive feedback to help you and members of your team grow. Great teams challenge each other honestly and people can take it. That is when something amazing happens and it’s very rare. The key thing that makes it happen is the people and their behaviours.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, particularly as a woman in technology?
I think being a woman and working in leadership within a technology function in which you’re surrounded by predominantly men, you can often get a sense of not feeling equal at the table. But it’s really important to not allow your confidence to get knocked in those cases. It’s easy during heavily technical discussions to feel as though you can’t contribute when coming from a project management perspective, which potentially can be challenging. But you shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you’re not contributing, which women often do. We put ourselves down a lot. We have to learn to quieten the negative voice in our ear in those times and be assured that we are valid, that we do contribute, and there are times to feel ok about not being an expert in the areas that we are not an expert in.
If you shut off that self-conscious voice that is getting you down and truly listen, I can guarantee you will pick up something that will get you back into the conversation. You need to come at it from a point of wanting to genuinely serve and better your organisation, not from the point of purely wanting to get in there. As women, we absolutely should understand what our strengths are, but also not feel nervous about our inability to engage in areas that are not necessarily about our expertise.
What advice would you give to other women in tech striving to take on leadership positions, or to young girls considering a career in tech?
The first thing I would say is absolutely do it. And do not give up! The industry is far more open than it has ever been before, and I think there are so many opportunities out there. And what is really interesting is the entrepreneurship opportunities to create something. There are so many women creating new products. We are pushing through as a community.
But there is no secret in how you get there. If you are truly passionate about your product or the role that you want and you work really really hard, you will get to where you want to get to. I don’t believe you can get there without this hard work. Read the books, do the research, speak to the right people and you will have the confidence to take your career to wherever you want to go. Put the effort in the right places and you will get rewarded.
Listen to books on audible, go to meetups and join online communities. When I was trying to get into leadership, I got myself a Professional Coach who helped me with my confidence issues and gave me techniques to help me master some of the anxiety that you can feel. Understand your strengths and understand your weaker areas and seek help in them in whichever way you feel most comfortable. Managing yourself and your own growth is an ongoing thing that you must do continually throughout your career. Never start thinking that you’re ‘there’ now, because you never are. You constantly have to evolve, grow, learn and adapt. Keep working on yourself and don’t stop.
A massive thank you to Kam for sharing her journey through the world of project management. As Kam discussed, there are now more opportunities than ever before for women in tech and we hope the advice and insight shared will be useful for all women navigating their careers within the tech industry as well as those considering leadership positions.