TechWomen: Closing the Gap in Tech

In school, I was the only girl on my A level computing course. Now, I’m one of the only women Chief IT Architects in the FTSE 100.

The technology sector has taken some big strides to foster a diverse environment, but we still have a way to go. Being the only teenage girl in a room with boys all around is intimidating. In my A level computing class, I was never confident enough to put my hand up even when I knew the answer. My A-level teacher believed in me and pushed me to believe in myself. She encouraged me to answer questions. She was my first advocate. It’s critical, now more than ever, that we actively support the next generation of technology leaders and empower them.

I didn’t know what enterprise architecture was growing up; no one ever asks you if you’ve thought about becoming an Enterprise or IT architect. We’re like city planners and building architects for the business world. Our challenge is to unravel and create new structures within the business to support and reimagine digital ways for people to use and interact with our services. By modernising BT’s IT application landscape, I help to ensure that BT can provide services to customers faster. That means that my work will help customers to find, buy and use our products in an easier, and more online way, than what they do today. It’s all about creating amazing digital experiences for our customers. And it’s where business and technology meet.

The role of an enterprise architect is about seeing the bigger picture, seeking tangible outcomes and translating them into innovative designs and roadmaps. Following my strengths led me to this role. But I couldn’t have done it without confidence in my abilities and a great support network throughout my whole career, even now.

My experience highlights just how critical it is to support women who are early on in their technical careers. I’m proud to play a role in BT’s TechWomen programme, our development programme to support career progression for women across the company. Each year, we take 400-450 women at manager and senior manager level and invest in giving them the tools they need to progress their careers. However, the point of TechWomen, and any development programme of a similar nature, is that someday the programme won’t be needed anymore. In that ideal future, women will naturally be progressing into high level tech roles and feel empowered in their careers. Equality is the goal.

BT’s TechWomen programme makes an active effort to change the status quo in technology companies. The programme started 5 years ago because we noticed that talented women were reaching a certain stage and not progressing; not for a lack of skills but because they lacked confidence. Because of this lack of confidence, women frequently miss out on career progression opportunities compared to their male counterparts. And I’m not just talking about women who do technical roles. We all face the same challenges. That’s why our programme is designed for all women at BT, regardless of their job title or remit, with the goal of creating an inclusive environment where they can thrive alongside their male colleagues.

The programme, which started out as casual sessions, has progressed into a full development programme run by professionals from outside BT. Over the course of the one-year programme, women participate in a variety of modules that cover personal brand, agile ways of working and more. We’ve had a learning curve due to coronavirus, as we’ve needed to evolve the way we deliver the programme. And this has helped us to flex to meet different learning styles by providing extra resources that can be tapped into anytime. As a result, TechWomen is continuing to give women at BT the tools they need to be confident, solve problems and progress their careers. By the end of this year, over 2,000 women at BT will have benefitted from the programme and this number is set to grow as the programme continues to expand and evolve.

I’m very proud of the progress we’re making in creating a pipeline of women who are ready to take on more senior roles in BT and the wider industry – helping to create the next generation of technology leaders. Last year, 95% of the women who completed the course felt confident that they possessed the tools to drive their career. It’s my hope that because of TechWomen, and other similar programmes, we’ll start to see far more women in senior roles across the technology sector and release their untapped potential. We all have a role to play in enabling this; whether it’s by building up someone’s courage and capability or by removing barriers.

Whether you’re an A level student or an IT Architect, it takes a lot of confidence to walk into a room where you’re the only woman. But once you take that first step, you’ll encounter many advocates and networks that want to support you. I am proud to be one of those advocates; and I’m increasingly not alone.

Josie Smith, Chief IT Architect