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Karen Young: Being Bold for Change

It was exactly a year ago that I attended my first event focussed on Women in Technology and specifically International Women’s Day (IWD). Little did I know then how that would change my perceptions and those of my colleagues at MDS Technologies Ltd.

The theme of the IWD events in 2016 was #BetterTogether with a focus on managing diversity to ensure that the best candidate got the job, to make sure that no one from the A Team was left sitting on the bench because of diversity issues. This struck a cord and the inspirational speakers on the day made me realise that not everyone gets it. We should all strive to be the best we can be and when it comes to gender equality it’s not just a women’s issue, all men need to stand up for equality as well. We need to be bold to be the best we can be. As one of our Director’s said this week at our all staff briefing “the only one stopping you is you”. It was meant as a comment to the company as a whole but it equally applies to us all as individuals.

Bucking the trend in the technology sector, women make up 25% of our workforce across all roles so we want to help and support others to get to this position. Consequently we have set up an MDS Women in Technology Group and have identified five key areas we want to focus on:

  • Supporting and empowering each other
  • Addressing unconscious bias
  • Supporting diversity
  • Inspiring the next generation
  • Building networks

We are proactively addressing these areas in smaller groups and meet quarterly to report on progress. We have started to buy our stationery from a company which invests 100% of their profits in local and global initiatives, helping young people in the UK and also helping women out of poverty in third world countries. One of our team has set up a new Lean In Circle to help a small peer group of women to achieve their ambitions through support and empowerment. Learning and growing together. As part of our work to inspire the next generation we are involved with local schools and colleges to provide a real life view of what a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career can be.

Shortly after the IWD event in 2016 I was appointed as Managing Director of MDS and now sit on the Board. Our parent company Assured Digital Group also has the amazing Cathie Reid as a Non-Executive Director, an inspiration to other women in the company. I do a lot of work with techUK and have recently got involved in their Women in Technology Council, the work-streams and focus are similar to those within MDS. Initiatives such as People Like Me and the recently launched Returners Hub are resources that have the potential to increase young girls’ interest in STEM careers and encourage those who have taken a career break for whatever reason to think about tech jobs when they return to work. The Returners Hub will also provide tech companies with access to the talent they need.

I am also involved in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Enterprise. The APPG provides a forum to examine and debate the role that policy makers can play to deliver gender balance within the economy– again similar work-streams overlapping with what MDS is doing internally and also with techUK initiatives. We meet monthly and have been challenged to produce policy recommendations by the Autumn.

Through all of these groups I have met some amazing women and together we can make a difference.

On IWD 2017 I was asked to speak at a SopraSteria event in London alongside another group of amazing women with stories to tell of the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s when women were even more of a minority and legislation was only beginning to make a difference. We heard about how to network, this doesn’t come naturally to everyone and there are times when all of us dread walking into a room of people we don’t know. We also heard that we shouldn’t ignore bad or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace or elsewhere. If we say nothing we are effectively condoning that behaviour and it will be deemed to be acceptable. We also learnt the importance of personal branding, having the courage of our convictions to have an opinion about something and stick our heads above the parapet and say something. This blog and my recent activities are my response to that. I could have gone along to the APPG meeting and meekly listened to the debate, but what’s the point in that? So I approached one of the work-stream leaders and volunteered to get involved.

Time is precious and we can’t do everything but each of us can and should do something. Talk isn’t going to change anything – action will. Be bold, be brave, get involved, we all have something to contribute – we are women after all. #BeBoldForChange

Next year we are planning to hold our own IWD 2018 event – watch this space! We are also looking at what we can do to celebrate International Men’s Day on 19th November.