In recognition that 2020 is a year of deep reflection on ourselves and society we are engaging in conversations with a range of women across STEM careers to find out about their lived experiences. We want to understand and recognise that whilst female inclusivity and success in STEM careers has advanced greatly since Ada Lovelace’s time, there are still multiple barriers and challenges that women encounter throughout their careers. We hope by engaging in these conversations we can promote positive change and make STEM careers accessible for more women.
In this blog, we sat down with Ashley Warren, Director, Run the Bank Corporate at Barclays, to get her reflections on a career spanning 20 years.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your background and career to date? What attracted you to the STEM sector and what do you think makes it a good place for women?
I’ve always worked in technology, from working whilst attending university to present day. I started out as a systems administrator in a pension company (a really entry level technology role) and since then over the last 20 years I have taken various roles, both delivering technology change and running technology services. Right now I run a large portfolio of services for a global bank. It’s a challenging role but I’m really enjoying it.
I always had an interest in STEM subjects and at school my subject choices were in that area. It was a bit unusual at the time, there were definitely many more males in the classes than females and I hope that is now starting to change. The sector is a good place for women because there are lots of opportunities that can cater for the need for flexible working. In technology, things are changing all the time, there’s always a chance to learn new skills and be part of something varied and interesting whilst not needing to work 9-5 only.
Q. Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?
There is a marked difference since I started out in technology. When I started there were very few females and through my career, I have seen that starting to change, with the number of females definitely rising. There was also very little appreciation on the beneficial impact of a gender diverse workforce in technology 20 years ago, evidenced by the low numbers of females which I now see changing for the better. I think companies moving more towards flexible working arrangements has helped also. When I first started working in technology it was very stringent around office attendance and core hours.
Q. If you were with a group of peers this evening and talking openly about this topic, what would be the key issues discussed?
There is still much work to do to get the gender balance better in the STEM sectors. In my view it needs to be clear at an early age for girls that there are lots of opportunities for a fulfilling career in a STEM area. However, there’s work to do in how girls can relate to how studying these subjects in education/further education translates into employment prospects. I think we change that by being role models as females in the industry and talking about our careers, our teams, our working environments and provide real life examples from that young age to make it relatable. In P7 at my daughter’s school she will be asked in her leaving presentation to say what she wants to do as a career, I hope I have done enough that my daughter knows that if she wants to choose a STEM role, it is a great choice.
Q. What role do you think male colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance? Can they be part of a solution to equality?
Male colleagues have a huge role to play in helping with this. I believe it is important that there are both male and female colleagues truly passionate about gender equality in an organisation. The UN HeForShe movement for gender equality has been immensely helpful as a framework around this. Many of my colleagues and friends are male allies committed to equality outcomes and working as a united group, sharing ideas within and across organisations will serve us all well in making a positive change.
Q. There seems to be a clear female-led entrepreneur presence in Scotland. Do you think voices are being heard and visibility increased?
There has been a large uptick in female-led entrepreneurs in Scotland, particularly in the last five years but there is still work to do to get that number rising. Undoubtedly COVID has presented challenges to some female entrepreneurs due to the types of businesses that make up significant portion of those run by females. At the same time though, that has brought the need to look at supporting female entrepreneurs more into current focus, which is a good thing. Female entrepreneurs are an important part of the Scottish economy and I look forward to watching how that community pull together to overcome the barriers and problems those businesses can face.
Q. How do you think COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in STEM and the capacity to fulfil potential?
I think COVID has impacted most people’s working lives in some way. Each person will have had a specific impact to them and the role of the employer or business owner has been especially important during this time. I don’t think we will have the full picture yet on the impact of this pandemic for some time, but we should stay focused on gender diversity regardless of challenges in all industries.
Q. Who do you think are the most inspiring women in STEM today?
I think there’s too many to mention, which is a great thing to be able to say. I am lucky enough to work with and have worked with some of the most talented women in technology and I am never short of those to take inspiration from. You only have to look at the great things we see women being nominated for at the various high-profile industry awards to see how amazing they are. The important thing for me is that these women are not just female leaders but extremely talented women at various different levels.
The information contained in this article does not constitute business advice and should not be acted on as such. This content is based on our understanding in October 2020. Head Resourcing are not liable for the information contained on any third-party websites linked to this article.