International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022
During the inaugural World Women’s Health and Development Forum in 2015, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established at the United Nations Headquarters.
Every year on February 11th more than 65 countries across the globe commemorate this special day which aims to achieve gender parity in educational opportunity and scientific participation within all forms of science and technology.
To mark the occasion, we sat down with our very own Jo Shannon, Director of Technology and Design at Ordnance Survey (OS). Jo is responsible for one of the largest databases in the world, and leads on the implementation, maintenance and continuous development of the IT and Geospatial Systems and Services at OS.
Jo is a prominent advocate of women in technology, and we talk to her about her about her career, her experience of being a female in this industry and how females can forge a career in this field.
How did you get into the technology industry?
It was by accident really. I joined a small software vendor on the outskirts of Cambridge at 19-years-old and was fortunate that the company valued attitude and aptitude over formal qualifications. Despite having no degree, they gave me phenomenal opportunities to explore different roles in technology which then turned into leadership roles where I was able to gain an understanding of how technology can be commercialised and the fundamentals for running a successful tech business. I was there for 14 years before joining OS as Head of Geospatial Development. The role expanded to cover all facets of IT and engineering, from systems engineering to cyber security. Despite being four months pregnant and feeling slightly vulnerable at that specific time in my career, I was still promoted to Director in June 2018. It just shows there are companies and individuals out there that are supportive of women in leadership roles and encourage long-term career progression.
Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?
I feel I have been fortunate because I’ve never had any challenges about being female, which isn’t the case for every woman. But I have because of my age. I was generally the youngest person in the room and at times I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously because of that.
I’m generally a confident person, but I have suffered from imposter syndrome too. It’s probably down to my lack of formal qualifications and part of me feels like there will be times where I’ll always feel like this. Am I ever going to get found out? I keep telling myself I must challenge and constantly fight against those feelings.
In terms of overcoming these challenges, having a great support network, and being surrounded by people who champion me is invaluable. I’ve worked for organisations who value aptitude over formal qualifications and I’m very appreciative of that and it’s a value that has stayed with me.
Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in technology, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?
There is no denying that barriers exist, but in my experience they are not as formidable as they used to be. We must recognise the changes that have been made and I feel that employers, individuals and organisations as a whole are generally way more aware of their responsibility.
Whilst recognising progress has been made, these issues have obviously not been completely overcome. To achieve that, we can’t stop having these conversations and we must do our utmost to keep them going, and not just about women, but other underrepresented communities too. Technology leads the way culturally, logistically, and practically and I believe that this industry can play a vital role in ensuring those barriers are broken down and overcome.
There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?
I can’t claim credit for this idea, but someone who works for IBM said they don’t start interviewing people until the candidate pool is diverse. The lack of progress here is frustrating because implementing policy like this, is not just good for women or other underrepresented communities, but it will benefit the organisation and industry as a whole.
If your candidate pool does not represent society and is full of a certain type of candidate, then you’ll continually end up with the same answers. A real commitment to real diversity requires difficult and sometimes inconvenient change. I believe strong rules like this will go a long way to actual representation and address the lack of diversity, it will likely cause delays and be painful in the process, but definitely worth it.
Finally, what top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?
I honestly believe that we’re only limited by our own ambitions, so that said, be as ambitious as you can be and just go for it. For women, or anyone in an underrepresented community, be brave and be bold.
Generally, women are less likely to put themselves forward, but we must recognise that the world has changed. I call them superpowers, but women often have so many skills that come more naturally like coaching skills, compassion, and a real willingness to help people develop. This can be a real advantage today so don’t be shy about it.
Finally, look for a role you can grow into, not one you will grow out of.
If you’re looking for tech opportunities and a job that means more, why not join OS? We enable smarter solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems by utilising the power of location data.
By becoming part of our team you could support critical decision making for the wellbeing of citizens and the environment, drive efficiency, progress and innovation in business or inspire people to get outside more often with cutting edge navigation technology.
Find your better place by applying to OS today.