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PA OPINION

Woman in Tech of the Month: Michelle Bee

Photo of Michelle BeeCelebrating Women in Tech is our series exploring the achievements of women who are breaking gender stereotypes to build technology-based careers. Michelle is a digital strategy expert at PA. She specialises in business and cloud strategy, and is a mentor to women in business and technology. In our interview, Michelle reflects on her career in tech and shares top tips for women as they progress through their own careers.

What has driven you throughout your career in technology so far?

My main driver throughout my career has been curiosity, I want to know the what, the why and the how. I believe in the power of ingenuity – we all have choices and that’s why I love technology, it gives us the choice to use our creativity to do things differently and be innovative.

Another driver has been embracing the opportunities I’ve been given. I once had a call from an old colleague who I worked for as a graduate. He asked if I wanted to head up the sales and strategy team at a global data company and my first thought was, ‘really?! How on earth am I going to do that?’ I told him to find somebody else with relevant experience but after some discussion, I realised he was not looking for experience but for attitude, he wanted resilience and someone who was not afraid to take a deep plunge into something new. I took the chance, really embracing the opportunity, and was successful. We successfully delivered exciting work to customers under my leadership. So, when an opportunity comes, let it come and don’t fight it, as it has the potential to be something very exciting.

What are the main lessons you’ve learned along the way?

That’s a tough question in tech as you’re always learning – there’s always some new development that opens your eyes to new possibilities. But I think there are five key principles I’ve learned to keep in mind all the time:

  1. Embrace your discomfort
    The biggest mistake in my career was to avoid discomfort because I didn’t like it. There were times where I stuck within a safe, comfortable environment. I know now that it was for the big challenges that I was thrown into that taught me how to overcome adversity, build resilience and strengthen my ability to conquer further obstacles.
  2. Have conviction, but also an open mind
    Often, we want to show ourselves and our opinions. It’s important to take a step back, hold an open mind and look at things from a different perspective. You need confidence that you’re doing the right thing, but it’s worth occasionally saying to yourself, ‘hang on a minute, there might be a better way here’.
  3. Take a chance, no matter how small
    In my career, I’ve taken many paths that weren’t the safe or obvious options, but I knew it was the chance for something bigger. Trust your intuition and be open to something new.
  4. Women need to support other women
    We should be each other’s strongest and most supportive ally. If you manage to get a seat at the table, hold the door open for others to join you. Successes build successes, and we’re stronger when we stand with and by each other. If we support each other firmly, then other people will learn to support us and that will help to bridge the gender gap.
  5. Fight for yourself
    If you really want something, you have to accept that it won’t come easily. I’m not reliant on other people’s voices to succeed, I make sure I’m heard. It’s not about aggression, often as women we don’t want to appear too aggressive, but we need to do the right thing. You don’t have to be fierce, but you must at least be firm.

What do you think can be done to encourage more women to pursue a career in technology?

At a structural level, there needs to be more mentoring and sponsorship programmes available to women to help develop and nurture tech talent. In addition, flexible working patterns should be available to engage more women in the tech field by promoting work-life balance and supporting women with young families.

At a micro level, there should be more support and encouragement provided. As women, tell other women they’ve done well, call out and correct mistakes if you see them. Doing this encourages everyone to do the same, adopt positive behaviours and act as an ally.

Finally, as I look back at my journey, the steady progression I had imagined as a young girl was not so, I experienced a lot more ups and downs. It’s important to remember that there will be times where progression seems impossible and mistakes are made but in the end, it’s an adventure. I’m a strong believer that without our mistakes, we won’t succeed.

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