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“We’ve all felt the pull to fit in, but your authenticity and uniqueness is your power.” An interview with Kate and Sam from Sotic

IT’S FATE ?

I first came across Kate Maunsell and Sam Chamberlen at Sotic through an article exactly this time last year for International Women’s Day 2020. To say it resonated with me is an understatement. Kate provided purposeful insight around ‘bro’ culture and provided the world with encouragement and guidance on what it’s like to be a woman within the tech industry.

And then we saw Kate’s rock band, so… OF COUSE Women Rock just HAD to reach out ?

And by her side has been Sam. Sam’s has been with Sotic for close to 9 years and has been at the front-line regarding hiring, HR and other workplace-background admin. She has witnessed the cultural change experienced by the business and the industry over the years, before and since the pandemic.

This interview gives you a wedge of encouragement and knowledge with a side of Cher.

Kate, let’s start with how you started a career in tech? 

I took a bit of a messy route to my current role! Graduating with a MA in History of Sexuality, then moving through roles as an archivist, publican, musician, project manager and finally an accountant! It was this latter experience that led me into tech as a Head of Finance. At first it was a huge culture shock, I felt totally out of my depth. However, I took the time to listen and learn and quite quickly I began to understand and appreciate the joy and power of digital technology. It’s important that young women realise that tech isn’t just about developers, there are many rewarding positions that require a host of transferable skills. My diverse background has been a strength, in that it allows me to step out of the narrow view and think more objectively. I ask the silly questions and, more often than not, find they’re actually sensible! The tech sector attracts innovative, exciting people and I feel very lucky to be working with them.

Sam, being in the front-line as Sotic’s HR manager how are you encouraging diversity and inclusion across the business?

Obviously, we must avoid the legal pitfalls of positive discrimination so it’s hard to attract a diverse candidate pool in a traditionally male-dominated industry. However, we consider every CV speaks for itself: gender, socio-economic position or religion play no part in the decision-making process. What we can do is visibly and vocally change the traditional culture and subvert expectations of working in tech. A ground-up approach may be long-term but it’s a solid solution.

Kate, you mentioned in your article last year that you were asked to “play the dumb blonde” by a senior manager – how did this effect you/did it make you stronger/how did this make you feel?

At the time I had achieved significant success in improving company performance and to be reduced so summarily was both insulting and infuriating. I was livid at the implication that my male colleagues, people I felt admired and respected me, would buy the ‘dumb’ act! However, perhaps the most gallingly ignorant remark I’ve had levelled at me is the insidiously misogynistic ‘basically, you’re a man’. This ‘compliment’ is bestowed upon me with the expectation that I will be hugely flattered at the comparison! The suggestion being that any femaleness would preclude me from being an effective leader.

We have a responsibility to challenge this careless language, whilst reminding ourselves that these words are rarely spoken with malice. I think by demonstrating that strength is gained not through fear and dominance but through humility and empathy (Jacinda Ardern is a perfect example of this!) female leaders are contesting the outdated perception that authority and leadership is the exclusive preserve of the masculine.

Sam, why do you feel there’s a lack of females in leadership roles across the tech industry?

Referring to my previous answer, I believe that historically women have not been attracted to the industry per se. Allow me to give you a brief history lesson:  the 1960s counter-culture [hippie] scene of San Francisco bore the seeds that grew into Silicon Valley, and the exploitative prevailing mindset did not change: that women were subordinate to men and mainly considered a supply of uncommitted sexual gratification. Tech’s roots are therefore androcentric, placing men at the centre of the world-view; the industry has had a long way to come. It’s important to say that feminism was another off-shoot of the counter-culture and as in the field of technology, we’re making great progress. I hope now is the time that the two dovetail – great advances in technology led by people with vision and clarity of communication, irrespective of gender.

Kate, do you feel as though the pandemic has created more opportunities for women who have had children due to home working, remote working etc?

I think it has both created opportunities and exposed gender bias. The pandemic has proved that flexible and remote working is both possible and effective and I hope this will open up greater opportunities for women with childcare commitments. I’m proud that the tech sector has pioneered this, with remote working a common contractual offering. However, in the families of some of my network there has been an expectation that the women, even where they’re the higher earner, should manage the lion’s share of the childcare. Male friends of mine have been less supported by their employers when it comes to flexible working and childcare commitments. We’re getting there, but in some sectors there still exists the assumption that ‘the woman’ should and will take care of the children.

Sam, if you had 30 seconds to advise all young women across the globe around a career in tech – what would you say?

I’d say, carefully consider where you want to be – front-end, back-end or architecture. Each favours its own particular skillset and personality type and delivers its own reward. If you want to be a designer, what better validation than to have your work seen by millions? If you’re more of a programmer, you could be the author of the next global scripting language. Once you’ve decided where you’re going, constantly apply yourself to learning – this is a fast-paced world. And finally, don’t doubt that you can do it. You can!

Kate, who’s your inspiration?

I’m inspired by those women who have challenged expectations of femininity. Loud, brave, angry women like AOC, and pioneering women like Bessie Coleman and Valentina Tereshkova.

A perhaps less lofty aspiration, but something that struck me as a teenager; I remember seeing Cher interviewed, bemoaning the fact that her mother wanted her to marry a rich man. Cher replies by saying ‘mother, I AM a rich man’!

Sam – what’s been getting you through this third lockdown?

I hesitate to answer because I know this will sound disingenuous but it’s the truth – my friendship with Kate is helping massively. I consider this a time to strengthen the bonds that mean most to us, even though we have to do that remotely. I like to think that Kate and I have a very open, communicative relationship and having her in my life as my friend, boss and collaborator makes work, and life, sweeter.

Kate – I’d echo that!

And both – share your wisdom! Please provide a mantra or quote that you live by, or just like for the sake of it.

Sam – Marcus Aurelius: You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Kate – When I first entered the business world, I thought I had to be a man to beat a man. Much like the women referenced in Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, I felt I had to pull on a power suit, join in with the bro culture and, essentially, hide my femaleness. However, I’m pleased to say I’ve witnessed huge changes in the corporate sector over the last 20 years, and I see that companies are recognising that diversity is, in fact, a strength. We’ve all felt the pull to fit in, but your authenticity and uniqueness is your power. In tech, where we’re creating products for hugely diverse demographics, only those business that recognise this, will succeed.

Thank you both for sharing this with us, keep rocking!

#womenrock

By Char Baker 

A voice for diversity in Tech & Engineering <3

I: @womenrockbristol

T: @womenrockbrstl

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