Sweethaven’s Melissa Rambridge on embracing individuality and diversity in the tech industry

I officially joined Sweethaven 3 years ago, on 3rd September 2015. As a family run business founded by my father and grandfather in 1977, I had always been close to the company but, speaking honestly, had received no in-depth exposure to the IT industry previously (in fact, to my father’s dismay, I resolutely refuted all his best advice and steered away from all things tech throughout my academic and initial career development).

Joining from the oil and gas industry, I came into the management team to head up Business Development & Marketing and now, for those familiar with the Traction model, am on the trajectory towards “Visionary” (whilst I believe the EOS approach to be great, I still struggle with labelling myself as this).

I of course already knew prior to starting that the sector was male dominant and that I would be joining a 100% male management team. I didn’t quite realise the extent of this dominance until I found myself in a conference room with an approximate boy:girl ratio of 100:1. I’ll never forget my first industry event, when a now invaluable friend and peer leaned over to candidly inform me that I was possibly the first girl he had seen at a roundtable since 2007, so I should make sure to say something very intelligent.

I know what you’re thinking – here comes another article from a female preaching about the requirement for diversity and associated fair treatment in the workplace.

The message behind this piece is actually slightly different. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by a fantastic, open team here at Sweethaven and have never once felt any prejudice or at a disadvantage on account of my gender, neither within the company as a whole or from the management team. I appreciate this has not been the case for all aspiring women in Tech but my experience in this respect has been fortunate and my subjective view a consequence of this.

My main message behind this article is therefore less to do with equality for women in the workplace but rather to tilt this point slightly to highlight the need to really publicly demonstrate, even advertise, that tech is a great sector for both technically and non-technically minded women to work in; that it’s not just a man’s gig. I would really like the positives of my experience to inspire future female peers to see the opportunities and motivation for joining the industry. It’s a fast paced, collaborative and forward thinking market space that any individual with a passion for business and opportunity spotting should view as an exciting career move.

Over the course of the last 3 years, I have sat around a number of all-male discussion tables and have learnt the following principle takeaways:

  • Be brave to embrace your own individual character, regardless of the gender split in the room. I believe Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg refers to this as “authentic communication” and the importance of not feeling the need to conform to stereotypical “male” communication styles in the workplace. I am commonly referred to by friends and peers as “chirpy” (I suspect this may be their way of saying “annoying” nicely). I used to think this was something that I needed to quell for the sake of credibility within business discussion; I’ve since learnt that it is possible to demonstrate high levels of business acumen and remain true to my chirpy self – and that this can in fact be one of my USPs in certain instances
  • Perception is nine tenths of the truth. If women believe themselves to be different to men in the workspace, then they will be. My main focus now is purely on striving to excel within my role and being the best that I can be for my company and my team
  • If you are in the minority, embrace it as an opportunity! This is your chance to bring something new and different to the table – maximise every second of it
  • Even a non-tech female can find value in the tech industry. I know this is a controversial point for some. I’m of course not claiming that knowledge of the fundamentals isn’t required and, furthermore, an understanding of how the channel works. But to refer to my point above, the industry is such that it presents a huge amount of business opportunity and career development for techs and non-techs alike

From a business perspective, the benefits of a diverse workplace have been long discussed and are commonly well known. The more interesting question for me is how we achieve it, in an industry where competition for talent is already rife, even before you start applying additional qualification factors for increasing diversity within new recruits.

This in mind, I think fostering excitement across genders from an early age needs to be the primary focus. As a business, I think we can take some responsibility for this by immersing ourselves in the local education sector and showing children from an early age the full range of exciting career options within tech through talks, mentorship and work experience placements. I have recently signed up with the charity “Inspiring the Future” to increase my involvement in these aforementioned activities within local schools.

Sweethaven is still a long way off achieving a better ratio but we are at least now aware and talking about the benefits of a better gender balance. I hope that, through proactive discussion and follow up of the points and activities mentioned here, we can steadily start to alter perceptions around where women do or do not fit within tech.

Melissa Rambridge is the Business Development and Marketing Manager at Sweethaven

Check Also

Next-Generation Technology and the Future of Risk Management

Ryan Swann, Founder at Risk Smart breaks down why a proactive approach to risk management …