International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality.
We had the opportunity to speak with Head of Global Business Development, Ruth Walker, winner of the Giant Health Event Female Founder Category and ask for her insights on what it is like to be a women in tech.
What first attracted you to pursuing a career within the tech industry?
I never intended to go into tech and fell into it accidentally back in the 1990’s when I was a poor student - computers were very expensive and I couldn’t afford to buy one, so had to come up with a solution! I was at college and soon realised that most of my fellow students were in the same position, so I established a market for 2nd hand equipment by buying computers in large quantities from companies who were upgrading after a 3-year life. Within a couple of years, I had gone from selling them to students to selling to local government and businesses. Within a couple of years, I had numerous schools, all with limited funding that didn’t stretch to new equipment, buying computers from me. When the prices of new equipment eventually started to fall, I saw a big rise in local authorities buying new computers from me, which also meant that network infrastructure was needed and provided me with another revenue stream. Before long, I had created the UK centre of excellence for adult learning and primary education IT suites which were used as templates for national roll-out. I received the Chamber of Commerce Young Business Person of the Year Award and the HSBC entrepreneur of the year award, all before the age of 25!
What is it you enjoy most about your role?
I love being a part of something new and exciting, knowing that the technology we have developed could change the world for the better.
During your career, what changes have you seen within the industry?
First and foremost, technology has become more affordable and more accessible. It is fabulous to see how the technological revolution has changed our every-day way of living. In my current position at Select Research it is great to see how advances in digital health are bringing specialist healthcare to people within their homes and delivering services to third world countries, affordably and efficiently.
How well do you think the tech industry is doing in improving gender diversity?
It’s certainly a slow change but improving. I went from being the only female in a large cohort of technical advisors 25 years ago (people always used to ask me if they could speak to the man in charge!), to presenting to an audience that was 98% female last year at a tech conference! I think the efforts made by schools and universities to attract girls to STEM subjects in recent years will ensure this change continues.
What would be the first thing you would do to improve balance in the tech industry?
I think one of the key priorities should be educating young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds that they can become anything they want to be. Too many young girls grow up believing that education or leadership is the domain of men or the middle and upper classes and this is certainly not the case. We don’t just need a gender balance in the work place or in leadership, we need a socio-gender balance.
During your career, what hurdles did you encounter and what have you learnt from them?
Being a working mum is challenging, especially in a professional world that is dominated by men. You have to work as though you don’t have children, but parent as though you don’t have a job. I used to find mums at school would disapprove that I had a career, and men in the professional world would often look for a male figurehead to guide them. Now I find that I can be both mum and career professional very effectively, but it does take exceptional organisation and discipline to be able to switch from one mode to the other.
The best thing is that my career certainly gives my daughters something to aspire to and has taught my son that women are most definitely a force to be reckoned with in the professional world!
What advice would you give to women looking to move into The tech Industry?
Don’t be scared but be prepared for the male dominance. You can do anything men can do!