International Women's Day 2022: An interview with Jess

International Women’s Day – what’s the deal? Celebrated since 1911, it’s all about gender diversity. It has a dual purpose: it’s a day of celebration of women from across the globe as well as a call to recognize women as equals. International Women’s Day aims to push us towards a gender equal world free of bias, stereotypes, and discriminations. This is something that we all can do if we work together – men, women and everyone in between.

To do our bit, we’ve sat down with a handful of our female workforce, to get to know them a bit better and to explore their journeys so far. 

Today, we get to know more about Jess, our VP, Engineering. 

 

Tell me a bit about yourself, Jess.

Where do I start? I’m someone who’s always tried to push the boundaries and never really done what I was “supposed to do” even from a young age. For example, I was adamant as a child about joining the cricket team, even though I would be the only girl and the boys didn’t even want me there! 

How did you get into engineering?

I did a degree in Digital Media Production and some of the modules were in programming. This led me to writing my first proper lines of code for the first time in my life at the age of 21. I loved it! I really enjoyed the logical problem solving as well as the creative aspects. One of the misconceptions in programming is that it’s all 0s and 1s and quite boring. Actually, it's incredibly powerful and you can be very creative with it. 

Do you think that the stereotypes associated with engineering have directly contributed to putting women off from entering the field? 

It's hard to say whether it's a case of women being actively put off or if it’s more about them not being encouraged, but I do think a lot of stereotypes around engineering become barriers.

Comments such as ‘You have to be super smart’ can be enough to make girls shy away from it combined with the stereotypes of it only being for brainiacs and geeks. Men and women have different approaches to things. For example, with job descriptions, some research suggests a man will apply for a role if he meets 60% of the requirements, whereas a woman may not apply unless she thinks she can satisfy 100% of requirements.

How early do you think we need to start encouraging women into engineering? 

Personally, I’d say the earlier, the better. It's great now that programming has been included in the UK national curriculum, so young people are being exposed to it early. However not all teachers have the right knowledge, support and confidence to teach it which is an issue. If teachers don’t have experience in the subject, and are just relaying the knowledge from a textbook, it won’t be engaging and they’re not set up to support those who excel. That may have a negative impact on a child’s first experience of programming and their future involvement.

Do you think you faced any barriers as a woman getting into engineering?

Honestly, I’ve been lucky not to have experienced any massive barriers, but over the years I’ve certainly experienced nuanced unconscious bias. It’s not always obvious and it’s certainly never deliberate, but you have to think twice about whether you want to call it out or not. 

These experiences have had an impact on my career, the path I’ve taken and the choices I’ve made along the way. The reason it’s so hard to call out is because most of the time, the individual's intentions come from a good place. 

How do you think we, as individuals, can minimize the impact of these nuances?

Equal rights is still quite a modern concept and it’s evolving with each new generation. Even thinking back to the workplace 30 years ago, it was a very different place and older generations have had the steepest learning curve for sure. 

I guess it’s not going to meaningfully change unless we create an environment where the people experiencing it feel comfortable enough to speak up. Everybody has bias – it's just whether we’re conscious of it or not. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that mortifying realisation of 'I’ve done it too!'. What we can do as individuals is to train ourselves so we become more aware of our bias and then discuss what we can do to remove it in our day-to-day – both inside and outside of work.

Is there something that Opensignal does particularly well? 

I think Opensignal has a great company culture – it’s a friendly, fun and collaborative environment which is not found everywhere. A huge plus is that we have so many female representatives in our leadership team which is great. Also, in terms of the engineering team, we’re quite lucky to have so many women in it. We make up 26% of the team which is higher than the industry average.

I think the reason for this is that Opensignal has built an environment that women like working in and that has attracted other women into the company.

What else could Opensignal do for girls and women interested in the tech industry?

Building on everything that it’s doing already, Opensignal could explore running volunteer schemes, like Code Club, or offer work experience to allow young people to experience what the industry is like to work in. Also, we could encourage our team to become STEM ambassadors. I’m a STEM ambassador myself and it’s given me the opportunity to share my experiences with young people who may not have been aware that the tech industry is an option for them.

Do you have any advice that you'd like to share with women trying to establish or progress their careers? 

Yes - whilst I have now developed a taste for steak and whisky (!), you shouldn't change yourself to fit in. You can do your job and still be whoever you want to be.

Also, you don’t need to do everything on your own – it’s OK to ask for help. Remember, there's an entire community of like-minded women out there who are already doing this and have years of experience that you can draw on. 

One last question! If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, fictional or real, who would they be?

Definitely, Michelle Obama – isn’t she in everybody’s top 3?! Pippi Longstocking - she was a really rebellious girl with red hair (like me!) who I could relate to when I was younger. Martha Lane Fox, the co-Founder of Lastminute.com - she gave an inspirational talk at an event I attended.  I know you said three but I’d have to squeeze in another person and also have dinner with Karren Brady, who was the first female football manager of a Premier League team. She was a woman in a “man’s” industry at a time when there was no support or other women around her. She was facing resistance the whole time.

Opensignal, Tutela and Comlinkdata, the industry’s three most disruptive players in telecommunications performance measurement, are now part of the same company. They have come together to create data and analytics solutions that will enable communications providers to constantly optimize both their network and market performance, advancing connectivity for all.