Interview with SmartestEnergy Global VP of IT, Claire Talbot

The number of women choosing a career in tech is slowly increasing, both in terms of women entering tech at a young age and career changers moving into tech from other industries. But while the stats on women entering IT look a little better than they did five years ago, the picture at the executive level is far less jubilant. 15% of FTSE 100 CTOs are women and in the US 19% of Fortune 500 CIOs identify themselves as female. The same research found that the average tenure of a female CIO was 18 months shorter than that of their male counterparts.

Claire Talbot, Global VP of IT at SmartestEnergy, has a proven track record of technology leadership and also oversees other newer entrants to the industry.

Why are you supporting Computing’s Women in Tech Excellence campaign?

I support the Women in Tech Excellence Campaign because I believe we need to recognize and celebrate women in the industry. I’ve been in IT for a long time and I see the need for us to make other women aware that there are good career opportunities in this industry. It’s not just for men, and the more we celebrate successful women in the industry, the more women we bring to our business.

How did you get into the IT industry?

I got into the IT industry in a very special way. After leaving school I took a year off with plans to study English at Oxford University and during that year I accepted a summer role as PA for a company’s IT director. He felt it was a waste for me to go to university to learn English and offered to pay for my tuition at university if I chose to study computer science instead. At 19, having the opportunity to graduate with no debt seemed like a great idea, so I went to computer science and the rest is history!

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What do you think is the main reason why the IT industry is predominantly male, particularly in technical and managerial roles?

I think the main reason IT is such a male-dominated environment, especially in management, is that we don’t have women climbing through the ranks to get promoted into those positions. The leadership pool is largely male-dominated, so it is less likely that we will bring as many women into higher-level positions.

As for the more technical roles, women don’t start early enough. Currently most young girls don’t see a career in IT as an option because we don’t give them that opportunity when they are young and in school. Afternoon clubs are largely boy-dominated and cater to boys; For example, a club where you learn how to write a program that shoots monsters doesn’t appeal to an 8-year-old girl. I think the reason we don’t put girls in the more technical roles is that we just don’t reach out to these girls early enough to make them feel IT could be a potential career opportunity.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that when someone tells you you can’t do something, that’s their limitation, not yours. You should always believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you and the idea that women should be in technology. You must be persistent, focused on what you want and not let people get in your way or plan your destiny for you.

What advice would you give to young women who want to take on leadership positions?

The advice I would give to women considering a career in IT depends on where they are in their career. If they are younger or still in school, I would advise them to join STEM groups. There are now many STEM groups supporting and introducing girls and a wider diverse community to IT. If you are already in a profession and looking to change career paths into IT, there are some great organizations that help women retrain and support them in finding a new professional role afterwards.

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Another piece of advice I would give to anyone interested in becoming a woman in tech is to find a mentor. Are you looking for someone you aspire to who is now a woman in IT who has worked her way up and has gained that experience to guide you through your journey and the challenges of your career transition. Mentoring is a valuable tool and can help you build on your own development and understand what is possible.