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The power of diversity: International Women’s Day at DfT

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital, Women in Digital
Permanent Secretary Bernadette Kelly speaking at a lectern
Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport

Earlier this month, colleagues from across the Department for Transport and its agencies gathered for an inaugural International Women’s Day themed event. The aim was to:

  • showcase the power of diversity through inspiring role models and their success stories
  • really help understand what it means to work in Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) roles in DfT

The afternoon kicked off with a rousing introduction from DfT’s Permanent Secretary, Bernadette Kelly, herself a fantastic role model and one of the few female permanent secretaries in government. She expressed concerns that, although the Civil Service has come a long way, there is much work still to do.

Although there are increasing numbers of women employed across government, this drops significantly when you get to senior levels. Bernadette is particularly keen to address the gender pay gap within DfT and emphasised the importance of ‘never taking your foot off the throttle’ when striving for diversity in the workplace.

Attendees were privileged to hear next from three women who have carved out hugely successful careers in the digital sector: Rachel Murphy and Karen Cleale from digital consultancy Difrent and Emma Stace, Chief Digital Officer at the Department for Education.

Their talks were honest, moving, impactful and stuffed full of helpful tips based on their own experiences for women making their way in the digital world. All shared intensely personal experiences that have helped shape them and their careers. Their stories included:

  • finding the strength and confidence to stand up to those at home or at work who are not supportive
  • bravely striking out as a single mother
  • finding inspiration from a stepdaughter who fought back from a life-threatening illness.

Emma talked about how she has experienced unhelpful comments as a woman, including being told how to dress and being accused of being too emotional in the workplace. She asked the audience to chat to each other for a few minutes about sexism that they have experienced at work.

It was clear from the discussion that followed that sometimes these comments come from female as well as male colleagues. Sadly, women are not always supportive of other women in the workplace.

A fireside chat was next on the agenda featuring inspirational women from inside and outside DfT: Barbara Keating (digital architect, DfT), Renate Samson (senior policy advisor, Open Data Institute), Yalena Coleman (Head of Accounts, Transport Systems Catapult), Jan Ford (Head of IT project delivery, HS2), Sarah Winmill (Chief Information Officer, British Transport Police), Sunitha Chacko (Head of Technical Architecture, Government Digital Service). They shared their own fascinating career stories and experiences and the audience had the opportunity to ask questions.

Some key messages that we can all take away:

  • Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs in digital. You don’t need to be a techie, you don’t need to have all the skills. Just go for it.
  • Be authentic and honest. As a (male) colleague once said to Emma Stace, ‘You are enough.’ Often people have more respect for leaders who display these qualities.
  • A recurring theme of the afternoon was imposter syndrome, in which we doubt our accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud and this translates into some of the language we use at work. We should stop saying ‘sorry’, ‘just’, ‘does that make sense’ and have confidence in our knowledge and abilities and what we are saying.
  • Rachel Murphy emphasised how we should also be supported by men. She cited her father as being instrumental in encouraging her that she could do anything and her business partner in providing essential support and advice. Jonathan Neffgen, CIO at DfT, talked about how he mentors women (and only women) via Linkedin to help them to develop their digital careers.

A short video was also showcased at the event featuring women in digital roles from across the DfT family talking about their background, their role and what motivates them. Some of these women and others also featured on this blog last month.

International Women’s Day might only be one day each year but it is essential that all of us keep working hard every single day to ensure that women have equal opportunities, are properly represented and fairly treated within the workplace.

Let’s all keep stamping our feet on the throttle!

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Regina posted on

    Jo, sounds like you had a great event.
    Leaders that are "..honest, moving and give helpful tips based on their own experience" are the ones that have the biggest impact on others. And Civil Service has many female representatives with those features! We are heading in the right direction!