For many years, women and girls have played an important role in science and technology. Without the work of tech pioneers like Hedy Lamarr and Barbara Liskov, we would not have Wi-Fi and email as we know it. But despite this, women and girls are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education and careers. Only 35% of girls enter further education in STEM subjects and many have little encouragement to equip themselves with the skills to thrive in these industries.
Vodafone wants to help change this. With the support of not-for-profit social enterprise Code: First Girls, Vodafone will provide free coding training for 1,000 14-18-year-old girls across
Here, Karine Brunet, Rubi Kaur and Amrita Gangotra, three senior leaders with STEM-focused roles at Vodafone, discuss their career paths and why they are excited about the future for technology careers:
Karine Brunet, IT Shared Services Director, Vodafone
In one of my first jobs, before joining Vodafone, the most common question in the first few weeks was whose assistant I was. In fact, I was the first female graduate to enter the company.
Joining a technology business was an unusual move for a young woman in the 1990s, especially one with a BA in Economics who was set to do a Masters in International Management. None of my friends were considering technology professions – even my parents thought that I’d be more likely to go into marketing for a luxury fashion brand. Instead, the first company I worked for reinforced my perception that working with technology was much more interesting.
At first, I very much stood out. I was surrounded by engineers from the most prestigious schools – the majority of whom were male. Unlike them, I had no formal engineering qualifications. But I love technology and can bring vision and strategy together.
Now I look after Technology Shared Services at Vodafone, which comprises more than 6,000 people across three locations, in Egypt, India and Romania. We work in application development and testing for Vodafone’s local markets and Group functions and, in recent months, have made our first forays into the world of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
I understand why, in the past, technology did not seem like an attractive proposition for girls. Even I had originally perceived it to be a career for machine operators, with their heads down coding. I thought it would involve minimal human interaction, and certainly no fun. I am glad that was wrong.
Today’s technology, especially in the digital age, is about the user. For example, we recruit people called ‘humanisers’, who help make AI technology integrate with real people in a convincing way. It's much more about understanding the world, humanity and how people react. The more digital the technology becomes, the closer we need to be to providing human services, not just IT services.
The good technologists of tomorrow will be those who can demonstrate a great understanding of human beings as well, as the ‘widgets and gadgets’, and this is something in which many girls demonstrate a keen talent.
My story shows that you can discover technology in your twenties and carve out an exciting career in a business requiring STEM skills. For me, weekends can be spent thinking about luxury handbags and designer clothes… It’s much more fun to spend my weeks selling technology!
Rubi Kaur, Solutions Architect at Vodafone Group and trustee of the Chartered Institute for IT
When people ask what excites me about the future, it’s connected lives, smart cities, a world where the digital information we have at our fingertips enriches our lives in every way possible. We’ll solve world problems by being connected. The Internet of Things will be part of our infrastructure, in our towns and villages, and everything will be even more data-driven. We’ll be able to achieve so much more through new innovative thinking and we’ll have a lot more entrepreneurs around, while making sure society is protected.
These are exciting times, but I couldn’t have imagined any of them with this clarity and optimism without pursuing a keen interest in technology.
At school, I was the only girl in the class studying physics A-level. I also did maths and chemistry.
My degree was in applied physics and I picked up computer science along the way. Coding wasn’t my first passion but I’m glad I did it because it taught me to be analytical, logical and to see how things have a process behind them.
I nearly fell into academia, but it was computer science that put me on track for my first job as a systems integrator for TV call-lines in the early noughties, paving the way for shows like Pop Idol, a TV talent show in the UK.
I’m now back at Vodafone for the second time, working in unified communications, bringing fixed line and mobile together, applying technology to making new things happen.
I love working in an industry where everything moves forward and nothing stays still. I’ve never found it difficult being a woman in the industry. I’ve found it fun. So, I want to help widen the pipeline of new female talent choosing STEM careers. Children of today don’t have to live in the same world as we do. By choosing a career in technology, you can reimagine the future. But we’ve first got to get rid of the idea that ‘girls can’t do that career’.
Amrita Gangotra is Deputy CEO and Director of Technology for Vodafone Hungary
I grew up in India, graduating in the 1990s as the tech world was busy preparing for Y2K. As the world sought help with the potential ‘millennium bug’, India’s IT industry boomed and a career in technology –
as opposed to traditionally sought after roles in medicine or engineering – became the most exciting prospect. For both young men and women, STEM skills were a way into a forward-thinking, rewarding and international career.
At the time, I wanted to be a market research analyst, so my Post Grad was in operations research. I learned advanced analytic methods to help with better business decision-making and problem solving. I worked with mathematical models, engineering, gaming, simulations and coding. I particularly enjoyed coding.
I started my career as a market research analyst, but with the Indian economy opening up and the IT industry booming, I soon moved to the IT industry. I used my coding skills to get my first job as a programme manager for a leading technology company. IT fitted my love of problem-solving and looking at technological challenges.
Today, I’m Director of Technology for Vodafone Hungary, working with new network and IT technologies. I’m involved in big data, the Internet of Things, 4G, 4G+ and the evolution of our networks towards 5G.
In Hungary, girls haven’t historically taken up STEM in the same way that they do in India. Vodafone Hungary is regularly organising free coding courses and STEM themed events for young girls, helping to get more of them into careers that require coding or other IT skills.
Sign up for Vodafone’s #CodeLikeAGirl programme
Vodafone is partnering with schools to run the Code First: Girls free training programme, #CodeLikeAGirl. Its aim is to get more girls into all manner of careers that require coding skills or to help them get a start as STEM entrepreneurs.
The #CodeLikeAGirl programme is offered to girls aged 14-18 in Vodafone’s 26 markets and provides basic knowledge of computer languages and development programmes, including HTML, CSS, GitHub and Bootstrap, enabling students to develop a website by the end of the one-week course. All of this is irrespective of previous technological experience.