Our FMXA founder Alisha Dattani was a finalist in theCRN Women in Channel Awards 2018 – Entrepreneur of the Year category. Here’s what she had to say to questions from the judges.
How did you get into IT industry?
When I was at school, the internet was still only used by scientists, so it was by sheer good luck that I landed my first job in a reseller during what became the .com boom. It was a bit of a love story, actually. I had graduated from university with a degree in economics and I was all set for a career in banking. However, my boyfriend – now my husband – was living in Coventry, so to stay with him I decided to take on a temp job with a local reseller. It was only ever meant to be a temporary arrangement until my boyfriend moved to London, but I was immediately attracted to this exciting and fast-growing sector. The rest, as they say, is history.
Why do you think the IT channel is so male-dominated, particularly when it comes to technical roles and senior management?
This is a complex question to answer. I’m sure discrimination figures into the reason on some level – but that’s a challenge faced in every industry. Yes, there are fewer women in the IT channel than in other sectors, but I don’t believe this is only – or even mainly – due to discrimination. For me, the main reason is one of perception. I still, on a very regular basis, hear female candidates for entry-level roles at FMXA profess a passion for marketing but uncertainty about whether they want to work in the IT channel. To be frank: many women think that the IT industry only offers technical roles, such as coding, and are put off as a result. This needs to change fast if we are to recruit more women to professions in the sector.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
That’s easy: the importance of diversity. When it comes to our customer base, we’ve built a diverse portfolio of brands to help reduce risk and ensure our business is on a sound footing for the future. And, of course, diversity is critical in the workplace. That’s why we are open to people from all backgrounds and beliefs. I’ve seen time and again how having a diverse array of opinions and ideas helps deliver the best possible service to customers.
What are your three top tips for women looking to start a career in IT? / What advice would you give to young women aspiring to take on leadership roles?
First off: don’t be intimidated. You don’t need to be ‘one of the lads’ to succeed in IT and you certainly don’t need to change who you are. My advice is to embrace what you enjoy and know that through hard work you can build a successful career. The tech channel is part of an industry that is amongst the most buoyant, dynamic and rewarding on the planet. What’s more, the industry is growing at a blistering pace and desperately needs talented people to help sustain this growth. That means there are opportunities at all levels of seniority for women willing to jump in.
Second, don’t let fears of discrimination put you off. From my own perspective, vendors, resellers and distributors alike will bend over backwards to attract and retain the right talent, regardless of gender. When I worked at Check Point UK, for example, I was the first female employee to fall pregnant. Far from working against me, the company built a maternity package just for me and were fully supportive during my return to work.
Finally, embrace your passions. Whatever you love doing, there’s a role for you in IT. The industry desperately needs more women and there are lots of opportunities on offer. If anyone is considering a role in IT, but doesn’t know where to start, then I encourage them to drop us a line – we would be happy to provide some guidance.
What is the one thing you would do to encourage more women into the IT sector?
I think the biggest change will come when we persuade young women that the IT sector is exciting and rewarding. I want women to realise that there are roles to suit any personality type and interest. There needs to be action to show women the range of roles available and provide them with help and guidance in working out where they might fit in. Work experience programmes will prove important in this respect as they provide girls with the opportunity to try out a range of roles to find the one that suits them best.
What can companies do to help diversity in our industry?
There is a wide range of things companies can do. As mentioned, work experience programmes are important. Here at FMXA, we provide girls aged 16 the opportunity to work with us for a week, giving them hands-on experience of the industry and, we hope, inspiring them to take up technology-related professions. At the graduate level, I would like to see internship programmes better tailored to inspire women with the opportunities on offer in IT. Cisco is an industry leader in this respect: I regularly attend their internship programmes where I provide interns with a female perspective on the IT industry. On top of this, there is a wide range of initiatives, such as CRN’s Women In Channel programme, that companies can partner with to promote gender inclusivity.
What can we do as individuals to help the industry become more diverse?
Speaking as a female CEO in a tech sector company, I believe the most important thing is to act as a role model for young women thinking of a career in the industry. Women currently working in the sector should take the time to share their experiences at, for example, STEM and Science Week events. We need to get out there and inspire young women. This is something that we can do in all areas of our lives. Parents, for example, should encourage young girls who show an interest in technology, and provide them with the support they need to nurture their interest. That’s why we at FMXA support #Techmums, a charity set up to provide mothers with the tech education they need to encourage and help their children.