Women in Tech: in conversation with Meredith Patton

| minute read

At Sopra Steria, we have always valued diversity and we’re lucky enough to have a great team of female leaders and mentors, each of whom have their own stories to tell about overcoming challenges and creating opportunities that have shaped their careers, and their lives.   

The third in our series of short interviews is with Meredith Patton, Workforce Inclusion Manager in Sopra Steria’s Aerospace Defence and Security (ADS) Business. Meredith is one of our most enthusiastic supporters of diversity in the workplace and acknowledges the importance of supporting women to achieve their potential. In this discussion Meredith shares her thoughts on how she mentors female talent, the initiatives she has been a part of to support the progression of women in the tech industry and her vision for the future.   

What would you like to see in the future around empowering women in STEM and achieving the right balance in diversity and inclusion? 

It starts at school level with more young girls taking STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, and being encouraged to continue this at university or through apprenticeships. That's why ADS has been involved in initiatives like CyberFirst, which runs events at schools for young people (especially girls) about cybersecurity careers, from technology to project management. Offering them a vision of a career in technology that they might not otherwise have thought of.  

But it’s also about offering women who want to, opportunities to re-skill as either technologists or somewhere within the technology sector. Where you do have female technologists in your organisation, I also think you should throw an extra (metaphorical) arm around them and pay attention to their careers and where they're going, simply because they’re likely to be a minority there for the foreseeable future.   

I envisage diversity and inclusion as a triangle. It begins with recruitment, and has two additional components: retention, and reputation. And all of the sides of the triangle are important. So when recruiting women into technology roles or organisations, you also have to look at what’s going to make them want to stay. And if you do well on your retention then your reputation will grow and you will attract more than your fair share of the few women who are out there at the moment.    

I want us to attract more than our share of the current market in great female technologists, but we'll only do that by addressing the inclusion aspects as well as the recruitment access aspect. That is everything from the type of flexible conditions that many women need to succeed in the workplace through to looking after them, mentoring them, promoting them, and giving them support.  

What advice would you offer to women starting their careers in technology to help them succeed? 

That's a tricky one because part of me wants to just say go for it, embrace it. But this often actually isn’t a helpful thing to say because there are many things stopping women from just going for it. And my experiences will be different to a black woman’s experiences, or a neurodiverse woman’s experiences.   

One thing I would say is trust and respect your knowledge and experience. You might be the only person in the room who looks or sounds like you. But that might make you the only person in the room with the experience or the point of view that delivers the right solution. Speak up. Conversely, look for the other ‘unusual’ people in the room and encourage them to speak up too.   

Also, I think anyone starting their career should find a mentor and make sure it is someone who you're going to get on with and will be able to help you. Sometimes it's just a matter of being able to have somebody to bounce ideas off and somebody to talk to. It doesn't have to be somebody working in technology, but it just makes you feel like somebody's got your back in the workplace when you're starting off in your career.  

How do you mentor and support the development of female talent? 

I'm mentoring two young women on our external Mission Gender Equity mentoring programme, and I'm also mentoring somebody internally who's currently going through a Woman in Leadership course for ADS. Many of our staff participate in Mission Gender Equity program which matches up women and ethnic minority mentees with mentors across UK industry. It's very enjoyable. It's also quite hard work. I put a lot of effort into writing meetings up and making suggestions and I spend time thinking about what might help these people. I think it's incumbent on me to try and give something back to other people to enable them to succeed.

What initiatives have you been a part of to support the progression of women in the tech industry and break gender bias in the workplace?  

What's interesting is that a lot of the diversity and inclusion initiatives do overlap with our social value initiatives. Social value, of course, is much wider than diversity and inclusion because it includes things like environmental initiatives, economic initiatives and leveling up. However, it can really intersect with diversity and inclusion. As an example, I sit on the ADS Social Value Committee and I'm in charge of an initiative that SSCL (Shared Services Connected Ltd) has previously implemented called Coaching Cafes, where we will run a safe venue for women to talk about what's holding them back in their careers, what they'd really like to do, and what they need to enable them to achieve their career goals. While measuring the success of this initiative in SSCL was largely anecdotal, I think there's no doubt that it generated a real surge in confidence around women in terms of resources and support in the business.   

What do you think are the major challenges that women in technology face today, and how would you overcome them? 

One of the major challenges that women in technology face today is simply that they are still often the only woman in the room, so to speak, which can be daunting. But also, I think there’s a disproportionate tendency for talented women technologists – and indeed talented women – to be asked to take on more of the “housekeeping” aspects of work, whether that’s administration, or junior staff supervision, or reporting, due to stereotypes about women having better ‘soft’ skills. For example, I was previously on an account where the only female technical architect was expected to manage all the team’s recruitment and tasking admin and she hated it but was scolded for not being a team player when she objected. Women are still statistically more likely to be interrupted and talked over at meetings or have their ideas dismissed. And women who demonstrate behaviours which, in men, are explained and even celebrated as ‘firm’ or ‘authoritative’ can be criticized as shrill or bossy. These aren’t unique issues to women working in tech roles, but they tend to be more pronounced in very male-dominant teams, and this remains the reality in many technical teams.

When I’m trying to think about this issue I often pick up Anne Marie Imafidon’s book, She’s in CTRL, because it's been so influential for me in terms of understanding why there aren't more women in tech and what can be done about it. Anne-Marie also talks about why it’s important that more women go into technology. “When you think about the impact that tech can have”, she writes, “it’s obvious that power shouldn’t be concentrated in one type of person” (p165). We all gain more control over our lives by engaging with technology.  She’s in CTRL also features some great stories about women in technology that don't get the same recognition as achievements by men because technology is still seen as an inherently male pursuit. Being able to see themselves is important for any marginalized group at work. Role models really matter.   

So, it's several factors and I think we need better recognition of women in technology, more encouragement, but above all they need to be able to see themselves in the industry.  

Do you have any closing thoughts on women in technology and your vision for the future? 

I’d like to close by emphasizing that encouraging women into tech is good for everyone. I've met some amazing female technologists in my time, and I've met a couple of them at Sopra Steria. They are inspiring. It can only benefit our whole workforce if we engage with addressing diversity and inclusion. We will be better, more interesting, more resilient to change with diverse teams. So, what I’d like to see is everybody enthusiastic about more women in tech, because the payoff is for everyone. I’ll finish by quoting something I’ve heard Sue-Ellen (Wright) say more than once, which is “We're not trying to take your job away or replace you. We're trying to fill the empty space next to you.” This is important. The only way we'll meet our future resource requirements is by drawing on those pools of talent and making life better for them in the workplace, and we can only achieve this if all of our people – men and women – come along for the ride.   

About Meredith Patton

Aged seventeen Meredith moved to Japan for seven years to complete her university degree. She went back to Australia with a degree in Japanese criminal law and good Japanese language skills.   

Meredith joined one of the Australian intelligence agencies where she worked in signals intelligence. Later, she spent most of her career in cyber security and did a few senior management roles around cybersecurity policy in the Australian Department of Defence.   

In 2012, she was posted to the United Kingdom and decided to leave Defence and reinvent herself career wise.  

Meredith joined the private sector initially working for CSC/DXC Technology. Just before the pandemic, she joined a smaller cyber security services company called PGI. Meredith left that job in 2021 and joined Sopra Steria in mid 2022.  

Today, Meredith is the Workforce Inclusion Manager of Sopra Steria’s Aerospace Defence and Security Business, working across ADS helping the division look at diversity, inclusion and how it might improve its diversity figures.   



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