Senior Leader Degree Apprentice Rachel Pattinson has only been working in the technology sector for 18 months, and already she's been recognised with a TechWomen100 Award.
We caught up with her to find out more about her achievement, her journey into the tech world and how she’s finding life on a Degree Apprenticeship.
Congratulations on being one of this year's TechWomen100 award winners! How do you feel about winning the award?
Slightly amazed. It feels like a big achievement and it’s an incredible list to be part of. There are so many brilliant women who have also been recognised as part of this process. I have only actually worked in a technology role for the last 18 months, so to win an award like this in such a short space of time is huge.
Did you always see yourself as someone who might pursue a career in tech?
The quick answer is no, I didn’t. Actually, when I was 16, I stopped doing science, then gave up maths at 17, and I thought I was never going to do STEM subjects ever again! I followed an arts path, but after graduating I started working in a variety of roles that all focussed around information.
What I started to notice was that all of these roles included digital, from the digitisation work I did as a library assistant, to the digital marketing and graphic design work I did as a communications officer, through to the more creative and human computer interaction roles I did as a partnership manager. Then I started to think, “Actually, I’ve worked on quite a lot of technology projects, and maybe for my next career step, I should consider it!” And there aren't enough women in the digital profession, so that was a driver.
What interests you about technology?
I think digital technologies are having a massive impact on how we live, and a lot of the tech platforms that we use daily are created by a small subset of people based quite a long way away. What I’m really interested in is how communities can inform the way technology is designed and used, and how they can have more control over the impact that technology has on their lives: making it fairer, more democratic and more transparent.
The TechWomen100 awards celebrate the success of women in the sector in particular. Are you optimistic that more women will play a greater role in tech in the future?
There are a lot of challenges to overcome in technology. The number of women working in technology roles at the moment is quite low – it’s about 17% – so I'm aware that I’m part of a minority. We have quite a way to go before we reach a critical mass. I hope that having more positive role models who are working in tech will help young women to see that they could consider a career in this industry.
You’re currently doing a Level 7 Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship in Strategic Leadership with Newcastle University Business School – what made you choose to apply?
I applied for the Degree Apprenticeship because I really wanted to develop knowledge, skills and behaviours that would help me to progress in my leadership and management, but also reflect on my practice at work and hopefully help me to develop in my career.
What have you enjoyed about the Degree Apprenticeship so far?
I’m really appreciating the opportunity to focus on learning again. It’s the first study I have done in 10 years, and it’s a real challenge – in a positive way.
I’m learning lots of new concepts, discovering different perspectives on leadership and thinking about reflective practice and trying to bring all of that back into my job. I’m also studying with an amazing group of professionals – some from Newcastle University, but a lot from other organisations too, and I’m learning from them as well.
How are you going to use the skills you have learnt in your apprenticeship in the workplace?
At the moment, it’s really helping me to critically evaluate the leadership practice that I demonstrate in work, and it’s helping me to reflect on some of the situations that I encounter and how I respond to them.
What skills are you hoping to develop as the Degree Apprenticeship continues?
As I continue on my apprenticeship, I’m looking forward to learning more about accounting, which I’m not trained in. I’m particularly interested in entrepreneurialism and also leadership across the board.
Have you noticed any adjustments to how you work as a result of doing the apprenticeship?
Yes, I’m certainly reflecting more on what I’m doing at work. One of the modules is about reflective practice, so we’re doing a lot of different writing and thinking exercises and that’s helping me manage my work better. Another module about leadership theories has also given me ways of articulating how I lead, and I’ve sometimes found that quite hard to express.
What advice would you give to young women who were unsure whether they should pursue a career in tech?
I would say that there are lots of ways that they can develop digital skills, even in jobs that aren’t in digital or tech. So, think about developing those skills in the job you’re already in! Also, talk to people. The digital community is really friendly, so get to know people working in tech by going and talking to them.
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