Spotlight on the Crick's Women in IT group

We caught up with Emily Till, who set up the Women in IT group at the Crick, to hear about how she got the group up and running, the importance of building networks at work, and the group’s next adventure heading into local schools.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at the Crick and how you got here?

I’m part of the System Administration team in the Information Technology Office at the Crick. We work on a lot of the services and platforms that support work and science at the Crick. It’s worth mentioning here that system administration is a very male-dominated field, even compared to other areas of IT!

My background is in mathematics. Maths has always made sense to me, unlike science – even though I’ve ended up at the Crick. When I graduated, I initially went into data analytics, and while I didn’t enjoy the data reporting too much, I did like the back-end side of things – working with the raw data, and cleaning it up for someone else to work with. Once I knew that that was the route I wanted to go down, I became a programmer, a data engineer and now a data platform specialist.

I specifically wanted to connect with other women working in technical fields.

What is the Women in IT group at the Crick, and why did you start it?

It’s a group of people who work in IT, and IT-related fields, and we get together for lunch every month, and keep in touch on a Slack channel in between meet-ups.

I joined the Crick one week before the first lockdown, and although my team is very sociable, I struggled to meet people outside my immediate team. It’s something that would have happened naturally if we were working in the office, but I had to take things into my own hands. I’m also the only woman in my team, and I specifically wanted to connect with other women working in technical fields.

The Women in IT group wasn’t set up to tackle a hostile environment or solve a problem – it’s an extra bonus on top of the good working environment that I have in my day job. I’ve had bad experiences, as I’m sure many women in IT have, but this group has been a purely positive thing.

I think it’s useful when people realise that being a woman in IT can come with specific issues. When I first interviewed for my job at the Crick, our chief data officer Karen Ambrose was on the interview panel, and it meant that I was specifically able to ask her about what it’s like to ebe a woman in IT at the Crick. I’m confident asking these questions, but other people might not be, and the group is an environment to have those conversations.

How did you approach setting up the group?

I pulled together a list of all the women in the IT team at the Crick. I then started with one-to-one conversations to see if people were interested – as I’m better at talking than writing to people!

When the initial reaction went well, I started talking to a few of the female team leads within IT to gauge their interest, and eventually sent out an email to everyone to see who would be interested in meeting up.

Since setting up the group, I’ve presented it twice to the whole IT team at the Crick, and my team have been really supportive.

We have people who have worked in IT for more than 30 years, alongside people who have moved into IT in the last couple of years.

How have the meet-ups been going so far?

Because of COVID restrictions, our first five meetings were fully virtual. We’re now meeting up in person, but we make sure to change the day of the week that we meet each month, so that we can work for as many people’s schedules and working patterns as possible.

We currently meet up for lunch once a month. I’m a really strong advocate for mental health, and I believe that the making connections with colleagues links to supporting your mental health at work. Team bonding and the social side of work is just as important as getting the project done.

Who’s in the group?

We have a core group of around 10 people, and another 10 or 15 who follow along on our Slack channel.

I’ve found it really helpful to have people at a range of career stages in the group. We have people who have worked in IT for more than 30 years, alongside people who have moved into IT in the last couple of years.

We’ve got people from all areas of IT represented in the group, and through word of mouth, we’ve also managed to bring in a few people who work in tech-related fields, or other very male-dominated fields.

I now have a routine to promote the group to new starters. Every time someone joins the IT team who is female or non-binary, I send them an introduction and invite them to the next lunch. Some people don’t come at all, some people come for one lunch, and some people become regular members!

What’s coming up for the group?

On International Women’s Day, two of us are working with the Crick’s Education team to head out to a local school and take part in their careers fair. We’ll be chatting to girls who are doing their GCSEs, and hopefully helping them to picture what a career in tech is really like.

I’m really passionate about getting young women into my field. Mathematics undergraduate courses show a pretty even gender split now, but a lot of the women in my course went into education or teaching roles. These career paths obviously aren’t less valuable than the more technical roles, but I see so few women going from maths degrees to technical and programming roles that it that needs to be addressed.

I’m looking forward to going out into the school – teenagers normally react well to me! We’re currently trying to come up with an activity to do with the students while we’re talking to them to illustrate our work.

What are your plans for the future?

I’d like for us to do more work with the Crick’s Community Engagement team, working with some of the women’s community groups. I know that local group run digital drop-in sessions to help people with any software or technology problems, and that could be a great fit for our group.

I’m also keen to reach out to more people who are coding in the labs, or interested in starting coding. I’d like for the group to develop into other areas as well as our regular meet-ups, whether that’s training, outreach or something else entirely!

Hear from other group members

"Everyone in the group is really kind and open. I was worried about joining a new organisation in new country, but thanks to the group, I feel really comfortable and relaxed.

I think that engaging with your team is a really important part of joining an organisation, and Emily's positive vibes have helped me to settle in to my team.”

Shirin Moradi - Business Process Architect

"Joining the Women in IT group has given me confidence and a feeling of reassurance. Before joining it, I used to feel a bit 'on my own', even though my team is great.

Since getting to know these other women in IT, I've felt included, and I know that I can go up to someone if I need help, advice or just to have a little non-work chat."

Narkkya Arulselvam - ServiceNow Developer

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