A growing number of women are finding their voice in technology across Leeds but a lot still remains to be done for greater equality in the sector.
One of the key figureheads in rallying together women in tech has been Sarah Tulip. The head of digital transformation at tech firm BJSS is also one of the co-founders of WILD Digital, which was formerly known as Women in Leeds Digital.
Ms Tulip helped set up the networking group after finding that being at the top of tech as a woman was a “lonely place”.
“I thought there must be some more women like me somewhere,” she added.
WILD started as a dinner to help connect women from the industry and Ms Tulip would end up meeting some of her best friends through the network.
She said: “I invited women from across the city from executive level right down to people who were still in their final year of university.
“We’d come together and have a formal dinner because often if you’re a woman in a tech team or a female tech leader, as I was, you’re the only woman in the room.”
It wasn’t a given that Ms Tulip would end up in tech. She grew up in the seaside town of Southport in the North West.
Ms Tulip said: “We didn’t see that many opportunities in tech, digital or even in offices.
“There was a lot of retail opportunity with the odd solicitor dotted here and there but actually there isn’t that much with regards to role models, especially female role models – even more so back then. I was at school and the advice I was given was you might get a job in an office.”
Instead, she ended up in sales. First for a newspaper group and then selling technology into schools.
It wasn’t, however, until she moved into the IT recruitment sector that she really started on the path towards a successful career in tech. She said: “IT recruitment was something that had absolutely not been on the cards for me. It was not something that I was particularly excited about. I didn’t understand it.
“I thought any kind of recruitment were things that happened at a job centre for people who were unemployed because I’d never used a recruitment agency.”
Despite this, Ms Tulip took up an operational role at Lorien, helping lead the recruitment firm’s office.
“The third leg of my career began when I went to work for an organisation called The Test People,” says Ms Tulip.
Now known as Ten10, she spent three years at the software testing consultancy. As head of talent acquisition, she helped the business grow from 32 to around 350 people.
Ms Tulip said: “It was a case of ‘how do we find fantastic software testers when it’s still quite a new industry?’
“The things they were teaching people hadn’t been done before so I worked with them and helped them build a graduate programme.
“It was a technology graduate role but we took people from any degree background. We took people from music degree backgrounds, we took people from arts backgrounds. We took people who had the aptitude to learn technology.
“What we managed to do was hire more women than men into a technology consultancy because we were selling opportunities rather than just looking for a 2:1 in computer science.”
While gender diversity improved, Ms Tulip found there was a disconnect between the board and the rest of the business.
Ms Tulip grew frustrated at being overlooked for a board position herself despite the work that she was turning out.
She said: “The work I did had a huge impact on the organisation. I was a part of the leadership team and I was doing all the things that the directors were doing.
“I felt there was a glass ceiling. When I hit that glass ceiling I decided I was going to do something about it. I went and got myself a board position at a technology business.”
In 2016, Ms Tulip joined Leeds-based integrated communications business aql as chief operating officer.
“I did a lot of work there around organisational redesign,” she says. “A lot of automation around systems. We did fun and crazy things like building new data centres. It was a really challenging role, which I absolutely loved.”
However, Ms Tulip got to a point once where it was time for her to move on.
She tends to thrive when “things aren’t perfect and are difficult”.
“I love fixing things and changing things, making things better,” the tech boss says. Her advice to other young women looking to break into the industry is to remember that there are many avenues into tech beyond just writing code. Networking is also important, says Ms Tulip.
“Get to know people,” she added. “Turn up at events. People are friendly, will talk to you, support you and give you advice.”
In fact, it was her own network that landed her a role at professional services firm EY before she headed to BJSS.
“When I dropped out of university I thought I would never work for a big four accountancy firm,” Ms Tulip says. “I felt very proud to go and work for EY.”
WILD Digital is now looking to expand its agenda. The organisation has rebranded to allow it to talk about a wider range of issues its members care about.
It will be releasing a report on racial diversity in the tech sector today at Leeds Digital Festival.
“We are now WILD Digital and it means we can now talk a lot more about wider diversity and things that are current and important to us,”Ms Tulip said.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Ms Tulip ended up in the sector. She was interested in technology from an early age.
“I was pretty lucky that my dad had an interest in technology so it filtered down to me and my brother,” says Ms Tulip. “We were quite early to have a PC in the house.”
Ms Tulip’s ambition in her career is a simple one – to make the world a better place.
“I hope when my career ends that I leave the world a better place than when I found it,” she says. “That I’ve done something to make people feel more included. I hope I take a lot of people along with me in my career.”
Title: Head of digital transformation at BJSS
Date of birth: 18/08/1978
Lives: Horsforth – Leeds
Favourite holiday destination: Ibiza
Last book read: 3 Women – Lisa Taddeo
Favourite film: Carol
Favourite song: Loud Places – Jamie xx & Romy
Car driven: Don’t drive – Still much to my dad’s disappointment
Most proud of: Absolutely and always, son Joseph
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