Today the globe celebrates International day of women and girls in science, we phoned up Melinda Mathhews-Clarkson of CodeClan to chat about her thriving career in tech and digital fields, the work she does with CodeClan and the future of women and girls in STEM roles.
Can you tell me a little bit about your professional background and what lead you to becoming CEO of CodeClan?
I have been in the IT Software industry for over 25 years. I have a degree in marketing and in education and I went into a sales organisation at the beginning of my career and we were selling software. I grew through that and ended up at Computer Associates, which is large company that sells software for enterprises to do backend processes. I was there for seven years; in that process one of my clients thought that I was a great suit for IBM.
I joined IBM and stayed for 19 years and during my time there I learned so much from being an individual performer to then getting into management. I then became a global employee, a director then vice president and movement over to Europe on an international assignment and decided to stay. I rekindled a phenomenal relationship from my very young years and he happens to be Scottish, so I decided to stay in the UK.
I left IBM in 2016 and did a whole year of exploring what I really wanted to do again. Then the CodeClan role came up, it hit my top five criteria: that I wanted to inspire people to the best that they can be, that I could walk to work, that it was local in its nature instead of getting on trains, planes and automobiles too much, that it paid well, and that it used my skills from software development, sales and inspiration growth. Low and behold CodeClan thought I was the right fit and I’ve been year for a year and three months.
CodeClan aims to bridge digital skills gaps in Scotland; can you tell me more about that?
We want to harvest the local population, especially with Brexit and what’s going on around us politically. The goal is to find individuals that want to live and work in Scotland, educating individuals in software development.
You also do a lot of work to foster a more diverse workplace, specifically in tech and digital fields, what work do you do with women and girls to encourage them into digital roles?
We have three populations of our community outreach. One is the young, so we work with Girl Guides, Beavers and CoderDojo, which is for between 11-14 year olds. We sponsor CoderDojo and have sessions for them to come in and learn coding and we run those once a month.
We talk to students in colleges and universities. This week we had Heriot-Watt in for the Common Purpose programme to talk about coding and STEM, staying with the sciences and how they’ll take you further. We also sponsor Code Bar for women and minorities to learn about coding and improve coding that they already do.
Do you have hands-on work with the young people yourself?
Yes! One of my favourite long weekends was spending a whole weekend with the girl guides for their CEO camp. It was really fun getting involved. We do that with our community outreach but we also internally in CodeClan have a digital women’s group. We do this to support and nurture women through the journey of the course and to make sure that they have lectures on life skills and encouragement so that when they are in their new role they stay, and can manage it going forward.
At one of our Digital Women’s, CEO called Linda Scott from West Lothian Chamber of Commerce spoke about taking risks. So she talked about how you can get yourself organised to take risks. We had another amazing woman, Lynn White who has a consulting business on how to manage maternity leave; we also have yoga and mental health specialists that come in. We talk a great deal about being kind to ourselves. I do a lot of public speaking like She Leads Tech, Women in Technology, those types of things. So getting out there and encouraging women that jobs in technology can be rewarding, fun and inspiring.
What kind of barriers do young women feel they face going into male dominated environments?
I spoke at Scottish Widows recently and one young lady raised her hand and said, “How do you get over the person telling you, ‘you were above your station?’” And I didn’t even understand the term, as an American, our culture is to strive to go farther and to be better; to get out of our station is the whole goal. I see it in England and Scotland and slightly in Ireland so I don’t know if it’s an island attitude. Someone said to me I can’t believe you tell people that you have a summer home, and I said, why not? They would see it as ostentatious I guess. There is a lot of that culturally and I try my best to coach and mentor women to ignore that and keep going.
More of the millennials do seem to have more in their teeth; they want to push further and harder. Many millennials don’t think that there is a diversity problem and they feel everyone gets treated the same. Their challenge is they expect to be going at a much higher and faster pace than they are skilled to do. There are still tonnes of people in the world that put women down because that’s what culturally, they are taught. I find that the IT industry, especially the development world, you don’t feel that as much. There are more people that are introverted, and not sure how to be comfortable in a group setting, and sometimes people can take that the wrong way.
Why do you think there is such a culture difference regarding advancement between North America and the UK?
I ponder this question a lot, because in Scotland it’s not like you don’t have a great history of innovation, science, maths and exploring and creating amazing things. I think America in general is all about bootstrapping yourself up, there wasn’t a caste system, and there isn’t royalty. Maybe it’s because Scotland is older, in America in 500 years would we have the same? I don’t know, I think culturally people are being brought up in a different way. But it’s really hard to change the mind-set.
What advice would you give to women or girls looking to pursue a similar career to you?
You’ve got to be comfortable doing it, even if you’re uncomfortable. I’m not one to shy away from things, I’ve always been very curious. I got in trouble in grammar school all the time for saying, “but why?” My chemistry teacher hated the heck out of me because I’d ask – why do those molecules connect? So be curious, have an open mind-set, and keeping your mind open culturally. Give it a try; what’s the worst thing that can happen? And the other point I stress in business is, become good at something, become a subject matter expert, master it and then move on to the next thing.
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