Today we meet Akua Opong, an inspiring young woman who's breaking new ground in the technology world.
Think high-powered doctors saving the lives of young children in medical dramas such as ER and Greys Anatomy and that is how Akua pictured her future working self whilst growing up. However, the softer side of her personality, and in particular the idea of passing sad news onto families, made her decide a career as a pediatrician wasn’t for her after all.
Instead, she chose computing, believing it to be another area where she would be involved in ground-breaking work and ultimately be able to push the boundaries. During her studies at the University of Surrey, she enjoyed an internship at Rolls Royce and BMW, and has since had a series of technology-related roles in a variety of different organisations, including the London Stock Exchange, Rathbones Brothers Plc and even Carphone Warehouse. Her main focus is client services support and IT project work, where she enjoys the fact that no one day is ever the same and she is constantly learning new things to drive change.
Women are definitely in a minority
“When people think of IT roles they think of men,” says Akua. “I have come across some women but they are definitely in a minority and there’s a feeling that they have to work harder than their male counterparts if they want to progress up the ladder.”
By her own acknowledgement Akua is a bit of a workaholic. She always gives 110% and is happy to go the extra mile, taking on extra tasks and responsibility. Her main focus is always on the needs of the team rather than her own personal development.
“My way of thinking: how will what I do impact on other members of the team, is definitely more of a female approach than male,” she says. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and it’s not always easy.”
Women are equally as capable as men
Still, that said, her experience as a female working in mainly male-dominated environments has generally been good. “Women are equally as capable as men and want to be given the right platform to achieve our very best,” she says.
Akua is a big supporter of programmes to increase the number of women in technology-related roles and is grateful that so many now exist that didn’t when she was starting out. Today she is involved in a range of forums and acts as a mentor to several younger women working in technology roles. “In an IT environment you are constantly learning something new and support from another female in the industry is a great help,” she says. “It is really good to bounce ideas off each other.”
Role models are important
Role models such as Katherine Johnson, the black mathematician whose work helped send the first astronauts to the moon, are important too and while Akua hasn’t become a real-life Arizona Robbins (for those that don’t know, she was the head of pediatric surgery in ABC’s television drama Grey’s Anatomy and held the job that Akua thought she wanted when growing up) she is pleased with where she’s got to. She is confident STEM ambassador programmes and special coding and physics groups for girls will help encourage more females into the technology world and hopes that ultimately women won’t have to work harder than their male colleagues to earn the same pay, respect and career prospects.
(Outside of her working role, Akua is part of the Women’s Inspired Network (WIN UK Chapter) and the Wellbeing Forum.)
by Claire Shoesmith
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