Female Tech Spotlight Series: Beckie Taylor06 Oct, 20238
Today our interview is with Beckie Taylor, diversity champion, tech trailblazer, and co-foun...
Today our interview is with Beckie Taylor, diversity champion, tech trailblazer, and co-founder and CEO of Tech Returners.
Beckie's organisation is committed to removing the barriers returners face after career breaks and works to bring experienced tech professionals back to the workforce. She has grown the business to the point where it has been acquired by listed Northcoders, one of the UK’s largest providers of software engineer training.
Beckie Taylor breaks the ‘rules’ of business. And in doing so, she proves how wrong they are. Success doesn’t need to come from aggressive practices and punishing schedules, at the expense of everyone and everything else in your life. As a successful CEO, Beckie is the role model for a more progressive approach to work, one that she is helping many other people, and companies to adopt.
Beckie is an executive coach with over 15 years of HR and people development experience. She has a focus on talent management, team effectiveness, continuous performance development, building a diverse workforce and flexible working and has acted as a global HR leader, spearheading business growth strategies for international tech SaaS companies.
Beckie leads the Confidence Community – a programme focused on empowering individuals to transform their confidence and careers as well as 'Reframe: Women in Tech', the largest conference of its kind in the North West and due to scale across the UK and beyond), and she is co-founder of Women In Tech North. She has won countless awards for her efforts to create accessible opportunities into tech, including the Women in Software #WIS Changemakers award in 2022 and the Talk Talk Women in Tech 2022 Outstanding Achievement Award.
What is Tech Returners?
Tech Returners is an organisation that provides free programmes for individuals to return to technology careers after a break. Our tailored support is designed to refresh software engineers’ skills, rebuild confidence and reignite careers in technology.
Our tech coaches work with returners to get their technology skills up to date whilst our career and mindset coaches support them in reframing their career break, building confidence and preparing for job interviews.
We work with businesses that value diverse, experienced tech talent. They sponsor our programmes and guarantee everyone on the programme with an interview upon completion. It’s a win-win for everyone.
At the heart of our purpose, there’s a deep understanding of the individuals we support. Through every programme we deliver, we learn from each returner - their reasons for returning to tech, their unique, diverse backgrounds, and their goals. This helps us to effectively reach more people like them, creating new opportunities and empowering skilled individuals from all walks of life to thrive once again in the world of tech.
Where did the idea come from and what is the main goal for Tech Returners?
Having returned to my career following the birth of my son Ethan, I experienced firsthand the barriers facing women in tech, from the networking events taking place in the evening which I could no longer attend to the sheer pace of change in the tech industry. These challenges prompted me to set up Women in Tech North - a community to connect like-minded peers. But I didn’t want to stop there, I was inspired to co-found Tech Returners - our main goal being to provide free opportunities for individuals to return to technology careers after a break, a goal which we’ve seen to make a real difference to the diversity of tech teams across the UK.
Why is upskilling so important in today’s job market, especially post-pandemic?
Upskilling has and will continue to be important in any economic climate. When companies are looking at their resourcing plan they need to consider different aspects, starting with progression plans and where opportunities lie within the business to identifying employees who could progress into these roles by upskilling.
By upskilling within your teams, you are building on domain knowledge across the business but most importantly, you are creating an engaged workforce. This environment not only benefits existing employees but also supports with future hiring as learning and development as well as progression a key factors when someone is considering a role.
You're a strong advocate for inclusive and diverse work environments. Although the lack of gender diversity in tech is frequently criticised, little is done to change it. What, in your opinion, can businesses do to widen their talent pools and make sure they don't pass on this untapped potential pool?
My advice is to be realistic and don’t think of DE&I as a tick-box exercise. Here are some tips that I’d recommend, based on my journey to date:
● Start with your “Why?”.
Why do you want to focus on creating a more inclusive workplace and widening your talent pool? Try to connect it back to your purpose.
● Be clear with where you are now as it’s important to know where you are starting from and with a topic such as diversity - people respect honesty.
● Be clear about where you want to go. Ask yourself what progress and success look like. People want to be a part of the journey so see this as an opportunity to build a collaborative roadmap with existing and new team members.
● It is imperative to adopt a multifaceted approach, as one single solution will not address all challenges simultaneously. I’d recommend allocating resources towards nurturing early career talent for a sustainable, long-term solution. Simultaneously, we must focus on strategies to retain and develop current team members. And of course, recognising the significant value that returners can contribute to an organisation.
● Remember, it’s all about actions, not words. Anyone can post on LinkedIn but consider what the intention and depth is that sits behind it. I’d also always recommend sharing your learnings.
● Ask for support. You are not expected to know all the answers to everything. It’s much more productive to engage, share advice and collaborate with different groups, communities and peers in your field.
We offered a lot of actionable advice to both businesses and individuals in our recent Breaking Barriers: Women in Tech Speak Out Report. I’d strongly recommend businesses take a look and choose some realistic actions that can have a positive impact on their workplace.
You’re an Ambassador for Tech and Women in Leadership. Only 5% of tech leadership posts are occupied by women. Why do you think there is an overwhelming absence of support when it comes to retaining and developing women in tech and what can be done to tackle this statistic?
● Companies need to offer support but this needs to go beyond job-specific support. Businesses should consider the human side of support, taking into account aspects such as self-awareness, confidence and personal profile. If this support can’t be offered in-house then I’d suggest engaging with programmes or communities dedicated to this - in fact, here’s a shameless plug - The Confidence Collective!
● Perception plays a big factor. From the conversations I have had with women who returned from maternity leave or a career break for another reason, I’ve learnt that there is a common perception amongst businesses that these women don't want to progress so in turn, the business doesn’t offer them the opportunity. We should be treating people as individuals, rather than putting them in a box. Take time to understand each person’s goals and then invest in supporting them to achieve them.
● There’s the saying… “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” It’s a natural reaction for anybody, that if they can’t see people like them in senior roles, in tech, in leadership - then they won’t put themselves forward as it feels like those roles aren’t made for them. This is exactly why we need to showcase all the amazing women that we see moving up and achieving great things to inspire the younger generation.
● I’ve also heard feedback repeatedly that companies will not offer flexibility when it comes to senior roles. In fact, I myself have been put in a position where I was told I couldn’t do my role on a four days per week pattern. In reality, businesses will gain more buy-in and create higher motivation among employees if they consider flexibility in leadership. Why not consider a job share? This could improve and increase the diversity of thought, after all - two heads are better than one!
What advice do you have for those women out there who are thinking about returning to tech after a career break?
Let's first clarify what a ‘Tech Returner’ is - someone who has developed some years of experience in software engineering, taken a career break, and is now looking to return to a technical role long-term.
Here are some of the experiences of our returners:
“By an overwhelming majority, I felt that no one really understood or appreciated what I had to offer. It was quite demoralising and demotivating at times because of the dichotomy in how I was perceived; either as a junior, who had to learn everything from scratch, or as a “dinosaur”, who lacked current skills and would be hard to train because of my career break. The expectations that I had for myself in terms of remuneration and level at which to re-enter tech were seen as, to quote one person, ‘totally unrealistic’."
– Charlie, Returner and Consultant Software Engineer at Daemon
You may be feeling like you are in the same situation as Charlie, but let’s look at why is a perfect time to return to an industry that you are passionate about.
Life’s journey often leads us in different directions than we had planned. It’s so rare nowadays, particularly for women, to experience life and career in a straight, uninterrupted line. And that’s no bad thing, in fact, squiggly careers are jam-packed with new experiences, opportunities to build human skills, space to learn plus a lot of valuable self-discovery.
Whether you took time off to care for family, start a business, grieve, take care of your health or just needed a break from the fast-paced tech world, we applaud your courage, and it’s probably time to reflect on the huge amount of transferable skills you have gained along the way.
One of the most compelling reasons to return to tech is the current scarcity of experienced software engineers. Employers are actively looking to bridge this gap, and you can be the perfect fit. Your previous experience will be invaluable, and your fresh insights can breathe new life into projects along with those transferable skills you can add additional value to any business.
Want flexible working? In recent years – primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic – the tech industry has witnessed a positive shift towards flexible work arrangements. Many companies now offer remote and hybrid work options, part-time roles, and job-sharing opportunities, making it easier for individuals returning from career breaks to find a balance between work and personal commitments.
Worried that your skills might be outdated? 2023 offers an abundance of upskilling and reskilling opportunities. You can enroll in workshops, boot camps, returners programmes and online courses tailored to meet the current standards of the industry. Refreshing your knowledge and acquiring new skills will boost your confidence and make you even more marketable.
Time out can cause imposter syndrome to creep in and that can impact your efforts, choices and decisions when looking to return to the industry. It’s not just about brushing up on your technical skills, it’s sometimes even more about building up your confidence again! So look into Confidence or Leadership or Personal Development programmes that help to bring out your self-belief and remind you of the value you bring.
The journey may seem challenging, but with the right support you can end up just like Laura, a software engineer at Booking.com.
“Tech Returners helped me to rebuild my confidence and embrace a growth attitude about my job and myself in everyday life as well: I have skills, I am passionate about software and I am willing to learn and improve everyday.”
– Laura, Returner and Software Engineer @ Booking.com
Returning to technology after a break might seem daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are many supportive communities, both online and offline, that are ready to welcome you with open arms and provide the type of encouragement, advice and support you need when getting back to tech. Networking with like-minded individuals can be a great source of inspiration and encouragement, particularly for groups that are underrepresented in technology.
A huge thank you to Beckie Taylor for dedicating her time to this interview. If you would like to find out more information about Beckie or some of the incredible initiatives she discussed in the article then head to her LinkedIn profile here.