Interview with SmartestEnergy Global VP of IT, Claire Talbot

The number of women choosing to pursue careers in tech is growing slowly, both for women starting in tech at a young age and for career transitions moving from other industries to tech. However, while statistics for women entering the IT field appear to be slightly better than they were five years ago, they are far less so at the leadership level. Women make up 15% of FTSE 100 CTOs, and in the US, 19% of Fortune 500 CTOs are women. The same study found that the average tenure of female CIOs was 18 months shorter than that of male CIOs.

Claire Talbot, Global Vice President of IT at SmartestEnergy, has a successful track record of technology leadership and mentoring other new entrants in the industry.

Why support Computing’s Women in Tech Excellence campaign?

I support the Women in Tech Excellence campaign because I believe we should recognize and celebrate women in the industry. I’ve been working in IT for quite some time and I know I need to let other women know that there are great career opportunities in this industry. It’s not just for men, and the more we celebrate successful women in the industry, the more we will help more women join our business.

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How did you get into the IT industry?

It entered the IT industry in a fairly unique way. After graduating from school, I took a year off and went to Oxford University to study English, and this summer I spent the summer as a PA for an IT director at a company. He thought it was a waste for me to go to college to study English and offered to pay for studying at university if I decided to study IT instead. At 19 I got the opportunity to get my degree without debt, study computer science and the rest is history!

What do you think are the main reasons why men are predominantly male in the IT industry, especially in technical and senior positions?

I think the main reason why IT is a male-dominated environment, especially in management, is that there are no women for promotion. Since the pool of senior positions is mostly male-dominated, it is less likely that more women will be in senior positions.

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When it comes to more technical roles, women don’t start early enough. Currently, most young girls do not see a career in IT as an option. Because they don’t offer such opportunities when they’re young or at school. After school clubs are mostly male-dominated and serve boys. For example, a club that learns to write programs to shoot monsters won’t appeal to an 8-year-old girl. I think the reason we don’t put girls in more tech roles is that we haven’t appealed to girls early enough to sow in our minds the seeds that IT can be a potential career opportunity.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is when someone tells you that you can’t do something. It’s not yours, it’s their limitations. You should always believe in yourself and be surrounded by people who believe in you and the idea that women should be in the tech world. You have to be persistent, fix your eyes on what you want, and don’t let people block your way or plan your destiny.

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What advice would you give to young women who want to take a leadership role?

My advice to women considering a career in IT depends on where they are in their careers. If they are younger or still in school, I would advise them to join a STEM group. There are now many STEM groups that support girls and a more diverse community and introduce them to IT. If you already have a job and want to change your career path to IT, there are great organizations that help women retrain and find new jobs later.

Another piece of advice I would like to give to anyone interested in becoming a woman in the tech world is to seek a mentor. Find someone you are passionate about. Now as a woman in the IT field, I have the experience to help you with your career transition journeys and challenges. Mentoring is an invaluable tool and can help you understand what is possible and base your development on.

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