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What it’s like to be an LGBT Female Leader in Tech

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Nicky Hoyland, CCO at MCG and Founder of DBLX shares her experiences of being out in her workplace and industry, advice on creating a diverse work environment and the importance of ensuring women are represented in tech.

Read more about her story.

How did you get into tech?

Well, I studied Film and Media at uni. I’m from a single-parent family and due to family illness, there was no opportunity to move to London. Instead, I got into IT tech and worked regularly with engineers. After a while, I changed career and became a Retail Development trainer with Orange. I soon started to focus on tech solutions for learning and development. What really interested me was the ability to use technology to change hearts and minds, change and merge cultures, and bridge gaps between people and platforms.

Other companies started to show interest in how well I was doing this so in 2013 I co-founded DBLX (as was Digital Balance.)

7 years on, how has this evolved?

When we first founded DBLX, I was doing it part-time. But we grew quickly, with customers like Santander and Expedia joining us early on our journey. I was heavily involved in the building of technology implementation systems and then we had to grow our teams out. Then last year sold it to MCG. To further expand, we focused entirely on bringing people and technology together as part of a larger group.

I’m now Chief Commercial Officer, but in reality, my role sees me involved in tech, operations, design, and team management. Basically – all parts of the business!

What do you love about tech?

I’m a massive nerd! I’m really interested in the human interaction and experience people have with products. I love problem-solving. Both with people and with technology.

As a gay woman in tech, how important do you think authenticity is?

Personally, I’m always me. I’m the same person at work as I am outside of work. I’m very heart on sleeve. Earlier on in my career, I was perhaps less open and out. But now, I don’t hide my sexuality. Being open and authentic as a leader is so important to me. This makes employees and colleagues a lot more comfortable with themselves, too.

Over the years, I’ve had members of my teams feel empowered to come out because of the environment I’ve created. I just want my people to be authentically themselves and be as open as they feel comfortable. And that is unique to each person. That way there is less emphasis on having to “come out”.

We’re in the middle of Pride Month now. How do you feel about companies changing their logos to the pride flag?

I’m more concerned about what companies are doing every day. Just changing your company logo to the pride flag feels can feel a bit bandwagon. I’d prefer to see companies being genuine and sharing stories of the diversity within their business, all year round.

So how can companies commit to embracing diversity in the long term?

  • Create an environment that encourages and supports people to bring their true selves to work. Embrace authenticity!
  • Try not to overthink things. If you see or hear something that doesn’t feel right: call it out
  • Drive change from the top and lead by example

What challenges have you faced in tech during your career?

Before meeting me, people just assume I’m a man. That’s probably possibly because of my name, but also because of unconscious biases at play. I can however strike up conversations with men very easily. This really helps to build rapport – knowing a bit of their world. I think a great piece of advice for anyone in tech is to make an effort to understand the world of the person or people you are dealing with. Find things in common with each other, as it really helps you to build relationships.

As a Founder and senior leader, I really struggle to create a work life balance. It’s hard to switch off when you love what you do. I continually strive to place a focus on time away from work. It’s an important consideration for anyone who is ambitious and passionate about what they do.

How do you encourage diversity and ensure everyone is supported at work?

There are a few things, and quite a few of have been particularly pertinent over the last few months, during lockdown.

  • We recently announced to all our employees that they can work from home “forever” should they wish to do so. But it’s important for all employers to realise that the situation we find ourselves in now is different to creating a genuine remote workforce.
  • Make sure your teams realise there is never an expectation for working outside of hours, just because they are working from home.
  • Set up initiatives like fitness challenges and promote resources for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Active interest in the mental health of your teams.
  • Regularly ask how your team are doing. But do this genuinely, rather than ticking a box. Ensure they feel supported to tell you, even if it’s negative.
  • If you have flexible working, mean in. Remember, everyone is unique. Personally, as long as the work gets done, I don’t mind how, where, and when. Trust that your people know what is right for them. People work better at different times of the day. While it’s important to make sure your teams don’t fall into a trap of working all hours when remote – there will also be people who are keen to take on extra work outside of their usual hours.

How can we ensure remote working is a success?

  • The dynamic of work has to change. Companies have to think about how best to use the tools and processes to create a change.
  • Continue to create a committed team and a sense of togetherness. You’ll need to consider how to do this virtually and when to do this in person. There still needs to be an occasional emphasis on in-person time.
  • Continually consider mental health and the well-being of your teams. Issues can be harder and more difficult to address or work on when we are not together, but it’s still achievable. Spend time thinking about how best to integrate teams when some are together in person and some are working remotely.

Finally: what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?

Find something you love doing . Then and it won’t feel like work!

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