By Sarah Kruger
Sarah Kruger, director and TechWorks lead at Deloitte, talks about her experiences of working in a male dominated environment and how her thinking on role models has changed through the course of her career.
When I was younger, I was in the RAF cadets with the hope of pursuing a career in the forces. I won cadet of the week on a summer camp, and the prize was a flight in a fast jet. I was later told I was passed over as they wanted the experience to benefit someone who could actually become a pilot and women did not become pilots. It was the first time I realised my gender would influence future choices and opportunities.
I didn’t let the ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ mindset deter me, and I still pursued a male-dominated education and career. I did a computer science degree, where I was one of two women on a course of more than one hundred. Undeterred, I gained a PhD in image processing and computer vision. I was surrounded by brilliant minds, sharing ideas and looking to make a real difference through their research. I rarely experienced gender bias during these years and had female lecturers and professors during my time at university. It wasn't until I left academia that I came to realise how important this had been.
During my research years, I developed a habit for always starting with ‘why?’ to understand the problem and then use technology to make it better. I realised how far behind some industries lagged in their use of technology and decided it would be exciting and rewarding to follow a tech sector career. It is incredibly male-dominated, and I'm disappointed how little change there has been since my time in the field.
I've experienced a lot of gender bias in my career and often questioned whether I will achieve my goals. I've either been the only or most senior female developer and experienced disrespect from some for being a woman in a technical or leadership role, or both.
Due to the absence of female role models, I never understood or believed in the importance of having them. Previously, I had always felt uncomfortable being a female role model, feeling it was more by default. I would question if I had become one because I deserved it on merit or through my actions or because I was a female in a leadership role?
However, Deloitte challenged those perceptions. It was when I gained female role models that I understood how important they are; showing me that success as a female leader is achievable. Not only is it worth overcoming these obstacles, but necessary for change. Diversity brings creativity and innovation and we all benefit and learn from being part of a more diverse team.
TechWorks is Deloitte’s tech delivery capability in the South-West and Wales. We design and build technology-driven business solutions for our clients. In order to be successful, we need a team that inspires and who others aspire to be. Every day I'm learning from my peers right through to our graduates with their fresh perspectives and enthusiasm. In turn, others look to me not just as a female in tech, but more importantly, as an innovator and driver of change.
Deloitte has a great network of mentors, role models and a support network to nurture talent. We challenge traditional beliefs, champion diversity and individuality to look at the person rather than the role.
At TechWorks I lead a talented, diverse team. I no longer feel the need to justify that I am a female who 'works in tech'. I've realised my determination to succeed in a male-dominated sector inspires others to choose a career they want. Being authentic and having the support of my team enabled me to truly support others and help open the tech world to everyone as a career choice. We can choose a career we want rather than one determined by gender.
A year after my experience in the RAF cadets, in 1994, Flight Lieutenant Jo Slater became the first female operational pilot. Since then, many other women have trained and flown on operations as aircrew.
I firmly believe in the importance of role models and choose to challenge myself to be a good role model for others. Without role models, where do we look for inspiration to become the best person we can be?