My mum was a tech pioneer. Despite having no O-levels or connections, and a CV mainly consisting of ‘housewife’, she saw an opportunity in the newspaper and turned it into a 15-year career at the cutting edge of computing. The work took her from Planet Online, a pioneering internet service provider in the North of England, to Freeserve, the first email service of its kind. 

And throughout all this, she was a parent, a role model, and a champion. 

I admire her success story more than any CEO cover story or hardback I’ve ever read. I saw her fearless attitude, confidence and determination as a blueprint. I knew I could do it because she could, and that assurance helped get me to where I am now.

The growth of women in leadership roles, and STEM fields specifically, is testament to many stories like mine. While we face different challenges to our mothers, our obligation to be pioneers and inspire future generations remains the same.

Inspired by my mum, here are just five tips for achieving a fulfilling career in tech, or any industry, and making positive change along the way.

Your passion is your power

Lacking qualifications and being from a disadvantaged background, my mum’s journey was far from straightforward. Her success taught me that you need passion more than accreditations or connections. Without it, what can you fall back on in tough times?

A deep-rooted assurance that ‘you want this’ is invaluable throughout your career. It emanates from you, influencing and inspiring others.

Create your own opportunities

With more acceptance of alternative working patterns, creating a career path that works for you and your priorities is more achievable than ever. My mum used to say, ‘shy bairns get nowt’. The opportunities are there, go out and get them.

And this goes for any stage of life. My mum didn’t start in tech until I attended secondary school. When it became impossible for me to balance my sales director role with starting a family, I opened my own consultancy and set my own hours. Being an army of one brings its own benefits. It’s easier to experiment and find your niche, or even change direction drastically.

Be confident setting boundaries  

‘Work/life balance’ means more than ‘work/family balance’, and creating your own opportunities means more than starting your own business. ‘Climbing to the top’ is just one career ambition (and a rather stereotypically masculine one at that). It doesn’t need to be yours.

Being a strong woman means not apologising for setting your agenda, especially if it helps you get back to that passion. I think we need more stories about women who sacrifice ‘the climb’ for hobbies, pastimes or philanthropy. We must keep extending the scope of what women in work can do.

‘We have to highlight female investors’

Keep talking to other women

Speaking of ‘what women can do’, make sure you keep asking them! More women entering my field of tech means more perspectives I can listen to and learn from.

My mum taught me that this is a two-way street: that I should be proud to share my story and that there’s value in my experience. If you’re able to, think of how you could take on mentors or speaking engagements. If you’re starting out, these can also be good chances to practise public speaking and managing people

It’s easier to be influential as a group

In 2016, I set up ‘Lean in Leeds’, now a community of 1200+ professional women focused on improving representation across business. I was also a founding member of the UK Government’s task force for improving diversity in fast-growth companies. These groups are an effective way to push for positive change. 

We’ve done this by advocating for equal opportunities in funding and investment. Our discussions showed that female-founded businesses must overcome extra barriers to scale up. Lobbying as a group has made it easier to influence investors and the broader business landscape, to address this inequality and update attitudes.

These tips aren’t prescriptive and they won’t necessarily resonate with everyone. But that isn’t the point. As much as International Women’s Day is about all of us, it’s about each of us – our unique experiences and perspectives. If we keep sharing, we will keep finding new paths and encouraging new pioneers.