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International Women's Day - Carrie Rebecca Thompson


Did you always want to get into the tech industry? How did it all come about?

I have always been interested in Tech but actually, my background is in music so not related at all! I decided to go down the Tech route because I wanted more stability and financial security, something I wouldn't get from the performing world. I have always been a bit of a ‘techy’ but I didn't initially know how to get more involved without going into additional training; I went to university and got 3 degrees so I didn't want to go back into education again.

I started my career at Neustar, a cyber-security company, and this was my first step into the Tech world. The soft skills I learnt from being a performer; building a personal brand, communication and relationship building were easily transferred over when making the move into sales. 

So no, I had never considered Sales or Tech during school - sales is never mentioned throughout the education system, despite some of the most lucrative positions being in Sales these days. Without sales within a business, you don't have much at all, yet it's just not a career that is pushed during school!

What has been the driving force to get you where you are today?

You have to be extremely resilient when it comes to sales which I very much learnt from having an early performance career. You go to endless auditions and are told no so that really helped me before going into sales. 

The people that find themselves in sales role are typically ‘A-type’ personalities. They strive for excellence and don't settle for something that makes them comfortable. Sales can often be an uncomfortable career path and you need to get used to feeling uncomfortable and challenging yourself. 

I think I’ve done well in the industry because I apply a process and methodology to everything I do, which means I can scale and achieve. I enjoy being very methodical and pragmatic, looking at the numbers and then working out the best route from there.

Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that’s the case?

Before starting my role at Zscaler, I was in a team working with 11 men. The whole time we worked together, they were incredibly respectful and supportive with everything, they were amazing mentors! Now in my team at Zscaler, I do have more of a mix of men and women. 

I don't think I know the reason as to why. There are obviously historical reasons behind it but I think today, women who go into sales and climb up the ranks can often gain an image of being a “Bitch Boss” - that they are a hard-hitting person and are very cold which for me, is completely untrue, and actually if a male was to the same, they would be revered and respected. I believe women can demonstrate incredible compassion and empathy that can be so valuable in the industry and is something men can often learn from!

I don't know why the balance is still so out of sync - we seem to constantly be trying to get more women into STEM subjects and Sales, but we still haven’t found balance. I hope it changes but it also takes a true commitment from all men wanting to champion the change, wanting to advocate and support women. Some of my best supporters and mentors in the industry have been men but I think it takes a particular type of man to champion and build up a woman.

Have you experienced any biases in the tech industry? 

I think I am very lucky to feel I have not been held back or received comments from colleagues in the past. 

It tends to be with more clients. In previous roles, I used to deal with certain geographies that unfortunately, probably due to cultural reasons, there would be times when I wouldn't be addressed even though I would be leading the call. I have had to ask male colleagues to come on calls with me purely to divert the conversation back to me so I can say what I needed to. 

How can we encourage more women to enter the tech workforce?

I think it comes down to changing the perception of a women’s place in a tech company and sales organisation and luckily, I think this is something that companies are becoming more aware of. It starts with very simple and small things, such as how companies write their job specs. The use of language and terminology can be enough to put some women off applying to a company, making them believe they are not worthy or able to do the job or that it is written with a male In mind.

Success in this industry is very hard to fake - it's a very metrics, deal-driven, process-driven business. This is actually an industry in that you can earn more than your male counterparts just by doing an amazing job and executing effectively to close deals. We need to sell the fact that this is a merit-based industry that doesn't see male or female and that any woman has the opportunity to bridge the gap of any potential gender pay differences. 

It's a very fast paced, intensive career that may put some women off when considering starting a family at some point. We need to find ways, now especially after the pandemic, to work with things like a hybrid working model meaning that women can still be career-driven but also Mothers as well.

Community groups within companies where women can feel championed and heard are also huge pull factors for women. When I was looking at Zscaler, I knew they had Employee Resource Groups, including one for Women, where any issues can be shared in a safe forum.

Do you think company initiatives to encourage hiring women have worked? If not, why?

Yes and no. I think it becomes off-putting when it starts being about just hiring women. If a male is the right person for the job, then they should get it- I don't want it to be about women getting the job over the men because that's not the point, the point is equal opportunity. 

Yes, I think we need to do more to show that women belong in the culture and that takes a company-wide, top-down effort. I think some strategies have gone too far the other way - just because I am female shouldn't then mean that I instantly have more of a chance.

I think companies need to go to the very start of the process and look at the job specs, the requirements, experience and the culture perks that we champion - are they engineered for both men and women or are they appealing to one side more than the other? 

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?

Something I struggled with at the start was the feeling that you don't belong and a feeling of imposter syndrome. I wish someone had told me that the biggest thing you can take into a role your self-belief. You are there for a reason! 

There has been a lot of time and money spent on the process to hire you, so you are worth it! I think a lot of women go into these careers thinking they are on the back foot but instead, they should go into this thinking they bring something completely unique to the table and a different perspective. 

So self-assurance - see being female as being your superpower rather than a hindrance! 

Posted by: Talent Box