How an invitation to 10 Downing Street left me wanting more…

10 Downing Street with Inspiring Fifty and Girls in Tech

On the 6th March 2015, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the forty ladies to enter the doors of 10 Downing Street for a mentoring event organized by the Inspiring Fifty and Girls in Tech. The whole opportunity arose so momentarily, that arriving to the Big Black Door felt so surreal - like I had magically tapped my heels three times.

As I huddled together with my fellow mentees, we were taken through the wonderful journey of the UK’s Prime Minsters and unravelled the history behind the Cabinet office. To my delight, I was surprised to see the works of Tracey Emin & David Bailey hanging on the walls – what only feels like a contemporary twist to the house of history. After walking up the staircase of monochrome leaders, we stopped to appreciate the portrait of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer (and one very good reason to take a photo of course).

With some of the most inspiring female tech leaders from all over Europe, the day was jam-packed with learnings, shared wisdom and most importantly, a sense of community. The afternoon kicked off with a roundtable of role models that shaped our current IT revolution, hosted by Baroness Shields, the Digital Advisor to the UK Prime Minister.
Discussions were much more than the ability to achieve empowerment, but about “changing mentality” and how “technology is a way to express creativity”.

Neelie Kroes, wittily opened up the room by saying,

                                   “I’m in a hurry to achieve everything…” – Kroes 2015

I understood it as not self-achievement (although not necessarily a bad thing) but a way to seek society triumph, particularly as she briefly deep-dived into the importance of education, unemployment and how start-ups are addressing Europe’s issues.

Nicola Mendelsohm, Vice President of Middle East and Africa at Facebook told a story of overcoming the doubt of others, a topic we can all empathize with. Just because someone told you, you can’t do it – doesn’t mean you can’t. Something we all just need to be reminded of now and again.

                             “You must do the things you think you cannot do….” – Mendelsohm 2015

This was further heightened by a quote from Avid Larizadeh, Co-Founder of Boticca and General Partner of Google Ventures who voiced the idea that;

                                “You can aspire to be anything you want to be” – Larizadeh 2015

As the roundtable stimulated the general consensus of the room, the key take-away from all of this was the level of encouragement. The community of “Sisterhood” and the ability to be surrounded by neighbours who can motivate each other. We don’t need another lecture on how we’re the same as men – what we really need is the support and that forum to “shine a light” on each other and say ‘Yes, you can do it, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!’

The rest of the afternoon consisted of a speed mentoring sessions, where we were coupled with a few leaders to seek advice and knowledge in personal situations for my own career development.

I met up with 5 very interesting ladies with an array of charisma and style. Here are my key learnings from each of them which I wish to share with you.

1.)   Wendy Tan White, the CEO of Moonfruit (UK)
I asked for advice on career progression and working towards ownership, Wendy suggested to find the root of the problem and out what needs to be done. To be pro-active and the driver of change and improvement. The first steps of project ownership, is knowing how to go about it, not waiting around for it.
2.)   Ola Sitarska, Co-founder at Issue Stand & Organiser of Makerland (Poland)
I was curious to ask Ola about the key strengths that is believed to stand out in the tech crowd. Ola’s answer was open and sincere, with her “enthusiasm” being a key contributor to her success and to portray that in every aspect of your work.
3.)   Paola Bonomo, Independent Board Member and Angel Investor (Italy)
Paola was a very insightful lady, where I learnt an incredible amount especially as she walked through the top 4 qualities she looks for in a future start up investment:

1.) The quality of the idea and the implementation.
2.) Whether the idea or the business has a network effect and can provide network growth.
3.) Reference check of the Founder – the credibility of their past experience and their pro-activeness.
4.) Whether the business is be focused on their customers – to ensure they hold a loyal group of passionate customers in mind.

I questioned Paola further on whether she saw management as a success metric or not.
Her response defined management as not being carved in stone. Managing people is a calling, with a strong difference between leadership (creating it) and managing (structuring it). Those who are in management positions may not necessarily be good managers – the key is understanding whether it is your calling.
4.)   Karen Hanton, Founder and Chairman of Toptable (UK)
I had an interesting discussion with Karen about how women, although we don’t necessarily want to admit it, can sometimes struggle with the idea of self-doubt. We sometimes need that extra push to tell you can do it, without the need to always question ourselves. And it’s the ability to try and get ourselves out of that mind-set that we actually need that first push in order to do anything. It’s focal we encourage each other to go out there and achieve.
5.)   Colette Ballou, Founder and CEO of Ballou PR (Germany)
I saw Colette as a rather ballsy character, with an honest and confident approach. Probably some of the most uplifting advice of the day, with her advice quite frankly pointing out “Why the hell wouldn’t you do it? You definitely can, so you should do” and “I started a business because I thought I could do it better, that was all”. Perhaps it is the simplest of things that can help motivate you to achieve anything you wish.

As the day came to a close and the photo opportunities were coming to an end, I standby one underlining theme that Girls in Tech & The Inspiring Fifty provided us – the forum for possibility.
With the support of others, we can achieve what we set out to. There’s no one holding you back, we’re in a generation where the ideas of what we previously may have considered as unachievable are now possible. And from this learning, I wanted to thank the Girls in Tech & the Inspiring Fifty for the opportunity to make this happen. I only hope I can one day return to a similar event down the line but in the shoes of a tech leader.

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