7th September 2020 by
Inspirational Woman: Avril Lewis MBE | Managing Director, Technology Connected
I’m Avril Lewis MBE, the managing director of the non-profit membership organisation Technology Connected which works to bring technology industry together giving it an impactful voice, to help promote and champion the industry and collaboratively create solutions to build a brighter future for it.
Over the two decades we’ve worked with the technology industry in Wales, we’ve spearheaded a range of initiatives such as The Emerging Tech Fest, the Wales Technology Awards, and our Technology Connected Next Generation Programme and Factories of the Future Workshops.
Most recently, we created the first-ever Wales Tech Week, a global, virtual festival designed to showcase the Welsh technology industry on a global stage.
More information about our programmes, events and membership is available on the Technology Connected website.
Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?
The technology industry is constantly evolving and as a result its needs are always changing. As a result, ensuring that we as an organisation can represent and support the industry, ensuring its challenges and opportunities are addressed among the wider community and stakeholders, is a constantly shifting challenge.
Likewise, with such a huge amount of innovative, exciting new things happening everyday in the technology industry, ensuring that we maximise collaboration across everything can sometimes be a tall order.
To do this, I’ve always felt it’s important to work closely with the community to ensure everyone is represented. That’s why in 2020 we launched the Technology Leadership Council, which features key influencers and some of the leading figures in technology, to ensure we are able to stay on the pulse of the industry and drive it forward along with academia and stakeholders.
What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
Growing and evolving the Technology Connected organisation to where it is today has been an incredible, challenging and rewarding journey.
As managing director of the organisation, it’s been rewarding to help bring the technology industry together with the wider ecosystem to champion and promote the innovative people and businesses in the technology sector in Wales.
Through our work, we’ve implemented some incredible programmes and initiatives that have helped to build a better future for technology in Wales.
For instance, through our Year in Industry Partnership with Cardiff University we have increased the number of technology students staying within Wales for their work in industry. Prior to the scheme 75% of students did their placements outside of Wales, now we’re in a position where 78% of students do their placements in Wales.
This year we also successfully created the first-ever Wales Tech Week, a virtual festival to celebrate and showcase the Welsh technology industry. The festival saw over 4,500 people attend talks and workshops from 17 different countries, in a truly collaborative effort, with 85% of people feeling it had a positive impact on the Welsh technology industry.
All of the work we’ve done through the organisation, in partnership with the technology industry, academia and supporting industry, has helped to build a better future for our industry in Wales. It also led to me receiving my MBE in 2018 for services to technology, an honour I like share with the whole industry.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I feel the key to succeeding in any industry is being able to collaborate with others.
In the technology industry, there can be a habit of looking too inward, especially in such a competitive, fast moving industry. However, I believe that the key to success for any organisation, person or even industry is to collaborate and listen to others, drawing on the skills and expertise of those around you to find solutions for problems and to capitalise on opportunities.
What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?
Building connections and relationships both within the technology community and the wider ecosystem is something that can be hugely beneficial in progressing and developing a career in technology.
A common trap people fall into is seeing their career through tunnel vision or focusing solely on the technical aspect of what they do, rather than how it fits into the bigger picture.
By expanding your network, not only will you have the opportunities to forge new connections across businesses and raise your personal profile, but you’ll also be able to identify new opportunities to learn skills or gain valuable mentorship outside your existing bubble.
Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?
Representation and diversity are issues across all sectors, and the technology industry is no exception.
In theory the flexibility and agility of the technology sector should lend itself perfectly to fit people from all backgrounds and genders. However, its true that we’re still seeing some groups, in particular women, underrepresented in the industry.
Ultimately, addressing these issues comes from two places: the beginning and the top. While its great we’re seeing more women in high profile, senior positions, leading and innovating in technology space, we need to continue to support and develop all people to reach their potential.
However, it really does start at the beginning and there is still a huge job needed to attract more women into careers in technology both at a young age through schools and in reskilling in later life.
What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of womenworking in technology?
Really, a large obstacle is the number of young women coming into the technology field, so mentor schemes and ensuring that women are adequately represented and encouraged in technology roles, should be a priority for businesses.
Likewise, organisations should be doing more to encourage their existing workforces to learn tech skills through secondments and training opportunities, to help develop their existing female talent in-house, including among those who do not necessarily have a tech background.
There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?
The truth is the adoption of technology specific STEM subjects at As and A level among young women is still far below where it needs to be in order to develop a sustainable pipeline of talent.
While figures show STEM subjects are on the up among young women, the reality is that these are skewed by rises in subjects like biology, and while rises in these areas are great news, they are not the subjects that traditionally translate into roles in technology industry.
We need to rethink how we attract young women into subjects like physics and computing, and then through collaboration between business and academia work to create courses specifically tailored to the needs of the technology industry.
A lot of this work is currently being done, with initiatives like our Year in Industry scheme with Cardiff University, The National Digital Exploitation Centre (NDEC) and more. However, the key to acceleration is for more of these initiatives to exist and at a much younger level.