Sharing our stories to celebrate International Women's Day

Today (8 March) is International Women's Day. It's a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

In honour of this celebration, we spoke to women across PDS about their careers, the barriers they've faced, and the women they look up to. Read their stories below.

Vinitha Devadas, Test Lead

Vinitha Devadas in a meeting with other PDS colleagues

"I test products that Parliament uses for quality and reliability. I get to work on cool stuff like DevOps, AWS, and work closely with MPs, Lords and their staff. I help them with IT-related issues they might be having and help them to use technology more effectively.

I've faced barriers in my career where teams or individuals have conflicting interests or a lack of shared goals. Parliament can be quite siloed as it's such a big organisation but I take pride in what I do and always do my best to help our users.

I really look up to Mother Teresa and I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with her. She was a very noble woman who did marvellous things in the most humble and gentle manner. She touched so many lives."

Tracey Jessup, Director of PDS

Tracey Jessup

"Working in digital is really exciting. It's about making people's lives better. Helping Parliament to make the most of digital opportunities, and working with so many great people, is really motivating. The worst part is that I get a lot of email. More than I could ever have time to read, so I'm sorry if I miss any.

The most important thing for me is to be curious about what's going on around you, what's happening in digital, and engaging through events, social media, and blogging. You find out so much by learning what others are doing.

I've had some setbacks for sure, job roles I didn't get, assumptions made by others on what opportunity and development I needed. The most important thing is to be surrounded by a team who believe in you and believe in developing you.

I'd like to mention three women who've helped me grow as a digital leader. Vicki Sinnett, until recently Assistant Serjeant at Arms, and Chief Information Officer at the US Senate; Denise McDonagh, who was the Chief Technology Officer at the Home Office; and Martha Lane Fox, businesswoman, philanthropist, and member of the House of Lords.

All have been really generous with their time and insight, and have achieved so much in their fields. Earlier in my career, Janet Anderson was a great support and had great stories about her career as a Labour MP (check out her book, Dear Queen)."

Amice Beaumont, Developing Project Manager

"Being part of Parliament and supporting MPs in delivering for the country is a real driver for enjoying my role here at PDS. The people I have the opportunity to work with is another element I enjoy, learning from them, and contributing to the development of a team and PDS as a whole.

As with any large organisation, it's occasionally frustrating being constrained by bureaucracy but this is to be expected, and is something that's often there for good reason!

I think being a woman is still a barrier, though it's more personal than the slightly tired view of men getting in the way, which I don't see as an issue. In fact, the person who has empowered me the most in my career is male.

It's more of a belief in myself that's a barrier. I know I have qualities that could be seen as an advantage in a man, but not so much in a woman. For example, sometimes I can be very direct in what I want from someone, and this can be misconstrued as aggressive or rude. I know as I develop I have to learn to be able to use this quality carefully.

There are so many wonderful women I take inspiration from: my mother, my sister, my friends. My friends and I have created a safe space where we're able to challenge one another's views and develop them by sounding each other out. It's the everyday woman who I love to celebrate."

Julie Byrne, Capability Lead

Julie Byrne working at her desk

"I've previously written about my work and the best bit is the variety of my role and the people I work with. The worst thing is that I don't have a formal team. I work on my own a lot of the time and it can get a bit lonely, especially around Christmas Party time.

The only barriers I've faced have been my own personal demons. I had a very bad interview experience years ago and I developed a phobia of interviews. Going for a job is an overwhelming experience for me and I have to pick and choose what I apply for as the preparation for the interview takes over my life, both mentally and physically. So my progress has been slower than I have wanted it to be.

I was super proud that I had a working Mum when I was younger, she was always the breadwinner, and I aspired to be like her and get a good job when I finished studying.

I'm also inspired by Sheryl Sandberg and the work she's doing to inspire women to get into technology and her openness about living with the loss of a loved one. Other women that inspire me because they're trying to change the world for the better are Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie in their roles as UN Goodwill Ambassadors."

Sam Middleton, Deputy Chief Technology Officer

Sam Middleton in a meeting

"I worked with technical teams in a programme/project delivery role for years and recently decided I wanted to move into a more operational role and take on a brand new challenge. I've been in this role for a few months now. Working in a technical environment feels very natural to me and I feel very passionately about working with the technology team to transform the way that we work.

I picked up a lot of hands-on experience by working as a contractor, in all sorts of sectors like banking, retail, and consultancy. I worked at Parliament a couple of times and enjoyed it so much that I decided to make it a more permanent home in 2016.

The best thing about my job is working with talented and committed people who love what they do. We all work hard but we have fun too. The worst thing is the number of meetings in my diary.

I've faced many barriers throughout my career but I'm pretty determined when I want to be."

Louise Butcher, User Engagement Lead

"I've worked in Parliament since 2003 and I've had a number of jobs. My current job involves overseeing major projects in the Digital Service. I work with people across Parliament to prepare and support them through the change and training that comes with new technology.

The best thing about my job is when you've resolved an issue for someone and you've had a positive effect on them. The worst part is introducing technology or a service that might not meet all the needs of our users. I try to find the most positive aspects of it and show how it can help them in their work.

I look up to my Mum for sure. She went back to work full time when my Dad died when I was 11. She worked every day (commuting to London) until she retired last year, aged 72. She got on a train every morning at 6.45 and I honestly don't remember her ever being off sick. She even managed to get there on snow days when everyone else gave up.

I've always been massively impressed by her work ethic and her positive attitude. She's an inspiration really. There's no way I'm working another 23 years on top of the 32 I've already done!"

Bharti Kara, Digital Collaboration Specialist

Bharti Kara in a meeting

"My job means I get to review and test updates and features in Office 365 and other Microsoft technologies. I then give advice and guidance on how these features could be used in Parliament.

One of the best things about my job is being in such a supportive environment. Having a young family and working full time can be bit of a juggle. But the Digital Service, the Technology Directorate in particular, allows me to work flexibly. The job lets me have an excellent work/life balance.

Stereotyping still happens in this industry though. Men and women can have the same leadership qualities, for example being strong and assertive, but a women can still be perceived as aggressive for the very same traits.

I also remember the dilemma and guilt I went through when deciding when to return to work after having both of my children. I was torn between wanting to remain at home with my child as much as possible, yet being very aware that I was getting so out of touch about things going on within the workplace.

I generally look up to inspiring and determined women who've mastered the art of balancing family and work in a harmonious way. Well known women like Michelle Obama, Karren Brady, Meera Syal, and Priti Patel MP, along with the many hard working women I'm surrounded by in my day to day life. They show us that it's possible to have the best of both worlds."

Cherry O'Donnell, Senior Active Directory Engineer

"When I first left school in the 80s I trained and qualified as an electrician. I ended up in IT by accident when I was made redundant six months after finishing my apprenticeship. I had a few roles before I fell into active directory and servers. I really enjoy it so I stuck with it. And yes, I’m still qualified as a spark.

I love the people I work with. PDS is my family, or that’s how it feels and I love the ‘all in’ attitude when something goes wrong. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by genuinely lovely people. As for the worst thing about my job, maybe a lack of appreciation of just how hard everyone in PDS works and sweats to keep Parliament running and the members looked after.

I've been really lucky in my career and I've only faced barriers of my own making.  The single worst thing you can say to me is ‘no you can’t’, because I will!

There's more than one woman I look up to, for various reasons. Firstly, my partner Deborah. She's stood by my side and inspired and supported me since we first met.

My mum too, a true Lancashire rose. The strongest woman I've ever met. She went through hell when my brother and I were little and we never went without a roof over our heads, or a hot meal. She’s amazing."

Bita McIntosh, Special Projects Manager

Bita McIntosh in a meeting

"My work focuses on small projects relating to the priorities of both Houses. My role is a stand-alone one and I don’t have a team but I work with colleagues across PDS to meet my projects’ objectives.

I've changed careers twice now as I graduated in Maths and then worked in IT recruitment. I then studied for a Masters in HR and worked as an HR Manager for 11 years. More recently, I've become an agile practitioner and changed my career again to become a special projects manager.

I'd say that I've faced barriers when I was expecting my children. However, I didn't think of these circumstances as barriers, more like challenges that needed resolving. On reflection, I also created my own barriers by not applying for internal opportunities because I work on a part time basis and I didn’t think I could manage another career change.

I tend to look up to people who I know and relate to so naturally my mum and my sisters, as well as some friends and colleagues because I know their journey and what they've achieved."

Franny Gant, User Researcher

Franny Gant

"My job is to help the teams I work with understand the user needs for the things we're making or updating. If we're updating a service or product, we'll test it and if it's new then we'll talk to people to find out how it meets their needs or fits with their lives. It's important that the whole team has the opportunity to participate in the research.

Meeting interesting people is the best part of my work especially as I'm fascinated by people in Parliament and what they're trying to do. The worst part is never having enough time to do everything we want to do and finding the right people to talk to when we're doing research.

I studied carpentry when I left school and I feel that one of the barriers I faced was not having many role models or career pathways so I didn't pursue that line of work. There have also been jobs where I was reluctant to admit that I was gay.

I think it's important to see women in senior roles. I've had some brilliant managers who've seen things in me that I couldn't see in myself and they were like mentors to me. They're the women that I look up to and I try to be more like them."

Read more about women who work in PDS

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