March 03, 2017
How far can you go?
By: Shajida Akthar

Shajida Akthar explains what she is looking to take away from participating in Accenture’s ThinkNation event on 1st March. Female participants aged 16-27 will take part in a one-day Bootcamp with mentors from Accenture and ThinkNation, where they will workshop their personal stories, ideas and possible solutions to the challenges young women face in a world being transformed by technology. The participants will present their stories as talks in front of a live audience, alongside peers and industry experts, and a panel of inspirational women.

As I approach the ThinkNation event, I find myself looking back to nearly three years ago when I first joined Accenture. I was the shy, reserved 18 year old who would always choose the option of an email over a phone call. I was afraid to put forward suggestions or contribute to team discussions, because why would a room full of experts want the opinion of someone who hadn’t been there, done it, or got the t-shirt to boot?

But then I was thrown in the deep end, and I thrived. My colleagues and mentors pushed me to speak up. They gave me the types of projects where I had to contribute in meetings, run tasks and show I’m an asset to the company.

Knowing what the deep end look like stands me in good stead for the ThinkNation event, where I’m potentially going to stand in front of over 100 people, including senior business leaders from across the tech industry, to deliver a presentation I’ve created in less than a day.

Throughout the day, I’ll be mentored by managing directors from my company, gathering insights into their own career trajectories and experiences. It’s an invaluable opportunity to ask them how they overcame some of the doubts they had when they were at the same stage of their career as me.  

The aim of ThinkNation is to explore the question at the heart of the equality and diversity debate: “How far can you go?” For me, the answer lies in how open-minded you are willing to be. I’ve always been curious about the different career paths into tech.  My own route into Accenture was an unusual oneI am coming to the end of my three-year apprenticeship, which I currently balance with studying for a degree in Digital and Tech Solutions.

I’m sure our female managing directors will have walked completely unique paths to get where they are. Hearing about their different journeys and perspectives is vital for young women like me. It breaks down the misconceptions that tech remains an industry where only men rise to the top.

This misconception remains a key reason behind the shortage of women applying for tech positions.  Seventy-three percent of young women in schools believe the technology sector is lacking high-profile female role models. We know the role models are there, and events like ThinkNation and Girls in STEM bring them to the fore.

The onus isn’t just on our senior women in business, either. Young women at the start of their careers can also be the role models that female tech students need. I’ve recently hosted a Twitter Q&A and published a blog to ask students effectively that same question: “How far can you go?” I’m not yet far along in my career, but I can certainly share my story so far.

Four years ago, I was the only girl on my Computing A-Level course, looking around at a room full of boys and wondering whether a career in tech was really the right path for me. Tomorrow, I’ll be at ThinkNation, surrounded by other young women with similar ambitions, and the successful, senior women in technology, we want to become. If my journey resonates with one or two students, I will feel that I’ve played my part.  

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