This week’s Life Lessons come from Chelsea Slater, a social entrepreneur leading InnovateHer, who are on a mission to ‘Get girls ready for the tech industry and the tech industry ready for girls’. In her Life Lessons Chelsea talked about her career transitions, gave tips for doing a great presentation, and shared her experiences of being overlooked in her sector. We wanted to talk to Chelsea in a bit more detail about her experiences and the topics she covered in her Life Lessons, so we caught up with her to talk about breaking the stereotypes, what it was that made her want to change careers, and how a year of working from home has affected our definitions of professionalism.
In the podcast episode Chelsea spoke about her career transitions, first from digital marketing to technology, and then from technology to business and education. She spoke of how throughout her career she had gained “loads of transferable skills that sit across all sectors”, and when it came to making the move, she “wrote all my skills down, read job descriptions in other sectors, and if you do that there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to change your career”. Chelsea knew that she had to make these moves, because of her interest in trying new ways of doing things. She said, “when businesses started using digital platforms to market their services, I knew I wanted to be part of that […] I soon found myself exploring how to use tech to engage with audiences”. However, once established within this sector, she soon realised the gender inequalities within the tech sector, saying how she “witnessed all kinds of discrimination, especially towards women, which led me to want to change this for the better. I started educating women why it was important for them to have careers in the sector, so it levelled the playing field and products and services would be better. This then led me to start my business; InnovateHer!”.
Particularly for young women in the tech industry, there are plenty of barriers and stereotypes preventing them from progressing in a traditionally male dominated sector. For those young female entrepreneurs who are determined to break down these barriers, Chelsea’s advice is simple: “Tell your truth. Be you.” In her Life Lessons episode, Chelsea reflected on how she was repeatedly overlooked by peers and networking connections, saying that “at networking events people would often ignore me or they wouldn’t look at me when I was speaking or answering their questions. It was funny really, one person who did that saw me then walk on the stage as I was a panellist at an event they had paid to be at”. This near constant derision is tiring, and Chelsea is honest when she says “it’s hard and I admit I sometimes conform or not say something because I think it might cause a stir”. Nevertheless, she has committed to overcome this by working on fighting the urge to conform and minimize herself everyday.
A particular way in which female entrepreneurs are often encouraged to conform in the workplace is in how they choose to dress. In her Life Lessons, Chelsea mentioned the previous tendencies she’s come across when people used to say “you should wear heels and get dressed up in business traditional attire”. But after a year and a half of working from home, it is unsurprising that our opinions about professional appearances have changed dramatically. Reflecting on this change, Chelsea said how she now thinks this “goes beyond clothes (Yes, I’m always in my slippers now whilst in meetings),but I’ve now met colleagues, babies, families and friends because often they are in the background or need their parents. I think it’s wonderful that these lines are being blurred, it humanises work, you build more empathy and it can help people understand people’s situations”. Looking towards the future as we begin to return back to the office, and a more “normal” definition of working life, Chelsea expresses her hopes that “this human element sticks and people don’t need to feel pressure all the time to “Look professional”.