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#38 Diversity in Tech: Young, Female and Neurodivergent Talent, with Em Gulliver

adhd entrepreneurship leadership podcast classroom 5.0 May 16, 2024

 

In our Australian tech sector, women are outnumbered by men four to one.

 

If you’re not in tech, this statistic may not sound like much on paper. But as our guest Em Gulliver, a seasoned software developer and founder of ‘Meggi’ shares, the underrepresentation of women in tech colours both the lived experience of those working in the space, and the risk of significant bias as we build out tech solutions. 

In episode 38, Em shares the raw, real and scrappy reality of female foundership, the secrets behind her start-up success and what her own journey has taught her about what it will take to create a more inclusive future of learning, work and leadership.

About this episode, and behind the scenes of Em's journey. 

Transitioning from an early career in IT to teaching, before paving her own path into the high-tech realms of software development and female foundership, Em epitomises the learning and growth that comes from designing a career around your unique strengths.


Starting at IBM as a fresh university graduate, Em was thrust into the high-pressure world of tech, where she quickly became aware of the triple challenge she faced: being the youngest, the only female, and unbeknownst to her at the time, neurodivergent.

 

"Interestingly, I started in tech straight out of uni. I was 20, I think I had my 21st birthday whilst on training for IBM in Melbourne. And I was working on this really large oil and gas project here in Perth and I was the only female in the room often. I would sit in the meetings that we would have with the clients and so it was all like the program managers and directors and it would be 40 plus males and myself. It was very uncomfortable.

(So I was) the youngest and the female. And they'd often make comments like they would swear and be like, 'oh, sorry, I can't say that around you'. It was a really interesting experience. I often found myself working in like an enclosed space, tiny little cupboard like space now open office just to get away from it and now I know what I know about myself that makes a lot of sense. I didn't know then…”

This environment not only spotlighted the gender disparity in tech but also amplified Em's sense of ‘otherness’, a sense that emerged in childhood, and expanded as she moved out of school and into the workforce. Looking for reprieve from the relentless demands of the tech world, Em transitioned into teaching. 

However, it was in the classroom that the signs of her neurodivergence became impossible to ignore, especially as she struggled with organisation and sensory overload. The reason why became clear, as she filled in the ADHD checklist for one of the students in her classroom. 

“I was going through the checklist and I was like, wow, this is very familiar. I take a lot of these and I was in ‘Struggletown’ teaching in my first year. and I remember trying to organize my drawers, like literally put things away and I remember crying and just being like, not being able to verbalize what I was trying to achieve and it was just too much in my brain. 

…I was going home, planning and getting excited about all these things that I wanted to do, but I had such limited time and I was at a standstill. I just couldn't achieve anything. And it was pretty much at that moment that I thought there was something unique about the way that I interacted with the world. And that's when I went and got diagnosed as an adult.”

Em pursued a diagnosis of her own at 26. With a newfound awareness of her brain based differences, she revisited the tech industry, this time with a clear vision of how to leverage her strengths and adjust for the sensitivities that are part and parcel of ADHD.

 

LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE 

Today, as the founder of Meggi, Em is harnessing her unique perspectives to innovate, while also contributing her varied skills in software development to Paperly, an Australian start-up providing a cloud-based solution to help schools centralise and simplify their administrative and learning management systems. Designing a life that enables her to contribute to both solutions is high on Em’s agenda. 

Unlike other founders who discuss the roadmap and decision process around ditching their ‘day job’ to dive full time into their side-hustle, Em is strategically making space for both journeys, side by side, and encourages others to consider the same. Where Paperly benefits from her agile entrepreneurial and female founder mindset, Meggi benefits from the mastery and mentorship that comes from Em’s experience of contributing to a team. 

“I really believe in what both startups are doing and I get to take my learnings from Meggi into Paperly, and Paperly into Meggi, and it's a good flow at the moment.”

In sharing the environmental, workplace and relational factors that enable her to thrive and confidently position herself in the tech industry, Em now knows the unique skills and strengths her neurodivergent perspective brings. She has a lot to say about how we can design our way forward into an inclusive future of learning, work and leadership. I was all ears, and if you’re someone looking for both lived experience insight and practical, effective changes you can make to be more inclusive - you will be too.

Em stresses that supporting women in tech goes beyond recruitment and training; it's about creating an environment that accommodates the distinct experiences of women, especially those who are mothers. She shares her personal experience returning to work post-maternity leave, praising the organisations that valued her need for flexibility. This flexibility is crucial, allowing women to balance their careers with other responsibilities, such as childcare and elder care—a dual burden many women carry.

For Em, that flexibility enables her to consider the learning road ahead and the advocacy role she’ll play for her two neurodivergent children, while balancing the demands of two start ups. With a new lens and understanding of what makes her brain tick, today, Em is strategic about designing a work and personal life that plays to her strengths.

We riff on all things possible for this next generation, who we both hope will walk into a different world of learning and work than we did as children - one that understands, radically accepts and celebrates all neurotypes. That hope is balanced with a healthy level of awareness of the work to be done to make that future a reality. Work, that through her company Meggi, Em extends her commitment to.

Em’s story epitomises the benefits of job-design, and our conversation is packed with practical, everyday changes we can all make to ensure we contribute to positive and meaningful impact in our own lives, and each other's.  

In this episode we discuss:

  • The non-linear journey Em took into founding her own tech company

  • The initiatives and programs working to increase diversity in tech, and encourage more women into the industry

  • Why flexibility and support for working mothers is crucial in creating an inclusive and supportive work environment

  • The benefits Technology and STEM careers can offer in providing flexibility for individuals with caregiving responsibilities

  • How understanding and accommodating the needs of neurodivergent individuals can support your efforts in creating an inclusive workplace

  •  Why psychological safety and environmental adjustments are essential for supporting diverse needs in the workforce

  • A future of learning that's inclusive of neurotypes across the ages, and that best supports both students and their teachers 

Links to resources discussed in the episode:

  • Check out Meggi and order a smart tag to transform your own routine here 
  • Read the 'Careers After Babies' report here
  • Explore courses and programs to support your tech skills with She Codes by Kate Kirwin here
  • Read PWC's report, Creating an Inclusive Community for Women in Tech' here
  • Learn more about Paperly here
  • Connect with em Gulliver directly on LinkedIn here 

Liked this episode? Here's how to rate and review on Apple Podcasts!

Your ratings and reviews help us support more people, just like you, to imagine and create inclusive impact that benefits our future. Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars, and select “Write a Review.” Then be sure to share what you loved most about this and other episodes! 

Thanks for tuning into another episode, and for your interest in Inclusive Impact. 

 

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