This week we have the great pleasure to welcome Anjali Ramachandran, one of UK’s most inspiring champions of gender diversity in the technology sector and the co-founder of Ada’s List. From early education in India and Saudi Arabia to getting into tech roles and loving it, Anjali shares insightful advice to women starting their journey in digital creativity. As she says: ‘there has never been a better time to do what you do’. So go for it !
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When I stop to think about what I do today and how I got here, I’m always mildly surprised, because technology played almost no part in my education. I never thought I’d get into technology, but I’m really glad I did.
‘Learn to be confident in your opinions’
I was born in the UK but grew up in Saudi Arabia for a few years (where my father worked for a while) and then India. As a result of living in two countries where societal norms and traditions were very strong, especially with regard to girls, I was rarely told by anyone what to strive *for*; conversely I was often told by extended family what I should *not do*: as a girl, I ‘shouldn’t’ wear this and that (in Saudi Arabia of course that became ‘couldn’t’), ‘shouldn’t’ go out by myself, ‘shouldn’t’ look for a job that meant too much time away from family and so on. I’d say to anyone who faces opposition to trying new things out and experimenting: don’t listen to them, learn to be confident in your opinions. Look to spend time with people who inspire you in some way, whether that is through what they say or what they do, and you will learn to figure out what is best for you over time.
‘Clarity is crucial to be successful at what you do, and you might not always have it from day one.’
My parents are brilliant, they always have been supportive and encouraging of my choices, and have been true role models. Where they didn’t understand the choices I had, they’d point me in the direction of people who did, helping me get clarity. That’s something that can’t be overstated: clarity is crucial to be successful at what you do, and you might not always have it from day one.
‘I believe in having role models early on to inspire young people to explore a passion’
Exploring and challenging ideas, as Western education often teaches you to do, wasn’t a habit that was instilled in students at the schools I went to. So I’d look elsewhere for inspiration – usually books – which were always in good supply. My high school English teacher, Mrs. C, was very inspiring and as a result I went on to do well in languages. I definitely believe in having role models early on to inspire young people to explore a passion.
Some of the women that have inspired me include two of my first managers at Nike, where I began my career: Geena Tok and Ashita Mandanna. They always looked out for me and constantly encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone. More than a decade later, having seen people’s varying management styles, I can tell you that good managers are a rare breed. Find those who are both inspiring and driven to do the best by you as well as the business you work for.
‘So why did I end up in a tech-related career?’
So why did I end up in a tech-related career? I studied sociology at university and became very interested in subjects like organisational behaviour and psychology. And as the internet took off, exploring how technology resulted in different behaviours became very interesting to me. Unsurprising then I’m very inspired by the work of Genevieve Bell at Intel. I also absolutely love what an old colleague and friend, Leila Johnston, is doing with Hack Circus, a project that explores the artistic, philosophical and fun side of technology in the physical world.
‘It’s striking how few technology startups are led by women’
Over the last few years, as Head of Innovation at PHD, I meet startups and technology businesses on a regular basis. It’s striking how few of them are led by women. This motivated me to reach out to Angel Academe (where I am now an advisor), an excellent pro-female angel investment group set up by Sarah Turner that invests in businesses with at least one female founder, but crucially also trains women to become angel investors. There’s a lot of material to indicate that people tend to invest in people who look like them. In the UK only 5% of angel investors are women, so guess where most of the funding goes?
‘In the UK only 5% of angel investors are women, so guess where most of the funding goes?’
In 2013, I joined 3 other amazing ladies – Merici Vinton, Rosa Birch and Nicki Sprinz – to found Ada’s List, a community of women working in technology (including science, engineering and mathematics), because we felt that there was no online space for women in technology to ask for advice, debate issues, or share events and opportunities that would help us along in our careers. It amazes me every day to learn of the multiple projects our members are working on in this space. To mention a couple: Nicole Messier from blink blink and Debbi Evans from Libertine (where I’m also an advisor).
‘Never stop learning because technology never stops evolving’
For women starting their journey in digital creativity, I would say: there has never been a better time to do what you do – use the resources available online and never stop learning because technology never stops evolving. Make sure that you finish every 6 months having learnt something new. Don’t be ashamed of saying you don’t know something; use your initiative to learn how to do it, or get someone to teach you. And lastly, be generous with your time: it will come back to you.
Anjali Ramachandran is Head of Innovation at PHD UK, an Omnicom media agency, where she is also on the leadership team of the Omnicom Innovation Group. In this role she works with startups to help them navigate the complex media agency structure and works with clients on technology-specific campaigns. She is also co-founder of Ada’s List, advisor to Angel Academe, a member of the Libertine 100 and an RSA Fellow. Anjali has spoken at multiple conferences including SXSW, the Women Techmakers Summit and Google Firestarter.
Reach Anjali on Twitter: @