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Breaking Barriers: Championing Women in Local Government Tech

International Women’s Day is a great time to take stock of how far we have come, whilst reminding us of what is still left to do. This year, I am taking a look at an area of Local Government that has historically been heavily dominated by men: the technology industry. As a sector, the wider tech industry has gone against the trend of a greater number of women in senior positions. In 1984, it stood at 35%, last year the number was 28%. For an area like Technology and Digital, the importance of gender diversity cannot be overstated. This field thrives on creativity and a different way of thinking, what better way to foster that than by having a diverse workforce which brings a multitude of perspectives, skills, and ideas to an organisation? To get a better understanding of the challenges and experiences of women in tech, I spoke to Priya Javeri, who has been working as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) for several years and gave me an insight into her experiences and values that she holds close to her heart.

Priya didn’t set out to become a leader or CIO, it started with a desire to learn how to design games which led her to join a programming course. Unfortunately, being a woman was a difference that was quickly highlighted, when one of the cohort said:

“As a woman the best you can hope to make is a cup of tea”.

I asked Priya whether this put her off. Fortunately, it was down to her resilience and personality that such comments didn’t get to her. Priya being a woman, and a woman of colour, is something she has had pointed out to her throughout her career, as if she was unaware. Microaggressions as well as outright offensive comments are more widespread in this sector than we would hope. But it speaks volumes that her drive and determination were strong enough to stay focused on her goals. This is a theme that she has kept throughout her career, and it’s a message she wants to pass on to others too.

“People need to hear that these things might happen, but you can’t let it put you off. Keep believing in yourself and do what you’re doing”. It may be a challenging journey, some of it due to being female, some not, but bringing your individuality and differences to the table is so important to make sure we have a diverse workplace.

The new additional challenge that we face is the ‘culture war’ in society – the dangerous notion that somehow a change or deviation from how things previously were or how people are used to them, must be a bad thing. If things aren’t how they were when you were growing up, it must therefore be worse. As with all things, some aspects will be better, and some will be worse, but changing and developing has always been how society has evolved. Thank God we don’t still live in a society stuck in the Middle Ages because we feared change. If the by-product of inclusion means changing our workplace behaviours and becoming mindful to talk more inclusively, maybe the price is worth paying to allow those previously shut out to finally take their place at the table.

Derogatory comments are not limited to the tech space, nor are they isolated to just workspaces. Every woman will have an example of misogynist remarks made against them, with Priya having mentioned some too unpleasant to include in this article.  But fortunately for every unacceptable comment, there’s also someone who will champion and support aspiring employees to realise their full potential. In Priya’s case, people such as Jackie Belton, Steve Moore and Sean Harriss - all were in senior positions and willing to offer her sound advice as well as lead by example. Having these people provide her with a sounding board as well as encourage her to take the next steps played a big part in her getting to the point she is at today. And it’s something she is keen to pass on to the next generation of young women going into tech.

“You have to enjoy what you are doing, set goals and keep working towards them. When I first started, it wasn’t my ambition to be a CIO, but when I set my goal of being a Head of IT, I was prepared to make a sideways move to open that door and created a plan of how to get there”.

Addressing gender inequality is something Priya feels passionately about, rightly pointing out the first hurdle: giving women a chance. That first foot in the door, the encouragement to apply and the accessibility to the opportunities are things we need to tie into a recruitment strategy that truly champions equality, diversity, and inclusion. Without getting the hiring strategy right, you will never see the pipeline of talented diverse employees come through the ranks.

At a time when Local Government is constantly trying to reinvent itself and be more efficient and effective, it can hardly miss the opportunity to encourage innovation by having different thought processes present. By breaking stereotypes, overcoming challenges, and recognising the business as well as moral benefits, we can collectively contribute to a more equitable and innovative future in the world of technology.

Lastly, in keeping theme with this year’s International Women’s Day, I asked Priya ‘what does inspire inclusion mean to you?’

“This is why I speak up about these things - the best way to inspire people is through other people’s stories. We’re not just doing these for younger females and women but for everyone. The people who can really help women become senior leaders are men because they’re the ones in the senior positions. They need to be inspired to realise that it’s about outcomes and perhaps women will have a different process and view, but they will also get outcomes, some of which might not have been thought of before.”

I’m very grateful to Priya for sharing her time and stories so freely. Her enthusiasm for the work that she does and the dedication that she shows it is infectious. Despite hurdles and barriers, her confidence and belief have never been shaken and really, why should it? As she beautifully puts it: “Being a female has never bothered me, it bothers other people”.

Zeynep Livatyali-Esen is a Senior Consultant in Penna’s Executive Interim team. To learn more about how Penna can help you with any recruitment needs, please visit

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Zeynep Livatyali-Esen

LinkedIn: Zeynep Esen


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