To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week and International Women’s Day, last week WhiteHat joined forces with Investec for an inspiring evening discussion of Women Blazing a Trail in the tech and finance industries.

We were lucky enough to be hosted at Investec’s Gresham Street offices, the perfect setting for two panels chaired by our very own trailblazing Co-Founder, Sophie Adelman. Apprentices from the WhiteHat community alongside professionals from organisations such as Google, Deliveroo, Salesforce and the civil service came together to hear the stories and advice of an inspirational group of female business leaders.

After a warm welcome from Zaynah Din, Digital Marketing Apprentice at Facebook and WhiteHat Vice President, she was joined onstage by Kavindi Wickramaarachchi, Business Administration Apprentice at Investec. These two young women generously shared stories about their personal journeys and routes to an apprenticeship; and although they’ve ended up in very different roles for two very different organisations, there were parallels to be found in their stories and their future ambitions, strengthened by their decision to jump straight into the world of work.

For Zaynah, despite some concern from her mum as to whether choosing not to go to university would impact her future success, it was the encouragement of a supportive and forward-thinking teacher at her sixth form (Global Academy) who gave her the motivation to try out a new pathway. Her dad, present in the audience, was also a key figure in giving her the confidence to try out something new. Now she’s making waves at Facebook, having already travelled to Silicon Valley and been elected the WhiteHat Apprentice Vice President. She is currently working on the team that plans, creates and manages national Facebook campaigns for brands, with ownership of her own projects, and she isn’t looking back. Her experiences have inspired her to raise awareness about alternative routes to success for other young people like her. “I want to get young people of colour into tech apprenticeships. There is so much talent and girls don’t know what to do with it.”

Kavindi has older siblings who went to university, and when she was thinking about her own career aspirations she knew that she wanted to join the ‘glamorous’ world of banking like her older sister. She thought the only way to get there was by going to university too; then she saw an apprenticeship role at Investec advertised. She’s now working as a trading support analyst, supporting an international team to trade with offshore clients on a daily basis. Not only is she learning how to do the job she always wanted; she’s gaining softer skills by being in a working environment straight after school. “Since I started working at Investec, my confidence has grown from the ground up. If you would have asked me to do a panel when I first started my apprenticeship, I would have said no - look at me now”. Like Zaynah, Kavindi wants to use her experiences to encourage the next cohort of young professionals to consider an alternative route. “When I finish my apprenticeship, I am going to be 19 with 18 months’ worth of work experience. I want to inspire young people to not see apprenticeships as plan B. I want everyone to see it as plan A.”

After hearing from these inspirational women blazing a trail in their fields, the next group of panelists were up: women leading the way. Although as our chair Sophie Adelman highlighted, these four speakers are, plain and simple, incredibly impressive business people:

Our inspirational panel of women leading the way, chaired by Sophie Adelman (Co-Founder, WhiteHat): Ioana Balas, Charly Young, Anusha Nirmalananthan and Ruth Leas

-Ruth Leas, Chief Risk Officer, Investec

“Tenacious. You just can't give up. You have to think: I can and I will find a way”.

-Anusha Nirmalananthan, Head of Growth, Data Products Division, JUST EAT

“I try to keep myself constantly learning, and also learning how to fail - because that’s when you learn how to get better”.

-Charly Young, CEO, The Girls' Network

“Why not attitude? It’s the positivity to do things and to ask people what they think of what you’re doing. It really matters to get people’s view on things”.

-Ioana Balas, Engineering Manager, Improbable

“I’ve recognised that I’m really good at identifying other people’s strengths, and helping them to develop them. That’s what makes me a good manager - and it’s OK to say that!”

This candid and engaging group shared far more brilliant tips and stories than we have room to include here, but clear themes emerged across all of their journeys. Firstly, the importance of looking for mentors to help you along your career path, and the fact that asking for help is strength not weakness. To flip that on its head, the responsibility of professionals to actively seek out those earlier on in their careers who could really benefit from mentorship, and to offer it.

Secondly, that we should not be afraid to bring our whole selves to work, and foster an environment where others can do the same in order to build truly strong and cohesive teams. And finally, that we all need to adopt a mindset of constant learning, in order to keep pushing ourselves, and also striving to improve on a wider business scale: because equal representation is sadly not a reality yet.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Investec for hosting this fantastic event with us, and to all the panelists who really left the audience inspired, energised and motivated to get out there and act. Happy International Women’s Day!

Feeling inspired to investigate how you can open up tech opportunities for diverse young talent? Get in touch with the team by filling out the form below.