Women in tech leadership

blank Sophie Elms - 24 November, 2020

Category : Blog

Women in tech leadership

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion at Arbor, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our leadership team, which is made up of majority women. Sophie, Arbor’s Talent Acquisition Manager, interviews five of our female leaders at Arbor below. The lack of women in STEM and tech starts in education and the

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion at Arbor, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our leadership team, which is made up of majority women. Sophie, Arbor’s Talent Acquisition Manager, interviews five of our female leaders at Arbor below.

The lack of women in STEM and tech starts in education and the subjects women choose, with only 26% of  STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and maths) being women.  

Although this number is increasing, not all female STEM graduates go into jobs in the industry (only 22% are women), with computer science, engineering and technology the most affected. 

These statistics are sparking projects and events aimed to boost female representation in the STEM and tech sectors. Last month was Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM, which aims to create role models to encourage more girls into STEM subjects and careers, and to support women already working in STEM.

Women in Tech Leadership at Arbor 

I’m very proud to say that Arbor Education is leading the way – six out of nine of our Senior Leaders are women and we have a high percentage of women in line management positions across the business. Our board has a female chair too. 

But what does it feel like to be a woman in leadership in the EdTech world? I recently caught up with five of our female leaders at Arbor (our sixth is on maternity leave!) to discuss their career and experiences. 

I’ve pulled out some highlights from the interviews below. 

Sonia Leighton – Chief of Customer Success 


What is your role at Arbor and what got you into the tech world in the first place?

“My team provides first and second line support, as well as training and onboarding for our customers. I’ve been working in tech for about 20 years now across a number of different sectors. I left university and didn’t know what I wanted to do… and landed in BT Group… and I’ve been in tech ever since! 

The thing I love about it is that my role – Chief of Customer Success – didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s now one of the fastest-growing roles in the industry. So it’s just a super exciting space to be in!”

Maggie Wright – Finance Director 


Have you experienced challenges based on your gender in your career?

“When I was studying (Bachelor’s in Accounting and Master’s in Financial Analysis), half or more of my classmates were women. Yet today, women are still disproportionately underrepresented in senior leadership positions. We need to try to level the playing field to make sure that we start to see the industry become more equitable.

I think there are a few ways this can improve, for example seeing more female role models in tech leadership, participating in and promoting networks which focus on nurturing women’s career progression and, most importantly, improving access to funding for female entrepreneurs .”

Hilary Aylesworth – Head of Product

hilary ayelsworth

What advice would you give to women thinking of exploring a career in tech?

“Making the move from teaching to tech is a hard one to make, and the advice I might give myself back then, that I’ve learnt and reflected upon now, is I think the first step is mapping your skill set and really being clear what your strengths are. I didn’t know at the time that I wanted to be a Head of Product, I think that’s something that ended up fitting me very well, but I can see now that actually a lot of my skills were really nicely correlated with the specifications for a Head of Product kind of role. Also, mentorship is huge – whether you’re a woman in tech or a young person trying to get into tech, find somebody who you think does it really well. Spend time with them. Get to know how they do things!”

Phillippa De’Ath – Chief Revenue Officer


Have you noticed any significant changes in the industry from when you first started? 

“Despite 20 years in tech, Arbor is my first software job. I think the difference in  working on an enterprise software platform (as opposed to a mainframe) is that it brings together people who care about the end user, and that tends to require a lot of sensitivity to the challenges of work, understanding different ways of solving the problem. Different ways of thinking about the humans using the tools that you build and not just being in a big, sweaty data room with increasingly powerful engines but no thought to user experience.

The age of people we work with also influences our design and approach – the demographic of our heavily-female group is much younger than the industry average, so there aren’t entrenched ideas of how to do things.”

Harriet Cheng – Head of Marketing


There are a number of networking communities aimed at developing future female leaders within technology. Have you been part of any and are there any you would recommend? 

I think it’s really important for women to support each other at work through mentorship, community building, networking and coaching – in tech, but in all industries really. I’m lucky to be part of an amazing team at Arbor and to know women leaders at several other EdTech companies across the UK, who have all been really helpful for sharing advice and swapping stories. Beyond that, I go to events by DevelopHer, a nonprofit community supporting women in tech, and would recommend Code First Girls who my sister (a games developer) has mentored with before. 

I’d also like to call out The Girls Network who are excellent – they work with girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools across England. I mentored girls interested in tech through their programme previously and would highly recommend it.”

We know that female representation in leadership positions is also behind in education, with only 38% of Headteachers are women at secondary level, and at primary men outweigh women almost 2:1. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about these issues and how they relate to your schools you’ve worked in.

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