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Breaking The Mould: Leading on Culture and Diversity in the local tech industry
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Breaking The Mould: Leading on Culture and Diversity in the local tech industry

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 year ago
  • Author:by Laura Lavery

Laura Lavery Community and Engagement Lead from PA Consulting shares how it’s never too late to try a new career path and the importance of being bold in a new industry

From working in the hospitality industry for 10 years to switching to Professional Services with PwC for 8 years, Laura Lavery never imagined herself leading on Culture and Diversity in the local tech industry today. With no degree background, or digital expertise, Laura explains the importance of different entry routes and how ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’ can take you farther than you think.

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How did you find yourself in the tech/digital sector after previously working in hospitality and accountancy?

I’ve always been open to trying new opportunities and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, because I’m a big believer that that’s where growth happens. I think moving from hospitality to professional services was a big jump and one that I didn’t think would be for me in the long run. I initially did a higher apprenticeship in accountancy with PwC, and got my CFAB qualification, but after a couple of years I realised accountancy wasn’t for me. However, through working at PwC I found a great company and great culture who really nurtured their talent. One of the best things about working for a big company like that is there are lots of opportunities for trying new things which is definitely one of the reasons I stayed so long. Towards the later part of my time with them I found a real passion for people, culture, recognition, wellbeing and D&I, and I had the opportunity to work with a great leader in a different part of the business for the next 6 years.

I’ve been with PA Consulting for about a year now. The opportunity presented itself last year and it was again something completely different that I hadn’t seen on my timeline, but I leapt at the opportunity to take on a leadership role where I could really get my teeth into the strategic side of things and get involved with the local tech community. It sounds cheesy but I genuinely feel blessed that this opportunity came along when it did - I don’t see many other companies putting enough focus on culture and engagement to create a full time role around it.

Did you ever imagine working yourself working in this industry?

I don’t think I’ve ever particularly seen myself as ‘techy’. Before I left hospitality, I definitely didn’t see myself working in professional services. When you’re on the outside looking in to a different industry, you see a bit of a template as to what someone in that industry looks like and I never saw myself in either industry - that’s why I’m so passionate about the importance of representation from a D&I context. I’ve always been quite a strong character, to put it lightly, and whenever I felt that I had to fit in or change something, that’s when I really stood my ground and reminded myself that this company has chosen me to work for them and me to do this role and that means all of me!

I think if a company has a ‘bring your whole self to work’ ethos, they really need to stand by that as I would say there are a lot of people who feel they can’t do this. There’s every likelihood that if they had the confidence, they would excel and grow but not having the right culture to support that can prohibit it. However, more and more companies are now understanding that A; people need to be comfortable and have that psychological safety to be themselves and B; Extra value comes from having a diverse team filled with different backgrounds and perspectives which can overall add to the business’s culture and lead to more creative decision-making.

What opportunities do you know are out there for those looking to move into the tech field?

Now is a really good time for people that are looking to move into tech from a different background or want to return to workafter a long period of time. There are so many digital upskilling courses through higher educational colleges and universities. I’m also seeing lots of assured skills academies and those again are done through local colleges sponsored by different companies. They can be varying lengths of courses depending on the topic. I think those that involve an intensive, fast-learning environment where you can get paid while you study and are offered an interview place at the end, are a really good entry route for people who don’t have that experience.

I would also look to resources available online where you can get qualifications through the likes of Code First Girls and their degree programme. Timely Careers are also a great resource, specifically for those looking to return to work. As I said, companies are realising that there is a limited pool to fish in and if you want purely experienced career hires, you’re going to end up with a homogenous sort of team or style. Having different backgrounds around a table really can give a richness of experience that you can’t have if everyone is loosely from the same walk of life.

Do you think the tech sector is becoming more diverse in Northern Ireland?

It’s definitely getting there. There’s now more of a focus on diversifying the sector, but it’s quite difficult and I think for me that’s an issue that starts quite early on, in that girls of school age and younger are never really introduced to the idea that STEM subjects are for them. So, there’s a lot of work to be done at that level to start to encourage more of a pipeline of diverse talent. This is why it’s especially important to now have those different entry routes like the Code First Girls degree programme and really promoting that so girls and women see that it is for them too.

Representation is also a key factor. Women don’t see themselves represented very much in the industry, and particularly in leadership positions, so it’s difficult for them to imagine themselves working in those kinds of roles. Hopefully by promoting this more you can start to see a snowball effect where more women are moving into the industry and leadership positions. The local tech sector is getting better at attracting people from different genders, races and other minoritized groups, but if there’s no one at the top that they can relate to on that level, then they’re already feeling defeated. I think there needs to be a more concentrated effort for leadership and mentorship programmes within the tech sector as well.

After moving industries today, how are you doing a year in?

I was really baffled at the start by a lot of jargon which seemed really impenetrable. It was also doubled down on by the fact that PA is also a consultancy so it’s not traditional digital or IT as it has that added element on top of it. It definitely took me a while to get used to how things work and methodologies, but if you strip that back my role at its core is about helping people have the best possible experience where they work and externally giving people the best opportunities. As long as your heart is in the overall outcome, that is what is most important. I still don’t speak tech, but I’m more comfortable with it now!

What advice would give to other women considering changing career paths into tech?

I think it’s really about being bold and brave. Have faith in your own abilities and what you bring to the table and learn how to sell that properly. If this is an industry you’re interested but you don’t particularly have the experience, get out there and make connections, go to events and research different entry routes. The importance of networking should never be underestimated, it’s a really powerful tool and you never know what opportunities might come up. Jump at the chance to try something new and most importantly, get comfortable being uncomfortable.



On Wednesday 31st May, PA Consulting will be holding a meet-up for the Belfast tech community, and the tech-curious, to discuss ChatGPT and the Future of AI- the potential it holds, the impact on tech careers, and how to safeguard against risks. If you’re interested in coming along, please sign up using this link:


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