Afiya

Tell us about your journey into tech?
My professional career is a journey through the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths).  Starting as a research engineer with the MoD, then led global materials engineering programs for large manufacturing companies. Bringing new technology to drive large scale operations. I then transitioned into the world of E-commerce working for Online retailer Tesco leading the Program management with fulfilment technology. Before becoming a tech director at one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies Onfido where I lead innovation delivery and scaling AI Identity solutions. The main thread in my career has been leading technical projects- taking challenging hypotheses & unsolved technical problems through to outcomes that are valued.

How do you feel you have made a difference in what you do?
I have a unique role with a tech company, one where I work across the end to end tech platform – from User interface right through to cloud architecture. This means I also get to work with all the people across those tech domains. Bringing disparate groups together to deliver company Objectives and Key results but most importantly what the customer values. I am a human leader and my interpersonal relationships I value just as much as my technical skills. I am one of few senior women in the company and the only woman or black person on the tech leadership team. I pushed my male peers to change that (glad to report women are being promoted and efforts being made to diversify hiring pipelines) and I have created groups within the company for Black people and Women having these networks and safe spaces have meant we can rally and support each other when needed but also have a stronger collective voice for those that feel unheard to make the changes we want to see. I am also a school Governor to volunteer my skills to help support the excellent teachers and leaders at Copthall school for girls.

What would you say is your biggest achievement?
I didn’t appreciate how much of a deal it was to have my research work published before I even graduated – I underplayed it so much. Something I tell younger women now not to do so I will celebrate it now. I also am really proud to have hired and supported women who have grown their careers and earnings working with me – I strongly believe in the financial empowerment of Black women and women in general. I also hope that by next month I can also add to this list that I have launched my own product and business with my Co-founders, Alchemy Box.

How do you think people can go about making a difference, in regards to spreading awareness of Black Women in tech?
Firstly, connecting as described above coming together even in small numbers makes a big difference. Share your experiences I wrote the below post on medium and colleagues of course “had no idea” but it opened a discussion. Engage with young people when you can, lots of organisations make it so easy for you to volunteer so it’s so important to have visible role models.  As with companies I am involved in, tech platforms are being built that intersect with our fundamental rights, way of life and access – its therefore imperative we are part of the conversations building this. If we build tech on top of the racist constructs that exist today by teams of people that all look the same then we are just automating racism.

History and technology: The Visibility of Black faces

What do you believe are the most effective ways to engage other ethnicities and genders to embrace diversity?
I often get asked, “do we have any data”. The fact of the matter is we are in too few numbers of the population (in tech companies) for you to get any data so listen to our experiences. This where networks are great because then you can share these experiences as a collective even if a small one – which is what I have done when addressing BLM and Women’s experience in tech departments.

There is, however, lots of data showing that diversity is good for business profitability and creates better products.

Creating content that’s related to things that your peers consume as I do with @theprojectgram on Instagram

Correct bad behaviour or poor assumptions when they happen – if you find that you are often the only one that looks like you in many rooms you will have to get more courageous at doing this right there and then for yourself. Sometimes even Allies go mute, you don’t have to accept it.

What is the best advice you ever received?
You don’t have to be brave, you just have to be courageous.

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