Celebrating women at 4C: International Women’s Day - An interview with Iris Abbas, Head of Marketing Automation

Posted On by Fallon Everitt

We are thrilled to be supporting International Women’s Day 2020 by celebrating some of the women at 4C in a special series of blogs.

In the last installment of our IWD blog series, we’ve asked Iris Abbas, Head of Marketing Automation to talk about her journey at 4C and how she balances family and work life.

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What does International Women’s day mean for you?
As a woman that comes from a BAME background, International Women’s day has always been on my radar. The daily struggles that women have all around the world, the experiences they face, the discrimination and even danger some of them have to endure. We take this for granted. My mum always liked to remind me. Growing up and becoming a mother myself, I have to remind myself everyday how truly blessed I am.

One of the issues we seem to face in the UK is that of career opportunities and whether our gender plays a deciding factor in that. It’s important for a woman to have the ability to recognise a good opportunity and to have the support she needs to take advantage of it.

How would you describe your job environment?
When I first started at 4C you could count the number of women on your hands. Now I look around and there is so much diversity both in gender and culture. It makes me so proud to come to work and engage with all of these wonderful people, each having their own unique set of skills to bring to the table and we learn from each other everyday.

As an organisation we have certainly matured over the years. A lot of us are now mothers and fathers but we have still kept our identity. Everywhere you look there’s a Jenga game underway or someone ducking from a nerf gun attack, ping pong championship scores scribbled over the walls. We still have fun every day, we enjoy working with each other and the local pubs and restaurants are still in business, win win!

What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome them?
I was always sceptical to enter the IT world for fear of not being clever enough. Almost 4 years later I still get the “Oh. You work in IT?” from family and people I’ve just met. It makes me chuckle to myself. What does someone in IT look like? Are they supposed to be male?

When I found out I was pregnant I kept it a secret for as long as I physically could. Looking back, I think the reason I did that was due to the fact that I was finally progressing in a career at a company I really enjoyed working at. I was worried that my managers and colleagues would treat me differently and perhaps not rely on me to take on any further responsibility. At around 5 months I could no longer blame the bump on a big meal and by then everyone pretty much knew I was expecting a baby. Needless to say, nothing really changed, I was actually given more responsibility, promoted to a Senior Consultant and received a pay rise! I actually cried when my manager, at the time, took me into a room and told me this. Obviously I blamed it on the hormones…

The real struggle was returning to work. I battled with myself and put so many mental barriers in my own way. My family, friends and peers at work were really supportive and encouraging but I couldn’t get over the fact that I believed I no longer had any value to bring to the team. I was terrified to return to work after a year of baby diapers and soft play. How was I supposed to remember how to navigate around Salesforce let alone build a complex solution? I had zero confidence in myself. It was this fear that actually led me to return to work sooner than a year but only part time to build up that confidence again.

*Everyone expected me to take a step back and take things slow and I guess I just went with it. I worked part time for a few months and then eventually I was back at my 9-5. One day, out of the blue, Gareth our UK CEO asked if he could give me a call. He wanted to talk to me about an article he read on LinkedIn. A woman, returning from Maternity leave, writing about her experience of feeling inadequate, the loss of time and progression within her role. He wanted me to know two things:

  1. If I felt the same I should open up and say so.
  2. If I didn’t feel this way and I wanted more responsibility then I shouldn’t worry about the fact I had a baby. He wanted me to know that this was not a barrier and I should put myself forward for any and all opportunities that may come along. *

The opportunity did come along and I wholeheartedly put all my effort in to get my dream job at 4C. Needless to say if it wasn’t for that phone call I probably would never have had the courage to come forward.

What is your biggest influence and/or icon?
I struggle with the guilt of working everyday. I sacrifice precious moments with my son and choose to go to work instead. I also have to manage the judgements from other mums and dads, especially those within my community, who think I’m selfish for choosing work over my child. What most people don’t realise is that I actually made an active conscious decision to be selfish. I believe that was the best decision for myself and my family. I want to teach my son that putting yourself first has wonderful consequences for you and those around you. Learn to love and respect yourself and do the same to others. The rest will follow.

One day my son will be old enough to start working and maybe one day someone will ask him who inspires him. If he says “my mum” then all of this would not have been in vain.

When I stumbled across Salesforce Supermums it really resonated with me. I ‘quietly’ went about my daily life becoming a champion for this group of inspirational women. I told everyone, whether they cared to hear it or not, about Supermums. I volunteered to mentor some of the mums as well as many of my peers at 4C, who were mostly men! Six months down the line, so many of my friends and family have either completed the course or about to start on the next round. I am so proud of each and every one of them because telling yourself that you are a mother is no longer an acceptable excuse!

Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing a career in tech consulting?
If you take the technology out of the equation, what do you actually enjoy doing? What are you good at? What skills do you have already and how can they be transferable? I always ask these questions to any woman whether she has considered IT or not.

For example… Are you extremely organised (I challenge you to find a mum who isn’t!)? Do you recognise skills within people and can you organise their time? Do you enjoy telling people what to do when necessary and also take direction where needed? If you answer yes to all these questions then perhaps a career in project management is worth considering. Most good companies put you on the path to progress in whichever career is suitable for both yourself and for them. I know we certainly do!

Do you see where I’m going with this? Ask yourself these questions and you will be surprised how much you have within you and how much you could contribute to the Tech industry. Don’t be afraid to enter a world you’re not familiar with because I can guarantee you will find something within this industry that interests you and that you will be excellent at. Stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
I feel like, sometimes, women are the hardest critics of one another. We are scrutinised and judged by other women more than men. Why is this? Is it because there are so few women in our industry and therefore fewer positions, that we see each other as competition? I refuse to believe that. We need more successful women paving the way for the next generation of female leaders. We should be supporting each other and taking each other up the ladder. I would like to say to every woman at the top don’t forget where your journey began and don’t leave these women behind. We could all benefit from a strong mentor, so if you meet someone that needs it offer it. Likewise if you spot a woman who you think could support you as a mentor then just ask her!

If someone says something or does something that really inspires you or makes a difference to your life. Tell them! Let them know that they were a positive influence on you because you want to encourage them to do it again.

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
I’m lucky in a way that I was able to write this blog after attending the International Women’s day event hosted by 4C and Natterbox. The room was filled with so many inspirational and successful women. I certainly left the event better informed on the power of teamwork and what amazing things women can do if they put their minds together. Thanks to the Ice Maidens for teaching us just how important it is to be open and honest with each other.

One thing that really stood out to me is that this was a business event. One would call it a networking event perhaps. As women, we often get so distracted by the fact that we have our gender and equality issues in common that we actually forget to talk about what is going on to actually help us in a situation like that. We should remember to ask each others names and job titles and swap business contacts. We should use opportunities like this to help each other progress and move forward in our careers. Why not! The men certainly wouldn’t spend the time swapping child care tips.

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