The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders to get their opinions and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.
Our second #SaltSessions Women in Tech interview is with Christine MacKay where we learn about her journey from breaking a Guinness Book Records to CEO and Producer in Animation, Brand and Web services at visual content agency Salamandra.UK.
Can you give us a brief outline of your background and development?
My career has been quite varied; I started off in an indie record label, which was great fun. The chap who employed me was a super mentor and taught me so much about business in a really cool, friendly, approachable way and it was a great start into business for me. I then worked in various agencies and travelled over to Africa and worked there before starting up the first Salamandra agency before moving back to the UK to create Salamandra.UK in its current form.
I was also lucky enough to be brought up in a multilingual and cultural environment having grown up in Portugal, Brazil and UK and going to French and English Schools. This gave me a love for travel and fascination of different cultures and a wanderlust that’s enticed me to visit and often work in 25% of the world’s countries – but there are still a few to tick off on my bucket list!
What is the biggest deterrent to women succeeding in the workplace?
What challenges have you faced in the work place, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?
Most work environments are still male dominated, where it counts – I have worked in Mining and Beer industries, which are very male dominated environments, and had to find skills where I could shine despite my gender. You need to work twice as hard and have internal gumption in those environments, but it can be very rewarding when you succeed despite those odds.
You’ve got to find something that makes you shine and stick to that and do your best and that way you will be recognised for those skills and stand out against your competition whether male or female in a good way.
In your opinion is it getting harder or easier for women in tech?
Depends on where you are based in the world, but generally, it is getting easier as women are very good at coding for example, but it is still is a male bastion. It’s less of a taboo. There are still ‘quotas’ to fill, but you should actually get a role based on merit.
Too many girls are still taught that they are not good at maths or science, and even worse there are female teachers teaching those subjects telling their pupils that they themselves are no good at the subject… Not great.
There is still a skills gap in various tech areas so I’m hoping the schools will support Tech subjects as an avenue to get more girls in there. I also think that employers are becoming more flexible in regard to work time and young mums who want to do a bit of both. I really encourage companies to do that and give women that opportunity and offering a decent part-time wage as well.
What are you most proud of?
Starting up Salamandra in South Africa and then back in the UK after working overseas for 20 years, so effectively beginning back here from a standing start, when I should instead be reaping the fruits of my labour…
I’m really proud of my team, they are amazing and talented all have the same work ethic and passion. I think it is a blessing to have the right team to work with. Your company is your people.
Who has been your biggest advocate/supporter in the work place and why?
My husband Lochmar has been my rock and biggest advocate/supporter, closely followed by my teenage children. Having someone believe in you makes a huge difference, particularly when things get tough.
Did you have a mentor in your career?
My first boss was Chris Harding when I was straight out of Uni and was employed by this indie record company. He was fantastic and taught me all about the business basics. He also said that he and I were too honest to ever make a lot of money (I hope he’s wrong about the latter!!).
I have since sought out mentors in the creative industry and found men to be more willing than women, I’m sorry to say. I did ask a woman once, who flat out refused me and said, ‘you will have to learn like everyone else’ and I just thought that was awful, and I hope I never hear it again and I never become someone like that.
At the end of the day, when we mentor someone it’s as good for them as it is good for you. Because they say when you are teaching something you retain 95% of it and when you’re learning something you retain 30% or something like that. I don’t know the exact figures. It’s a fantastic opportunity all around, so if someone asked me I would be happy to help. It’s all about giving back. I hope that mentality changes and that women particularly see how fantastic it is to help each other and not put up obstacles for each other. I know it is changing with more female focused networking which is great. Though I would advocate mixed networking too!
As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc.?
Give everyone a voice and meet with your team individually every 4 to 6 weeks – for a coffee/chat. It’s amazing what gets covered, in a very positive way.
At Salamandra, there is no such thing as a stupid question. We all work in a really colligate environment and are encouraged to help each other and be supportive. If everyone feels they have a voice and are heard it builds up overall confidence.
We do lunch-and-learn sessions every 2 weeks where everyone gets the chance to teach the rest of the group something about their craft, something they are passionate about, or a hobby. Everyone keeps learning, you learn something new, and you learn something about each other. For example, we had one guy show us his coding in animation and although I would probably wouldn’t use that in everyday life, I now understand any problems he might have and translate that better to a client if a project ever runs into issues. You never lose your learning and I always feel if you are always learning in a job, you are growing and you are less likely to leave and you can increase your passion for what you are doing.
So, for me learning is really important and supporting people in learning, making sure they are growing within in their roles. People in our team have often morphed from one initial role into a number of different roles which they absolutely love, and I am really happy to encourage this, as it not only improves their learning and skills set, but also improves everyone else’s.
What are some of the best and worst work place initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?
Worst initiatives would be: Using quotas rather than employing/promoting on merit, and paying lip service to equality/diversity by having what is considered ‘soft’ roles represented on the board as a form of window dressing.
Best initiatives have been bringing (your) children to work, to give them a taster of what is involved (boys and girls) and mixing up the stereotypical roles.
Regardless of gender what is the one piece of advice you would give to someone in the midst of their career?
Do you have a role model/inspiration?
Cliché, I know, but I really admire Richard Branson for his unwavering and ever original entrepreneurial spirit all through his life, Desmond Tutu for his courage and compassion in the face of huge adversity throughout the years and Mother Theresa for her work ethic and piety.
Any reading/website you would recommend?
Cool Hunter: http://thecoolhunter.net/ – for design
Quartz Media: https://qz.com for interesting global news
Economist: www.economist.com for great journalism
Co.Design: for fab design articles
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Laughter – usually at myself. We laugh a lot in the office.
What is your professional mantra?
My professional and personal mantra is when in doubt chose the option with most good/love.
Fun fact: I drove from London to South Africa in an 18-year-old Kombi van, zigzagging across the continent. After a major breaking down in the former Zaire, we were towed through 3 countries to find the nearest place for repair (!) (from Kisangani, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, via Uganda to Mombasa, Kenya 2,291km) breaking the Guinness Book of Records!
About Christine MacKay
A serial networking entrepreneur, who thrives on client cross-pollination Christine has worked client and agency side with brands across UK, Europe-Middle East & Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) in several industries including, Music, Film, Mining (gold), Beer and soft drinks, and IT to name a few.
After a number of years working for large and small companies, Christine first founded Salamandra Design & PR in Johannesburg in 2006 and has since resurrected it in the UK as Salamandra Design & Digital (www.salamandra.uk) now offering visual content marketing via Animation, Brand & Web services.
Being a very visual person, Christine gets a real kick helping clients with their visual content marketing, whether it’s putting together their brand guidelines, logo and collateral to telling their story via animation, Gifographics or creating an engaging website to couch these upon.
Christine believes in giving back and enjoys meeting and connecting with people and has volunteered or contributed to a number of business and leisure associations here and overseas. This included serving as Vice President of French/New Zealand Chamber of Commerce and Industry, serving on the board of the European/New Zealand Business Council and on the board of the Alliance Française. She has also served on UK’s National Citizen Service (NCS) Dragon’s Den, on various Parent/Teacher Associations (PTAs) and was a voluntary school club sailing instructor in New Zealand. They always say, when you are down in the dumps the best cure is to get out there and help someone else out.
For more information visit: http://salamandra.uk/