Overcoming Preconceptions in the Workplace: Sussex Innovation Centre

Coming out of university is a daunting thought. The days of Falmer bar, £2 pints and all-night library sessions are over, and instead you’re faced with career options, possibilities of relocating, and suddenly having to pay council tax. It’s a stressful time, and that’s before you’ve even considered some of the hurdles you might face in your first position, particularly if you’re a woman.

There is a clear gender imbalance in many popular work sectors. While fields such as teaching, recruitment and marketing have become relatively equal, other industries such as tech are severely behind, with just 17% of the technology industry workforce made up of women. We all understand that women are just as capable as men, yet females often fall behind when it comes to going for certain jobs, expanding their horizons, and knowing where to fit in. This is a problem that stems from childhood and extends all the way through to the world of work – but it’s holding women back.

The truth is, the best way to overcome preconceptions in the workplace is to tackle them head-on.

Seriously, seize any opportunity you can get and just go for it. It’s better to try and fail than to never try at all – and it’s a really good feeling when you’re able to prove someone wrong, undermining the preconceptions they may have had about you. While there are many factors that hold women back in their career and sometimes prevent them from succeeding like their male colleagues, it’s up to each of us to challenge that preconception by going head-first into the world of work and doing an excellent job.

When I left university, I had a 2:1 in English Literature, years of work experience in different sectors (primarily PR), and a busy CV. Women often struggle to sum up their achievements without feeling like they’re ‘showing off’ – this is something that’s been shared to me by older colleagues who expressed that women find it difficult to sell themselves to potential employers. Despite my degree and work history, I struggled to find a job. By chance, I met a member of the Catalyst Team at a co-working space in Brighton. After learning that the team is made up of ten placement students and grads who work with different start-ups, I was interested as it sounded like a great opportunity to gain some tangible experience.

At my first interview, I put all my cards on the table. I told Lucy Paine (Catalyst Programme Manager) that I wanted to work in PR, but as I had less than a years’ worth of experience, I was struggling to secure a job. After two interviews, I’d landed a space on the team, and started a week after graduation. The Sussex Innovation team – split between Falmer and Croydon – is made up of a mixture of men and women from different backgrounds. The Catalyst team – part of the Sussex Innovation team and also split between Falmer and Croydon – are from a mixture of disciplines and nationalities, but there are currently just three women who make up this diverse team. The primary reason for this is there aren’t as many women who apply for the role.

During my time at Catalyst, I’ve worked with over ten different start-ups on projects from market research to social media, content writing to data handling – and much more. The companies I’ve worked with range from an equity crowdfunding Fintech to a gay-friendly wedding venue directory – the diversity is what made this experience so fantastic. I would highly recommend any graduate or placement student applying for a space on the Catalyst scheme. My goal is to have a team that is equally matched with males and females – but this can only happen if we get applications from the bright, motivated women who attend Sussex University.

If you would like to find out more about the Catalyst scheme, please contact lucy@sinc.co.uk.

To read another blog by Rachel, click here.

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