When Siobhan Wilson entered the technology sector in the early 1990s, it wasn’t after years of computing study or a long-term interest in tech. While working at a recruitment agency, she came across a vacancy she liked the sound of - admin assistant for a small software company - and decided to pitch herself in the role.
At that time, the UK didn’t have a thriving technology market, but Wilson could see it was starting to grow. From her position in recruitment, she could see the types of roles that were coming through to be filled, as well as the industries that weren't recruiting or that were struggling:
I wanted to get into the tech industry at that stage as I could see it was starting to build up. I was working in Reading at the time. The funny thing was, I had applied for a job for Oracle before I got into recruitment, because they offered company cars - I didn't even know what they did!
As admin assistant, Wilson turned her hand to everything from shipping software tapes to sales and marketing work and exhibitions over her five years at the company. She then moved to Oracle, initially working in inside sales and then transferring to the firm’s Australia office in 1998:
I worked with them for four years and whilst I had a fantastic time, my career didn't really move anywhere because it was a lifestyle choice.
On her return to the UK, Wilson fell pregnant with her first child. She didn't have a permanent job to return to at the time, after having spent some time traveling post-Australia. As Wilson’s husband was just building up his new business, she stayed at home with her daughter, and eventually went back to work in 2003 when she was about 10 months old:
I decided that I wasn't the stay-at-home mum I thought I would be.
Return to Oracle
Wilson went back into Oracle, thanks to the network of friends and contacts she had kept up at the firm during her time away. By the time she had her second child, Wilson’s husband's business wasn't going so well and they decided to do the opposite from their first child:
That was a conscious life decision at that point that we made - I'm now going to go forward with my career and my husband stayed at home.
As this was 20 years ago, when companies weren’t particularly supportive of working mothers and flexible working options didn’t really exist, Wilson was apprehensive about her return to work:
I really thought I was going to be sidelined. But they were really supportive, it was a huge shock to me to be honest.
Wilson was a manager at the time, and had recruited her replacement while she was on maternity leave:
I actually regretted it because he was really good. But when I came back, it was the other way around. He was moved on to another role and I got my job back. It was hugely positive for me. While I was on maternity leave, I got a new boss, and I was thinking, this isn't going to go well. But everybody supported me back into the business.”
Today, Oracle has various other programs in place to support women. It establshed the Oracle Women's Leadership (OWL) group back in 2006, while the UK business has its own DEI board, with all the ERGs falling under that. The GenO program is another area that benefits women looking to return to work or retrain for a change in career, although it’s open to all.
More recently, the firm has been running a menopause program in the UK, which has been really helpful for not only women but a broader group. Wilson explains:
We've had some really good feedback on that. For men as well, we've had some feedback from a couple of men saying it's really helped them understand what their wives are going through. It's made some other people more aware about what their moms are going through in the younger community.
Wilson has worked her way up the ladder at Oracle, where she’s now Senior Vice President EMEA Applications Customer Officer and UK Country Leader. However, this progression required a change in tack for Wilson, as for the first half of her working life, she says:
My career happened to me.
It wasn’t until 15 years ago that she actually sat down and thought about what she wanted to do and where her career was going. At that point, she made a conscious effort around the direction of her career. She started working with different people and got involved in projects that would help establish her network.
An important factor, and something Wilson herself didn't consider when she was initially thinking about her career, is that it needs to be in line with your life choices. When changes happen on either side, you have to accommodate one or the other. For some, that may mean adapting work plans if they have a child; others might want to focus on triathlons or another sport or hobby for a period, so they may push back from their career a bit. She says:
It’s about what are my life choices, where do I want my career going and how do I balance those two at any particular point in time of my life.
When Wilson started work at 16, she certainly didn’t have the confidence that she could get to where she is today. Part of the reason she is keen to share her story now is to encourage others to banish that fear factor:
I was very intimidated when I came into Oracle. I wouldn't have told you 25 years ago - I wouldn't have told anybody! - that I didn't have a degree. I was very intimidated by that. What I want to be able to do now is show, no matter what your background, where you've come from, whether you've got a degree or not, whether you're a man or a woman, the opportunities are there.
Sometimes I feel women are a little less confident in that area and doubt themselves too much. I want women to think that there are no limitations. Don't doubt yourself. Your only limit is your doubts. Be ambitious. Make conscious career decisions and you'll be alright.