We covered it in the first instalment but in case you weren’t paying attention – Continent 8 are a pretty big deal, ok? The clue’s in the name, sport. This is an intercontinental company providing secure data hosting and IT infrastructure in over 40 locations across the globe. They’ve got customers in every continent! And you thought you were impressive, sitting in your slacks watching Attenborough documentaries.
Needless to say, several senior figures within such a pan-global company will need to get their Michael Palin on. None more so than Account Director and intrepid explorer, Roberta Castle. Roberta has six years under her belt at Continent 8 and spends much of her time darting across time-zones, journeying everywhere from South Africa to Estonia on a weekly basis. It’s strangely fitting then, that she stumbled into a career in tech after a year spent travelling. In between flights, Roberta finds time to speak with Gef about herself, her working history and present role; she regales us with just why she loves the “true family environment” of Continent 8 and she stresses the importance of initiatives such as International Women’s Day.
For Roberta, some days it must seem as if she lives two wildly opposing lives. One, as the jet-setting Account Director for Continent 8 and the other as a happily married Mother of 2, walking through the tranquil beauty of Groudle Glen. She admits the travelling can be a challenge but it’s a varied role she relishes:
“A large proportion of my role consists of being the customer’s representative within Continent 8 – I deal with all aspects of our relationship with the client – from initially identifying if there is an opportunity for us to assist the client and work together, to supporting the technical design teams. I have also been provided the opportunity to visit every continent in the world – which is very enjoyable”
Clocking up the air miles and spending so much time on the road must be trying at times, especially as a parent, but Roberta’s love for her job is testament to the people she works with and the continually invigorating nature of both the tech industry and indeed, Continent 8:
“Continent 8 is truly innovative – we are privately owned by two entrepreneurs who have incredible vision and who offer all staff the opportunity to shape the company and its future. We have the challenge of a globally distributed team, yet I am lucky enough to have met the majority of the staff and it inspires me daily, how diverse our skills base is and how talented the people are. Everyone here genuinely has a ‘can do’ attitude and when you couple our ability to carry our customers’ critical data, right across the globe, on our own private network, with our customer service ethic, it is incredibly powerful!”.
When it comes to the tech industry, Roberta is a veteran – having 15 years’ experience. For her, it is the pace and evolution of change in STEM that motivate on a daily basis. Sadly, Roberta and her female colleagues are still minorities in representation terms, in this male dominated tech world. However, Continent 8 are leading the fight against gender stereotypes (metaphorically speaking, of course). Refreshingly, they are determined to focus on the talent of the individual and not the gender that hosts such talent. Roberta reflects on Continent 8’s ability to create a supportive environment for women in technology:
“Continent 8 is a very diverse company with many senior roles being executed amazingly well by women. The company also offers fantastic support when it comes to training, personal development and coaching”
In her 15 years in tech, Roberta hasn’t seen as pronounced a shift in attitudes towards women in STEM as she’d have liked, but she is hopeful that initiatives such as International Women’s Day and articles such as the one you are reading now can begin to make sizeable dents in archaic attitudes:
“I often find myself as the only woman in a room of 10+ men and I would love to see this change. The alternative views, creativity and ideas that women can bring to any working environment are essential if a business wants to succeed. After all, research shows that diverse teams can achieve better long term results”.
It seems hard to believe now but Roberta took some time to accept herself for who she was. She has some sage advice for any budding younglings looking to follow in her footsteps:
“My advice would be not to panic when you don’t know what you want to do. It’s difficult at age 16 or 18 to make what feels like a long-term decision. There aren’t many things in life that can’t be changed, although it doesn’t always appear that easy. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties and had started my own family and established myself that I began to accept and like myself. If I had told myself this at 16 I wouldn’t have listened. I certainly thought I knew it all!”
The follies of youth notwithstanding, Roberta has forged a mightily successful career at a world-renowned tech company, a firm she describes quite simply as “global, innovative and fun.” Well worth the jet-lag, then.
Another seasoned traveller at Continent 8 is Human Resources Manager, Charlotte Cain. Citing Montreal as her favourite spot she’s had the pleasure of frequenting, Charlotte understands the true worldwide reach that Continent 8 have:
“I’m in a global position looking after the different teams so it’s part of the job. I look after all of the interests of our staff, from resourcing, development, people strategy to wellbeing. The biggest challenge, yet also biggest benefit of my role is that it is a truly global position. We’re a multicultural organisation which calls for different ways of thinking but it’s what makes it so interesting”.
Charlotte has been in her role now for just over a year; a relative pup in this hi-octane, ever changing Continent 8 team but this world of innovation, expertise and forward thinking – essentially Minority Report but more complex is how Gef pictures it, anyhow – is one she is proud to work in:
“I think working in a company where tech is at the core is really inspiring. It pushes you to think outside the box”
Thinking outside the box is one thing but when she tells Gef her favourite piece of tech she could not live without, we are aghast…
“Controversial…but I do love my Alexa, even if she is listening to me!”
No Charlotte! We must fear the robotic uprising!
Crazy robots aside, Charlotte is clearly, one of those fortunate souls, who are in their ideal job. She admits herself whenever she is abroad, she cannot sit still. Her restless need for adventure marries well with Continent 8’s inventiveness and her organisational nous is all the more evident when she tells us she’s one of those weirdos who never gets bored of patiently researching internet holidays. Such analytical qualities are fundamental in her day to day job, at the hubbub of dealing with a multicultural organisation and its diverse workforce.
Clearly the one in the know for such details, she tells us 12 out of the 23 IOM based Continent 8 staff are female. What is it that Continent does, to work with their employees in creating an inclusive environment for women?
“We respect ideas equally and listen. We have some great women in the team whose actions prove more than words. Educating younger people about the different career possibilities (for women in tech) is very important”
What cannot be underestimated is the significance of our dear Man Isle acting as the HQ for Continent 8’s global gallivanting. As Charlotte summarises –
“You get a local feel on a global scale. It’s crazy to think of the impact of what you do just on this little Island has such an effect on what goes on across the world”
Continent 8’s unwavering commitment to the Island is never more evident than in the company’s community initiatives, particularly in sponsoring Love Tech and Bridge Angel Network. Love Tech is a not for profit, run by local female technologists and businesswomen, passionate about inspiring girls and young women on the Island to explore careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Charlotte has been personally involved with Love Tech since early 2018 and feels “Working in tech, I feel it’s our responsibility to show what career opportunities are out there for the next generation”.
And as for Bridge Angel Network? Well, you wily rapscallions, this leads us neatly to the third and final woman we’re profiling here – it’s almost as if that segue was deliberate, right?
Katie Nicholson does not work for Continent 8, per se, she is, the Manager of Bridge Angel Network, the aforementioned not for profit that Continent 8 take great pride in sponsoring. Bridge works with small business owners, entrepreneurs, mentors and investors supporting start and scale up businesses that are either based on the Isle of Man or are seeking to establish or re-locate their business here. It is apt then that Continent 8 – a company started by two entrepreneurs – should become one of Bridge’s founding sponsors.
Katie was unequivocal in her praise for the sponsors:
“As a founding sponsor Continent 8 have always been a fantastic support, they were founded by two entrepreneurs who saw a gap in the market and went for it. Continent 8 are always willing to share their time and expertise with Bridge clients. It really is a privilege to have the support of such an established global company”
Based at the Eagle Lab co-working space in Victoria Street, Douglas, Bridge are passionate about growing female founders. Katie has the stats to back up the perception that female founders are significantly lesser than their male equivalents:
“Locally I would say the ratio is on average, about 85% male to 15% female at this time. Bridge are working on a new female focussed initiative to help grow the number of female angels on the Island As the saying goes ‘ When women support each other, incredible things happen”
What makes for grave reading is a UK Venture Capital & Female Founders report from 2017. The report, commissioned by Chancellor Philip Hammond highlighted specific barriers faced for female led firms in accessing venture capital. Of notable concern were the figures showing for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams received less than 1p. Comparatively, the bearers of XY chromosome composition, got 89p. It is, one hastens to admit, rather sobering.
Katie, however, remains optimistic that the work by the likes of Bridge, with the backing of Continent 8 amongst others, can help address the gender imbalance –
“Recognising and re-balancing gender and diversity is so important. There are endless statistics and studies to show that diverse boards perform better. Breaking down barriers will surely benefit all in the long run”
Does Katie have any words of esteemed wisdom for any women looking to follow in her footsteps? Does she ever!
“As Richard Branson once said: ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on’”.
Wise words indeed. From the face of Lion Bar himself – Richie B! International Women’s Day is, ultimately about gender balance (this year’s aptly named theme being #BalanceforBetter), about challenging subconscious bias and, perhaps most crucially, it’s about celebrating women’s achievements.
The three women featured in this article are, unwittingly or not, shaking up the foundations of what can be achieved in a male-dominated industry. And it’s thanks to the progressive action of a company such as Continent 8 that make that possible.