Amy Golding, the youngest female CEO of a £100m turnover business, is a woman on a mission: she wants to diversify the tech talent pool in the UK.
In her 20s, she launched Recruitment Entrepreneur, a venture capital fund for recruitment start-ups, which grew to 130 staff and a £17m turnover in three years. Golding was then appointed chief executive of Opus Talent Solutions, a tech recruitment company, at 31.
The Cambridge University graduate’s latest project under Opus is nology, a 12-week hands-on tech skills course for individuals and businesses. The now 36-year-old wants to bust the myth that careers in tech are for specialists only.
I was mesmerised by how much care Jeff Wagland took and how special he made his customers from the moment I started working as a Saturday girl at Reeba Hair and Beauty in Blackheath, London.
Jeff, who still runs the business today, was so hard-working but what I really remember was the way he dealt with clients. People loved going there, he remembered everyone's names, what they liked in their tea and where they liked to sit. He was also totally bald which is not how you imagine your average hairdresser.
I was much more interested in working than going to school. Whatever I was doing I put the effort in and I loved working at Reeba from the start.
I was buzzing around taking everything in and nothing was too much for Jeff. I was 15 when I started there and even though I worked weekends and holidays, he still made me feel like an instrumental member of staff.
After my degree in English literature I started my corporate career. During that period I did so many random jobs and it struck me that the people I met on my degree were different to those who I met who were run their businesses with passion. The attitude now was that you had to take the emotion out, separate business from people and think with your head.
Through my mid to late 20s, I lost both who I was and what makes me passionate about my job. I thought that I had to fit a mould.
I'm often asked about being a young female CEO. A lot of issues women have in trying to make it in business stem from the fact there are so few role models. You think to be successful in business you have to work in a certain way and mimic a male style of leadership. This doesn’t serve you or the people around you, as it just isn’t authentic.
I was initially terrified of the word 'tech' and I never thought I would be a businesswoman or be running a global tech business. If you don’t see people who look or sound like you then you just can’t imagine it.
The thing that I have now realised is that I have never had a female boss in my life. Thus, I never saw myself running a company as I had never worked for a woman in charge of one.
It’s the same in tech: everyone tells you it is this scary industry involving science and maths. There are so many myths surrounding it as it is such a new sector, but in my experience the most senior people often haven’t got a tech background.
The biggest barrier to growth in the UK is the availability of candidates and that’s largely driven by the lack of diversity. We are going to change that, and since we launched the nology programme, 600 people have been added to the tech talent pool who wouldn’t have been there previously.
About 48% of students have been female and 63% from ethnic minorities, over 70% are career changers and a third have no degree.
In a world of uncertainty, tech is the one industry which will thrive. To be able to give people who don’t have a tech background the opportunity to have a piece of that feels really good.
I never felt quite comfortable when I started out in the business world – I was once told to be "less girly, less young" – but what I learnt from Jeff, as a young teen, is that every person matters and nothing is too small.
As we have around 400 staff at Opus Talent Solutions now, I make an effort to try and interview every trainee who starts at the business. We are a people business after all and they need to know how much we care about them even if it’s their first job. I want to be able to do the right thing, put the emotion into it and trust my gut feel.
Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?