Lady on arrow looking through telescope

An American tech leader in London – female leadership on both sides of the pond 

There’s little doubt that the special relationship between the US and the UK is partly due to the common language. That’s certainly true in business and technology, where it can sometimes feel like one of the only things the two countries have in common, so pronounced are some of the differences.  

I can say that as someone who has worked on both sides of the Atlantic. I started my career in technology in the US before moving to the UK in 2012. Because I have Irish citizenship, I could move to Europe without too much red tape, and although working for an early-stage start-up in a different country could be perceived as risky, it was a risk worth taking. In fact, the differences between the two countries really played to my advantage in my leadership style and overall career. 

Getting noticed as a woman 

Rosemarie Diegan

We are all aware of the gender gap in technology. Things are improving, but men still dominate. As a woman, being seen and being heard can be a challenge, but one small advantage I’ve found is that having a different accent helps you stand out. I’m sure the same applies in most countries around the world. 

Furthermore, although national stereotypes are reductive, I do think Americans are generally more direct than Brits. That US directness meant some of the gender imbalance can be reduced – I can say exactly what I mean in the UK, and people take more notice of that over here, whereas in the US people would pay less attention. 

Not coming from the UK can be an advantage in other ways. I attend many ‘women in tech’ type conferences and notice a disproportionate number of foreign women in senior positions. It’s easier to be recognised and stand out if you come from another country – I see it too much for it to be a coincidence – so why not use this to your advantage?  

Pay it forward and be a mentor 

All companies should provide people of all genders with a clear career path and give them good opportunities to progress – it’s something we prioritise at Wazoku. But men are more likely to take these opportunities, reinforcing the idea that women don’t feel ready, even if they are. Mentoring can play a crucial role here, encouraging women to step up and instilling the confidence to succeed. 

I benefitted hugely from this in the US, and it’s something that I brought with me to the UK. Even with people I don’t directly manage, I always make myself available to talk and listen – this can make a real difference in helping women progress and develop outside of more formal HR structures. 

Be a risk-taker 

If you want to work in a different country and get the opportunity to do so, just go for it. I was lucky with my passport situation, but I am glad I took the plunge. You don’t know when such opportunities will arise to work in a different culture, so it is worth committing if something presents itself.  

This risk-taking also applies to exploring a new culture. The UK and US are vastly different, and I have absorbed as much of that as possible. It’s the little differences that can matter – knowing about a popular old TV show, being aware of tube etiquette, and understanding the working culture differences, for example. It has broadened my network, horizons, outlook, and experience and made me a better leader. 

Embrace the differences 

On that theme, it’s also important not to spend too much time with ex-pats! We are all drawn to the familiar, but you deny yourself insight and opportunity by hanging out too much with ex-pats. You will learn more about tech by building local contacts, so immerse yourself in the eco-system of your adopted country, and you will reap the rewards.  

Being an American woman in the UK has its advantages. You can share the insight you have gained in the US and tailor the best bits of that to suit the UK, while also picking up techniques that are unique to the UK. You stand out from the crowd more than you might otherwise, making for a more rounded leader overall. 

By Rosemarie Diegan 

Rosemarie Diegnan is Chief Product and Customer Officer and co-founder of innovation scale-up Wazoku, which works with customers including HSBC, NASA, AstraZeneca and Enel to crowdsource ideas and innovation. She began her tech career in the US before moving to the UK in 2012 to co-found Wazoku.