Leeds women in tech: The Unsung heroes – Natasha Sayce-Zelem
Next in our series showcasing the women in Leeds not only carving out their careers in technology but also helping to spread awareness, inspire our next generation and create opportunities for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Natasha Sayce – Zelem – Head of Tech – Sky and Founder of Empowering Women with Science & Tech, Festival Director for Leeds International Festival, Science and Tech Strand, Organiser of Leeds – Ladies of Code and Founder of Leeds Digital
You’re really active in the Leeds Tech scene, tell us a bit about what you do…
I mainly got involved in the local Tech community as I spotted opportunities where I felt I could help out, I think that’s how most of us have got involved, to pay it forward and help grow the sector as it benefits us all. I also said YES to cool opportunities that presented themselves (and then proceeded to slightly freak out afterwards once I realised the size of the task.)
I set up Leeds Digital @LDSDigital way back in 2009 as there wasn’t anywhere where you could easily find out what was going on in the region’s Digital and Tech scene in one place so I thought, hey I’ll just do it as I can’t be the only one who’d find this useful. It’s now the largest group in the region with 6,400 followers. I mainly tweet (and retweet) news updates, plug upcoming local meetups, festivals, events & training opportunities. I’ve found this so beneficial in not only helping to promote all the great community activity happening but also in gaining a great understanding of the regions Tech ecosystem spanning wider to arts and cultural activity as there is so much crossover. Take Transform Festival for example who’ve hosted a number of international theatre performances with Technology at its core so it’s great to help with signposting all of these brilliant events to new audiences, and looking at ways to further collaborate together.
As part of going to local meetups, it wasn’t unusual to be one of a very small handful of females at some of the techier meetups and speaking to fellow females at work, they could at times feel a bit phased going to these meetups especially if they are quite new to Tech which is a shame. I setup a LadiesOfCode Leeds meetup for budding and established female (and non-binary) coders as a really chilled out supportive group for us all. At my first meetup we had 5 people, and now we have between 40 to 70 folk who attend to hear lightning talks and for us to learn coding techniques together.
Wider only 17% of roles in Digital/Tech are currently delivered by females and if I’m honest I still find this baffling as it’s a great career path to take so I founded ‘Empowering Women with Tech’ (@EmpowerWithTech) just over 2 years ago to show how varied and creative the sector is. We aim to educate, elevate and empower more women into roles within Digital, Technology & Science.
One of the highlights has been running two EWWT national conferences in Leeds bringing speakers like Lauren Laverne, Dr Sue Black, Linda Liukas, Anne-Marie Imafidon and Debbie Wosskow to speak to over 300 people. I’m still in awe that they said yes to speak and that I brought a unique event to the city. Through doing EWWT I’ve worked with some brilliant people and wanted to give a shoutout to Hannah-Natalie Hosanee who has event managed all of the EWWT events and been my rock especially when the sheer scale of the larger events would freak me out at times. Both conferences have trended nationally and I’m proud of how beneficial EWWT has been to so many females, it makes all the evenings and weekends working on it so worthwhile.
I’m also the Science and Technology Festival Director for the Leeds International Festival over the last 2 years. This was a really exciting opportunity that I got approached to do and to be honest I underestimated how challenging it would be as I’ve never curated multiple events before, let alone for an international festival but I took a leap of faith that I could do it and really loved the opportunity to bring interesting topics and international speakers to Leeds especially around science where there is a real lack of large events currently in the city.
My personal highlight was bringing my childhood hero Helen Sharman to speak and seeing a packed room full of excited adults and kids (including my own daughter) fascinated to hear from Britain’s first astronaut.
I’ve also done events on edgy topics that intrigued me…10 people in Leeds for example are the proud owners of microchips under their skin because of one of my mad events looking at biohacking featuring Swedish speaker Hannes Sjob. I’ve also done events on Technology addiction, Cyber Security and even Sex Robots.
Finally, I’m on the University of Leeds’ School of Computing industry advisory board and mentor 2 amazing women in the region. Leeds has such a vibrant Digital/Tech scene but it only thrives due to tonnes of grassroots community action. There are, for example, over 50 regular meetup that happen in the city. All of them are run by volunteers as a hobby and I can assure you that it takes a lot of time and patience to organise these events so anything you can do to help would be amazing whether that be offering up free venue spaces for meetups, helping to sponsor local meetups, offering to speak at a meetup and most importantly attending and supporting all the great events happening on your doorstep.
What are your interests outside of work?
I’m a total foodie, we have some world-class restaurants here in Leeds and wider in Yorkshire. My favourite haunts are Ox Club, Bundobust, Zucco’s, Skosh (York) and the Moorcock Inn (Halifax). I need to try out Home restaurant in Leeds, I’ve heard good things.
I love a good film, you’ll find me at the Hyde Park Picture House a lot. I’m also a big fan of music, check out my regular monthly Spotify playlist of eclectic awesomeness and I’m a proud mum to a rather cool daughter with another baby on the way… Juggling all of my interests outside of work is half the fun, right?