Success Story: Nicki Aitken

Nicola Aitken, Microsoft Business Manager & sustainability ambassador at Ascent
Nicola Aitken, Microsoft Business Manager & sustainability ambassador at Ascent
Not many people can say that they’re a former triathlete, now pursuing a career in the tech industry with Ascent – but Nicki Aitken definitely can

Be bold, brave, ambitious and believe in yourself, are the words of wisdom that Nicki Aitken, Partner Manager and Corporate, Social and Responsibility Ambassador at Ascent, offers to young girls. The former British triathlete found her feet in the tech industry, and has since been working on building her career, while being a role model for young girls. We sat down with Nicki to find out more about her fascinating career journey. 

Hi Nicki! Please tell us about yourself, and the journey which brought you to your position at Ascent

Post-university, BSc Honours Sports Science, I spent 12 years in the health and fitness industry. A key highlight was a secondment working the London 2012 Summer Olympics with one of the official suppliers – a dream role for me!

After this, I decided to look at ventures new, and found myself in the tech sector – I have never looked back. I've been fortunate to work within a variety of strategic partners / ISVs supporting their alliance with Microsoft and have built an incredible network of like-minded individuals in technology – both female and male allies.

This has opened up opportunities such as Diversity and Inclusion Chair for International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) UK and Diversity Manager for IAMCP EMEA. I was invited to participate in a House of Commons panel discussion on ‘Challenge and Change – Women in Leadership’, as a guest of Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East. I have also been a speaker at the IDC inaugural dinner for Partner Alliances.

What does a typical day look like for you?

No two days are the same at Ascent, which is why I love it. What is always consistent is kick-starting my morning with a run and/or dog walk with my furry office buddy!

Alongside my day-to-day work and supported by Ascent, I am investing time in me with the March cohort for the Women Rising Program, which provides career empowerment coaching and helps women show up with authenticity, confidence and leadership skills.

This really helps me to shape my vision, purpose and future aspirations both professionally and personally – watch this space!

How do you work to support women in the tech industry? Why is this important to you?

I have been very fortunate in my career to work in an industry where I share philanthropic values with my co-workers. For me, it’s so important to give back to others and find a sense of perspective and grounding.

I have recently been accepted as a volunteer for Smart Works (Reading), after being recommended by Neil Sparkes, Director of Customer Success at Microsoft, who is himself a volunteer career and interview coach there.

Smart Works is a UK charity that exists to give women the confidence they need to reach their full potential, secure employment and change the trajectory of their lives.

In eight years they have helped over 20,000 women across the UK and I’m excited to play a small part in their 3-year national plan to expand their reach in the UK and help 10,000+ women per year.

What have been your greatest career achievements?

Being recognised by my colleagues and peers has to be the ultimate achievement and I’m super proud to have been selected as a finalist for CRN Women in Channel Awards Role Model of the Year and Women in Business Champion of Change awards for my work within diversity and inclusion.

What moment have you been most proud of?

Using my sport to do good for others is hugely important for me. Most recently this involved completing five marathons in five days to raise awareness and funds for My Name'5 Doddie Foundation (MND), raising circa £30,000 towards research for MND. This was the hardest test of both my physical and mental strength and an honour to complete alongside various ex-rugby internationals. I even had a personal thank you from Doddie Weir OBE himself - a truly humbling experience.

Prior to this, I cycled from Henley to Paris in 24 hours raising around £32,000 to build a science and technology lab, The Discovery Hub, for a local primary school in Henley. The main aim was to enable all pupils to discover STEM subjects. Just to see the children's faces light up at The Discovery Hub’s opening was worth the long day in the saddle!

What challenges have you faced? 

Being open in my professional network about perimenopause and menopause was probably one of the toughest but rewarding moments. The comments and private messages I received from other females experiencing the same thing and battling to get the right help and support was quite overwhelming.

Having battled with the side effects of perimenopause myself, and being brushed off with antidepressants because I was under 45, I sought private hormone tests and was finally prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) via the NHS. I therefore made a promise to myself to help others going through this with a safe space to talk. It leaves me totally unsurprised that females often sideline themselves in business at a certain age and relationships are challenged.

What advice would you give to young girls starting their careers?

Be bold. Be brave. Be ambitious. Believe in yourself – nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm and passion, smash limitations and be unstoppable! One of my favourite quotes I refer back to is: "Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen".

What would you say has been the secret to your success?

Being my authentic self. I was once told I wouldn't be a success in the tech industry if I didn't join the drinking culture with my male counterparts. I am pleased to say I didn't follow this advice and have stood true to my own values, which has helped me personally and professionally in life.

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