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Fernanda Valeiro Soares hails inclusive culture at Version 1 as she celebrates winning the prestigious Women in Business award for ‘Advancing Diversity’

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  • By Kathryn McKenna

    Fernanda Valeiro Soares is the award-winning ESG Cultural Delivery Manager at Version 1, having been recently awarded the prestigious Advancing Diversity Award at the recent annual Women in Business event.

    “Winning the award for Advancing Diversity at the Women in Business awards this year was an incredibly gratifying experience,” Fernanda, who is based at Version 1’s Belfast office tells Sync NI.

    “This award encourages me even further to continue my efforts in championing diversity within the tech industry.”

    As ESG Cultural Delivery Manager, Fernanda plays a pivotal role in spearheading events which promote environmental sustainability and social responsibility across the prominent IT company, which offers a range of services including Cloud, ERP and digital solutions for global brands.

    Version 1 in Northern Ireland is on an upwards growth trajectory as they are currently hiring for multiple roles based out of their Waterfront Hall adjacent, prime city centre location which overlooks the River Lagan and is just a short walk away from Lanyon Place Station. Outgoing and dynamic Fernanda is a passionate advocate of the diverse and inclusive workplace, explaining to Sync NI how welcoming the team have been since she joined Version 1 five years ago.

    Pictured: Fernanda Valeiro Soares and mentor Lorna McAdoo at Belfast's Version 1 offices

    It comes as hard-working and determined Fernanda moved to Ireland on her own from the centre of Brazil eight years ago. Having worked in marketing in Brazil since 2007, at first Fernanda worked in other areas as she learnt English from scratch on the go.

    “I was just trying to survive in terms of learning the language when I first came here,” Fernanda explains.

    “I worked as a cleaner and a nanny, until I felt more comfortable getting back to my professional area. I had great experiences and met so many lovely people.

    “I have nothing to complain about the people of this country, everyone has been so lovely to me from the very beginning since I moved here.”

    When Fernanda, who incredibly met her now-husband during this time who also hails from Brazil, heard through friends of the empowering company culture and ethos at Version 1, she felt compelled to apply.

    “I would never have met my husband had we not both moved here as we are from opposite sides of Brazil,” explains Fernanda, who by this stage had built a close network of friends.

    “I had heard about the Core Values and Profit Share scheme of Version 1 from one of my friends who happened to be a Version 1 employee,” she adds.

    “And when I came across a job opening matching my skill set, I knew I had to give it a go.”

    Kickstarting a career at Version 1

    “Version 1 fosters a culture that values collaboration, respect and inclusivity. It promotes a sense of belonging among employees regardless of their backgrounds, identities, or perspectives,” Fernanda, who celebrates her five-year work anniversary at Version 1 last month, enthuses.

    “Version 1 also emphasises employee engagement through regular communication, feedback mechanisms, team-building activities and recognition programmes that acknowledge and appreciate employee contributions.

    “This creates such a positive work culture, promotes employee engagement and satisfaction and attracts and retains top talent, making it a great place to work.”

    Fernanda is passionate about mentorship and encouraging more women and young girls to pursue a career in tech, and credits her own mentor Lorna McAdoo, ESG Group Director and Version 1 NI Lead, as being an invaluable source of support, guidance and inspiration throughout her Version 1 career.

    “If it was not for Lorna, I do not think I would be where I am today,” Fernanda explains.

    “Not because I am not hardworking, but because when I joined Version 1 five years ago my lack of confidence was horrible.’

    “Lorna saw this and helped me a lot, for example Lorna would bring me to the meetings with her to encourage me to learn more about the tech industry and help me with networking.

    “I know a lot of people from Version 1 across all of the different offices and that is thanks to Lorna, this has really helped to meet lot of people and learn more about the tech industry.”

    Supporting women in tech

    Speaking on the importance of mentorship and guidance, Fernanda explains it is part of the inclusive ethos at Version 1, which welcomes diversity and encourages volunteering at the ESG events which Fernanda coordinates across all of the different offices from Belfast, Australia, Dublin, London, India, Edinburgh and more.

    “In terms of engagement, at Version 1 we organise wide-ranging initiatives around the pillars of developing diversity and inclusion, health and wellbeing, education, employability, environment, and sustainability.

    “One candidate might have a special interest in women in tech, and so they can come on board and help to promote women in tech within the community.

    “Also, internally we have a focus on trying to bring more women into the company. We try to offer support to women who get a new position at Version 1 by offering a buddy system for at least the first six months.

    “I have had buddies before and it is great to be able to help them with whatever they need, for example if they had had some training and they are maybe feeling a little bit lost or even just something minor, like needing help with a timesheet.

    “It is all small things, but it is just so important to have someone there that they can reach out to. I would check in with my buddy to check that she was okay at least every 15 days and we just grab a coffee and have a friendly chat.”

    With Version 1 actively encouraging more women and young girls into pursuing a career in tech, these mentorship and work experience opportunities help to address the gender imbalance in the industry, which has improved in recent years but still has room for improvement at just 30 per cent of females currently working in the industry in Ireland.

    “I wish I had an opportunity to participate of a work experience for students in Brazil, as companies offer for students here in Ireland, it is fantastic” Fernanda explains.

    Fernanda moved to Ireland eight years ago from Brazil and learnt English by working in lots of different roles before hearing of an exciting opportunity at Version 1. Fernanda is now the ESG Cultural Delivery Manager.

    “At Version 1 we have work experience, and we have a pillar called education and employability where we invite schools to come to the office and organise two or three days of employee talks, employability skills, Inspiring the next generation into technology, raising awareness of the roles available in technology and break stereotypes traditionally held of careers in technology.

    “I noticed that every time that we were organising some work experience that there were more boys than girls and those girls might feel slightly uncomfortable because there were more boys in the room.

    “I proposed to Lorna and the Women in Tech Global Lead, Honey Bell, that we could organise a work experience which is only for girls. The idea is not to separate the boys and the girls of course, but it is just to make the girls feel a little bit more comfortable.

    “We would then just invite employees that are women to inspire even more of those girls. It has worked really well, and we have been doing it for two or three years ago now with local schools. It is so rewarding to see the pupils really enjoying it and actively engaging with women who are working in the tech industry.

    “For example, I would invite women like Ciara Havlin who is a software developer and she would talk about how she started her career, why she decided to pursue a career in tech, and at the end of those two days it is incredible to see how excited the girls are at the idea of a career in the IT industry.”

    Learning new skills at the Digital Academy

    “Another thing I try to tie in with this for the girls is a programme called the Digital Academy Skills, where we try to encourage the associates who have joined Version 1 through the

    Digital Academy programme to come to the work experience with the girls because then they can share their career journey as well.

    “This is because most of the people that are in the Digital Academy programme do not come from a tech background and so it is very interesting for people considering changing or starting a new career in tech.

    “For example, we have an associate and at university, she studied History. It is unrelated to tech but through the Digital Academy, she was trained and now she is in the tech industry and doing so well in her career.’’

    “This is why I always try to encourage the associates to come in and actually talk with the students to encourage them, so it is another way of appealing to those also who might like to try something else or new by offering them new opportunities.

    “We are also giving those associates who are getting involved the opportunity to ‘level up’ in areas including presentation, creating programs for the students, and more.

    Overcoming imposter syndrome

    “I may not ever feel as confident here as I was in Brazil with my position as a Brazilian woman,” Fernanda explains.

    “For example, in Brazil if I was running an event and speaking in front of a lot of people, I would have no problem. But here, because English is not my first language, of course it gives me a little bit of fear.

    "I embraced my fear but didn’t allow it to control my actions. One instance was when, two years ago, I joined a panel at a Women in Tech event in London.

    Fernanda is passionate about mentorship and supporting women to pursue a career in the tech sector 

    “My advice to anyone not feeling confident is to be persistent and challenge yourself.

    ‘’I really enjoy sharing my story with young students and trying to inspire them.

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    “I like telling them about how I moved to this country eight years ago without speaking a word of English or knowing anyone here. It is all about encouraging them to believe in themselves.

    “Career growth can be difficult and scary — step out of your comfort zone and embracing new opportunities can trigger a whirlwind of self-doubt.

    “Remember, you're not alone! Reach out to a trusted peer or manager for support, guidance, or validation to boost your confidence. Identify someone you admire within the field and create opportunities to absorb their knowledge.

    “If you trust the person, share your feelings of impostor syndrome with them. When I opened up to my mentor about my feelings, they expressed surprise, which greatly boosted my confidence.

    “Accept fear but do not let it take the driver’s seat. And always remind yourself that sometimes you are your own toughest critic.’’

    Inspiration

    Fernanda’s respect for mentor Lorna, who received the award of Outstanding Management and Leadership at the recent Women in Business awards, is evident throughout our interview, and Fernanda credits Lorna with always being by her side to support her when she has feelings of self-doubt.

    “Due to how fantastic Lorna has been at putting me by her side, I have created all these connections throughout the years, and I have definitely regained some of my confidence.

    “I always see Lorna helping and supporting all the women she can, and it really inspires me to do the same for others.”

    “Lorna has won a lot of awards, and she truly deserves them as she really is that person who always tries to make sure other people get their spotlight. That is an incredibly beautiful thing.”

    Words of advice

    When asked what advice Fernanda would give to someone in her position eight years ago or considering a career change and interested in developing a career in advice, Fernanda encourages learning new skills and researching companies which prioritise diversity and inclusion.

    Fernanda said: “Embrace continuous learning. Invest in acquiring new skills, whether its formal education or online courses. The tech industry is constantly evolving, so staying adaptable and up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies is crucial.

    “I think you can also try to build up a strong network within the tech community and seek mentorship from experienced professionals, as networking can open doors to opportunities.

    “I would really suggest looking for companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion.

    “These environments tend to foster creativity, collaboration and innovation and they offer opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to thrive and make meaningful contributions.

    “Most importantly, be resilient, persistent and believe in yourself and your abilities. With determination, hard work and a positive mindset, you can overcome challenges and achieve your goals.”

    Celebrating an important milestone

    “One of the main policies at Version 1 is ‘no ego,’” Fernanda tells us. “For example, Lorna is a director, but people do not feel like they cannot approach Lorna to talk to her because she is a director. Lorna is so easy to approach.

    Fernanda marked her five-year work anniversary with Version 1 on 15 April and reveals she is looking forward to marking the special career milestone.

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    “It is an amazing accomplishment, so I hope to do something really nice to celebrate,” Fernanda enthuses.

    “I remember in the first month thinking that I may not be able to cope because everything was very different and of course I was scared of the new experience, but I was open to learning and getting as much as I could from this amazing opportunity to learn and I accepted the challenge.

    “It is nice when I look back and think about my whole journey so far, and how much I have grown and how much I have learnt.

    “It is also amazing to remember the different ways I have supported others to do the same which has been really special to be able to do as I have learned and grown in the company. I am really happy and proud of myself as well.”

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