"I don't want to be known as a female director of technology. I'd just like to be a director of technology."
So Expedia's Elizabeth Eastaugh tells us when we meet to discuss her role at the online travel firm, as well as the women in tech conundrum.
Eastaugh is that rare beast in the IT industry: a female technologist with a background in computing dating back to her school days and a degree in computer science and artificial intelligence, who has managed to rise up through the ranks via a series of developer roles at financial services firms, dot-coms and a high-street estate agent, to the role of technology director at an industry leader.
Her starting gambit - that she just wants to be thought of as a tech director - is a fair one and typical of her refreshingly frank interview style. But unfortunately for Eastaugh, people like her are just too few and far between in the IT industry to escape the spotlight as a 'woman in tech', despite the pioneering efforts and successes of high-profile women like Ada Lovelace, who was celebrated this week in her annual name day.
"It annoys me that it's still a problem," she says. "When we're building products, we aim those products at different people. So we need to have a diverse set of people working on those because we ourselves are consumers. That's the key. You need that diversity, otherwise we're under-represented."
So while Eastaugh is clear on the benefits to the IT industry in increasing its share of female staff to ensure that products and services are desirable and relevant to the whole range of potential buyers, how can the women in tech problem be solved?
Eastaugh believes that strong female mentors as well as more diverse hiring managers are crucial to shifting the gender balance in IT.
"If we always look up and there's just a bunch of guys up there, they're always going to be thinking and acting in the same way. What we really need is diversity at the top because that's when we're going to make significant change in the market and the workplace," she explains.
"When we interview people, we're lucky enough to have a woman on every interview loop here. That makes a difference. If you've got a five-hour interview process with all men, that can be pretty intimidating if you're a woman or if people are coming from different backgrounds and you've got all the same type of person. We've seen an uptick in diversity, and all types of diversity, not just gender, by doing that."
Eastaugh used an analogy told by one character to another in her favourite TV programme, The West Wing, to neatly convey the point about the importance of mentoring and support from above.
"There's a guy who falls down a hole and can't get out. He tries everything but he can't get out. A doctor throws down a prescription but that doesn't help him get out the hole; people throw down clothes, but they're not helping. After about four days, the man is desperate. Suddenly another man comes along and jumps into the hole; it's his friend. The first man says: ‘What on earth are you doing? Now we're both stuck down this hole.' And his friend replies: ‘I've been here before and I know a way out,'" she explains.
"I think that's the key thing with diversity. When you look up at the board of directors and senior management, and what you're seeing is old white men, you know the things you need to overcome but you can't figure out how to get from there to there unless you have the right people mentoring you and helping you get out of those holes."
Unfortunately for those working in support of women in tech, Expedia is as rare in its diverse approach to hiring and mentoring as Eastaugh is to technology directors.
"We don't have this in a lot of companies. For me it was quite intimidating being the girl from Essex and having all these posh people who I can't relate to, and you need the friends who'll come along and say: ‘I know what your problems are. Let's go,'" she says.
"That's why I've liked Expedia; I've had quite a lot of people who have helped me figure that out and move up the ladder. They have a programme where we have lots of different mentors and with the Expedia VPs, I get a lot of time with all of them. Having a suite of VPs who've been there before means I have someone to speak to who's not necessarily my manager."
Eastaugh agrees that women need to be more represented at careers fairs and other events designed to encourage people to embark on a career in technology, and is taking an active, though initially reluctant, role in these efforts.
"We women give ourselves a hard time. Everything has to be perfect. I really hate public speaking but I wanted to do some campus hiring events as I felt like I should do it, but I panic a bit," she admits.
"What I've realised is part of my fear was that I have to be really polished, and I think that stops a lot of other women from starting to talk about things in the press, as presentations or as part of panels. It's OK to have your one message and get that across. You don't have to be incredibly polished. Because everyone has always been doing it one way, you think if you're doing it different, it's wrong."
Since overcoming her initial fears, Eastaugh has participated in events like Girl Geek dinners and It's Not Just for the Boys, a joint initiative with Deloitte.
"I've also been looking at doing some content for schools. Last year I did a university tour for the campus hiring, which I'll do again this year. I try to get maths majors to switch over to computer science and talk about all the great things we do," she says.
But in the end - and unsurprisingly considering her background as a programmer - Eastaugh advocates a logical approach to women in tech efforts.
"I'm data focused. Are there as many women going into technical education to fill the roles? That's part of the problem. When they get into the companies, are we picking women if we don't have diverse interview loops? Are we looking for the wrong types of skills? Is there unconscious bias? If you get them in, are they staying? We need to start looking at all the different data," she points out.
"Where do we lose people? Is it at 30, at 25? Rather than just say 'gender's a problem', figure out where the problem is."
Eastaugh advises looking at the challenges as completely separate and distinct. So tackling the problem of not enough women taking up more technical subjects in education should be dealt with as a separate area to getting more females hired as technical specialists, and these should both be distinct to ensuring that female technologists can progress up to board level.
"You need to decide what you're going to focus on. You need to talk about the problem with supporting data, not based on anecdotal evidence," she says.
But for now, at least, there are technology directors like Eastaugh putting herself out there to show there is a career path for women in technology, and companies like Expedia ready to snap them up.
IBM software case reminiscent of TSMC trade secrets theft claim
iPhone 8 specs, release date, price, features, basically everything! But will it have a curved display?
CISO pay boom as security become a boardroom concern