SafetyCulture’s director of engineering, Melcar McCaig, has had a far from straightforward journey to her current position.
From studying a non-tech subject at university, to turning down the chance to run the family business in her native Philippines, and even taking an extended break mid-career to start a family, McCaig has been able to keep driving forward.
However, during that time, she has always been keen to help uplift the women around her. At SafetyCulture, she is part of initiatives that help support and champion women’s’ voices and, through her work at GEEQ, she helps women in the broader tech community. She tells B&T how she wears so many hats at once.
Can you tell us about your career and how you came to work at SafetyCulture?
Melcar McCaig: I’ve been in the tech industry for 15 years now. I didn’t study tech at university, I studied business, finance, and marketing. But that decision came from my parents — my path was already laid out for me, there was a family business that I was expected to take over at some point.
But when I went to find a job in Manila in the meantime, I was walking through the CBD and went past Accenture. At the time, the office was just being built and back then, there were not as many computer science graduates or engineers in the industry. I literally walked in and asked them, ‘What do you guys do?’
They said, ‘Oh, we build software, computer stuff.’
I asked them what they were looking for and they said ‘we can train up anyone with a bachelor of science degree.’
I had no idea how big or how difficult it would be to learn tech, I just knew that I wanted something that was new and that I could keep learning. I wanted a challenge.
My finance background did not go to waste, either. They put me on projects that were connected to money and so I worked in Fintech for quite a while. Then I moved from the Philippines to Singapore and then from Singapore to here. I even took a four year break in my career, to get married and have children.
I came to SafetyCulture via a friend, who had been working here and recommended it to me. She told me the company was looking for a new director and that she thought I’d be a good candidate. I think that was a great example of a woman advocating for another woman. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new role. But after six years with my last company, I felt it was time for me to grow again and challenge myself. I thought SafetyCulture would bring a lot of challenges, and I wasn’t wrong. I’ve been here for almost a year and every day is new. There is always something new!
What was it like leaving the industry and then returning after having children?
MM: When I left my previous role, I wasn’t torn between whether I should keep working or stop. I was in the stage of my life when I wanted to build a family and I made that my priority. I wanted to give it 100 per cent of my attention. I didn’t want to juggle.
I think it’s very common to worry about being away for a year and how difficult it will be to come back. But my experience was fine, and coming back was like riding a bike. What I love about this industry is you can have a year gap and it doesn’t matter. Tech changes so fast that you’re constantly learning. So if you take some time out, you’ll just come back and pick it up again.
What needs to be constant is your passion for learning. Even though I took time out, I stayed interested in and made sure I was keeping up with tech. I even had a side gig that paid me nothing just to make sure that I was still hands on from time to time.
Looking after children and managing a home also teaches you a lot of leadership skills and other soft skills that you can put to use at work!
What steps has SafetyCulture taken to make you and other women within the business feel more empowered and able to make change?
MM: We have a Women’s Network and I’m proud to be a part of that committee. We established it to help create more mentoring opportunities, improve visibility of different career paths, and provide opportunities for women to network.
We’ve recently updated a range of policies to make them more accessible and beneficial to women. We’ve extended super payments during unpaid parental leave, introduced paid miscarriage leave, paid domestic and family violence leave, and have rolled out ‘busting bias’ training across the business.
We also recently rolled out a diversity and inclusion course by Karamo Brown, using our own product EdApp. It’s actually free and available to any other businesses who want to try it. I guess you could say it’s all working because we were recently recognised on the list of 2022 Best Places to Work for Women!
Can you tell me a bit more about the Women’s Network at SafetyCulture?
MM: It’s definitely more of a grassroots approach. A group of women came together and we decided to build a community for women at work.
We meet once a fortnight and we have established our vision, our mission, and identified the problems we want to try to solve. We’re working through these and also holding a range of internal and external meetups throughout the year to help drive momentum.
We’ve encouraged allies, not just women, to join because we believe it’s a partnership. It’s not just women advocating for women, it is for everyone to advocate for women.
Do you find that men are generally quite receptive to the idea of being allies and recognise the role that they need to play?
MM: Absolutely. They’re supportive, but sometimes I’ve found they don’t know exactly how they can support women. My advice is often to just start with some small things. For example, if you are in a meeting and you notice that a woman there hasn’t spoken for half an hour, maybe ask for their opinion or point of view to bring her into the conversation.
When it comes to career progression, a woman might not have thought about a particular role. You could do something as simple as encouraging them to apply for that opportunity.
Alongside your work for SafetyCulture, you are an ambassador for GEEQ. What does that role entail and why is that important to you?
MM: I’ve been working with GEEQ for about a year now, it’s a charitable not-for-profit with the goal to get GEEQs (that’s geeks with EQ) into IT.
I’m part of their ambassador program, which I love because it broadens the impact that I can have in our industry and I really want to help in any way I can. There are different female leaders from across the tech industry involved and I’ve met so many inspiring women that I would not normally have met.
What changes would you like to see in the industry to support women getting into the industry and making visible change?
MM: There has been great progress, but I think there are still too many barriers to entry. I don’t think there are a lot of women out there who can start like me, who just happen to pass a random company, walk in and ask for a job.
I think there’s still a lot of stigma about the software industry being so technical and hard to get into. I think that impression can scare people and prevent them from trying.
I have two kids, a boy and a girl. My son has gravitated to tech, but I’ve already seen my daughter look towards her computer and say, ‘Mummy, this is too hard.’ So, I say, ‘What makes you think it is too hard? Let’s work through this!’
Breaking that type of stigma is one of our biggest challenges. I think we need to get together as an industry, put our minds together and really think of new ideas to help make tech more accessible for women, and young girls in particular.
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