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As part of our International Women’s Day Industry Insider series, we spoke to Camille Peetroons, Commercial & Data Product Manager at Dennis Publishing. Camille has worked in Product Management for over 6 years and her varied background gives us an interesting perspective on her path into a STEM industry and her experience as a woman in tech.

Originally from Belgium, Camille attended an international school, meaning she did the IB (International Baccalaureate), which she feels to be less restrictive than A-Levels, (only affording you 3 disciplines). Camille went on to study science in the UK and eventually entered the field of data management.

She became Product Manager - by accident - after this. Camille believed that this was lucky because Product Management is not something you know about until you are in it, which she felt to be a shame. Had she known, she would have pursued it from the start.

We discussed the range of backgrounds that Product Managers come from and the criteria you must meet to become one. Possessing good business acumen, experience and empathy seem to be the only pre-requisites for Product Managers: You cannot teach people to think like a Product Manager.

We asked Camille which challenges – if any – she faced when entering the world of product. She mentioned that being a female in tech and surrounded by only male colleagues was an intimidating start to her career, being considerably younger than her colleagues, and within such a male-dominated environment.

We also asked Camille how she’d go about encouraging more female students to take more computer or tech-related subjects, and furthermore, continue in this field – or in the world of product?

She mentioned that more could be done within education at teenage years, to galvanize any interest in computer science, and sports too.
“We all need to work together to try and remove the stigma that the media has built up: Of STEM subjects being “uncool” or “nerdy”, to try and encourage more young women to go into these areas. More women working in tech should speak at schools and start showcasing the fun that you can have working in tech – increase awareness of the varying disciplines that exist: Product Management, UX etc. The work that’s happening in elementary schools with children coding is great.”

Camille also believed that it is in the businesses’ interests for there to be an asserted effort in helping get more females working in tech: A more balanced workforce gender ratio. “If nothing else, it's good for branding and helps to create more equal opportunities. Schools receive limited funding, so any extra voluntary help is necessary and could go a long way.”

We wanted to know which of the best workplace initiatives Camille knew – and whether she could share any with us.

Camille explained that the most successful initiatives she has seen are the ones that are started by individuals affected by the lack of diversity. Business leaders often don’t see the bias, as they’re likely not experiencing it themselves, based on the demographics of the senior management in a lot of companies." She reinforces this by saying “it means more coming from the affected people and helps management to figure these things out when the individuals it concerns speak up”.

Conversely, she told us of an example where an albeit well-meaning initiative was unsuccessful: A cyber-security course for working mothers – great idea but not well-organised, with the classes being held on weekends and in the evenings, which is not ideal for said working mothers!

We were keen to find out who Camille looks up to as her own mentor, and whether she mentored anyone herself? Who does Camille find inspiration from?

Camille’s unofficial mentor is her friend and previous “girl-crush”, Chloe Grutchfield – founder of RedBud Partners, a data analytics product that Chloe built herself from her own home. Camille describes Chloe as “incredibly smart and genuine” and explains how Chloe has mentioned that her “petite size, blonde hair colour and high-pitched voice have been pre-judged, and had been afraid to be termed a “dumb blonde” in the past, which influenced her confidence.” Camille believes that it’s changing this attitude and the way in which we respond to women working in tech that need to change. Camille and Chloe met whilst at Dennis.

Camille has taken part in a Dennis mentoring scheme, which is an informal process at Dennis, where she has been mentoring someone over the past year, and mentions it’s been “great to be part of the scheme and makes you better at your job and a better person – because you have to learn to understand different perspectives, motivations and where people are coming from. Helps you to understand situations better.”

We asked whether this was in a wider-mentoring capacity or product-specific?

This scheme is cross-divisional, which Camille believes offers a fresh perspective and way of looking at something, which you may not get within your own field of work or team.

We asked Camille if she has been part of a group that promotes diversity within the workplace, particularly in relation to either the hiring process or team infrastructure?

Camille mentions that five of them at Dennis have begun a “Women in Dennis” initiative. They put on networking events for people across the company, organising panel discussions and inviting new speakers to contribute, with a goal of encouraging open lines of communication and increasing cross-divisional conversations. Some of the events include “speed-mentoring” (as the name suggests, like a speed-dating set-up.)

We wanted to know whether this was this tech-specific or women-only?

“Interestingly, this was five of us in the digital business. It wasn’t intentional, that it was a tech-related initiative, but interesting that this is where it began.”

It started through a conversation with the Managing Director, who Camille explained was very supportive, and who encouraged them to set something up. The aim being: To increase communication, and to try to tackle unconscious bias for promotions and progression within the company etc. The five then circulated surveys to understand the “lay of the land” and by this simple activity, already there have been quite considerable improvements.

The group ran their first event, a breakfast meeting, where they enlisted the support of one of the board members to assert themselves as a legitimate outfit. Camille mentioned it was important for them to get that backing, and support from senior members. Since then, it’s gained momentum and the senior members of staff are becoming increasingly involved and providing new speakers or ideas to increase the awareness.

We asked Camille whether she belongs to any groups or networks outside of Dennis that she would recommend.

  • Women in Product, whilst predominantly US-based, provides a great newsletter and webinars, where you can dial in to follow trends.

  • 10Digital Ladies is networking group for women working in digital practitioner roles such as product management, strategy, engineering and marketing.

  • DevelopHer is an informative and safe group providing support and information for women in technology, offering learning, networking and workshops.

Camille’s parting food-for-thought is an observation she has made around hiring more women into tech. A lot of people say that they want to create diversity and change the culture of the industry to be more inclusive, but the decision-makers remain the same.

“How can you expect the results to be different if the process remains the same? The interview and hiring process needs a ‘shake up’, and there needs to be an injection of fresh perspectives to shape the idea or what the perfect candidate should be.”

We’d like to thank Camille Peetroons for speaking to us about her experience as a woman working in tech.

 

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