Despite many “Women in Tech” initiatives, organisations are still unable to boast much in terms of a gender-representative workforce, which is particularly apparent within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries and especially within leadership.
As part of our push for International Women’s Day on March 8th, we’ve interviewed inspirational women working within STEM industries for their take on being a woman in the current landscape.
We spoke to Joanna Crook, Senior Product Manager for Money at the MoneySuperMarket Group (MSMG).
1. According to Women In Tech, the number of working women in tech industries is significantly lower than most other UK work sectors. Just 17% of those working in technology in the UK are female. What made you decide on your career?
Joanna explained that this was the first she was aware of and had been on the Women In Tech website, so she has been keen to see these stats and figures. She said “Being part of a relatively small group (of women within the STEM sector), it’s often hard to verbalise what it feels like or understand statistically how your day-to-day environment is affected, as it’s normalised”.
It backed up her thoughts of society’s impact on females. Unknowingly, we hold biases or pre-determined thoughts about what it is acceptable for females to do, to be, to become, or even look like. Joanna says she was lucky to have been brought up in a scouting environment, which allowed for her social thinking to develop without the traditional gender roles being so prominent from a young age.
This has shaped her career, as it has meant that there have been less barriers involved when she has been doing her decision-making. She has pursued what she likes, and what she is good at, rather than the paths that she would have normally been expected to follow.
“It’s very important to look at your natural abilities, and if this area is chosen as your career path, then you are far more likely to be happy and successful in your working life”. (We noted that this is akin to the thinking in Ken Robinson’s “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” – worth a read!)
We asked specifically “why Product Management?” because we find that people land in Product Management from very varied backgrounds.
Joanna never purposely looked at one thing, knowing that all she wanted to do was something that she was good at, she has tried several disciplines: Campaign Management, Events, Project Management, Online Retail, Finance and she also set up and ran her own business, which she says is by far the most challenging thing she has ever done.
“Product Management requires you to understand every aspect of business, what stakeholders want to achieve and what your customers and users’ needs are. In a symphony you need to utilise all your skillsets and knowledge to create a seamless product for the customer/user and the business at the same time”.
“Having a wide range of skills and knowledge and coming from a very broad base is invaluable in Product Management, as it allows you to draw on all the different areas of your knowledge to deliver. I didn’t dislike any of the roles or jobs that I had in the past, but did discover my passion for using all the areas in business”.
“The difference between Project and Product Management is massive – though many employers don’t even know the difference! Product Management is a customer-centric way of working, which is not a new concept, but delivering in a product-centric manner is a new business development. Tech businesses are taking on board a product management ideal but finding it hard to implement”.
2. Women In Tech also noted that only 7% of students taking computer science A-level courses are female. Just half of the girls that study IT & Tech subjects at school go into a job in the same field. How would you encourage more female students to take more computer or tech-related subjects, and furthermore, continue in this field?
“This is a really important question. It is intrinsic in the way that society creates bias in a female/ male role. We need to counteract bias. What I mean by this is learning about your own biases – actively and willingly challenging yourself and others around you. One of the things to take note of is the circle of friends you keep, the peers you keep strongly influence particularly at an educational level.
The way in which things are taught is a catalyst to anyone liking them and taking them up in further education. An earlier adoption of these subjects, when the “boy/girl taboos” are less cemented, will help break down the barriers of later adoption. We need a more hands-on at a younger age to deliver these end results.
Teaching is improving in terms of IT and coding and that side of things is getting a lot of backing. However, what we’re not seeing so much is how user experience, interface design, anthropometrics, ergonomics and the empathy elements, which lend itself well to jobs delivering solutions in STEM and through Product Management, are getting enough bandwidth or exploration. Girls are taught to be and/or are perhaps more naturally empathetic than males towards others. Harnessing this bias is not a root cause solution, but at least a beginning; it is widely known that when anyone relates to a subject, they are more likely to dedicate more time towards it. It would be a step.”
3. Tech UK reported on The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has committed to funding four new projects across England to encourage more women, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic people) and neuro-diverse candidates into a career in cyber security, with each benefiting from a total investment of at least £500,000. What are some of the best workplace initiatives you know of which promote diversity?
“Reframe the question a little bit…What I’d like to highlight about my job as a Product manager is how important diversity is to solving problems. That’s what the job is, problem solving. Without problems, I do not have a job. If you have the same sorts of people solving the same sorts of problems, you may only ever get recurring ideas to try and solve the problem. It’s critical to have a diverse range of people to solve a problem, so you get a diverse range of ideas that can be trialled as solutions. This is a far more effective way of problem solving.”
Joanna does emphasise the work that MSMG have done in this arena and says she is immensely proud of the inclusion programme that they have here. “It’s been our mission to really highlight and promote inclusion and diversity. “Represent” a programme which challenges exclusivity, looks for barriers and bias – encouraging new ways of thinking, without creating a challenging environment”.
4. Do you have an inspirational woman in the industry that you look up to as a mentor? If so, what steps have you taken to either build on or develop this relationship?
This is frankly, a “no” from Joanna. She doesn’t have a mentor, there isn’t one person. From her education she has learnt that if you’re aware, you can learn from everyone around you all the time. She is always looking at the behaviours around her to understand and learn from. This is an agile way of thinking as well – the methodologies that you are taught in a product management environment are to watch, listen and learn, and to adapt to those circumstances. Not a square peg in a round hole set-up that so many businesses still support without challenging. For Joanna, the biggest learnings she takes on is from people she works around daily. Not one specific person that she leans on.
5. Do you belong to any groups or networks that you are a part of that you would recommend?
Joanna attends events and conferences to learn about the latest technology in her field of Product Management and Finance. ”It’s a double whammy, there are few females in tech and few in finance”. I have never been anything other than a minority at these events. It is hard to build up a network of other women so I feel encouraged to go and speak to other females at these events. I am often very openly received – very happy to discuss their reason for being there”. Joanna says you must go to these conferences and just do it and not be scared. There is an underlying feeling of imposter syndrome – and women are much more likely to suffer from this. It’s the whole “Lean In” concept from Sheryl Sandberg’s book. You just have to do it!
6. Part of the reason we are running this series is to push women and encourage them. Is there anything you do from a candidate-attraction point of view, is there anything you think that companies could be doing to attract women into these positions and have you introduced any initiatives that have benefited your organisation, in relation to either the hiring process or team infrastructure?
“One of the things we do at MoneySuperMarket Group, is review all our job specification docs before they go out to ensure there is no bias and the language that is used is neutral. Even in job specs, there are gender-specific bias. There’s an interesting statistic from Forbes claiming men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
We are really looking to tackle this unconscious bias and encourage more females to apply to our new tech hub located in Manchester, where the money development engineering team are. Reviewing the language and how we represent ourselves – to ensure we are attracting a range of different types of people is vital if we are going to build up teams that can support the businesses, and aspirations to solve our customers’ and users’ needs.
This is particularly poignant in line with the April 2017 Regulation which states that all employers with over 250 employees are required to report their gender pay gap data. It’s all about transparency and diversity and inclusion. These 3 things work together to help companies to better themselves, as it allows for better problem-solving and better understanding to reach solutions that they would have struggled to deliver otherwise.
Thank you very much to Joanna for taking the time to give her views on this.