In our most recent #WomenInTechQA, we spoke with Diversity & Inclusion in Tech Consultant, Jo Stansfield. Jo mentions the importance of mentoring initiatives as well as what businesses can do to create a more diverse workforce in the industry.
Jo highlights that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that businesses can implement in order to increase diversity in tech.
To listen to the full interview, watch the video below!
Third Republic (TR): Could you tell us about how you got into a career in tech and where it all started?
Jo Stansfield (JS): When I went to university, I studied physics and tried to weave in as much computer science as possible, there was one project that completely nailed my interest in tech; from that moment on I knew what I wanted to do. We had to build a simulation of two galaxies colliding, which combined my physics interest with my desire to learn more about computers and solve real-world problems. It made me realise that computer software is such a powerful tool; you can explore things that you could never actually do in real life and find answers to big, challenging questions.
My first job was in an engineering firm. I was working in a defense company doing simulated battlefields, it was fascinating; to understand the factors in that environment which mean something is either effective or not effective. It was an amazing first job which really set the scene for the rest of my career because I had such broad responsibilities. As well as writing the software, I was analyzing output and project managing, so it really gave me a broad coverage of skills.
TR: What do you think businesses can do to encourage more women to get involved in tech?
JS: That’s an interesting one because I think there are two sides to that question. There are lots of things that businesses can do to look more attractive but it’s important that businesses take responsibility to actually be a better place for women to work as well.
In terms of highlighting what’s attractive about the business, I think role models are really important; showing women who people can relate to doing a whole range of jobs really helps to inspire and open up imagination to possibilities. That can be through career events, or it could be outreach in schools. Even in the way that they present themselves online through their websites.
But the company culture internally also has to be a good place for women to work, otherwise, it’s unethical. It’s really important to be focusing on what the business can do to build a place where women have got equal progression opportunities, equal fulfilment in their careers. The goal is that you enter into that virtuous cycle where women in the company become advocates for the company.
TR: What have you found to be your biggest challenge when starting out in your career in software engineering?
JS: I had a tough time finding what my next role would be after the aerospace firm. I was looking what felt like ages for a role that would work with me. I was making lots of applications but getting lots of rejections saying; ‘we love what your CV says, but you’ve not got enough experience’. I’m sure this is a familiar feeling, to lots of people early in their careers, but how do you get that foot on the rung to actually get enough experience that they’ll take you seriously even for a junior role? I ended up taking a job that I did have some doubts about, but it did tick the box of experience. Whilst it wasn’t what I was looking for, it did give me that experience I could talk about in my interviews. It was a learning experience and helped me to focus with future jobs for what I found important.
TR: What was it that made you transition from software engineering into diversity, and becoming a global lead in the space?
JS: It’s quite a long path between being a software engineer and being what I am now. Many, many years in the interim; I developed my career as a software engineer and then became a product manager. Over time, I was getting much more interested in the interplay between people and products; having that higher level view of how this product is satisfying the needs of customers.
But the thing that was really the trigger moment, was when I went on maternity leave. I’d been quite used to working in an industry where there were not many women and sometimes, I felt like being the only woman in the team helped me to stand out a bit. But when I was on maternity leave it changed my attitude completely. I’d been busy thinking, ‘other women just aren’t like me, this isn’t the kind of thing that they like’. Then on maternity leave, I met a whole bunch of women who were doing tech jobs and it just dawned on me; women are amazing. It struck me as completely absurd that I was sitting in baby groups, and it was then that I met women who have similar interests to me rather than in my professional life.
There’s clearly women out there who are interested in tech and extraordinarily capable. So why do we not see any of them in work? Roll forwards a couple of years, I was beginning to take more leadership responsibility at work. It occurred to me that I’d really love to learn a lot more deeply about the things that were becoming important to me. I signed up to take a master’s degree online, in organizational and business psychology, so that I could have a really rigorous basis to my understanding about why this is happening.
Businesses are getting much more aware now, actually, of the importance of having diversity and inclusion, and really casting the net a lot wider to find talented people. It needs to start at the top and ripple down, really, and from what I see, there’s loads of good intention there. But lots and lots of implementation still to happen.
TR: What do you think the benefits are of being a mentor for women in tech?
JS: I’ve been a mentor for a couple of women over the past few years. It’s immensely personally fulfilling, and I was surprised just how helpful my experience could be to somebody else. I was involved in a programme called TechUp for women, which is run by a few universities in the north of England led by Professor Sue Black.
It was a phenomenal experience, seeing somebody come to understand new technologies, learn new skills, and to be able to give them advice on how their previous experience might relate to their current role. I’d massively recommend it to anybody. I’d say that the mentors that are most helpful are often the people that who are only a step above their mentee, as they are somebody you can aspire to be.
TR: What do you think, are the most effective diversity initiatives that businesses could implement to help encourage a more diverse workplace?
JS: The advice I’d give an organisation is to start off by understanding where they’re at, take a step back, and really use the data that they’ve got about their employees – if you haven’t got that data, run some focus groups, some interviews – to understand what it’s like for diverse people within the organisation. Then to understand as an organisation, how does improving diversity and inclusion align to the business goals? From there, build a strategy that’s going to take you in the direction towards what you want to achieve. That strategy and understanding of where we are and where we want to be, is where the most effective initiatives come from.
TR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that has stayed with you, throughout your career?
JS: When I become a Head of Product, I had a coach who was extremely helpful. At the time I was having quite a lot of conflict at work, and he really helped me to frame the situation differently. To look at the way I was feeling, not as something about the situation, but about something that I can control. The situation happens, that’s how it is, but my reaction is down to me. To be bit more introspective to say, ‘What is it that I need that I’m not getting? I don’t need to control the whole situation; I can just identify what do I need to change so that I’m having this particular need met. It’s also the same when working with others; what are they needing that’s not happening for them in this situation, and then helping them.