Patricia Gestoso

Dr. Patricia Gestoso is an award-winning inclusion strategist and technologist with 20+ years of experience in digital transformation with a focus on client service, artificial intelligence, and inclusive and ethical design of technology and workplaces.

Patricia is the Global Director of Scientific Support and Customer Operations for Dassault Systèmes, a Fortune Future 50 tech corporation. She is the founder of Gestoso Consulting, which helps leaders to leverage DEI into their organizations to reach untapped markets, boost revenue, increase reputation, and attract and retain talent. She is also a board advisor to We and AI, an NGO with the mission of making artificial intelligence work for everybody.

Key success factors in her career have been the ability to engage disparate stakeholders in problem resolution and bring a unique perspective to complex issues. She has built business relationships with customers around the globe working in pharma and biotech, chemicals and high tech, and CPG and automobile.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am an award-winning inclusion strategist and technologist with 20+ years of experience in digital transformation. I wear three hats. I’m Global Director of Scientific Support and Customer Operations for Dassault Systèmes, a Fortune Future 50 tech corporation. I have my own business as inclusion strategies helping leaders to leverage diversity and inclusion in their strategy, so their organizations reach untapped markets, increase innovation, and attract and retain talent. Finally, I’m the lead DEI advisor of We and AI, a British NGO with the mission to make artificial intelligence work for all.

My background is in chemical engineering. I also hold a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering and a Ph.D. in computational chemistry. It was during my M.Sc. that I fell in love with computers programming. I wanted to do research but I didn’t like the lab so when I had the opportunity to use finite elements – a very well-known computational approach in engineering – to study oil recovery for my master thesis, I didn’t think it twice. For my Ph.D. and post-doctoral fellowship, I continued using computers – this time atomistic simulation – to study properties of materials.

Through my career as head of support, contract research, and training, I have worked with Fortune 500 companies, governments, and academic institutions worldwide to build, deliver, and maintain virtual solutions. I have also led the acquisition integration of the support operations for two companies, and I am a member of our technology and support committees.

Until 2015, I was very focused on my career progression, but then I hit a ‘bump’ in my career path which made me reflect on the kind of outdated leadership that tech promoted.  At about the same time, I also realised that fantastic women that had started with me in tech had either quit the sector disappointed by the lack of promotions or been given unappealing jobs when they came back from maternity leave. That prompted me to found the first gender employee resource group at the company I work for and later to co-found the Tech Inclusion Partnership, a joint UK initiative with DEI advocates from Accenture, Dassault Systèmes, IBM, Microsoft, and Siemens.

I have carried out research on the impact of COVID-19 on professional women’s unpaid work and the factors accounting for the low representation of women in leadership positions in tech companies. My efforts have been recognized with the 2020 Women in Tech Changemakers award and I have appeared on the ​2022 longlist of the most influential women in UK tech.

I have also created the Ethics and Inclusion Framework©, a tool to help designers to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for the actual and potential negative impact of the services and products they create. The tool has been featured in peer-reviewed design journals.

I am a cultural broker with experience living in 6 countries – 3 continents- and  building collaborations with nationals from 50+ countries. This has given me a broader exposure to the benefits that digital technology can bring to individuals, organisations, and communities, as well as the unduly burden imposed on those that lack access to it. That’s why I’m very keen on my work as a public speaker on the topics of inclusive and sustainable emerging tech products and workplaces.

This year I have two very special projects.

First, together with Fionnuala O’Conor, I’m writing a book on How Women Succeed in Tech Worldwide. Our first step is asking those women what has made them stay in our sector and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years. I’ll be immensely grateful to your community of women in tech for completing this short survey about lived experiences at work.

It’s important to mention that our definition of tech in the survey is broad – women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…) in other sectors.

My second project is equally important to me. This fall I launched 3-month program aimed to help women and people from underrepresented groups to get their next career promotion.

Later in my career, I immensely benefited from mentoring and coaching. Both have been incredibly useful and I wish I would have prioritized them earlier in my career when I spent a lot of effort and time trying to figure out everything by myself. For that reason, I’ve mentored and coached women and people from underrepresented groups in tech for years that as a result have gotten to their next career opportunity.

This program is the result of all those years of experience as well as state-of-the-art research on the challenges of underrepresented groups – e.g. “being the only one” – and how to tackle them.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I don’t think I could ever have planned the career I have now. For starters, when I studied Chemical Engineering, I didn’t even know that there was something called computer simulation of materials, let’s not even talk about the customer operations or the DEI roles. That’s why it’s so important to be curious and learn about other sectors and roles.

Let’s say I don’t have a lot of empathy for my future self. Mostly, I’ve planned the next move in my career thinking that I’d like that forever.

When I started in Chemical Engineering, I was living in Venezuela so I thought I’d work for the National Oil Company. During my M.Sc. I felt research and teaching at the university was my calling, so I went into pursuing a Ph.D. But then, I became disenchanted with academia and I looked for a job in a commercial company. And so on.

Personally, I believe that it’s good to have some goals in your career whilst remaining flexible to experiment and open to new opportunities.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Yes, I faced internal and external challenges. I’ve discussed some of them in interviews as well as my career promotion myth series on LinkedIn – you can get a copy here.

Working in male-dominated environments where stereotypes about outdated models of leadership were the baseline created a sense that I needed to fix myself if I wanted to progress in my career. That included devaluing some of my strengths – collaboration, creativity, customer-centricity, and systemic thinking.

That also meant to feel I needed to work 200% more to get considered for a promotion as a way to reassure management that I was worth betting on. That is, I needed to provide proof where others only needed to show potential.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I was not raised in the belief to be proud of my achievements. Rather, that as soon as I had accomplished a goal, I should go for the next.

In the last years, I’ve put more effort towards savouring my wins but it’s not easy after decades of indoctrination. Unfortunately, I found this common among women within my networks.

I think my biggest career achievement to date is to be able to inhabit multiple career identities simultaneously. Since I remember, when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer always was 4 or 5 different things. Even when it was time to go to the university my problem was that I wanted to study so many different things: Engineering, law, literature, history, chemistry…

For years I felt the “grown-up” thing to do was to focus on one area. As I started my DEI advocacy journey in 2015, that changed. As I began to embrace other identities – fiction and non-fiction writer, community builder, app developer, researcher, keynote speaker, coach, mentor, inclusion strategist, business owner – I realized that I rather than diminishing my credibility as Head of Scientific Support, it strengthened my professional profile and made me a better leader.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Believing in the value of my ideas and my work. Throughout my career, I have had a lot of moments of being “the only”. The only woman, the only foreigner, the only engineer, the only non-native speaker, the only person without HR background talking about DEI… That has been very taxing.

Also, I’ve spent too much effort and time delivering further proof of my skills and competencies whereas other men were given plum projects only based on their potential.

What has kept me going is the belief in the value of my distinct skills, experiences, and achievements.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be curious about technology in the broadest sense. For example, invest time reading about trends in emerging tech, how different sectors use technology, business models, or customer experience.

Be flexible. Technology is constantly evolving. From the tools we use to how we interact with them. In tech you need to keep learning and adapting to be at the top of your game.

Be a system thinker. Through digital transformation, technology is going to underpin all sectors. To make technology work for everybody, technologists need to have a deep understanding of the impact on individuals, communities, organisations, and society. Technology is not neutral and before we build and deploy it we need to assess the benefits and the risks for the people and the planet.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I do because even if tech has a futuristic veneer, the ways of working and the examples of leadership and success are either anchored in the past or don’t match with data. More specifically,

1.- Removing the limiting beliefs we have about work. We have internet, we use planes to travel, and we developed vaccines for covid-19 within a year. Still, tech is adamant to preserve as standard the 5-day workweek of 40 hours introduced by Henry Ford a century ago for his car assembly factories. We need to move away from the binary full-time/part-time and embrace a diversity of working patterns (job-sharing, compressed week…).

2.- Discarding toxic leaders. In tech, we have become addicted to praising leaders that move fast and break things, that can berate and abuse employees if that justifies an earlier product launch, or that take unwarranted risks in the name of scaling. That kind of leadership is incompatible with workplaces that are inclusive, equitable, and reward the value women bring to the business.

3.- Putting the money where success is. Female-led startups receive less than 3% of the overall funding, even if they are more likely to be successful and deliver higher revenue – more than twice as much per dollar invested – as per Boston Consulting Group.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Whilst I don’t want to disregard that is necessary to put effort towards attracting women, we’re not focusing on attrition enough. More than 40% of women in tech leave the sector after a few years. And that has not changed for years.

Technology companies need to understand two things. First, that the lack of women in leadership positions is a systemic issue – as I demonstrated in the systems map I developed – and there is no magic bullet. Second, the reasons women leave their organisations. Unfortunately, few companies act accordingly.

I see conformism (the belief that women leave because they have children), deflection (blaming the lack of pipeline for women’s attrition), band-aids (point initiatives such as one-off career fairs), and magical thinking (hoping that the situation would improve on its own).

Organisations need to make the progress of the careers of women working a technology a priority. They need to ask themselves, what do I need to do to attract brilliant women in their 20s and keep them until they retire? And that’s much more than thinking about maternity leave. It involves mapping the journey of a female software engineer until she becomes CTO, or a woman joining as tech sales manager and reaching the VP level. Mapping those journeys will uncover the blockers in the organisation and provide insights on how to overcome them.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Dispelling the myth that tech is only coding. Tech is so much more than that!

Look at my case. During my first year of engineering studies, I had the option to study computational engineering – the one demanding the highest grades – but I went for chemical engineering because although I found coding an interesting activity, I couldn’t see the practical application, unlike chemistry.

It was not until coding became the means to an end – research – that I saw the value. Moreover, although it’s been many years since the days when I was writing and compiling code every day, I still do very interesting work in tech.

We need to learn to sell tech to women beyond programming. Let’s focus on the problems tech solves rather than how they are solved.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

In 2018, my self-concept as a diversity and inclusion advocate took a big hit. I discovered that the books I read were typically written by White, able, American, heterosexual cis-men. I was appalled at the homogeneity of the voices to whom I was paying attention. This discovery prompted me to launch a two-year public challenge to keep me accountable for the diversity of the authors I read. You can read my journey here and here. I wholeheartedly recommend everybody to do an audit of what they read, listen, and watch.

I’m very interested in ethical and inclusive technology. I recommend “Atlas of AI” by Kate Crawford and “Data Feminism” by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein for a critical look into the materiality of technology and our beliefs about the objectivity of data. “Act as a leader, think as a leader” is a very provocative book by Herminia Ibarra about how leaders need to be more playful with their identity.

The self-coaching book for women “Playing Big” by Tara Mohr was a life-changer for me. It was instrumental in embracing my identity as a writer and business owner as well as removing limiting beliefs such as that I needed a “certificate” to work on DEI.

As for podcasts, I listen to “The Good Robot”, which explores what feminism can bring to the tech industry and the way that we think about technology.

I enjoy the newsletter Femstreet,  a weekly digest of posts by female founders, investors. and startup operators geared towards web3. Other newsletter I like is AI Ethics Weekly, that offers a good summary of thought-provoking articles about AI ethics.

Finally, I recommend my website where people can access research, tools, articles, and keynotes by me on the intersection between DEI and leadership, tech, and the workplace.