Fiona Sweeney

After more than three decades in the data and analytics industry, Fiona joined ‘the great resignation’ to find a role with purpose at its core.

Joining Women in Data® has allowed her to drive change and give back to the industry that has given so much to her. As partnerships director, she is developing our new propositions to ensure that they meet the needs of our partner organisations, and at the same time supporting our growing membership of 27,000 data, tech and analytics professionals. At the moment, her focus is firmly on partner engagement in the lead-up to our Women in Data® flagship event in March 2024.

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

When I was younger, my dream was to be a meteorologist but my all-girl’s school didn’t even offer physics, and I was not predicted to get an A in Maths.

The notion of having a career in data wasn’t an option and the only other pathway from university I could see was to be a teacher and that just wasn’t something for me. So, I did a business degree in International Marketing and Languages but never lost my interest in technology and analytics. After university, I discovered the world of spatial analytics and GIS technology and as they say, the rest is history. Roll on almost 40 years and now I am Partnerships Director at Women in Data® where I work with amazing companies who share our mission for gender parity in the Data and Tech space.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I deliberately chose to have a ‘Squiggly Career’. I chased opportunity and job satisfaction, but my underlying desire was to ensure that whatever I did would make a measurable difference. So, I moved from the client side to the vendor and back again several times. In every move, I learnt something new and brought something new and ensured that I could understand issues from different perspectives and bring empathy to every role.

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

There have been many career challenges along the way. I have lived through several economic downturns and organisation ‘right-sizing’ (I so dislike this phrase!). As a consequence, I have faced redundancy and worse, had to make team members redundant, something that weighed very heavily on me. In a male-dominated world, I was often the only woman and had to develop strategies to be heard and ensure my views were seen as credible. There were times when I was overlooked for promotion, or my input was minimised. However, these obstacles taught me resilience and additional skills that I have used throughout my career. They have also taken me to where I am today. At Women in Data® I get to help other women benefit from my experience and carve the career they want in this fantastic industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think my biggest career achievement is that after four decades I am still relevant, and I still love working in data and tech.

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

Curiosity. I want to know how things work and how people tick. I question everything, especially myself. I have a strong desire to know and learn and to pass on my knowledge to others.

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

Here are my top tips: Deliver solutions, not answers, and remember the data doesn’t make the decisions, people do. If you keep curious and keep learning you will stay relevant. Align everything you do to the business objectives, that way you have a greater chance of being heard and your ideas being implemented. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and will advocate on your behalf. And finally, become a mentor and pay forward into your career.

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

Recently Women in Data® undertook its annual State of the Nation review. As part of the research, it canvassed a large-scale representative sample of the UK tech and data industry. The insights highlighted what the industry can do to encourage women to maintain and develop their careers. Including mentoring and coaching opportunities, both internal and external; formal leadership skills development; additional technical skills training; and access to external groups and networks such as events, webinars, meet-ups, podcasts etc.

Alongside these, women are looking for flexible working practices and closure of the gender pay gap and companies implement equitable performance and promotion processes.

Addressing the barriers to success for women working in tech requires a long-term approach that considers societal, cultural, and structural barriers. The IT industry cannot do it alone and we need the commitment of academia, government, industry and advocacy organisations to change the demographic landscape in the data and tech sectors.

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

The tech industry should create an environment where women feel valued and empowered to thrive and optimise their careers. Organisations need to take intentional and consistent actions to address gender imbalance at all levels. What gets measured gets done!

Currently, only 21 percent of those working in tech are women. 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? OR: In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

With my magic wand, I would have businesses articulate their gender aspirations publicly, with the board being held to account, and train senior leaders on why diverse teams make business sense.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Rather than take my advice, I would recommend that women get together in formal and informal groups to share and exchange their recommendations for podcasts, networking events, books, etc. In terms of conferences, I always check the speakers and panellists to assess the diversity. It is simple to make your views on diversity heard and please don’t forget that you can always nominate yourself as a speaker or contributor.

I suggest that a great starting point is to join the Women in Data® community of over 60,000 data and tech practitioners. Membership is free and open to everyone. You get access to our meet-ups, learning sessions and events across the globe, including the annual Women in Data® Flagship which brings together 3,000 practitioners for a day of inspiration, learning and connection. We would love to see more of you as we strive towards gender parity.

Read more from our inspirational women here.