Franki Hackett, is a hybrid audit and data science specialist (ACA) and leader on ethics and technology in professional services. She is currently Head of Audit and Ethics at AI-driven audit tech company Engine B

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

As Head of Audit and Ethics at Engine B my role involves working with our AI and software development teams to build software that helps accountants, auditors and others to get good quality, clean data out of client environments and then use that to automate and digitalise their work. I also spend a lot of my time thinking about how technology is going to change accountancy and helping fellow accountants understand and adopt that change.

I have an undergrad in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and an MA in Political Theory, plus I’m an ACA-qualified chartered accountant. It was while training as an ACA that I got into data science and I learned on-the-job, so I don’t have any ‘technical’ qualifications at all! I don’t think this has slowed me down one bit though, in fact, I believe it makes me an effective business translator to non-technical people.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve had career plans occasionally, but they never last very long! My route to my current role has not been particularly linear – but it has been fun and very rewarding. I started off working in third sector communications, which didn’t suit me at all. I’ve tended to take the door that’s opening in front of me, which leads me to interesting places, but I think the variety of roles I’ve had throughout my career has given me broad strengths.

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

My biggest struggles at work have been when I’m trying to become someone I’m not, whether that’s trying to be an extrovert (not me!) or trying to be a strategic game-player in competitive organisations where transparency was not valued. The insecurity of knowing I didn’t fit, and thinking that was a problem with me, had huge impacts on my mental health and on my sense of self. I go forward hopeful that as I get to know myself better that will be less of a challenge in future.

I have often also found that people can underestimate me. I have no way of knowing if that’s held me back, but I often feel I need to over deliver in order to be taken seriously – this is as true when I wear my accountant’s hat as when I’m working as a techie.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve done – I was part of the team that successfully campaigned to get coercive control recognized as domestic violence and made into a crime, here at Engine B while I’ve been here we’ve gone from having a really great PowerPoint slide to having functioning technology which is being used by audit firms across the world to make their audits better. I was super proud when I had my research paper published in a decent academic journal. I think the thing I’m most proud of though is that I’ve worked really hard to keep growing and learning. I’m in my early 30s so I hope my biggest achievements are still ahead of me, and if I can look back after I retire (if I do!) and say I’ve always stayed open to new things then I think that will be a real achievement.

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

I find the area I work in a really interesting field, which is probably the biggest factor in my career success. So long as I’m interested and I get to engage my brain I can enjoy a wide range of things, and I tend to find I do well when I’m enjoying myself. I’ve also been really lucky in working with and for a load of great people – I’ve often found that having the right mentor at the right time makes a big difference.

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

You’re rarely as stuck as you feel. If you’re not happy and you feel like you have no options, it’s probably not really the case. Think about the things you’re telling yourself you can’t do and challenge that word “can’t”. And also, if you have something you really want, don’t just try and get there directly. Sometimes the sideways or diagonal or frankly really strange career moves have the biggest pay-off.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

There are far fewer women in the industry and that is, in itself a real challenge. It is easy to feel isolated when you can feel so alone in a job, a team or in a company. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some more enlightened, progressive companies, but even so, there have been times in my career where I have taken issue with something male colleagues have said that I have regarded as sexist and unhelpful. I still get talked over or ignored, and see people address my male colleagues in areas where I’m the expert rather than them. This is changing, but change can be slow. It’s still not unusual for me to go to meetings or events and be the only person in the room who isn’t a middle aged white man – so it’s not just gender diversity that can be limited. The only way I know how to deal with this is to pretend it’s not happening – I always try and show up in the room in ways which show I believe I have the right to be there. Change will be a long time coming on this I suspect.

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

A positive and progressive workplace culture really does come from the top of an organisation, in my view. Company founders and leaders need to believe in the value of gender diversity if they are to effectively push for inclusion.

With that said, although culture is important, so are policies. Creating workplace policies that support individuals working in IT with a range of lifestyles and outside commitments is important if you want to attract more women into an organisation – maternity and parental leave and pay, carers or dependents leave, enabling part-time, compressed or other alternative working schedules. All of this helps when women are the group most likely to be picking up caring responsibilities outside of work. Tech feels like it’s perfectly placed to support a whole range of different ways of working. Specifically agile working, which is all about the work done rather than the time spent at a desk, is critical to creating more diverse workforces.

 In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

The media portrays the tech industry in a very specific way and it’s not particularly helpful!  We are in a minority, but there really are enough women working in this field, in a range of roles, to start to normalise IT roles for girls and women. I am a governor at a girls’ school and I can see first-hand how role models really do matter when it comes to encouraging more women into technology roles.

It’s also pretty important to address the mindset problems that can cause issues for gender diversity. Femtech companies and female founders get a fraction of the investment money male founders get. I’ve heard senior managers in organisations talk about managing maternity leave as ‘a nightmare’, and I’ve seen entry-level women in organisations left with little or no time to pick up and run with a tech focus because their managers expect them to do a lot of non-promotable administrative or caring work like organising birthdays or summer parties. Women can’t address gender diversity alone and unfortunately there are a lot of old-fashioned mindsets around in senior leadership or funding spaces.

Structurally, having policies in place that help deliver properly agile working for everyone will, I hope, go some way to improving gender diversity.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Most of the networking events I attend are accounting specific, but there are loads of those and I often meet really great women working in or adjacent to tech there. The accounting body I’m a member of ICAEW does a really good job of gender balance in their big tech showpiece events. I read religiously, it’s not tech specific but it has helped me shape my presence in the workplace and she writes from an explicitly feminist standpoint on how to be at work. Gartner is great, if your organisation has a subscription, but otherwise I just try and stay open to suggestions people make. Getting into too narrow a focus on the information you consume isn’t healthy, and so I listen to and read all kinds of unrelated things and I find that enriches my work indirectly too.