Hannah SparrowhawkHannah Sparrowhawk is Senior Technical Project Manager in Front End Innovation at SharkNinja.

Hannah works as part of the Front End Innovation team, which focusses on new product areas the business could expand into. Hannah manages the delivery of new products from ideation and concepting, through to low fidelity prototypes and user testing until they are ready to be transitioned into the Advanced Development and New Product Development teams.

Hannah completed a BA and MSci in Natural Physical Sciences from University of Cambridge, but following that, decided she didn’t want to continue an academic career.

She is also a founding member of SharkNinja’s WE Lead programme which supports women in engineering

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

I studied a Natural Sciences undergraduate and masters at Murray Edwards College, the women-only college at Cambridge University- specialising in Materials Science. After graduating, I studied Japanese at Nihon University in Tokyo and then worked at a product design consultancy in Oxford for three years before joining SharkNinja.

During my two and a half years with SharkNinja, I’ve worked in a number of different parts of the engineering team and am currently a Senior Technical Project Manager in the Heated NPD team. I’ve always been passionate about furthering diversity in the field, so jumped at the chance to co-found SharkNinja’s We Lead group, which is dedicating to supporting women to achieve their full potential in the business and am also an active member of SharkNinja’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equity committee.

During lockdown, it’s been amazing to witness people’s commitment to these initiatives. Even after a long day of video conferences, people are still keen to jump on another to plan some voluntary work, attend a virtual careers fair or discuss our latest WeLead book club read – it’s been fantastic to see.

SharkNinja as a business has also shown great commitment to its DEI initiatives throughout the lockdown, hosting a number of global Town Halls to tackle difficult conversations such as ‘Race and Gender in the Workplace’ as well as Story Telling sessions to understand a bit more about your colleagues and their backgrounds. An almost immediate outcome was the introduction of a cultural and religious observance floating holiday for all staff and a volunteerism policy which allows up to 8 hours of paid volunteer time per annum.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not formally, there was always a sense that studying a scientific subject would be a ‘sensible’ option for a future career, but I couldn’t have imagined the variety of jobs that are out there and I’m sure I’ve still only come across a tiny fraction of them. After my masters I knew I didn’t want to continue with an academic career and felt limited in the scientific roles I could apply for without a PhD, so was really glad to get into Product Design- an area where I continue to use and benefit from the technical knowledge I have gained whilst also being able to take advantage of other skills such as Project Management.

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

Growing up I don’t believe I had visibility of the variety of careers which tech can offer, so it felt a bit overwhelming when I first graduated. Luckily, I joined a company which supported me to expand beyond my role and understand where I could go.

I do feel that confidence to speak up even when it is not explicitly asked for is an on-going challenge for me, which I continue to work on every day. Initiatives such as WeLead have really helped with that!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In product design, there is always a huge anticipation when a product you have worked on launches- in general, I am so close to the engineering details of a product that I can forget how exciting the concept can be. After working on the VacMop product for over a year, our first QVC launch sold out in just 11 minutes which I think the whole team were really proud of.

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

I’ve been very lucky to always have a lot of role models in the workplace and to have good relationships with them. This has allowed me to be completely genuine at work which I think really impacts your happiness in the workplace and ability to succeed!

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

Build a support group who you trust and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and help! Getting honest feedback in a constructive way is so important to be able to develop, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. For every area you’re worried you’re not doing well enough in, there will be 10 which you’re excelling at! So, find the people who can remind you of those things, whilst also helping you in the area you’re worried about.

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

Yes, I think unconscious bias is still a huge issue for women working in tech. Even within a technical team, there can be a tendency to give the women in the group the less technical tasks which becomes self-fulfilling as they lose confidence in tackling more technically complex challenges. I would love for unconscious bias training to become compulsory across all levels in an organisation- we have a way to remove these biases completely, but if we can at least get better at recognising them in ourselves, that will be a fantastic start!

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

Create spaces for their voices to be heard – when we started the London WeLead group, we weren’t 100 per cent sure which events or activities would be the most successful, but the more things we did, the more it became clear that just having a space to speak about issues and having other people in the room listen and offer guidance had a huge impact on the wellbeing of the members involved.

There are currently only 17 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?

Make sure girls and women have visibility of the options out there for them- not just at an entry level, but right to the top – we need to see people that represent us to believe we belong there too.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

  • https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/ – SharkNinja provided all staff a wise account and there are loads of good resources on there as well as webinars and events you can attend.
  • https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/ – another great website full of resources for women in tech.
  • ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’ by Caroline Criado-Perez – this was our first WeLead Bookclub read and is great at illustrating and providing statistical data for a lot of the issues women are facing.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.