Jo MasseyJo Massey leads a 130-strong BAE Systems team which operates IT and comms at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office across 280+ British embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world.

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

Words have always been a great passion for me. I joined the tech world in 1996 with a job supporting the growth of the UK subsidiary of a US Defence organisation. I did not study STEM subjects but this did not put me off– quite the opposite: I recognised that deeply technical people very often struggle to explain the benefits of their solutions to the average reader. By asking the right questions and focusing on customer need, I could be a bridge between the inventor and the buyer, effectively.

I began by writing sales and marketing brochures, quickly moved into competitive bid management and soon established a European bid service for my employer, growing this to take on 12 staff and manage more than 200 bids a year. Understanding how to score points in a competitive evaluation and how to differentiate our own offer from others in the marketplace started to set us ahead of the average win rate. Listening to customers, reading their questions carefully, caring that what we offered them really demonstrated our ability to fix their problems: these were the things I began to teach to the business community, with increasing success.

In 2013 I moved to BAE Systems to take on and grow their existing bid service, moving it from a governance-checking function to a team that was creative and brought strategic thinking to every bid. I also began to embed a ‘write to win’ approach which I had developed. By the time I moved on in 2019, we had tripled our headcount, we ran quarterly training in bid management and writing to win and were operating at a 70%+ win rate overall.

The move to my current role as Account Director for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was a bit of a surprise. Being extremely customer focused, proven in team leadership and a bit of a stickler for quality communications, I guess it made sense that I would be a good fit for the role. I am responsible for running a complex, multi-year contract with the FCDO to keep all the technology and communications working in every one of the 280+ Posts around the world. The job involves oversight of around 160 staff, ensuring they are all on the same journey, with the same commitment. It also involves a close working relationship with senior diplomats, civil servants and third party suppliers to keep communications clear and services responsive throughout regular crises. It is different every day, and I never stop learning.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never. Is that awful? In fact it’s only now that I’m starting to think doing so would be a good idea for my future…

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

Absolutely – too many to mention – although, reflecting on this, I realise that most of my career challenges have been the knock-on impact of personal hurdles. I suspect it’s the same for most of us.

I began my career in the 1990s, which wasn’t a great time for equality with male colleagues. I have missed out on opportunities and been overlooked as a result of being female, like most of my peers. In 2004 I had my first child and the person who ran my team as maternity cover decided he didn’t want to give the job back, so I ended up working for him ‘because I’d only end up going off again to have another baby anyway’. I overcame these sorts of challenges simply by working harder, volunteering for more and making a name for myself as someone who gets results. It was important not to be beaten. It was also, at the time, important to handle bias graciously: women who kicked up a fuss were troublemakers.

For a time I had to reduce my hours and work part time because my youngest son was seriously ill. For around 3 months I was mainly living at the hospital with him. I remained part-time for two further years, until my husband took over the part-time carer role and I was able to come back to work full-time. As before, I worked many more hours at this time than I was paid for, because remaining visible in the organisation was crucial to my career. But by then I had been in one place for such a long time that my value and my workload were seriously out of balance, and I had fallen behind my peers.

In 2012, my husband had a stroke. This was, in fact, the biggest career challenge I had faced to date, because without his wage we were going to struggle to stay in our home. To overcome this hurdle I needed to move away from the employer I had worked so hard for, for so long, and push myself into a more senior role elsewhere; somewhere I could be paid what I was worth. This brought me to BAE Systems, where my many years of experience were considered a genuine asset. The change was terrifying, but I had to make a success of it because I had a family to keep!

At BAE Systems I felt like I was flying – so many great challenges and opportunities to work with amazing people, I felt I had finally arrived with the career I deserved.

In 2017, however, I was caught up in a round of redundancies at BAE. This was a huge blow, but I had to accept that I would be leaving, and started engaging across my network to look for new opportunities. Imagine my surprise when my boss called me up to say the board had received a letter from my team explaining why it was a mistake to let me go. The team had clearly employed all the ‘writing to win’ approaches I’d taught them about persuasive arguments and evidence, because I had a call a day or so later from BAE’s MD of Government, asking me to stay.

I was grateful for my reprieve, but determined to find new ways to work that would keep me valued. The redundancy experience pushed me to prove they’d made the right decision by keeping me on, but also to find myself a route to new challenges. 2018 was a year of massive results for the team and new initiatives to embed excellence, then in December 2018 I applied for the FCDO Account Director role and moved on.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Being the bid manager responsible for the winning bid to one of our National Security customers which resulted in us signing a multi-year contract worth £hundreds of millions to BAE Systems which has been the backbone of our NS business for the last five years. I had a team of more than 60 specialists on the bid team and I was able to introduce storyboarding and colour reviews to the bid writing process, which really gave us the edge.

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

Being smiley. People can’t help but smile back.

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

Understand your own strengths and how to use them to make a difference. Be able to articulate that in a way that is linked to results.

Also remember you cannot be great at everything. You have to maximise your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses by teaming up with inspiring people with different skills to your own. Don’t let the things you’re not a natural at undermine the things you’re famous for.

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

Thankfully, I think old-school misogyny is dying out in the workplace. What is left is largely unconscious bias and learned behaviours. So it’s better than it was, but not as good as it needs to be.

Examples of bias include a marked reluctance for one gender to mentor the other, because it might look ‘wrong’ for a senior male to be having a coffee with a more junior female. Also, only 5% of leadership positions in major tech firms are held by women. The impact on women who do not have a female role model in the ranks above them ( the ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ syndrome) can be to subconsciously halt progression, believing there is nowhere else for you to go.

In terms of learned behaviours, I observe it is usually women who make the coffee for their team, run the essential errand, book the meeting room, do the whip-round and organise the card and gift for the retiring colleague, regardless of their seniority. It is very hard for us to resist just doing these things – probably they’re the things we naturally do at home, particularly if we’re working mums. These are habits that make others’ lives more comfortable but reinforce outdated expectations. So keep it balanced and ensure team ‘chores’ are shared: say to yourself ‘making everyone a coffee is not my genetic destiny, it’s just my turn!’

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

A lack of diversity (of any type) in the workplace can often just look like a failure on the part of the minority community to produce competent candidates. It is much more likely to be the result of the organisation’s decision to stick to traditional and familiar ways of decision making. Anonymise the CVs, use the gender decoder, get feedback from a variety of people both above and below the internal candidate.

Publically sharing targets can have a massive impact, too – what gets measured gets done, right? So share a target for females at each level of the organisation and remove any barriers that stop a colleague succeeding on merit. You need both of these things because meritocracy alone, while it does not recognise gender or social advantage, equally does not make allowances to encourage diversity.

There is currently only 15% 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?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would make it normal and comfortable for every workplace to be diverse, with an equal balance of male and female regardless of industry. I would go further and make it distinctly UNcomfortable for any team in the workplace to operate without a gender balance. I would instil a strong understanding among everyone that a single-gender team risks being hindered in terms of achieving a well-rounded output. If it was genuinely seen as risky to exclude one gender from a business decision, our organisations would be making very different choices.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Invest some time understanding what motivates your customers and your teams, and involve yourself in learning more or communicating more as a result.

Since moving into my current role at FCDO I have begun listening to podcasts on world current affairs, for example (I heartily recommend the daily Economist podcast, ’The Intelligence’) to understand decisions being made by the British Government in response to events all over the world. This gives me confidence when I speak with my customer, because we are having conversations that are relevant to the business of the Foreign Office.

In terms of acting as a leader, I soon realised that the team I inherited (105 BAE staff, 55 subco staff) did not truly understand what its different parts really did, and they were unsure of how to get to know me. On my first week in post I released a Friday blog that shared my experiences of that week, my reflections on the tasks we face together, and I included a ‘soundtrack of the week’ and a ‘hopes for the weekend’ headline, which gave everyone an insight into my personal life and musical preferences. The response was encouraging, so I did it again the next week. I have continued this weekly blog for 16 months. There is not a single week when I don’t get feedback on some aspect of what I have blogged about. Everybody feels they know me. Everybody feels included.

I’d also advise women in tech to get involved in both International Women’s and Men’s Day celebrations and get people talking about gender and diversity. Join a women’s network, read about women, learn about what others are experiencing, keep educating yourself through books, media, social media, podcasts. Use your own success, understanding, and growing confidence to be a role model for younger women coming through the ranks. Be yourself.


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