Joanne Storey

I’m a 29-year-old scientist working as programme leader for the research and development team at James Cropper.

James Cropper is a 175-year-old prestige papermaker based in England’s Lake District. I actually grew up in the Lake District, so feel very lucky to be working in a rewarding job, right near home.

I’ve worked at James Cropper for almost four years, first starting as a technical graduate and now leading the research and development team. It’s hard to describe what we do in just a few words as our day-to-day tasks can be really varied, but to put it simply; we research, innovate and create beautiful paper and packaging solutions with sustainability a cornerstone of everything we do.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never sat down to plan out my career, but I knew university wasn’t for me. I did, however, want to further my education and develop the problem-solving skills I had enjoyed nurturing in chemistry and mathematics during my A-Levels.

With this in mind, at the age of 18, I undertook a science apprenticeship through distance learning while working full-time in a research and development (R&D) laboratory within the energy sector. This meant that from very early on in my career, I was gaining practical knowledge while learning and earning a wage.

Once I had established myself in the field of R&D, I was asked to become an assessor for future apprentices. I really enjoyed teaching and watching others progress by sharing advice based on my own experiences.

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

After seven years in the energy sector, I felt that I needed a change. One of the challenges at this point in my career was not having a mentor – I definitely think I could have benefitted from some guidance during this period. I’ve learned that mentors are hard to come by, let alone those who have spare time to give thorough advice!

Thankfully, I made the decision to move into further education, teaching applied chemistry at Furness College in Barrow-in-Furness, which has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career so far.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement to date has been earning my current role at James Cropper as R&D programme leader.

Having worked in R&D for over 10 years, I’m now leading a programme of projects that directly contributes to the future success of the business. That’s always a good feeling! My role is to help maintain the company’s position as experts in fibre and colour; constantly driving to innovate beautiful, sustainable solutions for paper.

I’m also enjoying supervising our two graduates in James Cropper’s technical department, who are in the midst of a research project looking at the global sustainability movement and effects and challenges for the paper industry. Guiding the graduates through this research project has been really rewarding.

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

Having grown up on a working farm in the Lake District, my work ethic has been engrained in me since I was very young. A thirst for knowledge combined with my practical problem-solving nature has really helped me in my career progression.

For example, at James Cropper, we are constantly on the lookout for new technologies and innovations that can help provide environmentally responsible solutions. This requires a lot of patience as well as a love for learning and problem-solving.

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

I would encourage anyone who wants to work in technology to explore all entry points. University is not the only option; there are apprenticeships available at various levels in varying sectors, and it’s just a case of exploring what’s out there.

For me personally, I felt that going down the apprenticeship route and continuing further education in the workplace suited my character, learning style and personality. By looking at the opportunities available and pairing these with your unique skillset, you will find a role that you can excel in.

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

One of the barriers which I think is hindering young women from entering the tech industry is a lack of visible female role models.

It’s so important for young women to see female leaders in this industry who are driving change and having their achievements shouted about. If we can make our voices louder and highlight these women, we could make a real difference and inspire the future generation of women in tech.

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

To support their female staff, companies should strive to have role models at every level who can share their experiences and support team members. I think that leading by example and making positive changes for the future generation is key, while also providing mentors and coaches to encourage everyone to reach their full potential in the workplace.

There is currently only 17% 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 eliminate any preconceived ideas of what the skillset of women is limited to.

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

Having a supportive network around you is crucial. Luckily for us, with social networking sites such as LinkedIn, we have access to likeminded professionals around the globe, at our fingertips. My advice is to utilise the networking functions on these sites; connect with others, share stories, shout about the achievements of others. Build others up and they will do the same for you.