Rachel James headshotRachel James is the Chief Marketing Officer at Applaud, responsible for elevating the brand and creating market demand.

With international experience spanning Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, she brings a global perspective to our product offering and an acute awareness of widespread market trends. Rachel has been integral to the launch and growth of start-up, scale-up, and enterprise SAAS businesses in the events, HR, and travel industry.

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

After gaining my Masters from the University of Aberdeen, I joined a marketing graduate scheme in London which included the opportunity to work in an overseas office. I was extremely excited to move to Singapore when the opportunity arose, partly to experience life in a new part of the world and partly because I was going to be marketing large scale technology events. Subsequently I naturally segued into my niche of tech marketing (specifically SaaS) and worked for a number of scale-up tech businesses in both Asia and the Middle East before moving back to the UK and joining Michelin Connected Fleet.

I joined Applaud, the leading employee experience platform, in early 2020, as their Marketing Director; excited at the prospect of working in an emerging field of tech. The pandemic completely flipped the world of employee experience on its head, supercharging the rate of progress in this industry. As such our platform has developed at a rapid pace to stay ahead of the curve and meet the changing needs of today’s employee.

I have since worked my way up the ranks and I’m now Chief Marketing Officer. We’re always working on exciting projects at Applaud. In the marketing department we created an immersive cinematic experience last month in Vegas to take HR professionals on a journey into the mindset of their employees; we’re going to be hosting our first roundtable in the metaverse in November and our product team are getting ready for our Lyceum product release taking place in December which includes more exciting developments that help our customers deliver consumer-grade work tech experiences to their people.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t sit down and plan my career as such, but I did know that I always wanted to work in marketing and I have always been ambitious with clear goals. A career in marketing brings a balance of creativity and analytical thinking that was a natural fit with my strengths profile so I actively sought out experience and opportunities in this area. I always acknowledge that it’s a huge advantage to know what you want to do as it enables you to seek out relevant experience/credentials in that area. For many, it’s not that simple.

I started my career in events which gave me exposure to a whole mix of industries. Having a personal interest in tech, gadgets and software it became clear to me that I’d be best suited to a niche in tech marketing. I found I did my best work when I was working on tech-related projects – I was engaged and motivated in a way that felt different. My purpose from that point onwards was to hone in on this area and I made a few strategic moves to cement myself into that space.

I always have a laser focus on doing the best possible job I can in the role that I am in. I make a concerted effort to build relationships across the business, at different seniority levels and in different departments. I always say yes to opportunities that feel aligned with my career goals and make sure to raise my hand and get involved in projects that might sit outside my natural remit.

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

Any rewarding career is likely going to be filled with constant challenges. They’re always fantastic learning opportunities and on reflection, the moments in which you grow the most.

I always try to maintain a solution-focused mindset, so that when any challenge arises it enables me to focus on the steps I need to take to solve the problem at hand. It’s often easy to slip into a mindset of ‘who’s fault was this’ that ultimately leaves you stagnant and unable to move forward. I make a conscious effort to park any defensive tendencies and stay open to feedback. I also think it’s important, if there have been big hurdles, to make sure to do a debrief afterwards – ascertain how you got there, what you can do differently next time and if you really did handle it in the best possible way.

By having this momentum-focused approach I feel well equipped to handle whatever challenges may arise.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement so far would be being promoted to Chief Marketing Officer at Applaud earlier this year. But really that just encapsulated all of the smaller achievements that had happened over the previous two years culminating in that promotion. Each time we hit a target as a team or exceeded expectations, they were all significant steppingstones that led me to this place. I gave myself a moment to celebrate but ultimately, that title change represented my next big challenge and it’s on me to rise to the occasion and continue delivering great results for our company.

Winning our first marketing award last year for an in-house campaign was a huge moment for me as well. Again, the award in and of itself was a nice recognition, but the results we drove for the company were the real win.

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

Without a doubt, the biggest factor in me achieving success is the team and the people I get to work with everyday. I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I’ve been in a position where I have been able to build my own department from the ground up. I am surrounded by incredibly smart, ambitious individuals who are all striving to achieve the same goals and I am inspired by them every day.

I have an entirely female team which is rare, the technology industry still being very male dominated. The culture and the energy that we have cultivated in our department is incredibly motivating. There’s a real sense of team comradery and we have high expectations for enthusiasm as well as skill set for any new joiners.

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

Technology itself is such a broad term, there are so many roles and companies that this could encompass, but I would recommend seeking out tech that you think is great and that you would proudly use. Take a look at their product roadmap, as well as mission statement, and see if there is synergy with the journey you want to go on as an individual.

I strongly believe that you have to connect to the product that you are building/operating/marketing in order to your best, most authentic work.

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

There are still barriers for women working in many industries, and tech is no exception. This is, in part, due to the fact that it remains such a male-dominated industry, with Deloitte estimating that by the end of 2022 just 10.9% of those holding senior leadership positions in tech will be women. This gap isn’t likely to close anytime soon – even with the current drive to get more females studying STEM topics, they’ll enter the workforce in junior roles and will take time to move upwards.

Every organisation and individual has a role to play in making technology an appealing place for females to grow their careers. This means having tough conversations around gender pay gaps, advocating for female-focused recruitment drives and creating a company culture that’s appealing for women.

Above all else it’s keeping these conversations transparent, which means taking feedback from within the business, celebrating the progress that does get made and continuing to keep the conversation alive.

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

In the wake of the pandemic, businesses are in the phase of reshaping what ‘work-life’ looks like in the future. Business leaders should be taking advantage of this opportunity to structure a working model that is built around the needs of women.

We know that the Monday-Friday 9-5 isn’t suited for the needs of today’s workers and working patterns need to be viewed holistically with home/life/parental demands. There’s a real opportunity here that won’t come along again in our generation to create a structure that encompasses the needs of both genders.

At Applaud we’ve already committed to being a remote-first organisation indefinitely. Any major changes we make to working arrangements will be decided on by committee with our employees. Flexibility is baked in our working patterns. Our employees can work when and where they choose as long as they are results focused. And, we’re constantly evolving with the voice of our employees forefront and centre.

There are currently only 21% 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?

Only 19% of women currently working in the technology sector were encouraged to take up a role in IT or technology by a female role model. It would do wonders for the industry if businesses could elevate the profiles of those already doing prominent work in order to inspire the new generation of women in tech.

Sheryl Sandberg is a great example of a female tech role model someone who has inspired a whole generation of women to find their voice in a corporate environment. We need more, and we need to see a connection being built with young females making early career choices.

I’d also like to see more female role models telling their stories. Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo!, famously was back at her desk a mere two weeks after giving birth, which is a stark example of the expectations of women who work in tech. I’d love to hear about women who took a year off for maternity and came back to flexible working hours and a pay rise. Those are the stories that are going to entice more women into STEM roles.

It would be interesting to explore the prospect of transitioning women working outside the tech industry in non-technical jobs, such as marketing and sales, into the tech sector in more senior roles.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Web-Summit is a fantastic event I would thoroughly recommend to women working in tech (taking place in Lisbon this November). Now that I’ve mentioned her, I can’t leave our Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean in’. I’d also recommend Multiplier by Liz Wiseman (a former Oracle Exec) – not a tech focused book, but a masterclass on how to be an amazing leader.

It’s important not to focus solely on women-focused groups or drive a women-only agenda as we need men to play a role in driving the change, which means we need them to be a part of the conversation.