Ruth Bates

Ruth is Head of Data Arts at Saatchi & Saatchi London. Ruth likes to put data and analytics into action. 

She passionately believes that data, working seamlessly with creativity, is the best way to achieve effective communications. She gathers people around her in the data community to get things done, and communicates the implications of data analysis to those who are less familiar with it.

After graduating from the LSE she worked for a loyalty marketing company before joining Deloitte Consulting. During her 9 years at Deloitte she worked mainly with clients in telecoms, media and entertainment industries, helping them to use data to achieve transformation. She helped to establish the customer analytics and data science community within Deloitte, and she was leading Data Science within Deloitte Digital when she left to establish Data Arts at Saatchi & Saatchi in February 2018.

The work bit…

I joined Saatchi & Saatchi London last year to set up their Data Arts team. The name of the team was quite deliberate as it reflects my philosophy on data in advertising: I believe data shouldn’t only be a facilitator of targeted communications. It isn’t only data management, data engineering, measurement, and reporting, or even producing and deploying algorithms. It is a powerful creative tool for insight, inspiration, and communication and I think it’s as much an art as a science.

The career history bit…

People are surprised when I say I studied Government and History as a degree. I always enjoyed trying to understand why people behave the way they do. But I was always a little better at maths and science than essay-writing. My brain naturally classifies the world and thinks spatially, so I found the social science approach stretched to be more conceptual in my thinking. After university I worked for a loyalty marketing agency where I was fully immersed in coding SAS, I then joined Deloitte Consulting. I loved my time there, but after nine years I found myself missing my initial love of understanding human behaviour and decided to go into something different. Advertising.

The personal bit…

I love to dance, hike, sail and ski. I love spending time with anyone with an individual perspective on the world. I’m passionate about the arts, mental health and sustainability.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really. I landed in it without knowing what I wanted to do. But I did think that I wanted to get as far in my career as I possibly could in my 20’s so I could have more choice if and when I decide I want to raise a family.

And I do take time out each year to reflect on what I’m doing, what I want to achieve and what my priorities are. I do this with my husband because we both want to be satisfied in our jobs and that means that sometimes we have to make compromises and we have to agree with what they are. It also gives me clarity on what I’m trying to build, what I want to learn and it helps me communicate that clearly to those around me.

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

The biggest challenge in my career has been handling my own anxiety issues! I’ve had some personal problems along the way which made me anxious. And I’ve had lots of small career challenges when things don’t seem to be going so well and I start to worry the world is going to fall apart (e.g. majorly delayed or over-budget projects to say the least!)

But I’ve learnt three things that have enabled me to cope, progress and enjoy my career:

  1. Getting a strong support network. I got to this stage in my career by surrounding myself with people I can trust and be honest with. It starts by being honest about my own needs, strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Keep clarity on what’s important. Sometimes the things that stressed me out weren’t that important. I’ve got practical methods I use to help me ruthlessly prioritise and work out what I need to work on.
  3. Communicating well. I spend a lot of time considering whom I’m talking to and the messages I need them to hear. When I really get my head into the space of the person I need to get a message across to, I can understand things from their point of view, then I can adapt my style or method of communication so that my message comes across clearly.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Building teams. At the BBC. At Deloitte. At Saatchi & Saatchi London. Understanding what the team needs to deliver, finding the right people, providing a vision and nurturing their talent and ideas. I can’t take credit for the amazing work they do, but I love that I was part of making it happen.

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

I’m a translator. I like to understand the problem and translate it into a technical brief or approach. I like to understand a piece of analysis and translate it into something actionable. I’m good at taking the conceptual and structuring it.

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

For data scientists, I’d say… always look at the data! The human brain recognises patterns brilliantly. You’ll understand your raw material and you’ll spot quality issues more quickly.

More generally, always keep learning. At the outset of your career, get a really good grounding in whatever your technical skillset is. I took a low-paid job straight out of university, but it was the most valuable 18 months of my career. And then keep on learning. If you’re not learning or consolidating your learning in your role, then look to change it.

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

I’m fortunate to work in advertising where diversity is actively encouraged. And I’ve also seen a massive improvement in women in technology throughout my career. There are barriers all over the place but I think we’re heading in the right direction. I’m lucky to work in Publicis Groupe UK where we have a female CEO (Annette King) and a female COO (Jo Coombs)

I’ve seen women with amazing gravitas control a room full of men just by leaning into a conversation, clearing their throat and saying one well placed, beautifully structured sentence. I’ve seen women advocate on behalf of other women to go for promotion and get a pay rise, even though they wouldn’t have put themselves forward. I’ve seen women run all-male development teams really efficiently while considering the individual and varied needs of those in their teams. I’ve seen men actively putting their partners’ career first. I’ve seen older men be a “work dad” and look out for younger women. The best thing we can do is to play to whatever our strengths are and look out for all those around us.

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

Recognise the “soft” skills as well as hard tech skills. Within data science, these skills include defining the question, determining the right approach, clearly communicating the brief, drawing insight from the results, sharing the outcomes effectively, nurturing the talents of the team, helping teams collaborate better or be more honest with each other… These are the skills that really turn technology into a force for good in the world and help projects deliver on time. I’ve found women often have these skills in abundance, but they aren’t always valued as much as they should be.

There is currently on 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?

At the moment, not enough of tech finance is controlled by women or invested in women. My magic wand would be money! I’d give every woman working in technology £1000 to invest in the one thing they believe in most.

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

Is it bad that I don’t set out to read that much about technology?! I guess I’m obsessed with the intersection between technology and human behaviour, so I find it more valuable to study the things that fascinate me in the world outside technology. Currently, I’m in a phase of reading all the poetry I can lay my hands on, from Shakespeare to Stormzy!

(But the “work” book I’ve read that has had the biggest impact on me has been “lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg).