Sharon Wyness

Inspirational Woman: Sharon Wyness | Co-Founder, AliveLab and the Mardles Platform

Sharon Wyness

I came from a recruitment background.

Becoming a single mum at 40, I retrained in 'homestyling'. I joined QVC in 2012 as freelance guest & met James (business partner in AliveLab) whilst in the guest lounge pondering over the many millions that we were making for vendors by selling their product for them on air.

We decided to find their own product range that we could sell (though they didn't know what)

I was still getting the trade press from various suppliers in styling and a magazine dropped on my doorstep with an article about - bringing a sofa to life in your room to see if it was a 'fit'.

I didn't know or understand the technology (it was 2014) but James (geek and techie) did and we knew that Augmented Reality was what they wanted to do.

Several months of planning, sourcing UK suppliers, registering trademarks etc followed and Mardles was born & launched on QVC within six months of the first idea. We had a small order to go to air with and by the time we were off air that had increased by 1000 per cent!

QVC USA and Canada followed. We went back to development for ideas - next came colouring, then dress up masks and finally stories.

After our first airing at London Toy Fair, Aardman & ITV came to us for Licensed product.

We were voted Top Five toys in The Sun, made Metro's Lust List, were featured on the Gadget Show and picked up by the DiT to follow a Passport to Export programme.

Up until 2017, we were totally self-funded until we went to equity raise with Seedrs and drew attention from all over Europe with investors from 32 countries and made target in 48 business hours.

In January 2019, we were one of only three companies in London to receive the Board of Trade award for Outstanding Contribution to International Trade & Investment presented by Dr Liam Fox at the Foreign Office.

We are partnering with companies all over the globe looking at adding AR to their promotions, products or experiences. We won a tender with a major Scottish Council to bring a tourism trail to life worth over £90k.

And throughout all of it - even though big business mentors have tried to steer us differently, we remain true to our morals.

Our app is what we call 100 per cent parent friendly:

  • No in-app purchases
  • No data capture - you don't have to register to use it
  • And once downloaded you don't need wi-fi or data to use it so no huge bills

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, there was a point mid in the mid 80’s, I was working in estate agency I  was told  that I couldn’t have a company car or move up through the ranks, even though I had successfully turned around three failing branches. The reasoning? ‘I’d only go and get pregnant’.  There and then, I made a conscious decision to move into a female dominated industry – which is why I made the move into recruitment.

I gave a talk at my old school recently to Year 12 – I worked out that I’d had 37 different job titles in my career to date! That would take some planning….

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, but don’t we all?!  My challenges have been mainly personal though - marriage/divorce/being a single parent/medical issues. When I encounter career challenges and set-backs, it just made me come out fighting and more determined than ever to succeed.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Rather than picking one particular achievement (although I was very pleased to receive the export award in January) I would say that it’s my ability to re-invent myself and to be able to channel my skillset into any new challenge and to make it work.

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

I would say that it’s my almost unlimited determination, and unmitigated desire to succeed, win and be the best I can.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

It makes perfect sense that when you have succeeded and worked through challenges, that you would want to share that knowledge – I would love to help someone.  I used to have a mentor myself - an older woman who was with me through some women’s health issues, marriage, divorce and then a very difficult pregnancy. She was an enormous help professionally & spiritually, Anji could adjust her focus onto me when I needed extra support and she could also help me deal with my team of 25 girls that in their early 20’s, had their own struggles to work around in a busy stressful sales environment.  I am a big fan of mentoring - both giving and receiving!

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Girls having the confidence to find their voice and use it.  Too often women keep quiet and don’t push to have their views heard - I think they are worried about being branded bossy or pushy (which they can be), but the more we speak out, confidence grows. Once it becomes the norm for women to be an integral part of senior management teams, girls will have more to aspire to and women in business will have natural mentors to learn from.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Men don’t have to fall into one of these categories: Father, brother, boss or boyfriend! (I went to an all girls school)

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am busy growing our business to the next level and developing new markets around the world - working with people internationally is deeply interesting and there is always something new to learn from the different ways that business is done culturally. I want to change the shape and future of play and help children engage with technology through experience and fun


Daniela-Paredes-Fuentes

Inspirational Woman: Daniela Paredes Fuentes | Co-Founder of Gravity Sketch

 

Daniela Paredes Fuentes

Daniela Paredes Fuentes, Gravity Sketch co-founder, is both an experienced innovation designer bridging science, engineering and design, and an entrepreneur pushing to build ideas into successful realities.

With a focus on finding new growth opportunities and strategic priorities, Daniela is shaping the future of the company. Prior to founding Gravity Sketch, Daniela graduated from The Royal College of Art and Imperial College London with a masters in Innovation Design Engineering, whilst simultaneously working as an Innovation Designer at Jaguar Land Rover where she was responsible for developing interiors technology that would combine smart materials and AI to create alternative experiences for autonomous vehicles. Daniela was recently awarded Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Award.

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

My name is Daniela Paredes, I am 33 years old and I was born in Mexico. Four years ago I started a company called Gravity Sketch along with my co-founder, Oluwaseyi Sosanya, who I met at The Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

Based in the UK but with global reach and customers, Gravity Sketch is one of the fastest growing 3D creation start-ups, providing designers of any level with a tool to quickly and easily create in 3D. The idea for Gravity Sketch originally started as a university project and was born out of a shared interest in how spatial intelligence has the ability to enable designers to quickly visualise and conceptualise their designs. In terms of my current role, I co-run the company with Seyi but am predominantly focused on working with educational institutions to integrate our design software into the classroom.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily planned my career but from a very early age I was interested in design engineering. As I got older, I realised that I wanted to learn more about it and about how it can be used to solve different problems in different environments, so I decided to formally study Innovation Design Engineering whilst simultaneously working as an Innovation Designer at Jaguar Land Rover. This not only provided hands on experience but, as my role was focused on developing interiors technology that combined smart materials and AI to create alternative experiences for autonomous vehicles, I understood very quickly about the potential growth opportunities in this space.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course. There are multiple challenges that I have faced and that I continue to face but I welcome all of them as they force me to think differently and to stay focused on the end goal. A daily challenge we face for instance is the speed at which technology changes. We need to be constantly evolving our software while at the same time testing it to ensure it meets the needs of our users. From some people we received feedback that we are being too ambitious with what we are trying to achieve but, in contrast to this, our users have continuously supported and worked with us to deliver a market ready product which is now changing the game in the way that people design.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date has probably been taking what started as an idea and growing it in to what is now a fast-growing company that is delivering much more immersive design experiences. Not only that but during this process we had to challenge the status quo and encourage people to think differently about how they approach design. This is not yet a done deal, as education takes time, but we are definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to getting people to try Gravity Sketch as an alternative. This perseverance is now paying off as we continue to grow our business pipeline and sign new partners.

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

I think it has probably been both self-belief and the belief and support of the people around me. Be that from my co-founder Seyi, my family, our users or our team, all have played a key role in us getting this far and will continue to play a key role in my continued growth both as a person and our continued growth as a business.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Finding mentors along the way has been crucial for my career. I feel it is important for younger or less experienced people to be able to talk to someone that has taken a similar path to you. When you are just starting out you think that there is so much knowledge you need to have, or that there are secret tricks for everything you’re trying achieve. The truth is that the real secret is finding your own way of doing things, learning a lot, asking many questions and considering the advice you received from other people along the way.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

There are multiple strategies for accelerating the pace of change for Gender Parity but my belief is that a lot of it could be improved by insisting on greater accountability – making both people and organisations more accountable for their choices and their actions. So, setting clear targets for everyone in the workforce that they can be measured against and providing the same help, assistance and mentoring along the way to everyone – it needs to be fully inclusive. Companies should also be set the same targets. Whilst I fundamentally believe that a person has to be right for the job, regardless of gender, if everyone is given the same opportunities then gender should become less of an issue. Organisations should be transparent about progression metrics and should be held accountable when it is clear that people are not being treated the same.

How would you encourage more young girls and women into a career in STEM?

This is obviously a hot topic as, like so many areas of education and business, females are grossly underrepresented in this field. Firstly, I would advise young girls not to be put off by gender stereotypes and the fact that just because there are more males in STEM it doesn’t mean that, as females, they are not equal or they are less capable of achieving the same goals and status. It is important to instil this belief at a young age as it will set them up with self-belief from the start. At the same time though it is important to teach them that failure is often the route to success and that, whilst there will be challenges along the way, the trick is to learn how to overcome those challenges. Secondly, I think it is important for females to have role models – people to whom they can relate. And this doesn’t just have to be women. Equally men can and do serve as positive ambassadors for getting more females into STEM. Finally, it is about creating opportunities for girls to be successful in this field. Both in the classroom and in the workplace, we need to be cognizant of creating environments where everyone has the same chance to learn, to grow and to ultimately succeed.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

To persevere and stop thinking that things might not go according to plan, because they don’t! If you work hard and put your heart into it, things will work out in their own way and you’ll be surprised and probably really happy that they turned out like that. Remember that ambitious goals are not easy to achieve and you’ll see all your friends move forward a bit faster than you at first. Just wait and keep going and things will start to come together eventually.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Business wise, our next challenge is to expand our product range and take on three additional enterprise verticals. We will also grow our team by adding new headcount in design, development and sales. Ultimately we want to create the most flexible product for delivering more creative workflows. Personally, I hope that I will continue to grow as a person and that, through the technologies that we create, I will make a significant contribution to augmenting the science, the art and the design scene. I also got married last year so I hope to spend some time enjoying married life!


Megan Neale

Inspirational Woman: Megan Neale | Co-Founder, Limitless

 

megan nealeMegan Neale is widely regarded as a thought leader in digital innovation for customer care.

Her passion for “customer & client first” combined with her constant drive for innovation led her to co-found Limitless Technology in 2016. Megan’s vision is to help every company deliver outstanding personalised service, at a lower cost and - by taking a crowd service approach - return millions of rewards to their own customers. During her 20 year career in customer management and the contact centre industry, Megan has helped build successful customer engagement solutions and deliver worldwide, transformational solutions and operational excellence for many global brands.

Megan was an equity director leading a high growth European contact centre outsourcing business which was acquired by the global conglomerate Hinduja Group and is founding shareholder of Semafone, the leader in PCI compliant security solutions for contact centres.

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

I moved to London having grown up in a small and very picturesque Welsh village to study Maths and Computer science at City University. Growing up in a tiny Welsh speaking village and not being able to speak the language taught me that even if you struggle to communicate it, you will always be able to find a way forward. This is something I’ve always lived by.

I always enjoyed being responsible and helping people – so when most of my classmates moved off into accountancy and banking I took the unlikely route into retail. Running a store seemed like it would satisfy all those things and that’s where I fell in love with customer service.  It was then an easy step into an outsourced customer service start up where I was responsible for operations, client services and IT. I became an equity holder and helped build the company to 2000 employees.

There is something so rewarding about providing great service, I just love it – it’s what makes me get up in the morning, whether it’s seeing my clients happy or seeing one happy consumer.

In 2016 I co-founded my latest business, Limitless Technology, a gig platform and marketplace that enables brands to pay their own advocates for providing high quality sales and customer service on a per task basis. I now spend my days working with and building an incredible team to support our client base; we are only 18 months in and have the privilege of working with brands including Microsoft, Vodafone, Unilever, National Express and many others.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I think I always knew I wanted to get to the next level in whatever I was doing. When you’re studying, progression is very much laid out for you and I enjoyed that process. I just expected it to continue in my work life. As such, I was always clear with my managers what my goals were and have been fortunate to have been able to achieve them. My primary objective in my work has been to work with people who I enjoy spending time with and who can do things I can’t, so I can develop my skills. Whenever I have found myself in a team where that was not the case, I made a conscious effort to change that.

When I had my daughter I was keen to find some form of balance and blend my career aspirations with family life. I worked four days a week for eight years and I was able to successfully progress my career at the same time.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Many, but I am an optimist by nature so can honestly say that none of the challenges were real challenges. When I first moved to Europe into an Area Manager role, I needed to prove I could speak German. I couldn’t, so I took some evening classes, moved there and deliberately recruited people who didn’t speak English so I had to learn. Within three months, I was able to get by just fine.

Also, managing a workforce of 2000 people who are largely paid minimum wage while maintaining a great culture is tough and relentless. I’ve therefore learnt that culture is something we must have every day, not just once a month or quarter and no matter how well you think you are on top of it, you can always do more.

How would you encourage more young women and girls into STEM?

Do what you enjoy and remember that STEM doesn’t mean only software coding or hard core engineering, it can be all manner of things. I think we need to help young people get a broader understanding of the types of roles available that are perfect for their skills. If you enjoy a quantitative subject then explore companies that interest you and look at the wider roles in those organisations. If you make sure you are in a sector that interests you, then your analytical nature will simply come through as you develop and the opportunities will be there for you.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

So far my biggest career achievement would be successfully founding and launching Limitless Technology with my co-founder Roger Beadle who I have worked with for 15 years. As a start-up, every day is hugely rewarding and celebrating the little moments of success along the journey are what makes this fun. In terms of a wow moment - receiving investment from Unilever and Downing Ventures did make us think “ok, this is real now”.

It’s not really an achievement, but I am constantly blown away by the talented people who I have the utmost respect for that are choosing to come and work with us in our quest to “be known for making customer service great for everyone everywhere”.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Limitless is growing really quickly, we have launched in 7 countries US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Germany and Poland already and will be in 21 countries soon. I am looking forward to being truly global and the opportunities, and learning, this will bring for the whole Limitless team.


Beckie Taylor featured

Inspirational Woman: Beckie Taylor | Co-Founder, Women in Tech North

 

Beckie Taylor

Beckie Taylor is co-founder of Women in Tech North and has recently founded Tech Returners, an initiative designed to support people harness their transferable skills by providing training and personal development to enter, or re-enter, the technology sector or set up their own business.

Beckie also began her own consultancy, CLOS, the success of which has allowed her to start the Tech Returners initiative.

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

I have worked in HR People and Talent for the past 15 years, with the last 10 years spent in tech. My most recent role was Global Head of HR for a high growth SaaS business in Manchester, my role focused on scaling the business through the importance of people.

Having had a career break myself when I had my son Ethan, I felt I lost my network and lost my skillset – both impacting my confidence – and I thought I couldn’t be the only one who was going through this.

I co-founded Women in Tech North in 2017, which is a community meet-up group where we now have over 750 members. I was being asked to regularly talk about my experiences that people felt they could relate to and this led to Tech Returners being born. It started off as a personal passion which has grown into a successful business and support network for those returning to work.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not really. I left college and decided not to go to university, which was frowned upon at the time as I was the only one in my year who had decided not to go, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I then had an aspiration to join the mounted police, however I couldn’t pursue it further as I am partially deaf.

From there I sort of fell into recruitment and HR, and I found a natural skillset for people development and talent management. From starting out in the tech industry and becoming a coach and mentor, I do take my own advice and try to plan what success looks like to me and how I can create the best path to get there.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Yes, when I decided not to go to university, also redundancy, lack of confidence, conflict with male colleagues, and having to choose between my career and family in my last senior role.

However, I am a great believer that things happen for a reason and you need to acknowledge these challenges and make a plan to adapt. It’s not always the right plan but that’s OK – it’s how you learn and grow.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

My day always starts with taking my little boy to school – it is really important to me to have the time to do this. I then always listen to a podcast or a Ted Talk on my hour’s commute to gear me up for the day ahead. When I get home I spend time with Ethan and try to leave my phone alone in the evenings – even though it’s hard sometimes! Then once he is in bed I might catch up on a few bits of work or watch some TV to unwind from the day.

How would you encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

That’s part of what I currently do within my various roles. I demonstrate that there isn’t just one journey in tech, there are different roles and paths you can take and you can absolutely use skills from previous jobs to help support you on any new route you want to pursue.

I share my story and try to educate groups by word of mouth through meet-ups with Women in Tech North, the Tech Returners community and attending as many networking groups and events as I can. I think it helps to lead by example, so I try and be as active as I can in the tech community to show others what’s possible.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

Yes, I have had a few mentors. I think the most important thing is finding one that’s right for you and to not be afraid to say if they aren’t. It’s not that you’re saying you don’t get on with the person, it’s just their style or approach isn’t right for you.

Yes, I do mentor people as well which I find very empowering, not only to support others but to learn from them as well.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Even though we have made enormous, encouraging steps forward in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Ultimately, I would like women to be seen as equals in every role, in every workplace.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Having my son is a personal one for me, and a professional one would be making it as a finalist in the Northern Power Women Awards for Tech Returners just six months after the project had started.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want people to understand the power of the returner and how we need to support people who are about to embark on, as well as coming back from, career breaks.

A report released by PWC in 2016 found that returning women are generally underused in the workplace, paying a penalty for having a career break. This includes highly skilled professionals.  There is also research which highlights that there is a £1bn potential of women returners to the marketplace, yet businesses are not even close to making the most out of this.

Empowering returners is especially crucial in the tech sector – we don’t want to be filling the talent pipeline and then losing people. We need people to know there are opportunities once they’re ready to come back to work, and to help businesses facilitate returners more effectively.


Laura Hutton featured

Inspirational Woman: Laura Hutton | Co-Founder & Head of Fraud & Financial Markets, Quantexa

 

Laura Hutton is Co-Founder and Head of Fraud and Financial Markets at Quantexa - the start-up solving financial crime and terrorism through data analytics, AI and machine learning.

Laura has over 12 years’ experience using data and network analysis to tackle fraud and financial crime. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, Laura pioneered and implemented the technology subsequently put in place by Société Générale to prevent similar from occurring again. She has since headed up teams at Detica and SAS, before co-founding Quantexa in 2016 where she uses sophisticated networking technology to help their clients such as HSBC, and Shell.

In an industry where only one in seven of women are executive committee members & only 17 per cent of start-ups were founded by women, Laura is passionate about inspiring girls to work in and establish companies like Quantexa. Laura runs work experience programs for 16/17 year old girls to encourage them to get into STEM subjects.

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

I help the world’s largest organisations to drive more intelligence out of their vast data assets. My role is to innovate, using cutting edge analytical techniques to develop new solutions to business-critical problems.

I have helped banks fight and financial crime for over a decade through the use of sophisticated analytics and I’m passionate about the power data can provide to create a good society. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, I built the solution that Société Générale subsequently implemented to prevent unauthorized trading.

In 2016, I took a huge jump and founded Quantexa with a team of six colleagues, with a global mission to empower large, international companies to truly understand their customer networks. By understanding such networks, they can fully understand who they are doing business with in turn prevent fraud, money laundering, rogue trading, terrorist financing and human trafficking. Two years later, we have enabled 13 of the world’s biggest institutions (including bank, insurers and oil and gas companies) onto our technology and are growing internationally at an unprecedented level with offices in Sydney, New York, Brussels and Boston.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I am a planner by nature, I like to know where I’m going and what I’m trying to achieve. However, as the only girl in my year to study further A-Level maths, and one of just three women in my intake at Durham University to complete a masters in maths, I was shocked by the fact that there was no clear path for me to go down to achieve my goals.

At university, the options presented to me were the same and uninspiring, with teaching being the default suggestion rather than any positions that allowed me to innovate and to develop technology itself. I am always so proud that I was confident enough to walk my own path and pursued my dream of using my mathematical brain to create new things.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

One of my biggest challenges has always been my own desire to do something new, something interesting. I am an innovator at heart, yet I know that I must always balance that up with the needs of the businesses I have worked for and now run. I have become more aware of where my skills lie and have therefore been able to craft roles that best suit me. In doing so, my input and value to the business has grown significantly.

Interestingly, being an innovator within technology has led me in to a role that isn’t commonplace for women. It is a very male dominated environment, and at times, it’s been a fight for my voice to be heard. When I was 26, I built a world-first solution that would detect rogue trading, but when I was presenting my work to prospective customers, it was difficult to get ‘air-time’. I didn’t fit the typical mould of someone in investment banking, never mind, someone offering a new technology solution! In the early days, I brought an older gentleman with me, just to get in the door. This, as you can imagine, was incredibly frustrating but I learnt that knowledge would shine through, and in time, I became recognised as the leader in that space.

I strongly believe that if you face challenges with adversity, you will become a stronger person inside and outside of work. What I have learnt about myself more recently, is that I am at my best when I am challenged. It’s when I come up with the best solutions!

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

When I talk to young girls about where they envisage their future career, they are often held back by the same belief that a career in science or technology isn’t for them because they are female. Is this a lack of confidence and because they don’t believe they are equipped with the right skills? Or it is a lack of desire to work in a male-dominated environment? I’m not sure.

I don’t want girls to not reach for their goals and fulfil their aspirations because they’re nervous the company or even sector is too geared towards men. I am proud to have co-founded a successful technology business, I took a risk and it’s paying off.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is absolutely critical for everyone’s career development, no matter what sector you’re in. Speaking to someone to get advice on how to best reach your full potential will always give you the confidence to strive to achieve your absolute best, making you aware of opportunities that you may have not considered or even been aware of. The young women at Quantexa have all been on different journeys and all possess different skills which puts them in great stead to become mentors for young and aspiring girls who want to work in I.T. I aim to be a role model to them and indeed, others; it really is possible to be a woman with a young family in technology and to be leading the way in innovation.

I didn’t have a female mentor to guide me when I was younger which is probably symptomatic of a shortage of these. Yet over the years, I have developed a network of like-minded women from lots of different industries who guide me through challenges and with whom I can celebrate successes.

How would you encourage more women and girls to pursue a career in STEM?

The problem lies in the lack of awareness of the opportunities that are available for these young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM. It’s imperative that schools target jobs to everyone, ridding the classroom of the stereotype of the male scientist, data scientist or physician. Many girls finally realise that they are capable of pursuing these jobs whilst heading to university, when it’s often too late.

Work experience is vital, so I’d encourage businesses to launch work experience schemes for young girls aged 16/17 to make them aware of the career opportunities open to them and to have the chance to meet leading women in the industries they are passionate about. At Quantexa, we are launching a work experience program for teenage girls aged 16 and 17 to learn first hand how exciting it is to work in I.T. Hopefully, this will inspire these girls to pursue a role in I.T. because they’re passionate about it, rather than dismissing it because it’s ‘too male dominated’.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Without a doubt, my biggest achievement to date is following my dream and starting Quantexa, leaving a position of stability and comfort. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a planner at heart and this was a huge risk to take; my plan was entirely thrown out of the window! Nevertheless, with such a great team of fellow founders with a passion for our solution, it was the best decision I have ever made. Within two years, we have a team of over 95 people, who each have a personal story and journey around what brought them to Quantexa and I have no doubt that we have a collection of future CEOs and CTOs sitting among us.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want to become a role model for women in technology and STEM. I’ve been fortunate enough to challenge myself every day, have a great and varied career; creating and implementing innovative solutions, leading global teams and pursuing my ultimate dream: creating my own company. I want to inspire girls to get into STEM, I.T. and technology and for them to know that they are not held back because of their gender, they are empowered by it.


Rachel Grigg featured

Inspirational Woman: Rachel Grigg | Co-Founder & Managing Director, Voodoo Park

 

Rachel Grigg is Co-Founder and Managing Director of digital agency Voodoo Park.

She works closely with the CEO and CTO to direct the company’s creative vision, strategy and growth.

Rachel Grigg

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

When it comes to tech I’m entirely self-taught, having initially started out in the arts. Although it didn’t take me long to realise that tech was my thing. My first job in the sector was at a small company analysing text messaging. Over the years I worked my way up the ranks, via a series of roles – account manager, marketing manager, innovation manager. I was at Vodafone, initially in the (at the time entirely new) internet services team, where we worked on the first ever iPhone launch.

That was awhile ago! There were lots of firsts, I helped create the first ever data bundles and launched netbooks and mobile broadband dongles into the consumer market . I’ve been working in digital for 15 years now, so I got to experience the digital revolution from the inside, particularly in relation to mobile. Voodoo Park is my second MD role. I’m working on our expansion, strategy and innovation. It’s all about understanding our brand, looking at who we are in the market, and ensuring we expand in a grown-up and sustainable way for both ourselves and our partners.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, never! I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist, that was my first specialism. But when it came down to it I was always most interested in the tech aspects of it, for example the newest camera or latest imaging equipment. Archaeology involved some great technology, but stuff like that was slow to develop in that sector, which I found frustrating. So, I drifted into my first tech role, the SMS job, and immediately found it fun and exciting. But truthfully, I fell into that, there was no plan. I just knew I liked tech. That’s how it often is with genuine passions, it always pays to follow your instincts.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

Yes, lots and lots! I think working in tech and digital companies constantly challenges in multiple ways every day. I became an expert in technical delivery. That involves one challenge after another because new digital things will inevitably go wrong when they first launch. You’re working for high profile customers that want everything yesterday, and you have to make sure your crew stay motivated, enough to get them through the long hours that project delivery involves. In those situations, team morale is so important.

Staying directly involved in all aspects of a project is the best way to overcome those types of challenges. Of course, being a woman in the sector brings its own challenges, starting with often being the only woman in the room. I am finding my challenges are becoming fewer in terms of customer delivery, and are now morphing into business challenges. At Voodoo park we are passionate about ensuring we have as diverse a culture as we can in order to challenge our way of thinking and challenge the way the world has been run in business for as long as anyone can remember.

Do you have a typical workday? How does your start your day and how does it end?

The only real constant is getting up and getting my two boys off to nursery! After that I’ll probably come home, have a cup of tea and write out my to do list, cross-checking it against the day before. I love a good list! Then a daily call with the team, at Voodoo Park we’ve really embraced remote working. This means constantly exploring new ways to stay in touch with each other. Then I’ll work my way through my list, I seem to be making lots of calls at the moment. I am working a lot on strategy, so a chunk of my day consists of doing quite a bit of good old fashioned thinking.

I also make sure I take my YooDoo Time, this is for all our guys to take two hours a week in work time to do something to improve their mental health or physical well being. I close off my day speaking to the team, getting the boys and then chilling out with them before bath time. I go into London for meetings a few times a week, but mainly I’m based at home, which massively suits my lifestyle. I think giving people that kind of flexibility empowers them, which in turn leaves them motivated to work. At Voodoo Park we really encourage it, and find it works really well for us as a business.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

I’m a big fan of it. It’s a really positive thing to help people to develop and when done right both sides get so much out of it. I do think it’s important that the people are well matched though, otherwise it’s not mutually beneficial. I’ve had a couple of mentors over the years, one of whom was a very senior guy at Vodafone, and personality wise we matched perfectly. It was quite early on in my career and he was absolutely brilliant. However, sometimes it can be more about them than you, and that can be difficult. I have unofficially mentored others in the past, and we’re in the process of kicking off a mentoring scheme ourselves with the STEMettes organisation.

How do you think we can encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

It’s such a difficult problem to solve. There is a lot of work on this going on right now, it’s a big discussion point, which is obviously great to see. We need to focus on making girls know it’s accessible to them, and requires a perception shift. It’s not something that is going to change overnight, regardless of how much effort we all put in. Women and girls need to be given the confidence to give it a go and not worry about initial failures, the very nature of the sector is all about testing hypotheses. For that to happen we need to change how we teach in schools, and sometimes even how we’re raising our girls. Encouragement, access, and raising awareness all have a vital role to play, but real change is going to take time. At Vodafone all the buildings are named after inspirational tech figures, and just recently they changed some to be named after women for the first time. That’s a massive sign of change and it was great to see.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

From a personal point of view (and I do of course understand this doesn’t apply to everyone), but for women that have chosen to have a family and go back full time, flexible working really is the most important thing. Many women really want to continue their careers but a lack of flexible options hold them back. We need to create environments that help them to feel free to return to the workplace, in a way that works for them. This applies to men as well, it’s an issue for families in general. Help with childcare would of course also have a big impact.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My current role. I’ve worked on some amazing product launches and deals in the past, with the likes of Facebook and Twitter before anyone had heard of them, but my current role has enabled me to realise what I’m capable of helping a business to achieve. I have definitely been pigeon-holed in the past and as a result been frustrated and made mistakes. But I have learnt from them and I am now able to now push Voodoo Park forward, helping us all to achieve our goals, utilising all my experience and referring to all the challenges I’ve overcome, it’s a really rewarding experience. I feel like it’s an achievement to have got where I am. The way Voodoo Park genuinely embraces women in tech, and give me so much genuine autonomy, rather than paying lip service to it, are more things to be proud of.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’d like to help more businesses to reach their potential. And more women. Personally, I genuinely feel like I’m reaching my own potential now, and I’d love to encourage others to do the same. My dream would be to move into an advisory role, for companies specifically and women more generally. I still learn new things every day, and looking at ways to harness the knowledge you accumulate to help others is always rewarding. For now, I’m focused on making Voodoo Park a big success story. Then I can convey how we did it to others. Failing all that I’d settle for running a B&B in the French countryside, cooking up a storm with my own wine cellar!