Inspirational Woman: Louise Maynard-Atem | Innovation Specialist, Experian

Louise Maynard-Atem

Louise Maynard-Atem is an Innovation Specialist at Experian.

She began her professional career on the Civil Service Fast Stream, where she was tasked with implementing data and evidence-based policies across the health and defence sector. Joining government immediately after academic research allowed her to work on projects of national significance including NHS four-hour target analysis, funding of specialist hospitals, and major defence contracts for the armed forces.

Her current role at Experian allows her to drive a culture of innovation and agility, using new data sources to develop products and services that will increase financial inclusion and create more value for consumers, with a focus on emerging markets.

Louise is a vocal supporter of STEM education and has worked for many years as a STEM ambassador, encouraging young people to pursue higher education and careers within the industry. More recently, given the increasing under-representation of young girls pursuing further education in STEM subjects, she has taken on the role of volunteer and mentor at the STEMettes charitable organisation, helping inspire the next generation.

Off the back of her role in corporate innovation at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, she decided to start her own company – The Corporate Innovation Forum – which provides a community of best practise for those working in corporate innovation teams. She described this as a career defining moment as it was the first time she’s had the responsibility of developing her own data community from scratch.

Louise also holds an undergraduate & PhD focused in Materials Chemistry from The University of Manchester and lives with her boyfriend in London

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

My name is Louise Maynard-Atem and I often describe myself as a recovering academic, as that’s where I started my career, but it probably also describes me quite well as a person. From a young age, I’ve had my nose in about 3 or 4 books at any one time. I’ve always had a voracious appetite for learning and that continues to this day – I’m currently studying for an executive MBA, as well as teaching myself to code.

I spent a number of years as a material science researcher, after studying chemistry at university, and since then I’ve worked across both public and private sector, primarily in healthcare and defence. I now work in Experian’s global innovation team, developing new data-driven solutions and attempting to solve particularly pernicious problems linked to financial inclusion.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did, in fact I plan and re-plan my career regularly to this day! My friends will be the first to say I love to plan, and my career is no exception. At school, I decided I wanted to win a Nobel Prize, so I worked backwards from there and figured out the steps I would need to take to get me to that end goal. I largely didn’t deviate from that plan (apart from a brief flirtation with going into investment banking, in 2008 of all years) until my late twenties, when I realised that I’d been blindly following a plan I made as a teenager and it wasn’t what I wanted in life anymore. It was at that point that I reframed the situation and started to think more about the impact that I want to have on society, rather than the specific job I want to do. I realised there were a number of ways that I could achieve that impact, so I started to make a career plan with the intention of frequently revisiting it to ensure that it is still aligned with the impact I’m seeking to have. I probably revisit my plans multiple times throughout the year, but tend to only make major adjustments once a year.

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

Absolutely. I’ve had a variety of different roles across different industries, which can often feel like you’re starting again from the bottom rung and have a long climb ahead of you. However, I’ve realised that going into a new area is an opportunity to not only learn new skills, but a great chance to apply the things that you already know to new situations. I’ve discovered that so many of the skills that I’ve learnt in one field/industry are incredibly transferable to any other; so, moving from academia, to government, to various parts of the private sector has actual given me a completely unique view point that has actually been a USP rather than an hindrance.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Career-wise, I’m probably most proud of the external recognition I’ve received for the work that I’ve been doing. Last year I was named as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering, and earlier this year I was named as one of We Are The City Rising Stars. It’s such an honour to be in the company of other great women who I respect and admire, and also be given a platform to share my journey and experiences with others in the hopes that it may bring some benefit to them.

Outside of my work, I’m particularly proud of my involvement with a number of charities that drive participation in STEM subjects and higher education for under-represented groups. Education has always been a huge passion of mine, as I feel it’s a phenomenal enabler for so many opportunities in life; any work that I can do to ensure that the broadest range of people have access to such opportunities will always be my proudest achievement.

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

I think it’s been a willingness to speak up whenever I need to; whether that’s to ask for help when I need it, to challenge something that I don’t agree with and offer my own perspective, or to volunteer for a new project. I think my willingness to change and adapt to new surroundings and challenges has helped me move forward at speed – I’m very uncomfortable with getting comfortable, so as soon as I feel like less challenged, I’ll throw a spanner in the works and change things up to make sure I’m still pushing myself.

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

Technology is ever-changing, and the pace of change only seems to be getting faster so my main tip is to ensure you’re always keeping abreast of those changes and keeping your knowledge as up-to-date as possible. I believe we should all be life-long learners, and nowhere is that more relevant than in the technology sector.

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

I think progress has certainly been made, but there is still a long way to go, you only need to read things like the memo from a Google employee about the suitability of women to certain roles to know that we’re still a long way from parity. How do we overcome this? Well it’s going to take a considerable shift in mindset – we need to have really visible examples of women working in and succeeding at every level of the tech sector, and this needs to be normalised. In the short term we need to keep shining a light on all of the great work that women are doing in technology, but the ideal end state is a time when women being equally as successful as men in every sector isn’t newsworthy, it’s just the norm!

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

The first thing companies need to do is understand what the specific barriers are for women within their organisations. That may well be a lack of flexible working, lack of shared parental leave, toxic environments that disproportionately affect women – but it needs to be an investigation into the factors affecting each organisation, rather than just copying trends/policies that other companies are implementing.

I also feel things like mentoring and reverse mentoring programs are vital to help people at all levels of the business see the world through a different lens and get an alternative perspective on situations that you can’t experience first-hand.

Perhaps the most important thing that organisations can do is create a safe environment for people to voice their issues, and actual commit to making changes rather than just paying lip-service to these issues.

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 affect only one area, it would definitely be the pipeline of talent coming into the technology sector as I feel that’s the only way to achieve sustained growth and eventual parity. We need to target young girls and women, and encourage them from as early a stage as possible to pursue the full range of careers, including all aspects of STEM, so that they’re not closing themselves off to opportunities before they’ve even begun to explore the possibilities ahead of them.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Getting out there and meeting/talking to other women in the industry is invaluable. I’ve yet to meet other women in tech who aren’t keen to help each other whenever and in whatever way they can – we just need to put ourselves out there more and not be afraid to ask for help or advice. Not every person will be able to help you, but they’ll more than likely be able to point you in the direction of somebody who will.

Organisations like We Are Tech Women, Women in Technology, Women in Tech UK and Women In Data are have fantastic resources, events and growing communities which provide a great start point for women looking to grow their networks. In fact, I’ll be speaking at this year’s Women in Data event, which is something I am extremely excited about.

I would also say to those that work in organisations of all sizes; take advantages of the internal networks within your organisations, and if there isn’t one up and running already, don’t be afraid to start one yourself.


Mentor

Positive female role-models in the data industry

Mentor

By Sarah Robertson, Experian

I remember as a child how much I enjoyed maths. 

I was lucky enough to go to a primary school that positively encouraged me to progress in a subject that has traditionally led to male-dominated job roles. That early support, along with strong female role models in my family, helped me grow in a subject I love and shaped my career in data.

However, many statistics are telling us that there are thousands of skilled, innovative and talented women out there who aren’t even considering a career in STEM, let alone data.  It’s clear to me that more support is needed to empower and encourage a new generation into the data science industry.  I’m a firm believer that we need to start working with girls at an early age to help breakdown the stereotypes and obsolete views that certain professions are gender-specific.

Take my son’s infant school, for example.  When he left in July, the school played a video showing what each child wanted to be when they were older.  Each answer lived up to a gender stereotype. It made me question how and why this happens, even in the most progressive households.  As a collective group, we need to broaden our children’s minds on the possible.  STEM careers of the future will only be more exciting, more varied, more significant to our digital, technological and data-driven society.

It is also important that we start encouraging girls to take risks, the same way we do with boys.  Girls should be brave, not perfect.  STEM subjects tend to have a right or wrong answer in early education, and if girls are not brave enough to be wrong, then they won’t challenge themselves with STEM subjects.  We must teach our daughters that it is OK to take risks.  It is OK to be wrong.  It is OK to learn something new.

Part of encouraging the next generation also means recognising and celebrating the achievements of the female role models working in data today.  Role models like Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who can inspire others and show them that a career in STEM is possible.  Having the chance to hear from these inspirational figures, what they love about their jobs, how they got there, and what they’ve overcome to achieve success is crucial.  Their stories can inspire the women of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps and to blaze their own trails.

However, we can’t rely solely on these well-known role models to single-handedly change an entire generation’s thinking.  We all have a responsibility to be role models in what we do.  More and more businesses are creating closer links with schools, colleges and universities giving the perfect opportunity to support younger people considering certain careers.  This is hugely important for girls wanting to get into STEM.

We’re in a stronger position than we’ve ever been before in the data industry, supported by some fantastic initiatives – like M&S, who recently announced their intention to turn more than 1000 of their staff into data scientists.  This is a huge step in the right direction, potentially opening doors for more women to find their passion in data science.

Despite still having a long way to go, we have made significant progress redressing gender imbalance in STEM, supported by a strong and passionate community.  I’m excited to continue doing my bit to encourage a new generation of girls to become part of the data revolution.

Sarah Robertson featuredAbout the author

In the early stages of Sarah’s career there was a clear lack of female role models working in the data industry, so she made it her mission to support the women that worked in her teams, as well as her peers and friends within the industry.

After Sarah graduated, she was unsure of what career to pursue but felt at the time IT was her preferred choice. This led to a temporary contract with IBM working in IT, but she quickly learnt that it wasn’t for her and started exploring jobs in statistics. She landed a role with a marketing agency in their analytics division and absolutely loved it! It was then that analysing data to understand consumer behaviour became a passion of hers. That was over 20 years ago and she’s never looked back.

Sarah is keen to address the imbalance of men and women across our industry, she is heavily involved in the event Women in Data UK and contributing to her current business on recruiting more females into data roles.