Fiona Howarth, CEO Octopus EV hr featured

Inspirational Woman: Fiona Howarth | CEO, Octopus Electric Vehicles

Fiona Howarth, CEO Octopus EV hr, Inspirational WomanFiona Howarth is a leading force in the electric vehicle revolution in the UK, heading up Octopus Electric Vehicles (part of the Octopus Energy Group) and championing the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

Bringing an enthusiastic energy to the industry with a passion for teaching others about electric vehicles, Fiona not only focuses on delivering an amazing service but also ensuring that everyone has access to honest and reliable information. As a mother of two young girls, Fiona looks to their future as motivation to continue work in the EV field - ensuring we look after the world that they, and their children, will live in.

Also passionate about equality and supporting women in leadership roles, Fiona founded a professional network for women in 2015, called The Stellar Set. The group has grown by word of mouth and now has >250 senior women as members who meet over informal drinks, listen to inspirational speakers and act as sounding boards for each other on a broad range of topics.

In 2020, Fiona was voted the winner of the Electric Vehicles category at the inaugural Women Powering Smart Energy Awards; and also recognised as one of the Top Women in EV by the EV Summit.

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

I am the CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles - helping individuals and businesses make the switch to clean, green driving.  We offer independent impartial advice and support throughout their electric journey - from choosing and leasing a great EV, to charging up at home and on the go with inexpensive, renewable electricity.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I was honoured to be awarded a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Engineering when I was a student. As part of the development process with the RAEng, I did draft a 5, 10, 20 year plan. I recently found it as I cleared some papers at my parents' house - and surprisingly, I did plan to work in management consultancy after uni, and latterly run an electric car company.

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

I have always wanted to run my own business - and twice, I've tried business models where it was either too soon, or the market wasn't structured for the business to succeed in the time I had available to give it.

Always in life, there will be things that work and things that don't - and being able to recognise those things that don't work quickly and feel ok walking away can be a strength. Those experiences gave me skills and experience; and led me to meet people that got me to where I am today.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I have been honoured to lead the EV business for the Octopus Energy Group - from hosting events so that drivers can get behind the wheel of an EV and trying it for themselves and get constructive advice if they are thinking of switching to an EV, through to launching green energy tariffs designed for EV drivers - partnering with smart charging companies like EO Charging and Ohme to make this super easy for drivers.

Octopus EV customers in 2019 saved carbon that is the equivalent of 260,000 fully grown trees - and often saving >90% on fuel costs.

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

Finding something that I was passionate about, and something I believe is doing something good - for customers and the world in which my kids & their kids will live. It significantly increases my motivation and drive - and makes the hard days easier, because you know it's worth it.

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

Persevere - and find a job in a subject you feel passionate about, and a culture that works for you and enables you to thrive.

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

There are barriers for women working in all industries. Overall, we typically don't back ourselves as quickly as our male counterparts - which means we may be less likely to take on the risky projects / jobs, and not gather the experience, which then will be useful to gain further exciting projects / jobs in the future. Through research & discussions, I've picked up 3 key insights:

  • Focus on the good bits, not just the bad: One woman I used to work with would write down - every day- 3 things that she did well. We shared a boss that rarely gave us recognition, but she got strength by doing this for herself. It made her much more resilient than I was at that stage.
  • Back yourself: Try things, take the risk - and don't worry if it goes wrong. You'll be in a much stronger place to get it right next time.
  • Back others: Find other women in your networks and help them to back themselves too. Give them the nudge to apply for that next job etc.

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

  • Exposure to role models (it's easier to follow a path if you can see how someone has done it before you): through e.g. mentor schemes, networking events with speakers.
  • Create forums to enable them to explore challenges and issues with peers / people who have already done it before e.g. networking drinks / dinners.
  • Flexibility during parenthood - for both men and women. This is really important, because child raising is about both parties - and it's easier for mothers to balance work and kids if the fathers are doing the same.

There is currently only 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?

It has to start at school - removing any stereotyping around STEM subjects being for boys, and making it easier for girls to take them and excel at them. I would get every woman in tech and get them to a school for at least a day a year to inspire the kids. I remember when Helen Sharman came and spoke at my school, actually as she opened our new tech facility. She was hugely inspiring and gave me a confidence boost that women can do the unexpected.

Interestingly - there is a lot of research that shows that girls in single-sex schools (where a subject is not one for boys or for girls, it's just a subject) are more likely to take maths, physics and chemistry.  In the UK, the  Institute of Physics (UK) published the It’s Different for Girls report that found that girls in single-sex government schools were 2.4x as likely to take Physics for A-level than their counterparts in co-ed government schools.

A 2017 report from Australia found that girls attending single-sex schools in Victoria were significantly more likely to study intermediate mathematics than girls in co-ed schools (36.3% vs 21.6%), and similar patterns with physics and chemistry. Furthermore, a 2019 American study found that teenage girls are less likely to do well in maths and science or complete a bachelor’s degree when they have greater proportions of high-achieving boys in their classes. Cools, Fernández and Patacchini (2019, p. 20) found that: “Faced with a greater proportion of ‘high-performing’ boys, girls may become less confident about their own ability in traditionally male-dominated fields such as math [sic] and science."

We are already seeing behaviours of women not backing themselves and it impacting their performance - we must fight that and remind ourselves that we are just as good and we can do this.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are a number of great women's groups around, but it's worth checking out WomenInTech, Ada's List and GeekGirl Meetup. Definitely don't restrict yourself to listening to only women. More men are succeeding in tech right now - remember there is no reason why we can't succeed like them, so let's listen to how they think about things, and select what bits we wish to adopt into how we think.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here