Inspirational Woman: Jen Marsden | Director of Design Engineering, SharkNinja

Jen Marsden SharkNinja

Jen Marsden is Director of Design Engineering at leading home technology firm SharkNinja and is originally from the Wirral, Merseyside.

From a young age she was fascinated by engineering, sparked by her Dad, who having previously worked as a Navy Engineer, would teach her about how things work.

Jen’s interests grew throughout secondary education and she gained a place to study Design Technology BA at Loughborough University, graduating in 2005.  She started her career as a junior designer at Vax, where she worked on floorcare products for 11 years, swiftly working her way up to Head of Product Development. Keen to progress her skills in a different sector, Jen joined SharkNinja as Design Manager in 2017. Over just three years, Jen has progressed to a leadership team role. During her time heading up New Product Development for the Ninja Heated category, she has led the team through the development of several hero products including the Foodi Pressure Cooker, Ninja Foodi Health Grill and Which? Best Buy’s Ninja Air Fryer.

In 2019 Jen made moves to take her career to the next level, as she headed up the launch of SharkNinja’s London WE Lead initiative. WE Lead was born in the firm’s Boston office, with the objective of being a social and professional network for women in the US team. Inspired by this and by her own experiences as a woman in STEM, Jen began work to launch a parallel programme in London. Consisting of internal panel events, talks and clinics, the objectives of WE Lead are to provide a supportive, professional network for women in SharkNinja, to directly tackle the main gender equality issues surrounding women in STEM and to spread awareness of the wealth of career options and various avenues to get into STEM, both at SharkNinja and more generally.

Jen’s actions are truly inspirational within the STEM community. She continues to lead her career as Director of Design Engineering, but is also putting immense passion and drive into establishing the WE Lead programme for her colleagues. She hopes to not only increase understanding of the trials faced by women in STEM and how these should be overcome, but to tackle the root of the cause of the industry’s gender imbalance through strategic partnerships.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly, from a young age I was creative and always enjoyed arts and design subjects at school.  As I worked towards my A Level subjects, it was maths which I found to be most interesting and as a result, rewarding.  This combination led me to go on to University to study design, but the diversity of career options was never really highlighted to me during my school years.  Part of my course involved a year working in industry where I joined the design team for Salton Europe (now Spectrum brands) which manufactured consumer products for brands such as Russell Hobbs, George Foreman and Carmen.  It was this exposure to consumer product development that forged my aspirations to work in this industry, designing market leading products for the mass market.

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

More often than not when meeting new customers or clients the assumption is made that I do not work within the engineering team. Whilst I don’t feel this has directly impacted my career growth, it highlights that this is an extra hurdle for me, to always work that bit harder in order to prove my position and capability.  The lack of female peers and leaders has sometimes fed into that insecurity, however, it has also been a big driver in wanting this situation to change.  The WE Lead programme is about providing a support network and raising awareness of this gender imbalance within technical and leadership roles.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I would have to say the progression to my current role. As Director of Design Engineering for Ninja Heated New Product Development, I work with fantastic teams across the world to deliver products which positively impact peoples lives.  It’s exciting to be a part of a category which is growing significantly and bringing such innovative and exciting products to life.

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

It’s important to feel challenged and to continue challenging yourself to further improve and I think a major factor in ensuring this happens is honesty.  From having the ability to admit when you don’t know something, to being open and honest with team members or stakeholders, honesty ensures direction and alignment is always clear.  This is hugely important in driving success both individually and for the business.  Being open to and seeking feedback has enabled me to build on my strength areas and identify growth opportunities.

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

Try and get a good mentor or mentors, someone who can support both your personal and career development.  This does not have to be someone you work with directly, and in fact it’s important that the conversations don’t become performance based. It’s about finding somebody with good and varied experiences who can give feedback and guidance – I believe this is the best way of broadening your skills and knowledge base by enabling growth in many areas.

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

Yes, I believe barriers very much prevail and it is these which are at least partly responsible for the continued gender imbalance in STEM. Throughout every stage of the British education system, there are more boys studying STEM subjects than girls. Although society is working hard to move away from gender stereotypes, an unconscious, implicit bias still remains, and many people still associate scientific and mathematic fields as ‘male’ and the arts and humanities as ‘female.’ Additionally, there is a great absence of information, guidance and encouragement to enter STEM experienced by girls, which is a further factor feeding into the low levels of females choosing to study these subjects and enter the STEM workforce. Sadly, the barriers don’t stop there. I recently read that although there are now one million women working in STEM in the UK, only 5% of leadership positions in technology are held by females, which really shocked me. There is no simple answer to overcoming these barriers, but I believe it starts by everyone realising they have a role to play, whether you are a parent, teacher or employer, girls and women need to be aware of the wealth of opportunities available to them in STEM and given guidance around how they can start a career in the industry and continue to flourish.

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

Firstly, I believe the industry should be working closely with the education system to teach children and students about technology from a young age, shining a light on its instrumental role in shaping the world we live in and highlighting how students can get involved in this exciting sector. Secondly, the entry routes into these professions need to be diversified and for awareness of these to be greater. Alternative avenues firms should look to invest in might look like apprenticeships, work experience weeks, or shadowing schemes. Finally, there need to be processes in place so that female employees progress at the same rate as their male counterparts. Organisations must implement initiatives to support women to advance to more senior positions as well as gender targets at all levels. I am so happy to be working for a firm which recognises the importance of gender equality in the workplace and has implemented initiatives to address it. Through the WE Lead programme, SharkNinja runs a series of events aimed at raising awareness of gender issues amongst all employees, creating a global support network for women across the business and providing education and entry avenues to students through joint ventures with universities and schools.

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?

It would have to be to increase the number of females in leadership positions.  The percentage of women in tech overall is low, but those in the highest positions in a technology role, as mentioned, is only 5%.  Changing this will not only help younger generations to be inspired to follow careers in similar industries, it will also help break down the unconscious gender bias that still exists across many generations.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are lots of great resources available for inspiration.  There’s a great Podcast Playlist called ‘Women in Tech SF – Empowering Podcasts’ which has a lot of insightful podcast channels with episodes covering topics such as working in a male dominated workplace, why there are so few female CEOs and talks with successful business women who discuss their career paths and challenges.  Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook has a short, but really inspiring TED talk about women in leadership, or lack of: https://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders#t-445745 there are plenty of other TED talks too which are a great source of information (https://www.ted.com/search?q=women+in+technology)

There are also more and more events, festivals and conferences being held which talk more about the topic, and celebrate the success of women within the technology industry, including;


The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM

Sophie DenhamSophie Denham is a Senior Engineering Manager in Technical Project Management for Shark Robotics. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunities her career in Design has given her, enabling her to work at world-leading companies and study abroad.

She puts much of this down to the incredible female role models she has been lucky to have around her. Here she discusses her experiences and why she jumped at the chance to get involved in SharkNinja’s WeLead programme, an innovative global support network for women across the company, as well as education and entry avenues into STEM through joint ventures with universities and schools.

For most of my childhood, I had my heart set on joining the Police Force, but also knew I wanted to go to University first. During secondary school, I studied Product Design and was fortunate enough to have a truly inspiring Product Design teacher, who had built the department up using the very latest technologies in 3D printing and had worked in the industry for years before turning to teaching. This meant I was exposed to what Product Design was, both as an industry and what it could mean as a career, whereas in most other subjects, it was difficult for me to perceive how they would be used in real life. I loved the ability to combine maths, physics and creativity to produce products that people actually wanted and needed, so felt this was the perfect degree for me. I studied BSc in Product Design at Brunel University - it was rigorous and demanding and I could genuinely see myself pursuing a career in design if it weren’t for my dream of joining the Police. Yet upon graduation, I didn’t even look at Police recruitment. By the end of those four years, I realised how much I had loved my course and the real insights I had given me into the worlds of design, engineering and technology.

So, I began my career as a Design Engineer with Dyson and following that, moved to Auckland to work for a medical company Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. Here I specialised in consumer research and front- end design, taking a leading role in running global clinical trials on an innovative new technology to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Across these two roles I was involved in designing technology leading to three patents, which is a great achievement for any designer. I then joined SharkNinja when I returned to the UK, first as a Design Engineer before transitioning into Technical Project Management.

After over two years working in the Ninja category, I left the company to pursue another interest, joining a small startup in London that makes hardware and software to empower young people to learn to code in a creative environment. Here, I learned a vast amount about software development, becoming a qualified Scrum Master as well as taking a leading role in restructuring the manufacturing division of the company.

Earlier this year, I then rejoined SharkNinja to begin an exciting new challenge within the Robots division, combining my experiences in hardware and software as Senior Engineering Manager, Technical Project Management. In this role, I am responsible for ensuring the products within this Robots category are delivered to the requirements set by both the consumers and the business, by ensuring collaboration and cohesion across the different teams within the global Robots division.

I am truly thankful for the opportunities my career in Design has given me, enabling me to work at world-leading companies and study abroad. Much of this I put down to the incredible role models I was fortunate enough to have in school, university and workplaces. As a woman in STEM, it is especially important to have these role models, yet shockingly, only 22% of students are able to name a famous female working in technology. Having spent much of my career being the only female within an engineering team, I am so grateful to the incredible support network of female mentors and colleagues who have guided me along the way. With their support; whether that has been highlighting when I’ve done something really well, or given me a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge when I have made errors in work or judgement, I have grown from being a timid, quiet member of the team to someone who feels confident speaking out. Without these incredible female role models, I fear I would still be the quiet mouse of the team, afraid to speak out when I have ideas.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to get involved in SharkNinja’s WeLead programme. This is an amazing initiative which provides a global support network for women across the company, as well as education and entry avenues into STEM through joint ventures with universities and schools. Naturally, this is something I wanted to be a part of; to connect with the wealth of talented, strong women at SharkNinja, both to offer my support to others and to continue to support myself.

SharkNinja has such an array of female talent and having the chance to expose that talent to girls and women who may not have considered a career in STEM is also hugely important to me. Throughout my life I have been passionate about exposing more school aged children, particularly girls, to our industry, by tutoring STEM subjects through to A-level and speaking in schools about what real jobs look like within STEM. WeLead gives me an incredible platform to continue this at SharkNinja.

The importance of female role models in STEM is unparalleled and I am so happy to be working for a company which recognises and actively promotes this. The future is bright for women in tech.


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Hannah Sparrowhawk

Inspirational Woman: Hannah Sparrowhawk | Senior Technical Project Manager in Front End Innovation at SharkNinja

Hannah SparrowhawkHannah Sparrowhawk is Senior Technical Project Manager in Front End Innovation at SharkNinja.

Hannah works as part of the Front End Innovation team, which focusses on new product areas the business could expand into. Hannah manages the delivery of new products from ideation and concepting, through to low fidelity prototypes and user testing until they are ready to be transitioned into the Advanced Development and New Product Development teams.

Hannah completed a BA and MSci in Natural Physical Sciences from University of Cambridge, but following that, decided she didn’t want to continue an academic career.

She is also a founding member of SharkNinja’s WE Lead programme which supports women in engineering

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

I studied a Natural Sciences undergraduate and masters at Murray Edwards College, the women-only college at Cambridge University- specialising in Materials Science. After graduating, I studied Japanese at Nihon University in Tokyo and then worked at a product design consultancy in Oxford for three years before joining SharkNinja.

During my two and a half years with SharkNinja, I’ve worked in a number of different parts of the engineering team and am currently a Senior Technical Project Manager in the Heated NPD team. I’ve always been passionate about furthering diversity in the field, so jumped at the chance to co-found SharkNinja’s We Lead group, which is dedicating to supporting women to achieve their full potential in the business and am also an active member of SharkNinja’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equity committee.

During lockdown, it’s been amazing to witness people’s commitment to these initiatives. Even after a long day of video conferences, people are still keen to jump on another to plan some voluntary work, attend a virtual careers fair or discuss our latest WeLead book club read – it’s been fantastic to see.

SharkNinja as a business has also shown great commitment to its DEI initiatives throughout the lockdown, hosting a number of global Town Halls to tackle difficult conversations such as ‘Race and Gender in the Workplace’ as well as Story Telling sessions to understand a bit more about your colleagues and their backgrounds. An almost immediate outcome was the introduction of a cultural and religious observance floating holiday for all staff and a volunteerism policy which allows up to 8 hours of paid volunteer time per annum.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not formally, there was always a sense that studying a scientific subject would be a ‘sensible’ option for a future career, but I couldn’t have imagined the variety of jobs that are out there and I’m sure I’ve still only come across a tiny fraction of them. After my masters I knew I didn’t want to continue with an academic career and felt limited in the scientific roles I could apply for without a PhD, so was really glad to get into Product Design- an area where I continue to use and benefit from the technical knowledge I have gained whilst also being able to take advantage of other skills such as Project Management.

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

Growing up I don’t believe I had visibility of the variety of careers which tech can offer, so it felt a bit overwhelming when I first graduated. Luckily, I joined a company which supported me to expand beyond my role and understand where I could go.

I do feel that confidence to speak up even when it is not explicitly asked for is an on-going challenge for me, which I continue to work on every day. Initiatives such as WeLead have really helped with that!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In product design, there is always a huge anticipation when a product you have worked on launches- in general, I am so close to the engineering details of a product that I can forget how exciting the concept can be. After working on the VacMop product for over a year, our first QVC launch sold out in just 11 minutes which I think the whole team were really proud of.

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

I’ve been very lucky to always have a lot of role models in the workplace and to have good relationships with them. This has allowed me to be completely genuine at work which I think really impacts your happiness in the workplace and ability to succeed!

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

Build a support group who you trust and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and help! Getting honest feedback in a constructive way is so important to be able to develop, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. For every area you’re worried you’re not doing well enough in, there will be 10 which you’re excelling at! So, find the people who can remind you of those things, whilst also helping you in the area you’re worried about.

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

Yes, I think unconscious bias is still a huge issue for women working in tech. Even within a technical team, there can be a tendency to give the women in the group the less technical tasks which becomes self-fulfilling as they lose confidence in tackling more technically complex challenges. I would love for unconscious bias training to become compulsory across all levels in an organisation- we have a way to remove these biases completely, but if we can at least get better at recognising them in ourselves, that will be a fantastic start!

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

Create spaces for their voices to be heard - when we started the London WeLead group, we weren’t 100 per cent sure which events or activities would be the most successful, but the more things we did, the more it became clear that just having a space to speak about issues and having other people in the room listen and offer guidance had a huge impact on the wellbeing of the members involved.

There are 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?

Make sure girls and women have visibility of the options out there for them- not just at an entry level, but right to the top - we need to see people that represent us to believe we belong there too.

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

  • https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/ - SharkNinja provided all staff a wise account and there are loads of good resources on there as well as webinars and events you can attend.
  • https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/ - another great website full of resources for women in tech.
  • ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’ by Caroline Criado-Perez – this was our first WeLead Bookclub read and is great at illustrating and providing statistical data for a lot of the issues women are facing.

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