Arundhoti Banerjee

Inspirational Woman: Arundhoti Banerjee, Head of Global Strategy and Digital Business, Xpress Money

 

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

I’ve been at Xpress Money for five years and am the head of Strategy & Digital at Xpress Money, executing the company’s digital strategy and planning for growth. Part of this is through creating partnerships for the company that enable strategic benefits and exponential growth.

Whilst I’ve been in the financial services for around 12 years, working across a variety of different products for both fast paced start-ups and large organisations, my background is in engineering and have an MBA degree from IIM Ahmedabad, India.

Outside of work I’m a keen traveller – This year I visited the really vibrant Cape Town & Prague, the city of cobbled stones & castles. I am a voracious reader, currently reading "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness" a work of fiction by Arundhati Roy. I also love a good TV series & binge watch most of them; while "Game of Thrones" & "Breaking Bad" are all-time favorites, I am currently engrossed in watching "Line of Duty".

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

 No! However, it’s always been about pursuing opportunities that I have been excited about and making the most of the same. Early on in my career I jumped in as a founding member of a tech start-up in financial services. The experience transformed the way I looked at roles and how to shape them. Apart from the thrill of building an organisation, the experience inculcated in me a deep respect for all functions that go into the process. I have carried this aspect of collaboration through mutual respect across my entire work life so far, that has helped me tremendously to succeed.

I’ve always been interested in technology led businesses and I’ve steered my career in that direction through grabbing interesting opportunities. Right out of engineering college, I built softwares as a developer in a large technology firm.

Post my MBA, I got interested in financial services as a domain & the role of technology therein. Hence I pursued opportunities that enabled me to learn payments products & platforms. Currently, I am having a lot of fun shaping and participating in the $600 billion remittance industry, while making convenience the cornerstone for our customers.

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

I’ve faced many challenges and the best way to deal with them has been patience and ultimately, persistence. Self-belief is what keeps me going in the face of challenges. I’ve also been lucky to have built very strong relationships during my entire work life – people who have demonstrated faith in me and stood by me; that made dealing with any challenges a lot easier.

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

My workday always starts with a dedicated 20 minutes to plan the day and feed my priorities into the calendar. This helps to unclutter my mind and also prevents me from getting distracted by the many unforeseen emergencies during the day. The day typically ends with making sure that all emails that require my attention have been catered to.

Have you ever faced sexism in the workplace? How did you respond/deal with this?

Early on in my career I had the experience of being “manterrupted” in meetings. Fortunately, my ability to speak fast and over every other voice in the room is a saviour. On a serious note, an emphatic “let me finish my point” helps the case and sometimes even a separate chat with a repeated interrupter post the meeting have helped ease things out. Being confident, certain & assertive in approach and tone, have helped me deal with this.

How would encourage more women and young girls into a male-dominated career?

I would ask them not to worry about gender too much and be confident, speak-up and have complete belief in their capabilities. Women play a huge role in encouraging other women in the workplace – towards that, having a mentor and sponsor with a genuine interest in your career also helps.

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

 I’ve had some very helpful mentors throughout my career. They’ve helped me find my strengths and pushed me to focus on them. Having someone when you need advice or when you need vetting an idea is a blessing. I completely endorse the idea of mentoring. While I haven’t formally mentored anyone, there are many young hires who turn to me for advice and I participate actively in their professional coaching.

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

 When women speak up and look out for themselves, they don’t get branded as “too aggressive”. While it’s perfectly expected of men to be aggressive and this is even a celebrated behaviour at times, the same behaviour from women gets them branded as “too pushy”. When women look out for themselves, they get labelled as “too self-absorbed”. I hope this changes.

Also, research says that women are underrepresented at every corporate level and they continue to lose ground incrementally the more senior they become. This is a fact that needs to change.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement would have to be building my team up from scratch here. I started on my own, tasked with developing and driving the company’s strategy forward. A year after I started to expand my team and three years later, we now stand at 30. It’s really fulfilling to see the team working at their potential and it gives me the chance to work with and help young starters develop in their careers.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I hope to contribute to the world of financial technology through continuous innovation while keeping a consumer-centric approach.


Aparna Mahadevan

Inspirational Women: Aparna Mahadevan | Senior Solutions Architect in the Alexa Skills Team at Amazon

 

Aparna Mahadevan, is a Senior Solutions Architect in the Alexa Skills Team at Amazon.

Apama

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did just once, three years into my professional career, when I realised I wasn’t using my skills to my absolute best in the job I was doing at the time. The outcome of that exercise was my decision to do an MBA, which eventually opened up multiple avenues for me. Now, my activities at work revolve much more closely around my professional goals. That approach taught me to be receptive to the countless opportunities that exist in today’s world.

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

One of the biggest challenges I faced so far was at the start of my career journey when I had to think about where I wanted to be in the future and how to get there. I had so many options to decide between and I didn’t have a framework to help give me clarity. So I decided to take advice from different people with different backgrounds who I had a lot of respect for. I listened carefully to their success or failure stories, wrote down what I thought my biggest assets were and what my goals were for my personal life.

Having put all of these together, I was able to narrow it down to a few options that I considered and made a final decision to do an MBA. Being open to different perspectives and relying on a framework helped me make a decision that was not just emotionally driven, but had some long-term thinking behind it.

The other challenge I faced was having a constant desire to manage all aspects of my life – be it my career, my classes, managing relationships and running a household - with perfection. I soon however realised that the need for perfection in all aspects of my life was taking a real emotional toll on me, so I approached women leaders I knew to get their help and advice, and I was surprised to see how many of them understood what I was going through. It really resonated with me! Now, I am more organised in both my personal and professional life.

Every morning, I decide the three most important tasks for the day that I want to execute perfectly, instead of splitting my energy and focus on every little aspect of my daily life. The little things in a day that don’t go perfectly now don’t fluster me as much as they used to.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

From my experience, I can say with confidence that no amount of preparation before taking on leadership roles and activities can make you the best leader. You only need the courage to take risks and responsibilities, and experience hones and shapes your leadership abilities.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I would decide based on two factors – what unique quality they each bring to the team, and which one of these two qualities completes the picture and makes the team more rounded.

How do you manage your own boss?

A core objective for my role is to help my boss by taking on a number of responsibilities on his behalf to ensure the team achieves its goals, so I work closely with him to understand the framework he’s set to achieve the team’s goals.

Not only do I seek assistance from my boss when handling a task or prioritising my work, but I also challenge him when I strongly believe it does not help deliver what we want to achieve. I am fortunate enough to have worked with unique bosses throughout my career, but the common thread with all of them has been that honesty is always appreciated and builds trust.

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

I’ve experimented with different working styles and this one works best for me - I start my workday reading emails and writing down the list of all tasks on my plate for the day. I then prioritise tasks based on three categories – must dos, nice to dos and will not do. The last bucket is a conscious attempt to be an essentialist and internalise the decision to not over-indulge. Towards the end of the day, I assess my task completion rate and if any tasks need to be moved to the next day. On longer days, I attempt to make a mental note at the end to see what went well and what can be improved.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Identify what makes leaders in your organisation successful to better understand what success can also look like for you. Adopting and tailoring those qualities to your own personality, combined with having the right attitude and patience, I believe helps raise your own profile in your organisation.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Yes! I am the biggest believer in having a mentor, who can not only guide you in making big decision such as which career path to take; but also help in removing everyday hurdles such as efficiency and productivity. It is important to adopt a mentor that works best for you to suit your leadership style and abilities.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Networking is an absolute must. It not only helps in knowing what the world is like outside of what you do, but also a chance for the world to know who you are. My three tips for networking are:

  1. Reach out to people and ask for help – most people love sharing their experiences and insights, and these always help at some point in life, if not immediately
  2. Be in touch regularly with your network – you will be amazed to see how you’ll get help in different points of life. Also, it’s not great when you only reach out to someone when you are in need of urgent help
  3. When networking, be prepared but also be yourself – the other person needs to know what you uniquely bring to the table and needs to remember you. They need to know about you as much as you know about them.
What does the future hold for you?

The future holds countless opportunities. Technology has been revolutionising different sectors and as a professional in tech, I cannot wait to be a part of the never-ending wave.

Tell us three things about yourself that would surprise us
  1. I trained for Indian classical singing for seven years but after that, I have not sung outside the bathroom in the last 10 years.
  2. I set up and ran a library with a small collection of books out of my friend’s place when I was 11 years old.
  3. I can speak five different Indian languages and read/write in three of them.

Charlotte Woffindin featured

Inspirational Women: Charlotte Woffindin | Senior Program Manager at Amazon (London)

 

Charlotte Woffindin, is a Senior Program Manager at Amazon (London).

Charlotte Amazon

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest, no. I have always done things that interest me and that I enjoy – I think that is really important, otherwise the days just drag. I spent five years working for a big high-street bank before joining Amazon. Whilst there I “tried on” different roles in agricultural banking, strategy, and communications before finding I really enjoyed designing training curriculums. That’s how I got into Amazon and working with the tech community designing onboarding training for Amazon’s global SDE hires. I have loved every minute of it and learn something new every hour!

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

I love a challenge! I studied IT and web design at A-level then went on to major in business at university, so starting at Amazon was a huge challenge as the engineers I worked with appeared to speak a different language, and designing training programs where I knew nothing about the content really stretched me. But I found that asking questions was the way for me to find out more, and identify the people who could really help me. The people who first helped me three years ago are still helping me today – they just bring more engineers to the conversation!

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?

Give it a go. I find that I surprise myself more than I surprise the people around me – they know what I’m capable of, more than I do. My advice would be to build a great network around you, find role models and watch what they do. Everything is new once, and until you try it out you’ll never know if you can do it. One of the greatest pleasures throughout my career is when I’m able to help someone reach their goal – whether it’s coaching them to deliver a great presentation, to become a great facilitator or to achieve a result they thought impossible. It’s a great thing to watch and be a part of.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

Their passion and enthusiasm, and the way they earn trust. At Amazon, that is so important – earning trust opens so many doors, and can often be overlooked. Many of my successes here have been through having the right conversations with great people. When hiring at Amazon, we have fourteen Leadership Principles that help to guide how we work, how our leaders lead and how we all make decisions on behalf of our customers.

These principles aren’t just something we put up on a wall – we use them every day, whether we’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates.

Being someone who fulfils these principles is normally the deciding factor for hires.

How do you manage your own boss?

My boss is based in the US, so we don’t get much time to talk. I “manage” him by keeping them informed – regardless of how small a thing it is. I keep him in the know about wins, misses and things I’ve learnt. Especially when I’ve build a new relationship which could benefit the team in other ways.

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

My day usually starts with my cycling to work – it’s a great way to get the blood pumping, some calories burned and me focusing my head on what I need to do. Then I tackle my emails; as my team is mainly Seattle-based, most of my emails come through when I’m asleep. An hour of email-admin then I can know what needs to be done that day (that I might not have known about the day before) and continue working on my big projects. Towards the end of my day is when my team starts to come online, so it’s a few calls with them and state-side partners before I cycle the nine miles home.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Say yes to new opportunities. You are the greatest cheerleader for you and your career. Sometimes you will get lucky and someone will notice you, but most of the time it’s through being seen (and heard). I remember the first time I was asked to speak at an event, and the reason they asked me was because they had seen me doing the introductions at a conference the previous week.

I put my hand up to introduce the keynote and that was the start of something I do pretty regularly now. Saying yes, although scary, can be really powerful for opening up some great opportunities. So whether it’s speaking at new hire inductions, delivering training or working on a difficult project, say yes and don’t look back. You will regret the things you didn’t do more than they things you did!

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Absolutely! Although it’s usually pretty informal, I’ll ask for help and advice from people around me, and I also try and attend great training about coaching, speaking and other topics I’m interested in. When I’m at conferences I’ll try and speak with interesting people there, as it’s amazing who you meet and what you gain from meeting for coffee (or wine) after.

I find myself surrounded by amazing people all the time, and make the effort to go to events where there are leaders speaking or panels, even if it means I have to work a little later in the day.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbie networker?

Networking can be scary, but the secret is that most people feel the same way. My top tips would be: [1] go with a friend, it’s easier when you know someone and getting into the first conversation together is a great ice-breaker; [2] take a look at the attendee list before (if it’s available), map out who you want to talk to and have a couple of great questions ready and a short intro about you ready; and [3] join a conversation that is already underway, listen for a while and join in when you feel comfortable. Or if you are like me, stand by the bar – everyone grabs a drink and it’s amazing who you can start talking to there!

What does the future hold for you?

Who knows! I’m just about to start a new role in Amazon Web Services, so that should be a great learning curve and something different. I want to continue working with great people and challenging myself in new areas at Amazon. But as long as I am enjoying my job and continuing to learn, I could be doing anything!

Tell us three things about yourself that would surprise us!
  • I’m a classically trained singer and often asked to sing at weddings
  • I’ve had dinner inside the England Rugby dressing room and
  • I cycled the 100-mile Ride London challenge in seven hours 24 mins for Alzheimer’s Society this July!

Catherine Breslin featured

Inspirational Women: Catherine Breslin | Manager, Machine Learning at Amazon Alexa

 

Catherine Breslin, is the Manager of a team of machine learning scientists working on the speech and language technology behind Amazon Alexa (Cambridge, UK).

Catherine Amazon

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never sat down and planned out my career in depth, but I’ve always had some idea of my next step and how I should achieve it. I grew up being interested in computers and technology, and I chose to study Engineering at university. It was only in my final year there that I learned about the field of machine learning and I became interested in how we can teach computers to do complex tasks such as understanding speech and language.

I went on to do a masters and PhD on the topic of automatic speech recognition. Since then, I’ve been fortunate that the field has been growing rapidly and many different opportunities have come my way. At times, I’ve had to think hard about which direction to take, but have normally chosen the opportunity that has given me the most scope to learn new skills.

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

It is great to be challenged, but it can be daunting and uncomfortable at times. I find the best way to deal with challenges is to prepare well – by reading as much as I can about new topics and talking to others who have faced similar issues. Then I break the larger problem down into smaller chunks that can be tackled one at a time. I do the same for all challenges, whether it’s something at work like tackling a new and complex technical problem, or something at home like working out how best to juggle family life.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I would hire them both! As machine learning is such a fast growing field with large potential, we struggle to find enough qualified candidates to fill our roles.

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

My day starts with a strong cup of coffee as I’m not a morning person! After the school run, I sit down at my desk to go over emails. Our daily team ‘standup’ meeting is also in the morning, where I catch up with the team and the status of our work.

We work closely with other teams in both the US and in the EU, and partnering with colleagues in multiple time-zones means that good communication is key.

Hence my workday often ends with a video call between different teams to keep our joint projects on track.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I have had a number of great mentors who have helped me at different times in my career. I think that having someone to talk to and bounce ideas off who is outside of your immediate team can be very useful as they have a different perspective and are less influenced by the dynamics of your particular team. Outside of formal mentoring programs, I’m fortunate to know a great network of people to turn to who have a breadth of experience and lots of helpful advice.

What does the future hold for you?

Machine learning has a lot of potential to impact the world, and I think we are only just at the beginning of seeing the benefit it can bring. When I was growing up, the thought of being able to speak naturally to a device and have it respond was still the stuff of sci-fi films. But now, speech and language technology has advanced and is in products like Alexa, and used by a large number of people. Voice is the future and can fundamentally improve the way people will interact with technology.

We are still a long way off being able to converse with a computer in an entirely natural way, but the systems are getting smarter every day.


Laura Holland

Working to bring expert science to everyone

 

The ‘expert’ has had a troublesome time in the past few years. The rise of ‘fake news’, widespread issues of trust in the media, and the apparent increase in scepticism towards the scientific community are all signs that being known as an ‘expert’ may no longer hold the meaning it used to.
science
Laura Holland inside the synchrotron hall at Diamond Light Source. © Diamond Light Source

Scientists are true experts. The adage of ’10,000 hours to master your sport’ applies to scientists too – that’s roughly how much science a graduate emerging from a PhD will have completed. Being an expert doesn’t always make a person right, just as mastering a sport doesn’t guarantee that you win every game or race, but it certainly means that you can’t underestimate the time and dedication in understanding their craft.

The enormous amount of knowledge accumulated by most scientists is often overlooked by scientists themselves – they can find it hard to shake off the jargon, or remember that for most people, the laws of science which are engrained through study in academia, were either never learnt or are long forgotten.

However, science is more than theory – it is a living discipline which every human interacts with daily. From the worry of a warming world, to the race to find new antibiotics, we must all engage with science whether we choose to or not.

The darker side of expertise rears its head here – one of the stand out moments in the Brexit referendum was Michael Gove stating that ‘the public have had enough of experts’. The findings from research are often uncomfortable – they urge us to change our behaviours in ways we might not like, they present frightening or unpalatable versions of the future, or they run counter to many people’s lived experience. The tension between studies linking drinking to cancer at a population level, for example, will always be contrasted with personal experience of the uncle who drank pints every day until he died age 103, and the pleasure of a glass of wine feels tainted with new threats when these links are pointed out.

So how can scientists take their work to public audiences, and create a playing field which enables them to communicate their research fairly? Their role as experts is undeniable, but a didactic and one-directional mode of engagement is clearly not effective.

Science communication and public engagement are the disciplines which aim to help scientists communicate their work with diverse audiences. Communicators are experts in language and message, and are there to help scientists see the world through the eyes of others, be that patients, school students, local communities or even funders and politicians.

I am a science communicator at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron light source. We are home to a 562m particle accelerator which produces light brighter than the sun, allowing researchers to study the atomic and molecular structures of the world around us. We are home to over 9000 experiments every year, producing light around the clock for researchers from all over the UK and further afield.

The facility I work in is incredible. It is a feat of engineering, and the work we do to tackle issues as diverse as malaria and HIV to improved battery technology and perfecting concrete mean that it’s impossible to get bored.

One of the most amazing moments of any day is taking a school group through the doors and watching their eyes widen as we enter the enormous experimental facility – as big as Wembley stadium and unlike any other lab they’ve ever seen.

Big science has a really important role to play in linking scientists with public audiences. Our size and the range of work we do make us a perfect place to talk about how science works, what it can achieve, and most importantly, how people can get involved and contribute. Encouraging young people that science is ‘for them’ is a huge challenge – it can seem daunting to many young people, and the perception that science and engineering are hard and elitist subjects is hard to shake.

One of the most important things we can do is enable young people to meet our staff actually doing the science and engineering, and to prepare our staff well for engaging publics with their work. Our philosophy of opening our doors as often and as widely as possible is key to our engagement programme, and we currently welcome around 7,000 visitors each year.

Our next open day will be a special one for us, celebrating a decade of science at the facility. Researchers from around the country will be participating, and we will have interactive arts, virtual reality demonstrations and a chance to get into our awe-inspiring facility. We hope that the people who attend will leave feeling excited about the possibilities of science, curious about the way science is carried out, and empowered to engage with research and the way it impacts on their lives.

If you’re interested in the next Diamond open day more information can be found here.

About the author

Laura Holland, Public Engagement Manager, Diamond Light Source

Laura Holland is the Public Engagement Manager at the UK’s synchrotron light facility, Diamond Light Source. After studying cell biology and medical biosciences at university she has now worked at Diamond since 2007, and has brought her public engagement experience to @DLSProjectM, Diamond’s biggest ever public engagement project.


WeAreTech: Women | 26 ways to solve the tech gender skills gap

WeAreTechnology, the technology arm of WeAreTheCity, hosted its first full-day WeAreTech: Women conference for female technologists at Barclays, One Churchill Place, Canary Wharf recently.

Over 200 women attended the event to broaden their technology horizons, learn new skills and build their technology networks.wearetech-women-conference-featured

Speakers included Kate Russell, BBC Click Presenter and Author, Jacqueline D’Rojas, Executive at Citrix and President of techUK, Anne Marie Imafidon, Founder of STEMettes, Michelle Moody, Engagement Director Insights and Data at Capgemini UK, Stephanie Daman, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK and Dr Sue Black, Author of Saving Bletchley Park and Government Digital Services Advisor.

Throughout the day attendees were invited to put their questions to speakers via the sli.do app or in person, during several Q&A sessions. Sli.do enables live Q&As to take part during an event. Attendees can pitch questions to the panel, via the host, and can keep their questions anonymous if they wish.

During the conference, the attendees also used sli.do to highlight ideas that they believe could improve diversity and gender balance within their organisations. Below is the full list complied by our attendees:

  1. Getting middle management to become aware of the un-conscious gender bias and understand the challenges women face
  2. More involvement with women on a 1:1 basis to understand the challenges we face (e.g. Focus groups)
  3. Mapping of career paths and giving us support to ensure we get there!
  4. Being more transparent about open roles and opportunities
  5. Empowering and enabling us to see opportunities through knowledge of the company's detailed roadmap and internal opportunities
  6. When an employee asks for help, support by listening, not just hearing meaning 1. follow-up 2. provide solutions/first steps
  7. Be personal. Pay attention to individuals to retain their energy and loyalty
  8. Flexible working hours
  9. Training, support for maternity and return from maternity, facilitate working from home
  10. Have a more active women’s/employee networks
  11. Provide access to senior female and male mentors
  12. Actively make sure women returning to work after a break (e.g. maternity leave) are not left behind in their career progression.  Provide on-going support.
  13. Enable managers to support lateral moves.
  14. Build in personal development time to learn new skills
  15. Hire managers who are inspiring and who are bought in to our development – their managers to check on their progress in terms of their teams on-going development
  16. Provide open and honest feedback during performance reviews. Be transparent and constructive
  17. Create initiatives that support our careers and our on-going learning
  18. Provide us with opportunities to be in the right rooms and meet the right people
  19. Let us reverse mentor
  20. Monitor firms progress by looking at promotion stats year on year
  21. Greater visibility of accessible sponsors and role models
  22. flexible working
  23. Confidence building training
  24. Mentoring and good sponsorship from males and females
  25. Give longer paternity leave to allow fathers more involvement in parenting
  26. Better access to sponsors and mentors

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WeAreTech: Women Conference 2016 | Women in Technology Mannequin Challenge

 

wearetechwomen-conference-sold-outWeAreTechnology, the technology arm of WeAreTheCity, hosted its first full-day WeAreTech: Women conference for female technologists.

Over 200 women in technology descended on Barclays, One Churchill Place, Canary Wharf on 23 November to broaden their technology horizons, learn new skills and build their technology networks.

Throughout the day, attendees heard about the latest in digital, mobile and apps; big data; and cyber security. Attendees were also invited to put their questions to speakers via the sli.do app or in person, during a number of Q&A sessions. Topics ranged from career advice, how to get more women into tech and STEM, why should we dumb tech down, how to generate the right balance and closing the skills gap.

During the day attendees took part in a Mannequin Challenge to symbolise how women’s careers in technology will not be left standing still.

“Don’t freeze our careers.”

Watch the full version below.

WeAreTech: Women Conference 2016 MANNEQUIN CHALLENGE from WeAreTheCity on Vimeo.

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