Catherine Mobray

In Her Shoes: Catherine Mowbray | Data Engineer, DWP Digital

Meet Catherine Mowbray, Data Engineer at DWP Digital

Catherine Mowbray

I joined the Data & Analytics team in DWP Digital in January this year as a data engineer. I work on the IRIS (Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service) team and I’ve really enjoyed my time working on this team. I’m excited to have the chance to share my experience so far!

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

At school, I was always interested in maths and science and had a great biology teacher at A-level. That convinced me to study Human Genetics at Newcastle University as an undergraduate. Part of that course involved a lab-based project in the third year which I thoroughly enjoyed, pointing me towards a career in science.

Through networking and word of mouth, I managed to secure a job as a research technician in the Mitochondrial Research Group at Newcastle University, where I stayed for about 18 months. During my time there I had extremely supportive colleagues who recommended I study for a PhD. I applied and started my PhD developing liver models for drug testing in 2007, graduating in 2011. From there I completed a series of Research Associate posts, for the last five years conducting research and testing in clinical trials looking into causes and treatments for recurrent urinary tract infections and alternatives to treatment with antibiotics.

However, during the start of the pandemic in 2020 the lab suddenly closed, and I was unable to conduct my usual work. As a result, I taught myself Bash/Shell scripting to analyse a large batch of bacterial sequencing data that we had collected but never started doing anything with. This allowed me to develop coding skills that were relevant to my current role, so when I was made redundant in August 2021 I began applying for more coding-based jobs. I spotted the vacancy for a Data Engineer role on Civil Service Jobs and decided to apply due to Bash/Shell scripting being listed as one of the criteria. I must admit, I was more than surprised when I was invited to interview!

I was ecstatic when I was informed that I had passed the interview and was offered the Data Engineer role. When I started in the department in January 2022, I knew I had a lot to learn and began training in Python and SQL with the support of team members. Now I’m working independently using my new skills, contributing to maintaining and building required features for ETL and database-querying services and delivering good-quality data to customers.

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

I typically get out of bed at the last possible moment and have a strong coffee to kick-start my brain – I am not a natural morning person! I double check my emails and calendar to mentally order my day, then look at my notes to pick up where I left off the day before. At the end of each day, I like to reach a natural finishing point in my code so I can pick it up easily – I think of it as reaching the end of a paragraph. I will then jot down where I am on my whiteboard and my thoughts on where to go next, followed by checking my calendar for the next day to make sure I know when meetings are. After signing out it’s time to walk my dog, then put my feet up and play a computer game or continue with my cross stitch for the evening.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I was always aware that this was something you definitely should do, but I can’t honestly say I did. I have tended to follow what I’ve enjoyed doing and have been lucky enough to enjoy most of my jobs. When I was made redundant from my scientific role, I did have a decision to make – do I continue with where I am or try something different? Due to the short-term, stressful nature of my previous roles, I decided to try and switch my focus to coding, which I found a refreshing change of direction during lockdown and aimed to have a career with more stability and new learning opportunities. Fortunately, I feel like this worked out well!

What do you love about working for Data and Analytics within DWP Digital?

There are two major things I enjoy about my job – the people and the work. Everyone I have met so far in DWP Digital has been so kind, supportive and generous with their time, it has made a rather daunting career change into a pleasant experience. I was involved in meetings and discussions from day one and was always encouraged to ask questions and offer opinions. Even though it’s a totally new area for me I have never felt silly, which I put down to the fantastic team I’ve joined. I also find the day-to-day work really rewarding. I’ve always enjoyed a good puzzle and identifying code that can be improved to match requirements, and then working out how to implement those changes is very motivating for me.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

I think my biggest challenge has always been having a lack of confidence in myself. It has improved as I’ve got older, but even when applying for this role I was pleasantly surprised at getting an interview, and even more so at being offered a post! Looking back, I don’t know why I doubted myself so much – I knew I could do this job (and others I’ve applied for in the past), but communicating my abilities to others in a confident manner has been something I’ve struggled with. I think this is partially an anxiety of mine about being seen as over-confident or boastful. When interviewing or taking part in meetings, I do have to periodically remind myself that being open and honest with my knowledge or opinions to help the team is what matters, not whether someone will see that as a knowledge gap or overstepping the mark.

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

I have never had formal mentoring, but over the years I have been supported in different aspects of my career by colleagues. My former boss was instrumental in teaching me how important “telling the story” is when communicating technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders or customers. Another of my former colleagues supported me in deciding to apply for coding roles, giving me the confidence to believe that I could be successful in changing my career path.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

In my previous role, networking was very much seen as attending big conferences or meetings and introducing yourself to people in order to increase visibility. I must admit, I was terrible at this – the thought of doing that was terrifying! I have since realised that networking doesn’t have to be such a big deal – just chatting with people you meet around the office or in a couple of minutes before a Teams meeting starts and there’s just the two of you in the call is also networking. Getting to know people and having a chat can open doors and make collaborations a lot easier than it would be if you remain more isolated.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in tech?

It’s never too late to start! For the last few years it was always on my mind that if I’d gone to university now, I would have chosen something like a computer science degree. As the years went on a career in tech seemed further and further away. However, upon learning to code, build a pipeline and use data for analysis, I realised that it’s never too late. If you have a desire to change, make the time to learn some concepts, learn a bit of code and build something with it. Employers are keen to hear how you can use your learned concepts and coding skills, not just whether you have a certificate saying you can do it.

What does the future hold for you?

I am thoroughly enjoying my role and can’t see any reason for a change of scenery in the near future! Over the next few months I aim to build on the knowledge I have gained in this role and learn different parts of the job to be a complete team member. In the longer term, I aim to develop the skills to become a Senior Data Engineer and continue to learn about and implement new technologies within my role. The future is exciting!


Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Recruitment bias preventing talented engineers from returning to work after a career break

Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Bias in the recruitment process prevents STEM professionals who have had a career break return to employment, according to a new survey by STEM Returners.

The STEM Returners Index, published on International Women in Engineering Day, showed bias against age, gender and lack of recent experience to be the main barriers to entry.

The Index asked more than 1,000 STEM professionals on a career break a range of questions to understand their experiences of trying to re-enter the STEM sector.

of women feel they've experienced bias in recruitment

of women think childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning to work

of men more likely to be victim of age-related bias

Nearly a third of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to seven per cent of men.

Despite 39 per cent of females wanting to return to work due to children now being of school age, 40 per cent of females still feel childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning due to lack of flexibility offered by employers.

In the survey, men (46 per cent) were more likely to be victim of bias because of their age compared to women (38 per cent). Bias also appears to become more prevalent with age, with more than half of over 55’s saying they have experienced personal bias, compared to as low as 23 per cent in younger age groups.

The Index also asked returners about the impact of Covid on their experience. 34 per cent said the pandemic made getting back to work more difficult than it would have been already. It would also appear that for many people, Covid was the catalyst for a career break that they might not have taken otherwise, as 36 per cent said Covid was a factor in their decision to take a career break. Redundancy was also on the rise year on year as a reason for career breaks according to the results.

STEM Returners has conducted the STEM Returners Index for the past two years. The programme helps highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals return to work after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 260 engineers have returned to work through the scheme across the UK since it began in 2017.

Speaking about the findings, Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said, “We know that the engineering sector faces a significant skills shortage and yet this group of talented and dedicated individuals are still overlooked.”

“It’s disappointing to see that 66 per cent of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and that nearly half (46 per cent) of participants said they felt bias because of a lack of recent experience.”

“This situation is being made even harder with more redundancies and more people wanting to return to work due to uncertainty about the economy and the rising cost of living leading to a wider pool of potential returners.”

“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills.”

“But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, can refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.”

“Industry leaders need to do more to update recruitment practices and challenge unconscious bias to help those who are finding it challenging to return to the sector and improve diversity and inclusion within their organisations.”

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT
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woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

Female engineers are more likely to be victims of recruitment bias when trying to get back to work

woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

Women trying to return to the engineering industry after a career break are more likely to experience recruitment bias than men, according to a survey by STEM Returners.

The survey, published on International Women in Engineering Day, showed 27% of women feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender, compared to 8% of men. Furthermore, 30% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to childcare responsibilities compared to 6% of men.

STEM Returners, based in Hampshire, is an organisation which returns highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 150 engineers have returned to work through the scheme.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said: “The UK engineering industry needs to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand – this is not news. But despite this very clear and desperate skills shortage, 61% of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and women are bearing the brunt of this challenge.

“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills. But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, are able to refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.

“STEM organisations are clearly missing a major opportunity to get highly skilled, talented females back into the industry.”

The STEM Returners Index, which was carried out in collaboration with the Women’s Engineering Society, surveyed a group of more than 750 STEM professionals on a career break who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work.

More than half of respondents looking to return to work have been on a career break for less than two years and around 36% of returners felt that bias in the recruitment process was a barrier to them personally returning to their career.

The survey revealed that the pool of STEM professionals attempting to return to industry is significantly more diverse than the average STEM organisation. Over half of the survey respondents attempting to return to work were female and 38% were from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, compared to 8% female and 6% BME working in industry.

In the survey 22% of respondents said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their race or ethnicity, while 67% of BME respondents said they are finding it difficult or very difficult to return to work, compared to 57% white British respondents.

Elizabeth Donnelly, CEO of the Women’s Engineering Society said: “Sadly, while the results of this survey are concerning, they are not surprising. We have seen that worryingly, STEM professionals from under-represented ethnicities find it more difficult to return to work and additionally, women are six times more likely to state that a lack of flexibility in working hours to allow for childcare responsibilities is a barrier to return.

“Many of these professionals took a career break for reasons outside of their control, but now, due to changing circumstances, are ready to get back to work. They are a highly educated, highly experienced and highly diverse group of STEM professionals who should not be overlooked. STEM organisations, industry leaders and hiring managers need to take note and think more broadly about how they access this hidden talent pool, giving talented professionals a fair chance.”

Haley StoreyHaley Storey, from Hampshire, is now in an engineering role after being away from the industry for 17 years. Haley took part in one of STEM Returners programmes with BAE Systems based in Portsmouth. After completing a 12-week placement working on a Type 45 Destroyer, she has now joined the company permanently as a Project Engineer, helping to find engineering solutions during ship maintenance or upkeep periods.

“I left my role as a production manager in 2003 when I started my family,” Haley said. “I was self-employed after that but as my role wasn’t related to engineering, I couldn’t see a way to get back in when I wanted to restart my career.

“The STEM Returner scheme seemed to be directed at people just like me – someone who had previously been in a technical job but had been away for a period of time.

“My CV would probably not have made the first round of the recruitment process, but the scheme enabled me to work alongside an experienced engineer and I was able to learn from him and get to grips with the workings of a large organisation. 

“Career breaks should not put good people at the bottom of the list – we still have ability, knowledge and often transferable skills so it would be great for that to be recognised.”

Rebecca Pearce, BAE Systems Maritime Services, added: “Over the years we’ve recruited fantastic talent that we wouldn’t normally have had access to. We really want to celebrate the success and calibre of candidates we’ve recruited through the STEM Returner programme, and to recommend that more people use this method of recruitment.”

To read the full report, click here.


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Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

International Women in Engineering Day: How diversity and inclusion helps drive business success

Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

Article by Laura Fink, VP People, Healx

Technology is one of the most sought-after sectors to work for in the country, yet representation within the industry fails to reflect this.

In fact, only 15% of the technology workforce is made up of people from BAME backgrounds, and 19% of all workers in the sector are women. This year’s International Women in Engineering Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the key benefits that diversity and inclusion bring - both to the tech sector and beyond - and inspire one another to take action and create company cultures where everyone can thrive. Because one thing is for sure: whether it’s bolstering growth and innovation, attracting world-class talent or gaining investor trust, diversity is key to long-term business success.

Bolstering growth and innovation

The secret to coming up with innovative ideas and solutions is asking a diverse group to deliver them. Teams from different ages, genders, races and backgrounds offer a melting pot of knowledge and experiences that a homogenous group simply do not. This allows them to solve problems more efficiently, moving the business forward at a faster, more considered pace and ultimately reaping greater financial rewards. Indeed, McKinsey found that companies which have a leadership team over 30% female were more likely to perform better than those with less executive representation. The message is clear: the more that businesses focus on creating a diverse workforce, the bigger the impact on innovation and growth. At Healx, we are passionate about bolstering diversity and inclusion in our business. Our leadership team currently stands at 36% women and non-binary representation, and in the last 12 months, we’ve increased the percentage of women and non-binary individuals from 9% to 33% in our technology team. This focus has provided our teams with countless new opinions, experiences and opportunities to drive innovation and change for rare disease sufferers.

Attracting and retaining world-class talent

There’s an old phrase that says, “you have to see it to believe it”, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to nurturing talent. Employees - and potential new hires - want to be able to see themselves reflected in their work, their teams and their leaders. Where they can, they are more likely to join or stay with a company, but where they can’t, team members are left feeling demotivated, undervalued and unseen. It’s important that companies proactively seek to attract and retain diverse talent, and the COVID-19 pandemic has provided many organisations with a welcome opportunity to update their practices, so that they can become more flexible and inclusive. At Healx, some of the things that enabled us to make such a shift in the representation of our workforce included actively widening our hiring net beyond our Cambridge base and reviewing our interview and referral processes to ensure we attracted a diverse funnel of candidates. We also undertook an internal review of our employee policies to ensure we were supporting all team members equitably; this included introducing a fully-paid additional leave option to enable people to balance work and life commitments during the pandemic, updating our health and life insurance policies, improving our parental leave offering, and moving towards a hybrid model of working that empowered people to work in the way that best suited them. Like many companies, the pandemic really pushed us to bring flexibility and empathy further into the core of our culture, and we hope to continue building an environment where employees feel represented and supported. This is critical for business success and can help organisations attract - and keep - world-class talent that will drive forward their mission.

Aligning with investors

Many companies today rely on external investment to grow, but, increasingly, investors are expecting organisations to prioritise diversity and inclusion before they commit any money. Indeed, 63% of UK investors are now screening potential companies to ensure that they comply with internal diversity and inclusion metrics, whilst VC firms like Atomico and Balderton are amongst a cohort of investment companies benchmarked for their diversity and inclusion policies. Investors understand that inclusive hiring leads to a better understanding of the market, improved decision-making and enhanced performance - so it makes market sense for them to invest in companies who are already on the front foot when it comes to thinking about diversity and inclusion. For businesses looking for investment, it’s important that they demonstrate an active commitment to building a diverse and inclusive business, if they hope to secure funding and scale.

The diversity challenge within the tech sector won’t be solved overnight. However, if businesses want to remain ahead of the curve and drive change, they must make equality and inclusion a concrete priority. Diverse teams provide companies with opportunities for growth, improved talent acquisition and retention, and alignment with value-driven investors. This International Women in Engineering Day, companies must understand why embracing diversity and inclusion is critical, or they will risk lagging behind forever.

Laura FinkAbout the author

Laura has over 20 years' experience in international HR roles across a variety of industries including media, sales and tech. She has worked in HR, recruiting, employee engagement, organisational change and diversity roles in both blue chip and start-up companies and is passionate about helping companies scale effectively. Mostly recently Laura led the HR function at a fintech in the blockchain space. Previously she led EMEA recruitment teams at Google to help scale the company during a period of incredible growth.

At Healx she is responsible for building effective people programs that enable us to attract great talent and drive the growth and development of our people and the business.

 


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

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Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

A hidden workforce that could help solve engineering industry’s skills gap

Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

Article by Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners

Everyone who works in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) role knows one simple fact - there are not enough of us.

Last year, the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated that UK engineering employers will need to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand and suggested that the UK would need to double its recruitment of graduates and apprentices to meet the shortfall.

To recruit this many people seems like an uphill task – but there is a group of talented, passionate and educated people who are willing and able to take on these roles and help plug the gap, but they are being over looked.

Thousands of STEM professionals across the UK who have had a career break find it incredibly difficult to get a job and are the victims of outdated recruitment methods that prevent them from getting an interview, let alone being offered the role.

Unconscious bias at the shortlisting stage, hiring pressures leading to assumptions made on limited information, and the common misconception that a ‘CV gap’ equates to a deterioration of skills are all reasons for not being given a chance. These hidden barriers mean talented professionals are being left behind, which is damaging the UK economy as well as seriously hindering efforts to improve diversity in STEM.

In May, the STEM Returners Index, our annual survey of a nationally representative group of over 750 STEM professionals who are on a career break and attempting to return to work or recently returned, revealed how challenging they were finding it.

Sixty-one percent of STEM professionals on a career break said they were finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult, compared to just 6% of respondents finding the process easy.

More than a third (36%) of returners said they felt that bias in the recruitment process was a barrier to them personally returning to their career and the commented that they regularly experience an incorrect perception that their CV gap has automatically led to a deterioration of skills, with hiring managers undervaluing their experience before they have a chance to prove themselves.

However, the reality, from our experience, is that returners pick up many new and transferable skills whilst on their career break, have generally kept themselves up to date with their industry throughout their break, and are able to quickly refresh their skills when back in a work environment. A gap on someone’s CV should not put them at the bottom of the pile.

Sadly, gender and ethnicity are also perceived as a barrier. In the survey, 27% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to 8% of men, while 30% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to childcare responsibilities compared to 6% of men.

Sixty-seven percent of BME respondents said they are finding it difficult or very difficult to return to work, compared to 57% white British respondents.

This negatively contributes to an industry, which already has a concerning lack of diversity.  The current UK engineering workforce is 92% male and 94% white, which makes the barriers to returners even more counter intuitive.  The pool of STEM professionals attempting to return to industry is 51% female and 38% BME compared to 10% female and 6% BME working in industry.

Change is happening but slowly.

More and more UK companies are waking up to the fact that there is a hidden workforce at their fingertips. We are working with leading engineering and STEM firms to implement our Returners Programme, which results in high quality hires to fulfil existing and future contracts.

Across our STEM Returner programmes, 46% of professionals have been female, 34% from BME backgrounds and 96% of all returners have been retained by the host company after the placement.

Attracting and recruiting returners as a separate strategy works alongside standard recruitment as it removes conflicting priorities, reduces the opportunity for line managers searching for ‘their’ perception of the best candidate and create equal opportunity for returners to be considered. Internationally renowned STEM firms like BAE Systems, SSE and Leonardo, UK, have already embraced this way of working, which is a good step forward.

We are proud to be making a difference, but there is more work to do. With tough times lying ahead, we need to use every available drop of talent in the STEM sectors. It can be done – STEM Returners programmes are the proof of that. But whilst we celebrate those skills returned to the sector, it is imperative that the industry comes together to build on them. The UK needs more STEM organisations, industry leaders and hiring managers to take note and think more broadly about how they access this hidden talent pool, giving talented professionals a fair chance. Collectively we should not stop until we’ve created a level playing field for returners, put an end to unconscious bias in recruitment processes, and removed the hidden barriers returners face today.


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Jacqueline O'Donovan: What I have learnt from being a female director in a male-dominated industry

Jacqueline O'Donovan, managing director, O’Donovan Waste Disposal

A few years ago, it was reported that women account for only 10 per cent of the construction workforce - a low, yet unsurprising number.

Jacqueline O'Donovan (F)I entered the industry at a young age, having to join in the running of the family business, O’Donovan Waste disposal, following the death of my father. My three siblings and I had to work together to keep the company going – it was certainly a challenging time. Entering an industry that was, and still is in some areas, predominately male at just 19 was not without its difficulties, but I quickly learnt to adapt and demonstrate that I didn’t just deserve to be there, but that I could flourish.

Having looked back over my 30 years at O’Donovan, there have been a number of key lessons that I have learnt from being a female director in a male dominated industry.

Not to under estimate my abilities

As I took on more responsibility within the company, I began to challenge myself to look beyond the business and to consider how to improve the industry as a whole. Today, the time I have committed to improving safety across the sector has seen me collaborate with CLOCS, the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety organisation, on the design of innovative lorries and safety features which are changing the face of transport policies across the UK.

To laugh not cry

I would often not be taken seriously when I answered the phone, with clients demanding to speak to one of the male senior members of staff. At first this frustrated me, but I just had to laugh at it and think of how I could tackle the problem head on– one way I managed this was to train some of the male staff on the phones, putting me in charge and having others report in to me.

To forgive their assumptions

When starting out, many of the men in the company presumed I wasn’t savvy about certain regulations or equipment. I would ultimately surprise them with my knowledge of safe working practices, which I have strived to enforce during my time here. A key achievement for me was when I took over the safety and training of O’Donovan’s HGV drivers, even creating my own driver Certificate of Professional Competence course - one of the first to be tailored specifically to the exact training needs of drivers working across the waste industry.

To listen and learn – every day is an education

When you make up such a small proportion of the workforce, the most important first step is to observe how the company operates – not just the professional working practices but the relationships and dialogue between team members, and how you can be involved in that. You can also learn a lot by trying out different roles – for instance even if you enter at a managerial level, I would suggest spending a day with the contact centre or sales team and immersing yourself in the environment. Ask questions about their role and understand their daily tasks.

That I can make a decision quicker than most males

When I’m in meetings, I’ve often found that while my co-workers are still discussing the ideas for innovation, for example, I would have already weighed up the options and decided which the better strategy is by the time the conversation is over. Everyone works differently, but I have noticed that I am more suited to multi-tasking, and when faced with a challenge, I am normally one of the first in the room to consider all of the angles and come to a conclusion.

That I have to shout louder to be heard – metaphorically

I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words – and this certainly applies to my experience as a woman entering a male industry. Rather than battling to be heard through bravado and words for the sake of words, I gradually stamped my authority on the business by implementing my beliefs and making a noticeable difference to not just O’Donovan but the industry. That gained the respect of my male counterparts more than any talking would have done.