A couple of weeks ago now, back when popping out the office for a quick coffee was taken for granted, Natalie had the pleasure of meeting Alison Wright, BA Chapter Lead at Hargreaves Lansdown. It was by luck that Alison came to Bristol after failing to get the A Level results she needed… but since then she hasn’t looked back!. Now Alison is one of the select few members of the 30% Club and also a board member for Gender Diversity at Hargreaves Lansdown. In this enlightening interview, Alison shares her insights on what she has learnt from the 30% Club, how skills needed to ref a premier league football match can be applied to presenting in a boardroom (being a football fan too, Natalie found this particularly interesting and useful!). Alison also shared her thoughts on how we can get more girls into technology if we drop the stereotype attached and how to progress their careers by just being a little more confident in your own abilities. It was great meeting Alison and Natalie has learnt a lot from speaking to her, we hope that you reading this can also take something from it! 😊
You mentioned that when you were younger at school you weren’t allowed to do coding as it wasn’t considered to be a subject for girls. Luckily times have changed but how do you think we can encourage more girls into technology?
Firstly we need to remove the stereotype that tech is just coding in an isolated environment. Nowadays the skills needed in a typical tech environment includes designing screens, understanding human behaviours and managing cyber security to name a few. So the industry needs to appeal to a much broader group of society.
Furthermore, it’s a great career path. I have been lucky enough to be a business analyst in a variety of industries, to travel around the world for projects and most importantly – I never stop learning.
Your opportunity to get promoted to Head of BA came from someone seeing potential in you and pushing you to do the role, even though you weren’t confident in your own abilities – We hear this often from females, why do you think this is and what would you suggest to any female thinking about putting their case forward?
Unfortunately job applications still demand candidates to brag about their skills and experience and many people, but particularly women, find this difficult to do. In my case, self-confidence is something I struggle with so putting myself into a competitive process where I need to flaunt my experience is tough. I’ve learnt to overcome some of my confidence issues, but will always be grateful for people who have championed me in the past.
You’re on the board for Gender Diversity at HL, what things are you doing to attract and retain more females?
Our key focus at the moment is ensuring our internal talent is supported in progressing their careers. As I said above, I know how difficult I used to find growing my own career and I don’t want others to hold themselves back as I did. We are running a number of initiatives such as talks by inspiring people, celebrating Internatioal Women’s and Men’s Day as well as continuing to push bigger issues such as the gender pay gap. Our next steps are also looking at equipping younger colleagues with skills such as CV writing and interview skills so that our best talent isn’t overlooked for the wrong reasons.
You’ve also been lucky enough to be included in the 30% Club at Hargreaves Lansdown, which aims to get 30% of women at board level, can you tell me a little bit more about this and why you think it’s important that we have more women in Leadership positions.
I was so delighted to get this opportunity to be a part of the club and in turn receive mentoring from a senior leader in another organisation. Putting aside the hopefully obvious argument of equal opportunities for all, all the research shows that it’s an essential commercial outcome. It’s been shown that diverse teams make better decisions at least 15% of the time and gives organisations access to a wider pool of talent. For a company like Hargreaves Lansdown it also allows us to understand our client base better as women make up 51% of the population. I personally love having my thoughts and preconceptions challenged by others and have learnt so much from colleagues and friends from different backgrounds, experiences and ages.
Your mentor from the 30% Club is Mike Riley, former Premier League referee and introducer of VAR. What advice have you taken from the football pitch and implemented into your role as BA Chapter Lead?
I have learnt so much! It is really surprising how much overlap there is between business analysis and football. I’m very glad that when I make a decision, I don’t have thousands of people in a crowd yelling at me or have my decision scrutinised by pundits. There are lots of things I’ve taken away from our mentor conversations, but one of my favourite is the idea of playing a character role when in a situation that outside my comfort zone. We talked about how as a referee on the pitch, he treats the 90 minutes as performance and he takes on the persona needed to perform his role. This really worked for me to think about the different roles I play at work and I take on the right performance especially in scenarios that I find more challenging such as difficult conversations or large presentations.
You attended a talk recently which looked at the effect of the menopause on female performance in the workplace and how there is a trend of females exiting work between 45 – 55 years. What were your key takeaways and how do you think we can support women through this period?
I saw a talk by Lauren Chirac from www.womenofacertainstage.co.uk and it was such as eye opener. I hadn’t appreciated all the symptoms experienced by menopausal women such as brain fog and a loss of confidence. But what really hit home was the stats around women leaving work feeling they cannot cope or experiencing a performance issue for the first time. The menopause is still such a taboo subject and a few simple workplace adjustments alongside colleague education to normalise the conversation would really help. As one of the first generations of women working into our 60s it just feels wrong that incredible female talent could be leaving the workplace for what is a normal and temporary phase in our lives.
You see networking as huge a importance to helping support women in tech, what would you suggest to women to help build their professional networks?
Building your networks is really important – I’ve previously secured contract roles via my network and used my network to share knowledge. When you meet new people, create a connection on tools such as LinkedIn and take time to think about how they might help you and how they will remember you. Networking isn’t just small talk whilst balancing a glass and canapé and trust me, we all struggle with such events – I always think that no one will be interested in talking to me and everyone else seems to be really confident but it’s not true. I also think that women have a particular issue in that we need to think about our personal safety and clearly do be careful about who you connect with and what information you reveal about yourself – trust your instincts here.
It was fate that you ended up in Bristol, but what do you think makes Bristol so great?
I ended up in Bristol because I messed up my A levels and as a result, a lot of doors were closed to me so I ended up at UWE. And it’s the best thing that happened to me as I love Bristol. I’ve heard Bristol be described as the Silicon Gorge due to its plethora of technology start-ups and therefore it is a great place to build a career. Outside of work, I love the outdoors and so Bristol’s proximity to the coast, countryside and National Parks gives me the perfect balance between city and escape opportunities.
What is your favourite quote?
I’m not sure it’s a quote, but one of most important lessons I’ve learnt is that there are 2 sides to every story.
Thank you so much Alison x
An interview by Natalie Sidwick
A voice for diversity in tech <3