Hyd Web 1000x450

​Inspiring Business Women: Evelyn Owenson

Evelyn has an impressive career trajectory with an extensive background of leading Technology teams across various organisations. She has held positions such as ‘head of data architecture’ and ‘head of data design’ and has even started her own organisation within Technology. Having worked in this industry for over 30 years, Evelyn was able to provide some great insight into attracting and retaining female talent within Technology.

━━

Could you tell me a bit about your career progression and your different roles?

I graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in Computing and Data Processing and, after spending my third year in RBS in IT, I started my programming career with them upon graduation. I stayed for 15 years in various IT development roles including programming, analysis and design, project management and architecture, however, after 15 years I felt I needed a change and went to Origo as the Standards Manager where I built a team of over 20 to develop standards in the UK pensions industry. After 7 years there, I went to a software company in life and pensions, implementing the standards I’d worked on, but that involved quite a bit of travel and I decided that wasn't for me. So, I took a contract Data Architect role at RBS and that started my career in contracting. I've been back to RBS many times, as well as Tesco Bank, Scottish Widows, Royal London, RSA and now I'm just finishing up at Baillie Gifford. In 2012, I also started up a business with some partners to develop a software product to support the type of work that we did in data, so I've been a director of that business for the last 8 years too, until last year. Now I'm hoping that my next role will be the one that will lead me to retirement!

━━

Did you start your business because of the product or because you wanted to work for yourself?

The former. In the work we did, we were repeatedly creating massive spreadsheets for organisations, so we designed a software product to help with that. I didn’t have a burning desire to work for myself, but it was good to have something outside of contracting, because contract roles don't always give you the level of work that you might want to do, or that you might be doing in a permanent role. It was very challenging but fulfilling.

━━

Can you identify any other challenges you've overcome in your career?

Living in Edinburgh, the availability of the right roles hasn't always been there, so I've had to travel at points in my career, which with young children was a challenge and required a lot of support and sacrifices. I think that's changing now, as we all work online and the location isn't as important, but back then, there wasn't the technology to do that. The other challenge I had was different types of bosses. My very first boss was probably my best, so everybody since has had quite a lot to live up to! I think if your boss doesn't support you, work can become quite hard, and I've moved on a number of times for that reason. However, I have found that there is always something out there that is different, and that's actually been really successful for me in contracting, because I'm not wedded to one organisation. I feel I'm a much more rounded person for having moved on and could now work anywhere.

━━

Are there any personal attributes that you think have helped you progress in your career?

I'm always true to myself. I'm not overly confident outwardly, but I've got inner strength and confidence that enables me to be true to myself. I'm very honest, hardworking and a perfectionist, which is great in IT and as an analyst. Learning the disciplines of analysis early on has really paid dividends too and meant I could do the difficult jobs wherever I've been. I've always aligned myself with data projects, even when it wasn't flavour of the month, but that has meant my knowledge and skills are always up to date and keeps me at the forefront of my field.

━━

What are your thoughts on diversity in regard to females in the Technology industry?

It's an interesting question because I hear a lot about getting more women into tech, but you can't force that. You have to want to be in tech and the women that are in it are there for that reason. I think the problem is women are good at the detail and doing the job, but they aren't as comfortable in the politics involved in climbing the ladder. This means that there aren't a lot of women leaders out there. We need better leaders in Tech all round to help women progress to leadership, because at the moment, men seem to get those roles when they're only OK at a job, whereas women have to be truly excellent, including in the politics, to move up.

━━

Are there any other reasons why you think Tech is so male dominated?

Having a family is one reason. When I started out in Tech, there were a lot of women, but we all had families and historically it's always been the woman who has sacrificed her career to do that. Even if you go back to work afterwards, it's often only part-time or at a lower level than before and because of the family commitments, there's no time for training or development, and that then goes on for years. I chose to go back to work full time and was able to continue a career, but a lot of my peers didn't. All of that results in a male dominated sector. However, I think that is all going to change. There wasn't the flexibility or the technology then that there is now. The pandemic has forced change, and with tech, flexible hours, remote and global working, I think it will help speed up change going forward.

━━

Have you experienced any difficulties as a female in leadership roles with male-dominated teams?

The more people you have in your team, the more issues you get, but it's not necessarily to do with me being female. Very occasionally I've felt people haven't respected me. I'm a pretty easy going, supportive boss, but if you're not doing the job, I will come down hard on you, and men don't like that sometimes. I always take my role as a female leader seriously though, so I have to be true to myself and if I need to confront a situation, I will.

━━

What value have you seen in taking an active approach to diversity and inclusion?

I was a bit surprised by the whole Women in Tech movement, because I've been in Tech since 1984 and have never been labelled as that. Whenever I've been recruiting, it's just been about the best person for the job, regardless of gender or race. Even though I am a woman and promote flexible working, I haven't been a huge fan of working from home in the past, because it was always very difficult to manage. Now with Zoom and Teams, I don't think there's an issue, so the tech should make a more level playing field and help the right person for the job get it.

━━

What are some of the biggest areas for improvement regarding finding and retaining female talent?

Working from home is going to open up the market geographically, which will be great for women, especially in Scotland. There's no real need to filter jobs by location now, it will be totally flexible. This means too that we can promote shared care, with men taking more of an active role in childcare if the woman has an opportunity to further her career by working from home. I think some of the boundaries are going to disappear, which is great for female talent.

━━

How do you ensure an inclusive environment with remote teams?

In my most recent role, I started in October and by March was working from home, so even though it was a small team, I didn't know them well. We made sure we did a daily Zoom call to chat through issues and what our plans were, to make sure we were all on board and included. I've found meeting people online easier because the travel and hotels are taken out of the equation and it can be a simple half an hour. Managing people, particularly if you have to deal with underperformance, might be harder and require more effort though. Part of my job is spending time with people as a manager, so we have to work harder on that aspect. In an office environment, it's also easier to see the politics that are going on and you're aware of what's happening behind the scenes, and I think that could become an inclusivity issue going forward if people never return to the office. HR will need to be much more involved in monitoring leaders and how they deal with diversity and inclusion to make sure they are complying.

━━

Do you think that there's a glass ceiling for full time women in Tech?

I didn't ever feel that that there was a glass ceiling but then I wasn't ever going for the very top job. I do think that often women create their own ceilings, and me not wanting to be a CEO is one of those. Those women that have reached the top I imagine have had to make huge sacrifices familywise. I would guess that they have also had good leaders and good mentors, and not every woman gets that opportunity.

━━

What can hiring managers do to improve their pipeline for females in Tech?

Definitely providing flexibility around times and locations, but it's thinking wider than that, and not just about working hours, but having everyone on board, understanding that meetings need to be at mutually convenient times or that work might get done at different times. What's worked well in the pandemic is that everybody is doing it, the rules are for everyone and the person previously working at home isn't the odd one out. I think that will bring on female talent because we naturally want to work like that. I also think that recognition and reward is important and that good leaders, as well as HR, need to be involved in that. Leaders should be held accountable for the people that they bring into their teams and for the makeup of their teams. I don't really agree with targets or quotas, but an all-male team needs to be justified, just as when you're interviewing male and female candidates, your decisions have to be justified.

━━

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I've learned a lot through the entrepreneurial journey of my business venture in recent years. It's come to an end recently because I am older than the people I went into business with and I'm looking towards retirement and they're not. It's made me think about how sometimes we stay too long either in a role or at an organisation when your gut instinct is telling you it's time to move on. Looking back on my career and that venture, I do feel like I should have left earlier, so my advice is to listen to your gut and do something about it and move on if you need to.

━━

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Evelyn for sharing her experiences and advice with us. If you are, or know of, an Inspiring Business Woman in Tech who has a great story to tell, I’d love to hear from you!
Posted 16 days ago
About the author:
Isabelle Kyriacou

Our blogs and insights help keep you up to date with market developments and regional news