Mel Unsworth is the Global Director of Content and Commerce Technology at Yoox Net-A-Porter Group, responsible for the transactional parts of e-Commerce sites at Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet.
Tell us about your career progression to date.
I undertook a degree in computer science because technology was something that always interested me because of the way it solved problems with innovation. The degree gave me experience in development and electronics, but at the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. I started off in the media industry with QVC, supporting their technology team and 24/7 TV platform, as well as their online and mobile platforms. I soon got to know other departments and roles and realised I was well suited to programme management. I worked for several companies in a programme role, including Virgin Media’s first digital delivery team, as well as other large transformational roles. My career defining role was at Merlin Entertainments, leading their e-commerce and admissions program, driving to standardize the technology within their 130 different attractions and deliver something new for their customers. Following this role, I moved to Yoox Net-A-Porter, heading up their corporate technology projects team and have been given some excellent opportunities which is how I’ve moved into my current role, leading the Commerce team.
What are some of the challenges you've had to overcome so far in your career?
I would say confidence has been a challenge. When you're hired into a role that you're comfortable with, sometimes it's hard to put yourself forward for a new opportunity. For many years, I found that once I felt I'd outgrown a role, I didn't really know where to go next. I never had the confidence to say that I thought I could do more. In my last couple of roles, I’ve overcome that, and have always put myself forward to take on more responsibility. It's important to have a strong, open relationship with your manager too so that they recognise your skill sets and can support you.
Do you have any advice for working mums on how to progress and succeed?
It's hard juggling a work/life balance for any parent, not just mums. The best piece of advice I can give is to get support networks in place, both inside and outside of the workplace. It’s important to have people you can talk to at work when things are stressful, as well as whatever helps make it work for your home life. For me, the challenge was commuting five days a week with young children and trying to juggle everything. Now that we're all used to remote working, I hope that an element of it remains and we don’t all rush back to five days a week. Historically, there’s always been that pressure on women to take on more of the household chores or deal with the children, but it’s been levelled out somewhat by remote working. I hope that men will retain that flexibility in the future because ultimately that equal workload outside of work will result in a better gender balance in work.
As a mentor, what advice would you give to your mentees?
Absorb as much as you can of your organisation and try to understand every department and how it all fits together. I've got a mentee who has been at Yoox Net-A-Porter for three years and who wants to progress, but her experience has only been in a certain department. I'm working with her to give her the exposure to other departments and have a view of the wider teams and opportunities. By seeing what's happening elsewhere, you learn more and it's through that learning process that you'll grow your skills and network with other people who might consider you for future positions.
What are your thoughts on gender diversity in Technology?
I've been passionate about this for years, though more about diversity in general, not just gender. It's really important to have representation from all walks of life because as an organisation, we provide a service to a diverse group of customers and we need to reflect that within our workplace. In terms of gender diversity, we need to foster an interest in technology among young girls and look at working with organisations and schools to make girls realise what they can do within technology. When I first went to university, my computer science course had around 300 people and 10 were women. HESA stats a couple of years ago still showed only 17% of computer science students were female, and if we only have that level of take-up in STEM courses, then women aren’t going to be in many tech roles. Aside from university, there need to be viable apprenticeship programs for girls too and a lot more work done to pull it all together and get more women into technology.
Is there anything you're doing to help female leaders emerge within your organisation?
We are doing a lot and I think the best way is by creating a community in a safe space. That can be a Women in Tech community that meets on a monthly basis, or whatever works best. Just giving women that network and knowledge that there is a safe space where they can discuss anything they like and reach out to see what's available to them is so important. We also try to encourage recruitment with an active gender split.
What advice do you have for young women looking to make a career in technology?
Sometimes it can seem scary from the outside as there's such a range of roles within tech. My advice is don't be afraid. It's a great area to work in and if there is a route you want to go down, follow wherever your passions lie because it's important to do a role that you love. Try and identify where in technology you might want to work and speak to other people in that area and start to network with them too.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
A year or so ago, I won the Future CIO of the Year award, which for me was a big achievement because it came as a surprise. I was nominated internally for it in recognition of the work I've done with Yoox Net a Porter and Richemont and I was very surprised and appreciative of that.
What piece of advice would you give a younger version of yourself?
Don't be afraid and aim high. When you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything that you want because you immerse yourself in that role, whether it's in the technology or in the product itself. My advice would be to think big and keep aiming high. Then learn and absorb as much as you can.
Posted about 2 years ago