Lynne Bailey is the Chief Data Officer for KPMG and holds a strong background working in various roles over the past 20 years within data. Lynne has an impressive career trajectory and in less than a decade of work saw herself working in ‘head of’ positions for one of the Big 4.
Could you tell us about your career progression to date and how you got into your current position?
I did a business degree at Manchester University and started my first job in 1999 with a research company called Research International in London. I knew early on that, while I was happy to do the data and learn, I really wanted to interact with clients and understand the value that you could drive from the information we were collecting. I wanted to be on the other side, commissioning the research and able to affect change, so I started at PwC in their internal Market Research function, later taking on the Competitor Intelligence function and then the Client Feedback programme. After a few years, an opportunity presented itself to more formally run an Internal Analytics function to sit within the IT department, so I helped create and run that team and spent a happy four years with much more of a data focus. I'd gone from insight and information to data and along that journey, recognised that any problems are usually about the quality of the information we're getting, so I set up a Data Governance function. Then I got offered an amazing opportunity to move to KPMG to be their Chief Data Officer, which is where I am today.
In terms of your career progression, what challenges have you had to face?
A challenge I've found quite common among female colleagues is that we often suffer from imposter syndrome, particularly when going for something that is a step up. When I'm recruiting people or promoting them into roles, I don't expect them to be the finished article, but I, for some reason, expect that of myself. When I went into the data role at PwC, I expected that I would nail it from day one and gave myself some incredibly high expectations, none of which I could meet. Another challenge, which is an external one, is that your peers in Technology, who may be more experienced, sometimes wonder whether you can deliver if you haven’t got the same technical depth. Just because I haven't got the same technical depth as them, it doesn't mean I can't drive strategy or enable business transformation, but it's another challenge to fight against.
How did you overcome it if you had people on your team who didn't appreciate that you could still do your role well?
It was tough to start with because you do doubt yourself and it eroded my confidence. But KPMG was a fresh start, so at the interview with the CIO I was honest about my lack of technical skillsets and he was actually relieved because he didn't want another data expert trying to rip everything up and start again! Being honest about your skillset is absolutely key and then you need to learn to value that. On a senior leadership course, I mentioned this issue about my lack of technical depth and that strategy is my strength and they were blown away by me playing it down. So, value what you are good at and don't let anybody knock that confidence. You're in your role for a reason, you haven't been brought in to code, you're there to lead teams and bring a different perspective. The most successful teams are the ones that have diverse views and opinions anyway.
What are your thoughts on diversity of females in the Technology industry?
It's getting better, but it's not where it should be. We have moved the dial a little bit, but it's not there yet. My boss is a woman and quite a few of my colleagues are female, but still the vast majority are male. I think it's easier for women in an environment where your boss is female. In the last place I worked, I was the only female in any kind of position of seniority within Technology and it was really challenging because you have a different perspective and there can be a different way of acting - male colleagues can be much more vocal, for example. At KPMG, we have an award-winning movement called 'IT's Her Future', which focuses on female talent in Technology, so I'm very lucky because we have some strong females leading the charge here.
Have you experienced any other challenges specifically based on gender?
I once got quite a big boost to my salary overnight, which while it was welcome, made me wonder how far below the rest I was being paid to start with! Gender pay gaps are a big challenge and being recognised for what you do and paid fairly is still a challenge. The Black Lives Matter movement uses the word 'micro-aggressions' and while I'm not saying women suffer in the same way at all, there are certain inadvertent things that seem to happen in terms of gender. When you're looking at a talent or promotion pipeline, or at the “high-potential” people who get the interesting work, they're mostly men still, which is to do with unconscious bias. If you look at the number of females in senior roles in Technology, it is minuscule compared to the number of men.
What do you think are the reasons that we don't see so many females in Technology?
It starts with girls not taking STEM subjects at school, so we need to actively encourage that. However, I didn't start in Technology and it's important to acknowledge that there are alternative routes into tech, to encourage more women into that environment. You don't have to have a Computer Science degree. I'm in a leadership position without ever having done any coding.
Secondly, something also happens in organisations, which is where unconscious bias plays in. If you're applying for a role and you're surrounded by men in the interview panel, it can be off-putting. At KPMG, we've done a lot of work on how roles are described, to make them more appealing to females. Men will go for roles if they meet 50% of the criteria, whereas women need to feel they are 90% there, so we've stripped out some of that from our role descriptions. We're also looking at redacting CV's so that we don't know gender or background to stop people getting filtered out early through unconscious bias.
Then lastly, at a certain level you get headhunted and, in the past, I found the way I was approached was quite aggressive, more suited to male candidates, which again is off-putting. Recruitment has changed thankfully and it's a softer approach now, but it needed to change, or you lose all the talent in a massive untapped market.
Do you have any other advice in terms of attracting and retaining female talent?
Flexibility in working for a start. We can't assume that people want to come in and work 70-hour weeks 9 to 5. Being supportive of a flexible working pattern is absolutely key and we need to focus on outcomes, not how you get there, as that benefits anybody looking for a good work/life balance. Then, I think having role models in the organisation helps with retention, as does coaching. Here, I've tapped into existing networks and coaching straight away. Having programmes in place that demonstrate how committed we are to diversity in the organisation is crucial to retaining talent. Then lastly, providing opportunities and making sure that it isn't the same usual suspects that end up on the most exciting or challenging things. We need to keep checking ourselves to make sure that we are making the opportunities as equal as they should be.
Do you have advice on how to sustain or build inclusivity for teams when remote working?
I don't have a simple solution for that one, it's tough. I joined KPMG in December and we went into lockdown in March, so I was still finding my feet. We rolled out the tech to enable everyone to interact from home and one thing we did was add in a social element - quizzes, a cup of tea and a chat, that kind of thing. It's important that not everything is about the work, we have to maintain that social angle people get from going into an office - and if people don't want to be on video, then they shouldn't have to be. Some people prefer to chat on the phone, which is fine. I had a new colleague start last week, so she's done all of her onboarding remotely, and I've taken a lot of time to consider exactly what she needs to know to feel included. I've set up virtual meetings for her with key people, I've spoken with her for an hour every day, because it's difficult to maintain inclusion when you're all working remotely.
It's hard enough to get your voice heard when you're new, or in a team of dominant voices, but on video it's even tougher.
It is, you're right. I do consider myself a champion for voices that don't get heard. If I'm running a meeting and I haven't heard from everyone, I will pick on people and ask for their point of view. Now, on video, one nice thing is I can ask people to type their comments in if they don't want to say it or compete with other voices. But it's important to remember you do have a choice - you can fight fire with fire and be as loud as the other voices if you want to, but it's important to consider whether your point will have the impact it deserves. If not, there's nothing wrong with being more reflective and using another channel to respond later. It's more important that your voice is heard properly rather than right away if it's not a suitable environment for you.
A huge thanks to Lynne 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!