In her time at global management consultancy Oliver Wyman, Deborah has supported some of the world’s biggest financial institutions and developed a passion around user centricity for business reporting. She is an alumnus of Imperial College, London, and recently co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Using Data to Strengthen Your Connections to Customers.” Deborah is actively engaged in mentoring the next generation of tech experts and is using her role as a senior
You’re very open that you specialised in technology relatively recently. What advice do you give to other people – and women in particular – considering a career change into digital and technology sectors?
The first thing is to just believe in yourself and that you can do it. Seriously. It’s that simple. It’s a common anecdote that from a list of ten criteria on a job description, men consider meeting five of them as a reason to apply, whereas similarly skilled women view “just” five out of ten as not being enough to support their application.
In my case, I’d found myself working more and more on data, systems, and tech issues, which I really enjoyed. I decided that would be where I would focus my career, incorporating my other strengths of managing projects and clients and being a fast learner and a team player. The business – Oliver Wyman – recognized my potential and supported my move to our technology arm – Oliver Wyman Labs – because of those skills. So, my advice is to go for the jobs you want and, when you get them (which you will), consider moving away from lists of requirements in the job descriptions you write.
My second recommendation is to ask for help and feedback and proactively seek out a mentor. Many people are great at giving constructive advice on how you can develop but wouldn’t think to share their experience unless invited to. If your company doesn’t run a mentoring program, you can encourage them to join the 30% Club who provide mentoring for women in business.
Don’t forget that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t have to be in the same industry as you, or be female, or even be more senior than you. Sometimes the best advice I received was from peers or junior members of my team who have a different perspective on how I could be more effective in my role. Giving colleagues permission to share their constructive feedback and suggestions builds trust within a team and benefits the business overall.
According to Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” What should senior women be doing more of?
Possibly the best advice I was ever given was “lead from the centre, not the top.” Senior women shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging the gaps in their experience or skill sets and using this insight to surround themselves with people who fill these gaps and elevate the whole team. This approach is far more effective than leading from the top as a means of control. I’ve seen both styles in practice – and I know which one I’m constantly striving for.
Where possible, I think senior women should offer themselves as mentors for other women and advocate for them. It’s also worth remembering that just because they made it to a leadership position, it may not be as easy for others – for a wide range of circumstances – and senior women could be using their privilege of seniority to champion a fairer playing field.
In recruitment situations, I would ask all interviewers to understand the motivations of each candidate. For example, are they looking for a particular development opportunity, and do you believe the role will provide the appropriate challenge? People who are appropriately challenged and motivated will flourish, which is what you need if you want to create a high-performing team.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
I’m incredibly lucky with the company I work for and the way they supported me moving from financial services consulting into Oliver Wyman Labs. They’ve taken a conscious decision to enable and encourage employees to work in ways that work best for them. Whether this is reducing hours to start a family or a business, they’ve recognized that the best talent may not want to work a five-day week with standard office hours and they’ve adapted accordingly. This has given me a lot of reassurance about my future and that I don’t have to trade off career success against other personal ambitions.
This means that in ten years’ time, I can see myself doing anything I want to do – whatever that may be.
If you had to tweet your top three career tips, what would they be?
In your #career, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback, & for help if needed. It’s a strength not a weakness.
Remember: other people DO want you to succeed. #mentoring #career
Go for it! Bring your uniqueness to the challenges you face. #diversity