Inspirational Woman: Sarah Robertson | Senior Consultant, Experian

Sarah RobertsonIn the early stages of Sarah’s career there was a clear lack of female role models working in the data industry, so she made it her mission to support the women that worked in her teams, as well as her peers and friends within the industry.

After Sarah graduated, she was unsure of what career to pursue but felt at the time IT was her preferred choice. This led to a temporary contract with IBM working in IT, but she quickly learnt that it wasn’t for her and started exploring jobs in statistics. She landed a role with a marketing agency in their analytics division and absolutely loved it! It was then that analysing data to understand consumer behaviour became a passion of hers. That was over 20 years ago and she’s never looked back.

Sarah is keen to address the imbalance of men and women across our industry, she is heavily involved in the event Women in Data UK and contributing to her current business on recruiting more females into data roles.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

After I graduated, I was unsure what part of my degree I wanted to pursue a career in, but felt at the time that IT was my preferred choice.  This led to a temporary contract with IBM working in IT, but quickly learnt that this wasn’t for me and started exploring jobs in statistics.  I landed a role with a marketing agency in their analytics division and absolutely loved it! It was then that analysing data to understand consumer behaviour became a passion of mine. That was over 20 years ago and I’ve never looked back.

My current role as a Senior Data Consultant for Experian allows me to work with many great brands to help empower them in the use of data, both their own and Experian’s marketing datasets. I love the variety of the brands that I work with as well as helping to develop the services that Experian can offer across data, analytics and our data management capabilities.

On a personal note, I have two very lively, young boys who love football, so I’ve become an expert in juggling my career and home life like many other working women. I’m very lucky to have developed a local network of friends, and we truly support each other.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really. I’ve always loved working with data and analytics, so never wanted to work outside of the industry. Before I worked at Experian, I worked for a small company for many years where I started at a junior level and got promoted as recognition of my hard work.  This was a lot more visible due to the size of the organisation.  Working at Experian has taught me about the importance of developing my personal brand, an important part of anyone’s career, which has helped me start mapping out my career in a bit more details.  For me, there’s no limit in what I can do next.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I think everyone faces challenges in their career, and personal life, and I’m no different.  I relocated to the Midlands four years ago with two pre-schoolers, and we moved into a renovation project whilst still working on the south coast two days a week.  I loved my job, but the distance was just too much, so this prompted me to start looking for a new job closer to home.  When I read the job spec for my current role at Experian, it fitted my skill set perfectly and I was confident that I could make it a success.

During my interview for the job, I was completely open and honest about being a working mum and asked if I could have the flexibility that I wanted, if successful. The response that I got was very positive.  It’s always quite nerve-wracking when you move from a small business to organisation of Experian’s size, as they tend to have different ways of working.  As much as it’s been a challenge to adapt, Experian have always been very supportive of my responsibilities outside of work.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is a great intuitive, and I would highly recommend getting one to progress your career.  Throughout my career I have been both a mentor and mentee, which has benefited my development greatly.  Aside from my mentor, I have learnt a lot from other people.  I saw an influential speaker last year and he said that everyone should open themselves up to learning, as you never know who you’ll meet and how they could influence you.  And this is so true.  I once met the first Asian women to be appointed in a senior management position for an engineering company in the hairdressers – within the next hour we had an incredible chat, learning so much in the process.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

With the onset of more flexible working, I believe there is going to be a shift in the opportunities open to everyone.  This will allow, for example, women that have traditionally wanted to stay at home with their children to work at the levels where they can really add value.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Confident skills training for entry-level women, enabling them to get their voice heard in traditionally male dominated industries.  It took me many years to develop this confidence, and if we could accelerate this, women would progress in their careers more rapidly.

I worked with a very talented graduate a few years ago and she really couldn’t see just how brilliant she was. I worked with her to try to give her that confidence to believe in herself. As her confidence grew, more people saw her talent which grew her confidence even more. I’m pleased to say that she’s doing amazingly well today.

How would you encourage more women and girls into STEM?

It’s got to start very early to encourage girls to take risks. The real shift in diversity will only be seen by teaching girls that it’s OK to take risks in the same way that we do with boys. I saw an interesting TED talk by Reshma Saujani on teaching girls to be brave not perfect.  STEM subjects tend to have a right or wrong answer in early education, and if girls are not brave enough to be wrong, then they won’t challenge themselves with STEM subjects, and are more likely to prefer more subjective topics.

There some amazing initiatives encouraging more females into STEM roles, for example, the ‘Women in Data (WiD)’ community.  I have been involved with them since 2015 and they are playing an integral role in inspiring, educating and supporting the next generation of data scientists who can help shape the future.  I’m looking forward to their up and coming event, where I will be one of the speakers.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Several years ago, I led a large multi-channel customer journey data transformation program. The project was extremely complex in terms of data and statistical modelling, as well as the number of stakeholders that were involved. The client-side team were great with a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve, and we formed an amazing working partnership, working closely throughout the project. The project was deemed success and completely ahead of its time.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am currently working on an exciting project which will help give a greater awareness of Experian’s innovation.

I have a continuous challenge to learn and actively invest in my personal and professional growth.  I’ve recently started running which I haven’t done since I was at school, so that’s a massive personal challenge for me.

I hope to continue to love what I do and find it interesting.

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