Chief Financial Officer, Tessian
2018, 2019 (Chair)
“My time as both a member and Chair of the WISE Young Professionals’ Board has provided valuable Board and leadership experience as well as the opportunity to work with amazing people towards a great goal. As a result, I’ve been more involved in the wider tech community and been able to bring insights from the various STEM industries back to both my own company, and to those with whom I interact. As a result of my involvement, I’ve been asked to speak on a number of occasions, and have been involved in creating an initiative to further diversity and inclusion in startups, where resources are limited, but the aspiration for equality is no less great.“
An all-rounded approach to school subjects had always been my practice, so whilst STEM was always something I’d enjoyed, it was by no means a given that I’d end up following a STEM path when the humanities also seemed to have so much to offer. In the end, one woman tipped the scales for me, although it wasn’t until years later that I realized she’d done so.
She was a wonderful chemistry teacher. Like all truly great teachers she had both a genuine passion for her subject, and a strong vocational dedication to always forge the best path for her students. I see the influence of her enthusiasm in my settling on studying Chemistry at Imperial College London, and in the dominoes that toppled from there.
My degree more strongly set me on a STEM path and from there I’ve been able to move between science, mathematics and technology roles, and take advantage of the flexibility and transferable skills a STEM background encompasses.
My path to my role has been unconventional. After realising in my Masters year that research wasn’t the right fit for me, I changed tactics and used the mathematical analytics my degree had imparted to move into statistical roles. I worked in finance and investment actuarial for a number of years before taking some time to self-teach some basic coding. Going through that process, and considering what aspects I had (and hadn’t) enjoyed in prior roles, I decided I wanted to solve problems, and that the technology start-up scene had some pretty interesting problems to solve!
As Chief Financial Officer (& formerly as Chief of Staff) at Tessian, if it isn’t about building or selling the software itself, chances are it falls, or has previously fallen, to my division to tackle the challenge. That has included managing the finances, taking care of HR, assessing company risk, day to day operations and finding bright new talent.
My role is challenging, busy and broad and calls on a wide range of skills that a varied STEM background has equipped me for. Having joined the company as the seventh person, and grown it to (today) a hundred people in two years, it’s been an incredible experience. When you build something as multifaceted as a company, it ceases to be an inanimate entity; it takes on a life of its own. I remember setting in place the small pieces, the individual, early simple cells that have developed and multiplied into the complex and evolved being the company has become, and I’m able to see the parts that have grown out of the early DNA I placed there, which has been an amazing (and sometimes surreal) experience.
I see in this, the power and breadth of STEM; the ability to create something vast from small components feels truly magical. The range of problem solving skills I get to cultivate and new skills and knowledge I acquire when creating systems from scratch means I never stop developing and learning. Throughout the tactical and hands-on mathematical work, to the strategic big-picture analysis in my role, there’s a rigor of thought, organization and discipline that’s required, that I credit to a strong STEM presence throughout both my education and early career.
As part of the WYPB I’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of projects, from writing pieces for WISE blog, helping run essay competitions championing lesser-known female role models and creating engagement tools, to working on role-model case studies for a major publisher. The WYPB has also been a platform for speaking opportunities, raising the profiles and accessibility of women in STEM, such as at the WISE Conference 2018, AWE graduate events and at Sky’s Get into Tech taster day.
One of my proudest moments was at the 2018 WISE Awards where I was approached by two women who’d heard me speak at a taster day, and told me my talk had helped encourage them to continue with their program. They’re both now software engineers at Sky, having come from non-tech backgrounds. IT was an amazing moment personally, but also important, as the need to encourage women to consider alternative and STEM roles is greater than ever.
Tessian has been the first role where I’ve been actively involved in hiring; suffice to say, running recruitment for a high-growth tech start-up has been eye-opening, with a front-row seat to see the degree of gender imbalance in the industry – an imbalance that is severe not only at the employment level, but at the educational level also.
Having spent time on both sides of the classroom (for a few years I also worked with Imperial’s STEM Outreach program) the imbalance has always felt wrong, as when you get down to it, there’s no ability-related justification (and given the STEM skills gap, we need as many people pursuing STEM as we can muster). It saddens me greatly to think that all these years after so many hard-won rights for women were secured, that gender equity, both in women’s presence and women’s pay, has so far yet to go.
However, I wouldn’t be in my current role if I didn’t relish a challenge or felt daunted at the prospect of an unfamiliar and complex problem. Nor would all the amazing women working in STEM today be where they are now if they defied the odds getting there.