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BLOG – How Springboard has increased applications from female engineers and scientists (Part 3 of 3)

By Dr Keith Turner, Director, Springboard*

In my previous blog I discussed how women can help male leaders to realise the value of their individual strengths and the potential for diversifying their work force beyond the usual range of characteristics that they look for. This article goes on to look at how we changed our recruitment process in light of this new realisation, and the dramatic results that followed.

We started with increasing our ability to understand what mattered to various people in their professional careers. We split the problem into three steps: recruitment, retention, and promotion. It rapidly became obvious that we had to start at the first of these, and then shift focus upwards as the benefits moved up through the company.

Keith Turner

We introduced several changes to our recruitment process. Adverts were updated to remove gendered language. For example, saying “We are looking for candidates with outstanding technical skills” seemed just an honest request to me, but I came to realise that some really good candidates would be put off because they weren’t confident that they would meet the requirement. All candidates were given a guidance document to help them prepare. Upon arrival, they got a tour by a member of staff similar to themselves who could act as a role model. Candidates were asked to start talking about one of their own projects, to help get into the swing of the interview before tackling the more challenging technical questions. We spoke at more length in the interview about the many training and mentoring opportunities at our company.

All this was progress in the right direction, but it didn’t really get to the root of the problem, which was insufficient applications from women. If they don’t apply, we can’t offer them jobs. So our focus turned to how to get more women to apply for our jobs.

We started a ‘Women in Technical Consultancy’ scheme, with the aim of reaching out in a personal way to potential applicants. The key attribute of this scheme is a variety of soft ways to get to know the company before taking the step of applying and coming for interview. For example, applicants are welcome to have an informal phone call, or drop by for coffee and a look around. We give talks at the university and hold open evenings at our labs. There are internship options as a possible first step to something longer-term, and there is the potential for 6 – 18 month placements. The literature for the scheme also makes prominent reference to some of the great features of our company: our ethical policy, STEM and outreach work, focus on learning. Every person in our company loves these features, male and female alike, so why not make it known in a way that attracts candidates?

Lucy Bennett did a placement at Springboard. Find out more about her experience in part 2 of this blog.

The scheme has been a satisfying success. Applications from women grew every year, starting originally at 13% and rising, four years later, to 33%. And so now that we’ve got many more applying, and a great interview process, we are starting to get some cracking members of staff joining us thanks to this initiative. With that part of the process showing results, we are able to move onto the later stages of retainment and promotion. I’m looking forward to that challenge!

The key to this success is for the manager to put themselves inside the heads of the candidates. It is really not that difficult, if only the manager has a sufficiently open mind to give it a try, which many don’t. I tend to think of it like this: applying for a job is scary. You might be asked things you don’t know. You might be rejected. You might make a silly mistake. We can all relate to that, men and women alike. So by making the application process a little gentler, and allowing confidence to build steadily over several touch points, candidates are more able to perform at their best. This is a good thing for all candidates, and helps us get high quality people including those who were always good enough, but find it hard to prove in the interview.

* Dr Keith Turner will be a guest panel speaker for the CamAWiSE “Men as allies – Approaching equality together”, 30 May 2019, in partnership with the Wellcome – MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

Springboard is a technical consultancy which develops innovative medical devices such as auto-injectors, infusion pumps and electromechanical surgical equipment.  Springboard works through all product development process stages: concepts, proof of principle in the laboratory, design for manufacture and verification. Through its strategic partnerships with broad industries and  technical areas, there is opportunity to develop careers in project leadership, technical specialities, line management and sales.

Further information can be found at www.springboard.pro.

BLOG – Women Transforming Tech – QuantumBlack

By Natasha Clarke*

I recently attended QuantumBlack’s Women Transforming Tech event. It was a fantastic day, and in this post I talk about the day’s activities, what I learnt and women in technology.

QuantumBlack, a data, analytics and design company, had three goals that they wanted as take home for the delegates: learn, connect and enjoy. We started with breakfast at the QuantumBlack office, which was a great start and a good opportunity to talk with other attendees immediately. The day was opened by QuamtumBlack’s Jeremy Palmer (CEO) and Helen Mayhew (COO, Europe). Helen outlined some sobering facts about gender and tech: when you ask six year olds, equal numbers of boys and girls like computers, however, at the middle level of the tech workforce, only 17% of workers are women. The higher up you go, the proportion decreases further. It is well known that diverse teams and companies perform better in every metric you can think of, and achieving gender parity in tech would increase UK GDP by £3.6bn. The message from QuantumBlack was clear – diversity matters. With that in the forefront of our minds, it was on to the first talk.

Learn

Jacomo Corbo co-founded QuantumBlack and is now its Chief Scientist. He outlined how his work in Formula 1, modelling optimal stopping of cars for Renault, led to the creation of QuantumBlack. After the first coffee break, we then heard from Martha Imprialou, Analytics Engagement Manager. Martha spoke about algorithmic fairness and explainable Artificial Intelligence (AI).

She took us through three key concepts to building trust in AI, which is crucial, in that AI is embedded everywhere we go and services we use. This can be built through algorithms that are 1) explainable (can humans understand how it has come to a decision?), 2) fair (is it biased in some way?) and 3) resilient (is it repeatable?). Martha explained how to try and achieve each of these in our work, and I found the discussion around fairness particularly interesting. For example, an algorithm can reflect societal bias – if there is less data available for a small protected group, then it cannot learn well, and this can lead to decisions which would negatively impact the group. You can see how this is critical for tasks such as making parole decisions, or University admissions.

She finished with a quote from John von Neumann – “In mathematics, you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” – and likened this to AI. We’re getting more used to AI the longer we live with it and at the same time society is evolving. We should write our tech in a way that reflects our ethics and beliefs, learning from mistakes. (side note – Martha is nominated for a Rising Star award that recognises female talent across industry sectors! If it’s something you’re interested in you can check it out at https://risingstars.wearethecity.com. Martha’s presentation was brilliant!

After lunch I joined the Software/ Machine Learning Engineering group breakout session. This was a practical session, which provided tips for writing reproducible code. It also introduced the cool new piece of software from QuantumBlack, giving a behind the scenes look of developing a new product.

The final talk was from Professor Sue Black. Her story is incredible, whereby she moved from living in a women’s refuge with her three children at the age of 26, to one of the 50 top women in tech in Europe, and an OBE. The title of Sue’s talk was ‘If I can do it, so can you!’, and she described some of the highlights of her career, including running a successful campaign to save Bletchley Park. An interesting fact she shared with us was that were 8000 women working at Bletchley Park during the Second World War! She started Tech Mums, teaching mums computing basics. For some of the women this had been truly life changing, leading to them getting jobs or improving their business, and having a massive impact on their confidence.

Professor Sue Black talking at QuantumBlack’s Women Transforming Tech event.

Finally there was a careers Q&A with Helen Mullings (Chief HR Officer, QuantumBlack) and Michelle Gregory (Senior VP of Data Science, Elsevier). It was interesting, and new for me to learn that Michelle Gregory, whilst working in a male dominated field had not been affected as a gender minority in the workplace. She prefers to ignore gender and instead focus on technical skills during interviews. I’m not convinced that without active efforts to increase the number of women in the workforce, gender parity will be achieved. But it was good to hear a different perspective. She also spoke about recognising your own bias and supporting people that might need it, such as introverts regardless of gender, all of which was great to hear.

Michelle had shared invaluable advice, particularly around the importance of having a mentor and how to approach the relationship. For mentees, don’t be shy, ask the questions you want to, and then allow time for general advice from your mentor. Always be respectful of their time, as they will be very busy, and if they give you advice about something specific, like a conversation you need to have at work, let them know how it went. For mentors, care about your mentee’s life outside of work too.

Connect

Fear of networking was an accidental theme that ran through the day! Helen Mayhew suggested at the beginning that by seeing it as making friends it was a lot less scary, and Professor Black spoke about how shy she was when first attending conferences. I think making it a goal of the day to connect with others was helpful. It meant everyone had a similar mentality of wanting to chat and find out what other attendees were doing, and ample breaks meant there was plenty of opportunity to do so.

I met women who were studying or working in a range of fascinating areas, from a mathematician working at a start-up, to other PhD students researching the spread of disease and homelessness. It was interesting to hear of different ways machine learning is being used, other women’s career paths, and exchange tips, such as using Twitter. By the end of the day I’d made a few firm friends and we all swapped LinkedIn/ Facebook/ email details, and I hope to continue the relationships with my new found connections.

Natasha Clarke (2nd from right) at the QuantumBlack’s Women Transforming Tech event.

Enjoy

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the event, but I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend. Personally, it met all of QuantumBlack’s goals for me. I came away feeling genuinely inspired, by both the speakers and other attendees, and it’s great to know that there are companies who care about women in tech and want to support us. This was the second time QuantumBlack have run the event and I hope they will do something similar in the future, as I can’t recommend it enough.

If you’re a woman in tech, keep an eye out for it and apply!

*CamAWiSE is pleased to have collaborated with QuantumBlack in promoting its “Women Transforming Tech” event which took place on 17 May 2019. Natacha Clarke was one of 77 women selected for the programme. You can follow her on Twitter – @psychinthecity_

What next for your career? Annual LMB and CamAWiSE Careers Event – 28 June

Are you wondering how to best utilise your scientific skills? Are you planning your next step in academia or considering pursuing a career away from the bench? Would you like more information about different scientific careers from a diverse range of speakers? Then this is the event for you! Read more…

BLOG – New Job? Excel in your first 90 days, with Natacha Wilson

By Raheela Rehman and Dr Stephanie Höhn

Natacha Wilson

Whether in industry or academia, there are two sides of the hiring coin,  the application and the recruitment.  Both are to be understood to ensure you make an impact in your new role. Recruitment is a complex process, with associated costs, the recruiter makes the choice using different tools to ensure the right person is selected, and therefore it is in their interest to make the right choice. The cost to the applicant can vary from relocation, establishing a new network, personal energy and investment.

The rollercoaster of sensations starts with the elation of securing your new post. Even in the perfect job this may be followed by first day anxiety, to Day-60 convincing yourself that it’s exactly what you wanted (or find out that it is not), and finally settled in at Day-90. Thus a final addition to the list as an applicant is the emotional cost. The biggest lesson to allay first day and first 90-days concerns is to prepare for a proactive and measured approach. The day before your first morning, plan your commute to your new workplace or if feasible carry out a physical pre-run, prepare your clothes, reread your job description, visualise your first day and if possible have an early night. The following sections provide a timeline with considered instructions for milestones.

Day 1

Arrive early with an open mind. Meet with your line manager and team members, take the time to note the names of new colleagues and their roles. Examine potential training you may need, assess your strengths, skills gaps, networks, what you wish to achieve in the first month and ask any questions early on. Bring documents with you to read should you have down time. Remember, a good team will be as excited to have you on board as you are to join them. A conscientious manager or team will often arrange a joint lunch or after work drinks to welcome their new team member. Be open, positive and introduce yourself.

First few weeks

If you have started a new job, the first few weeks will be about learning and understanding. Try not to focus on “delivering” too much right at the start, a job well done needs preparation. If you are already a member of the company, starting a new position within the organisation, this is the period you may want to start thinking about what you wish to produce. In both cases, plan ahead, plan to learn, and actively listen. What would you like to be known for? Prepare a short pitch about yourself that you can share with new colleagues you meet, seek out new contacts and friends, identify new alliances and teams and explore the dynamics.

Month 1

In the first month, observe, reflect and set your new routines. It is an opportune time to manage your own and others’ expectations. Agree goals with your manager, and personally set regular SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals. Now is the time to get to know your team and the stakeholders better. Although undeclared, but important attribute, retain your ability to see things with a fresh perspective before you are fully incorporated in to the company system, and become processes driven. Your unbiased feedback will inevitably add value to the company.

Take 15 minutes daily, or else weekly to reflect: what do you feel, as your emotions will change, what has bothered you so far, is this a true perspective, and finally what have been your early successes, or perhaps not so well. Maintain your energy levels, sleep well, eat well, exercise and manage your physical and mental power. Find your own personal outlets to deal with your emotions and get support from friends.

6 weeks

In order to make the most of your experience, seek out your network and a mentor. It is beneficial to understand the organisational structure, and the team or company culture; what behaviour is rewarded and what are the company or team success stories. Ask what the company’s overall mission is and “if a random employee can relay the mission (at least in general terms) during your conversation, it signifies a strong and unified workforce”.

90 Days

After the first 90 days, Natacha Wilson advised that this is the time to define what success looks like for you. Ask yourself:

Are you happy?

Are you able to grow?

Do you have SMART goals set?

How is your relationship with your colleagues?

Is this what you have been looking for or is it a stepping stone to an even better fitting role?

Prepare and boost your confidence at each milestone of your first 90 days timeline in your new post!

CamAWiSE thanks Natacha Wilson.

Natacha Wilson’s recommended further reading:

On the evening, Natacha Wilson helped to draw the winners of the autographed copies of Radio Four Jenni Murray’s book, “The History of the World in 21 Women” in collaboration with One World Publications.  

CamAWiSE was pleased to announce Claire Wilkes and Stephanie Höhn as the winners.

BLOG – How to help others understand your personal strengths during an interview (Part 2 of 3)

By Dr Keith Turner, Director, Springboard*

In the previous blog I talked about the idea of women conveying the value of their strong personal characteristics to help make the benefits obvious to male colleagues. What would be an example of this? And how can you take control of the situation yourself?

Let’s imagine you’re in an interview, and you’ve just been asked a difficult technical question. What sort of reaction does the interviewer want to see? Personally, I look for a resourceful, intelligent and slightly humble answer. I hope to see good solid baseline academic knowledge of the subject. Then I like to see candidates expand on that knowledge, perhaps by giving examples of where they have seen relevant technical use of the knowledge in industrial process or products. I am even more impressed when candidates can put the first two together to make an educated guess at the answer to the question along with some predictions of likely areas of difficulty. The icing on the cake is when the candidate explains how they have tackled something relevant in the past, and are able to admit what went wrong and how they have learned from the experience to do it better next time.

Dr Keith Turner

I can still remember one of the early interviews where the answer was roughly as follows. First, the candidate threw up some equations, apparently unconcerned that a few were wrong. Then he talked about the time he mended his motorbike, before making a not-very-accurate guess at the answer. I appreciated his willingness to have a go, but really it wasn’t a particularly impressive answer and I was worried that he might be bluffing. More recently we had a much quieter candidate who gave only very limited explanations of the underlying science, and didn’t expand into real-world examples. When we coaxed her through the question, she did actually know the equations, but it was hard work to draw the knowledge out. I suspect given sufficient time, she would go away and work it out accurately and check each step, but there wasn’t the opportunity to show that in the interview format.

You can help the interviewer by being yourself. For some candidates, their advantage could be diligence and honesty, so a good answer could go like this: “Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I know from my university course that the fundamental equation is xyz. There’s another important extension to that theory which is more accurate. I can’t recall it right now, but I would go and look that up to make sure it’s accurate and then apply it to this problem. I haven’t made a widget like this myself before, but can I tell you about a different practical challenge I have faced which I think shows the same range of skills? I once made a dongle out of material x because I wanted to learn more about machining that type of substance. It didn’t work first time because the holes were too big. This is because I didn’t allow for shrinkage in that material, so now I always find out about the things that might go wrong and then check with someone else before spending any money.”

Lucy Bennett talks about her year at Springboard. She hopes this movie will inspire others!

An answer along these lines would indicate to me a candidate who has a solid attitude backed up with examples of technical credibility. You could even prepare your own private case study of some practical and theoretical work and then weave it into whichever question you are asked.
Perception is in the eye of the observer, and the more you can do to show the employer that your skills are valuable to them, the more chance you will have of success.

Lucy Bennett at work at Springboard

This initiative by the candidate to ensure the employer understands their strengths is one of the two strategies to improve diversity in the recruitment process. The other is to mitigate unconscious bias on the part of the employer. My journey of discovery on that matter is the subject of the next blog.

* Dr Keith Turner will be a guest panel speaker for the CamAWiSE “Men as allies – Approaching equality together”, 30 May 2019, in partnership with the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

Springboard is a technical consultancy which develops innovative medical devices such as auto-injectors, infusion pumps and electromechanical surgical equipment. Springboard works through all product development process stages: concepts, proof of principle in the laboratory, design for manufacture and verification. Through its strategic partnerships with broad industries and technical areas, there is opportunity to develop careers in project leadership, technical specialities, line management and sales.

Further information can be found at www.springboard.pro.

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