The Balance For Better

Mike Young

By Mike Young
Group CIO

On International Women's Day hashtag our Group CIO, Mike Young, highlights just a few of the brilliant women helping to design our digital future.

Today marks International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s theme is ‘Balance for Better’ because a balanced world is a better world, something which I firmly believe to be true.

When I first saw the film Hidden Figures, the story of three African American women in IT working as ‘human computers’ for NASA during the 1960s, I was struck by the challenges and prejudice they faced, and the lack of trust men had in them. I’ve watched the film a few times now and the key scene for me is when the astronaut doesn’t trust the computer but asks for his female colleague to check the algorithm to land on the moon before the space flight begins; the door is literally slammed in her face. As we strive for a more balanced workplace, I reflect on this story and hope that women continue to show the tenacity and technical prowess to succeed but with fewer barriers.

Gender parity has traditionally been a challenge in the tech sector. The problem starts at an early age, with girls less likely to be encouraged to pursue an interest in science and technology. Just a quarter of graduates in core STEM subjects are women.

But the gender imbalance gets worse the higher up you get in an organisation with only one in seven managers at engineering and tech companies being female. And that’s an issue because having a company made up of people who approach challenges in different ways can only be a good thing: diversity of thought is good for business! Women bring a wide range of skills to our table from using empathy to understand the needs of our customers through UX to the leadership skills needed to deliver digital transformation. 

As someone who leads the technology change in my company, I want to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of the brilliant women doing truly innovative work at Centrica - the data scientists, strategists, coders and architects that are designing our digital future.   

Lisa Wolstenholme is a data specialist who finds and fixes issues with our data every day, saving money for our customers. Lisa has a unique understanding of how our data systems work and uses this knowledge to help her business colleagues make more accurate decisions.  

More than 30,000 people use Microsoft 365 every day at Centrica, using the range of software we’ve chosen to drive collaboration amongst colleagues. Rachel Wilson, along with her team of architects, has masterminded this end to end, creating the enterprise architecture so we can make the most of the opportunities this technology brings.  

Understanding the power of our data and translating what it means is vital as we accelerate decision making in Centrica. Lena Janack leads business engagement for data science, and she works with teams right across the business to discover further opportunities to use our data.  

Bord Gáis Energy in Ireland recently launched a new website, the first step in an ambitious digital-delivery programme in 2019. Lynsey Carruth was the linchpin in the successful testing and quality assurance of the new site.

Theresa Wilson works for Direct Energy in Pittsburgh, USA, leading the solutions integration team, providing strategic advice to our businesses on the best use of technology.

Miriam Vizvary, our Global Data Director at Centrica Hive, was recently shortlisted for Data Leader of the Year at the ‘Women In IT’ awards. Miriam is currently working with Amazon Web Services to re-architect our data platform. Miriam is passionate about helping us become a much more data driven organisation, one that not only utilises the power of its own data but uses a lot of freely available non-personal datasets to improve our products and understanding of our markets.

Nicola McCheyne, Head of Ideas Lab for Centrica Innovations, is focused on finding ideas from across the business, incubating them, accelerating the very best of those ideas, and securing the investment needed to make them a reality. Nicola is also a member of the inaugural Better Futures, Women in Cleantech Steering Group set up by the London Sustainable Development Commission and is leading the workstream that will explore the potential to establish a venture capital fund that will exclusively invest in cleantech start-ups with female founders, boards and management teams.

Through Centrica Innovations, we’ve committed to putting £100 million into new technology and ideas and have witnessed first-hand the important contribution women have to play in the innovation space, with 60% of our venture investments last year being led by female founders, and women making up half of our technology and innovation advisory committee.

I’m pleased to say that around a third of my team are women but there is still more we can do to encourage women into digital and technology roles. We’re working hard to offer a fulfilling and inclusive place to work. We’re challenging our recruiters to provide more diverse candidates, offer flexible working to balance work with family life or further learning and have mentoring programmes to help our people thrive. Only by encouraging more women to pursue a career in tech will we reach the point where it’s no longer unusual for a woman to follow a path in STEM.

Improved diversity will ultimately deliver greater solutions for our customers, helping us to satisfy their changing needs. The balance will be for the better.