“If not me, who? If not now, when?” | Interview with Maryanne Fleming

I met the Maryanne at Selfridges. I joined the Women in Tech group and it was clear that Maryanne and I had the same views, ideas and challenges. I am sure Maryanne will cringe at my next comment. She is someone who I admire, trust and aspire to ‘lead like’ in my future roles and career. Her no-nonsense approach, coupled with her understanding and experience are true the ingredients to her success.

I was thrilled when she said yes to be featured on The Wonder. Check out her interview below!

Tell us about your role?

I run a team of technical and project specialists who manage the systems that support Monsoon and Accessorize.  These systems allow us to design the clothes we sell, buy them from our suppliers, ship them to our warehouse, store them safely, pick and send them out to our stores and to process sales and refunds.  We also support our website and reporting solutions.

Did you choose the career in tech, or did it choose you?

It chose me.  I was a Sales Assistant Harrods and was seconded into what was then called “Engineers” to do a small project that I really enjoyed.  Then when I was in Buying & Merchandising at Burton Menswear, I was seconded into another project to implement a new Supply Chain management system.  After that I decided I really liked project work so I stayed with the IT team who were the key project delivery function.  I am still not a “techie” but I enjoy delivering innovative changes into the business.

Before you started your career, what was your educational experience?

A Levels and the first year of a Medical degree.

Did you do any work experience?

I’d waitressed and had some shop floor experience before joining Harrods and my strong retail background – shop floor and retail – has meant that I can communicate effectively with retail and Buying and Merch stakeholders but it does mean I’m unlikely to move out of Retail.

It’s been reported that there are still career barriers for Women in Tech. Would you say that this statement is true? What barriers have you faced within your career?

I have been lucky to have supportive managers – although they have always been men – but I am often the only woman in a meeting or team.  I think you need a healthy dose of self confidence to deal with that.  It’s never occurred to me that I was less capable than the men I work with and I have never felt the need to be “one of the boys”. 

There is no doubt that IT is male dominated and the gender pay gap report starkly highlights the lack of women in senior management positions.  It is changing, but slowly.  I hope I am part of that change.

How do you/would you attract and retain a diverse team in your organisation?

This is an ongoing challenge in IT particularly.  The belief that IT professionals are often male introverts with poor social skill is self fulfilling and people who are highly technically skilled often lack some of the “softer” skills such as Emotional Intelligence, coaching skills, strategic thinking etc and will recruit in their own image.

Sometimes there is a bit of a “boys club” feel in IT.  The humour can be off colour at times and as I’ve got older and more senior, I’m less inclined to tolerate those kind of behaviours and more inclined to call it out which I hope makes it easier for anyone else to challenge attitudes and to make IT more inclusive.

I have worked with successive HR partners and recruitment consultants to identify the skills and behaviours that we need in a role to ensure that we value some of those skills that are often seen as “feminine”.

This allows us to tailor our recruitment approach to attract a wider pool of candidates than if we recruited purely on technical skills.  In the past, I have looked at how anonymised CVs might help get more women through to at the least the first interview stage and whether our job adverts put women off applying. 

I don’t think you can beat excellent recruitment partners who will help you define your requirements, agree what is non negotiable in terms of skills and who will then find candidates who will be a good match to the requirement.  Refer a Friend schemes are good too as they allow the candidate to find out more about you and the organisation before an interview so they are already engaged.

What does your organisation do to support a diverse work culture?

We are a women’s and children’s fashion retailer and the majority of employees are women.

However, that’s not true of IT and I am working with HR to build competency frameworks and recruitment processes that ensure we’re looking for people with a wide range of skills and behaviours.

The current lockdown has demonstrated that we can work effectively even when we are remote and I hope we’ll be able to build on this to better support working families, including fathers, and those who have responsibility as carers.

As this is a small organisation, I don’t want to lose sight of other groups that could be better supported such as the LGBTQ community or those with disabilities but I think I’ve got to take things one at a time!

How would you encourage the younger generation of girls to follow a career path into technology?

I think it’s important that we help school and university student, recruiters, HR teams etc to understand that a career in Technology doesn’t require you to be a programmer or an engineer – there are many different skills sets and career paths.

I deliver strategic change into organisations through technology.  I’m a project management expert, not a technical expert and I think it would be great to frame these roles as being about innovation, problem solving, people management, communication etc.  It’s not all about coding or infrastructure!

What is your favourite quote and who was it by?

“If not me, who? If not now, when?” which may have originated from Moses’ last words according to the Torah and has been amended by John F Kennedy and Emma Watson amongst others!  For me, it means that if something isn’t right then I should fix it if I can rather than complaining.

Who in the technology/IT/Digital world inspires you?

Elon Musk.  I know he’s a bit of a loose cannon but he has the huge advantage of having a lot of money so he’s not afraid to take risks with projects such as Tesla, Starlink, SpaceX and the Boring Company and that’s allowing huge leaps to be made in progressing electric cars, space travel and civil engineering.

Do you think there is a lack of mentoring and coaching for Women in Tech?

We have not had the traditional structures to support us such as Golf Clubs, Rotary and the Masons etc and most women have family commitments that they couldn’t just palm off on their partners while they went to black tie dinners and conferences.

But it’s improving.  Organisations like GrowIT offer short, early evening gatherings with guest speakers and an opportunities to network with other professionals.

There are lots of inspiring women leaders, authors and broadcasters out there, some in tech and others in business, engineering, medical research.  We have some wonderful role models who’ve shared their approach through their writing, public speaking and career path and we should take the opportunity to learn from them.

What groups/courses/platforms would you recommend to the Women in Tech Collective?

Books – Invisible Women (Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men) Caroline Criado Perez

Groups – look out for GrowIT events

Online – @womenintech and @SmartWorksHQ on Twitter.  And for a bit of tongue in cheek humour @manwhohasitall

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