Meet Women In Data: Kirsty Garshong

Charlie Waterman our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 10/8/2020 10:58 AM
Slowly but surely, we have seen the gender gap across the Data Science sphere closing year on year. In fact, we were pleased to report that women make up 30 per cent of the industry in 2020, a large uptick of 5 per cent from 2019. 

Whilst we’re edging closer to that desirable 50/50 split of men and women, it’s hard to ignore the issues that persist in the gender gap. A large proportion of women in the industry are at entry-level, and this has a big bearing on the problem, resulting in a gender pay gap that is above the national average in the Data Science sector; for every £1 a man earns, a woman earns only 89p. 

Here at Harnham, we want to go further than just reporting on the state of play, we want to be catalysts for change. It’s all well and good that these damning statistics are reported on and brought to the attention of the public eye, but if we go no further than this, how can we expect change to happen?

We would like to welcome you to our newest series: "Meet Women in Data". A platform for incredible women in Data, and their male advocates, from across the globe to share their insights into the industry; its highs and lows, its challenges and wonders, and the steps we need to take to ensure diversity continues to be at the top of the priority list for the future generations of Data Scientists.

To kick things off, we spoke to Kirsty Garshong, Senior Manager for Contract Recruitment at Harnham. 

About Kirsty

Hi, I’m Kirsty, one of the Senior Managers here at Harnham, and I’ve been part of the UK contract team for six years, now heading up our Diversity Committee.  

I must admit, when I first joined the company, I thought the job was hard, and most days I really lacked confidence. I simply couldn’t get my head around the tech. However, as time passed, and as I spoke to the candidates I dealt with, as well as my colleagues and others within the industry, I began to make sense of it all. 

The struggle to grasp the technicalities wasn’t the only thing. I did feel my gender hindered me. A lot of the candidates I dealt with were men who were incredibly transactional and rather uninterested in what I had to say, something my male colleagues didn’t struggle with at all. 

It took a while to learn, but the only way to deal with this was to make it very clear as to what the benefits of speaking to me were, and I learned to meet abrasiveness with directness.

Looking back on those first months, I feel incredibly proud that I persevered. Knowing what I know now, acknowledging how underrepresented women are in the industry, to be one of the few who can speak up, speak out and make a difference is fantastic. And anyway, I ended up being quite good at the job!

How do you think the industry perceives women in the tech space?  

I think we’re like gold dust, especially in recent years. There’s not as many of us compared to our male counterparts, and we’re highly sought after.

This positive approach to women has most certainly changed for the better. Even in my six short years of working, we weren’t always seen as such an asset. A few years ago, women would have to fit around companies, not the other way around. We had to have the right goals, the ‘correct’ outlook on life and we had to benefit our superiors; there was no question of how companies could benefit us, or how they could support our personal and professional development.

How do you think those outside of the industry perceive women who work in tech?  

There’s certainly a stigma, not necessarily a negative one but you’re definitely seen as an exception to the rule. It’s widely known that the industry is male dominated and so, as a woman in tech, you’re expected to be a female who doesn’t have traditional female values, like wanting a family. Of course, this is inherently incorrect.

I know that this stereotype arises from the very nature of the job. We work in a demanding industry of long hours which requires an extremely high level of skill in order to succeed. So, if you were to take time out and not keep up with your learning, it’s highly likely that you could fall behind and not be able to fulfil the expected demands on return. 

But it’s not just women that take time out, men do too, so why is there the assumption that it’s only maternity leave that runs the risk of dropping a couple of balls? 

Ultimately, whether you’re a man or a woman who takes time out (for whatever reason) and don’t take personal responsibility to keep up with the ever-changing curve of tech, you’ll fall behind.

Do you, or have you, come against any issues in the sector because of your gender?  

I went to a meeting once with someone I managed - he was new, and we were meeting with a male stakeholder. Despite being said stakeholder’s only point of contact long before my junior colleague came on board, the stakeholder only addressed him. Any questions or topics of conversations, he simply wouldn’t regard me. 

When we sat down, I then explained who I was, and he looked very embarrassed. He didn’t acknowledge what he had done or apologise, but for the rest of the meeting he was very meek.

Currently, for every £1 a man earns, a woman earns 89p. What are your thoughts on this?  

I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. What can a man do that a woman cannot if facilitated in the right way? If I’m on a level playing field with a male counterpart, I should be paid the same. End of story.

Why do you think it’s important that there is a good representation of women in tech?  

A woman can do anything a man can do in tech. There’s nothing biological about the job, it’s all reliant on skill but unfortunately, there’s still this ingrained idea that tech is a man’s job. 

Despite this stereotype, some of the best data scientists were women, they quite literally changed the world. But without diversity, the number of girls looking to take-up and apply for STEM-based subjects at school and university will decline. Unfortunately, women won’t want to be trapped in an industry perceived as a ‘boys club’. 

We need to continue to work hard to inspire the younger female generation and create a balanced gender split across the whole industry, and that’s only going to happen if women are the face of data as much as men are. 

During your time within tech, has the gender conversation changed?

It’s become very much an expectation that employers have a mixed list of genders when it comes to the recruitment process. If I was to give a client a candidate list made up of just men, I am confident the client would push back on the lack of diversity.

Even just six years ago, this would not have been the case. In fact, more questions would probably have been asked if there were several women on the list around whether we had stressed the role would be in a highly pressured environment with long hours. 

There is still a very low number of women in tech. What more do you think could be done to change this?  

I think employers need to start to look inwards at themselves. Do they know what they’re do-ing to help diversify their business, do they know exactly what they’re doing to attract candidates and, most importantly, are they aware of what women want from an employer?

In Harnham’s most recent Diversity and Inclusion report, we found that the top five important working benefits for women are: the option to work from home, a bonus scheme, health insurance, enhanced pension contributions and an education or training allowance. Employers that don’t offer these benefits are discounting a large pool of female talent. 

It’s not always the case however that employers don’t offer these sought-after benefits, it’s that employers don’t bring awareness to them, so potential employees simply have no knowledge of them. For example, this year in the UK, only 22 per cent of employees knew about their company’s parental leave scheme.

We also need to address the way women are recruited into tech. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) are not the only areas Data Science candidates can come from, but this is where they are most widely recruited from. We need to change and update this conversation. For example, having a marketing degree can set up you up for a great career within data marketing and insights if given the correct training on programming. 

What do you love most about working in tech? 

We live in an ever-changing world and tech is undeniably at the heart of everything that we do – from Apple Pay to Track and Trace – it’s part of every process. It’s amazing to be a facilitator of this. 

I also love speaking to clients and hearing about their pain points and, with my knowledge and expertise, being able to offer tangible solutions. 

Does being a woman give you any advantages in the tech sphere?   

I think those inherently female skills, such as empathy and the ability to listen and understand on an emotional level, have certainly helped me in tech. I can make those around me feel like we’re working together, not against one another - which is very common between two males within the industry. 

Who is your biggest role model for women in tech and why?  

Sunmee Jang – she works for Sony Playstation as its Global Analytics Manager. She is one of the best people I’ve ever come across in tech, woman or man! She is incredibly solutions-focused and intelligent, running a team that produces some of the best games in the world.   

Not only does she hold impressive skills, her kindness is second-to-none. She is empathetic, lighthearted and just an all-round lovely human being. 

For the next generation of women in tech, what advice would you give?  

Think about what you actually want from a career and how the company you're interviewing for fits with that. Look at what the deal breakers are for you and don’t be afraid to ask companies if they offer those things. 

Men are traditionally more likely to demand and negotiate, whereas women aren’t.  However, I would encourage you to do so. It’s not unprofessional to know what you’re looking for in a role. In fact, I would argue it’s an attractive quality in any candidate as you will come across as driven. 

Also, don’t be afraid to shout about your technological achievements! Make a log of these for potential employers as examples when interviewing to open more doors for yourself. So even if you have a gap in your career, your achievements make up for it - don't give anyone an excuse to deny you from that role or promotion. 

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