Celebrating Women in STEM – in conversation with Chloe Booth

6 months ago by Andrew Farquharson
Chloe Booth Interview 1020

In recognition that 2020 is a year of deep reflection on ourselves and society we are engaging in conversations with a range of women across STEM careers to find out about their lived experiences. We want to understand and recognise that whilst female inclusivity and success in STEM careers has advanced greatly since Ada Lovelace’s time, there are still multiple barriers and challenges that women encounter throughout their careers. We hope by engaging in these conversations we can promote positive change and make STEM careers accessible for more women.

In this blog, we sat down with Chloe Booth, Head of Core Banking Domain at NatWest, to get her insights on over 20 years in tech roles within financial services and balancing that with a rewardingly busy family life.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your background and career to date? What attracted you to the STEM sector and what do you think makes it a good place for women?

I did a science degree at University so it felt like a natural progression to start a career in STEM. I did look at other industries but decided to continue in STEM and began my career at IBM Global Services on their graduate scheme. There I worked in various roles, including testing and application support, before moving to work in market data technologies with Accenture at JP Morgan Chase. I was responsible for first line support, working with the traders on the trade floor, through to third line infrastructure support. I then moved to Credit Suisse, firstly leading environment builds for a bank wide programme, and then setting up a Global PMO for Infrastructure.

At this point I left London and had my eldest daughter, Lucy. Lucy was born with complex additional needs, so to balance work and caring for her I switched to contracting and worked for several companies doing change management including Zurich, Axa and a return visit to the Market Data team at JP Morgan. After a few years, and two more children, I realised that I wanted more from my career. I therefore transitioned back to being permanent and went to work for Nationwide Building Society.

I had the opportunity to lead some large-scale transformations including Digital Operations, Contact Centre Transformation, Customer Communications Management – my focus as you can tell was delivering change for the Operations function of Nationwide. My next role was as Head of Tech Strategy, working for Nationwide’s CTO. I loved this role, it was a real opportunity to engage the business in the importance of technology in Financial Services, and to evidence how technology could help drive their business strategy forward. My final role before leaving Nationwide was a move to HR to lead a squad who were accountable for attracting and retaining up to 1000 technologists in Swindon, as well as preparing for the launch of a new office for Nationwide in London. It’s fair to say that I learnt much about recruitment by leading a team of 50 talent acquisition specialists, learning about recruiting, onboarding, creating talent pools; I could go on! I will say that whilst I enjoyed this year, I know that my home is in Technology.

I’m now the Head of Core Banking Domain at Natwest, leading a team of 700 people. We look after 170 applications which together touch every single part of the customer journey for a customer of the bank. I’ve been in role for almost three months and have absolutely loved every minute.

Careers in tech can be brilliant. I’ve been able to develop strategy, I’ve been able to lead change, I’ve been able to lead and work with some great people.

Q. Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?

Overall, I think it has got easier over time. Albeit, when I joined IBM the intake was 50% female so I do wonder where many of those women are now, given the relatively low percentage of senior women in our sector, twenty years on.

I think it’s getting easier for some women to challenge when something isn’t right culturally – and hopefully company cultures are becoming more accepting and embracing. I genuinely feel lucky enough to have a real sense of belonging at work amongst my colleagues in my current role. My advice would be look for a role where you love the culture; for me that is high up on my list of what I’d look for in work.

Q. If you were with a group of peers this evening and talking openly about this topic, what would be the key issues discussed?

I think it can still be hard for some women to have a sense of belonging in some company cultures, especially when they may be the only woman working in a team.

There are also still significant challenges for women around childcare. If we choose to return after maternity leave, childcare can be difficult to juggle - unless our partner or family can step in to help.

I think that there can be cultural pressures on women, maybe more so than for men, from family, friends and even colleagues as to what do after having a child with respect to deciding whether to return to work or not. It’s amazing how many assumptions people can make – either way.

Q. What role do you think male colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance? Can they be part of a solution to equality?

I think that male colleagues can play a hugely supportive role. Firstly, as leaders by not making assumptions and ensure when looking for talent, to consider people as individuals - not assume that as a woman they won’t want certain things from a role/career. Many people assumed that I wouldn’t go back to work after having my eldest daughter - but for me and my family, it was the right decision.

Also, men in senior roles can encourage women to apply for jobs they perhaps wouldn’t necessarily apply for without sponsorship or support. They can help women see their potential, perhaps before women can see it themselves. I also think from my experience, many women have a version of Imposter Syndrome that specifically relates to being a technologist i.e. ‘I’m not technical enough’ – it’s certainly something that I have wrestled personally with in the past.

Finally, as parents, if their company offers paternity leave then there’s a massive opportunity to take it and share the leave with their partners. I know of several senior male leaders who’ve done this and absolutely loved the time that they’ve had with their child. Again, it won’t suit everyone, however I know that if more men took up the opportunity, it would encourage more and more to do so.

Q. How do you think COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in STEM and the capacity to fulfil potential?

It’s difficult to be certain of what the long term impact is at this stage, but it does concern me that when women may want more support in terms of networking or sponsorship this may be harder to do so virtually. There are also many women impacted by childcare issues and therefore are more likely to need to work reduced hours – or in the case of some of my friends choose to leave their jobs.

On the positive side we are seeing lots of free training emerging e.g. via Scotland Women in Tech and Tech Pixies. It is becoming easier for people to reskill if women choose to, and mobility is hopefully going to be less of an issue in the future with so many of us evidencing working from home.

Q. Who do you think are the most inspiring women in STEM today?

Professor Sue Black OBE – she’s a highly inspiring Professor of Computer Science at Durham and the founder of #techmums. If you ever get to meet Sue in person, do, as she’s hugely inspirational and has a phenomenal career story. Her Desert Island Discs recording makes for a great listen.

Vanessa Vallely – who founded the ‘We are the City’ organisation which organises a huge amount of tech networking events and conferences to give women in tech more visibility and to celebrate their contributions to the industry.

​The information contained in this article does not constitute business advice and should not be acted on as such. This content is based on our understanding in October 2020. Head Resourcing are not liable for the information contained on any third-party websites linked to this article.

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