Celebrating Women in STEM: Fiona Hemsley-Flint

6 months ago by Admin
1 Fhf

Tell us a little bit about you...

I'm Fiona Hemsley-Flint, Geospatial Development Manager at Idox.

I have always had an interest in computer technology - from writing computer games using the code in some magazine or other, to being one of only a few girls in my school sitting the Information Systems GCSE back in 1996.

I studied Environmental Science and Ecology for my undergraduate degree, and it was one of the modules in my fourth year that really captured my interest - something called Geographical Information Science (or Systems, depending!) - I loved the idea of analysing spatial data and producing maps using a computer (see the fabulous film "What we do in the shadows" for an excellent definition of GIS, though perhaps it's only funny if you're a GIS geek!)

I was very pleased to find that it was also possible to study GIS as a Masters degree, and was lucky enough to get a place on what turned out to be the highly regarded MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh. I really enjoyed the course, and even achieved a distinction. This led to a few years studying a PhD at Oxford Brookes, which was definitely challenging to say the least!

Over the course of my career I have continued to put to good use my love of all things spatial and techy - I have had the opportunity to work across a number of different types of organisation - universities, a start-up tech company, government, small business and I am currently working in a larger software company (500+ staff) where I am a senior developer.

What attracted you to the STEM sector and what do you think makes it a good place for women?

The community within geospatial is very friendly and supportive, and I would say fairly diverse - I am a member of the 'Geospatial Women' community as well, though not as active in that as I might like due to too many other commitments. I would say that software development is perhaps a little less diverse, although I am also not as involved in that community myself - partly because I still struggle to consider myself as a developer (imposter syndrome and self confidence a fairly big factor here!), but also again due to time constraints.

​Has there been anyone who has made a positive and lasting impression on your career? How can we learn from this person and their approach?

I feel very lucky in that I don't feel that I have been particularly discriminated against because I am female. However often in organisations people who hired for their technical capability are sometimes promoted into a people manager role without being given the tools and development required as they transition from technical managers to people managers.

I had a wonderful line manager who has made a positive and lasting impression on my career. She was employed specifically to lead a team, and took a coaching style approach, making time to have regular one to one meetings.

I think that what we can learn from this is that it is important to be more thoughtful and strategic in how teams are organised and managed to ensure that leaders actually want to have this responsibility and are supported and provided with the skills to in turn support their reports.

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

In terms of changes within the sector over the last 15 years, I feel that the change has come from me, not within the sector - I now have a family and slightly different priorities than those at the start of my career, and one of my priorities now is to ensure I have time to spend with my children - I have therefore worked part-time for the last ten years, and I have always been lucky enough to apply for full-time jobs and negotiate part-time working patterns. Not everyone is that lucky, or necessarily confident enough to have that conversation with their potential employer, and therefore they either end up working more hours then they would want in order to have a job at all, or go for other roles which provide the hours they want, but not the fulfulling job they would actually enjoy. This is a real shame, and I think that organisations need to be a lot more flexible than they often claim to be.

I am a strong advocate for the four-day working week (at full time pay), and I am looking forward to seeing the results of the current trial that is happening at the moment (https://www.4dayweek.com/ukpilot). I have even suggested that my current company take part in any future trials, so we shall see if they take it forward.

​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 work life balance and flexible working are key factors in encouraging working parents to apply / stay in particular roles (although from my experience it seems more frequently women who look for this flexibility than men).

​What role do you think other colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance?

In my current company, I have been impressed with the initiatives that have been developed to address the gender gap in both pay and progression. It will be interesting to see how these progress over the next year or so - I think the greatest challenge with these is engagement across the wider business to ensure that all colleagues are aware and empowered to take part in the initiatives.

I am also pleased that Idox support Stemettes - a social enterprise supporting young women and non-binary people in STEM careers - this is a great project, and I am considering get involved, although again, time constraints have a strong bearing on my ability to commit to this.

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