Emily Hendley, product owner, and Marina Lee, head of customer success, at OCR Labs, both moved over to Australia in search of sun. In Marina’s case, “good surf.”
While the pair have embraced their career journey at OCR Labs with supportive workers and inclusive policies, their respective journeys took them to different sides of the world which put them through some challenging adventures. They tell B&T their life lessons that are food for thought, for those embarking on a career in tech.
How did you both come to work at OCR Labs?
Marina Lee: I had a strange move into tech. I was living in Cornwall, UK and I had always been really interested in how tech worked. I had a friend running a company in Brighton, UK where I had completed project management and production contract work. With a passion for beach, sun, and surf, I moved to Australia. But I soon realised that being a surfer was not going to get me the visa that I required. So I embarked on my passion for tech and my journey began.
After working in tech companies, I decided to become a contractor, where I could set my own hours, work at my own times, and, most importantly, I could choose who I worked with. I was really picky about who I worked with and I needed to ensure I had flexibility, as I had been put through the wringer more than once in previous jobs.
I had been working with a range of companies on a contract basis, but it was OCR Labs where I found my confidence to take on a permanent full time role. OCR Labs was different and demonstrably really inclusive and accommodating with respect to work/life balance. I was offered the head of customer success role and decided it was the right time to move away from being a lone wolf – I wanted to be part of a team. It has been a really, really good decision.
Emily Hendley: I have been in tech since my last year of school, then I studied Information Systems and Management at Newcastle University in the UK.
From there I got a graduate scheme job and followed the business analyst career path. My most memorable project was working for the Serious Organised Crime Agency at the Ministry of Defence when I was 23 and working with a team made up of all men. I was designing and aligning hundreds of use case diagrams and documenting future state system requirements for their case management system. Given the nature of the work it was super interesting.
Then I moved to Sydney and I started my own company. It was great to contract for around 5 years, but I decided to go full time because I was thinking about starting a family and wanted some stability. I found a job working in digital onboarding within the delivery team and then became a product owner for the US market. Fast forward a few years, and an enticing role became available at OCR Labs. I met with the founders, Matt and Dan, and I really believe that they created something special with their tech and that I had to be part of this journey. Here I am leading the global enterprise product efforts.
You’ve both moved from the UK to Australia. What inspired your moves? And have you noticed any differences between working in the UK and in Australia?
ML: Compared to the UK, I would say that Australia has farther to go. However, within the Australian tech industry, there has been a definite shift to empower women in senior roles. But across the board it has taken a while for Australia to catch up in some ways. We are seeing more women moving into senior roles which sets a great example for younger females to strive towards with confidence.
EH: I have changed a lot since working in Australia compared to the UK. I was much younger then and did not have the confidence I do now. Since having my own business and contracting, if I don’t feel like something is right, I can advocate for myself. When I was in the UK, I mainly worked within government and it’s very different there. It can be very old school, and as a consultant, it wasn’t really my role to speak about their policies. I wouldn’t have worked anywhere in Australia where I didn’t feel welcome, respected, and able to speak up.
What steps has OCR Labs taken to make you feel empowered at work?
ML: I’m very process driven and detail focused and, when I’ve needed to escalate things within the company I really felt like I was heard. There hasn’t been any kind of pushback. That really inspired me because it doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, it is so inclusive. OCR Labs is a fast growing company and when you’re growing really fast, it can be difficult to put processes fast. Further to this, we have multiple initiatives around where we can work. I work from Queensland but our main office is in Sydney. We have that flexibility and are outcome focused.
EH: It was a huge deal for Matt and Dan, the founders, to bring anyone else in on the product side. The product is their baby and love of their life. They’ve trusted my experience to lead it. They’ve given me complete autonomy on running the team. I’m able to try something, and if it doesn’t work I’ll just change it – all without fear of anyone dictating how things should be done. We get to fail hard and learn fast!
You have both been at OCR Labs for around a year. What has changed in your time there?
EH: We’ve hired a lot more female staff. When I joined, there weren’t that many. We hire a lot of QAs, developers, and technical roles and we’ve just hired yet another female developer. Not because they are female, but we are seeing more of them applying for the roles and they happen to have the right skill set and credibility. It’s really important to be advocating for women in technical teams.
But the best part for me has been the flexibility in working hours and location. I work from home four days a week because it gives me the flexibility to be able to pick up my daughter from day care. I can spend two hours with her as opposed to 15 minutes before she goes to bed. That flexibility is not something I’ve had anywhere else.
ML: We’ve noticed a big influx of female talent within the leadership team and that is really important, because the more presence we have in the hiring process it breeds a sense of inclusiveness.
Did the remote working arrangement start with COVID or has it always been an OCR Labs Policy?
ML: I spoke to the CEO and it was a conscious decision. This is how the company wants to run. It’s not just off the back of COVID. I’ve got three kids and if there’s an issue and I need to go and pick them up, there are never any questions or any stress. One of my colleagues in the customer team blocks out specific time to help her son with his homework and things like that. Everyone’s transparent about the hours that they’re doing, if they need to they just block it out in their calendars and make up the hours at a time that works.
Are there any initiatives that OCR Labs has internally to champion women within the workplace?
EH: Entering the Women Leading Tech awards is a good start! On International Women’s Day, we also plan to showcase female talent. And there are discussions to start mentoring programs with universities and the like, to encourage girls to get into tech. There’s a future for them in tech!
In addition, we’re aware we need to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive company culture; and we’ve purposely focused engineering resources to build DEIB, into our product. I’m proud to say that we are 1 of 3 companies in the world that have obtained certification, that our algorithms don’t bias against race, age or gender.
ML: We’re also starting a compatibility matrix to make sure we know exactly how qualified someone is for a role. It is literally ticking boxes in order to get a really good overview. Using tools like that helps to take away gender bias.
What changes would you like to see within the industry to make women more empowered and to affect change?
ML: It’s all about inclusion and learning. Having more women in leadership roles, mentoring other women, talking freely about experiences, and even working towards a clearer understanding of how to deal with negative experiences in the workplace.. There are obviously HR teams but these often don’t feel like the right place to take all concerns. There should also be more stories about how people overcame issues within the workplace and these should be more widely shared around the industry.
EH: I like the legislation introduced in New York recently around pay brackets being on job descriptions. That level of transparency gives current employees the confidence to understand their pay grade and whether they are worth more. I also wish that women felt the confidence in ourselves, especially around luck not playing a role in our careers. Every time I speak to somebody about what they do and how they got there? They always say, ‘I was so lucky that this role came up / I was given the opportunity.’ I wish that we all had more confidence. There also needs to be more programs available for young female students getting into the tech space
ML:. In Australia, women make up 20 per cent of the tech workforce and there needs to be more investigation as to why that’s the case. It also needs to be clearer what childcare options are available for women as we are often the lead child carers in a family.
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