While the 2021 Women Leading Tech awards have been and gone, at B&T we are always looking to celebrate the brilliant women leading the tech industry.
Ash Ivory is Outfit’s head of product and spoke to B&T about getting women into product design, leading the next generation of tech, and the joys of motorbikes.
B&T: How has the last year transformed your professional life?
AI: There’s been a lot going on at Outfit. Not super recently, but it’s definitely impacted us a lot, we received our second fundraise early in 2020. So that’s meant some really good things at Outfit. I’ve been able to expand the product team, which is pretty cool. We were running quite lean for a while there – there were only two of us! And there are now nine of us across various different disciplines in product.
That’s been something that has transformed my role at Outfit, obviously getting off the tools and more guiding the team, setting up more structured ways of working, and helping them make decisions that way has been extremely rewarding
Obviously [we’ve dealt with] the typical COVID stuff too. We’ve learned to work well remotely. And that has pushed us to check in with each other quite regularly. It’s really made me realise what’s needed to support people holistically. Working with different personalities, not everyone’s forthcoming about how they’re feeling so just making sure that I’m adapting my management style for the different people in my team.
We onboarded many of the team during COVID and that has been an interesting process. It was the first time I have personally onboarded a new hire remotely, and it’s really different. It was challenging to try and indoctrinate new starters without the usual office atmosphere that they get when they are walking into their new office for the first few weeks. Thinking creatively about some of the important activities we usually do in the first week was challenging but rewarding too!
They have really been the big things for us, and we’ve grown quite substantially. We moved into a new space, which meant we had little things like new desks and more space for each other. Towards the end of the year, prior to last year, we were really jammed in an office growing quite rapidly and almost sitting on top of each other.
Seeing people settle in the new space was really lovely as well. It’s been a lot of hard work to get here. So sometimes you forget to stop and just celebrate those little wins.
So you’re back in the office now?
Yeah, we’re back in the office. We have definitely adopted a work-from-home policy as well, because of COVID. I think the really interesting thing is that you would think people would be really desperate to implement working from home most days a week, but we found that most of the teams are definitely guiding themselves with the right balance. So as much as the team is free to work from home for quite a few days, I tend to find a lot of them in the office because they just want that interaction. It’s a lot easier to collaborate when you’re in the same office, and we’ve got all these wonderful meeting rooms now so you can jump in and collaborate together rather than having to get on a video call as the default.
It’s emphasized the right things. I think getting work done when you’re at home is really great when you just need to knuckle down. But if you really need to be in the office collaborating, you’ve definitely got that option as well.
Working in tech, how do you ensure screen-free time?
It’s tricky. It’s really, really tricky! I am a pretty avid motorcyclist, so I commute to and from work on my bike every day, which is a good time to have that reset.
A lot of our team catches public transport, and they’re on their emails quite early because it’s an easy thing to do while you are commuting. I’m fortunate where I can’t just jump on my phone while riding my motorcycle, so that’s a really important part of my screen-free time. And on weekends as well, getting out and away from screens. I really like doing outdoor stuff like hiking and riding my bike. I really want to get out and do some moto camping this season as well. So, for me, that’s how I switch off.
I recently went and did a little leather-making workshop, which was a lot of fun. We made a cardholder and I’m keen to grow my skills and try a few more challenging items like a pouch for my motorcycle.
I also run an Instagram account where I take photos of my motorbike, and film with my drone and just generally faff about as well. So although it’s a different screen, I think it’s at least unlocking a slightly different part of my brain.
What do you think are the biggest issues in terms of gender facing the tech industry right now?
I’ve done a few talks recently, and one mentoring program I’ve signed up for is a mentoring program called Assisterhood organised by Publicis. It’s interesting because I don’t think there’s a shortage of women in the advertising world. But I think I was the only mentor there that was really from tech, which I’ve found to be quite a common thing and something I’m actively trying to change.
I think that absolutely speaks to the gender split that happens especially in tech. Traditionally I think you’re talking about development and product, as you know, those are core tech functions. And I think one thing that stops a lot of young girls is that they don’t really identify with the types of role models that they may see in tech roles. So I’m sure a lot of young girls don’t really know who some of the amazing tech women are, or even women that surround those industries. The role models aren’t visible to young girls which makes it easy. for them to shy away from the types of classes that may get them interested in coding and technology.
My wife actually works for a company that helps kids to learn how to code. I think initiatives like that are helping young girls get into coding a little bit more because they don’t just market it at young boys – it’s for all kids! There’s a range of things that they teach. I think those entry points are hopefully making the tech world a little bit more accessible and approachable for young girls. They tend to self-qualify themselves out, there are some stats around that of how many girls end up kind of tapping out quite early from things like STEM because they don’t think they belong.
Even for myself, I didn’t start out with the idea that I would go into product. I initially was going to study fine art, being creative, is quite welcoming to women. I ended up studying graphic design, and then marketing which is also quite female led. So to transition over to product only happened because of the opportunity showing up in front of me.
I did various roles and found the product space just through, working and having the experience at Outfit and knowing what features were needed for our users. I think I’m a little bit of a different case to how a lot of women want to get into tech. I think it’s generally a far more deliberate move, especially women engineers. They’ve really got to put their mind to it.
Tech has historically been really dominated by male leaders. How can businesses better support leaders that aren’t men?
They can just hire them! That’s an interesting question, because I think there’s some really obvious answers. Being aware of how they’re recruiting, where they’re looking, how they’re approaching the market.
I think if you’re going through traditional channels, you’re probably going to get quite a lot of male candidates. And I think you maybe [need to] think a little bit differently about where women who would suit the role would be, rather than hoping that they will come to you.
Going back to the mentor night I went to, there were a lot of young girls there that were really keen on product. They were going to this night that was put on by Publicis, because they’re wanting that strong female mentorship. It doesn’t necessarily mean they want to go into a creative or agency career. So I think getting people like me involved in those things [is] really great [because] they’re trying to diversify the types of women that they’re exposing their mentees to.
But also, it’s our job to go out and make sure that we are representing our position in the community and involving ourselves in a lot of those young foundations that are coming up. [For example] there’s Code Like A Girl – there’s so many that we can be involved in. So I think it’s bringing attention to ourselves that way. And thinking outside the box, when we’re trying to find women leaders. They’re not always going to come from a traditional product background and a lot of people don’t in general as well. So finding, you know, people that we think might be adaptable to product or tech, in general, is a clever way to extend women’s leadership.
Diversity in general, I think, is a really important thing for tech companies to focus on. Because it’s not just about having women represented at the leadership table. It’s about diversity across every department and understanding that everyone’s got very unique and different intersectionality. That’s really important when you’re creating a product, to be mindful of those different points of view. I think the tech industry has fallen victim to men sort of calling the shots and so it’s nice to see that diversity and inclusion is so high on so many lists.
We’re seeing it a lot when we go out for tenders, that a lot of companies are really mindful of that. They ask us to provide evidence or talk about what we’re doing in that space as well. And all in all, I think we’ve got a pretty good mix – we can always do better, but we’re quite mindful. Like we were talking about before, that just comes from going out and putting trust in women to step up and take the challenge on, and that inevitably helps you see other women or other people from diverse backgrounds.
What do you think makes for the successful foundations of leadership?
Trust. With questions like this, you can get carried away and before you know it, you just list all of the really amazing characteristics of any type of successful person, but I think trust is really, really important.
Trust in your team, trust from your leader or those that are senior to you, trusting yourself and your gut. I think trust is the thing that’s served me in a lot of roles, but also when it’s not there, I really feel it.
Bruce [Stronge], our CEO, and founder has put a lot of trust in me over the years. That’s made me really want to make the right decisions for Outfit and serve in my role well. Had he not put that trust in me so early, I don’t think I would have excelled or worked as hard as I have, knowing that he’s got my back, and I’ve been trusted with some really important decisions.
I did a little bit of reading on teams a while ago, as well, and I was reading Google have done a lot of different studies. They did one particular study into what makes a good team and they studied various teams, different levels, different people, they made sure they covered the gamut. And out of that study, that was one of the things that really resonated as well. If a team has trust and they don’t succeed, they fail in a safe way together. With my experience at Outfit that really resonated with me as well. I definitely felt that trust is one thing that’s really gotten me through.
In startups you’re failing all the time and I think it’s where the old adage of fail fast comes in. It’s a bit contrived now, and I think too many people reach for it when they’ve just been a little bit lazy or not thought something through. But, inevitably you will fail, even if you’ve given it absolutely everything you’ve got. So feeling safe to do that a lot of the time will be the kickstarter for something else really, really great that you might stumble on.
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