Image courtesy of Jo Shannon
To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science we are sharing an interview with Jo Shannon, Director of Technology and Design at Ordnance Survey (OS).
Jo leads the implementation, maintenance and continuous development of the IT and Geospatial Systems and Services at OS, who maintain one of the largest databases in the world. She is accountable for all the IT infrastructure, system development and service support and maintenance, including networks and telephony through to geospatial production systems and customer engagement systems.
Before joining OS in 2016, Jo held a variety of roles in the geospatial industry, ranging from customer support and project and programme management, to strategic customer account management and operational delivery.
Here she talks about her career journey to date, her biggest career lessons and her top tips for women and girls to get into the IT and technology sector.
How did you get into the IT industry?
It was by accident. I joined a small software vendor on the outskirts of Cambridge at 19 years old and was fortunate that the company valued attitude and aptitude over formal qualifications. Despite having no degree, they gave me phenomenal opportunities to explore different roles in technology which then turned into leadership roles where I was able to gain an understanding of how technology can be commercialised and the fundamentals for running a successful tech business.
I was there for 14 years before joining OS as Head of Geospatial Development. That role expanded to cover all facets of IT and engineering, from systems engineering to cyber security. Despite being four months pregnant and feeling slightly vulnerable at that specific time in my career, I was still promoted to Director in June 2018. It just shows there are companies and individuals out there that are supportive of women in leadership roles and encourage long-term career progression.
What do you think is the main reason why the IT industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?
There is a lot of subconscious bias and it’s a natural human behaviour to sometimes hire in one’s own image. As a woman, I know that we’re also very bad at promoting ourselves and not always confident in putting ourselves forward for roles. Research shows that women look at a job description and focus on the skills we don’t have, whereas men will look at the same role and be confident to apply even if they didn’t have all the skills on paper.
I’ve always been managed by men who have championed women in the workplace, which I’m very grateful for – we therefore need more men (and women) to do the same. It’s important that women support other women, but we can all help each other grow, recognise talent and encourage each other to challenge ourselves.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
Take a chance and always put yourself forward. You may feel uncomfortable in the process but don’t let that hold you back. Be confident and challenge yourself by going outside of your comfort zone.
The other thing I learnt is that for a career in technology, you don’t have to have a degree. At OS, some of our best engineers and analysts have come through our training programme without any previous experience. Technology is an accessible career path that doesn’t have as many barriers as other professions, and there are so many opportunities for women. All you need is a curious mind and a logical approach to problem solving.
What are your three top tips for women looking to start a career in IT and what advice would you give to young women aspiring to take on leadership roles?
First and foremost - just do it. Be bold, be brave and take the risk. Look for roles and opportunities that you can grow into, not that you will grow out of. Like I have at OS and through my career, find a manager/mentor that will champion and challenge you, whether they are male or female, and offer you all the support they can throughout your career.
For those looking towards a leadership role, if there is anything the last 18 months has taught us, it’s that it’s so important to be human. As a leader you don’t always need to be the smartest person in the room and you certainly don’t have to have all the answers. Be vulnerable and be human, because if you are, this will help build better connections with your team which will lead to better results. I think this is a strength that many women hold already, a superpower you could say.
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