British Gas turns up the heat on its Women in Technology network

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman July 19, 2016
Summary:
Kathleen Mock’s had a great experience of working in technology at the company - and with the launch of the network, she’s gearing up to spread the word.

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Kathleen Mock

Since Kathleen Mock joined the Information Systems group at British Gas eight years ago, she’s worked on digital projects and smart metering concepts. She’s explored the Internet of Things, getting to know the Raspberry Pi inside out, as well as the data it can collect from smart networks.

And in her current role as a data science manager, she’s been diving head-first into big data, slicing and dicing it to understand what it can tell British Gas about its own operations and the customers it serves. The experience, she says, has been:

Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. I wish more women knew how great a career in technology can be.

Now Mock’s getting ready to tell them. This week, she’s spearheading the launch of a Women in Technology network at British Gas, drawing on her thirty-plus years of experience in the energy, technology and engineering fields and her own thirteen years at British Gas and its parent company Centrica.

In fact, Mock’s work in evangelising tech careers for women already began some time ago. Mock is a UK STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ambassador, who regularly visits schools and universities to talk to young women about careers in these areas. She’s recently participated in, for example, a 10-week programme at Windsor Girls School, a state secondary school located close to British Gas’ Staines headquarters. During the project, pupils were challenged to come up with solutions to tackle environmental problems in teams that included project managers, business analysts, developers and researchers.

But while her own work brings her into daily contact with plenty of other female technologists in the company, she says, her experiences as an interviewer have persuaded her there’s still much work to do. She says:

When we hold interviews, it’s sad to me that most of the people who interview are men. There’s just not enough women. That’s particularly true when we’re interviewing externally. Internally - yes, we’ve grown in certain areas, but there’s still not enough women coming in [from other areas of the company], so the technology area stays male-dominated. Women, for some reason, are not finding it an area they want to work in.

In order to uncover some of the reasons, British Gas commissioned a survey to coincide with the launch of its Women in Technology network. This found that one in five women is discouraged from pursuing a career in technology due to a lack of female role models already working in the sector, concern about not being taken seriously and the difficulty in securing leadership roles. More than half (55%) of female respondents said that they would be encouraged to choose tech if there were more mentoring schemes available and they had access to support networks in the workplace.

Network

Mock’s Women in Technology network at British Gas is designed to address precisely these points. This week’s launch, she explains, is the kick-off to an initiative that will investigate the views that female and male employees have on gender diversity at the company and the opportunities open to them, through informal discussions and two ‘show and tell’ sessions, culminating in a day-long event in September that aims to showcase the work that women technologists are already doing at British Gas and the ways the company will support more to join them. Says Mock:

My gut instinct is that, now we have a network for women in technology, there’ll be a focal point for these discussions.

At the September event, there’ll be advice on how women already working at British Gas can ask for training, promotions and involvement in technology projects. They’ll get to understand better how the company can support them with childcare vouchers, help during school holidays and support to pursue further and post-graduate educational opportunities. They’ll hear how technology projects can be arranged along agile lines, so they can be active participants, but still fulfill other commitments outside of work. Local teachers will be invited, so they can share what they’ve seen and heard with their pupils.

In organising this network, Mock’s been grateful for the input of Centrica CIO David Cooper, she says:

He’s been a great supporter. I’ve often had meetings with him, where he’ll get out a pen and start marking up a whiteboard: ‘Let’s explore this. Here’s where we can make a difference. Let’s try to find out more about this.’ I’ve had amazing sponsorship at all levels and everyone’s excited about the launch.

So they should be. It’s an important initiative. Parent company Centrica’s figures on gender diversity, as published in its annual report, are in no way damning, but equally not amazing. The company’s senior management was stuck at a male:female ratio of 73:27 between 2014 and 2015, while its board sunk from 67:33 to 82:18 over the same period. Overall, the employee ratio was 71:29 in 2015, down from 70:30 in 2014.

There is much work to do - but Mock is certainly an inspiring figurehead to lead the charge. As she puts it:

I believe we can make a difference here. We have a story to tell and we’re going to be telling it a lot more.

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