It might surprise you to learn that The Iconic’s Chief Technology Officer, Zoe Ghani, didn’t know how to use a computer mouse when she decided to give programming a go.
“I started as a journalist for a newspaper before news was online,” she tells Future Women. “When the internet exploded, media had to adapt to the online world and I was part of this journey. I fell in love with it. From that time on, I knew I wanted a career in tech/digital, so I put up my hand to be a Webmaster (despite not knowing how to even use the mouse on a computer properly yet!).”
But, Zoe has never been afraid to take on a challenge, or a side-step, learning as she went to find the role in tech that was right for her.
“After realising programming wasn’t for me, I moved into project management, followed by product management and leadership roles, which I absolutely loved,” she explains. “My main takeaway is that transitioning careers is a process. My journey certainly wasn’t easy. I tried lots of different paths, and spent a lot of time and energy upskilling before I found the things that I was good at. My advice to women looking to side-step or switch industries altogether is to set mini milestones and have a clear goal in mind. Most importantly, be nimble and be open to new short-term opportunities along the way.”
That approach certainly paid off for Zoe. She’s now at the helm of all things customer experience and tech at The Iconic but working in a fast-paced, constantly-evolving industry for a market leader still brings new daily learnings – and building the right team for the job around her, who each bring different skill sets, has been vital to their continued success.
“I tried lots of different paths, and spent a lot of time and energy upskilling before I found the things that I was good at.”
“I am still learning every day in tech, which is what I love about it,” she says. “My biggest learning, however, is that it’s vital my team and I stay focused on the overall goal we’re trying to achieve together, and that we do this by placing people (the user, the customer and our employees) at the heart of what we do – not just the tasks we need to accomplish. Tech changes so much, so quickly, and so too do the skill sets required to meet our goals. I am so fortunate to be part of an amazing team, all of whom have different skill sets, that can come together to align on one purpose.”
One of the biggest criticisms levied at big tech is a lack of diversity, especially when it comes to women in top jobs. Does Zoe think this is changing?
“At The Iconic, I’m lucky enough to work with a diverse range of men and women from different backgrounds, all of whom show a passion for customer experience and tech,” she says. “They’re so talented – they inspire and motivate me everyday…In my experience, teams that lack diversity (whether it’s gender diversity or otherwise) also miss out on diversity of ideas, which is absolutely crucial if we want to remain relevant and be successful in tech. I firmly believe it is through diversity in views and life experiences that we gain an innovative advantage. Having a mix of both men and women, a range of ages and backgrounds, ensures we’re bringing new and different dimensions to the challenges and opportunities we face at work. Society is made up of lots of different people, so it’s important that lots of different voices are being incorporated into the creation of goods and services for society.”
Zoe believes more visible role models, access to university scholarships and a pro-choice approach would encourage more young women to consider tech as a viable career option.
“It’s all about influencing the funnel to attract more women into tech roles,” she explains. “The typical funnel for a woman in tech as I see it is:
- Home and early schooling: The kind of cultural environment girls grow up within will go on to impact the career choices they make. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, touches on this in her talks. She notes that little girls are almost always referred to as bossy, whilst little boys are ambitious.
- School: What exposure girls have to female role models in school and tech careers.
- University: Aspects such as access to scholarships, employment recommendations to employers who excel in gender neutrality in the workplace, providing balance for work and family – all have an impact on a woman’s likelihood to pursue a particular career.
“It’s important that this funnel is thought about in a holistic way,” she adds. “Young women need to feel like they have the choice to pursue a career in tech, and once they are there, that opportunities are available to them regardless of their gender. There are a lot of options for women in tech such as engineering, product management, project management, UX and design, quality assurance and business analysis.”
“I’ve learned that disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean I disrespect them. It’s all in the delivery.”
Luckily, visible role models are something Zoe has never been short of.
“I’ve been lucky to receive valuable advice from great people throughout my career,” she says.
Here are the five key pieces of advice she’s carried with her:
1. Follow Your Passion
“As women, we can have a tendency to underestimate our abilities – especially in the workforce. Some of the best advice I’ve been given is to put aside fears or feelings of inadequacy, and to simply jump in and go for it. If I am passionate about another area within the business (or another industry altogether), then it’s important to acknowledge that and set up a learning path to get there.”
2. Go For What You Want
“It’s important to always have a mental picture or a feel for the type of work you want to be doing and to put your hand up at every relevant opportunity that arises for learning and improvement towards that goal.”
3. Be Confident
“In my experience I have noticed that men interview differently to women. From my perspective, the main difference between the two is self-confidence. It might seem like obvious advice, but it’s truly the key. I don’t like the idea of having to talk myself up unnaturally. I identify my blind spots and super powers and then I share those insights at the right time, for example in an interview. Self-awareness is an important step in our career journey towards becoming better leaders, and it’s good to use this as a guide to honestly portray who we are, and what we are good at.”
4. Speak Up
“When I entered the workforce, I really struggled to disagree with colleagues who were older or more senior than me. My Afghan background taught me to respect my elders, and I took this mentality into work. However, over time I’ve learned that disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean I disrespect them. It’s all in the delivery. I learnt to speak up and voice my opinion, or the opinion of those who aren’t in the room – there is nothing wrong with a healthy debate.”
5. Be Humble
“Above all else, our career journey requires humility and a growth mindset, along with a strong dose of hard work, wisdom and trust in ourselves. Something that has always stuck with me is, it’s important to accept that we can not go at it alone and one person can not know all the answers. Ask for help when needed, and give help when asked.”
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