International Women’s Day: an interview with Sarah-Emily Oades.
In honour of International Women’s Day, we’re showcasing some of our inspiring female clients and candidates, and sharing their advice to other women working in tech. For this article, we spoke to Sarah-Emily Oades who is the VP People at Seon.
International Women’s Day is a global day (March 8th) celebrating the achievements of all women and embracing equity. It also marks a call to action for more positive change advancing women.
In honour of IWD 2023, we’ve been speaking to some of our inspiring female clients and candidates working in tech. As well as shining a light on the amazing work they’re doing, we also want to share tips on how others can follow in their footsteps.
One of the women we spoke to is Sarah-Emily Oades, the VP People at Seon - a fincrime fraud prevention platform. Sarah-Emily previously worked for a number of start-ups, as well as companies such as Uber and Zego, before joining Seon in 2022.
We caught up with her about gender diversity in fincrime, her advice to women looking to advance their careers, and top tips for improving diversity hiring.
Sarah-Emily, can you share a quick snapshot of your career journey so far?
“I came to this role on a bit of a different path. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and that’s what I studied, but it turns out that I didn't. So I moved into this line of work.
“I worked on the agency side as a recruiter for years, then moved well within that field. I moved in-house quite quickly and then into management. After that, I moved from talent into people and kept figuring it out from there.
“I'm not downplaying my skill. I think I'm a smart person and I'm scrappy - which is really important when you're working with startups, but career success is also down to the environment that you're in.
“There is, and has been, some progress when it comes to female hiring, but, women of colour or of other origins are still 40% less likely to be in the kind of role I’m in now. I think it's really important to acknowledge that, particularly as we are talking about International Women’s Day.
“Although some things have moved ahead, they haven’t for everybody. Progress and opportunities are not equal across all women. That’s something we need to work on”.
What are some of the main things that have supported you on that career path?
“I've had some excellent mentors, both men and women, and I’ve also had major advocates for me in my career.
“People who advocate for you in the room that you don't have access to, can be a really big part of your journey. They play a significant role in how you end up moving to a more senior level. Some of the people, and some of the men, that I reported to played a really big part in that for me.
“That’s not to say that everyone I worked with has been a glowing example of representation and advocacy - and perhaps some have been the opposite. But that's OK too, because it teaches you what to look out for.
“I’m also not afraid to tell people what I want. And I think that's a really important part of how you can expand your remit. Make sure people know you want to advance and that you can showcase your value. I don't think women are always taught to do that”.
Let’s focus on fintech and specifically fincrime for a second. What is your impression of diversity in this sector?
“Lacking. I find the diversity to be lacking.
“If we think all the way back, fincrime used to sit securely within banking. Obviously, the remit has vastly expanded since then, but that’s where it started. Banking, stereotypically, is not super diverse. And I feel what we're seeing in terms of the makeup of the workforce in this sector is a result of the roots of the industry.
“I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, but it's a slow change. It's going to continue to be a challenge until this sector matures, truthfully. Access to education and interest in the sector will feed into that as well.
“If you look at tech more generally, it started off as a really female dominated industry. Over time, that shifted and now it's male dominated. But there is better representation there than in fincrime because there's better education available and different types of education available. For example, there's The Girls Who Code and many other programmes like it.
“When you see a maturation of an industry or a skillset within different industries, that's when you start to see programmes like this to try and create equity. I expect that we'll see more of that in the future.
“It also comes down to ‘can you cross contaminate between different industries’. So can you bring in someone that's just really good at this, and then you teach them fincrime? Sure.
There are likely many managers, people teams or entrepreneurs who want to get better at diverse hiring, but don’t know how. What advice do you have for them?
“People often go straight in at: we'll just interview more women. And I think OK, you've come straight in at level 10 and that's not really how it works.
“My advice is to start from the bottom because the first step actually has nothing to do with recruitment. It’s about enabling your in-house team. You have to make sure that the environment you offer is conducive to a diverse range of candidates being successful. Otherwise, this hire will fail.
“And then that's bad for several reasons, right?
“Because it sets the tone of ‘ we tried it and it doesn't work’. Well actually, you didn't do it properly, and that's why it failed. The number one place to start is educating your organisation and your team.
“Then, you have to make sure that your resources are set up properly. For example, if you read a lot of job descriptions, they're written in really heavy masculine language. And that can be offputting - even at a subconscious level.
“Also, consider the application behaviour of women. Women are 74% less likely to apply for a position, according to the latest poll, unless they meet over 80% of the requirements.
“If you change everything environmentally and then simply wait for women to apply, your hiring plans won’t work. Instead, you need to augment how you make sure that women enter the recruiting funnel view in the first place. That means you're going to have to go and look for them and put them in the funnel. Do not wait for them to come to you, because that behaviour stereotypically does not exist.
“Next, you have to make sure your process is enabled and comfortable. So perhaps being interviewed by all men, for example, is not necessarily a great experience for everyone. Of course it depends on the men and the candidate being interviewed, but it’s important to consider. I'm not saying you have to have a panel full of women - but there should be an element of diversity in your interview panel.
Finally, don’t set female hiring quotas.
“Why? Because it is bad for everyone.
“The candidate feels like a quota. The team the candidate is coming into may feel like this person's a quota. It's just a bad experience for everybody.
“What we have done historically and actually what I've done at Uber and then other places since, such as Ziggo, is to set a bar to meet for final interview level.
“This means that there is pressure on the hiring team to ensure that you have a kind of equity at the final stage so that you are set up to choose the best candidate. Because if you set out to hire a woman, you're actually disadvantaging others.
“Whereas, what you could do instead, is commit to having a panel that's equally representative of final interviews. That way, you're truly choosing the best person for the job. And that's ultimately what you want to do”.
On the other side of that coin, what advice would you give to women who want to advance in their careers but are maybe feeling stuck?
“Get yourself an advocate in your workplace. If you can't, look at a different workplace.
“I don't mean that to sound flippant, but it's true. If you don't have advocates, and if you don't have opportunities internally, don't be held back by a business that doesn't see your value. Whether that's based on gender or anything else.
“If you're serious about wanting to advance in your career, then you need to find people who support you. You need to find the education, if it's needed, to support you, and you need a mentor or a coach or role model to help guide you.
“Another great thing you can do is to find a woman who's a few steps above you in the career you want to have and learn from her skillset. Ideally, this person would not be in your own company.
“Look for someone who is successful and who has had to navigate some of the challenges you’re facing in order to get themselves there. This is the kind of person you could really learn from.
“Finally, even though you can’t expect everything to change overnight, you can and should make your intentions known. Tell your manager what you are looking for and work out how you can weave that into your development plan.
“You are going to have to grab opportunities for yourself. If you're not completely comfortable doing that yourself yet, then find yourself an advocate who can support you in having the right kinds of conversations. If you’re producing good work, it’s likely you have a few of them already.
“People often don't say what they need or want enough. They fall into the trap of assuming that others just know. And we don’t always know. I hear of this happening a lot from exit interviews:
Employee: “There were no opportunities.
Employer: “There were plenty. We assumed you were happy.
“Communication is key.
“Work on this proactively, practice or find someone to help you if you need support with saying what you want and need from your workplace. Every introvert has an extrovert friend that's adopted them. That's how that works, right? That also works in the professional world. Find that person if you need them and engage with them. You’ll be amazed how well it could work out for you”.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for us on IWD 2023?
“I want to focus for a minute on the importance of non-women advocating on behalf of their colleagues who are women. I've been really lucky to encounter predominantly that type of person in my working life, but not exclusively.
“It’s really important that this should be a moment for introspection, for the people who don't yet operate that way. Maybe there were doors opened for you that others have had to open for themelves.
“When people don't recognise skill or hard work or great contribution, it's actually incredibly damaging and set others further back. So, if you're in a position where you can advocate for someone who hasn't enjoyed the easier access to life that you perhaps did, maybe be cognizant of that a little more”.