By Zoe Green

As part of our commitment to developing careers and with the knowledge that we can gain valuable insights from each other, this week, in a series of interviews with top professionals in their fields, Zoe Green had the pleasure of talking to Lauren Beech, Head of Digital Transformation at Accord Housing Association.

Tell me about your background and journey into Digital and Technology?

Well, it certainly was not traditional. I used to be an event planner and I planned educational conferences. I then went back to University to be a teacher, got there, and hated it. Long story short, I ended up in research and became a Project Manager, I worked for the National Agency for the Life-long Learning Programme and progressed to managing part of their vocational educational training programme.

One day an Executive Director said to me that there was a new project coming up with European Commission, and it was positioned that it was to ‘just’ build a website and manage that process and did I fancy having a go? I fancied something quite different and I went with it.

I knew nothing about building a website and what was entailed. I knew nothing about the content, technical aspects, or social media and how to build communities and groups. But I had a fantastic team and the partners we worked with from a development perspective were brilliant. I had a fantastic boss who, like me, was also learning about what it took to build an online community. So we learnt together and as a team, and it was honestly the biggest learning curve of my life!

As time went on, I qualified as being an Agile Practitioner, became more comfortable questioning things and saying “I don’t know” and learning more, and then I started to collect other digital projects as they started to come along. I implemented agile ways of working into the team and learnt so much around user experience and customer focus, which often is an element that is forgotten in tech and digital.

Tell me about your current role

I am currently the Head of Digital Transformation at Accord. This role is so much more focused on transformation through technology rather than just digital (which is more web and app-based) but this role is centred on systems, processes, procedures, and customer service and how to transform those through technology. The challenge here is that I started six days before there was a National lockdown!

All those interactive workshops and sessions that would happen in a room with a whiteboard have been trickier to navigate as people are not used to doing it remotely, not to mention the fire-fighting we had with mobilising the workforce and getting equipment out to those who needed it.

In the last six months, we have been able to really focus on projects and I get really excited about the transformation and change that we are able to see already.

What else do you find rewarding and exciting in your current role?

For me, it is all about the customer. I take pride in providing excellent customer service online and obtaining consistent improvement.

Houses and homes are one of the most emotive things to deal with on a day to day basis, couple that with rent issues or repairs and it is a burden that is so worrying for many people and really causes them distress. I take a lot of pride being Head of Digital Transformation in the social housing sector, making it easier for a lot of people and putting the customer at the heart of what we do. Whilst we are not on the frontline, we are able to provide services to support our front line colleagues and our customers, to hopefully make this all easier.

So I guess to answer your question, the most rewarding thing is making a real difference to people and being focused on them in everything we do.

What can we do to encourage women to get into Tech, Digital and Data?

We can provide opportunities and have an open discussion about key transferable skills that would help women get into the industry. It is worth highlighting the fact that you really do not necessarily need to have the specific background. For me, it was important I came with great communication skills and 100% able to understand requirements and what was needed.

I also needed to be able to engage and discuss with my audiences. In actual fact, being a bit removed from the tech side means that I am able to understand what is required and it makes me well-equipped to have a 1-2-1 discussion and reflect that into what we are building. I don’t need to know how something is built to know how and what it links to in terms of our strategic objectives. We can place importance on transferable skills for many more roles than we currently do.

It is also worth noting that digital transformation is not all about technology. It is all about people and human interactions and supporting outcomes to provide better services. Sometimes, and often, this is unfortunately overlooked.

What has inspired you on the way?

I have had some AMAZING female bosses! I have worked with inspirational women that have shown me there are no boundaries in what we can achieve. Collaborative working has also inspired me when we work together on what we do know, and what we certainly don’t know as well. Working with great people, especially inspirational women, is an inspiration in itself.

What would you advise young women wanting to get into the industry?

I would say try not to be put off. Don’t think you won’t fit in, and don’t think it won’t be for you without giving it a go. It has its challenges, but doesn’t everything?

There have been times when I have been in a situation and even though we have said the same thing, the audience has chosen to question what I say but believe the same message delivered by a man, that’s hard. That was never going to be easy, but it is all the more reason why we have to get more women to try things and see if it is for themselves. Why not?
I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be working in IT but I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else now, I absolutely love what I do!

I would also say network and learn from people. There are so many people on LinkedIn and in your sectors who are happy to share information with you.

“Never fake the knowledge, but sometimes you have to fake the confidence!”

Imposter syndrome is something that I think most women, and likely some men, will have struggled with at some point.

I think you have to be comfortable saying what you don’t know, so not faking the knowledge, but sometimes you have to fake that confidence and deliver things to people with a certain amount of assurance, believing in yourself and your abilities.

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