We’ve all heard that February is Black Historical past Month, March is Ladies’s Historical past, April is Autism and Neurodiversity Consciousness Month, and so forth. But when we overlook the calendar and put this in a real-life perspective, every single day is all of as of late.

Being black, or neurodivergent, or queer, or the rest is a residing, respiration actuality for many individuals navigating via life, striving to construct careers, and, dare I say, breaking the glass ceiling. 

In celebration of this very spirit of resilience and optimism, this Skilled Highlight is on knowledge veteran Deborah Womack. Just lately awarded the Twenty in Information & Tech by Ladies in Information®, Deborah has traveled an unconventional 40-year journey as a black, neurodivergent lady who isn’t letting age or adversity maintain her again. 

And don’t fear, you don’t need to be black, a girl, or neurodivergent to have the ability to discover inspiration in Deborah’s story. There’s one thing for everybody right here. 

So, seize your cuppa, pen, and paper (or your favourite notes app) for golden nuggets on profession pivots, girls in knowledge, surviving pivots, and the facility of believing.

This interview is a part of G2’s Skilled Highlight collection. For extra content material thought management content material, deep evaluation, and actionable insights, subscribe to G2 Tea, a e-newsletter with SaaS-y information and leisure.

Heat-up questions

What’s your favourite beverage? I’ve two: tea with out milk, the perfect I had was in India, and champagne. I do not imagine that it’s essential save champagne for a celebration.

What was your first job? I scooped ice cream at an area ice cream parlor in a brand new mall however was fired as a result of racial discrimination. It was stunning. In response, my mother helped me file a criticism towards the Baskin Robbins Company, and I gained. This was an necessary lesson mother taught me that formed my profession and confirmed me learn how to rise up for myself


What’s your favourite software program in your present tech stack? I don’t have a favourite, however content material knowledge lakes is an rising class that excites me.


What issues at work make you need to throw your laptop computer out the window?

Poor person expertise and design waste a lot time. I am annoyed by the dearth of accessibility in methods like video conferencing, HR portals, and different work-related methods. It’s stunning that work software program is constructed with out consulting organizations just like the Royal Nationwide Institute of Blind Individuals (RNIB) to make sure accessibility for blind and partially sighted individuals.

Deep dives with Deborah Womack

Kamaljeet Kalsi: May you inform us a bit about your self and your skilled journey?

Deborah Womack: I began with ADHD and a studying incapacity, figuring issues out by myself. I knew I used to be artistic, might draw, and noticed the world in a different way. I used to be terribly curious, and good at fixing issues and understanding massive ideas. My profession started as an illustrator. Later, as an artwork director and assistant producer, I used to be part of BAFTA-nominated and Oscar-winning movies. 

I additionally based my movie manufacturing firm however then shifted to advertising as a result of modifications introduced on by expertise like Photoshop and pc animation. As an alternative of letting computer systems take over my abilities, I made a decision to embrace expertise and make it a part of what I do. I pivoted my profession, leaning into expertise, and have become well-versed in database advertising and coding. My problem-solving abilities enabled me to work on the intersection of knowledge, expertise, and other people, driving effectivity and effectiveness for corporations. 

I’ve held important designations, equivalent to Associate at EY and  Director at Deloitte, the place I led advertising transformation for his or her monetary providers. Earlier in my profession, I used to be privileged to be the Director of Information Technique and CRM at Ralph Lauren, International Head of Relationship Advertising (CRM) at SABMiller, Senior Supervisor of CRM at Sony Europe, and extra.

I sit on a number of boards in my volunteer and advisory roles, advocating for variety and making modifications from inside management rooms. I function a second-term board trustee for the RNIB. I’m on the advisory board for GTA Black Ladies in Tech as Senior Advisor to the CEO and founder, and likewise operate as a Senior Strategic Advisor to Meta for Black illustration in advertising within the UK. I additionally maintain a Non-Government Director place at MediaLike AI.

What drives your profession, advocacy, and thought management? 

I have been seen as an offended black lady who is simply too loud and too aggressive. However I proceed on my path as a result of I am nonetheless the Deborah who acquired fired from her first job at 17 for being black. I’m ensuring that by no means occurs to somebody once more. So, my goal has pushed me to intentionally work and put myself in management rooms the place I is usually a voice for what is smart in our society. This method has been my profession’s guideline. 

Thought management is about taking motion. Individuals talk about change usually, however actual progress will occur from reaching out to those that can enact that change. It is about inclusivity, supporting one another, and making certain we make alternatives accessible. 

That is what makes thought management impactful: getting our message to the individuals who can drive the change.

Deborah Womack
Award Winner of Twenty in Information & Tech 2024

You’ve pivoted your profession thrice. What has helped you survive these turning factors? 

I’d say my problem-solving capacity, curiosity, and fixed drive to study have been central to surviving profession pivots. As somebody with ADHD, I’ve an inherent knack for understanding massive ideas, patterns, and rhythms which has helped me navigate life’s sudden turns.

When expertise modified the sport, my resilience empowered me to embrace it as an alternative of being left behind. I did not take the normal path, like pausing my profession for an MBA; I believed within the worth of studying by doing. This method has served me properly, particularly as I acknowledged my value in what I excel at: fixing issues, being creative, and bridging the hole between the world of tech and artwork. 

Flexibility and openness to alter have led me to sudden and enriching experiences. Transitioning from movie to tech opened up new alternatives for me. It is all as a result of I by no means knew precisely what I needed to do. My numerous expertise continues to information my profession.

Now, at 60, I am nonetheless studying and rising, and able to begin writing my subsequent chapter — fairly actually, with the 2 books I plan to put in writing.

You transitioned from the film trade to expertise and knowledge. Are you able to inform us which facet of your profession has introduced you essentially the most achievement?

My profession shifts, from artwork to advertising to expertise, have been extremely fulfilling. This journey, although onerous at occasions,  and the popularity have been extremely rewarding, with important milestones alongside the way in which. 

The time I efficiently gained my first job in advertising at Ralph Lauren after being unwell and unemployed for 18 months was unbelievable. I’ve all the time relied on myself, my mind, and what I can current. That was true for the primary job the place I wasn’t certain how I’d get to the interview, however I walked in and introduced my work and acquired into Ralph Lauren. It was true once more for the partnership I achieved at EY after 15 interviews. 

Somebody might imagine I used to be handed the job as a result of I am black, or I am a feminine, or I am disabled. However that’s not the explanation why I landed these roles. It has been about fixing the following puzzle and embracing change. My achievements, particularly after I needed to be resilient, have been fulfilling experiences for my private {and professional} progress.

“My journey taught me that technical proficiency is available in many varieties, and it is the varied views that drive significant innovation.”

What or who impressed you to specialize within the subject of knowledge?

One in all my early inspirations was a colleague at Sony who confirmed me the facility of prospects with knowledge. His ardour for the craft and talent to unravel advanced issues utilizing knowledge was contagious. 

I keep in mind him after I take into consideration a very good knowledge analyst or knowledge scientist. He was a type of individuals who might sit in entrance of mountains of knowledge and work his magic. It was actually inspiring. 

Right this moment, when individuals simply throw round knowledge buzzwords and statements, like, “We’ll simply put knowledge collectively” and “We want a knowledge technique” — I am going proper again to serious about how we used to work round with a database and go, “Oh, look, you’ll be able to see a sample occurring.” To my ADHD mind, that was attention-grabbing. That was creativity. The lesson I discovered about onerous coding earlier than I even acquired to SPSS was superb. These interactions opened my eyes to the artistic and transformative energy of knowledge. 

Information can really both tumble down numerous issues or make a distinction to enterprise and other people’s lives whenever you get proficient knowledge analysts, architects, and knowledge scientists.

How does your recognition as one of many high 20 girls in knowledge and tech gas advocacy for girls within the knowledge trade?

Being awarded as one of many 20 in Twenty in Information & Tech by Ladies in Information® has been one of many proudest moments in my profession thus far. It’s necessary as a result of I not code however have made it this far by doing that. I’ve all the time beloved and advocated for knowledge each time potential. It additionally underscores the significance of numerous voices in shaping the way forward for expertise. 

For my advocacy in the direction of equality within the knowledge house, the popularity does three issues:

  1. It says that you do not have to be a coder to have an effect on change within the knowledge and tech trade. You may be what I name tech adjoining. Meaning you could possibly be advertising for a tech firm, you could possibly be utilizing expertise and knowledge on your day by day life as a marketer, as a CEO, and so on.
  2. It sends a message that girls are actually leaders in knowledge. There are girls like me who’re utilizing knowledge and expertise as a means ahead for the long run. It helps not simply younger girls but in addition individuals like CEOs perceive and see girls of coloration in impactful positions. 
  3. It underlines accountable knowledge utilization for us as an trade. It creates moments of equality. And it would not feed knowledge bias by excluding individuals, which we see occur in circumstances like giant language fashions (LLMs) that are not educated round gender and racial fairness as a result of they are not being constructed by numerous girls and other people from related cultural backgrounds.

That is really inspiring. Did the truth that others nominated you for the award shock you?

It did shock me! Having a community of people that assist and carry one another up is invaluable. I am nothing with out the tribe of fantastic people round me who’ve aided my progress and shared alternatives. We assist one another navigate challenges and rejoice successes.

In our earlier chat, you had talked about earlier that you’re usually the one black lady in boardrooms. How do you make sure you’re heard?

After I enter a room, my presence is normally fairly noticeable due to my coloration, look, and large character. I take advantage of two strategies. One is that I am not often the primary particular person to talk, and do not attend conferences with out figuring out the agenda as a result of it is necessary to be ready and add worth. If I do not assume I can add worth to a gathering, I do not go. Just because I gained’t know the subject material, and if I can’t reply when requested, I’ll waste my complete day regretting it. If I’m doubtful, I ask somebody for extra context.

Second, I observe, wait, and formulate my concepts. I watch the individuals dynamics, hear intently, discover the spoken and unstated cues, and look forward to the fitting second to contribute.

When there’s silence within the room, my work of being heard begins. I normally start with one thing like, “I’ve a perspective on that,” or “This is what I needed to say.”

I all the time current my viewpoint with context, making certain I am actively contributing to the dialog.

“Having context to again my perspective prepares me with materials for conditions the place I would really feel like I’m being unfairly silenced or undermined — which is uncommon however not non-existent.”

Being ready and on time builds confidence and ensures you are prepared for no matter comes your means.

As we glance in the direction of the way forward for knowledge and martech, what position do you see girls taking part in?

Ladies have an enormous position to play within the period of machine-to-machine interplay due to their distinctive factors of view, experiences, and the language they use in comparison with their male counterparts. 

That is very true for girls from different underrepresented teams and communities, whether or not disabled, LGBTQ+, or brown and black. It is going to be crucial in growing applied sciences that cater to a wider viewers and drive true innovation throughout industries.

Industrial corporations will compete for evermore progress and to align with societal shifts, however they gained’t have the ability to maintain attaining it out of selling to the identical prosperous 10%.

Companies might want to evolve their conventional go-to-market mindset and attain underrepresented teams. The one means to try this is by hiring numerous expertise, one thing I’m already seeing within the hiring patterns with my shoppers and all over the place I’m.

Being a neurodivergent particular person, how do you method work life?

Having ADHD has actually given me heightened observational abilities. What may appear to be a hindrance to some has, actually, been a power for me. It has allowed me to understand greater than what’s merely mentioned out loud. I’ve usually thought my subsequent profession ought to be at MI6, like James Bond.

I consider my ADHD as a facet of my life that has each challenged and benefited me in profound methods. For example, I do not sleep rather a lot, which has been robust. Studying to learn was onerous. However I’ve additionally reached the place I’m as a result of I’ve this mind.

I really feel a reference to you and I’m certain individuals studying this resonate with it too. Any recommendation you’d’ve needed to offer youthful Deborah about navigating life and constructing a profession?

I all the time say that I by no means give recommendation. I do not assume recommendation is an effective factor. As a result of you could find yourself following too narrowly which can not align together with your genuine path. So take this with a pinch of salt.

“Wanting again at my youthful self, what I’d say to 17-year-old Deborah, who was fired from her first job, is don’t fear about it. You should notice that you just’re totally different. Sooner or later, being totally different may simply be the very factor that makes you profitable.”

Deborah Womack
Award Winner of Twenty in Information & Tech 2024

It is okay to be frightened, to be concerned, to be offended. It is okay to be all these issues. However actually, all of these issues, whenever you study to harness it, provides you with energy and success. I’d say that to the 17-year-old Deborah and each different younger lady who’s 17, 20, 30, 40, or 50. It is all okay as a result of it is all about being human. If you settle for the complete spectrum of feelings, from worry to pleasure, and switch anger into motion and anxiousness into resilience, you’ll turn out to be essentially the most superb particular person.

Sustain with Deborah Womack on LinkedIn. 

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