With a background in marketing and psychology, Emma Newman is a talented Head of Client Success who has worked with high-profile clients across the retail spectrum. Much in demand as a customer experience expert, she has been instrumental in building customer-focused strategies for a number of leading brands.
Before I left university, technology as a career choice had never really crossed my mind. Now I’m working closely with major retail brands, engaging daily with CIOs, CEOs and heads of departments – I work to understand their challenges and how Red Ant’s products can help them use their data to drive successful outcomes in an increasingly digital marketplace.
It’s been an incredible journey – as a ‘woman in tech’, I’ve become more aware than ever of what this phrase actually means. I’m adapting to new challenges since returning from maternity leave, and juggling being a mum with my business ambition.
I arrived at retail tech specialist, Red Ant, in 2008 straight after completing my degree in Marketing and Psychology, and I’ve been in the business for 14 years. For me, everything tech started from there, rather than at school level. It was something I naturally embraced – I recognised the value of apps and was an early adopter of tech for personal use. Now everything I do is on my phone – in fact I even have an app to track my daughter’s sleep patterns – nobody enjoys nap maths.
The tech learning curve
Soon after joining as office administrator, my flair for building relationships with people took me swiftly into client management, and I jumped in at the deep end. At first it was daunting being the front line for clients and doing presentations and demos – I had to engage clients and make sure they bought into both me and Red Ant.
My move into this leadership role was part of a natural progression of my skills – my knowledge of use cases, what Red Ant can offer, and an in-depth understanding of our capabilities. I became an excellent judge of what was achievable for clients, and my retail tech expertise grew over time and with relevance to my role.
Being a woman in tech
Due to the way Red Ant approaches diversity and inclusion as a business, I don’t think I ever stopped to think I was a ‘woman in tech’ – I just felt part of the team. Earlier in my career, I may have felt more of a challenge from men in meetings for instance, but it’s not so apparent now. Where once it was more ‘men who code’, for many years now we’ve had many women engineers in the business, gender is less of an issue for us at Red Ant. It’s more when you step outside into other business environments and industry events that the gender imbalance is more obvious.
There’s a huge disparity between the reality of tech versus the vision. When you tell someone you work in tech, you sense that they see an engineer with head down and headphones on coding – but it’s not like this at all. I became immersed in tech and solving problems in retail using technology, which I loved, and understanding coding at a very basic level as part of what Red Ant does was an intrinsic part of this.
Top tips for re-adjusting to work
The prospect of going on maternity leave brought up a number of concerns – might I be left behind, be forgotten, or forget my day to day role? There isn’t a one size fits all approach for adjusting to being a parent whilst continuing your career. My advice is mainly based around communication which is vital for self-care, new lifestyle management and keeping the pedal down on business – my key tips are:
- Stay connected at a low level – This is clearly a personal choice when you’re on maternity leave but a great idea if you enjoy where you work. LinkedIn was a fantastic channel for me, to keep up with posts and engage in conversations as much as I wanted to. I could support and share content and stay relevant. Having good friends at Red Ant, I met up with Sarah (CEO) a couple of times for brunch so that she could meet my new arrival! KIT (Keep In Touch) days made it feel seamless to resume working with the team and I felt reassured of my abilities instead of it being something I was nervous about.
- Find the right company – It must be one that values you as a person for your achievements, with a leader that is supportive of building a role around the team’s lifestyles. In fact, support must come from your peers as well as from the top down. If you can see other returners to work have flexibility you know that’s likely to be an option for you. In the right environment you should feel supported.
- Make a phased return to work – After six months of maternity leave I was invited to spend two days in Dubai at an Expo which was important to support our clients and prospects there. It was an open invitation, but I was delighted to be included. After this, for around the first eight weeks of my return I worked one day a week using remaining KIT days. This helped me to get back in to pitches and understand in what ways our product might have changed in this time. Take time to meet with managers to find the working pattern and style that works for you and the business. Ease yourself back in if you can get it agreed – for me it started as one day per week. Red Ant gave me the option to graduate my return from one day to two, but I decided to go straight to three. You might not get it right first time, and building it up slowly makes all the difference.
- Focus on more frequent goals – Instead of looking at the big career building goals – winning a client, making an overseas trip or going to a trade event – it’s helpful to re-wire yourself to find success in smaller daily goals. This helps you to appreciate your achievements on a more regular basis. Ticking things off a list means you can say, “I achieved what I wanted today” and that means you’re feeling fulfilled on a more constant basis, rather than once in a while. Positivity and setting realistic expectations of yourself is key for motivation and self-care.
- Set boundaries – Saying “no” to requests is one of the hardest lessons to learn in business. Especially as a new mum trying to find your feet at home and work again, it’s so important to know what your boundaries are – it might be that you will not work past 5.30pm because you want to have dinner with your family, but you’re happy to log back on later. Having that open conversation with the team to know if that is going to work or not is really important.
- Make the best use of tech – this will be vital to help you with your work and planning. I use Todoist to keep me organised, setting myself deadlines which are achievable. I’ve also discovered that sending quick voice notes on Slack is so much more effective than ending up on 25-minute calls. Confluence is another useful tool – it’s part of Jira which keeps us all collaborating effectively in small groups.
- Find your allies – the importance of this cannot be underestimated. The workforce at Red Ant is 59% women, with lots of mums among us. It’s great to share advice, be open and bring your true self to work. There are also lots of fun podcasts for working mums. When you feel nervous, it’s great to listen to content that brings you back down and lets you know that you’re not alone.
Setting future ambitions
When you have ambition to be both a devoted parent and business leader, you’re learning new things every day – and making some mistakes along the way – but innovation is part of being human as well as part of tech. It’s important to know you’re not the only one and that’s when working in a diverse and supportive environment really helps.
I want to make my daughter proud and be a strong woman in an industry that until recently has been male-dominated. I also want to build Red Ant to where we know it can go – last year was amazing for us and I want to be part of the team that elevates it further.