Profiling the Data Skills Gateway Advisory Board: Laura Rodgers, NatWest
From a young age, Laura Rodgers, Head of Performance Insights at NatWest Bank, has been fascinated by numbers and patterns. As a child she would gather the scores while watching the Eurovision Song Contest and look for the patterns that emerged. This fascination with ‘finding the stories behind the numbers’ paved the way for a career path that has revolved around data and the valuable insights it offers.
Wanting to maintain her independence and a naturally hard worker, Laura consistently took on part-time jobs to support herself as a teenager but left school unsure of what career she wanted, be that actuarial work, accountancy, teaching or something else. However, her confidence with numbers led to a maths degree and after graduating she took a postgraduate degree in systems analysis and design, after discovering a passion for computer science, and got a job for a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland looking after pensions.
She explains the work experience of this early career move proved valuable ‘because it was such a small team you got all aspects of the development lifecycle’ and gave her ‘a really good grounding’ in systems development.
Early on in her career, she found the industry was heavily male dominated and she was one of the few women ‘in an office of fifty men’, which she reflects has motivated her passion for diversity.
She states, ‘it wasn’t a bad experience,’ but she found assumptions about her were made based on her gender, explaining how work might be allocated to her based on a stereotypically female led role, for example working on a new HR system.
She found her work life became more focused on data after moving to NatWest as a developer of Management Accounts systems. Here she could combine her affinity for data and systems with an outgoing personality and strong communication skills to understand the performance statistics within the NatWest group. In this role of understanding both data and people, she feels she was able to realise the benefits of her ‘blend of being technical but also being a little bit more extroverted perhaps than most’ people in data, which has helped her to manage increasingly large teams, currently of one hundred and seventy people.
She is a keen advocate for inclusion and suggests that it is key to a successful team, noting the range of professional backgrounds that make up her own, including a former bus-driver who is now a tablet developer. She believes that ‘data isn’t really scary, and I think the thing is that people use data all the time and don’t know they’re using it.’
Her passion for diversity has led to recognition from the Financial Times Adviser Diversity in Finance Awards, for which she was awarded Highly Commended for the Diversity Champion of the Year for a large firm in July 2022. She considers what lies behind this recognition and what drives her passion, stating, ‘as a leader in an organisation, you have the real ability to change people’s lives’, and Laura is eager to create a nurturing environment for her team, giving everyone an equal opportunity to thrive.
She explains that she is concerned that sometimes able candidates are unwittingly barred by the hiring system, for example if they have the right skills but struggle with interviews. She therefore outlines some of the work done to make the hiring process more accessible, for example, to offer ‘a lot more prep before the interview’.
She has seen the positive results of her efforts to increase diversity, with female representation increasing from 15% to around 40% in two years and is proud of the diversity of her team, with its varied skills and personalities that interplay to motivate and educate colleagues.
She hopes that she herself is a good role model for a diverse workplace, as a working mother she hopes to lay the path to empower women like her to know that they are valuable in the workplace and that jobs are open to them alongside family life.
When asked about other challenges to her sector, including the skills gap, and any future challenges Laura explained that ‘a recent government publication [stated] there are 250,000 data vacancies in the UK’ currently, a gap that is ‘incumbent on people like [herself] and the DDI team’ to understand and to look at how to encourage people into these roles and get them excited about the possibilities of careers in data.
She believes that opportunities around developing data literacy need to be made available to people from school age through to career changers to widen access to data skills and should be fundamental to every career.
She is also concerned that we need to ‘take the stigma away from data’, notably anxieties around working with numbers. She explains that it is important to communicate that data is about understanding ‘how you’re able to interpret what’s in front of you to take actions, make decisions that are based on data’ and therefore ‘how do we make that data easy to read [and] interpret’.
She also feels that there is a need to ‘democratize data’ to make it easier for organisations to use to its full potential for good.
With these ideas in mind, she sees some particular strengths to the Data Skill Gateway Programme, which her first ‘reaction [towards] was just real excitement’. It is looking to develop creative solutions to the data skills gap and feels that it can fulfil a valuable role in building a diverse demographic of those with data literacy and insight.
With an impressive career behind her and an obvious passion, when asked whether she would have changed anything about her career Laura said, ‘I genuinely think I’ve got, with my love of people and data, the perfect job.’
She does suggest, however that she has ‘always struggled with confidence and that well-known issue of imposter syndrome’ and that she would recommend having mentoring in place throughout one’s career, particularly for women.
She urges career starters to look for feedback about their performance and understand ‘what you want to be known for and focus on that, be transparent and honest’ and seek help when needed
Ultimately, she also encourages people to lay the foundations of their career with self-awareness, stating, ‘have belief in yourself and focus on the things that you’re really good at, nobody is perfect and good at everything’.
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