In our new series of articles, we feature female forward-thinking technologists leading the way to sustainable business and innovations.
We, at Avenga, believe in the power of diversity, inclusion and equity to change the world.
There are many bright examples of individuals becoming that change themselves. These are founders, CEOs, mentors and innovators who are passionate about technology and work to create opportunities for every person to actively and fairly participate in the economy. We also promote the value of technology in creating the impact on the global community. The ladies of Avenga are a part of the European Women in Tech community, and they meet exceptional women who shape the industry landscape and inspire others. Motivated by the female leaders from companies like Microsoft, Lloyds Bank, Capgemini, etc., we are showcasing their commitment to creating long term business culture aspirations through professional experience. Women tech leaders have to tell their stories as raw models driving change.
Today, we welcome Danielle Anthony from Lloyds Banking Group in an interview with our Lily Smirnova, sharing perspectives on what it takes to follow dreams, catch opportunities through the greatest economic contractions and be a woman leader in the tech sector.
Many of us were very curious about Danielle and her success story, especially considering she didn’t allow the technicality of not having a tech degree hinder her as she forged her career. Danielle was able to join us via phone and we are so very thankful to her for sharing her growth journey and her insightful perspectives. What an inspiration of hope she is to us all.
Danielle related that her journey to where she is today was a little accidental but also quite deliberate. She was always interested in science, biology, chemistry, geology and such and always thought that she was going to the university and would study something along the lines of biomedical sciences or chemistry. She wasn’t able to do that, because at about 18 or 19 years old her primary concern was that she needed a job. Interestingly, she found herself being hired by an investment bank, as it wasn’t necessarily what she saw herself doing long-term.
Opportunities to learn are never-ending
With this job, Danielle’s curiosity was surprisingly piqued by the financial services that were being provided and how it all worked altogether. Over time she moved roles and companies, and found herself working at the Bank of Wales in Cardiff, which was more focussed on business banking. Through this she was learning a lot about queries and international payments and gaining experience in different financial services sectors, all of which intrigued her as she wanted to understand how things worked.
Being quite young at that point, Danielle says she was figuring out what she really wanted to do with her life, but when the Bank of Wales moved work to Scotland Danielle needed to find a new job as she was based in Cardiff. And she joined what was then known as Halifax Card Services, her career really kicked off from there. With Halifax Card Services, she was a technical account advisor, which is somebody that works with customers who have problems with their accounts, like payments that they don’t understand, disputes with merchants or payments that are genuinely not their payments. It really gave her good insight into digging around into why payments showed up the way they did, the different types of fraud, mistakes that merchants could make, and it kind of peeled back the layers of the system that sat behind these accounts. This laid the foundation in understanding how systems came together, how they talked to each other and how changes could be made to the system, as well as the ripple effects of those changes.
Danielle related that she worked her way up to various different roles and eventually specialized in credit cards, debit cards, chargebacks, fraud, and that type of thing, but very heavily from a systems point of view. Over time, Danielle looked for opportunities to get more involved in the elements of the role that were really interesting to her: about platforms and applications and how all these things connected to each other and communicated with each other.
An opportunity arose to be part of a team who were going to work on a new platform, which was the particular area Danielle was working in, so she volunteered for the team. Danielle shared that this was really where her tech career started. She became part of a team that was involved in migration which required her to meticulously understand the system and the data, and everything that was involved. She thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and there was a moment, Danielle stated to herself that “this is what I want to do”. So working really hard she got to the point where she was considered a specialist in that particular application.
Then Halifax Card Services merged with the Bank of Scotland, and as a result the office relocated, but because of her systems knowledge and extensive understanding of the processes, she stayed with the company, moving from Cardiff, which is in Wales, up to Scotland just outside of Edinburgh; where she currently lives now. Danielle recounted that this was quite a pivotal moment for her as she was only about 21-22 at the time and was moving 400 miles away from home, but she was up for the adventure as she understood it was about building her career. Bringing the value of her unique experiences and deepening knowledge, she was able to shine within her new department with the new platform that was coming, as no one had used it before and she was somewhat of a specialist in it.
Being with this larger team in Scotland, Danielle gained another avenue of experience by working through some serious and different challenges of how to use a system. This was a long time ago, when you’d key directly into systems on the screens of the application itself, before there were any workflows or green screens, which sat over the top of systems. Her team worked closely with the IT department to develop frontend systems that would make it easier for people to key into the system.
As Danielle worked her way through various different levels in the operations area, she again spotted another opportunity, which was somewhat of a bridging role between the operations area and the IT department. She capitalized on her experiences, because she could understand both sides of the equation. What the operations side needed and the translation into what was needed from the IT department, from the support perspective, as well as equally in the interpretation of what IT could actually do and what that would mean back into the operations department. And in this position, she had the opportunity to be involved in projects with Visa and Mastercard, helping to embed compliance releases and other things like that.
Daniellle saw that she was becoming more and more technical, as well as more and more involved in the technical side of things, having greater understanding, greater breadth and depth of knowledge, so when a role became available in the IT department to be a compliance systems analyst, she applied for it. This new position moved her more into the formal kind of IT, or tech department, and away from the operations team where she had been honing her skills and working really hard to shape her career. This is where her career blossomed in the tech arena.
Throughout her career she has been a technical team leader, a project manager, a program manager, a head of programs, and her current title at the moment is engineering lead. She has managed teams at multiple locations, been involved in integrations and was involved in a number of signature programs as well. So, we can say that Danielle has run a number of laps around the board and from an agile working perspective. As you build your network, you should do different things and learn from them as it helps you understand more about yourself and how you react and deal with different challenging situations, and it definitely helps you zero in on what you’re passionate about. Danielle worked her way through a lot of different types of roles, which she felt was key for her, and she highlights that ”Opportunities to learn are never-ending” and that there are so many fascinating and really interesting things out there.
But Danielle also believes that sometimes it is the every-day events that can grow a career, like time in meetings, as you constantly are learning on the job. She likes to listen to Ted talks and to gain knowledge in different forms, whether it is in formal courses or just reading up on things, as she always wants to feed her mind. It is important to take responsibility for your professional and personal growth. Regarding mentoring, Danielle thinks it is a great thing that more people should do. Even today, she quite happily spends time with people in a mentoring capacity, not just sharing her insights but learning from them; for example about new advances in DevOps or in a variety of different technical aspects.
So many businesses and industries are going through a wide variety of changes right now. There are so many opportunities out there for people to spot and Danielle believes that it’s an exciting time to be involved in tech. For her at the moment it is payments again, something that she has chosen to specialize in. We are about to go through an unprecedented period of change in the payment sector, so she feels it is hugely exciting to be involved in that side of things.
So even though it was kind of accidental getting into financial services, Danielle persevered and found that element that she was truly interested in, that she had a passion for. She worked really hard to hone her skills, diving into knowledge, adding value, and developing her career from there. “It’s about spotting opportunities”, she says, like “making a big sacrifice at a very young age and moving away from home”.
Obviously it was the right choice as we consider where she is today. Danielle is of the opinion that sometimes you’ve got to take a leap of faith and understand that great things are often around the corner and they can develop your career.
What an exciting story!
As with many people, Danielle was able to point to some basic life-changing events in her career growth, and it was a couple of different things.
In terms of the personal side of things, Danielle believes it was the move from one part of the UK to another. She was faced with a critical choice at that point because the area that she was working in and her particular location was moving away. Obviously that was quite a difficult situation, as it would be for anybody. Especially considering she felt like she had just found what she was truly interested in. It took a huge amount of personal resilience at such a young age to say “that’s what I’m going to do, because I don’t want to let all of the hard work slip through my fingers. I want to continue to build my career. I want to stay with this company and I believe that I can add value if I go with the work, and where the new platform is going to land”. That was quite life-changing from a personal perspective. Just imagine moving away from all you know and crossing a country. Settling into a new area and a completely new department as well as a new team. But rather than dwell on that, Danielle looked at the situation as an opportunity.
From a career perspective, Danielle thinks it was applying for the system analyst role, which was a move of focus from doing a bridging kind of role into a full IT role. She was able to carve out her career within that new area. It gave her lots of immediate opportunities and new insights but also distant opportunities that were available down the road in this arena. “I’ve never let the fact that I don’t have any type of degree in IT hold me back” Danielle states, and “I’ve always found ways of learning what I needed to know and how I could better support my team”. Seeing what could be considered by some as a negative, she realized that not necessarily thinking the same way as everybody else and having a different path to that point actually gave her an advantage. Differences can be empowering.
I do think that there’s a wealth of scientific data that backs up the fact that diversity can bring a higher engagement…The more diverse you are, the more that you can challenge bias, challenge assumptions and decision-making, and ultimately come to better decisions, problem-solving, capabilities.
Danielle has mentioned on more than one occasion that she spends quite a bit of time and energy focusing on and increasing inclusion and diversity, as it is really important to her. “I’m quite keen to broaden our candidate pool, to really bring diversity and inclusion into the tech team as I think that is really key,” she says.
There are lots of different roles in operations and IT, so Danielle emphasises it as much as possible across the widest groups, and even in her own teams and area. She is really passionate about this, because she recognizes that there’s a wealth of scientific data that backs up the fact that diversity can bring a higher engagement. It gives you greater creativity and your problem-solving skills increase in a diverse team. They make better business decisions and it really enriches your colleagues too, as you get that diverse representation from gender, nationality, culture and race. All of that enriches everyone across the board and you’ve got access to all of these great individuals who’ve got these different life experiences and thought processes. The more diverse you are, the more that you can challenge bias, challenge assumptions and decision-making, and ultimately come to better decisions, problem-solving, capabilities, etc.
In order to achieve diversity and inclusion, you’ve really got to go back to the basics. One of the things Danielle says she is looking at is how to increase diversity in her candidate pools when hiring, because that’s really where things need to start. It really is important to catch a diverse candidate pool. That leads to looking at how a job description is written and how to encourage people to think about the idea of “your career choice today doesn’t define your career moving-forward”, Danielle says. Giving people options in terms of how they can switch careers and do different things. You can encourage people to think about tech as a career choice later in life or their work.
Many times use the terms ‘equality and equity’ interchangeably, however they do not mean the same thing. They’re actually quite different things and because of that we must be clear about what it is we’re trying to address. Danielle explained what each term meant.
Equality is about ‘sameness’, it’s about treating people equally, irrespective of need. So it basically says we are going to treat everybody the same and that’s equality. The challenge of that is that it only works if the playing field is level to begin with. When everybody is at the same place, being treated equally, then that is equality in action, but we know that isn’t the case. We know that the playing field isn’t level, and therefore that is where equity needs to kick in.
Equity is more about ‘fairness’ than sameness. So what equity allows you to do is tailor your response to the person or person’s needs. You are really looking at an opportunity to level the playing field by using equity, which really sets the stage for equality, but you can’t have equality unless you have that level playing field. And that’s kind of the difference. So when evaluating things, how do you respond and tailor that response to that group of people or that individual, in order to level the playing field, where everybody is sitting.
“Equality and equity do go hand-in-hand” Danielle said, but they are quite different and she shared a really good example her boss had shared with her. Equality is that everybody gets a pair of shoes and equity is that everybody gets a pair of shoes that fits them. It’s quite a basic analogy but it is quite good in bringing this to life. Another example she shared was “I’m going to give you all £5K for the university. Some people will be hugely advantaged by that, but for other people it is still not going to be enough because of where they were from a starting position.”
So equity is thinking out your response so that you look at what is it that person really needs, as opposed to just treating everyone the same. We need to challenge ourselves on doing the right things in this respect.
Even though the situation we are in right now is difficult, there is an opportunity to try different ways of working, to think about things in a different way, and to support people in a different way.
Danielle can manage teams of several hundred people, on and off site, and she shared her thoughts about managing people in the reality of today’s business world.
Danielle: The structure and size of my teams can change based on the demand, how many big programs or how many labs we’re operating with, so it can fluctuate but it is still a multi-site team with global locations, with teams outside of the UK. And we adapt our methodologies and approach what is most appropriate to deliver the customer value and technology changes required to realise that value.
When “you’re managing a large teams, you really need to work hard at getting the communication right, so this is a key point”, Danielle says. One size does not fit all and you need to work through the different types of communication, as they affect people differently. Encouraging thoughtful value based leadership is of the utmost importance, in considering the diversity and capabilities of any team. Any leader must evaluate how to help the team as a whole and then each person individually, so as to achieve the set goals. By meeting your team where they are at and supporting them you can get the best work out of your teams.
“I have an ‘open door policy’ and anybody can come and have a chat” Danielle says. Making herself available allows her people to ask whatever they need or want to ask. This provides many opportunities for coaching and mentoring, helping people through their career journeys and the challenges that come up.
There have been quite a few challenges in the last few years from the financial crash to the current global pandemic, truly unprecedented. Danielle highlighted that you’ve got to know yourself really well, in terms of your core values and your characteristics, which are going to see you through things that are completely in unchartered waters. She asked us “What do you fall back on in order to encourage your team and make them feel supported in an extremely stressful situation?”
Danielle shared that her teams are dealing with the pandemic admirably and they are all in a work from home mode. For her the biggest change was about dialing up certain things, for instance, “a big dial up on health and wellbeing discussions and support”. Making sure that people understand what resources are available to them is critical, from a mental health perspective, as well as health and wellbeing. A situation such as this obviously drives up the anxiety levels. Everybody should recognize that their colleagues are dealing with multiple different aspects that are not normal for them.
The pandemic has touched Danielle personally, like the rest of us, as she had some relatives who’ve had to shield and shelter at home, other relatives who were put on furloughs at work, and then her own little 6 year old girl who needed homeschooling.
It’s about reflecting and being really really thoughtful with your leadership through this particular situation that we’re in now; to really understand that people are under a lot of pressure. People are coping with the situation and they’re coping well, but it’s not a situation that anybody would choose. So you really do have to dial up certain elements.
For example, Video calls become more important, because you get to see your colleagues and have more interaction, but it needs to be balanced. What Danielle says to her team is, “you tell me what you would like to do. If you’d like to have a video call that’s great and if you’d like to have a conference call that’s equally fine”. With video calls, you end up getting tethered to your laptop as you have to be in front of the camera. It’s great to see people, it’s great to interact, but if people want to get up, walk around and get a bit of fresh air then obviously you’ve got conference calls that you can utilize as well. So, I think it’s about encouraging a bit of both.
Danielle believes you’ve got to empower your team and try out different things, kind of a behavioral experiment. Asking others ‘what would you like me to do?”, “what would add more value to you?”, and “what are the types of the things that you are thinking as a team?”, will empower people as well. Another thing Danielle mentions that you can say is, “if you want to try something then try it for a couple of weeks and let’s see if it makes any inroads or any improvement. If it does – great, if it doesn’t – not a problem. We’ll try something else.”
Even though the situation we are in right now is difficult, there is an opportunity to try different ways of working, to think about things in a different way, and to support people in a different way. We can create psychological safety, in that it’s ok to fail and it’s ok to challenge. It’s encouraging people to see that actually failing is a learning process, that it’s not a bad thing and they will be supported through it. Nobody has all the answers, again we are better together. One of the biggest things in a team of course is that the team backs each other up. We all know it is easier to go through things together, and with a great team it can be a real adventure and not something to just endure.
Communication has always been key when you’ve got big teams, and the different locations, but it’s dialing up the health and wellbeing during critical times that makes a difference, Danielle stresses. Being a good leader, especially a female leader in a technology sector, means asking your people how you can better support them. “What else do they need from me”? Really interacting with people and giving them that one-on-one time as well, so they can really have an open and honest interaction with you, as their leader. As they tell you how they’re feeling, you can work through it together; as we all know, people work and perform better when they feel truly cared about. Danielle made a final point that leaders have to be careful to not lose sight of the fact that just because people have been working from home, now for five months or so, it’s still not the norm and people are still having to deal with these other new unexpected elements as well, like with homeschooling, relatives shielding or it may be a partner or close relative furloughed from work.
We all should stay true to what is central to our being and that will stand us in good stead, as it helps us to understand how we may react and respond in situations.
There are many up and coming female leaders in tech as well as a new generation moving in. Having forged the way into tech through an unorthodox route, Danielle is a perfect candidate to give career advice and share her insights.
Danielle explained to us that she thinks what is truly invaluable is really being honest with yourself and knowing yourself. Understanding what is important to you, from a core values perspective and holding on to that. We all should stay true to what is central to our being and that will stand us in good stead, as it helps us to understand how we may react and respond in situations. Knowing this information will make us better leaders and is a catalyst for change. Knowing ourselves gives us the ability to dial up, dial down, adjust, and respond in different ways when needed, Danielle shares, and it increases our value to others. It is important to help the younger generation and up and coming leaders to really understand themselves and really tap into that, because that is what will keep you centered in times of challenge, and there will be the times of challenge. All you have to do is look at the last 10 or so years, to see that things happen and that we need to respond to them positively and appropriately. The better you know yourself, the better you will be able to respond thus adding greater value and support to the people in the teams that you are leading or working in.
Another key piece of advice is making sure that you build your own personal resilience and perseverance, and then taking some time out, get some breathing space, and really working on what aspects allow you to bounce back from challenges and difficult situations. Again, this is tied to knowing yourself. Danielle strongly believes that it is really “key that as a leader, you understand your personal resilience levels and when you need to take a break and refill your tank”. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re really going to struggle to take care of your team effectively. Sometimes this vital point is missed and people will go ‘all in’ on supporting the team and forget about themselves, and that’s not helpful to you or to them. A good personal and career rule of thumb is to stay true to your core values, to build that personal resilience, to take time out, and to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and being kind to yourself. Remember that you are a human being at the end of the day, and you have thoughts and you have feelings, and there are definitely times when you need to be gentler with yourself and give yourself a chance to relax and regroup.
Building a good support network around you is another key element. Find either a coach or a mentor, or both. Really build a good ring of support around you with people who care about you and who you respect, and then lean into those people for advice and guidance. You don’t have to go it alone. A great way to build that network is by attending Women in Tech events, or events for whatever sector you’re in. They are great for expanding your network but also learning from others, listening to other people’s stories, and hearing how other female leaders built their own personal resilience. You can also attend those events as speakers or on a panel and talk about what you’re passionate about. Why not run your own event, internally for the company you are at, to help bring on the next leaders, help develop people with real opportunities, and help people move forward. Look at what you can do to help in that space to support others and that will in turn help you build your network further as well.
What’s important is that when your career is moving in the direction that you want it to, stay consistent and true to your values and goals and still show up and support those events. Always keep pushing on and that support network will champion you and help you through it.
As you move forward, look back and reflect. Look at what you can do for the next generation of leaders that are developing. Be the person that you needed. I think that is absolutely key, especially from a ‘women in tech’ perspective, that encouragement and support is really really important. Danielle challenges us to do our part and to think about when we were moving through our careers, what type of support did we need and try to be that to somebody else. Just pay it forward.
We are all so very appreciative of Danielle taking the time to share with us her wisdom, insights and experiences. What valuable information for the women in tech, emerging leaders, and just about anybody!