Women in Tech Interview: Emily Kent

We often hear the barriers which deter women and girls from engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths are unconscious bias and a lack of diversity at board level. To celebrate the launch of Women Tech Founders, we are interviewing the female leaders involved with SETsquared Bristol to explore their career paths and views on issues faced by women in technology. Each of their stories is individual, some have a technical background, others are using technology to enable their business idea.

Emily Kent, Head of Business Development at My Action Replay shares her story:

What did you enjoy at school and how did technology feature in your early studies?

At A-level, I studied English, History and Theatre Studies. I’ve always had an adventurous nature and enjoyed sports too. I joined The Sail Training Association, who offer youth sailing courses and was given the watch role – I’ve never been scared to give something a go!

After leaving school, it was hard to decide what to do next, and I almost joined the Army, because I was a volunteer with the Red Cross. The arts were the traditional path from the Girls School I attended, and it was almost expected that I would go to University, so I applied and went to Reading to study Sociology. I certainly never considered a career in technology, because it was too alien. I do recall a technology lesson, discussing the launch of the Internet – but I didn’t even have an email address or computer until I was at University.

How did your career unfold from there?

Having spent my early twenties working with St Peter’s Hospice, I got a role working for one of the mailing and fulfilment houses, working in database management. I realised I was more interested in event management and fundraising – so I returned to work for St. Peter’s Hospice in the role of Donor Development Manager. Those roles gave me a great experience of handling data for marketing; I’ve since seen a huge curve of change in the way data is used, particularly in communications. Technology was not important in my early career, whereas now, it’s the enabler of our business.

How did you get started with My Action Replay?

Since becoming a mum, I’ve found my strength is getting things done and I’ve taken a practical approach to time management because I have four children to care for as well as run the business. So when my husband first started talking about an idea to get a camera good enough to capture and replay sports, I realised we had the skills between us to make it happen and turn it into a commercial venture. My focus is on managing and marketing the product, ensuring the proposition appeals to our customers, and applying a strict user perspective on all the development work – all to a tight production schedule.

Tell us what advice you’d offer other women from your personal experiences?

At the point of choosing my study route as a teenager, I lacked any knowledge about alternative careers. Part of me wishes I had chosen a more vocational route instead of going to university because I finished my Sociology degree and still didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I would highly recommend exploring all the options available, before ruling out anything.

The tech industry definitely operates with a different language! I would encourage anyone to listen and ask questions, and not to be intimidated if you’re coming from a non-technical background. An important part of my role is applying my people skills, to question the user scenarios and show our team how the product works from a customer perspective.

Which factors have helped, which could encourage the next wave of female founders?

Bristol has plenty of opportunities for networking, in spaces like Engine Shed, Desk Lodge and at events. Meeting a wide range of people can help you find a way to enable your idea and mentoring has helped us enormously. We had two years running the business before joining SETsquared as virtual members and were delighted to get the physical working space in February 2017. Since joining, we’ve appreciated the process and support; presenting to the Business Review Panels prepared us for pitching our business at any level. Pitch at the Palace was a big milestone for us, since then we have gone on to secure the deal with CricHQ, the world’s largest digital platform for cricket. Our grass-roots and county cricket clients provided proof of the concept, which attracted CricHQ, and we are signing new clubs up. Bear in mind, there are going to be various ways to get your idea off the ground, it comes down to what your customers want. At Action Replay, we are all sports fans and tech fans, so we have a common goal to developing new features to enhance our customers’ experience.

What changes would you suggest for businesses to encourage more women to join their team or consider technical roles?

Enabling flexibility is key, however, traditional roles don’t necessarily allow that. It’s amazing how much I can get done in an evening after the children have gone to bed! Many parents take a very practical approach to time management and that is a hugely valuable, transferable skill. To encourage more women, more businesses will need to value the non-technical skills as highly as the technical skills.

It will help too, if there are clear goals or a career path to achieve the next level up. Women are more likely to put themselves forward when they understand which types of projects form the stepping stones to get promoted within an organisation. Again, it comes down to supporting them to be more confident.

Written by Debra Penrice. See more of her work at 27 Marketing