Lola is a Digital Product Strategist, with 15 years experience working in the digital field. She holds a BEng. in Interactive Systems from The University of Birmingham and an MSc. in Human-Computer Interaction with Ergonomics from University College London. In 2016, she was named by the British Interactive Media Association as one of their Top 100 most influential people in the UK Digital Industry. She has worked in a range of organisations, both in large in-house teams and small independent agencies. Her most recent role was as Director of Strategy & User Experience at a UK digital products and services agency which was sold in 2016. She was a part of the core leadership team for the business, responsible for defining their service offering, working in collaboration with their technology arm. Although it was a small agency, they had a reputation for punching above their weight, working on complex problems for large organisations such as the UK’s National Health Service, the retailer Tesco and the pharmaceutical giant Bayer. Since leaving Head, she has worked as an independent consultant, helping teams to organise effectively around their digital ambitions, innovate and, build a successful practice of user-centered design. She is currently working at blockchain startup Chainspace, helping shape the proposition for their service.
Why did you get into STEM?
I have always been drawn to solving complicated and complex problems. My natural instinct is always to tinker and reshape things. Whilst in school I had equally good grades in English and social sciences, I was more comfortable with subjects where logic and ingenuity prevail over prose.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
I’m proud of building a career that reflects my mother’s efforts in raising me. I feel privileged to have had all the opportunities I’ve had. We were never rich, but I don’t take it for granted that an accident of birth afforded me an amazing family structure and the chance to be whoever I want to be. I feel proud that the career I have reflects those opportunities and I do my best to give back to my family and home country in any way I can.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
One big challenge straight out of university is that I did not achieve the expected 2:1 grade (I was 2 points away). The assumption is that you need a 2:1 to do anything and certainly, applying for jobs initially was really hard. However, I took advice from an uncle who has always been a positive influence on me. He said that in most subjects, university doesn’t teach you how to do anything, it simply is proof you have the ability to think. To succeed, use that thinking to be creative in your endeavours. I’ve used his advice several times. To get my first job, I took my grade off my CV. A simple trick, but I was fortunate that the course title and university were enough to get me through. I know this is not always the case for everyone. In later life, whenever I’ve faced a difficult client or situation, I’ve always applied this advice and found a way around.
I have too many examples of being undermined and patronised either because I was promoted early (for a long time, I was almost always younger than those I managed) or because I’m female. I’m sure race has been a factor too.
However, as well as my uncle’s advice, I also consider my mother’s example. Her many stories of harassment and lack of recognition make anything I’ve experienced pale in comparison. Despite her challenges, she has remained graceful and holds her head high through many things. She doesn’t shy away from asking for help, but she believes that she (and her children) can achieve anything. That belief keeps me grounded through a lot of situations.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
My first piece of advice is always do what you love doing. Life is easier when you like your subjects, your job, your colleagues, and your environment. Whenever you try to do something because it’s expected of you, its harder and therefore runs a higher risk of failure. Wherever possible, be brave and work as close to your passions as possible. It does pay off.
My second piece of advice is that there are many jobs out there other than Doctor or Engineer. In fact the world of work is as varied as it comes. Many in my family cannot explain my job, job title or field to themselves, but it doesn’t make me any less successful in their eyes. For our African families, sometimes we put too much pressure on the young to conform to what we know, but with technology and science exploding rapidly, we should be open to the many ways in which our young can find gainful and successful employment across a wide spectrum of specialisations.