Emma Stowell has worked in data for over twenty years. Now Director of Data Science, Analytics & Insights at Immersive Labs, she spoke to myGwork about what she has learnt over the decades and how her identity has helped make her a better leader
BY MYGWORK, IMAGES BY EMMA STOWELL
Emma’s career spans across industries, with experience across the data spectrum. Over the past six years, she has focused on a specialism of going into organisations that are yet to develop how they approach data and creating the infrastructure for them to succeed.
On top of two decades within data, Emma also found time to complete a master’s in business management and organisational culture in her spare time, with lessons that have made her a better leader and homed in her skills to build diverse creative teams.
Growing up in Birmingham, Emma then moved to Bristol for university and has been there ever since. As a teenager in the late 90s, Emma realised she was gay and living in a world where homophobia was commonplace, and she struggled to come out. When she did tell her parents a year into her university studies, although they were surprised, they were nothing but accepting and supportive.
The only worry Emma’s mum had was that she would not be able to find a partner, in part due to the misinformation that was common at the time. However, sixteen years ago, this was proved undoubtedly untrue when Emma met her partner, and her mum often proudly tells her how there is no one else in the world she could now picture her with. Although she’s never hidden who she is at work, Emma admits certain environments make bringing your whole self to the office more challenging, particularly when there is a lack of other LGBTQ+ role models around you.
“I think for any underrepresented group seeing people like you succeeding will give you more confidence and allow you to fit in and find your way. I remember at a past organisation, I was given an award, and the prize was going to a resort, and they’d have a formal dinner on Saturday night where all the ladies wore dresses. And I remember that for me, that was completely weird, and I felt completely out of place. I think having people in senior leadership think about those things – whether everyone actually enjoys that – makes a difference. I also think there is huge importance in mentoring schemes and encouraging people to put themselves forward for those leadership positions.”
Now at Immersive Labs, leading their data science and analytics team, she’s seen the company, which started in 2017 in a cargo container in Bristol, grow to over 300 employees globally. When she first joined, there was one database, and she has since developed a team of sixteen people across data functions, which has proved vital to the organisation’s success. Across the organisation, inclusivity is ingrained in their culture, which Emma hasn’t necessarily seen at other workplaces. This starts with a genuine dedication from their CEO and is embraced across teams.
“Immersive Labs only has three values, and one of those is inclusivity. It’s embedded in our new starter process, we’re rolling out new training and making sure everyone is aware of the barriers in the workplace that some people face and how we can all help break them down. The passion that our CEO has for inclusivity is also very impressive, which from day one, I could tell was genuine. I’ve never worked anywhere where everyone is so passionate about calling out each other and cares so deeply about things being improved.”
Emma has seen first-hand the contrast between working at organisations where the leadership teams didn’t think about inclusion to Immersive Labs, where it is one of their core values. When conversations on diversity are not valued, there are many benefits to your organisation and teams that are lost. For example, she explains that unconscious bias in hiring can’t be addressed without discussing that it exists. Unconscious bias exists in all of us, and it is how subconscious stereotypes impact our behaviour and actions. Within the hiring process, this shows up as unknowingly being drawn to candidates that are similar to you. With awareness and training, it can be counteracted, but if an organisation is not discussing these topics, they are not able to identify it to begin with.
“I think one of the biggest challenges with representation is the natural inclination to hire similar people to you. People need to make sure that they’re thinking outside of their own circle when they recruit. It’s not about who you want to go for a pint with, but about who will be best for that job.”
This is a sentiment that Emma stands by in building her team. She has also learned from her own identity and journey of acceptance – that you don’t need to fit in or follow the expected path. Instead, if you lean into what makes you different, you can unlock creativity that will help you, your team, and everyone around you to flourish.
“In most situations in my life, I usually feel like the odd one out, and instead of trying to fight this, I now just embrace it – in myself and my team as well, I tend to try and encourage creativity and inclusivity, and that’s really what makes strong teams in my mind. I think one of the great things about being LGBTQ+ is you don’t have to follow traditional routes.”
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