Heather Lockley | DWP

Heather Lockley | DWP

The conversation around the gender pay gap continues as the government’s latest gender pay gap report has revealed that last year, women in the UK were paid 90p for every £1 earned by a man – there is still so much to be done. However, there are other gaps we should also definitely be minding – like the class gap. And that is exactly what Heather Lockley from DWP is here to talk to us about! Heather’s passion for social mobility and championing leaders from working class backgrounds is apparent in her chat with Women Rock Ambassador Matt Fullford as she describes her own journey through education and into a STEM role she NEVER thought she would be in!

You can’t help but feel empowered to do something new after reading Heather’s story…so we would like to take this moment to apologise for any career plot twists this week!!

HEY HEATHER! THANKS SO MUCH FOR GETTING INVOLVED WITH WOMEN ROCK, WE FEEL LIKE THIS ONE IS GOING TO RESONATE WITH SO MANY! SO CAN YOU START WITH TELLING US ABOUT YOUR STORY SO FAR?

Unsure how far to go back, but my story and feelings start on reflection from my upbringing!

I’m from a single parent family and was the first member to go to university, so my journey through education was an experience I went through without much first hand knowledge and experience from family. My journey through education was interesting as I was diagnosed late with dyslexia during my A-levels.

I’m now in a STEM job which is strange to think as I still to this day don’t quite consider myself a techie. It wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing as back in school I wanted to be a barrister!

I graduated with a degree in Philosophy which meant my career choices were quite open. I heard about the Civil Service fast stream programme, which was a way for graduates to train in several disciplines and was able to get on to that scheme.

I essentially fell into a Business Analyst role after my first 9 months which really led me down the path to where I am now as a Product Manager working on the Universal Credit service in DWP.

FOR THOSE OUT THERE THAT MAY NOT BE COMPLETELY FAMILIAR WITH THE ROLE OF A MODERN PRODUCT MANAGER, WHAT DOES YOUR DAY TO DAY LOOK LIKE?

I think a Product Manager is someone who’s responsibility it is to figure out what the most valuable thing is for a user and a business. Then the rest of our job is bringing lots of people together to educate and inspire them to bring them on the journey.

BEING SOMEONE WHO ENGAGES WITH PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF THE TECHNOLOGY WORLD, HOW DO YOU FIND THE DIVERSITY SPLIT WITHIN CIVIL SERVICE?

I’ve personally had a very good experience throughout DWP and HMRC. Generally, our make-up is a 50:50 split, however, the types of roles that women tend to hold in tech are on the business facing side of things such as BA’s, Product, Content, Design etc.Almost exclusively developers have been male with a couple of women front-end devs or QA’s.

HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN CHANGE THE NARRATIVE TO ALLOW AN EASIER ENTRY FOR WOMEN INTO TECHNOLOGY?

The challenge when talking about technical roles is that people don’t often have the ability to re-train once you’re in the workplace without taking a hit on your progression or pay. So you have to combat this is by capturing women before they enter the workplace and giving girls role models. There are fantastic organisations like “girls who code” that try to combat this, but I don’t think it’s systemic yet from a school curriculum standpoint.

When I was at school, ICT classes weren’t about how to build software, it was all about how to use software which is the wrong strategy altogether. That wasn’t all that long ago (kind of!) so it feels like we’ve got some catching up to do in the UK on that front!

WHAT COULD BE A MAJOR DIFFERENTIATOR FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO BE EDUCATED ABOUT OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THIS IF NOT PRESENTED THROUGHOUT SCHOOL?

I’m passionate about social mobility and I’m proud of being a woman in tech from a working class background. A big barrier for me when coming into the workplace was that I didn’t have many professional role models as my family were in different types of jobs. It wasn’t until I went to university and met some of my friends and their parents that I had my first civil service and tech role models.

I’m most passionate about working-class children seeing themselves as leaders. In my opinion the class gap is far bigger than the gender gap now. For example, in the BBC it’s less than one fifth of employees are from a working-class background which is crazy to think about, given its influence on society. I would like to see more conversations about class diversity in organisations, and how we can encourage more working class people in professional environments. Diversity of thought, gender, class, race etc are all so important for building public services that properly represent the people we serve.

WE’VE SPOKEN A LOT ABOUT ROLE MODELS AND WE KNOW THIS IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT! DO YOU HAVE A STAND-OUT ROLE MODEL THAT HAS PLAYED A HUGE IMPACT IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?

Yes. I have two, maybe three!

I have such a great privilege through DWP. Their female leaders are truly exceptional. In my first universal credit piece of work, we had two outstanding leaders. Deborah Boore and Lara Sampson. Lara was what became our Head of Product and Deborah was our Head of Operations. I’ve worked with them both multiple times throughout my career and they’re the people that drastically improved my confidence and belief in myself. Deborah is now a Director at DWP, and Lara is a Partner at Public Digital.

If there’s room for a 3rd one, I need to mention Nancy Kelley. She is now the CEO for Stonewall but we worked together for a short time in DWP and she had a huge influence on me. Her background and knowledge and the way she thought so inclusively about so many groups of people when building a public service was impactful and has influenced how I managed public services even now.

WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS (PROFESSIONAL OR PERSONAL)?

Personal – raised just short of £5000 for ovarian cancer due to an impact in my family.

Macro – I’m privileged to be in a position I never thought I’d be in as a child.

Micro – nominated for young digital professional of the year, for my role in the Kickstart programme.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN STARTING OUT IN TECH?

“Take up space” – advice that Nancy Kelley gave to me early in my career and I always come back to it.

WHAT QUOTE OR MANTRA DO YOU LIVE BY?

Have the confidence to put yourself forward. It’s very rare people get plucked from obscurity so you have to put yourself forwards and advocate for yourself, even when it feels uncomfortable.

Right, we’re off to get uncomfortable! Thanks Heather – you rock! 

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