The theme of this year’s IWD is ‘Break the Bias’, so we wanted to take this opportunity to get to know and celebrate some of our female staff who are ‘Breaking the Bias’ at Utilita.
Let us introduce you to Fiona Rooney (Revenue Protection Engineer), Nicky Lyndon (Senior Software Engineer), Helen Kyne (Head of Energy Hubs), Lauren Sanders (Marketing Manager) and Rachel Norberg (Market Transformation Retail Energy Lead). Read on to find out more about their roles at Utilita and whether they’ve faced any gender bias in their working life…
How long have you worked in your role?
Fiona: I have been an engineer for 17 years. Although it still feels like yesterday.
Helen: 1 Year – I took the role of Head of Energy Hubs in March 2021 however I have worked in the Hub department since 2018.
Nicky: About 2 months. I was promoted at the start of this year, after having started my development journey in a Junior Oracle Dev role at Utilita 4 years prior.
Lauren: I was promoted to Marketing Manager in January 2021, but before that I was a Marketing Project Manager for 3 and a half years.
Rachel: I’ve worked in Market Transformations for the last two and half years and moved to the role of Retail Energy Lead in August 2021.
Why did you decide to get into your role?
Fiona: My drive to becoming an engineer came from my admiration for my grandfather, who was an electrician. I also really enjoy anything hands on, I'm like a child at Christmas when I see a flat pack.
Helen: The Hubs are a very new and exciting area of the business and I really believe in the purpose of what they are trying to achieve. We really bring Utilita’s values to life by breaking the norm and setting new trends within the Energy sector. I think my passion for the Energy Hubs to succeed really shines and I can’t wait to see them go from strength to strength as we open more Energy Hubs across the country.
Nicky: I’m not sure I did. I went to university to become a teacher and towards the end of that journey realised it was a mistake, so after I graduated, I had no clue what my career path was going to be. I took an agency job working in the call centre for Utilita, which led to a couple of roles within the Operations Department, and then a Junior Developer role opened up and my manager at the time told me he thought I would be a good fit for it. I didn’t really think I was going to get the job, but I had nothing to lose by applying, so I gave it a shot and here I am.
Lauren: I started off in Marketing as a Marketing Assistant and worked my way up from there – I naturally took ownership of big projects and started to assist my manager by helping with the team. I’ve always wanted to do well in my career and always jumped at the chance of progression.
Rachel: I moved to Market Transformations as the opportunity to influence change in the wider energy industry interested me. I also like being in a role where I get to develop my skills, such as; presenting, writing responses and critical thinking.
What's a ‘normal day in the office’ for you?
Fiona: Usually getting mucky under a staircase somewhere and having light conversations with the customers.
Helen: I start off with my famous huge cup of tea whilst going through my emails and plan out my day (as much as I can). Days are extremely varied; we have team calls, I could be on a hub visit, looking at potential areas and units for new hubs, reviewing productivity and KPI’s within the hubs, analysing balance scorecards. We also work closely with Marketing on new opportunities too like sponsors and partnerships.
Nicky: I’m not entirely sure there is such a thing as a normal day. Most of my time is spent either in meetings, writing code or supporting other developers, so a normal day is some combination of those. However, I’m currently juggling two/three projects, to varying degrees of success, so no matter how hard I try to plan my time, there is always something that is going to derail my daily routine.
Lauren: “Normal” isn’t a thing, haha! Not one day is the same, however I prefer it like that as it keeps me busy.
Rachel: I spend most of my days working on a new energy code, called the Retail Energy Code (REC). I have enjoyed working on the REC as it has given me the opportunity to influence how the code is managed and build rapport with the code managers - enabling a stronger voice for Utilita in this area.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
Fiona: Being able to work all over the country, meeting so many people and the jobs are rarely the same, keeping me on my toes.
Helen: No day is the same! It is exciting looking for new ways of engagement for the Hubs as we are building things from scratch; creating new ideas, processes, and products. But also keeping up to date with the Energy Industry and Retail Industry, as it is key to see and review the future for High Streets. The Hubs are also very reactive, so despite the above, there are frequent instances where you need to drop everything and resolve issues immediately, such as staff shortages, break ins and burst water pipes.
Nicky: It might be a controversial answer with most of my development colleagues, but I love a bug. I think as an organisation and as individuals we learn the most when things go wrong, so bugs aren’t a strictly negative thing they are also a great opportunity for progression. Plus, I love puzzles and bugs to me are just puzzles that need to be solved.
Lauren: I would say working with the Utilita Arena’s – I love music, so being able to work so closely with 3 arenas to bring our partnerships to life with them is really fun.
Rachel: It can vary, but most days I review and respond to Retail Energy change proposals, interact with internal stakeholders on topics under the REC, and deal with REC Contract Manager Escalations from other Energy companies.
What is one of the achievements you've completed in your role that you are most proud of?
Fiona: I'm most proud of my new role I recently embarked on, becoming a Revenue Protection Engineer. This is because I feel I can really make a difference for the individuals that need it the most.
Helen: Probably opening the first Energy Hub in Gosport back in 2018. We faced some serious challenges, and stress levels were at an all-time high. But when those doors opened, the sense of achievement made it so worth it. I have been involved in opening not only the first Energy Hub for the business, but reviving a high street presence for the Energy Sector in over 30 years!
Nicky: It’s not been completed yet, but I am incredibly proud of all the work that has been and is being done by my colleagues and I on the Faster Switching Programme. It is a massive industry change with implications to every business area, so delivery is no easy feat. We still have a way to go, but I am confident that we will get there, and I think achieving delivery will be a career highlight for me.
Lauren: Most recently, I’m super proud to have started the celebration of ‘Black History Month’ at Utilita. Back in October last year, I got together with a focus group of about 8 people, and we started the conversation on how we can raise money and create awareness externally and most importantly internally to all our staff. Utilita has such a huge following on social media to be able to raise money and make a difference for some amazing charities. Although, it shouldn’t have taken this long to be talked about that’s for sure.
Rachel: The most recent one that comes to mind is how I have constantly sought change to the service provided by the code managers of the REC, especially as the website and data specification were not delivered as promised in September 2021. Now I find that most feedback and suggestions I make are actioned and accepted, making the tools provided more user friendly for all Utilita staff.
Have you overcome any challenges to get to where you are today?
Fiona: Yes, plenty of challenges along the way. One example is, when I first became an engineer, I worked for free to prove my worth and it paid off.
Helen: I have certainly had my fair share and so has everyone else, but the important part of that is how you learn and overcome them. They shape every decision, choice, and outcome you make and will make in the future. Those challenges are there to make you stronger and reflect on them for when something else arises.
Nicky: I don’t think I have. I have had personal setbacks, like any person has, but my entire professional career has been at Utilita so far, and I have been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by supportive individuals who want me to succeed and have helped me in doing so.
Lauren: There have been many different challenges along the way. When I first started Utilita I worked in the Sales department, always knew I wanted to work in Marketing since the day I started, so did everything in my power to prove I could. I helped Marketing free of charge to plan the old school ‘Lightbox projects’ where we travelled up and down the country helping communities and families who needed a little extra support.
Rachel: Yes, there are tasks in my daily workload that I have previously told myself I would never be good at. For me, what I have learnt is not to let these barriers stop me from trying and often you will find that you are better than you think.
Have you faced any gender bias in your working life?
Fiona: Unfortunately, yes. Although I never take any notice or let it bother me. I trust that my work will speak for itself.
Helen: I am lucky to say I haven’t however I have friends that have and its really dis-heartening to hear. It certainly does make you reflect on your own company and role, and it does make me feel grateful to work for a business like Utilita. Steve Parker has been my boss since I started and he has always made me feel valued, listens to me, lets me speak freely amongst the team and values my opinion. He has certainly helped me to get to where I am today.
Nicky: None that has been overt. I can be quite an opinionated person at times, and I know not everyone responds well to it, so I do tend to assume that any possible bias is related to my personality and not my gender.
Lauren: I feel very lucky to be able to say I haven’t in a work environment. However, I do feel it exists in some areas without people even realising – like the gym for instance, weightlifting has always been seen to be manly. However, there are no exercises just for men or women — there are just exercises. Although gender differs, bones, connective tissues, nerves, muscles fibres, etc, we’re all made up of the same raw material and function in the exact same way, regardless of gender.
Rachel: Yes, but thankfully these cases are few.
Do you notice being one of the few females working in your role?
Fiona: In honesty, I don't notice it too much, as I often feel like one of the boys after doing this for so long, however, I am aware of it but I like that, I like being different and surprising people.
Helen: Our department is very mixed so I wouldn’t say I notice myself as being one of a few females. Whilst Utilita is an Energy Company, the Hubs dip into the retail sector for the business. Interestingly, the retail sector has a very high proportion of female workers but a very small number of female senior managers - which I have often read studies on, but can never understand why. So I do take pride in where I am today.
Nicky: No, because at Utilita I am not. If we look purely at the Database team, which I am a part of, and consider only permanent staff members there are the same number of female developers to male developers. I don’t think you’d get quite the same results if you looked at other software teams within the company, because there are still more men than women entering STEM careers, but overall, I think there is fantastic female representation at Utilita.
Lauren: No, there is a big crew of females in the marketing department. All unique and inspiring in their own way – glad to be able to work alongside them.
Rachel: Sometimes. Although, I used to notice this more when attending different industry meetings, where other energy suppliers are also on the call.
What's the best thing about working at Utilita?
Fiona: One of the best things is Utilita's culture. How equality thrives through the company. I admire how supportive Utilita are with Charities and the LGBTQ+ Community, to name a couple. I think it's great that Utilita has an open-minded approach.
Helen: Definitely the people, but also the amount of growth within this business. Utilita has invested a lot of time in my development, and I intend to return the favour and do the same for the future leaders of this business.
Nicky: There was a time when I might have said the coffee machine in the cafeteria, but I have to supply my own coffee working from home. So, I guess I’ll go with the next best thing, which is undoubtedly the people. I have met so many fantastic people working at Utilita and whenever things get tough, we always pull together, not apart.
Lauren: The Culture. I love feeling like I’m a part of a “work family”. Especially within Marketing I feel we all look out for each other. I also think being a manager and being able to help staff progress within their role or even into new roles is amazing to see!
Rachel: I believe Utilita is open to change and being unique in our approach as an Energy Supplier, especially in caring for our customers.
Do you have any tips for people looking to get into a similar role?
Fiona: My advice would be to find a route in, via college or company, work hard and enjoy yourself because being an engineer is not just a career, it's a mind-set, a way of life.
Helen: Nothing in life comes easy. You must work hard! Take all the help and development you can; it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of learning and the more you learn, the more experience you gain. Don’t be afraid to challenge, make your voice heard, and if it is not welcome find a place it will be.
Nicky: Just do it. I love my career and I got here just by taking a chance. There are so many resources online, plenty of them free, covering all aspects of software development, so if it’s something you have an interest in just go online and give it a try. There are also plenty of resources on how to land a job if you are self-taught, so formal education is not at all a pre-requisite to having a career in software development.
Lauren: If you love creativity and thinking outside the box, then do it! Marketing is so broad and pretty much every company needs a marketing department to showcase and market their brand. If you’re worried you haven’t got any background in Marketing, then just put yourself forward for work experience or when you apply for roles make sure you give a good cover letter as to why you want the job. A lot of the time people invest in people.
Rachel: Never be afraid to ask questions and get in touch with people to find out more information.
Are there any women that inspire you?
Fiona: Michelle Obama is inspirational to me because she leads with integrity but is still down to earth, level-headed and doesn't take herself too seriously.
Helen: I am a big Harry Potter fan but the woman that inspires me is Joanne Rowling. She had a vision from an early age of being a writer and she never gave up on that dream. She lost her mum at an early age, had a failed marriage, became a single mum, was jobless, nearly homeless and had severe depression. The dementors in Harry Potter were created by her experience of depression (sucking the life out of you). Whilst at rock bottom she created a masterpiece, and she fulfilled her dream despite all obstacles. The publisher even put ‘J.K.Rowling’ to hide her gender so boys would read it! Well, she doesn’t have to hide now!
Nicky: I am inspired by any women who are authentic and true to themselves. I think it is a miracle that any young person can figure out who they are with the constant barrage of information that they get from traditional and social media. Even at almost 29, there are days where I don’t think I have myself figured out, so I am constantly inspired by women I see in my life and in different forms of media who are not afraid to be themselves, regardless of whether that meets other people’s expectations.
Lauren: My dad’s wife – she is an incredible lady and has a heart of gold. Working as a nurse most of her life and supporting women who are going through breast cancer treatments. Plus, she gives back to the community by creating ‘Happy Feet’, which are walks created to help women get together for support and to keep active. She’s just so inspiring, as I admire how giving and kind she is to absolutely everyone.
Rachel: Yes! Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland. She remained president for 14 years and then later went on to be the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. After her time in the UN, she worked on a range of projects relating to racism, gender, climate change and more. Although she is now 77 years old, she is still influencing people through podcasts and promoting inventions from women across the globe to help tackle climate change.
If you could have dinner with one inspirational woman, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Fiona: The Queen, although I would likely be too afraid to utter a word, but with a little Dutch courage 😉. I would like to learn all about her experience in working as a Mechanic during WWII. I feel it would be a very interesting conversation.
Helen: Beyonce – always wanted to meet her and what a legend she is!! She would have to sing at the dinner though
Nicky: That’s easy – Betty White. Not only is she a cultural icon who had an amazing career, including being one of the first female producers in Hollywood, but she consistently used her platform to break the bias and stand against all forms of discrimination. I think she was an incredible woman and her attitude to life was always an inspiration to me.
Lauren: Princess Diana would be one of them. From when I was a little girl, I’d always looked up to her. I remember putting flowers down for her when she passed. Plus, I’d also love to hear her side of the story.
Rachel: Corrie Ten Boom, she helped to smuggle Jews out of the Netherlands during WW2, when the country was occupied by Hitler’s Army.
Why do you think it's important to celebrate International Women's Day?
Fiona: I feel it's important because women work very hard and contribute so much to society, but we are not always recognized for it. International Women's Day is a perfect opportunity to acknowledge and also spread awareness of the difficulties women can face in their roles and how despite that, we continue to overcome this.
Helen: Personally, we shouldn’t need a day if gender equality was equal. It has significantly changed over the years but remains dis-proportionate. Prospects for women should be the same as men however there are still so many assumptions of us. The assumption to make career sacrifices when starting a family, in lockdown women were juggling work, childcare, home-schooling and housework, why did it all fall to them? We don’t get enough praise for the invisible job’s women do so for now it’s important to recognise and celebrate the women of today and to focus on the future in making it equal.
Nicky: I think it’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come, but also what more is still to be done. I know I have been very fortunate to not face any overt gender bias, but I have friends who have faced not just discrimination but also harassment in educational institutions and the response from those institutions has been, in my opinion, severely lacking. It’s been over a century since the first International Women’s Day was observed and whilst we have come incredibly far since then, and we should celebrate that, there are still institutionalised problems that face women today and that should be recognised too.
Lauren: Despite huge strides in gender equality over the years, there are still significant inequalities and I feel IWD helps to highlight that. I also feel it’s super important to celebrate the achievements of women today and raise awareness, showcase support, and offer guidance. Identifying, celebrating, and increasing visibility of women's achievements can help forge equality.
Rachel: There have been a lot of positive changes for women over the years that are worth celebrating on IWD, but there are still more changes that can be made in our workplaces and surroundings. This is an important day to acknowledge both.
Last edited by Cat; 08-03-22 at 10:52.