Women in tech: Interview with Charlotte Brown
By Harriet Boshier in Appogee HR
Our Head of Business Operations, Charlotte Brown was a finalist at the Women In Tech Excellence Awards 2021. In this interview, she discusses being a female leader in the tech industry and how the last 18 months has changed how she leads Business Operations at Appogee HR.
How have the last 18 months affected your leadership role at Appogee HR?
Like many businesses, we had to adapt quickly when we were forced to work from home. My initial concerns were around wellbeing and morale. I ensured we sat down to reassure everyone and work out an ongoing plan for communication through means of daily check-ins with the whole team, just as much for wellbeing and social catch-ups as much as for business updates.
This helped to ensure that our team stayed upbeat and in contact with others when some of the team live alone and may have struggled more without this regular contact.
It was crucial to understand employees' home situations, some had separate home office space and quiet during the day, whereas others, myself included, had to make use of dining room tables coupled with homeschooling children. Understanding the situations employees were finding themselves in helped me to set expectations and provide additional support where required. This was unknown territory for us all and the line between personal and professional had become blurred.
What changes were made to the business direction?
In addition to the team's wellbeing, we had to make sure that the business was able to ride the pandemic and we had to adjust. Deciding to make changes to the product roadmap was a bold move for us but I felt it was essential to help our customers and gave us the chance to support them with challenges they would be facing.
Using our HR software we developed functions to enable customers to track covid cases and who needed to isolate, as well as updating our policies capabilities to ensure businesses could carry on working from anywhere. We provided guidance through a webinar series and communications on how best to run our software and ensure that HR really could carry on no matter where employees were working from. We then launched a whole section of the solution around planning and recording employee locations, which not only helped with track and trace but also enabled our customers to manage their ongoing Hybrid Working strategies and plan for potential downsizing of office spaces.
It was crucial to step back and look at the overall impact of covid on us as a business, the employees and our customer base. None of us knew the path we had ahead and I felt it was so important to adapt and keep adapting through that time as we learnt more about what people were struggling with both professionally and personally.
What is your current role and what motivates you?
I started with Appogee HR back in 2014 as an Inside Sales Specialist, right after I finished my maternity leave and my daughter started nursery. I wanted to focus on building a good life for us both and be a strong role model for her in the future. Previous to Appogee HR, I worked in Fashion Buying and Merchandising so this was a risk to me to switch careers at this point, especially when stability was so crucial. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
In that time I have changed my role and responsibilities as the company has grown and adapted and I am now the Head of Business Operations. In my role I oversee the commercial and directional side of the business - Sales, Product, Marketing and Customer Success. My key responsibilities are all around steering the direction of the company and ensuring that we are getting the most out of these key areas.
What has been the driving force behind your career strategy?
I found myself needing to provide a home and stability for myself and my daughter. My driving force throughout the last 7 years with Appogee HR has been largely driven from here and continued through my passion for the business and products we offer. During my time at Appogee HR we have seen large strategic decisions made around the company direction and new solutions created, all of which I have had a key part in the decision, the implementation and the ongoing sales and marketing strategies.
I have found that working for a smaller business has given me a much greater knowledge of how companies work and real excitement for the success and direction ours has taken as it continues to grow. Working here has not just been a job to me as others have been in the past, I have grown to truly care about the success and direction of the company and have a real passion for who we are and what we do.
What one achievement or task in your career are you most proud of?
One of the biggest stand out moments for me in my career so far has been when we launched our first full HR solution.
When I first joined the business back in 2014 we had two fairly lightweight solutions to help companies manage their absence and one to manage email signatures. It became clear to me from talking to customers that anyone who did not renew was due to moving to a full HR solution, so that is what we decided to build.
I had only been working with Appogee HR for a year or so at this point and was still relatively new to the world of software, even though I already had a good grasp of who our customer was and what they were looking for. I was lucky enough to be involved with the planning stages and feeding back directly for the customers, at this point my primary role was still in sales. I was also involved in all the iterations, the marketing, product launch and then direct selling of the new product we had created as a small team.
This is where my passion really started for Appogee HR and I truly felt not only part of the company, but an important part. When we finally launched the full HR Software package, I was excited to provide demos and so proud when we started making sales.
The package we released back then is certainly not the same as our software options today and we have grown and developed lots since through the many lessons we have learnt. But that will always be one of the proudest moments for me and the project that changed my role in Appogee HR from just a job to working for a company I was proud of and wanted to see succeed.
I would also say that it is when my career with Appogee HR started to take off. My role from the start of this project to the end changed dramatically. I was now involved with more of the decision making and my voice was heard when it came to strategy and product roadmap. This has only increased and developed since that time as the team and product selection has grown.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
I think one of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my career so far is that sometimes you just have to go for it and take a risk. I started out in the tech industry by taking a risk and leaving an industry that I had studied for and had started working my way up in. This risk massively paid off for me and ended up being one of the best decisions I had made.
I have continued to push for risky decisions throughout my career. We don’t always know with 100% certainty that something will work or a new feature will be well adopted, but without taking that risk we will not know. As long as if something doesn’t work out you are able to take stock and learn some lessons from it, you will be better placed to make those risky decisions going forward.
We have had many examples of this during my time at Appogee HR. Some decisions we have made didn’t quite hit the mark, or needed quick turnarounds on feature updates to keep our customers happy. And some we have nailed straight out the sprint. For each of these I like to think we have all learnt lessons and I truly believe that you can learn equal lessons from both the decisions that worked out and the ones that didn’t.
So I will continue to take risks both in my personal life and work life. You never know where you might end up!
What is your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?
My advice to other women who might be considering a role in IT is to just go for it. If there is an area you are interested in or have experience in then just take a chance. If the role doesn’t work out for you then you will have learnt some lessons about yourself, what you like and what you are looking for in a career.
An IT/Tech business has many roles within it just like any other company. There will be a wide range of roles that will suit you and your skillset, don’t be put off by thinking you are not technical enough, there is plenty you can bring to the table. You would also be surprised how quickly you learn more when you approach with an open mindset and a willingness to get involved!
I really took a leap of faith when I joined Appogee HR. I jumped from working in the Fashion Buying and Merchandising world right into a land of software and technology. It was new for me and the “product” was alien, but I threw myself into it and it turned out to be the best career decision I ever made.
What is the one thing you would do to encourage more women into the IT sector?
I think the change needs to start from within businesses themselves. Companies need to make a commitment to address the issue of a lack of women in tech and even more so in senior roles within the industry.
Once a company has made this commitment they can start to make changes internally. Starting off with the hiring process and ensuring this is fair, balanced and equal opportunities are given. It then falls over to internal training and progression, more companies need to start promoting enhancing the female employees they have and providing a supportive place to develop and grow.
If it can be proven for women to have strong career paths after they enter the world of tech that will start to inspire others to make the same kind of moves.