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Profile: Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga

Women in Tech: “Turn a bad day into a learning opportunity”

Dominik Mohilo

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga 

As Digital Transformation Officer, Ash Finnegan works with customers and partners on their transformation programs. With more than 20 years of experience in the digital space, she works with the sales and marketing teams to position the Conga suite and examine Conga’s internal operations for optimization opportunities.

With Ash’s passion for taking real-world problems and applying technical solutions to them, she identifies operational roadblocks to eliminate, support business growth and increase profitability.

When did you first become interested in technology?

I had a job as a marketing assistant at a global business travel management company that was going through a major transformation program. At the time, they had to respond to online travel agencies that were becoming a real threat to the business model.

I was given the opportunity on the team to transform the paper-based travel program into an online booking system. I was very fortunate because I reported to a vice president who led a global team that covered technology, sales, and marketing. He had many strong women on his team and allowed me to contribute to the project without questioning my performance because of my gender, age, or the fact that I was a single mother.

He gave me the opportunity to work hard, which is why I was promoted to Global Advertising Manager at the age of 26. He was fundamental to me pursuing a career in technology.

How did you get to your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I have always learned on-the-job, which enabled me to gain different skills. The biggest obstacle was that I started very young in a male-dominated company that is driven by results because technology is either right or wrong. So, I had to work hard to earn the respect of my colleagues, most of whom led roles as vice president.

Did you get support from your family and friends? Did you have a role model?

As a young single mother, I received support from my family. However, they were concerned and felt it would be better to be a stay-at-home mom. However, I always knew what I wanted out of life and what life I wanted my son to have. After his father died I knew I wanted to ensure that it was I that always provided for him regardless of what my future held. That’s why I continued to work full time anyway, since working from home was possible in my field 20 years ago. After a while, my family also understood this and now I get massive support from them and my colleagues.

My role models are female as well as male leaders who elevate young people by recognizing their value and contributions, regardless of their gender.

Has anyone ever tried to stop you from learning and progressing in your professional life?

I have worked in a few positions where leadership changed. As a result, I felt like I had to prove myself over and over again. Through it all, I kept my focus on what I love to do and always worked hard.

I have always tried not to take things personally, to do a good job, and to surround myself with people who help you. It’s not always easy, but you can’t change the mindset of others. You can, on the other hand, adapt your own, and hopefully your work will speak for itself.

A day in Ash’s life

My job is about understanding where a company is in its digital transformation. To do this, I work with numerous interfaces on the customer side and with partners, bridging the gap between marketing, sales and technology teams.

Having taken on so many different perspectives in my career, I now find it easier to think holistically and understand how processes are interrelated. This task is very complex because every company works differently. It requires a lot of exchange with my customers, the different departments and myself. When it comes to digital transformation, it no longer helps to think in silos. Subdivisions that used to function independently are becoming increasingly networked. Every detail has to be taken into account. However, to make this complexity as simple as possible for others to understand, we are currently working on a maturity model that presents the individual processes as simply as possible. This is used to determine how the processes in the company are currently interrelated, how they should be interrelated in order to achieve a specific business goal, and at what point the technology needs to be deployed to achieve this. I work closely with our CEO Noel Goggin to build this model.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Of where I started and where I am now. I grew up in a rough area in Ireland with six siblings. It took a lot of discipline and motivation to get to the position I’m in today. Also, the fact that I’ve been able to educate and build my own SaaS platform with students that has helped them with university applications makes me very proud.

Education is a hugely important building block. Especially when it comes to advancing women as well. That’s why when I had the idea for my own platform, I built it in a school with students. I wanted them to understand how the platform went from an idea to a fully functioning app. Male and female students collaborated on that. I believe that women need more information provided to them early in their careers, but young men also need to be shown the strong role women should have in the field.

Why aren’t there more women in the tech industry?

It is clearly due to lack of education in this field. Women are not exposed to enough tech topics in school, and stereotypes that the field is not for them continue to persist. Similarly, there should be more education about the fact that a career in technology does not equal being exclusively involved with technology. It can cover commercial and business as well. There should be more government initiatives to overcome this challenge. Likewise, more men promoting women and more knowledge sharing between women pursuing careers in technology.

Can you name a few challenges (or obstacles) that women in technology face?

Lack of recognition, which is why they are often not invited to meetings. It’s a balancing act: men need to elevate women and women need to believe in themselves.

Would our world look different if more women worked in STEM?

Quite clearly, yes. Things would change because different perspectives would merge. On the one hand, we have analytical thinking and on the other emotional intelligence. Everyone can combine both, of course, men and women, but women are said to be often more empathetic, and that’s true. As a result, they work more collaboratively and can contribute to better transformation, which requires people, processes, and technology to work together.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it be before you see results from the current debate?

I hate the word debate because it means we are still talking. Results won’t be seen until the talking stops and action is taken. There needs to be education and responsibility. Men should involve women more. Women should support other women. There should be cooperation between both genders.

The fact that gender is still being talked about and not the quality of work based on collaboration illustrates how much work is still ahead.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want to pursue a career in tech?

Focus on what you love, listen to your inner voice, find like-minded women, and never give up. Turn a bad day into a learning opportunity and a good day into an opportunity to help another woman. Just do great work! Lead by example, teach your daughters to be great leaders and teach your sons to never hold them back.

And last but not least: Don’t assume you know what you want to do until you’ve seen it all.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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