Women in Tech: “You are the best author of your own career path”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three 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 Kelly Mathieson, Chief Client Experience Officer at Digital Asset.
A 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?
Three 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 Kelly Mathieson, Chief Client Experience Officer at Digital Asset.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Kelly Mathieson, Chief Client Experience Officer, Digital Asset
Kelly Mathieson is the Chief Client Experience Officer for Digital Asset, the creators of the DAML smart contract language and pioneers in the blockchain technology space. Prior to Digital Asset, Kelly spent 26 years at J.P.Morgan and 3 years at Goldman Sachs working in securities services, clearing and brokerage businesses. Kelly serves on the Greater NYC Board of the Susan J. Komen Foundation.
When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?
While I have been involved in technology for years and currently work at Digital Asset, a technology company, I’m not actually a technologist. However, throughout my career in financial services, every role I have ever had heavily relied on the technology used in the operating environment, that is, the algorithms used to trade financial products, or the systems used to clear and settle trades, or the software used to serve customers.
In my career in financial services, I lived through seminal events from the 1987 crash, to the rise of online brokerages, to the initial Internet bubble and its demise, to 9/11 and the effects it had on global finance, and finally to the credit crunch of 2007 and 2008. In every one of these situations or crises, technology played a key, if not essential role.
After 30 years working in an industry that relied so heavily on technology, and suffered so greatly when technology didn’t work as intended, I wanted to be part of a team that was changing how the business of finance was done, which is why I joined Digital Asset.
You are the grand sum of your experiences at any moment in time, and therefore, what you’re capable of doing tomorrow is never going to be equal to what you’re capable of doing today.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
I consider myself to be one of those fortunate people who has established a strong network across geographies, roles and industries. My role models are my family, friends and colleagues that allow me to use them as a sounding board, either to improve my perspective or guide me in making an important decision by suggesting different angles by which to analyze the situation and form my opinion.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
There was not a specific person or a moment in time that blocked me from moving in the direction I wanted to go professionally, but I do have a cautionary tale on getting pigeon-holed in your career. In 2008, following the market crisis, I was fortunate to be involved in some of the more transformative market and regulatory initiatives designed to stabilize financial services and ensure that such an event never happened again. I would never trade that experience. However, because I played such a prominent role, that experience came to define me in ways. It was assumed that I would remain in this role for the rest of my career. What I learned is that you must be willing to promote your brand and emphasize capabilities that position you beyond your current role. You are the grand sum of your experiences at any moment in time, and therefore, what you’re capable of doing tomorrow is never going to be equal to what you’re capable of doing today.
A day in Kelly’s life
I am the Chief Client Experience Officer at Digital Asset. At the core of our service offering is DAML, an open source and platform-independent smart contract language that enables developers to write a distributed application once and deploy it to a variety of platforms, from distributed ledgers to traditional databases .
At Digital Asset, I lead the team that supports and enables customers to use Digital Asset’s technology and partner solutions to build the next generation of connected applications. This includes everything from forming a strategy on how to use DAML for a specific use case or a business issue, helping them visualize their first application prototype or demo, supporting how they engage and interact with third parties, such as regulators, market participants or their customers and helping them select from a range of solutions that we provide with our partners.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Throughout my 30-year plus career, diversity has been an industry issue, whether it was on trading floors in the late eighties and early nineties, breaking glass ceilings in financial services, or giving women more opportunities in leadership positions. Diversity in the workforce is as important to driving business success as it is to personal empowerment. It has been proven in countless studies that diverse workforces produce more competitive companies that deliver better products and services.
That being said, there are still many challenges that we must overcome. When women enter an organization that has low female representation in the technology roles, they are instantly branded as different rather than assessed for their actual skills and experience. This requires women at all levels to work harder to ensure they’re not seen as the female team member but rather as an outstanding performer. Women in technology must make sure that they are consistently distinguishing themselves, regardless of gender.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
The obstacles we face as women in technology start early on in our education system.. Most technology, science, engineering and math programs tend to attract men over women, particularly at higher education levels. We must create curricula in these fields of study that appeal to both genders – from elementary school through college and postgraduate programs.
As leaders in the technology industry, we need to have a real sense of responsibility for creating that path for girls beginning at the grade school level. We also need to make sure that the technology companies are purposely working to attract female applicants, principally by eliminating male dominant, “tech bro” cultures. This starts with how job descriptions are written and the types of career opportunities and career paths that are discussed with female employees. In addition, companies need to offer flexible work environments that support both working mothers and fathers so women have the same potential for career growth as their male counterparts.
From my own experience, companies must also consider alternative or diverse paths into senior technology roles. Computer science and mathematical degrees should not be prerequisites to attaining a senior technology role. I know many technology leaders who came from fields such as finance and customer support. Having a diverse professional background enables you to bring a unique perspective to an organization and one that can unite different areas of the company together in pursuit of the most practical and customer-centric technology solutions.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
I firmly believe the world is a better place when people with diverse perspectives, backgrounds and experiences are brought together to solve a challenge or problem. Women introduce a fresh voice to any initiative if only because our perspectives are different.
We need to encourage students at the grade school level, at the middle school and the high school level, to define their own paths and help develop STEM topics and curricula that inspire them to pursue technology careers with passion and persistence. If we do that, in just a decade or generation, there will be social, economic, cultural impact of an indefinable positive quality, simply because we opened the door to a more diverse workforce that applies its intellectual force to solving the world’s biggest challenges.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
A wise person once told me “Kelly, you don’t need to know everything. You just need to know where to go get it and who to ask.”
Over the course of my career I have seen results, but clearly not enough to eliminate the debate and there is much more to do. As I said, I have been involved in discussions on gender diversity my whole professional life, and I’ve long since stopped guessing on when they will no longer be necessary. I’ve never been with a company that didn’t need to focus on it and didn’t benefit from doing so.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
First of all, you must be prepared to work really hard. Don’t let opportunities wait to present themselves to you, go pursue them. You are the best author of your own career path, so seek to define it actively and pursue it aggressively. You are the grand sum of your experiences, and you need to present yourself as such. Finally, it is very important to build your network of influencers. A wise person once told me “Kelly, you don’t need to know everything. You just need to know where to go get it and who to ask.”
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Dare to do what you are interested in!”
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- Women in Tech: “The IT sector requires a lot of energy and will”
- Women in Tech: “I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”