Spotlight on digital: Q&A with Kirsty Sneddon
As we mark International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we ask some influential women at PA about their career journeys so far, the opportunities and challenges for women in their sector, and what #EmbraceEquity means to them.
Tell us a bit about the job you do…
I’m a Design Lead in our Digital and Data team. I mainly work on digital transformation projects and lead on service design and customer experience initiatives. Our clients' challenges can vary – from enabling transitions to net zero strategies, to designing more inclusive products and services. As such, my work often involves aligning organisations and their teams around a shared vision, and then moving swiftly into delivery of that vision.
My most recent projects have involved tackling issues around financial exclusion for one of the UK’s largest banks, working with an Edtech organisation to transform underlying platforms – improving access to education and unlocking growth, and designing an entirely new genomic sequencing service, helping people with cancers and rare diseases get better treatments, faster. All very different, but what connects these projects is that we’re helping our clients to stay competitive, generate revenue, and become more human-centred.
Why did you choose a career in digital consulting?
I used to be an in-house designer and I had reached a stage in my career where I wanted much more variation in my day-to-day. We creatives can get a little itchy if we sit still too long! The variation in projects and subject matters is what drew me into digital consulting – what keeps me here, however, are the people. I am honoured to learn from the very best technical minds in the industry, and with clients on incredible missions to shape our future. The complex challenges that this presents sees groups of talented individuals brought together under a common goal and it’s these experiences that keep me energised and inspired. The move to consulting has really paid off for me, and I’d recommend it to anyone craving something similar!
What does #EmbraceEquity as this year’s theme for International Women’s Day mean to you in your working life?
For me, the #EmbraceEquity campaign is a vital moment in time. It’s our opportunity to demonstrate why one size doesn’t fit all regarding career progression, opportunities, and pathways.
I’m a human-centred designer, so I deal in listening, empathising, and understanding how people use products and services – and to pick up on things they don’t even know they’re doing or know that they need. I think in discussing equity, a huge part of this needs to focus on actively listening to one another – to truly understand the experiences, struggles, and aspirations of individuals, and then designing the exact pathways, policies, and opportunities to address those needs. I wish we were taught listening in school alongside reading and writing – it’s a wonderful skill and done well so rarely.
Though it’s important that we reach diverse leadership targets and reduce the gender pay gap in the coming years, it’s more important that we don’t lose ourselves in the process. Attempting to mould women and nonbinary people into a shape that isn’t built for or with us, or one which doesn’t recognise our own lived experience, needs, and circumstance is a recipe for failure.
Whether it’s structured support following maternity leave or ways of evenly distributing the administrative cognitive load so that tasks don’t fall too heavily on individuals already balancing home and working life, equity to me means designing a system where everyone can succeed, within their own unique definition of success.
What are some of the challenges for women in your sector?
Sadly, there are still many challenges women specifically face – from gender-based discrimination and the effects of unconscious bias, to being unfairly compared to male counterparts. For those returning to work after maternity leave, rebuilding their networks and technical know-how can be a real struggle and lead to feelings of self-doubt. Many women (and men) have also silently endured traumatic life events such as miscarriage. It’s good to see firms are now starting to offer more targeted support in such areas.
With that said, I think where women are still suffering the effects of working in an environment which hasn't been built with them in mind, men often also don't have the ‘permission’ to show up as their whole selves. I think there’s a shift needed in the tech and consulting industry where we move from outdatedly expecting everyone to be outgoing, brash, and competitive to one in which we reward hard work, intuition, emotional intelligence, and those who create the safe spaces for others to thrive. If we start to value these traits equally it’s these observant, conscientious, and quietly determined people who will drive the fundamental policy and structure changes we so desperately need.
Working in technology as a traditionally male-dominated industry, how or where do you seek inspiration?
I have many sources of inspiration: it’s the hardworking and energetic graduate on my project who will change the world one day and the fearless senior woman in the team who consistently challenges and teaches others it’s ok to do so. It’s my dedicated mum who has rarely missed a day of work in retail for 40+ years, it’s every individual who is struggling with unseen life events – and who dig deep and show up anyway. And it’s my male colleagues who invite those lesser-heard voices into the conversation. How could you not feel inspired?!
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the technology industry?
My advice is quite simple. Be you and trust yourself.
Your perspective is important, and I can guarantee that if you dare to voice that fresh perspective, your place of work (and the world for that matter) will be better for it. Ask the seemingly silly questions that are usually anything but. Respectfully challenge if you have a different take. Ask for the support, coaching, and opportunities you need to be able to thrive. Don’t try to compete with others – there’s room for us all to succeed (whatever success looks like to us as individuals).
Be kind to yourself first and then others, and if you find yourself in a place of authority look out for those whose voices aren’t being heard – invite them into the conversation. When a group of people come together under a shared mission, remove egos, feel safe and respect each other – incredible things happen! It really is an exciting time to be a woman in tech.