Insight

Woman in Tech of the Month: Katie Platts

Jul 30, 2021

Portrait photo of Katie Platts, technology innovation and AI ethics lead at UnileverCelebrating Women in Tech is our series exploring the achievements of women who are breaking gender stereotypes to build technology-based careers. This month, we’re celebrating Katie Platts, Technology Innovation and AI Ethics Lead at Unilever. In our interview, she reflects on her career in tech and shares advice for women as they progress through their own careers. 

What attracted you to a career in technology, and tell me a bit about your journey so far?

I went to an all-girls school in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, where tech wasn’t even a thought for me. There was only the option to do half a GCSE in IT, compared to double GCSEs in food tech and sewing. Society has moved on so far since then but in my experience, a career in technology was not even an option.

I ended up falling into tech accidentally. I studied psychology at university, which I loved – understanding more about human emotions and interactions. I then applied for a management consulting graduate scheme, only to find out two weeks before that they had moved me into the technology consulting group. I was taken aback. I had no experience in technology and didn’t think I would be interested. Looking back now, I’m so glad it happened. And as I progressed through my career to where I am now at Unilever, I’ve grown to understand that technology can be applied everywhere.

I became fascinated with human and computer interaction, looking at how we can enhance society through technology for our employees and customers. Thinking about this has led me into business engagement roles in tech – I love taking techy talk and translating it into business language. And that’s brought me into my two roles now. One is in tech innovation, looking at the future of society and how things are changing. The other is around AI ethics, which ties closely back to my interest in psychology and society. We have the opportunity to use AI to change the world and make it possible for humans and tech to work together, not against each other.  

What’s your advice to women looking for a career in technology? 

In the past, most saw technology as the IT function of a business, which was separate to the rest of the firm. Now, technology runs throughout every aspect of the firm – every team needs digital skills. That opens a breadth of opportunities for you to pick something you’re passionate about. For me, it was psychology. Think about what you enjoy and look at the emerging tech supporting that passion, there will be a way for you to do something exciting alongside it. I struggle to think of any areas you can’t apply tech to. For example, if you’re interested in law, then research how tech is going to change the legal landscape and what career opportunities arise out of it.  

Another piece of advice is that your network is the most important thing to you. Find the people who support you, will talk about you in other meetings and who will be your cheerleaders. Develop a relationship with them so you have people out there backing you and your voice. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career so far? 

Something I found challenging to start with was trying to change mindsets and ingrained culture in the technology workplace. At the start of my career, I lacked confidence. I had to learn that, as women, we have the opportunity to come in with a different skillset and perspective to promote positive change.

Another challenge I faced was that I felt my male counterparts were getting promoted while I wasn’t. One day, I sat a colleague down to ask what was going wrong, why was I not being promoted. He said, ‘Have you asked?’ I was waiting for it to happen to me. Now, I negotiate my salary based on what I’ve achieved. If you want to ask for it and believe you deserve it, then go for it. 

What do you think can be done to encourage more women into a career in technology? 

Firstly, we should be working to improve the accessibility of a career in tech for women. That’s not just putting coding classes into schools, it’s reviewing school syllabuses and developing an understanding that tech isn’t a separate subject, it’s ingrained in everything we do. 

Secondly, we need to get people to talk and raise awareness of opportunities in tech.

Finally, having more role models – not just those leading the way in the industry but everyone in tech. I wear my career in tech as a badge of honour, it’s part of my identity and I’m proud to talk about it.

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