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Women in RPA – The journey of our Head of RPA: Part 1

By Naomi Graham posted 12-15-2021 12:45


For this blog I decided to sit down with the Head of RPA – Jane Conroy, to get an insight into the journey she has taken as a woman through the world of Robotic Process Automation. As I am just beginning my career in the world of tech as an Intelligent Automation Apprentice, I was intrigued and excited to understand what it has been like for someone who has been in RPA before it was even known as RPA.
There was a lot we got to cover in our 1 hour interview so I have split into 2 parts with part 2 to follow.

Q: Why did you get into RPA?

“Well not why, more like I fell upon it to be honest!’’ . In my previous roles I had always done process improvement, re-engineering which are all very customer focused roles. In 1997-98, I had 2 children, worked long hours re-organizing contact centers, back office processing teams, establishing right first time, customer centric organizations; re-engineering/designing processes that aligned to people and customer. Although I did not know it at the time, my first automation was to reimagine how our products were picked, packed and dispatched – to improve security and reduce theft – this was achieved through technology and the ability to track a product, from pick status to destination ‘customer’.

I decided to go for a complete career change researching roles of a systems manager as I thought I’d never worked in technology; I had always done process and I never really thought of process as being technology. Now I realize differently, its understanding can the technology deliver the solution but at this time there was no such thing as RPA.

At almost 40 I had my first ever interview for a technical lead at the Co-Op bank the alpha customer for Blue Prism the interview required me to present on, how I would deliver a Self-Serve Digital Solution; I was offered the position to manage a team of SME’s supporting configuration and parameter changes for the delinquency applications in the bank.

Within a week of joining I noticed a guy (Chris Sneddon – BP PS Consultant) sat in the corner, it looked like he was building process in Visio and I asked him what he was doing and he said he was building an automation; this intrigued me as ‘it looked so simple’ – this was my first sighting of Blue Prism.

Right from the start, I saw the potential and how this could disrupt the way work is done; banks operate with strict regulations and compliance – automation was not about removing the need for people it was to enhance the / improve the service to our customers; and not compromising the quality or regulatory needs.

In short, I got into RPA because I could see the potential an the opportunity to be a part of change.

Q: What advice would you give to young women looking to get into the tech industry?

I mentor a young woman , she has a desire to work in Tech, in particular programming and coding. When I was first introduced to her I said “What do you want to do in tech?” She said “I want to be a programmer” and I asked her what does being a programmer mean to you? Her response was that she did not know. I said let’s take a look at what the tech industry really means, what does it do and how does it do all this stuff.

Technology is just one part of the solution, people are another so you will have different functions, HR departments that manage people and create spaces, IT, Training, TA’s, BA’s - I said tech is massive, it’s not just a piece of software, the journey to get into tech is humungous; we spent quite a few sessions just talking about this subject. We designed an imaginary company, aligned the capabilities and skills required to deliver and perform the roles those functional areas.

My advice is really understand what the journey looks like and what motivates you. Aspire to be the best of you , understand what that journey looks like and the challenges you are going to face. It does not matter who you are you will face challenges; it takes determination and tenacity to achieve.

Also do not knock yourself back if you don’t achieve it either be prepared to change your mind – If you don’t like the journey get off. Start with your plan but be prepared to change it and move forward with what you have learnt.

Q: What would your response be to people who say - “RPA will lead to no jobs left for people to do!”

That’s easy - People make change, you will always need people.

Q: List 3 things you would like to see happen/change/develop in the next 5-10 years in RPA?

1 – I would like RPA to be on everybody’s desk – Literally, seamless like Microsoft, I would like people to come in and not even realize they are collaborating with a Digital Worker, the pair are aligned from a capability point of view that they are just like another member of your team.

2 – Significantly more women in the intelligent automation space and seeing them promoted to their capability (at this point Jane’s dog agrees!).

3 - I would like it to be more diverse. More diverse in the respect of people of colour, women and more opportunities for people who have disabilities as RPA does not cover this enough. It’s not impossible, when I worked in a contact center many years ago, we had technologies that helped us to support people that were deaf and blind and help them to take calls. It sound’s impossible but it’s not, there is technology out there that does it, why can’t we employ people so we can provide them with those tools?

It is about adapting the workplace to make that happen and actively seeking to recruit people like that and not just to make up numbers but for the right reasons. Really realizing the value that it adds to everybody within your organization, it makes them more aware and to help them understand the challenges.

I am not perfect by the way, nobody is, there is no such thing as perfection but as long as we’re always striving to be more inclusive, diverse, adaptable and flexible for certain individual needs.

Diversity, inclusion, and empowerment of women in RPA are just a few important topics covered in this interview. If you enjoyed the first part of this interview keep a look out for part 2.



12-16-2021 05:17

Great work Ni Graham..!  I admire Jane for her plain-spoken nature. 
The last line of the article about the perfection - you nailed it! :)
Awaiting part 2..

12-15-2021 17:21

A very well written article @Naomi Graham! Great insight into Jane's journey into RPA. Looking forward to part 2 !​​​

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