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Project Phoenix: Shattering glass ceilings

Last year, WISE, a long-running campaign to tackle gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles, celebrated the news that one million women now work in UK STEM sectors.

But campaigners have warned that much progress still needs to be made. The latest employment data shows that progress in technology has halted, with the percentage of women working in this STEM discipline dropping in recent years. Currently, women represent fewer than one in five employees in the UK technology sector.

There are numerous reasons for this disparity. A major concern is the shortage of women studying STEM subjects from school-age to university. Females make up just 19% of the student cohorts across both computer science and engineering & technology degree-level courses. Factors said to be driving this trend include enduring stereotypes which reinforce the idea that STEM is better suited to men and a lack of female role models in the sector’s top jobs.

Smashing stereotypes

As an engineering company, Integral understands that it has a responsibility to create more opportunities for women. The organisation has set diversity targets across its workforce, from apprentices to senior management roles. There are also efforts to develop structured career paths for female employees and review the gender biases that shape the company’s culture.

Integral’s ongoing transformation into a technology-led service provider means these actions are more critical than ever. The process of digitisation isn’t for digitisation’s sake. It is a solution to customers’ growing need for greater efficiency, agility and experience.

Greater diversity can help meet these business drivers. Research suggests that more women in teams or occupying management roles leads to new ideas, better decision-making and more inclusive design.

Smashing stereotypes
For the past five years, Mel Rees has demonstrated what women can achieve in technology if they are given the opportunity. As a project manager, Rees has been instrumental to the digitisation of Integral’s workforce management and service delivery using Maximo, IBM’s enterprise asset management software, from conception to delivery.”

But Rees, whose background is in marketing, didn’t start off in a technology role. She joined Integral 10 years ago at which point she supported the maintenance of critical infrastructure for a key customer in the banking sector before progressing to a contract coordinator role.

Then, in 2016, Rees became project coordinator for Project Phoenix, the name given to Integral’s digitisation and integration programme, managing the shift from outdated paper-based processes to a mobile, cloud-based CAFM system with auto scheduling capabilities.

Changing demands

This new capability has been made possible by field service optimisation, a system that matches jobs with engineers based on their location and automatically schedules the relevant work orders. It’s also able to increase the capacity and productivity of engineers by providing them with the information they need to complete multiple orders in one visit, saving customers the cost and inconvenience of hosting multiple engineers on the same site. With Rees running the project management office, Integral has now rolled out the technology nationwide to around 4,0000 operatives.

The success of Project Phoenix is also integral to the organisation’s plans to develop Facilities on Demand, a new service that gives customers access to multi-skilled engineers in a pay-as-you-go model and a digital platform to manage all maintenance activity.

Integral encouraged Rees to become a qualified project manager, which gave her the skills and confidence to take on the responsibilities she has now. “Working on a project from conception to delivery was a massive learning curve,” she explains. “With the support of the business and my leadership team, I was able to get that qualification and then use it to manage Project Phoenix and three others.”

Rees was also responsible for coordinating the rollout of Facilities on Demand across 260 contract and managed the installation of internet of things sensors and analytics tools in 1,000 sites for one key banking customer.

New challenges

These successes have caught the attention of senior technology leaders in JLL, including Melanie Mack, head of IWMS solutions for JLL. Mack recently sold the integrated digital workforce tool into the first external client, a nationwide utility provider, and has headhunted Rees to move across to JLL Technologies as a project manager, where she will coordinate the integration of the system for that client as well as future customers.

For Mack, Rees’s progress demonstrates that the technology sector stands to benefit from breaking conventions and diversifying skillsets. She says that the sector has an opportunity to seek soft or organisational skills that can supplement technology skills. “Identifying cross-training opportunities within technical teams is also key,” Mack explains. “You don’t have to be a developer or a coder. That’s a misconception. You can also support technology projects through programme or project management.”

Rees says Mack has provided her provided her with invaluable support as a mentor and role model for the past 18 months. “Having another woman provide guidance in a male dominated business, especially within software solutions and technology, someone who can answer my questions and offer reassurance and support, has been incredible. I really encourage other women within the business to grab that opportunity if it comes.”

Read time: 4:31 min.

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