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ITP Award Winner 2023 - Woman in Technology
/ Julie Osborne

Meet Julie Osborne, the winner of the 2023 Chris Seymour Woman in Technology Award. Through her exceptional leadership, Julie has consistently advocated for, mentored, and supported individuals aspiring to tread the path she has paved. Her commitment to fostering a culture of empowerment, particularly for women, sets her apart as an exemplary role model. Julie's ability to lead through adversity and navigate challenging times has resulted in effective and impactful change. Her dedication and accomplishments make her a truly deserving winner of the Woman in Technology Award, embodying the spirit and values it represents.

We had the opportunity to talk to Julie about her remarkable 31-year career journey in telecoms so far.

1.     Could you walk us through the key milestones in your 31-year career in the telecoms industry and how you've grown into a leadership role, especially in a male-dominated field?

I transitioned from a customer care role to a supervisory role in Operations, where one of my first tasks was to implement a new Customer Management System. Due to the success of the implementation, I was asked to be involved in a national rollout of the system exposing me to both project management and a multitude of both male and female leaders to learn from.

The growth of the industry saw many mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activities. As a result, my organisation expanded, and I was appointed in a regional role, overseeing multiple back-office operational teams. My creativity and strategic thinking skills were invaluable in merging teams with different legacy processes and technologies.

The merger of NTL and Telewest created opportunities, and I was appointed to my first senior leadership role.

Adaptability and ability to drive positive change within the organization played a significant role in developing my leadership skills and to promote women in a traditionally male dominated area.

2.     Given your commitment to championing women in technology, can you elaborate on specific initiatives or strategies you've implemented to empower and mentor women in your teams?

This is always the most difficult question to answer. Leading by example is the obvious answer. One of my first mentors once told me that the thing that stood out for him was how I soaked up every opportunity like a sponge. Learning from every experience whether it was good or bad helped me to understand the impact an individual can have on aspiring leaders.

Encouraging women to believe in themselves and their abilities and helping them overcome self-doubt and imposter syndrome by highlighting their strengths and accomplishments. Creating a working environment that supports work-life balance and offers flexibility to accommodate family responsibilities really helps women manage their professional and personal lives more effectively.

I pride myself on acknowledging and celebrating achievements no matter how small and promoting self awareness and resiliency long with removing the “imposter Syndrome “ thoughts from women in my teams. 

Encouraging both women and men to adopt inclusive leadership styles that value diverse perspectives, ideas, and contributions, helps to create a more inclusive culture within organisations.

3.    Leading major changes, headcount reductions, and reshaping structures can be challenging. Could you share a particular instance where you faced significant leadership challenges and how you navigated through them?

In my 31 year career within an evolving sector, there have been many changes that I have led, from implementing new technologies to organizational changes. All can be challenging if poorly managed. There isn’t one that stands out, but I adopt the same strategy for all change. The first step is to communicate the need for change openly and honestly with your employees. Explain the reasons behind the changes, the potential benefits, and the potential impact on jobs. Transparency is crucial. Involving key leaders and managers in the change process is critical to ensure the changes are implemented effectively and consistently throughout the organisation.

Maintaining open lines of communication and feedback throughout the change process., regularly updating employees on the progress, addressing concerns, and providing opportunities for questions and clarification. Consistency in messaging and actions from the leadership and project team is critical.

4.     The digital transformation project for Field Service Management is noteworthy. What motivated you to undertake this project, and what were the key challenges you faced in its execution?

I was part of a team that implemented a similar solution into our consumer team over a decade ago . The benefits are well documented and understood. The main driver for change in this operation, is to eliminate the very manual and outdated process which can be inefficient, error-prone, and costly.

The potential to enable modernization of the process through digitization to enable significant efficiency gains and an improved customer experience was the motivation behind the project.

Enhancing the customer experience is a crucial aspect of modern business operations. Digital transformation can lead to quicker response times, more accurate service delivery, and improved communication with customers, resulting in a better overall experience.

Key challenges in migrating from legacy systems can generate compatibility issues, data migration, and Implementing a new system often involves changes in how employees work. Resistance to change, reluctance to adopt new technology, and the need for comprehensive training programs can pose challenges.

Ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations and protecting against potential data breaches are essential aspects of a digital transformation project. Digital transformation projects can be costly, and it's important to justify the investment by demonstrating a return on investment (ROI). This involves careful financial planning and tracking the project's performance against its objectives.

5.     In delivering various projects, including cost-saving exercises, how do you balance multiple objectives and maintain positive relationships with stakeholders, both within and outside the organisation?

Balancing multiple objectives and maintaining positive stakeholder relationships is an ongoing process that requires adaptability and flexibility. Identifying key stakeholders and their individual and collective needs and prioritising these needs to align with project goals and objectives is key. Maintaining open and transparent communication with all stakeholders and clearly articulating project objectives, constraints, and expectations is also a priority.

Not being afraid to address issues promptly and proactively and “failing fast “ demonstrates a commitment to resolving problems.

Ensure that stakeholders have realistic expectations about the project's scope, timeline, and budget and be upfront about any limitations or constraints.

6.   What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Consolidating multiple sites from legacy companies into a best-in-class centre of excellence is probably my most significant achievement.  The objective was to streamline operations, improve efficiency, and create focused and effective organisational structure.

Eliminating duplication of efforts, reduced operational costs, and streamlining processes lead to increased efficiency, better knowledge share and a higher level of competence within the team.

Combining multiple sites resulted in significant cost savings through economies of scale and reduced overhead.

7.    In your opinion, why are we still struggling to get the gender balance right in our industry and what strategies do you think we should employee to address this?

It’s a complex issue that involves both attracting and retaining women in our sector. For me, there are several reasons.

Firstly, lack of representation and scarcity of female role models makes it challenging for young women to envisage themselves in this field. We should encourage young girls in early education as this is where many experiences can shape career choices.  

Engineering workplaces can appear to have a culture that is less inclusive, making it difficult for women to feel welcome and valued.  The demands of engineering jobs, especially in the early stages of your  career, can be perceived as incompatible with work-life balance, which may discourage women, particularly those considering family planning. This can also contribute to attrition.

We should encourage early interest, starting in primary and secondary schools. Female engineers should be invited to speak at schools and events to share their experiences. We should offer hands-on experiences through workshops and field trips.

But most importantly, for me, we should provide visible role models and highlight successful women engineers and showcase the achievements of female engineers within technology, promoting a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, flexible work arrangements and family-friendly policies to support work-life balance, alongside a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination.

8.    What advice do you have for other women aspiring to leadership roles in this industry?

Believe in your abilities and be assertive when advocating for your ideas and pursuing your goals.  Many women, struggle with imposter syndrome. Recognise your accomplishments and the value you bring to your team and organization and embrace continuous learning. Seek out mentors and role models who have already achieved leadership positions in technology and learn from their experiences. Having mentors can provide valuable guidance and support. Most importantly, develop strong communication skills. And work on your ability to articulate your ideas, persuade others, and collaborate with diverse teams. Most importantly, be yourself!

9.    Finally, what does winning this award mean to you?

Winning the Chris Seymour Women in Technology award is a real honour for me. It not only acknowledges my personal achievements but also highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. Its years of years of hard work, commitment, and passion that I have invested in both my career and in the technology industry. It serves as a reminder of the progress we've made in promoting gender equality in the industry and encourages other women to pursue careers in technology.

Ultimately, I hope it serves motivation to continue advocating for women's participation and success in the sector.