In the latest instalment of our ‘Five minutes with…’ interview series, Berwick Partners Fran Grant talks to Lynn Beattie, Director of Technology at B&Q. Lynn is an experienced Technology Director within the retail sector, having worked for organisations such as Accenture (in Supply Chain & Retail Management Consulting), Tesco, Dune, and now B&Q. With demonstrable business transformation experience, leading technology and operational change programmes, Lynn is passionate about digital innovation. We spoke about the most pressing challenges in the retail industry, and I gained a wonderful insight into her thoughts on mentors, women in tech, and juggling career and family.
You have a keen interest in digital innovation – what excites you most about this?
It’s brilliant how digital has made life’s more tedious tasks easier. For example, buying groceries or doing your banking. It frees up so much time for other, more exciting things. It’s also great to have content at your fingertips (YouTube, Netflix, Siri). What excites me most is how the digital world and the physical world are coming together, for example you can now try on clothes virtually, which solves so many problems in the fashion industry – fewer returns/less carbon emissions. Another example, at B&Q you can design your new kitchen or bathroom using AR tools which, if you’re not naturally creative, helps you to really visualise what a certain space will look like.
What are the most pressing challenges in the retail industry at present?
Short-term, it’s the steep rise in the cost of living - energy, groceries, NI contributions. It creates real short-term pressures for consumers and colleagues. The bigger question we all need to turn towards though is sustainability and the climate crisis. As an industry we need to reduce our own emissions and help people to consume better so we have less impact on the environment. At B&Q we have some great initiatives including becoming forest positive and around helping people make their homes more energy efficient. These are big challenges but it’s exciting to be part of the solution.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received, and how has it shaped you both as a leader and person?
It would have to be ‘Stay Curious’. Technology changes rapidly, as does the retail industry. Staying curious means understanding consumers, what they want, how they shop. We need to ensure our technology is supporting these expectations. It’s good to stay curious about people in the organisation too, and their perspectives – what motivates teams, individuals, stakeholders? As a business we need to ensure we’re meeting the needs of our customers and our colleagues. How has this advice shaped me? I try to stay as open as I can, to new opportunities, to people. I’ve been very lucky in my career, in that I’ve worked in different industries, across different geographies, and with people from different backgrounds. I’ve learned so much from this.
Have you had any mentors, formally or informally during your career? Or anyone who has influenced you/inspired you?
Yes, I’ve been lucky to have had several mentors support me through key periods in my career where I’ve needed guidance, or through major periods of change such as returning from maternity leave. To have such support has been invaluable. Mentors were either people within the organisation I was working for or were part of the ‘Women in Tech’ group I’m part of where I met an experienced CIO who provided a huge amount of advice when transitioning into a senior leadership role. Having had experience with mentors myself, I think it’s important to ‘give back’ too and think it’s such a complement to be asked to be a mentor. Also, we have a ‘reverse mentor’ programme at B&Q where we are paired with someone and instead of us giving them advice, we seek insight from them. The younger generation, their experiences and beliefs can be different, as are their perspectives, and it’s critical to gain this insight. My reverse mentee happens to be a LGBTQ representative and has some physical disabilities and I’ve gained incredible insight from our candid and open conversations. It’s been a real eye opener. The programme is part of our D&I 10-point action plan, and it’s hugely positive.
What advice would you give to females who are wanting to enter into or progress in the technology sector, or women wanting a seat at the top table?
I’ve been hugely fortunate in my career, having done some interesting work with meaning and purpose, and with great people. Tech is a great career and there can be many flexible options, which is great for working mums or women who want a balance. It’s critical however, we make tech a more appealing career option for younger girls, particularly at school age, and bust the myths and negative perceptions that still surrounds tech roles. We need to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects. We also need to realise (and promote) that you don’t always need tech qualifications or a background in tech to work in the industry, for example I studied Law. Attracting women from different backgrounds or industry sectors is critical. Women are the often the main users of retail technology too, so we need their input! We also need to do more to support women who are already in tech, by having role models, and/or offering mentoring. My advice to women in the industry would be, be confident presenting your opinions, even if they go against the prevailing opinions. The value is in this diversity of thought. Women bring a different perspective. Once an idea or opinion has been expressed, don’t sit back, or shrink if it’s passed over – if it has value, have the courage to bring it forth again! We also need men to act as allies and support and amplify women’s voices.
With two young children, how do you balance career and family?
I worked part time after maternity leave, until my more recent role when I went back to work full time. I try to carve out some quality time on a morning to have breakfast with my children and do the school run, and I try and get things wrapped up so I can have some time with them during bath time and bedtime, which working from home allows. Once they’re in bed I am then free to log back on and finish off. It doesn’t always go to plan though, as sometimes I am working away or in the office doing a long day. I have to be really organised and my work and family calendars have to be synced. I try to ensure the time I spend with my children is quality time, but I’m not sure I always get it right; it has its challenges and there always seems to be one area of life in which I’m not winning! The challenge I find is finding time for myself, my own wellbeing, eating healthy, exercising – that often gets squashed, and I need to work on that.
Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Retail FS, Leisure and Hospitality, with a UK wide remit.