Women in Digital: Pauline Yau

Pauline Yau, public sector director at HPE, reveals her biggest career challenges and influences, plus her advocacy for democratic education and how the industry can be better at attracting and retaining women in tech.

Posted 10 October 2022 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Yes, loved it! I was lucky to find school very easy – academically and socially and look back on my school days with fondness.

What qualifications do you have?

I left school at 16 with GCSEs and went straight out to work. I had intended to go to college but got a summer job and enjoyed earning money so wanted to continue to do that.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?

Fairly smooth as I’ve always been very thoughtful about the moves I’ve made during my career. One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to focus on the role after the next one as that will inform your next move. I’ve consciously sought out sideways moves to give me breadth experience and deliberately made career moves to customer side to give me a more holistic understanding of what it’s like to be a customer selecting and deploying technology. That’s made me better at what I do.

What is the best career advice you can give to others?

Think of your career as a broad staircase. Sometimes you take a sideways step and sometimes you take a step up. Before you take a step up, make sure you have breadth experience of the business as that will serve you well in any promotion you take on.

If you had to pick one mentor, that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

This is a really difficult question as there have been so many over my career. But it would be my first boss at Microsoft who probably doesn’t realise the extent of the impact he had on me but was really the first manager I’d had that was an advocate of women and pushed me in to positions that were perhaps a size or two too big but in doing so built my confidence and made me realise what I was capable of.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Lots of places. I am an avid listener of podcasts and read plenty of books on leadership to learn new approaches and challenge my thinking. I particularly enjoy Eat Sleep Work Repeat by Bruce Daisley and Beautiful Misfits by Mary Portas.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?

Definitely being a mum and balancing career. I’m fortunate now that my daughter is old enough to be independent and is forging her own way in  life which allows me to dedicate more time to my work. Experiencing the challenge of combining being an engaged and present parent with a demanding role has made me more empathetic towards people in this position who now work for me and I’m determined to make things better for those who come behind me.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

A good sense of humour helps a lot! Laughter and enjoying what you do is important in the workplace. Having a high EQ and communication skills are also vital. I also believe that time to think is critical for you to be a good leader. If you’re running from meeting to call to meeting, you have no time to reflect and think carefully about how you’re showing up as a leader and simplifying what your team should be focusing on.

From a work viewpoint what has the last 12 months been like?

Busy! I took on a new role at a completely new organisation in June, so the latter part of the year has been about learning and asking lots of questions.

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

I am particularly concerned about what our young people are exposed to via social media, and I think the big social media companies have a duty of care here that they need to be accountable for. I imagine we will look back on this time in years to come and liken it to when we used to be OK with people driving cars without wearing a seatbelt. Today we can’t believe that used to happen and I expect that the same will be true of the unfettered and unprotected exposure of content to our children as we look back on this time.

What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?

So much. Firstly, we need more relatable technology teachers in schools and rethink the way we teach technology. It’s not all about coding. We also need to think about how to retain women once they’re in the industry. Better flexible working (flexible working isn’t the ability to work from home. It’s job sharing in senior roles and part time roles), better exposure to female role models because you can’t be what you can’t see. Regardless of the industry I think society also needs an urgent conversation about the importance of men leaning into childcare and all those things that come with running a home so that women can lean in at work and take a seat at the table.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I’m a passionate advocate of democratic education and am a governor at one of the UK’s very few democratic schools. Democratic education is where the school is run jointly by the staff and students, and they take decisions together around the way the school operates. It creates a wonderful environment where children are empowered and invested in their own education.