Annette Murphy on Breaking into Technology as a Woman, Gender Diversity at Assurant, and more

This week at Women in Tech we caught up with Annette Murphy, Digital Engineer at Assurant.

breaking into tech as a woman
Assurant is a leading global provider of lifestyle and housing solutions that support, protect and connect major consumer purchases. Assurant supports some of the world’s most recognisable brands, helping them solve their business challenges.

Annette shared her thoughts on how to break into a career in technology, some of the barriers that women can face in the sector, and the importance of gender diversity in the overall customer experience.

Annette, as someone who’s been working in their field for over eight years, what attracted you to a career in technology?

I have always been interested in technology and the idea of being at the forefront of discovery and innovation. I completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in Computer with Multimedia, so I knew that going into it I would be presented with a variety of career opportunities to explore within technology.

One of the great things about technology is that, as a field, it is incredibly vast, massively flexible, and suits a range of talents and skill sets. I work in web development, but I could easily have gone into databases or even security, which is an ever-growing area and of critical importance for all businesses at this time. If you’re good with numbers, machine learning might be something that you would find interesting. Alternatively, if you’re more creative, you can work in design and understand the capabilities that emerging technologies offer for user-centred product development.

For me, I think that’s the brilliant thing about this industry: once someone has an IT qualification, or where they are receiving on-the-job training, they can use that knowledge to break into any area of technology that they want to.

How important is technology and IT for business?

Technology is an industry in itself, but it is also the backbone to so many businesses. More and more companies are reviewing the critical role that IT plays in their organisations, driving customer engagement, innovative product development and overall business resilience.

The role of IT and technology is crucial to developments in all industries. At Assurant, for example, IT provided the support to enable more than 12,000 of our 14,000 global employees to move to remote working, including customer service employees who were equipped with technology to continue to provide uninterrupted service to customers due to COVID-19.

As a leading provider of mobile phone and vehicle protection products and services, what types of projects and developments are Assurant working on within the technology space?

Surfacing new technologies and gathering data to enhance the customer experience is really important for businesses. At Assurant, technology and innovation are at the heart of what we do. We are continually working with data to drive advances in the customer journey, including claims fulfilment and customer support, and are using cutting-edge technologies to develop projects involving live chat, and omnichannel customer experiences. For me, and as someone fairly new to the organisation, it is hugely exciting to be a part of a company that is developing industry innovations.

Additionally, due to COVID-19, as we transition to a more agile working culture, Assurant is becoming a quicker and faster business. Processes are increasingly moving online and ensuring that our teams are up to date with the latest technologies in every department – and are able to do so remotely – is essential to help us provide customers with better service.

One of the great things about Assurant is that there are opportunities to use open source technology and because it’s open source, as a developer I can explore this from both a professional and personal capacity, allowing me to develop my skills and improve my learning both during work and in my own free time.

Beyond these exciting developments within technology, what is it that attracted you to working at Assurant?

Since joining the company, I have found there to be such a great sense of equity. Each person in the team is made to feel recognised and appreciated. For me, the true mark of equality is where a company doesn’t look at you as a female programmer, but just as simply, a programmer – and this is how I feel about my position at Assurant.

Another aspect that really impressed me from the start was how friendly and open the interview process was. As a woman working in tech, I strongly believe that the way you are treated during the interview process is a huge indication as to how you’ll be treated on the job, and whether it’s the right place for you to work. At Assurant, the interview process was a really enjoyable experience, which made the prospect of me working there really exciting. I knew that it would be a place where I could grow and advance, and where my talents and skills would be recognised and harnessed.

There has often been a disproportionate number of women working in technology compared to men. Why do you think that is, and are things changing?

A lot of it comes down to stereotypes. When people think of different roles within tech – whether that’s a Network Engineer or a Web Developer – they don’t typically think of a woman. Some women have been actively discouraged from pursuing a career in tech because of these stereotypes and can therefore lack the confidence in their ability to succeed. In my own career, I have been the culprit of this a few times. However, breaking down these barriers and pervasive images is essential, and thankfully, things are changing, and the industry is improving at a rapid pace.

More companies are encouraging and calling for greater gender diversity, and we are beginning to see more women take up greater tech roles within many companies. Additionally, with social media and initiatives like “SheCodes” and “Girls Who Code”, we are seeing more images of women working in technology and driving transformational change, which makes it far less intimidating for other women to do the same. YouTube has also allowed women to learn and test so many new skills for free before studying for a more formal qualification, which can be a huge time and money investment. For some women, the internet and learning through social media becomes a huge equaliser, and it’s great to see and be a part of this shift.

Why is workforce diversity a critical factor in the customer experience?

As our personal and working lives become increasingly shaped by technology, it’s more important than ever that our products and services are being developed and designed by diverse teams and based on the diverse perspectives and needs of everyone in mind.

When you consider the way that emergent technologies like AI develop, it’s important to ensure that biases of the past are not replicated in the future design. Diversity of participation leads to diversity of thinking, all of which helps to provide more customer-focused outcomes for all. Therefore, in an industry that promises to change the future for many, diversity is essential for the end user, and this is something that Assurant has recognised and promoted.