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How Boots built a gender mix into its Personalisation Insights Team

What is the situation? The personalisation, loyalty and insights (PLI) team at Boots is 66% female in a team of 31. When did they notice they were different? ...
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What is the situation?

The personalisation, loyalty and insights (PLI) team at Boots is 66% female in a team of 31.

When did they notice they were different?

Paul Ravenscroft, senior manager of the PLI team, has worked in analysis roles for 20 years and was aware of the gender imbalance. “When I rejoined Boots in 2008, the wider insights team was male-biased and that was not unusual in data teams then or now.  My task was to rebuild the part of the team focused on personalisation and those roles, working with the Boots Advantage Card marketing teams, attracted a broader mix of candidates,” he explained.

The women of the Boots analytics teamFor those newer to analysis or coming from different areas, the imbalance has been more surprising. Senior loyalty analyst Gillian McNulty thought the situation in her team was typical for the data industry. She only realised that her team’s gender ratio was not the norm after attending the DataIQ Summit in May 2017 and watching the CXX panel with two female veterans of the data industry, Fedelma Good of Barclays and Robbie Burgess of RELX, discussing how they navigated their careers in a male-dominated sector.

(Above: Female members of the Boots PLI team at the DataIQ Talent Awards 2017)

“I don’t think I personally had noticed that the Boots team of analysts had a different gender balance to the industry until then,” McNulty said. Meanwhile, CRM analyst Nick Austen, who is in his first analytical role, did not know how a typical analytical team would be composed. He only he realised that Boots is slightly different when the issue of the representation of men was addressed in a meeting.

Are job adverts written in a way that appeals to women?

Could the adverts for jobs in the team be appealing to women on a subconscious level? To see if this was true, McNulty ran an advert through a gender word decoder for job ads to see if the vocabulary had a female bias. It revealed that a lot of words in the ad, like analysis, were in fact coming back as male-coded. McNulty noted that, if analysis is seen as masculine, then we need to do something to flip that on its head.

What is the ideology of the company and how does it affect hiring?

Ravenscroft explained that the company ethos of being accessible to all has influenced the way he goes about hiring. He referred to Jesse Boot, the son of the founder of the company, whose ambition was to make healthcare accessible to all. Ravenscroft said: “Everyone comes to Boots at some point, whether it is for a prescription, a Christmas gift or a sandwich. We’ve got quite a diverse customer base and Boots Advantage Card members are predominantly female. When you’re looking to work with that and drive innovation out of it, it helps to have a diverse team.”

What type of candidates are they looking for?

Ravenscroft said that, although he is looking for people who can crunch numbers, they need to have an array of skills. He will take on people with raw skills in analytics, but is also looking for experience of subjects like social science and the humanities as well as maths, IT and science. “We are looking for people who are creative in their insight and with data and the way they develop things. For me, it’s as much about being creative as scientific,” he said. “The analytical team is not expected to sit chained to their desks computing complex algorithms. I would take someone who can go out and communicate and talk with marketing teams over someone who is technically proficient,” he said. “You can be as clever as you like, but if you can’t communicate it to anyone, you’re not doing an effective job,” he added.

McNulty pointed out that, when they hire, they are not looking for people to fill “identikit roles.” She said that they do seem get a diverse set of people applying for the roles – Austen added that he thinks this may be a result of being flexible with the prerequisites. He said: “If you went out only looking for people with ten years’ experience as an analyst, then you are going to get people of a similar sort of make-up.”

Ravenscroft has given members of his senior team of managers the freedom to make hiring decisions independently. CRM manager Emma Eatch said that they can think about what attributes a candidate might bring to the team that it doesn’t already have. They also try to be forward-thinking with their hiring decisions. McNulty said they hire with a view of the skills that will be necessary in six or 12 months’ time, in line with where the team needs to be.

What happens at the interview?

At the interview stage, McNulty said they look for an aptitude for analytics and curiosity, rather than the ability to pass any particular test. The candidate also needs to show that they are inspired by insights. “You need somebody who wants to bring that data to life,” she said. Ravenscroft echoed this point by saying: “I think there is a tendency towards the scientific, IT, maths end, but it’s also about being creative with their insight, being able to think about the customer.”

(Below: Paul Ravenscroft (centre) and members of the Boots PLI team at the DataIQ Talent Awards 2017)

t awards 243How did the analysts come into the team?

The CRM managers and analysts reflect the diversity of the team in terms of their backgrounds before joining.

Eatch began her career at Boots as a healthcare assistant, then a pharmacy technician. She went on to be a test manager and business analyst in a different department. She saw the analyst role advertised internally and applied with the aim of using her existing skill set in a different way. In her previous role, she said she was one step removed from the customer and was focused more on business objectives. “Here, I really get to be the voice of the customer and that was what was really exciting about this team,” she said.

Austen had been working in a projects team at an SME, “doing a bit of coding and a bit of analytical work,” though in the back of his mind, he always wanted to get into a data role. He applied and on his first day was wondering what his day-to-day tasks would involve. He is now enjoying a “fantastic” working environment and is looking to make a long-term career out of data analytics.

McNulty was an analyst for ten years in the police service but was looking for a change. She attended a Springboard Women’s Development programme and made friends with women who work at Boots. They passed her CV on to HR and McNulty was invited to take tests and be interviewed. She hadn’t seen the job advert before she “applied”, which she says is a good thing as she might have been deterred by the technical requirements. When she got the job, she was told that she was hired for her other skills and that she would be taught the technical side of things.

Are there any other factors that may have contributed to the current gender ratio?

The team are aware that the wide appeal of the Boots brand may have something to do with the high proportion of women in the analytics team. McNulty stated that data from the Boots Advantage Card loyalty scheme could be a huge draw, as the majority of members are women. She has noticed that many of the female candidates have an Advantage Card and said: “I don’t know whether women just see the Boots Advantage Card and think ‘Wow, look at all this data, that would be amazing to look at’.”

McNulty also said that lots of women might be attracted to working at Boots, browse the jobs board and happen to stumble upon an open position in analytics. This was the case for Eatch who said she ended up in the PLI team by chance.

Reflections

Gender diversity in any team is important and Boots seems to have it sorted in terms of attracting and retaining a diverse team of analysts.  In that case, it seems that they just have to keep doing what they are doing. Ravenscroft said: “We are still relatively young as an industry, but growing rapidly with digital data and brands switching on to the benefits of customer data – it is such an interesting and rewarding career. But I don’t think enough people know about it as a career choice, people still stumble into it as I did in 2000. Creating a more appealing definition of the analyst role and getting the message out there is important.”

 

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