Women in Data: Career Path Q & A with Gemma Walker

11 December 2023 Deep Dhiman, Hima Arafath

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Women in Data:

Career Path Q & A with Gemma Walker

In today's dynamic and data-driven world, the potential for innovation and growth within the data industry is boundless. Emerging roles in data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other cutting-edge technologies are developing at lightning speed. Amid this exciting landscape, female leaders are standing out, creatively shaping the trajectory of the industry in 2024 and beyond.

To uncover the strategies behind their success, Parity recently sat down to chat with Gemma Walker, the Head of Data, Insights & Operations in the Marketing team at AMP. Through Gemma's story, we aim to inspire and contribute to the cultivation of a more diverse and inclusive landscape within the data industry. Join us in delving into Gemma’s insights as she shares her journey and experiences, offering a glimpse into the career path that has led her to successes in data.

During her diverse career, Gemma accumulated a wealth of experience across various roles and industries. She honed exceptional people, strategy, planning and delivery skills during her tenure as a management consultant with Deloitte in the UK and Australia. Gemma’s journey in data analytics took off as the Executive Manager, Analytics Engagement in the Institutional Bank at CBA, later progressing into the Head of Customer role within CommBank iQ (a joint venture between CBA and Quantium), and currently she leads the Data, Insights & Operations team in Marketing at AMP.

Q. Parity: As a female leader in the data industry, what is your most valuable piece of advice for individuals aspiring to build a career in the data field?

A. Gemma: Wow big question!

I didn’t initially plan a career in data. I first ‘discovered’ data and the power of what good data can do, while working as a senior change manager at CBA. After a number of years working in change, I knew I wanted to get closer to the business, as I could see that was where all the interesting decisions were being made. I wasn't sure how to leap from being a management consultant at Deloitte for around 9 years before that with limited experience in Financial Services! But when an engagement role opened up in the data analytics team in CBA’s institutional banking team, I just went for it.

Despite my limited technical knowledge, I remember thinking of the role as a kind of internal consulting capability and how much potential there was to leverage data and insights for sales and strategy teams and to help our clients grow their businesses.

I got the role, and this really shifted and shaped my career from that point on.

Fast forward eight years or so, I now lead the Data, Insights & Ops team in Marketing at AMP. Despite ‘falling’ into the field, I am more passionate about data analytics than ever, and the power and relevance of what data can bring to every aspect of a business in any industry.

Based on this rather long-winded answer, I would give three pieces of advice when pursuing a career in the data field:

  1. Be curious! Follow smart people, interesting work and projects that drive tangible and commercial outcomes.

  2. Learn how to ‘sell’ the power of analytics. You might come up with the smartest ideas, models, and algorithms but if you can’t translate that into commercial value, then it can mean nothing.

  3. Never underestimate the power of building a network and advocates across the business and/or industry you want to work in - you never know what opportunities this will open for you!

Q. Parity: You would have encountered obstacles along the way. How did you progress your career despite these?

A. Gemma: Joining Deloitte as a grad and being thrust into large scale transformation projects, carrying out multiple roles across industries was an amazing start to my career but it meant that I felt like I was a bit of a jack of all trades and a master of none. I’d been a training lead on a project for a media client, got ‘hands-on’ configuring Oracle for a Financial Service client and managed a team of technology workforce coordinators at the London 2012 Olympics.

When I decided to leave consulting, I’d had such a varied career. I wasn’t a technical expert in anything, and I struggled to see and be able to articulate my strengths. However, a foundation in consulting meant I was able to learn quickly and adapt to new companies, new stakeholders, and new challenges.

This was my foundation for transitioning into industry and building out a career in data analytics. This has come with lots of challenges along the way – including having to fight my imposter syndrome!

I think some key learnings for me have been to recognise and build on my core strengths, even if there is someone who has done a role longer or worked in an industry longer than me and know that these strengths and skills are valid and have got me where I am today. That and the fact that every role, good or bad, is an opportunity to learn and grow. You learn things about yourself, build new skills and you might also learn what you don’t enjoy or don’t want in your next role. This is ok too!

Q. Parity: Did mentorship or sponsorship play a role in shaping your career trajectory, and what advice do you have for those aspiring to a career in data?

A. Gemma: I have personally had more value out of mentor relationships than sponsors in my career. But, I think it depends on several things such as:

  • Who the mentor/sponsor is.

  • Where you are in your career.

  • Whether you know what you want to get out of the relationship. And,

  • How you gel with your sponsor or mentor.

For me, I had one awesome mentor as part of a Women in Banking leadership program I was nominated for whilst I was at CBA. I think it worked as she had been through similar challenges such as managing a challenging career whilst raising young children.

My mentor listened, gave practical advice and I think what helped me was that her advice was based on a shared experience, including both ups and downs. She was confident, capable, and successful all whilst raising two children who she was really proud of – all the things I wanted for myself. I was going through a particularly challenging time, and it was so valuable to have an independent, unbiased, almost ‘been there done that’ mentor to help me navigate difficult conversations and decisions.

If I were to share some advice based on my personal experience it would be:

  • Don’t feel that you should have a mentor or sponsor for the sake of it.

  • Be very deliberate in the timing and purpose. And,

  • If you don’t think it’s working for either of you, don’t feel like you have failed if you both decide to walk away from the relationship.

This Women in Data interview was brought to you by Parity’s Data Recruitment team, Deep Dhiman and Hima Arafath.

Looking to hire Data professionals? Reach out to Deep Dhiman HERE or on 0405381550.

Parity Consulting works with clients who embrace diverse and inclusive environments and empower their teams to bring their authentic whole self to work. We encourage people with different beliefs, abilities, backgrounds and life experiences to contact us.