Women in Data: Career Path Q & A with Francine Hoo

30 January 2024 Victoria Butt

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Women in Data:

Career Path Q & A with Francine Hoo

Imagine a world where data isn't just numbers crunched in sterile spreadsheets, but a vibrant tapestry woven by brilliant minds. We are on a mission to meet the female weavers of the data universe, the architects of algorithms and AI shaping a future brimming with possibilities. In 2024, they're not just riding the wave of innovation, they're steering it towards groundbreaking outcomes.

Today, we share Francine Hoo’s story and her path to building a successful Data career across government, financial services, energy, retail and online platforms.

Francine is a Director with KPMG's Data team focusing on building trusted data practices. She has helped build, assure and audit multiple frameworks including governance, data management, data analytics practices, privacy, risk and compliance. Having started in audit, she leverages her combined experience to help build evidenced based, human centric, ethical and trustworthy data practices. She's helped teams build AI Assurance frameworks to ensure safer and reliable deployment of AI based outcomes. She passionately believes that humans are accountable for the right use of data and therefore the sufficient and appropriate risk management of data operations in all its forms – including AI and automation. The future of data driven outcomes including AI is dependent and strengthened by the partnership of a diversity of thinking, where humans collaborate with tech.    

Navigating Your Career Journey

Q. Parity: As a successful 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. Francine: Nothing is impossible, it just takes the work to understand what the ask is. 

The biggest asset to bring to the data industry is our ability to communicate what we are doing, how we can help, and the technical knowledge. 

Technical knowledge is learned. The speed at which my team learns new languages, new capabilities is a skill. 

Be open to continuously update your capability because it will be expected. The more you can show you have done so through accreditations and certifications, that paints a great picture. 

But as we evolve, our ability to talk to people and make data initiatives ‘real for them’, is extremely important.

Q. Parity: Share your personal journey of progression within the data industry and your insights in reaching your current leadership role?

A. Francine: I was a risk and compliance SME, who fell into Privacy. Through Privacy my curiosity for data management grew almost overnight. It hasn’t stopped growing. 

So today, I help clients, fix their business problems through data strategies, governance, management and assurance (risk management and controls). 

A.I being about ‘predictive’ is a part of data. I’m a true believer in building strong foundations along the entire data journey. 

But no.1 is ‘how do we protect people and planet’.  As such I am also a Data Ethics and Responsible AI SME. That doesn’t mean other data SMEs don’t protect people and planet. On the contrary I think this is very front of mind to a lot of data peeps I know. But I choose to focus on the how to make protection real, through operationalising practices, governance and controls.

Q. Parity: Overcoming challenges on your career path: How did you achieve leadership despite obstacles?

A. Francine: This was an interesting question. I also don’t think leadership is a position.  

A leader is not a title, they are a person you ‘want to follow’. 

The key word is ‘want’, not ‘need’ to. If people consider me a leader, then I am humbled.  If I think of what I’ve done to deserve it, I hope it’s because I’ve been there for people, shared my wins and losses – my win is their win, their win is mine. 

Above leader, I think ‘team’ is the key word to leadership. Team is everyone affected by the outcome – so this means clients too. 

My obstacles would be about how I get the team to success. They don’t become personal obstacles then, they become a mission to make things better.  

I guess, it’s a choice and attitude on how you view an obstacle.

Q. Parity: Did mentorship or sponsorship play a role in shaping your career trajectory, and advice for aspiring women in data?

A. Francine: Absolutely! Mentorship, sponsorship, and support. I’d not be here if it wasn’t for my husband’s, family and friend’s support and mentorship. That’s not a throwaway line. We often reflect on where I was 3 years ago to now – in my thinking. It’s about the team again. For which I am eternally grateful for.

Would you rather hear about how good a company is, from the person hiring you or someone else who’s more independent? Same goes for sponsorship. You can be great, but if no one is there to sponsor and tell your story – that’s a much harder story to tell.

Attraction to the Data Industry

Q. Parity: What strategies have you found effective in navigating power structures both early in your career and as you advanced into executive leadership roles?

A. Francine: I have definitely learned from mistakes! So, if I’m doing something better today, it’s because there were a raft of mistakes that led that success. 

Early in my career – rightly or wrongly, I was clear I wanted to learn. So, I tried best to avoid the issues that come with power structures and just ‘be good at my job’. 

As I get older, I realise that my job is more about ‘people’. Knowing and respecting people, I think is a strategy I can hang my hat on. I mean all people in the equation, not just those you report to.

Q. Parity: What initially attracted you to pursue a career in the data industry, and how has it evolved over time?

A. Francine: I quickly realised, our world was going to become more data driven, with the evolution of technology. I think insights can only help us build amazing things. 

Advancement in medicine, research, doing better for the environment, health – they all touch data. So, if I can be a part of helping to make that happen, by making data practices better – it was just something that called out to me. 

Over time, that interest has just continued to evolve to new technology – blockchain, AI. I’m sure it won’t end there.

Q. Parity: How has the rapidly evolving nature of the data industry influenced your career decisions and opportunities?

A. Francine: I think there’s always room for foundations – people, process, technology. That will never go away. Crap in crap out. What influences my career decisions and opportunities from here will be culture.

Technology evolution is only as good as the people behind it. I will want to be where I can build and foster a culture of people (data and non-non data), to help others make things better.    

AI will be a norm in our houses (if not already). Helping make it safe and used in the best interest of people and planet is not just one skill or job description. 

It takes a village. What drives a village – culture. So that’s what I hope to grow. Whether it’s a team of 20 or 200. My best memory is of a 200 that all pointed in the same direction. Now that was a movement to behold.

Q. Parity: Reflecting on your career, what changes could have been addressed biases in your work environment?

A. Francine: Gosh, I don’t think I want to change my experiences. I am proud of who I’ve become today, and that means having gone through all the experiences – good and bad. 

Bias is in everything. Bias is not bad. It’s how we use bias, and that’s a choice. I think if we can better understand and accept differences and harness the good power in that – then let’s go. Maybe understand conscious and unconscious bias.

But that said, it means to be willing to have to hard discussions and ‘walk the talk’.

I’ve never believed in my way is the best way. It’s about the best outcome. Those ideas aren’t always mine, and they don’t always come from likely sources. I aim to make those great ideas heard. Give it a voice. I hope that’s what helps change… address negative outcomes as result of applying bias. 

Envisioning Future Opportunities

Q. Parity: What do you see as the most promising future opportunities for women in leadership within the data industry?

A. Francine: Data either ‘is’, or ‘is not’.  It does not discriminate. 

If everyone can continue to focus on bringing the best of our people to a problem and treating each other with respect and equality – then there is opportunity for everyone. If you think about it, you no longer need a big name, to bring data operations to life. You can start from your garage, with very start-up cost. 

You can literally build your company from your laptop; learn the skills you want to be that CDO for free. It’s up to you to define the role that motivates you, the leader you want to be, the life you want to have. Rest is the hard work to let people know who you are.   

Be clear on that story, and your definition of leadership will come from there. I’m not trying to avoid the question. But if we are driven by how much we can earn to enjoy the life we want, that model of being a CEO of a company of 10,000 to achieve that is no longer the case. Some of the wealthiest people we know have very small companies or none at all because they’ve built a tech IP.  So, decide, how do you want your life to be, then the career you want to define you, then the job you want to lead.

With innovation moving so rapidly, who am I to limit your idea for opportunities. 

Q. Parity: What do you see as the most significant barrier preventing more women from reaching leadership positions within the data sector?

A. Francine: We don’t tell our story well. 

We don’t include others and credit others in our story well. It’s not about me, it’s about us. If we can talk to how we achieved and what we achieved, and how this is good for ‘you’, I think this goes a long way. 

I know this because I didn’t do it well, still don’t do it great. But I’m learning. 

Then we shy away from conflict instead of learning how to manage it better. Some good friends of mine (men and women) encouraged me to be brave about this. That I had all that it took to manage this, I just chose not to. That was life defining for me.  

You don’t have to be aggressive to manage conflict. In fact, that’s the worst part. But conflict resolution often bring innovation, and that motivates me to be better at it.

Q. Parity: When it comes to progressing in a leadership role in data, what traits do you consider essential?

A. Francine: Communication, curiosity, willing to learn and expand, and of course the technical skills. 

Employer and Job Seeker Perspectives

Q. Parity: What benefits can organisations expect from hiring female leaders in the data industry, particularly in terms of driving innovation and creating a diverse workplace?

A. Francine: I think the question answers itself. It’s the diversity, creativity and nurturing of female leaders that can impact a culture.

Q. Parity: How can organisations ensure a supportive and inclusive environment that nurtures the growth of women in data leadership roles?

A. Francine: Recognise their strength, recognise what they need to grow, give that to them and teach them the skills of how to empower everyone, not just other women, but everyone.

 Encourage people to be proud of their differences and build an environment where those are celebrated, and the benefits are clearly and loudly told.

Q. Parity: What advice do you have for aspiring women looking to pursue leadership roles within the data sector, and how can they effectively position themselves for success?

A. Francine: Be able to ‘show’ not just ‘tell’ your story. 

Find the examples and use cases that you can start your sentence with ‘built’, ‘led’, ‘worked with a team’. Be genuine and humble. Lead by example. Showing what you mean, speaks volumes over telling people what you can do.

Q. Parity: Does gender balance and a diverse workforce contribute to the success of an organisation?

A. Francine: Absolutely!

This Women in Data interview was brought to you by Parity’s Data recruitment team.

Looking to hire Data professionals? Reach out to Victoria HERE or on 0402 418 326.

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.