IWD 2023: From Soap to Software and all things project management - Clare Reynolds, Chief Operating Officer, Zest
On International Women's Day, we're celebrating the inspiring journeys of women in our portfolio companies. Clare Reynolds, COO at Zest, shares how her background in project management, communications, and technology has helped her create an impact in her field.
What is your background and how has it led you to where you are today?
I have had many opportunities to work in different organisations on a large variety of programs of work throughout my career, however, project management has been a constant theme.
One of the most significant roles in my past was working at The Body Shop International in the early 1990s. During my time there, I had the privilege of working closely with Anita Roddick's team, who were passionate about communicating – whether this was advocating for human rights, against animal testing or environmental campaigns. This experience was invaluable and was the point where I transitioned from communications and internal admin into technology.
While at The Body Shop, I took a secondment into the IT department as an implementer on the EPOS project, which involved the rollout of electronic point-of-sale and tilling systems across all stores. As a direct result of this project, we were able to analyse customers' shopping baskets, and look at correlations between products and customer demographics. This experience was fascinating, and it was where my passion for technology really started.
I believe that all our experiences and the knowledge we gain from them are crucial to our personal and professional development. It’s adding tools to our kitbag, which we can use to tackle new challenges in the future.
What is your current role and what do you do?
In my current role as COO, I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the business.
I’ve been at Zest for over 10 years now and have had great opportunities to learn and progress to my current role. Many of my colleagues have served 4+ years and have had similar opportunities. It’s largely down to culture – we’re collaborative, hardworking, have shared goals and a great sense of humour!
What attracted you to Zest or the industry?
That's a great question. It’s providing, implementing, and supporting exceptional products and services that deliver true value.
Zest is a multi-award winning, client-focused technology business. We’ve reinvented employee benefits technology, enabling organisations to offer employee benefits without compromising on the cost of technology, user experience or performance. This ticks all my boxes and is what drives me to continue working in this space.
Was it easy to progress in the tech world?
I personally haven’t faced any problems at all, and I put that down to the terrific experiences I have had. When you work under great leaders, you feel empowered, not only to have a voice but to be heard. I think it’s important to have confidence and belief in yourself, and to remember that your knowledge, experience, and ability all count for something.
What more can be done to help get more women into tech?
At Zest, we have a pretty good career path for young recruits - customer service is a great starting role - it gives the opportunity to learn about our product and how to provide great service. There are many women in our business today that have progressed into areas such as product development, QA, business analysis and project management. Tech isn’t always coding!
There’s always more that can be done, perhaps by raising awareness of opportunities within the tech industry and offering more mentoring or specific training programs would help everyone feel like they have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Discussing diversity, how have you seen it work well and how can it be developed?
In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to have not encountered any issues related to gender within the companies I have worked for. I believe that it's important for women to inspire and support other women to feel valued and empowered. Ultimately, our positive experiences serve as the best role models, through word of mouth and other means.
What do diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you and why are they important?
To me, diversity means that we are better equipped to tackle challenges, cater to diverse customer bases, and tap into a range of experiences and ideas. It leads to greater innovation and enables us to successfully serve clients with varying mindsets and cultures. It's important for us to match the experiences of our team members with the needs of our clients to provide the best possible experience. Ultimately, I believe that embracing diversity is key to the success of any organization.
What value can be created from having a diverse workforce?
When I reflect on our company values, "game-changing", for me represents innovation – the ability to leverage the collaborative and trusted community we've built to deliver something new and exciting that meets diverse needs. When most people think of diversity, they tend to focus on race or gender. However, diversity is also just having different ways of thinking or a range of experiences. By embracing diversity in all its forms, we have more to offer and can bring fresh perspectives to everything we do.
Finally, this year's International Women's Day is all about #embrace equity - what does this mean to you?
To me, diversity, equality, and inclusion all boil down to fair treatment for all. It's not necessarily about treating everyone the same, as that can be limiting (pigeonholing). Rather, it's about giving everyone the opportunity to be themselves and to recognize the unique value they bring to the table. It’s appreciating a different interpretation or perspective on things. By embracing this, we're able to bring those perspectives together and create something truly special.