Women in Tech Leadership: Sharon Evans
- Date Published
Describe your journey to becoming General Counsel at TotallyMoney
I joined TotallyMoney five years ago as a part time legal consultant. Back then it was a smaller team but with big ambition. Initially I was dipping into specific projects but soon found myself immersed in the business and realised I wanted to play a bigger part. I also thought I could add so much more value if I was fully committed. But as many people find when stepping up to a bigger role, my inner critic was wondering whether I could do it. My background as a lawyer was well suited – always focused on commercial, data and tech work – with some diverse companies like Sony Music, the Guardian and Expedia. I had also spent three years in a commercial role, so I wasn’t a stranger to leaps of faith. I just needed a nudge. I was fortunate that our CEO Alastair Douglas persuaded me not only that I could do the job, but that I would really enjoy it too. And he was right. Since then, I have built an all-female team around brilliant individuals and played a part in the growth and maturing of the business.
What do you enjoy most about the role?
I love working with my team. We’ve hit a purple patch where every person has grown into their role, exceeded expectations and has real standing in the business. That is wonderful to see. Five years on, I still enjoy the breadth of my role. Being responsible for all legal and compliance matters in a consumer-facing fintech can be daunting. But it is also an enormous privilege to be so woven into the business, to be able to join the dots in a way that few roles can.
I also really enjoy how we work. As a business, we are fast but thoughtful, and we have a culture to be proud of. It matters to me that we do the right thing by our customers and for our colleagues.
What attracted you to a career in the tech sector?
I had spent a lot of time in industries – music and news – where tech was happening to them, and they had to adapt to keep up. I was curious to experience the other side of that, to be in a business driven by tech, not weighed down by legacy systems, manual processes or old versus new culture clashes. But I also wanted a young tech business, to work in a lean ambitious environment where I could grow with the company.
What have been your personal guiding principles throughout your career?
Don’t bother with a plan! I’ve been open to serendipitous encounters and opportunities and more than once they took my career in a different and rewarding direction. I have always tried to work for people I like and can learn from, in companies that I am genuinely interested in and excited by. Though I have learned with experience that brand excitement only goes so far. I need my work environment to reflect things that matter to me. You need to trust that the people around you are equally committed, authentic and will support you when needed.
What changes would you like to see in the industry to encourage more women into tech?
It starts from the top. Boards of tech companies need better female representation. Women coming into a tech business – any business in fact – need to see other women at the highest levels of that organisation. Partly that is because you need to ‘see it to be it’. Partly it is knowing that there is a female voice in those conversations. Partly it is about being confident that your organisation – which undoubtedly hired you with ambitious plans for a gender-balanced workforce – actually walks the walk at the very top.
In addition to that, companies need to positively focus on hiring more women into all areas of the business – not just the traditional areas such as legal and HR. They can help themselves by asking existing female staff about their experiences and what they would change. They can also take a proper look at their benefits, policies and ways of working and challenge themselves to make them truly supportive of women at all stages of their lives and careers. When companies struggle to hire or promote women, personally I am in favour of targets as a means of galvanising that change.
And finally, when you have talented women in your tech business, it is everyone’s responsibility to nurture and develop that talent. In my career I have needed both male and female colleagues and mentors to champion and support me – it’s not true that women only need other women to look out for them along the way.
TotallyMoney has been recognised as one of the UK’s best mid-sized companies to work for in the 2021 Best Companies list. What do you think is key to attracting and retaining a diverse talent base?
At TotallyMoney we’re on a mission to help everyone move their finances forward. We are especially passionate about helping those who are under-served by the industry, be it traditional banks or modern fintechs. This mission matters to me, it matters in society, and it matters to the business. So, when it comes to attracting talent, we find that regardless of the role or department, people are drawn to our mission and want to be part of it.
Company culture is key to driving great work. We saw that during the pandemic. When the nice office, free fruit and Friday beers were stripped away, feedback across the board was that the way we behaved, the things we did to stay connected and support one another, meant so much to people. Finally, I think it’s important to have a two-way deal with everyone in your team. Understanding what we each need to get out of this time working together, and then supporting one another to deliver that, can be really powerful.