Women in Technology: Liesl Smith
Supporting women to succeed in STEM careers with inclusive policies and equal opportunities reduces the gender salary gap, as well as reducing bias in products developed and services provided. FreedomPay’s Women in Technology series aims to inspire ambitious women globally to consider careers in Technology and motivate them to take on leadership responsibilities by giving strong, successful, and passionate women a platform to share their stories.
Liesl Smith is Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Sales Enablement at FreedomPay. Liesl joined FreedomPay in September 2018. Liesl sits on the Center for Hospitality Research Corporate Advisory Board at Cornell University, which has enabled FreedomPay to produce thought leadership around Gen Z attitudes to data sharing and incentivization in collaboration with Cornell students.
Liesl shares her experience and insights as an Executive leader in Tech, transitioning from her role as Deputy TV Executive at the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) to Marketing and Payments.
What made you want to get into Tech?
I think Tech found me. I didn’t wake up one day and realize I wanted to work in Payments – one thing led to another. I had a vision but found it’s important to be flexible and open to new ideas. You can visualize your roadmap but it’s okay to reevaluate if something comes along that will knock you off course. Don’t be afraid of taking a calculated risk.
What has been your biggest career achievement so far?
I found the courage to switch career from Journalism to Marketing after almost two decades. I had job security and lots of friends, but I wanted a change. I was accepted for a Master’s Degree in Marketing, Strategy, and People, which I took as a sign to start a new journey.
It was a scary time, but looking back, I wish I’d done it a lot sooner because my life is more exciting now. At the BBC, I learned a lot, met amazing people, and worked on some incredible stories like natural disasters, wars, big court cases and royal weddings. But my career now is even more fulfilling.
Making a massive change or taking an unexpected opportunity could well be the best thing you ever do.
How would you describe the culture at FreedomPay?
Inclusive. We’re disruptors who test and learn as we go.
FreedomPay is agile and growing at scale, which makes it very exciting. Everyone is rowing in the same direction. Our CEO, President and all the Execs are strategically aligned. We know the best is yet to come!
We’ve expanded from 150 to almost 500 people since I joined the company. We’re keen to set up programs that empower younger, talented individuals to grow and to have a voice.
Do you consider any women to be role models?
Yes! Benazir Bhutto, Jacinda Ahern, Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, Condoleezza Rice, and Madeleine Albright. They are and were bold, strong, emotionally intelligent women working in heavily male-dominated environments. They didn’t let that hold them back.
As a journalist, I interviewed Benazir Bhutto when she was the first female Prime Minister in a Muslim-majority, democratic country. I couldn’t find the location for the interview and was running late. In my haste, I blasted opened this door of the massive hall. I didn’t expect the session to be in progress but 500 people were listening to her give a speech. She invited me to take a seat at the front, telling me I was very welcome. Benazir Bhutto was so gracious and kind to this sweating, discombobulated 28-year-old, and was equally warm and lovely when I interviewed her afterwards
How can companies encourage women to join the STEM workforce?
Promote women to board-level and offer mentoring. The proportion of women at C-level is growing, although a recent report by Deloitte and The 30% Club predicted we won’t reach gender parity until 2045. That’s unacceptable.
Talking about women in the workforce (as FreedomPay is through our Women in Tech series) is key to targeting underrepresented groups in STEM and elevates female voices.
What did you value in a mentor, earlier in your career?
A good listener with more industry experience than myself. Someone wise, who I admired and aspired to be. Mentors helped me navigate office politics, learning what to do – and what not to do – to succeed in that environment.
As a mentor, describe your ideal mentee.
A bold, go-getter with determination to do well, and a positive, ambitious mindset.
What makes a good boss?
Having trust is their team is pivotal – your boss should trust what you do. It’s important to relay clear direction and feedback as a boss. Consistency from the top is very important for success on the ground, as inconsistency undermines confidence in leaders.
Do you have any advice for women in STEM careers?
Firstly, trust your own voice, ditch the imposter syndrome, and be clear and decisive. Make your voice heard with a good degree of emotional intelligence.
Secondly, remember you’re a trailblazer if you’re the only woman in the room – that’s ok! Transformation must start with someone. Don’t see it as a problem, rather focus on the great products and outcomes you’re a part of. Things are changing.
My 16-year-old niece is a Math and Science genius who wants to be an engineer for Formula One. It’s challenging, but she focuses on her road ahead rather than how she is one of two girls in her Advanced Math class.
Thirdly, surround yourself with intelligent people and be humble. If you’re a leader, hire people that are smarter than you and be proud of them. My team is super smart. If you work in a team, sit with people you learn from. If you’re the smartest person in the room, then for sure you’re in the wrong room. Keep learning and keep pushing. As I said, the best is yet to come.
Thank you, Liesl!
Are you interested in joining FreedomPay? We’re hiring. Visit our careers page today. FreedomPay is an equal opportunities employer, motivated to hire women and other underrepresented groups in STEM.