Q&A: ‘Everyone’s experiences are unique’- Nominet’s Lara Howlett on D&I in tech

8th March 2024

To mark International Women’s Day, we sat down with Lara Howlett – Head of Insights and Nominet’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Employee Resource Group (ERG) lead. In this interview, we spoke about ways to improve gender diversity in tech, emphasising the importance of addressing unconscious bias in hiring practices and creating an inclusive work environment. Lara shares her personal experiences and perspectives on diversity and inclusion, and we touch on the difficulties and opportunities faced by women in leadership positions.  

Hi Lara! Tell us more about yourself and your career background. 

I’m the Head of Insights at Nominet. So, I run a team of data engineers, DBAs, data analysts, and data scientists. I’ve always been in data-related roles and, interestingly, always in male-dominated fields too.  

I started my career with a PhD in Physics and then I moved into finance where I worked for 14 years. And now I’m here at Nominet looking at all things registry-related when it comes to data. Through these roles, I’ve done a lot with D&I. I was the co-chair of the Gender Equality Network in my previous organisation. I was also the lead for D&I in their finance division.

And how about our D&I Employee Resource Group? What are we aiming to do? 

Our ambition in Nominet’s Employee Resource Group is to advance the diversity agenda through initiatives that will lead to greater respect and inclusion for all. A lot of it is about the culture we want to create, and employee groups are essential to this. It’s important that the message of inclusion comes from your peers and those you know and identify with, as it means a lot more. It also means that the company has a sounding board for any changes and can ensure there is a D&I lens applied to them.

How have you seen the topic of D&I evolve since you started working in this space? 

It’s the realisation of how broad D&I is, how many facets of a person’s life it touches, and how it needs to be intersectional. For instance, the first employee network I joined early in my career was a women’s network. It wasn’t a gender network.  

Now we’re at a point where we’re thinking about all sorts of different things. Social mobility is something I don’t think anyone was talking about a decade ago. Same with mental health. It’s not about a checklist of characteristics covered by the Equality Act. It’s vast and can cover a great number of things – everyone’s experiences are unique.

Why is focusing on D&I important? And why now at Nominet? 

My opinion will always be that it’s the right thing to do. Why wouldn’t you want to focus on D&I? But aside from a moral obligation, all the data says that businesses that are more diverse and inclusive perform better. There is a clear business case for ensuring that you have a room full of people that bring their own unique experiences, differences of thought, and beliefs to the table.  

Nominet is a Public Benefit company, and we do so much to make sure the nation is inclusive. For instance, developing a scalable solution to the digital skills gap and social mobility in the UK through Click Start, or getting children from all walks of life interested in STEM subjects at an earlier age with micro:bit. But this needs to start with us and be threaded through all that we do. We want to ensure Nominet is somewhere that every individual is valued, respected and empowered. 

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome? 

Personally, I found having role models to be the most helpful and inspiring in my career. And I was very lucky that I had a great female mentor when I moved into a leadership role. The tech industry is still so male-dominated that it’s hard to look around and see someone that you identify with, and that you feel you can emulate or learn from their working style. 

Another risk from being in a male-dominated field is that there tends to be an unconscious bias that says that the kind of person that’s good in tech looks or behaves in a certain way. The same could be said for many other demographics, such as a largely neurotypical workforce. This is why it’s so important to work on these unconscious biases. 

We need to make hiring completely free of any sort of bias – which is something we have been working on at Nominet. And ensuring that we are creating the right environment for everyone to feel that they belong. 

What would you recommend to other women working in tech? 

I found mentors and relationships the most helpful. Seek out people you identify with and don’t be afraid to ask them for a conversation about their career. Keep an eye out for mentorship programmes, events, or networking groups. Something I’ve gotten better at is going up to people I don’t know very well and saying, “Actually, can I get your advice on this?”. And I have to say that no one has ever said no!