Weekend Interview: It’s All About Girl Power With Zandra Moore
Zandra Moore doesn’t recognise barriers, a trait she’s picked up from her “inspirational mother.”
“I've always had a shy bairns get nought mentality. What my mum taught me was don't worry too much if you don't know anything because you'll learn along the way.
“Mum left home aged 14 to get work to pay for her siblings because her mum could barely read and write, and her dad had left; it taught mum not to see barriers. She just saw ‘do it’
“Growing up with someone who didn't see barriers made me want to follow in her steps and become a role model, especially for women.”
“When I see in my peer group, women holding themselves back, I want to help. My male peers are more likely to have a go, whereas women generally don’t put themselves forward until they know how to do something. I grew up thinking differently because my mum was never afraid, she had nothing to lose.”
The down to earth mother of two is the CEO and Co-Founder of Panintelligence, PI, who emotionally sees her mum as an early torch bearer for what women in business are achieving today. As we chat, it’s clear to see that Zandra is following in her mum’s footsteps as a pioneer, laying the foundations for young girls or women returning to the workplace, to have successful tech careers. More of that later because I want to hear how and why her mum was so inspirational.
“Mum went out there, had a go, and emerged and blossomed into a confident successful business woman who had no O levels, the eldest of seven from a broadly speaking, single parent home. She found her way into the new world of tech. I left school just wanting to be her.”
“My mum was essentially a housewife until I went to secondary school. Bearing in mind she had never used a computer, it didn’t deter her from applying for a job advertised in the Yorkshire Post.
She was going to have a go and never looked back. In fact, mum had an incredible 15 year career. She started in sales admin for Digital before moving to Planet Online, the first Internet service provider in the north of England, run by Peter Wilkinson and Paul Sykes before joining Freeserve, the first free email service, at its creation.
“If you think about it, mum was at the dawn of computing into business, the dawn of the Internet, the dawn of free email and then the dawn of Cloud computing. The stereotype that it was an all-male thing didn’t exist. I grew up with computers in my home as well as modems and my friends would come round to use the computer, watching images gradually appear on a screen. And do you remember Andrew, the noise of modems? In those days that was the phoneline out of action.”
I do remember that far back especially the slowness of modems in those heady days of the internet which was not that long ago! And who can forget the big monitors and screens now only found in museums.
Determined to make her mum proud, Zandra graduated from Huddersfield University with a business degree and has spent her whole career working in software and tech, realising from an early age the benefits and advantages the industry offered. As she enthuses about the tech sector one can’t help feeling it is in her DNA.
After she had her two children, Zandra explains she found it quite difficult to strike a balance between a very demanding career as a sales director and a young family.
“I wanted to find a balance - at the time shared parental leave wasn't a thing and maternity pay was still only six months. Even part time director jobs were not really a thing. So, it forced me to become self-employed.”
As we chat, we begin to realise how long it has taken for society to change. When her children were born men had fewer options. It wasn’t the done thing for men to go on paternity leave or work on a part-time basis. The default position was women stayed at home and a husband maintained his job.
Zandra, however, approached the situation pragmatically by setting up her own sales consultancy helping tech start-ups get their businesses off the ground enabling them to win their first customers.
“Starting my own company enabled me to have flexible hours. I could work around my clients, who were happy for me to work the hours I chose mainly because I was an experienced but cheap resource, certainly if they compared it to employing a full-time sales director.”
Zandra decided what her niche would be and then decided to work within a proximity of home.
“I put a pin in a map because I only wanted to work within a 20 minute drive of the kids’ nursery. If they were unwell or something happened, I could quickly go and pick them up. That made me even more motivated to work hard and find start-ups in the area.”
As it happened, it turned out to be a lucky break. One of those start-ups was Pancredit, a 25 year established software business, that had built Panintelligence.
The then CEO Peter Constance, and FD Mike Cripps were the player sponsor for Jamie Peacock and Zandra was a trustee for Leeds Rugby Foundation. Fortuitously, it transpired that the Pancredit office was only a mile and half away from home.
After convincing her husband to empty the life savings it was a firm Yes...
As a sales director Zandra understood the power of networking before all the social media platforms we have today. LinkedIn was in its infancy with people still getting their head around how to use it, but Zandra recognised its power and sent Peter a message.
“I wrote something like: ‘Hi Peter, I’m Zandra, this is what I do, and I notice we have a shared interest in Leeds Rhinos. Can I come in for a coffee and see if there is anything that a person like me could do for a business like yours?
“The response was positive. He replied: ‘Well you know there is. I have a product called Panintelligence that I'm trying to sell outside of the business. I don't really want to bring in a full time sales person but if you reckon you could have a go, come on in.”
Inspired by her mum’s attitude - just go for it - a meeting was set up which led to a consultancy position one day a week. Zandra was soon winning new clients outside of the core business and as she became more successful, one day turned into two then three.
Then, in another stroke of luck, Peter and Mike announced they were about to sell the business following it up with: “Do you guys fancy buying it.”
After convincing her husband to empty the life savings it was a firm yes and along with co-founder Ken Miller, who runs the techie side of the business they bought the IP with the help of seed investors and spun it out in 2014.
“I suddenly found myself as the director of a software business that instead of just being an employee, I was now its owner, and the rest is history.
“We've been growing since 2014. We had to learn how to raise money to grow the business. But mum said learn as you go on.”
Thirty per cent of our business is made up women, which is unusual for a tech company. And 50% of our executive directors are female along with 50% of our management.
We’re back to her mum’s influence again. There is no getting away from it and I want to move on to show how Zandra is helping women.
She founded Lean In Leeds, based on Sherly Sandburg’s book. “I had the benefit of a role model at home whose mantra was you must believe in yourself. I wanted to create a community where women that didn’t have role models could move past the barriers and see the world as being something that was totally for them.
“I've worked extremely hard to create a community with Lean In creating role models and those that need them. I had 400 women matched through my mentoring programme finding women that can help and be the person that goes on the journey. It’s there for those who don't have women peer groups and for the many working very male dominated industries.
“Sometimes you need to bring aspirational women together so that they can lift each other up. Andrew, it is important as a lot of young women don't see themselves as role models.
“A role model is somebody that is just a few steps ahead. Perhaps even just a year ahead in their career.”
After our interview Zandra is going to do more evangelising by speaking to hundreds of 13 – 16 year old girls, ensuring they can aspire to the things they want to do. She is part of an all-female tech panel. For Zandra it is making everything visible.
“With the five of us on the panel -all women in the tech industry- it sends out a clear message that we exist.”
We start to discuss the systemic problem around gender stereotyping and the importance for the education system to show young girls they can do certain A Levels and have different careers. Boys are more likely to be encouraged by their parents, society or what they see on social media platforms like YouTube. Plus, if all the teachers in the computing science department are men, it subconsciously influences young girls. Zandra believes we should be more creative in how we engage all students who may have a flair for a subject.
“We need to be much more intentional about the people in the seats that influence. It could be making sure we have got diverse teaching staff, leadership teams, messaging and marketing presenting the faces of leadership to the market. We need people to opt in not opt out.”
It is not just young female students, Zandra refers yet again to her mum. "There are lots of women that want to change careers or who had a break whilst having children and may have missed an opportunity. There are so many excellent schemes out there to help returners get back into the world of work, designed to create more diverse pipelines in the digital sector.
You don't have to be a technologist, developer, or a data scientist. You don't even have to have ever done anything in computing. Our technology helps anyone find the keys to unlocking the secrets of their data
“But Andrew, we still need women to believe tech is a career they can choose. I go back to visibility; they have to see themselves there to believe they can.”
Panintelligence practices what it preaches, as Zandra points out: “Thirty per cent of our business is made up women, which is unusual for a tech company. And 50% of our executive directors are female along with 50% of our management. Because we're a software development company there are only two out of our development team of eight who are women.”
We are drawing to the end of our time, and I am conscious that Zandra must get off to go and inspire a hall full of young girls.
So, I finish with asking her what the company’s USP is and, like the whole tenor of this interview, she articulates the message very well, which I comment on. And guess what? It’s her mum’s influence. She tells me her mum had a knack of making the complex simple.
“We are a truly diverse company. Ken and I are quite different. I'm dyslexic he is dyspraxic. The pair of us are both very passionate about ensuring everyone can participate in digital transformation. In a world of data, technology has the power to transform our society. It absolutely does. The secret of data is that we should look at it as the key to unlocking solutions to problems. Think of it in the way we look at genome sequencing. When you can get to the heart of data, you start to realise how to change but the only way to do that is by everybody participating in that innovation.
“Our USP is in our diversity of thought, ideas, mind, and perspectives on innovation. We get rid of biases. That’s why are we different. We come at it by enabling anybody to be able to take data and turn it into real insight and value without being too technical.
“You don't have to be a technologist, developer, or a data scientist. You don't even have to have ever done anything in computing. Our technology helps anyone find the keys to unlocking the secrets of their data.
“You can build a model in our software and predict outcomes based on data and if you bring those technologies to people who are at the front line and understand the problem it’s then the things that will make the biggest change will happen because it is about understanding the why. For example, why does this problem exist? What can be done to change it? They are the questions that can help put a better solution in place. The innovation that’s created is drawn from insights. It’s about removing the barriers.”
How does Zandra relax?
It all ties quite nicely into her narrative. She likes her rugby and is a football coach for girls which she set up five years. “We have 150 girls across five age groups, and it was my daughter that prompted to set it up. She didn’t want to play football with boys anymore. So, that’s what I do on my weekends, and I absolutely love it being on the football pitch. It’s amazing.
“I also love my caravan. It is idyllic touring Yorkshire, which I love to death. Towing a caravan and setting up on campsites in Whitby and Sandsend, probably my favourite place in world, with my husband, kids, and dog and being away from the internet, no Wi-Fi, that’s my idea of heaven!”
I am beginning to see the extent Zandra's mother has influenced her. A lady who started without understanding complex language but managed to articulate things in a way that anybody could understand. It comes back to bridging the gap. If you want to make something accessible and you want to make something feel achievable, you must understand it.
An hour with Zandra has taught me self-limiting beliefs are a huge part of our personal narrative that stops us from being happy and achieving the things we want to achieve. Mentors, role models and people that you can trust to help you see the things that make it easy to change yourself, are important.
As her COO Charlie says: “Control the controllables” because it is easier to change you than change someone else and if you can see the things that hold you back and you can remove some of those self-limiting beliefs then the world opens.
With that sentiment ringing in my ears, I let Zandra get to her panel event and as she goes, she has the last word based on lessons from her mum.
“We need cheerleaders and sponsors to help us unlock our potential by helping us see the barriers we put in our own way because quite frankly, we often do. We don't mean to, but we do and getting people around us to help us see them, is important.”