Today is International Women’s Day, and here at Xcede, we’re taking the time to celebrate an inspiring female leader from the STEM sector, Ciara Bosworth.
With over 15 years of experience in the data space, Ciara has become an expert at ‘translating user needs into technical solutions and driving effective and compliant data strategies’. She has worked at world-leading charities such as Childline and NSPCC as a database officer, progressing to leadership roles as Head of Database Services at Shelter UK and then Head of CRM, Data & Customer Services at the British Heart Foundation. She is currently a Database Consultant at Depaul UK, supporting the organization through a Database conversion.
Learn more about Ciara’s working life as a female data expert in the third sector below.
Ciara, let’s begin with your early career and how you got into the data field.
“Despite my love of sorting and keeping things in order, I actually fell into data during a placement year while studying international business. I was working in the glamorously titled marketing materials department, but was in fact managing barcodes assigned to different films. This is where my love for data first sparked.
I became fascinated by how something as mundane as a barcode could hold so much information about a business, a country, a culture and more. Following a few temping roles after university, this spark turned into the beginning of a lifelong career, when I began work at AstraZeneca in biometrics, tracking medical trial outcomes.
Again, I loved how a long, seemingly dull, series of numbers told us so much about a person and helped us develop drugs that could change and save lives. It was here I realised that I wanted to work in the data field; specifically in the charity space, where I felt I could make a difference.
I worked my way up from a database assistant for the National Deaf Children’s Society, through other charities including Childline, NSPCC, Shelter BHF and now contracting. Initially, I was using data for fundraising primarily, but this developed into using data across marketing, service activity and patients to see how we could gather this information together and use it to make a bigger difference.
I think it’s really important to note that you don’t have to be a brain surgeon or a frontline worker to make an impact - you just need to use your skills in the best way possible to make the world a better place. Having the opportunity to do this myself is humbling because it’s so rewarding and just such a lovely thing to do.”
Looking back at your journey from a degree in international business to your career in data, what advice would you give those entering university without a career in mind?
“It’s interesting because many of the jobs I do now didn’t exist when I went to university, so suggesting to a 21-22-year-old that you must pick your career path as soon as you graduate isn’t the route to take anymore.
I’m a firm believer you should do something that makes sense to you, that you enjoy, and that makes you feel good about yourself - and then you’ll fall into the right thing. Once you start working, the tasks you like and excel at will be picked up, and the tasks you don’t enjoy, you’ll stop doing - this is how you naturally come to specialise. If this year has shown us anything, it’s that no one knows what the future holds, even for your career.”
It’s really admirable that you’ve spent your entire career in the charity sector and didn’t leave after a few years’ experience. Why is this?
“Working in the charity sector is great because you’re making a difference, and that’s hard to walk away from. It’s a real privilege to contribute to teams’ success and see the support they have received in the charity sector.”
Since starting your career, how have you seen business attitudes towards data change?
“When I started, the focus was on “what do we have to do with this data?” We ran databases for marketing and gift aid claims - it was very functional.
Over the past 20 years, the focus has switched to “what can we find out from this data?” And - as technology improves, devices are developed, and we all become more connected and traceable in terms of our interests and activities - we have this fascinating world of data to work with.”
How does working in the third sector differ from the private sector?
“The third sector tends to be a little behind other areas because we don’t always have the investment needed to take advantage of new technologies. And this can be tricky for people expecting the same experience when buying from large retailers, and then when making an online donation.
Charities are in a niche space where the public have a lot of love for them and want to interact with them, but they don’t really want to consider charities as being overly professional. Some people expect us all to be volunteering from the kitchen table and working on the back of an envelope.
What many people don’t realise is how big and complex some charitable organisations are. BHF, for example, is a £150-160m a year organisation and that’s not including trading turnover from over 700 stores. That’s more shops than Asda. And adding to the complexity there’s £100m yearly spend on research.
However, the sector is certainly growing more confident in explaining why investment in specialist expertise and tools is crucial for growth.”
If you would like to learn more about launching your career in this sector, get in touch today. Or, if you are looking for a specialized data role to progress your career, browse our vast range of data job opportunities here.