Stef Brown on Mezz

How I became Head of Product

This International Women’s Day, we wanted to celebrate by speaking to women who work at Registers of Scotland who are in roles you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a land registry – from solicitors, to GIS analysts, to customer service professionals our organisation has a wealth of talent, and we want to tell you about it! Meet Stef…

‘The term ‘product’ isn’t just for start-ups’

My name is Stephanie Brown and I head up our Product team at Registers of Scotland. People might associate terms like ‘product’ or ‘product management’ with the private sector – perhaps specifically start-ups – but it’s also an established discipline within government, working to deliver the tools that enable us to provide better services to members of the public and business.

I’ve worked at RoS for over a decade with my first role being in our intake team creating application record entries to the land register. My next role was in our customer services team answering customer queries about applications to the registers RoS maintains. My role in customer services lead me to apply for the role of ‘product owner’ in 2013. For the past two years I have built upon this in my role as Head of Business Development using my knowledge of our customers and processes to grow and develop our relationship with those customers and stakeholders. Early in my career at RoS I made the decision to focus on working with our customers which led me to pursue these roles.

‘The variety and pace of the role is one of my favourite things and one people might find surprising’

I mentioned earlier that the discipline I work in is one people may not necessarily associate with government. But wider than that, the variety and pace of the role is one of my favourite things and one people might find surprising. Looking over my calendar, one recent Friday I started my morning responding to emails from customers, colleagues in HR and our Legal and Policy team. Then I moved on to a session shadowing a product owner for a couple of hours, meeting the development team he works with and discussing the product roadmap they’re working to deliver.

After that I had a call with a Head of Product in another part of government who I’d contacted as part of my on boarding activity into this new role. I’m keen to make networks which benefit RoS and our customers by seeing what ‘good’ looks like elsewhere and how others have achieved that. I’ve found the product community in government to be incredibly welcoming and open and I hope to build a reputation for RoS as the same. I then followed up with colleagues from a different department, who recently visited RoS, to share some of our materials with them and to agree our next activities. Lastly I had a call with colleagues in our Glasgow office to discuss a workshop we’re holding and to agree our responsibilities.

Working collaboratively within RoS and across departments is something I really enjoy. It means we can share our experience of good practice, learn about different ways of working and try new approaches all the while gathering feedback which I find really valuable.

Stef Brown working from laptop

‘Finding and building my network has been hugely important for me’

I spent a lot of time early in my career worrying. Was I doing a good enough job? Was I doing as well as others? Where would I be in five years? It took me longer than it should to realise the benefits of being open and discussing these worries with colleagues and hearing them tell me the same things! Finding and building my network has been hugely important for me and something I stress the value of to colleagues I now mentor. Over the years I’ve learned the answers to some of these questions; there’s always room to learn more, I’d never know that I was doing well unless I asked for feedback and that in five years’ time I would end up in a role that didn’t exist previously.

Sitting down to write this blog, I’ve realised that I don’t really do enough to support gender equality and take it for granted. My immediate peers within my directorate are women and it’s been a long time since I was in a meeting and found questions being directed to my male colleagues only or there was an assumption I was there to record it rather than participate.

It’s so easy to view gender equality through only my own (present) lens but years ago an older friend told me about the challenge she had getting a mortgage. The challenge wasn’t having sufficient funds but having a bank agree to lend her the money because she was a single working woman. In the end she had to ask her dad to act as guarantor, something that still rankled her decades later because her achievement in saving and working towards her first home felt lessened. I had no idea that challenge existed for women in the 70s. I remembered her experience the first time I saw a standard security deed as part of my job in intake. And I thought about the women who met all other criteria set to them but didn’t have family able or willing to provide that role.

‘Having different voices present brings about change’

Writing this prompted me to look up the stats on gender representation in the UK. Women in the House of Commons account for 32% of MPs while 36% of MSPs at Holyrood are women. In business women hold 29% of boardroom positions at FTSE100 companies. Representation matters, and it’s having different voices present that bring about change. It’s speculative to suggest that lack of balanced representation is a contributing factor to some of the imbalance between family rights afforded to men and women, but it was only four years ago that shared parental leave was introduced. I’ve seen how enriching that is for colleagues and it seems staggering that it took so long to come into effect.  But equally how far we’ve come, my own dad took leave the day I was born and returned to work the next day, as was common, to congratulations and reminders of work to be caught up on.

Ultimately activities like International Women’s Day, for me, are reminders to educate myself about the near past as well as the present so I can question more, guard against complacency and practice empathy with colleagues and customers.

Find out more!

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