Working life stories: Patricia Gestoso

Patricia Gestoso talks to workingwise.co.uk about her career trajectory and about her passion for – and new business in – diversity and inclusion.

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Patricia Gestoso describes herself as a cultural broker, having lived in Europe, South America, and Canada, built collaborations with nationals from 50+ countries in her working life as well as benefiting from a strong sense of identity as an immigrant. All of that experience has given her a rich perspective on different approaches to working which have shaped her passion for diversity and inclusion. 

Born in Spain, Patricia’s family moved to Venezuela when she was young. Given Venezuela is one of the world’s top oil producers, it seemed a natural choice for her to study engineering. She was keen to get a job that would give her security and allow her to move around. 

Nevertheless, after getting a taste of university, Patricia decided she wanted to stay in academia. She did a master’s and then moved to Quebec to do a PhD where she met her partner who is French. At that point, the economic situation in Venezuela was getting worse and Patricia knew she would not go back.   After her PhD in Chemistry, she took up a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship in Greece before realising that an academic career was not for her. 

She decided to explore commercial openings. Her partner wanted to return to France so Patricia took up a job as a research engineer at Rhodia in Lyons. From there she moved to Cambridge where she worked for Accelrys Ltd as a training scientist on materials computer modelling. 

By 2009 she was Global Head of Training and Contract Research Services. She has remained at the company which later was acquired by Dassault Systèmes, working her way up to her current role as Global Director of Scientific Support and Customer Operations.

Over the years Patricia has worked with Fortune 500 companies, governments and academic institutions to build, deliver and maintain science-based virtual solutions worldwide. In her role as head of customer operations, she has co-led several acquisition integrations and is a member of Dassault Systèmes Technology and Support Councils.

Diversity and inclusion

Patricia says that until 2015 she was very focused on career progression, but she reached a ‘bump’ in her career path which made her reflect and do a lot of soul-searching.  She met up with other women in different fields through a group of women professionals. “We began to talk about things we had all experienced, such as microaggressions and the idea there is just one way to be a leader,” she says. “I realised that the issues were systemic. I had spent a lot of energy in my career trying to prove to everyone that I was capable and to fix myself to fit the traditional leadership model.”

She had also noticed that many of the women she had started work with were no longer in the meetings she had been holding across the company as part of the integration project. They had taken time off to have children and when they returned they were often seen as not as committed or were given the projects that didn’t lead to promotion. At around the same time, Patricia became interested in issues relating to women in tech, having previously not viewed what she was doing in that light. 

She started her company’s first employee resources group around gender – not just to discuss inequality in the workplace, but also to look at the tech products the sector was producing which often reflected the kind of people who worked in the sector rather than the broad public. She became a Diversity and Inclusion champion in her workplace and focused on how to address some of the issues which excluded women. “Inclusion is a practice like yoga,” she says, adding that we need to be aware of it every day in every process and practice. “We leave it to employers to say they are inclusive, but it needs conscious actions, conversations and tools,” she says. During that time, she developed an interactive visualisation of the factors accounting for the low representation of women in leadership positions in tech companies.

When Covid started Patricia says many people put any inclusion work they were doing on hold, hoping that working from home would fix everything for women. With the Professional Women’s Network she launched a survey on the effect of Covid-19 on the unpaid work of professional women which got widespread coverage. Patricia, who was recognised with the UK 2020 Women in Software Changemakers award in 2020, said it was clear that many companies who talked about inclusion were not actually doing anything much about it. “They were just ticking the box,” she says, adding that while one-off unconscious bias training can be good, it is a little like thinking that after watching a Manchester United video you can play professional football.

Start-up school

In 2018 Patricia had been thinking about creating a start-up and had taken some courses, but none of the people on the courses looked like her. Most were quite young and didn’t have full-time jobs. Patricia had met Suzanne Noble and Mark Elliott from the Start-Up School for Seniors in the past. During the Covid lockdown she got back in touch with the organisation which supports over 50s to start up their own companies. They helped her to connect the dots in her mind and shaped her business idea. “They are amazing, they don’t have a mould they are trying to fit you in. They help you make the connections in your path so that you find a business idea that is right for you. That process of exploration was so rich for me. It allowed me a lot of space. I never felt there was one right way. It was very refreshing,” says Patricia.

She delved back into her past, including the models her mother and grandmother had provided. Her mother has her own company and her grandmother sells vintage jewellery. 

Last year Patricia, who is 52, launched her company, Patricia Gestoso Consulting, which promotes diversity and inclusion, with a focus on managers and senior leadership. She says that if employers pay for advice they have to make a good business case and are therefore more likely to be committed. She does motivational speaking engagements, but also runs an inclusive leaders programme which involves coaching and masterclasses over six-12 months. It’s about showing people the business value of diversity and inclusion in terms of innovation, reputation, attraction and retention of talent and much more. She talks about how 40% of women who start in the tech industry are no longer there after five years. “There’s no point just hiring more women. It’s like having a bucket with a hole in it,” she states.

Currently Patricia fits her work around her full-time job, taking time off for workshops. Her employer is very supportive of what she is doing as are her colleagues. She has been mentoring and coaching for years in any event and the company benefits from her expertise in this area. 

Patricia says she is focused on transformation and on building a legacy that she can pass on. She says this is not just a product of ageing, but of different life events. For her it was motivated by what happened to her in 2015.

Since then Patricia has been determined to make a difference. In addition to all her other achievements, she has also co-founded the Tech Inclusion Partnership – a joint initiative of DEI advocates working for digital UK leaders such as Accenture, Capgemini, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens – and she is an active contributor to several women in tech and women in business networks. She is also the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity lead advisor at We and AI, a British NGO with the mission of increasing public awareness of artificial intelligence, where she has guided the justice and healthcare working groups delivering on the Race and AI toolkit. She has created the Ethics and Inclusion Framework©, a tool to help designers to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for the actual and potential negative impact of the services and products they create. In addition, she has developed the Fair Care Tracker, an application that helps caregivers to record the unpaid work they perform, assess the value they get in return, reflect on the skills they develop and quantify the uncollected revenue. 

She says that her professional experience changed her view of what success looks like and made her see how important diversity and inclusion is to businesses. It’s not just about justice for her, but about a passionate belief that diversity and inclusion is the key to innovation and success because it challenges businesses to look at the world in different, richer ways and to be more open to new ideas.

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