I tried to be “one of the boys” at start of career, says woman leading JPMorgan’s “futurist” tech strategy
JPMorgan managing director Alison Macpherson is one of the most influential technologists at her bank. She’s responsible for the development of the firm’s global technology talent strategy across global technology and digital and platform services. When Macpherson began her technology career at a logistics company back in the 1990s, however, she says there were significantly fewer women working in tech.
“For the first few years of my career I tried to be ‘one of the boys’ – but presenting myself as someone I wasn’t really involved using up a lot of psychological capacity. I realised later that I could add much more value by being my authentic self and bringing my unique perspective to the table. Every minute you spend being someone you’re not, you reduce your psychological capacity to perform,” she adds.
London-based Macpherson says women are better represented in tech now, but the industry “certainly has a way to go”. Diversity of all kinds is important within technology teams because the “more cognitive and experientially diverse a team is, the more effective it is at delivering for clients”, she adds.
JPMorgan, which is taking part in the eFinancialCareers Women in Tech and Finance virtual career event on February 10, runs a number of programmes that promote diversity. The firm’s Tech Connect scheme, for example, recruits university graduates from non-computer science backgrounds. Women make up just 19% of students studying computer sciences related degrees in the UK, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, so hiring from other courses makes it easier for banks to target female grads.
Tech Connect is a multi-week intensive Java training course where participants learn to read, write and understand basic Java, as well as receive support and coaching from senior business leaders, says Macpherson. The Americas and UK cohorts also attend the bank’s software engineer training programme.
Macpherson got her own start in tech without a computer science degree – she studied international business with languages – and turned herself into a technologist during her earlier career stint at the logistics company. “I’d established myself as a power user of Microsoft technologies through university, and happily my firm recognised that I had an aptitude for it and was also passionate about encouraging colleagues to explore technology solutions to business problems,” she explains. “They invested in my technical education and that really enabled me to develop my domain expertise. It ignited a passion, and essentially led me to identify as a technologist,” she adds.
Macpherson joined JPM in 2012 having previously worked at Morgan Stanley for 11 years. Prior to her current role, she was head of strategy and governance for corporate and investment banking technology, which is JPMorgan’s largest business-unit-aligned technology organisation.
Now in charge of technology talent development, Macpherson describes her job as that of a “futurist”. “It’s part of my role to figure out how to equip our workforce with learning and adoption strategies for emerging technologies as we continuously modernise our tech architecture. We’re thinking about new ways of working across businesses and with clients, and so we need a future-focused talent strategy,” she says.
If you’re a tech professional interviewing with JP Morgan, be prepared to talk about the application of emerging technology to the bank’s business. “There’s a huge amount of emerging technology that excites me, but I’d note that part of our focus at JPM has started to evolve into AI and machine learning as we’re finding more and more of those capabilities across the firm. One example is in the cyber security space – managing fraud, considering threat intelligence, protecting the business, and more,” says Macpherson.
Given the increasing breadth of technology roles across banks like JPM, Macpherson encourages young female tech professionals to “single out their signature strengths and differentiation” at an early stage in their careers. Being successful in banking technology also depends on your ability to “challenge the status quo and stimulate new ideas”, and that requires constantly asking questions when working on projects. “What are we trying to achieve? Why do we do it this way? Would another way be better?” says Macpherson.