Interview with the global tech powerhouse, Paulette Watson MD
Paulette Watson is a tech change-maker making strong waves to help and support young women and adults surrounding STEM education, here in the UK and across the globe. Here’s her story.
What’s your career background?
The very first job I started in Banking; after a year, I got a job in International | Corporate Banking, where I worked for five years in foreign exchange (FX) and Tech departments. As a single parent, staying was challenging, so I decided to change my career and became my Daughter’s computer science teacher.
Over the last 20 years, I have been leading in Education Technology Leadership, where I was responsible for developing Information Technology Communication Structures across boroughs, schools, and the local community.
How did your career change after having children?
As a single parent, I saw the societal challenges in Housing – I bought my house at the age of 23; Education attainment gaps: I became a computer science teacher and within two years was Director of ICT and teaching my child.
Working long hours in the City began to grate on me, I was losing time to spend with my daughter. When it began to affect her education, I knew I had to change things immediately.
I started to check out the school’s league table and realised that the school was in special measures (wasn’t doing too well). This is when I decided to get more involved in my daughter’s school, this is when my educational tech leadership journey started. I became my child’s teacher.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I saw the gaps in educational attainment levels and how they would impact my child and her friends. I started to look at the school data locally; then, I decided to set up Academy Achievers as a community group offering Literacy, Numeracy, Science and Computer Science for Key stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
I was head of E-learning and Computer Science at a local secondary school, and I got all my teachers, friends and family members to volunteer their time at the weekend working with young people ages 3-18.
We started at the back of a local church community hall, with 20 young people attending it, growing to over 100 each week.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
As Director of ICT, I managed and led the ICT team, provided guidance, training, and coaching, and ensured that the team’s work aligned with the organisation’s strategy and goals.
I saw the gaps, especially for disadvantaged young people, and could not do this at the school I was working at due to gaining permission. I contacted Lego about partnering up with them on STEM opportunities, and they told me to liaise with First Lego League. I did, and we started hosting regional STEM Robotic competitions with schools across London.
Academy Achievers was set up in 2003 and incorporated in 2017. I realised that partnership was the way forward, so in 2017/18, we also partnered with Apple at Stratford Westfield – this was so fun! Then we got to showcase our work at HSBC Bank Canary Wharf. This partnership gave our business more exposure, and we started to deliver STEM camps across London Schools.
Now we are international – and still growing.
What’s your work ethos?
I am a hard worker, always willing to go the extra mile to achieve goals – and this passion is globally recognised. I show up! Punctuality for me is King; I always arrive on time, respecting deadlines and schedules. As a Leader, I lead by example in the following ways:
Professionalism is crucial for me, always conducting myself courteously and respectfully and demonstrating high skill and competence in the job. It is critical to building meaningful relationships – especially with our stakeholders.
I am very cautious of people who find it challenging to do this – I keep it moving. I have learned that it is not always about me; moving forward and letting it go is okay.
I am all about teamwork; I work well with others, communicate effectively and contribute to our team’s success.
I am very good at taking the initiative; I am proactive and take the lead when necessary, taking ownership of tasks and projects. I do give others a chance but offer help when I see it is required.
Being flexible and adaptable to changes is very important, especially in a Tech space; I am learning new skills and embracing new challenges every day. I enjoy this.
I take pride in my work and am meticulous in ensuring accuracy and quality. I have done this since I was a child – I like to get things right; I notice that when I ask too many questions and hold people to account, they find it a challenge – but it is necessary.
I am accountable and take full responsibility for my actions and decision – as a founder and MD for AA, I am always willing to accept the consequences when things go wrong. For me, failure only occurs when you give up!
I maintain a positive attitude despite challenges and am willing to learn from my mistakes. Every day I start with this in mind – it helps to empower my team and staff.
Lastly, I conduct myself honestly and ethically and respect others and their opinions. I do this every day to ensure we are all happy and thriving.
Who’s your demographic and why?
We are an inclusive organisation, but we have a particular interest in black women and girls. Our plan is to open up to young males in the future as the demand is there.
We understand that black women are disproportionately represented in the tech sector, we seek to improve on diversity and inclusion.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
I am an international Global Tech speaker – each time I speak on Web 3 or STEM topics; I use it to share what we do with the #BeMedigitalinclusion program. I give examples of Web 3 careers and what it looks like to prepare for the future of work. Then I direct them to our website, where they can read blogs and sign up for our #BeMedigitalinclusion program.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Social Media platforms – where we have promoted our business services – creating content, like blog posts, videos, and infographics to help engage our customers.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Covid but we ploughed through and implemented the digital transformation strategy. Moving with the times and being adaptable has really made a difference.
I was dealing with and coming to terms with my father’s sudden death. Now I use his key dates to plan our Tech events – I can remember him every single time and push forward with the #BeMedigitalinclusion program.
And your proudest moment so far?
There are so many proudest moments for me. Firstly, having my child – I see myself as her role model, and I can see how successful she is, and I am so proud of her.
Secondly, I have led an organisation that is now global, and I am seeing so many young women’s lives changing. They are becoming financially free and giving back to their communities.
And thirdly – As an entrepreneur, I am so impressed with my continued successes – I am currently involved in developing a Web 3 onboarding program – a game changer for me. Every day, I am winning, and I love it.
I have been nominated many times for the #BeMedigitalinclusion program, and I’m empowering women and girls to get into STEM | Web 3 careers.
Why is work so important to you?
I have experienced discrimination at work, at university, within workplaces, in community groups, and so much more, and I want to see change now!– Championing the #BeMedigitalinclusion and onboarding women in Web 3 is giving them back the ownership to have their voices and build without being blocked.
Who inspires you? I could not have reached this far without my mother and her sisters, who are strong black women. My sister Yve and my Daughter are just outstanding and unique! They see the qualities in me and inspire me to push beyond my limits. I could see qualities in other black women like Winnie Mandela, Maya Angelou and others – I am now meeting more amazing women too.
What’s more important to you, social impact or sustainability?
Both. Social impact because we want to see changes within our communities and a greener and better society which involves everybody. And sustainability because what we are doing is very important and we need capital to keep it going in order for it to scale up
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
- You must like what you do and have a passion for inspiring others.
- Do your research, know your market, and understand your target audience’s needs.
- You need to have a financial plan and create a long-term strategy to be sustainable.