05 Mar 2024
by Shan Beerstecher

AND She Leads: Shan Beerstecher 

AND’s Chief of Group Marketing Shan Beerstecher shares how a South African upbringing made her an activist and disruptor. She discusses the value of fresh perspectives, self-awareness, and the challenges that persist for women in the tech sector. And she explains why, when it comes to successful transformation, “cultural transformation is the key; tech is the sideshow.”

A career in tech wasn’t an ambition for Shan Beerstecher; “I was drawn to the project and programme management side of things — taking a team and delivering something successful. The tech element just evolved.” 

Fresh out of The University of Cape Town, Shan’s first major project management role was in London, “moving Barclays Capital from the City to Canary Wharf”. It was the start of a career that was initially weighted firmly towards finance. Roles at Deutsche Bank and Investec Asset Management followed before Shan returned to her native South Africa. Here, her work shifted to tech services, as Programme and Client Services Director with Global Vision, and then Head of Transformation and Strategy for DirectAxis. 

When she returned to the UK in 2014, Shan combined tech and finance as Digital Transformation Manager for Skipton Building Society, before becoming Club Executive of AND Digital’s Club Newton in 2019.  

Making an impact 

“Very early on I realised that making an impact on people was really important to me,” she says. “I was championing employee engagement before it was even a ‘thing’.”  

That people focus is deep rooted, a product of Shan’s childhood. “It came from my upbringing in apartheid South Africa. I was an activist, even at the age of five or six. I remember being totally traumatised by what was going on — it made me a disruptor. I’m still a disruptor. That's my super strength. But I do it in a way that is focused on people and making a positive impact on them. I think that's what's helped me be successful.” 

Shan has never undertaken any formal tech skills training, although she has learnt the fundamentals of technical architecture, and has been leading digital service delivery projects for years.  

“I do think [not coming from a deep tech background] can be an advantage, because you bring a different perspective to an industry-related challenge or problem, rather than seeing it purely through a tech lens. Having different perspectives in a group is what makes things successful. 

“When I headed up Digital at Directaxis in South Africa, I was working to change the culture, to make the business genuinely customer first. I did an enormous amount of research into understanding the importance of customer centricity for delivering any kind of product or technical solution, and what was clear was that transformation is less about technology. It's all about people and culture. Whatever the transformation that you're trying to make in a company, you need to take people with you, because if you don’t you just won't succeed. 

“It’s a bit of a stereotype, but I think women are particularly well-equipped to help people along that journey, to understand what drains people of energy and what their super strengths are. 

“For me, cultural transformation is the key to successful transformation. Tech is the sideshow.”  

Allyship, self-awareness and escaping the “drama triangle” 

Shan’s disruptive instincts haven’t always made life easy for her. “I’ve been in a role as Head of Digital where they struggled with me being disruptive. They struggled with my forthrightness. I think if I'd been a man there would have been less discomfort around what I was saying and how I was saying it. 

“When I left the company, I remember saying to the CEO that maybe I had gone about things the wrong way. And he said ‘no, actually you've made a huge difference. We wouldn't be where we are if it wasn't for you’. That was one of the biggest compliments I've ever had because it was an incredibly difficult, traumatic period. It’s in those periods that you find yourself in a ‘drama triangle’, where you become the victim, where you feel everything that happens happens to you, and you seek reassurance from others about what’s going on. I don't think that's necessarily a good thing. 

“The big thing for me is being self-aware. You can have someone who's really brilliant at what they do but has a total lack of self-awareness. That’s a problem. For me, those kinds of people shouldn't be leaders. To grow that self-awareness I get feedback. I just listen and absorb.” 

Shan also credits her ‘tribe’ and her ‘reverse mentor’ with supporting her self-awareness. “You have your tribe – family, friends and your closest work colleagues — the people who will always be your number one cheerleaders. They’re the people you need to tell you if you’re going overboard or being too analytical. 

“But getting the perspective of my AND mentor, someone outside that circle and finding an ally in someone who was younger than me, and who was experiencing a different world and could give me different perspectives on it was so important to me. 

“Then, if we’re going to make real inroads into the inequalities in the workplace, we need male allies too.” 

Changing the world 

Is the industry a better place for women than it was?  

“I’ve worked in places where there’s been lots of backstabbing and manipulation, where targets for D&I are seen as reverse discrimination. It does mentally exhaust you. I remember one International Women's Day in a previous role where the CEO asked why there isn't an International Men's Day. 

“These attitudes aren’t limited to tech or finance — these are universal problems — but if we want to change them then we need tech companies and others to create the right cultures, to understand and nurture women, to promote women. I see lots of positive intent, but I don’t think anybody is truly there yet.” 

Shan does, however, see significant progression over the past decade. “Being able to see more women in leadership positions has made a positive impact, but I don't think it’s anywhere near where we need to be. If anything we saw a step back during the pandemic because so many women had a dual role of work and household stuff.” 

“We do need to get more women into tech. We need fresh perspectives about the way we deliver products, harness data or use AI. To any woman thinking about a career, I’d say I think you can make a bigger difference in tech than you can in a lot of other industries. The job satisfaction can be massive. You're making an impact. And you're changing the world.” 

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Shan Beerstecher

Shan Beerstecher

Club Executive (Managing Director), AND Digital