Including fundamental patents related to provisioning and tokenisation, Terrie Smith has an unparalleled track record in the payment sector, boasting over 20 years of industry experience at companies such as Mastercard, American Express, Barclays, and Orange.
Instrumental in shaping the Mastercard Digital Enable System (MDES), used to support Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Garmin, FitBit and more, Terrie was awarded the IET Achievement Medal in 2019 and was crowned as one of the 20 Most Influential Women in Payments by PaymentsSource in 2020.
DiversityQ sat down with Terrie Smith to find out more. Having co-founded the award-winning IoT platform DIGISEQ in 2014, Terrie now serves as the company’s Global Ambassador, focusing on revolutionising the wearable and IoT market while enabling manufacturers to deliver cutting-edge functionality to their customers.
What inspired you to pursue a career in technology, and how did you get your start in the industry?
Growing up, my father worked in robotics. In fact, he was part of one of the very first design teams to work with chip manufacturers. I was always interested in his work, spending hours poring over blueprints while he explained the basics of electronics and computing to me. So, in many ways, you could say I was brought up on technology.
Years later, a friend who worked at what is now Electrolux told me I would do well in data processing, and that I should look at jobs in that field. I applied for six jobs and was offered every last one.
I accepted an offer from General Motors, who ran what turned out to be the best apprenticeship you could ever wish for, providing intensive training for coding, operations, and the opportunity to work across different departments. I gained organisational management, coding, system programming, and COBOL programming skills, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
My boss recognised that I had a little something about me and suggested I move into something more technical. So, I was assigned to work with IBM on their first installation of virtual telecommunications, and from this point, I realised that new technology was where I wanted to be.
What have been some of the highlights of your career, and what accomplishments are you most proud of?
The Mastercard Digital Enablement Service – AKA Tokenisation. While MDES was based on an existing concept, it had never been pushed to the limit; it simply wasn’t viewed as plausible at the time.
It was an enormous challenge to convince the right individuals to come on board, and it wasn’t until a well-known mobile phone company approached us that I realised what I had was exactly what they were looking for. I never gave up on believing it could be done, and it has been quite the journey from there.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?
When I was 17, my dad told me that if I wanted to leave school, I would need to get a job first. We are talking 1976 – the three-day week and the Winter of Discontent – yet somehow, I managed to find work in insurance.
The company assured me that I would enjoy a long and prosperous career there, and it wasn’t long until I, alongside five male peers, was put forward for the education process at the Institute of Insurance. All five men made it onto the programme, yet I was overlooked for selection – even though I had more ability in my little finger than most of those guys. I was incensed. I spoke to my boss and demanded an answer as to why I hadn’t been selected, but he simply couldn’t give me one. And so, I decided to vote with my feet and quit on the spot.
You see, prejudice had never been part of my upbringing. As a child, my dad always insisted that if I wanted to do something, there should be no stopping me. I’ll always be extremely grateful for that.
What advice would you give to women interested in starting their businesses in STEM fields?
Don’t let the fact you are a woman sway your desire to do anything. Your gender should never come into the equation. At the same time, be prepared, and consider what you will need to succeed.
I would advise any woman who wants to make waves in any given field – especially those that are male orientated – to go for it. Something has to give, so don’t be afraid to be the change.
What steps need to be taken to increase the number of women in leadership positions in STEM industries?
After I had my children, I desperately wanted to return to work, but striking a practical work-life balance when my personal responsibilities had shifted so dramatically was extremely difficult to master.
Sadly, many women returning to work after pregnancy are overlooked and not afforded the same opportunities as their male colleagues. It’s important to offer flexibility, and all too often, in male-dominated organisations, it fails to be prioritised. Flexibility is key to creating a balanced working environment, and if that’s not on offer, then quite simply you won’t get the right women applying.
In your experience, what traits are most important for female leaders to possess, and why?
It hasn’t always been easy, but as a woman, I’ve tried extremely hard to ignore male biases. You may not want to, and you certainly shouldn’t have to, but you need to set yourself apart from your male counterparts, and prove that you are as good, if not better.
Don’t take things too personally. Stand up and fight. And should your confidence take a hit, be prepared to get straight back up and bet on yourself.
How do you balance being a strong leader while also being approachable and collaborative with your team?
We often imagine successful leaders as autonomous thinkers who take brave decisions to achieve results, which is rarely true for many businesses today.
A true leader understands the value of collaboration and how it can help an organisation achieve its goals by harnessing and encouraging the power of collective and diverse thinking.
Empowering your team to utilise their wide range of skills, knowledge, and experience helps break down silos and gives everyone an opportunity to confidently share feedback or exercise judgment.
What advice would you give to women aspiring to be leaders in their field?
Believe in yourself and what you know. At Mastercard, I was tasked with the very, very difficult job of getting mobile payments off the ground. For many financial institutions, it was deemed too complex to even consider. There were just so many moving parts that, at times, it felt like it was impossible to scale up.
At times like that, you can’t just take things as read; you must push yourself to the limit and learn more about how things fit together. So, I went back to the drawing board, knuckled down, and began to trial a few ideas.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that if you truly believe something is possible, it can be done. Of course, the road to get there won’t necessarily be a smooth track, but if today’s fintechs can teach you one thing, it’s that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it.
How can schools and universities encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in STEM fields?
The gender gap in STEM and technology starts at school and continues through every stage of a woman’s life. Many young women are put off careers in technology as it is still too male-dominated. This is probably true across all school and university courses dedicated to STEM subjects. A career in STEM can really make a difference to the world, so it is imperative that our schools and universities highlight their importance and impact.
Women tend to look at things differently from men, and education needs to place more importance on having multiple perspectives across every discipline. More collaborative thinking offers society more complete solutions.
Our education system must do more to engage with female leaders in tech and share their success stories through webinars, workshops, networking and other public forums. Only by doing so can we begin to conquer the subconscious bias that technology is an industry “by men, for men”, deliver change, and truly reshape the landscape.
Exploring the barriers to entry, adopting programmes to educate men on the issue of gender bias within the industry, and their role in encouraging female representation in STEM fields, is also of the utmost importance.
DivrsityQ’s upcoming Women in IT Summit UK 2023 in London on 18 May will have all you need to ensure your tech firm can deliver workforce equity as much as commercial viability during challenging times.
Click here to book your place and for more information.