Emma Hatton, CTO of Orbital Wave Ltd, shares her coaching experience as part of the Women in Innovation Programme

Posted on: 22/01/2021

The timing of the coaching opportunity could not have been better for me and I am ready to use my skills and experience to help Orbital Wave make an impact in our industry.

What is coaching and how does it work? 

I confess I didn’t really know when, in Spring 2020, I saw a Women in Innovation coaching opportunity advertised, but I knew I needed some support, so I signed up before any insecurities or excuses could intrude.  

Coaching is a confidential process and is built around the person being coached. This probably explains why it was hard to find out beforehand how the process works, and, as an engineer, I do like to know what I am letting myself in for. Because it is an individual process, you start off by agreeing to a partnership with your coach and deciding how you want to work together. For me, this meant I would choose the topic and what I wanted out of the session. My coach, Victoria Coxen, would guide me with questions, making me reflect on examples and taking me on a journey to understand the issues I had raised. Going through that process might lead me to see something without my fears or preconceptions getting in the way, evaluating why people (myself included) behave in certain ways or understanding how I could do something better.  

During the months of coaching, Vic and I discussed a different topic every week, covering a wide range of subjects. I know I have benefitted from all the coaching but the real key to unlocking the value came right at the beginning of my journey.

Over the last few years, I’d had a growing feeling that some of my insecurities were starting to hinder the progress I was making in my career. I knew I was suffering from impostor syndrome; it was being triggered, in part, through a continuous cycle of taking on exciting new challenges but then focussing too much on what I didn’t know and what I needed to learn. Through the coaching, I now realise that I never took the time to reflect on what I had achieved and learned in each step. I had entered a vicious circle of judging myself against “domain experts” instead of acknowledging that my career path has not been the same as theirs and so understandably my expertise is different. All this added fuel to one of my biggest worries at a point when networking would be key to my company’s success: the “dreaded conference lunch” (I know I am not alone here). As much as I am used to the low numbers of women in physics and engineering when entering a room full of grey-suited men, many of whom are silver-haired sages of the industry, it is difficult, sometimes, to feel like you are amongst peers. I would look into the room wondering “Why would anyone at the conference want to talk to me? They are all experts; they’re at the peak of their careers and have this networking thing smashed!”. At least now my hair is starting to take steps towards blending in!  

What I describe is a common problem, but none of the advice I read in the past helped me overcome the desire to flee the lunch queue because it didn’t address the complexities of how I was feeling. Working with Vic allowed me to understand, for the first time, the various issues that were driving my behaviour at these networking events. I finally feel able to face these interactions more calmly and with confidence in my own experience. “Why would anyone want to talk to me over a conference lunch?” Well, I’ve had a varied and interesting career to get this far, so why wouldn’t they?!

I am now a co-founder and the CTO of Orbital Wave, a start-up based in Bristol and Bath that I and five other space domain industry experts founded in April 2020 to deliver “spacecraft operations as a service” to the commercial New Space sector. As other founders know, a start-up is led by passionate people with a common goal but holding strong individual views. Coaching has helped me realise I have the skills to navigate this path and it has helped me understand how to make sure everyone feels valued and their opinions are heard. The timing of the coaching opportunity could not have been better for me and I am ready to use my skills and experience to help Orbital Wave make an impact in our industry. 

Due to the success of the pilot programme, the coaching team have agreed to an ongoing special coaching package of 33% off their normal rates for a limited number of women within the Women in Innovation community. 

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