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Everywoman forum: the importance of authenticity, confidence and being memorable

At the 2016 Everywoman in Technology forum, speakers taught women in IT how to stand out from the crowd, when authenticity matters and how to have confidence

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Each year the Everywoman network brings 500 women from the technology sector together to learn how to advance their careers in their sector.

The overarching theme of the 2016 Everywoman in Tech forum focused on small changes which make a difference to the way you approach your career, including building confidence, being memorable and ensuring you present your authentic self.

“Of the seven million people working across tech in Europe, only 30% are women,” said Karen Gill, co-founder of Everywoman.

“It’s the smaller step changes that really make the world of difference in business.”

Often women in technology do not speak out in a group situation because they are in the minority, and feel intimidated.

Erin McSweeney, executive vice-president of global HR for EMC, warded women in tech away from staying quiet, and said that often it is asking the tough questions that get you noticed, growing your network.

“I’m not saying the right doors flew open, but I got closer to the right doors.” McSweeney stated.

Once you’ve become noticed you become more confident and women should never underestimate the “power of the professional network”.

Nicole Vanderbilt, vice-president at Etsy, emphasised that ensuring the questions you are asking are the right ones is extremely important in becoming noticed in business.

“Don’t know all the answers,” Vanderbilt said.

“The only way I could do my job is by asking good questions.”

Being consistently told she was “good at maths for a girl” Vanderbilt admitted she felt obliged to go into a science, technology, engineering or maths (Stem) career, even though it had not crossed her mind before.

“The path is almost never predictable or obvious,” Vanderbilt said.

“Make sure you’re doing something that you love, because it is hard work.”

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Most companies have now introduced flexible working in a bid to cater to a more diverse workforce, as well as adapt to the digital world.

But Vanderbilt said achieving a work-life balance is extremely hard, if not impossible, and more conversation should be had about the lack of work-life balance to normalise this.

In the technology industry, “flexibility and adaptability go a long way” said Vanderbilt, and this includes understanding who you are, and what your needs are.

Vanderbilt advised having kids, and if you don’t intend to have children, act as if you already have, because it makes you better at your job.

“It really teaches you the downside of short-term focus.” Vanderbilt shared.

Being remembered and how to behave

Helen Adams, vice-president of sales in the EU and Asia for ARM, said reduced hours are “unrealistic”, and the UK needs to “reset the job spec” to better match the digital age.

“This whole way we classify a 37-hour working week in Europe isn’t realistic,” Adams said.

She stated women in technology need to learn to “manage your time” and “make every minute count” while being flexible and prioritising needs.

Adams said a work-life balance, or its lack, seems much easier to tolerate when you’re enjoying what you’re doing.

“You just need to be brave, remind yourself why you’re there – it’s not personal, it’s business,” Adams said.

“Sometimes you have to really step outside your comfort zone and, the older you get, the harder that is.”

For a male perspective on the matter, Andrew Challis, managing director, head of strategic investments for Barclays Investment Bank, said one way of making flexible working more widely accepted is to make sure men can do it too.

Challis said: “Women can encourage men to celebrate things like the inclusion of paternity leave for men.”

By “supporting and celebrating where men take those decisions” the working environment will feel more inclusive, and everyone will feel more comfortable with flexible working.

Many women feel that, to be noticed in the workplace, they must adopt a more masculine approach, reflecting how the men in their environment behave.

But many women already at the top said they regretted taking that approach when they were new to the industry. Jacqueline de Rojas, vice-president and general manager for Citrix in Northern Europe, said she had acted as an “Alphazilla” when first trying to become established in the industry.

De Rojas – who is also the president of TechUK and was 2015’s Computer Weekly most influential woman in UK IT – admitted now she would “leave fewer dead bodies around me when I go for something I really want” and encouraged other women breaking into technology to focus on their strengths and the strengths of their teams.

“Successful outcomes are always driven by teams,” De Rojas said.

“Know what your top five skills are so you can gravitate towards what you’re amazing at.”

Speakers highlighted the need to be authentic in the workplace, despite this often seeming difficult in a male dominated environment. De Rojas advised “being ambitious and being authentic is possible”.

Sometimes to gain the confidence to be yourself in a workplace situation, the panellists suggested an approach whereby women “fake it until you’ve learnt the language” which will eventually lead to you feeling as though you can be yourself and show some vulnerability in your role.

Naomi Climer, president for the institute of engineering and technology, reassured shy people in the audience that these techniques can still be possible if you aren’t usually outspoken.

“You don’t have to make a grand entrance,” Climer said.

“There are other ways if you’re an introvert.”

Climer suggested pretending to be an extrovert to come across well in situations where you need to speak up, and not to be intimidated in a male-dominated environment because “a lot of the alpha males are actually pussycats” .

An alternative route

Many women decide to work in startups as opposed to large corporations and, according to panellists, 70% of women who start up businesses in the technology sector have done so without a technical background.

Emily Forbes, founder of Seenit, claimed this can be a hindrance as, when she started her business, she was given so much advice she “didn’t know which decision to make” and lost confidence in her choices.

“Don’t be scared of failing,” she advised.

The well-known mantra of asking forgiveness as opposed to permission when deciding what actions to take was repeated again at this year’s Everywoman in Technology forum, and Alex Depledge, co-founder of Hassle.com, said women should be less worried about people’s opinion.

“Stop worrying, we worry too much about what people think about us,” Depledge said.

“Leap and the net will appear – if you make bold decisions you will be rewarded.”

Tips for the top career in IT

To round off the day, Emer Timmons, president of BT Global services in the UK, gave her top ten tips for having a successful IT career:

  1. Set career goals
  2. Listen to others, as it will allow you to lead and encourage transformation
  3. Be curious and ask questions
  4. Work hard and the power to be successful will be in your hands – “the harder you work the luckier you become”
  5. Turn your mentors into sponsors and ensure they are endorsing you and your ability in the workplace
  6. Be passionate and love what you do
  7. Negotiate you salary, and ask for what you believe you deserve.
  8. Delegate tasks, but “don’t delegate a glass bowl” there are some things you need to do yourself
  9. Be courageous
  10. Never give up

“If you believe you belong, you will belong,” Timmons said.

“There is no such thing as a glass ceiling, it’s a mirror. The only thing holding you back is you.”  

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This article offers some very interesting insights. I completely agree that work-life balance is important, and it's also a constant struggle. Additionally, I feel like "work-life balance" means something different to me than it does to most of the men that I work with. That's ok with me now and I no longer feel the need to emulate them at work. 
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