Women in IT: Take charge of your career path to success

Women share tips and advice on how to set and follow your own career path, at the everywoman Leadership Academy

Women gathered to take charge of their career paths during the everywoman In Technology Leadership Academy.

The academy took place at Cisco’s Bedfont Lakes offices in Feltham. It attracted over 120 women for a series of keynotes, workshops and the opportunity to network.

Maxine Benson, founder of everywoman, opened the academy by saying: “There needs to be a culture shift in businesses thinking about more opportunities for all female talent to thrive.”

Karen Gill, founder of everywoman, drew attention to research commissioned by Alexander Mann Solutions and everywoman in 2012 which found 80% of female mid-managers wanted to progress in their careers and 63% of HR leaders wanted to see more women driving their own advancement.

So what is holding women back?

Keynote speaker Anka Wittenberg, global diversity and inclusion officer at SAP described her background and how she found herself in the technology industry: “I had three children whilst studying and so when I tried to get a job in Germany I couldn’t.

“I was looking for a technology company because that was where the change was happening.”

Biggest challenge

Wittenberg believes: “The biggest challenge I think is the speed we face. Women are perfectionists and this can make us our biggest enemies. In order to keep up with this speed of change, sometimes you have to make decisions with only 60% of the information available. You have to be confident about doing this.

“The uniqueness of a person is important and comes out in a diverse team. You don’t want a female thinking she has to act like a male, as this takes away her uniqueness. Diversity drives innovation.”

Following on from the importance of a diverse team Wittenberg explained how SAP has been working with people with autism.

Only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment, according to the National Autism Society. SAP works with social enterprise Specialisterne, in India and Ireland, to help people with autism get into the workplace.

Working locally with Specialisterne, SAP Labs in India hired six people with autism as software testers for SAP Business Suite applications. The Ireland pilot is currently completing the screening phase for five positions to be filled this year.

Wittenberg added:  “Like those on the autism programme, we can’t change them. We have to change the environment. This is the same with females. It’s not about getting a woman to be a man, dress like a man; we don’t want females to be a better man. We want the females to be female, so we reflect real diversity in the environment.

“We must rethink the future. In a world of accelerated change the collective result is an unprecedented empowerment of people. Inclusion inspires innovation and much more. It’s not just about being different; it’s about making a difference.”

A good mentor is priceless

During the academy, a panel of female industry experts shared their experiences with delegates. Delyth Harris, head of solution acceleration partner organisation UK and Ireland, at Cisco, chaired the panel session.

One of the major themes during the discussion was the importance of a good mentor and – if you are lucky enough to find one – a good female mentor.

Jennifer Sheridan, founder and chief executive of Togeva Ltd, said: “A mentor is more valuable than anything else. It’s more valuable than money. A mentor saves you a lot of time and stress as they give you their advice. It’s important to have at least one female mentor if you can find one.”

She advised: “You have to get on with your mentor obviously. Don’t hang out with someone you don’t like. Don’t just pick someone because they are successful; you have to get on with them.”

Poonam Joshi, head of ad operations at Gumtree, shared her experience of managing to secure a female mentor and the value in their relationship. 

Poonam met Rebecca George, vice chair of BCS policy and public affairs board and partner at Deloitte, after she was shortedlisted for team leader of the year in an SME at the 2012 everywoman in Technology Awards.

George, who was on the judging panel, said: “There are some things that I just didn’t realise until I had her as a mentor. Questions I should have been asking myself about where do I see myself in the next 20 years and to set a goal for myself and to believe it.

“Whether or not you achieve your goal is not relevant, but it’s the skills you learn along the way that are important. You need someone who can move bridges for you and change things for you – that is exactly what a mentor does.”

Poonam said she prefers her mentor relationship to be more informal than formal, but noted that both methods are important: “I prefer being able to go to a coffee shop and talk with my mentor for hours. You have to know yourself and know what you’re looking for in the relationship.”

Finding your own personal brand

Jacqueline de Rojas, vice-president and general manager UK and Ireland at CA Technologies, discussed game-changing moments with the audience.

She said one of her game-changing moments was when she became clear about her "personal brand".

“I make markets and take them from flat or declining into accelerated growth.  Being a trouble shooter entails creating high performance teams, finding new routes to market and finding the shortest route to the money. This was a light bulb moment for me and it helped me to shape my career," she said.

“Ask other people what your personal brand is. You may not always like what you hear, but it will help you with your journey. A mission statement is too big – it’s more about understanding why you do what you do every day and how to unlock your potential.”

Heather Dunlop-Jones, IBM chief technical officer for public sector, health and life sciences in the UK, agreed with De Rojas, adding: “You have got to decide what you’re famous for. You have to have an edge. I didn’t realise mine until a mentor told me.”

De Rojas said she had two game-changing moments, the first realising her personal brand and the second the birth of her daughter: “Once my daughter was born, it motivated me to get myself organised and to be clear about what I wanted.

“When I had Stephanie I knew I had to be successful – and I totally believe that I made it because of her. She was then and remains my inspiration today.”

Advice I wished I’d received

Each of the panellists finished by sharing a piece of advice they wished they had been given themselves.

De Rojas said: “I was always taught to have very clear goals. One piece of advice I wish I had been given though is to pursue goals relentlessly and ‘at any cost’ does not always serve us well.”

Sheridan, advised: “Do the tough stuff first. Make the mundane things the first things you do in your day and you’ll be amazed how much time you have left for innovation.”

Dunlop-Jones told the audience: “Don't discount the things you’re naturally good at. I’m good at team leading and management. I thought everyone had those skills, but this is something which is quite scarce in technology.

“I should have had more confidence in my natural strengths and majored in them.”

According to Joshi: “Women can do what they want to do; it’s just finding the self-belief to do it.”

Rally car champion and TV presenter Penny Mallory was also present to give a motivational session in World class thinking – World class behaviour. She encouraged the female audience not to be disheartened if they encounter a setback: “Think - what will happen if I stay set back? What will happen if I ignore that set back and go again? I might not get to that point again. It’s easy to be knocked back and stay back,” she said.

Mallory added: “I became fascinated by the way world-class people think and behave. World class is a choice; it is not just for special people.”

The academy included two workshops; Strategic Thinking for the Female Leader, by Ros Taylor, managing director of the Ros Taylor Group; and Preparing for Tough Conversations by Sara Parsons, Director of Rusholme Consulting.

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