Everywoman Leadership Academy: Navigate your path to success

Over 100 women gather at Cisco's offices for the everywoman In Technology Leadership Academy to hear what makes a successful leader

Women of all ages and backgrounds came together recently to piece together the recipe for a successful leader, 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.

Two master classes were available for attendees from Sara Parsons, director of Rusholme Consulting and Kate Turner, founding director of Motivational Leadership. 

Parson’s workshop – entitled How to influence and communicate effectively in a male-dominated environment – focused on finding the ability to come out of your comfort zone and how to communicate with men without criticising.

Turner’s workshop – called Learning to become a leader from within – highlighted the difference in people’s personalities. She explained how leaders will come up against very different personalities to themselves, and across different departments of the business, so it is important to know how different personalities respond in different ways.

The making of a good leader

During a motivational session called The Confidence Cocktail Ros Taylor, managing director of Ros Taylor Group, said it is claimed that a leader’s behaviour influences profitability by  up to 15%. Taylor is a UK psychologist who travels the world developing leadership potential of employees.

India Gary-Martin, managing director and global chief operating officer of investment banking technology and operations at JP Morgan, said good leaders demonstrate they are thinking: “Leaders don’t always have the answers, but they aspire to know the answers.”

She advised women to remember to be themselves: “Not the mask or veneer of who you think people want you to be.”

Gary-Martin raised the point of how leaders need to show assertiveness, not aggression: “Aggressiveness is not letting people talk. You need to listen to the other side and if you don’t agree then you need to come up with a way where you both might agree.”

During a panel session at the academy, Polly Burtinshaw, regional sales manager of financial services at Cisco, said she came up against a roadblock when she went for a managerial role at her company “How do you show you are capable of leading a team if you have no previous experience?” she asked.

Burtinshaw set about asking previous leaders she had worked with for feedback on what is required for such a role. “I built a formal development plan identifying gaps, and showing what I was doing to fill them. This showed I knew what the job entailed and that I was working towards it.”

Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer at FDM Group, won leader of the year in a corporate organisation at the everywoman in Technology Awards last year. During a panel session at the academy she compared leadership to motherhood: “When I first took my kids skiing they just followed me down the slopes like little penguins. Why? Because they trusted me. People follow those who they trust.

“You need to show empathy and honesty towards your team. Communicate clearly with them to navigate through the choppy waters of change. It is important to have a strong vision of where you want to go and to help people in trying to get there.”

Talking to Computer Weekly after the panel session, Flavell said a leader needs to choose their language carefully: “You need to be clear with your statements to make sure the messaging is correct, give feedback and make sure you understand your audience - every department is different.”

Setting  boundaries and retaining a sense of self

Gary-Martin told of the importance of setting your own boundaries, sticking to them and reassessing these throughout your career: “When I moved to JP Morgan they wanted me to go back to New York, but I said my husband is British and my child is in school here. It was important for me to set that boundary that I wanted to stay in the UK and that with the use of technology we could make it work.”

She revealed how her priorities have changed throughout her career and questioned: “You can have it all? I don’t buy that argument. If you have a family but need to be at work for 8:30am and you’re home at 6pm, how do you have it all? It’s a choice you need to make for yourself.

“At this point in my career my priorities changed and when I took maternity leave, this time around, I did complete handovers. I do however have monthly sessions with my boss, because if you disappear completely it makes things much harder.”

Gary-Martin said it is important to feed your personal self too, so your whole life doesn’t become just about work. She discussed the idea of having a hobby or interest that is separate from work: “Whether it is a sport, hobby, it doesn’t matter. I like to help out on a lot of charity boards. I really draw my energy from that, doing things for other people.”

In her spare time Flavell said she likes to ski, but realised there is not always time for yourself if you have a family: “I used to love travelling because that time on a flight was peaceful and just mine. My husband and I now have minuted boardroom meetings, so for future reference we can look back at what was said/organised and save a lot of arguments or say sorry to each other.”

Lyn Grobler, vice-president and chief information officer of functions at BP, told Computer Weekly she loves to go running: “I get up at 5.30am and go running, or run to work when I can. I get the best ideas when I run.”

Grobler, who has been in the IT industry for 25 years, has worked for companies including Ralph M. Parsons and Chase Manhattan Bank. She said many women ask how she copes with it all, to which she responds: “I don’t. You can’t have it all in life. It’s about making a choice for you, your job and your family, and then reassessing your choices throughout different phases of life.”

She said that women find this refreshing to hear, as many think they are alone in feeling this way.

However, she adds that the organisation you work for can make a big difference – for instance, if a company offers flexible working. BP offers flexible working in addition to an IT & Services talent development programme.  

“The IT&S talent development programme has given me the opportunity to develop my career from writing systems, to project management, and now to a leadership team role,” she added.  

When looking for role models Grobler advised: “You shouldn’t just look for female role models, as there are not as many of them around. However, women can support each other through networking and sharing experiences – which is something I help facilitate in my role leading BP’s Women in IT&S group.”

Relationships and loyalty

A main theme to run through the day was the importance of making and retaining good relationships with people. Wendy Mars, senior director, datacentre EMEA at Cisco, said younger people do not always appreciate people at the time of working with them: “When you’re young you don’t realise that your peers could go on to become powerful individuals and leaders within the industry.”

Mars started her technology career at Morgan Stanley, where she was picked to join a graduate programme: “This was a great foundation for me,” she said.

The graduate programme gave her the opportunity to travel the world and live in New York and Tokyo early on in her career. 

From here Mars moved to ThruPoint, which was then a start-up company. As employee number nine, she spent 11 years growing the company and was global chief technology officer when she left. She joined Cisco as technical director four and a half years ago before moving to the EMEA team a year later.

“It is important to find your own style and to be comfortable in your own ability and portrayal,” advised Mars.

Echoing this view during the panel session, Grobler said you learn from your mistakes along the way: “It is important to have a long list of them by the way.”

Gary-Martin said it is important to give back as you go along. She explained that she was offered a job at JP Morgan but turned it down out of loyalty to her 900-strong team at RBS.

“I had about four to five months to go at RBS when I was offered a job at JP Morgan, but I couldn’t leave the company at that time and have it on my conscience. I knew a lot of the team personally, and had asked them to come over from other roles, so I was waiting for the Asset Protection Scheme to be signed before I moved.”

She advised how being honest and open about who you are helps people know what they are getting, which in turn helps them to form a better relationship with you: “When I went on business trips with guys they wanted to play golf, but I said I was hitting the spa. 

"They would laugh, but I wasn’t going to play golf with the guys, when that’s not me. You are who you are. I like chivalry too – if someone holds the door open I like that, I want them to pull my chair out too! There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Other notable speakers from the day included Rebecca George, chair BCS policy and public affairs board and partner, at Deloitte, and Mandy Chessell, IBM distinguished engineer, master inventor, and chief architect for InfoSphere Solutions, IBM and of course Maxine Benson and Karen Gill, founders of everywoman.

Benson said: “The everywoman in Technology Leadership Academy was created to attract and retain more talented women and build a strong pipeline of female leaders – a business imperative. Just as our awards showcase the very real successes that women are enjoying, the academy provided a platform for women to share insight around what it takes to succeed. 

"Many of the speakers were previous everywoman in Technology Awards winners, and ambassadors both for everywoman and for women within technology."

There is still time to enter the 2013 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards. Entries close 19 November. You can find more information about the awards here.

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