Women in tech: Setting your boundaries and sticking to them

Industry leaders discuss the importance of drawing a line and sticking to it at the everywoman In Technology Leadership Academy

Draw a line and do not let anyone cross it, was the message heard by delegates at the everywoman In Technology Leadership Academy, at IBM’s Southbank client centre.  

According to the female speakers, setting your own limits and sticking to them does not mean you are inflexible, but some boundaries need to be set to safeguard yourself in your career.

Jacqueline Davey, vice-president, sales and transformation, systems and technology group Europe for IBM, said she was promoted to her first executive position when she returned from maternity leave, but she was careful to put some boundaries in place: “I had to be clear on my boundaries. If you’re not clear don’t be surprised when no-one respects them. If you don’t want to work on a Friday and that’s important to you then tell them.

“Don’t ever apologise or rationalise for a boundary you have set. Make your priorities and stick to them. Be flexible too, but set your boundaries and make them work for you. Yes, I will go to Madrid and I will take an international assignment but I need to be home before my son goes to school next September.”

Caroline Taylor, European vice-president of marketing and communications at IBM Software Group, said: “Define you and define who you are. You are better placed to do so than anyone else. You’ve got to own it. You can have a successful huge job, but on your terms.”

Diana Kennedy, head of strategy and architecture, enterprise systems at BP, said: “As women we set the bar very high for ourselves and it's accepting that we can’t always over-deliver as we want to.

“I leave work at 5:30pm and I’m not back online until 8pm. That’s my rock. When you come back from maternity leave you do nothing but apologise. It’s about finding a role and a boss that works for you and being religious about it.”

Davey, who has spent 25 years at IBM, said if you are intellectually curious and have an open mind, anyone can get on in this industry. But many women still have self-doubt: “You should believe when other people tell you that you can do something. Don’t be your biggest doubter.

“It’s what women do. I promoted a woman this morning and she said ‘I didn’t think I was ready yet,’ and I told her that everyone thought she was.”

Taylor agreed by saying: “Be fabulous at whatever you’re doing and be visibly fabulous. You don’t have to great at self-promotion. Those types of people are not fabulous; they are just trying to make people think they are.”

Elehi Antoniadou, co-founder of Transplants Without Donors LLC, said it is different for everyone: “I was never thinking I couldn’t do it. I was always thinking I was more prepared then I was.

“I would just think you will always experience pains in life, but bad times are not here to stay but to pass.”

Taking advice to embrace change

Davey explained the importance of challenging yourself more and that sometimes this can be achieved by simply listening to colleagues and taking their advice.

She said: “When you’re bored, tell people and they’ll give you something new to do. Articulate what you want to learn more of and challenge yourself more. Managers don’t have ESP, you have to tell them.

“You need to take advice from more than one person. Take a risk and take advice. When I was told to take a position as European operations manager I thought I was going to hate it, but I loved it and it enabled me to build a reputation of being opinionated and operationally efficient. I ensured I was visible doing those things and that people knew me. I didn’t do all the work and hand it to my boss to do the presentation. I did it. Build your own brand and articulate it. Build a reputation that people can rely on.”

Lucy Dimes, former chief executive officer UK and Ireland at Alcatel-Lucent, agreed but said: “There are people out there who are jealous of you, who wants to take your job who wants to sabotage your career. Don’t listen because you’ve taken the risk that they didn’t have the balls to take.”

Tamara Hever-Percy, co-founder and chief technology officer of Mr and Mrs Smith, said it is important to embrace change: “Embracing change to be able to drive forward with confidence. That will enable you to be successful.”

The academy also included a workshop from Melanie Eusebe on The Business of Being Creative and Pippa Isbell on Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch.

Ending with a motivational session No Hope on the Boat from Sally Kettle, who shared her experience of spending six months at sea. As the first woman to row the Atlantic Ocean twice from east to west, she shared the mental endurance needed for such an achievement, touching upon the importance of teamwork and leadership.

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