To continue our ‘Women in Tech’ series and the celebrations around International Women’s Day earlier this week, Fran Grant, Consultant in our Technology Leadership practice spoke with a number of female technology leaders about their career and their experience of ‘breaking the bias’. In this article, we garner advice for women aspiring to move into leadership in tech.
As a woman, it’s important to know that we don’t have to prove we can do it all, and we’re not inferior if we ask for help for support. As a working mum of three young children, I am only just realising this myself. Life isn’t always plain sailing, and we don’t have to be perfect. We should allow ourselves the same space to makes mistakes, that we so often grant to others. From conversations I’ve had recently with women in tech and women in leadership positions, some of the best advice includes the following:
- Take off the mask and bring your whole self to work – authenticity is key, and you are more than good enough just as you are
- Networking is vital
- Do a job that will make you truly happy and fulfilled
- Get comfortable with change
- If you’re juggling a career and raising children, outsource what you can and ditch the guilt (again, you don’t have to do it all)
- Seek out a mentor
- Be clear on your ambitions. Communicate them with the relevant people, and make sure your intentions are seen and heard so opportunities are presented to you as they arise
- Pass it down – use your influence to be a role model and support other women
The benefits of having more women in leadership
Women have the innate ability to understand and connect with emotions, which further connects them to the feelings, needs and aspirations of others. There are a multitude of core benefits that can result from having more women in the tech industry and in leadership positions, such as improved communication skills, more innovative ideas, and boosted morale. Female leadership is inclusive and encourages participation, and power, it seems, is more readily shared.
What factors do you think impact a woman’s ability to lead others?
I think it’s a combination of many things, but key for me is confidence. Everyone looks for reassurance and the direction of travel from leadership, so being clear on the objectives is key, but also being confident enough to know that there are always areas where others have expertise beyond your own and finding the balance between the two. Women need the confidence to know that it’s ok to be assertive, set directions and make decisions - when that's needed - but to also nurture confidence in others to do the same and encourage collaboration. A senior role is often a case of making sure the road is as clear as possible for other people to be brilliant.
Kate Smyth, Digital Director
What do you believe are the main pros and cons of being a female in the tech industry?
There are a lot of positives, in fact far more than negatives. As a female leader in a male dominated industry, I am able to see things through a different lens and offer an alternative perspective. I have a fantastic team who are going from strength to strength, and I believe this is because we are now leading and managing people in a way that puts customers at the heart of what we do. People make the technology work!
Debbie Chun, Assistant Director of IT, Stonewater
What do you believe makes a great female leader? Are there traits that comes naturally to women that make them good leaders?
Leaders generally must be good processors of information. Staying informed and being decisive is very important. Pick your battles- they are not all worth it. Being patient and empathetic, when the situation calls for it, is often needed. We could use more of this in our industry. Being a mother of two children has helped me deal with these points!
Michele Hanson, Group Chief Information Security Officer, Micro Focus
Can you think of any leadership lessons you’ve learned that are unique to being a female leader?
I’ve worked in Technology for over 30 years and it’s still a tough field to have a career in, I stay because it has enabled me to uniquely blend technology and Healthcare which I find incredibly interesting and rewarding, but I’ve had to adapt my approach, taking any emotion out of a discussion to enable men to be able to connect with what I am saying and to see me as an expert in my field rather than a ‘woman’. I’ve seen many women turn into a male version of themselves in order to try and achieve the respect, but it doesn’t work, so the lesson is to remain steadfast as yourself but understand your field very well and come forward and be heard with your educated opinion based on knowledge and experience. I’ve also avoided using the office/work as a social arena, I’m happy to exchange a kind word, but I avoid too much chat and any flirting, I’m there to work and get the job done.
Digital Transformation Consultant/Senior Leader
What advice would you give to females who want a seat at the top table?
Stop comparing. In all areas of your life. Just stop comparing. Find YOUR strengths, focus on your skills, and pour everything into those. You can’t be great at everything.
Avril Chester, Chief Technology Officer at RIBA and founder of Cancer Central UK
What do you think are the main benefits of having women in leadership?
There are many opinions on the differences between feminine and masculine leadership styles and which is more effective. I have the simple view that women make up half the world’s population so why shouldn’t they make up half our boardrooms? Who knows what depth of talent, intellect, and skill we are excluding by not encouraging a diverse leadership population?
Mary Hogg, Regional HR Director, Hilton
What skills or traits are necessary for your role as a senior leader?
You must be able to naturally bring things together, bring leadership teams together, align people and processes. You need a collaborative mindset, there’s no room for egos. You need to be able to successfully translate a roadmap, lay out all the components, communicate how these will come together to achieve the overall objectives. Softer skills are key, being able to tell a story, communicate with stakeholders, understand their priorities and objectives, take them on a journey. You need to be able to stay focused and organised, and in order to drive change you need resilience. You’ll encounter many hurdles, from getting the tech right, to aligning leadership teams, to selling change to individuals. It’s a skill, to be able to sell that change, resell it, again and again. You have to engage the people you’re taking on a journey, communicate honestly and continuously with them about what you expect from them.
Jane Boyle, Digital Transformation Director
Can you describe your leadership style, and if it differs from your male counterparts in any way?
I believe my leadership style is somewhere between affiliate and authoritative. I like to share my approach, set the expectation, and energize the team to achieve the objective while being empathetic and inclusive, factoring in the emotional needs of the team. I don't really feel my approach differs particularly from male counterparts, you can see assertive pacesetters and autocratic leadership styles in both men and women. Different people work in different ways. The best leaders and mentors have the ability to coax out the very best in those they lead and work with and are truly inspirational.
Trish Darling, Programme & Service Management Consultant
Tomorrow, in our final instalment of our International Womens Day series, we will be talking about fostering Inclusion & Diversity in tech. To read our other article in the series, please click the links below:
- International Women’s Day: Breaking the bias – getting women into tech
- International Women’s Day: Women in Technology Leadership
Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Retail FS, Leisure and Hospitality, with a UK wide remit.