This year we are celebrating International Womens Day by showcasing women in leadership.

V is an experienced tech leader, presently leading and growing Slack Engineering teams in EMEA. She works in complex environments and thrives on bringing people from multiple disciplines together to create robust and resilient applications. Having previously led engineering teams in Spotify, she is passionate about leading and growing high performing teams and achieving the best possible results through collaboration and empowerment. She thrives on the ability to convert learning into tangible actions that lift team capability and is a champion for change. She consistently supports, educates and encourages her team through the change process.

Hi V, what advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?

Now is a great time to be or become a female leader. With so many companies embracing diversity and inclusion there are lots of opportunities to step up and into leadership. For companies today, inclusion is not just about getting the numbers right, it is about leveraging unique experiences, creating real opportunities for diversity and seeking out other points of view. Women have a huge amount to offer organisations, in leading teams at all levels and being actively engaged in company boards. The opportunities are far greater now than ever and women can confidently go for these roles.

What has helped you build your confidence in the workplace?

Knowing my strengths really well and relying on them. One of the key strengths that I know I have and that others have acknowledged in me, is that I am a relational person. People and connection are really important to me. This has helped me be a strong collaborator, as I seek out my team members’ ideas and opinions, and I rely on their feedback, as well as looking to others who have experience and provide input and guidance. Often I am not the most experienced in the room on a certain topic, so I look to my other members to chip in and I help support their growth and confidence to do this – whether it is presentation skills, critical or strategic thinking etc. So another key strength is openness and a willingness to learn, sometimes then being in a support role as a leader.

Amongst the women you’ve worked with, what are some of their traits you admire?

I really admire women that are inclusive of difference, kind to others in the workplace and supportive of other female leader journeys. I am particularly interested in the support and growth of other women leaders as I have experienced this in my leadership journeys. Leaders who were willing to take a chance on me and to provide a guiding hand when needed, to speak up for my competence. These female leaders help bring our voice and influence to the table.

Can you name a woman who has inspired you the most?

Cliche I know, but I would have to say my mother. She came from a difficult background, worked really hard and made me feel like I could be or do anything in life. Like the female leaders I admire, she actively encouraged me and did not put obstacles in my way. She helped facilitate me and my sister being the first in our family to go to university.

Another inspiration to me is former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I loved how she could articulate issues of diversity so well and so clearly, with the skill of keeping the dialogue open, non-threatening and moving forward.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned as a female leader?

In my role I am learning all the time, as it is a fast paced ever changing landscape, so I have learned to be myself. With so much rapidly changing and with Covid being a good example of needing to be able to adapt quickly, I have learned to rely on my own abilities. I don’t shy away from or apologise for being a woman. I openly share my challenges and experiences as a woman in tech. Openness and vulnerability is a strength and I trust that whenever I am honest and vulnerable with my team they are there for me, as I am for them.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve success in the workplace, especially in male-dominated industries?

Seek out mentors. Consider a more senior male from your company as a mentor. They can help you navigate the internal landscape and help you unlock your impact. In return, you may open their eyes to some of the struggles women face and help them by becoming an ally for other women. With other female leaders I encourage them to also be a good ally for other women along the way, so more women are encouraged into leadership and the numbers get better.

What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for the next generation of female leaders?

The biggest challenge I see is women trusting their own inner voices and embracing the unique aspects of female presence, female experience and acknowledging them as both personal and organizational assets.

Can you recall any biases or assumptions made about you?

I have seen times when I am held to a higher standard than my male counterparts or when I feel like I have to prove myself over and over again. Sadly, I have seen this play out around project assignments – e.g. This project is tough. We better give it to Bob. Although this may be happening unconsciously, it is an impediment to female leaders as they need to be given a chance to show what they can do. Leaders, whether male or female, need to open the doors wider to give women that chance to prove themselves. When we do this more often, I believe the culture will be enriched for our doing so.

International Women’s Day

March 8th marks international women’s day, an annual celebration to commemorate women’s strength, achievements and legacies. The theme of this year’s celebrations is Balance for Better, promoting gender balance and equality across the world and different industries. While diversity and inclusion initiatives are top priorities in most organisations these days there still remains a significant gender gap at C-level with less than 5% of CEO positions in Europe and the US held by women.

Top level female representation is not merely a question of ethics but rather about business success. Research demonstrates that organisations with diverse leadership teams outperform those that do not. In fact one study conducted by Boston Consulting Group found that organisations with leadership diversity generate up to 19% more revenue.

Fostering an environment where everyone can achieve their full potential is no easy feat however there are practices which help women and men progress in their career, while maintaining a balanced life.

  1. Bias training – unconscious bias exists in many forms within the workplace. Providing bias training will help raise awareness of the issue and ensure adequate measures are in place to help overcome the challenge.
  2. Change the long term hours norm – in a recent article about resilience training I touched on the mounting evidence that long days should become a thing of the past. Changing the attitude toward long days will open up greater opportunity for career driven parents and provide better work life balance for mothers and fathers.
  3. Offer paid paternity leave… and enforce it – Gender equality works both ways. Offering and enforcing paid paternity leave encourages better work life integration for male employees. It also helps to close the gap which is often opened when mothers take time off to rear children.  
  4. Focus on inclusive leadership programmes and sponsorship – having a diverse pipeline is half the battle. Encourage female participation in leadership development programmes and ensure that the right people are sponsoring female candidates (sponsors with influence).  
  5. Celebrate female achievements – share the stories and experiences of your female high fliers to inspire others. Celebrate their journey and achievements and leverage their role model image to attract new female candidates to aspire to C-level.

Increasingly, employees are expecting organisations to have truly diverse and inclusive cultures. As the war for talent heightens those who are slow to change will lose.

Author: Sara Glynn, Marketing & Customer Success Manager@ Wrkit

References:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/
https://www.ft.com/content/1090105c-fb7b-11e8-aebf-99e208d3e521
https://www.bcg.com/en-us/publications/2018/how-diverse-leadership-teams-boost-innovation.aspx
https://wrkit.com/blog/2019/02/13/resilience-training-reducing-stress-or-masking-the-problem/
https://hbr.org/2007/09/women-and-the-labyrinth-of-leadership
https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/human-capital/hc-2017-global-human-capital-trends-us.pdf
https://hbr.org/2010/09/why-men-still-get-more-promotions-than-women