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Women In Leadership Share Thoughts On The IT World

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The information technology industry is one of America's most thriving sectors, according to a plethora of industry experts. It's actually one of the most robust sectors in the world and also one of the best industries for starting a business right now. Economy Watch describes it as no less than "a key driver of global economic growth". Job offers abound online and hires are on the rise worldwide.

There are boundless tech awards & conferences every single year but little did you know, only 23% of the workforce in the tech industry in the UK is female, compared to 30% in the US. In comparison: women make up for 59% of the workforce in the US. Of the 41 Fortune 500 companies in the IT sector, only 5 have a female CEO. I've asked 5 brilliant, talented and highly successful women the same 3 questions. Here are their thoughts.

Is it truly harder for a woman to evolve in the IT industry?

"I think it's a great time for women in tech. There are more opportunities and resources than ever before with organizations like Girls Who Code, Digital Undivided, NCWIT and Women 2.0 breaking down barriers. Also, the upcoming Women Who Tech challenge is a competition that will spotlight and fund women-led startups."

-Elisa Miller-Out,
COO, Women 2.0

"Industry statistics point to the fact that overall women in tech are paid less and fewer women hold senior positions, particularly board-level ones. So it is challenging but certainly not impossible. During my career I've had to get used to being one of the few women at the table, but it's refreshing to work for a company such as Salesforce that takes the initiative to drive change. What I have found is that, as well as a grass-roots bottom-up approach, which includes role models, we also need a top-down approach. For example, at Salesforce our leadership team has taken the initiative to ensure that each at least 30% of attendees in each management meeting are women. The company also undertook a pioneering equal pay audit last year. Equal opportunity is a core principle at Salesforce and we are working to increase diversity at all levels - it's this commitment that makes it possible for women to grow and thrive".

-Damilola Erinle,
Area Vice President, Salesforce and Judge at the Women in IT Awards

"A big component that can affect women's experiences in the industry is how many other women there are, especially in leadership positions. Both early on in my career and as I moved into more senior roles, there unfortunately weren't many other women in leadership positions (and none at all in product/engineering roles). As I didn't have anyone to model myself after, I had to find a style of leadership that uniquely worked for me. This was a blessing in disguise because it enabled me to be very true to myself and trust my instincts around what will and won't work for me in terms of getting buy-in for ideas, balancing authority and warmth, etc. As with many things in life, the challenges we face can often be a help us develop our strengths".

-Natalie Gibralter,
Director of Product at Squarespace

"There is no doubt that women are underrepresented in the IT Industry. (...) I can honestly say I have never felt that I didn't have an equal chance to progress as a woman working in a male dominated IT industry and I find working with many men, and a fair number of bright women, thought provoking, challenging and rewarding in terms of job satisfaction. (...) The problem faced by our organisations, and indeed reflected personally by a number of men I have worked for, is that the pool of women to employ is simply not large enough. At TeenTech, recognizing that this imbalance starts before the workforce, we work face to face with 4000 students from 400 schools every year helping them understand the opportunities in contemporary industry and giving them confidence in their own potential to succeed. It's critically important that as female leaders of the industry we work with educational institutions, starting at the school level, to encourage and promote the opportunities in all STEM disciplines and workforces. The natural evolution of gender equality and evolution of women in the IT industry undoubtedly starts here".

-Amy Wettenhall, Commercial Director Business Unit IT & Cloud, Ericsson, Non-executive Director TeenTech CIC and Judge at the Women in IT Awards

What is your biggest career challenge right now?

"In data science and machine learning, the biggest challenge (and opportunity!) we currently face is navigating through the hype to help our clients identify the optimal use of their data and technology resources, along with current algorithmic capabilities, to address new business and product problems".

-Hilary Mason,
Founder & CEO, Fast Forward Labs

"(...) At Ericsson we see that the companies being most successful in the digital space fail fast, fix fast, and adjust to customer needs more precisely by using feedback from big data. (...) As business, networks and IT converge in response to the changing global social dynamics, for Ericsson the biggest challenge therefore is to anticipate consumer market shifts, manage scale and complexity as the reality of convergence of sectors and technology becomes a reality, and offer our customers a pathway into innovation and sustainable ecosystems".

-Amy Wettenhall, Commercial Director Business Unit IT & Cloud, Ericsson, Non-executive Director TeenTech CIC and Judge at the Women in IT Awards

"I don't think there is only one challenge related to an industry as large and wide-reaching as tech, but a challenge on the forefront of many people's minds is how to increase diversity. In our industry, innovation is critical, and I am a big believer that diversity of perspectives and experiences deeply enables innovative thought".

-Natalie Gibralter,
Director of Product at Squarespace

"One of the biggest challenges in the tech industry that we try to work on each day is we need to all work together to show you can be a good cause -and- a good business. Often founders, companies and employees compromise closely held values for "valuations" and short-term thinking. If we build a solid set of values like open source, giving back and bringing people together, a lot of the problems in tech will slowly go away, we must be excellent to one another more".

- Limor "ladyada" Fried
Founder and Engineer, Adafruit

"I think the biggest challenge in tech is making sure we have access to the right talent so that we can continue to grow the UK industry. At Salesforce we often say "you can't be, what you can't see". If you're a young girl studying for exams and you're not exposed to strong, female role models working in the tech industry you'll probably assume it's a career best left to geeky boys - that's my experience at any rate. It's why I encourage the women I work with to go back to their school, or in fact any school, and take part in career days. It's such a great way to inspire girls, to plant a seed in their minds and also for them to ask all those important questions".

-Damilola Erinle,
Area Vice President, Salesforce and Judge at the Women in IT Awards

Any advice to your younger self?

"The advice I would give my younger self is very simple: think for yourself. There's quite a bit of mythology in business and entrepreneurship, and if you spend the time to think through what you want to accomplish and what mechanisms are available, you'll find solutions that may not fit the common wisdom but are very effective (and fun)!".

-Hilary Mason,
Founder & CEO, Fast Forward Labs

"Put your hand up. I think that sometimes, as women, we don't always lean in and put ourselves forward for opportunities - I certainly didn't. (...) Putting your hand up and getting involved in something outside your comfort zone can open the door to so many new opportunities".

-Damilola Erinle,
Area Vice President, Salesforce and Judge at the Women in IT Awards

"(...) I realized a few years ago, that there are very few wrong choices, and, importantly, it's almost impossible to plan academic pursuit choices, careers and life in general in a landscape of such rapid change. (...) In this landscape my overriding advice is always stop worrying if you don't know exactly what your path will be. Ensure you identify one, or many, mentors. Ask questions, never accept the status quo, and importantly, consider the globe as one large community within which we all have a responsibility. Always carry yourself with integrity and compassion. Your ability to do your job will be equally measured by the integrity with which you do it. These softer qualities build networks of people you can trust and people who will want to employee you. Without networks and collaboration, you will achieve nothing. (...) Compassion, kindness and trust are the foundations of successful people. Lastly and importantly, constantly innovate (...) regardless of your areas of subject interest".

-Amy Wettenhall, Commercial Director Business Unit IT & Cloud, Ericsson, Non-executive Director TeenTech CIC and Judge at the Women in IT Awards

"Make cool art, fight like hell. Don't count on external validation for your self-esteem".

- Limor "ladyada" Fried
Founder and Engineer, Adafruit

"Don't be so hard on yourself. And don't take yourself so seriously".

-Natalie Gibralter,
Director of Product at Squarespace

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