This International Women’s Day (IWD) there has been a welcome focus on technology and how women fit into this fast developing and dynamic sector.
#IWD Mission Statement:
To elevate and advance gender parity in technology and celebrate the women forging innovation.
Editor-in-chief in note: Sometimes real life gets in the way, and in this case, Lis unfortunately had a family emergency involving medics and hospitals. Everyone is fine but it did throw a wrench into the publishing schedule for this piece.
Here at DRN we’ve been lucky enough to speak to Brother executives, Jade Coote, Head of Marketing and Leigh Murray, Head of Finance and Supply Chain. They’ve generously provided their time and answered discussion points regarding women in technology leadership roles, industry change and the future of the industry.
Tell us about your background working in technology/ leadership.
Jade: I have worked in marketing in the wider tech industry for much of my career; covering B2B, B2C, lifestyle etc and they’ve always been traditionally very male dominated industries. I remember a very first sales and marketing conference I attended as a junior in the marketing team and being the only female in attendance. I remember being the first female in my company to be given the opportunity for part-time employment when returning from parental leave (and being provided with support and development opportunities following this). I also remember being in the ELT at a previous company and was the only female voice of the group. I am extremely proud to have helped make this path a little easier for other females coming after me.
Leigh: I’ve worked across several industries as a senior finance professional in both permanent and contract roles. This has given me the opportunity to witness a range of different ways of working, both from a business process and management-style perspective. In developing my leadership style, I try to replicate elements of leadership which I’ve observed and personally experienced that had effective outcomes. I do believe that leadership is a learnt skill, structured learning is valuable but ultimately, it’s the real life situations or ‘runs on the board’ which allow you to iterate and continually develop & enhance your leadership style.
As the industry has evolved, what changes have you noticed for women?
Jade: Fast forward and I am now surrounded by and leading a group of intelligent, passionate and creative females of diverse ages and backgrounds (and equally as intelligent, passionate and creative males) within my team and the wider BIA business. I also feel fortunate that we have incredibly inspiring females (one of whom is featured in this article), that make up 50% of the ELT at BIA.
Leigh: Women have always been part of the tech industry – think back to the significant roles women played in breaking codes at Bletchley Park during the second world war and the brilliant African-American women working at NASA during the space race – the difference now is that there is a greater aperture (and simultaneously more accessible media content) on the value women bring to leadership and business. There has been improvement & more opportunities for women as forward-thinking companies recognise this but there is still a long path ahead.
In your opinion, why is it important that more women take up leadership roles in the future?
Jade: Having a conversation with my 11 year old son on why some females are treated differently; gender pay gap, not acknowledged for contributions, not offered the same opportunities, and in some countries still to this day not being allowed to go to school or vote.. his reply was simply “WHY?”. While progress may sometimes be slower than we hope, having meaningful conversations with our leaders of tomorrow, today, who simply get it, will ensure we have more to celebrate each year. Or in fact, nothing to celebrate at all because it becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Leigh: Gender balance introduces diversity of thought. Bringing people with different skills, life (and career) experiences and broader perspectives together to understand a problem results in fewer assumptions being made and ultimately a better solution. The more diverse the group, the more innovative the solution. The same can be said for inclusion of all marginalised groups, not only women.
What advice would you give to women looking to progress their careers in tech?
Jade: Personal development and training can be the bridge that takes you from BAU to true innovation. Investing in yourself through continued learning via formal or informal channels (there are many!) is the best advice I can give for keeping pace. It not only gives you additional tools and skills, but confidence and motivation to progress.
Leigh: I wholeheartedly echo Jade’s comments and would add that, at the risk of stating the obvious, ownership and responsibility for your career progress ultimately rests with you. Skills can be taught and learnt, attitude cannot. Take initiative & be proactive, keep (respectfully) asking the question ‘why?’, don’t settle for the status quo. Finding ways to work smarter does not always equate to necessarily working harder. Ask your leader for a ‘seat at the table’ in appropriate meetings to facilitate learning through observation. Lean into change & disruption, learn to become comfortable in the uncomfortable. Finally, actively work your network!
As a leader, how do you lift women up and promote female innovation in the Brother workplace?
Jade: I try to do what I can, with what I have, to challenge and change mindsets of our current and future leaders. Listening, encouraging, supporting, being their biggest cheer squad and providing that safe space to do all of the above.
Leigh: I strive to remain as authentically ‘me’ as possible; I’m the same person whether I’m sitting at a boardroom table or a dining table. The adage that ‘actions speak louder than words’ rings particularly true for me; by being transparent, supportive and inclusive as a leader, my aim is to create a psychologically safe environment for my team to excel as well as learn from opportunities where things may not have worked out as expected.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about their careers?
Jade: It’s far too easy to look at someone who has achieved great success and glorify their achievements, instead we should perhaps consider the number of times they’ve “failed” before they even saw a fleeting glimpse of success. What comes from failure, is resilience, adaptability and growth. Don’t be afraid to try something new and know that your “failures” are making space for something much better in your life.
Leigh: As we navigate the new norm of living and working in a post-COVID world, concentrate on developing your soft skills. The need for distilled/clear communication is at the heart of how we engage as is the ability to work well with others. Effective teamwork, adaptability and interpersonal skills are key to progressing your career regardless of the industry in which you currently find yourself.
What prejudices have you faced throughout your career?
Jade: There have been times, leading large multi-national marketing functions within male dominated industries, that I have had to work harder to be seen, heard and respected and not be viewed as the “head of the crayon department” -> true story!
My personal experiences
Although my full-time role is not based in the technology sector, my career is in a primarily male dominated industry. So you can imagine my lack of surprise when, discussing why an employee was, in my opinion, unsuitable to work in a particular area, I was met with “You’re just saying that as a mum”. Taking a deep breath, I simply responded my status outside of work is irrelevant as this is a managerial matter. This is just one example and I’m sure many women have similar experiences. Yes, there is still some way to go in terms of creating positive and accepted change. By choosing to #EmbraceEquity we can collectively encourage and promote the value we bring to our roles and organisations.
Both Jade and Leigh have hit upon some very topical aspects of the challenges faced by women in the technology sector, and business in general. I’d like to thank Jade and Leigh for their time and insights into their experiences, and also our contacts at Brother who assisted in arranging Jade and Leigh’s valuable contribution.
I would also like to thank the DRN team who encourage and #EmbraceEquity every day when it comes to their editors, regardless of gender or the colour of their follicles…
PS. Due to a family emergency requiring a hospital stay, I was unable to get this article completed in time for #IWD. My sincere apologies.