International Women’s Day 2022
International Women’s Day 2022 theme of “Break the Bias” (#BreakTheBias) really resonates with me. In my world, this bias presents as the constant, relentless bias against women in certain roles, or the bias that prevents women from being given these roles. Many organizations have made strides in increasing women in leadership positions, which is laudable, though we tend to see this impact largely in HR, Marketing, or Legal roles. These are, of course, important parts of any business, but they are less likely to be seen as a stepping-stone to CEO.
It is time to break that barrier. While my background is in marketing, my pivot to a Chief Revenue Officer role at Noogata was a logical next step for me personally, but more importantly, a huge value add in achieving Noogata’s ambitious goals. My experience spans sales, business development, product, and customer success, and I have been part of multiple management teams through major milestone moments like IPOs. However, the stark reality is that very few women have been given a similar opportunity. It’s not common for CMOs, even rockstar ones, to own sales, marketing and customer success. There is still an astonishing barrier to entry for these executive roles for women and it is our responsibility to break these down.
In financial services, where I spent the first part of my career, an industry infamously challenging for women in leadership roles – I used everything in my toolbox to get my voice heard. I am lucky that I have a physical advantage – I’m tall and as a former college athlete, I’m not scared to be loud. I’ve consistently acted on the best advice I have received which was “Always focus on the goal”. To do this, my mantra has always been, “deliver, deliver, deliver”. Of course, women have always had to over-deliver to be taken seriously, so this mantra is probably familiar to many women leaders, but my relentless focus on the big picture and the greater good of the company has served me well.
The tech world has differences to financial services, but the challenges for women remain. We are a small community where technology leaders and executives rely heavily on personal networks, networks which were often formed as early as university. But for true diversity, we need to look beyond these networks. And part of that is breaking down the bias around the roles you give women and other underrepresented groups. It’s not just about getting more women into your organization – although that’s important – it’s about giving them a genuine shot to break out of the mold they’ve been placed into.
For my mother’s generation, breaking the barrier meant attending university to study engineering or physics and fighting for jobs in these industries. For my generation (Gen X), it was already more common for women to pursue STEM degrees. Within my own family and friendship circle there are women with PhDs and degrees in Math, Economics, Engineering and Neuroscience from top tier universities and I know hundreds of women with similar backgrounds. But very few of them are at the top of their professional fields. This begs the question – why is it still so rare to see women of my generation leading engineering and technology teams or even sales?
Time and again we see these women moving out of the frontline business and technology to support roles. This happens because they aren’t given a chance, and they aren’t supported in the ways that they need. And it’s up to our industry to stop this. We must actively look for women with the right skills, bring them into our organizations and then make sure they are supported and have the tools they need to thrive.
How do we do this? For a start, organizations and management teams need to listen to the women they recruit, the women in their businesses, and the women in their networks. When a woman speaks up to say something isn’t working or that she feels uncomfortable in the work environment, we need to stop dismissing her. Phrases like, “I didn’t mean it that way” or “You’re overreacting” or any one of the 100 versions of this need to be removed from our workplace vocabulary. We need to listen to women when they ask to take on new projects and opportunities. We need to empower them to use their voice without criticizing them or judging them for how they communicate.
I have two amazing nieces and many of my friends have daughters. These girls are sassy, smart, and courageous and I refuse to accept that in 20 years, that they might find themselves being sidelined in their chosen careers. My challenge today is the same it’s been throughout my career – that I look different to everyone else sitting at the table, usually because I’m the only woman. I don’t want this to be true for the girls and women in my life. When they’re promoted to MD and they’re out for celebratory drinks, I don’t want them to be the only women in their cohort.
I am inspired by all my ambitious and successful friends and colleagues. I know that things can change. I want that for other women and I believe that if organizations start to truly listen instead of just talk about the changes they want to make, if they provide exciting new opportunities to the women they hire, that in time we can actually break the bias for women in leadership roles and throughout our industry.