Transforming the boardroom: inspiring women in STEM
Throughout the past year, Business Chief has spoken to various business leaders about the importance of gender diversity, especially in the traditionally male-dominated field of technology. Several organizations are taking big steps to improve their gender balance and promote female role models, while many argue women must still work hard and motivate themselves and one another to prove themselves in male-dominated sectors.
Speaking to our new FinTech Magazine, Finastra’s APAC Marketing Leader Smita Gupta discusses the cultural issues in creating a diverse workforce. “People from each country have behaviors and attitudes driven by where they come from, but it’s never too late to change,” she comments, adding that Finastra sees itself as a regional sponsor of inclusion and diversity. “Something very close to my heart is creating a more diverse workplace – how do we get rid of unconscious bias?”
Mentors and role models
Aside from efforts made by large corporations, Gupta says it’s important for women and men alike to be proactive and keen to learn. “While it’s important to have role models, don’t wait for the organizations to give you those models. Go out and seek a coach who will listen to you, is someone you trust, and is willing to commit time and be part of your career journey.”
Vicki Batka, Vice President of Cisco’s APJ Partner Organization, echoes the importance of mentoring, and she herself acts as a mentor. She has noticed that for some, a conversation with an experienced leader is all it takes. “Especially when I talk to females, usually they know what they need to do, they just need someone to listen and help reassure them,” Batka comments. As a mentor, she sees self-image as a key challenge faced by women especially in STEM fields. “A female will look at a job spec with 10 attributes and say ‘I’ve only got five so I won’t be successful’, whereas a male might say ‘I’ve got two; I’ll go for it’. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go for it. I spend a lot of time talking to people about how to use their network.”
Gupta adds that those already in leadership positions should strive to open up opportunities. “My call out to women leaders, and male leaders who have been successful, is to throw out the ladder to the one behind them, whether male or female, and create opportunities for others.”
“Role models are very important,” emphasizes Andy Pearson, Managing Director at Santander UK Technology. “We are participating in the Thirty Per Cent Coalition where we have role models, both men and women, to mentor women in our organization, and women at Santander are being mentored by those from other organizations.” Santander is committed to having a mix of men and women across its tech-led workforce. “Gender diversity is very important to us,” Pearson adds, commenting that Santander was a founding signatory of the HMRC Women in Finance Charter.
Hard work and motivation
Acknowledging that “women in the world are coming into the room at a disadvantage”, Amy Jadesimi, Managing Director of Nigerian oil and gas fabrication and logistics base LADOL, says it’s still up to women to put in that extra bit of work in order to be recognized among their male peers. “You do have to prove yourself – you have to be ‘better than’ in order to be considered ‘equal to’… if you want to be successful you need to be prepared to work hard. If you want to be successful as a woman, you have to be able to work hard and be extremely brave and strategic. Be brave enough to make tough choices. The tough choice in this case is the choice society doesn’t expect.”
Jadesimi adds that organizations can however facilitate this, coming back to the importance of having someone to look up to. “I like to think that we can help by publicizing what myself and other women have been able to achieve, as well as publicizing how important it is to governments and corporations to have women succeed.”
What else can an organization do to foster a diverse workforce, both between genders and more broadly? “It’s about how you create a more equitable workforce. As managers, sometimes we are too blinded by the job spec. When I’m interviewing someone, even if they don’t have the immediate skillset I need for the job role, but I know they have the passion and fire in their belly, I am willing to invest in them and give them the opportunity to thrive. We should look at identifying those hidden talents and creating opportunities for those around us,” says Gupta.
Batka agrees that especially in technology which changes so quickly, softer skills like adaptability are important and a diverse range of people should be considered to fit the bill. “At Cisco, we’re hiring people from very diverse backgrounds, not just technology.” For Cisco, diversity takes many forms. “Some people just think ‘women’, but for our region it’s also about ethnicity. We’re quite fortunate in Asia: a lot of women work and lead businesses in the Southeast Asia region in particular. But you have other countries where they don’t. All we can do is lead by example. A lot of companies talk about diversity, but Cisco truly believes and demonstrates it.”
Reaping the rewards
Gupta, among others, is keen to outline the very real impact fostering a diverse workforce can have. It’s no longer seen as a positive CSR step, but in fact benefits an organization’s bottom line and is becoming a key strategic advantage. “Enough research has been done to show it impacts the bottom line and the profitability of the organization,” she explains. “If organizations want to fuel innovation, diversity and inclusion are key. With more diverse leadership teams, companies can earn more from innovation with higher EBITDA margins as well.”
Diversity of course extends to a variety of cultures, abilities and skillsets as well as genders. “If you draw on a variety of cultures, this insight allows you to serve customers better,” says Gupta. “As organizations expand and want to target various markets, when you have a diverse team they can be your eyes and ears in giving you those insights. You can look at clients’ needs from a completely different perspective.”
On a national and global level, various studies have shown that supporting women in the workplace adds significantly to GDP. “There is no country in the world right now that can afford not to invest in and take advantage of that,” comments Jadesimi. “Corporations could increase their bottom line by 40% just by supporting women. I think it’s really important to show the economic rationale for those women who don’t have a voice, an education or other opportunities, so we can help them and encourage people who aren’t giving access to think differently about what women can contribute.”
Batka, too, is pleased with the tangible results Cisco has seen in APAC and beyond thanks to its commitments to diversity, and looks forward to more progress in the future. “In the old days, the IT industry was a boys’ club,” she concludes. “Not anymore. We’re here, and we’re different.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.