Celebrating International Women’s Day with Our Own Inspiring Women Leaders #IWD2020
As a cloud applications company, new ideas that feed innovation are critical, and that only comes with a diverse workforce. Without cognitive diversity we won’t find solutions for today’s problems, and we won’t grow and inspire our customers. At Unit4, we promote a culture of diversity and inclusion that allows us to balance different personalities, abilities, backgrounds and genders.
International Women’s Day, on Sunday March 8, is an important day to recognize the contribution of women in all industries and to remind us the importance of encouraging more women into technology. The technology ecosystem must be representative of all sorts of populations for our future to be inclusive. We must act today if we want to drive systemic change. The United Nations Sustainable Development has set 17 goals to transform our World by 2030. Goal #5 is to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, with the tech field being one of the main targets.
To celebrate amazing women everywhere on this important day, our own inspiring women leaders share their advice and experience from a career in tech. Here’s what they had to say:
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Julie: Recognize when it’s time to walk away, personally or professionally.
Beata: I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to ask questions. Leaders respect those who show interest and ask questions. No one expects you to be an expert in everything, and often times questions prompt further discussion and spark new ideas.
Brigid: Trust your instincts, don’t be afraid to get to the bottom of things and ask the questions no one else wants to ask. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
Yujin: It’s okay to have an unconventional career path – I went from marketing to business development, presales, and sales. I thought I was making too many lateral moves and not enough forward ones. They all helped in the end when I started in leadership positions.
Emma: Pick a goal, one that may seem unreachable and do everything you can to get there. Reach for the stars!
Katarina: Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be too focused on a specific career path, you might miss opportunities you didn’t know existed.
My answer: I would say believe in yourself, strive to be the best that you can and don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot follow your dreams. Also, mistakes are just learning opportunities, as one of my team would say “every day is a school day”!
What or who has inspired you to get where you are today?
Julie: My father. He grew up during very economically-challenged times in the US. He put himself through university and went on to have a successful career leading technology companies in Silicon Valley. He showed me the importance of team building, preparedness, and “walking through the door” vs. being fearful of new opportunities.
Beata: My mother is my source of inspiration. As the oldest of 6 siblings, and the first to immigrate to Canada from Poland at the age of 16, she had to overcome many challenges and obstacles in her life. Her life experiences have taught me to embrace change because they are key learning opportunities, and to always take on new challenges, even if you’re not sure you are completely ready.
Brigid: I am only going to talk about the females who inspire me, since this is International Women’s day. I have a small set of very unique female friends, they are no-nonsense, super smart, confident and successful women. They inspire me in different ways every day with how they juggle their businesses, their lives, children and work. They set the bar high for how they handle themselves and it is fascinating to be part of their lives. I also have a five year old daughter who, like her mother, is very strong minded. Half of me wants her to do what I ask her to do and the other half wants me to keep her tenacity. Finding that balance is a work in progress!
Yujin: My parents. I grew up watching my dad taking on many different challenges in different cities and countries and saw him succeed and sometimes struggle too. My mother was a very strong woman and a first-generation feminist in Korea. She never let me believe that I couldn’t do something because of my gender or race or nationality. She taught me to rise above people’s preconceptions and prejudgements and to be proud of who I am.
My answer: Sheryl Sandberg – COO, Facebook. Reading Sheryl’s book ‘Lean In’ was a defining moment for me. She is someone who challenges this concept of having a voice, owning the room and rightly commanding your space. Throughout my career, I have been in situations where I may be the only female in the room or one of only a handful. Always remembering that you have a right to be there and that your contribution is of value, not only in terms of gender equality but for everyone regardless of who you are or what you do.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced in your career?
Julie: I’ve faced many obstacles during my career. Overcoming my own limitations has certainly been one them. I quickly learned that pulling together a team to help me through tough situations has been a key to success.
Beata: Maintaining a good work/life balance. However, I’ve learned that there really is no equal balance, there are ebbs and flows. Some days, weeks, or months are going to be work-heavy, and other times you can focus more on family, friends, and your health. Balance to me is about flexibility.
Brigid: This is a tough question! Honestly I don’t see my any of career challenges as obstacles, every long term commitment has bumps in the road – marriages, friendships, work – you’ve just got to navigate your way out and stay standing. Ultimately, without the challenges you wouldn’t have the experience to be a leader so I say hold on tight and remember what you learn.
Yujin: I started my career in Korea at Oracle corporation at a time where IT was still a very male dominated industry. Women were only considered for more traditionally accepted fields like HR, Marketing, and admin functions. Sometimes, you have to make some shifts to your life to find an environment that suits you better. I find the same applies to companies too.
My answer: The biggest obstacle for me was building the HR Strategy for Saudi Arabia whilst at Infor. A country known for women being second class, putting together the HR Strategy meant I had to really understand the cultural drivers that sit within this country, this was a challenge that pushed me in many different ways. When you grow up with western world practices and suddenly you have to build this strategy where it is accepted that women do not have a voice and cannot own the room, it is a concept that is alien to you when you grow up in a country where you have opportunities and you can have a voice.
What advice would you give women in tech?
Emma: I’ve worked my whole career in what’s still today a male dominated industry. My advice is to be confident. Say yes to everything and learn as you go!
Julie: This applies to everyone, not just women in tech. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand when an opportunity presents itself. You don’t have to have it all figured out or have extensive experience to be the right person for that opportunity. Walk through that door!
Beata: My advice applies as much for women as it does for men in tech. Build a strong business network and get out there. Networking is the best way to get advice and gain knowledge, learn best practices, and open new opportunities. You may also meet some life-long friends and mentors along the way!
Brigid: I don’t differentiate between any genders and there is no difference in the advice I would give to male, female, gender neutral individuals. To everyone, I would say be careful - be careful with others and be careful with yourself. Look after your physical and mental health, always be respectful and professional, remember people are not robots, they cannot be worked, always treat people well.
Yujin: Take on challenges you think you are not ready for. You are more ready than you think. I see this far too often in the people I manage. Also, ask for what you want. Men are far better at asking for what they want than women, especially in Asia. I am not very good at this either and still learning and improving at it.
Katarina: Step outside your comfort zone, believe in yourself. Let people around you know what you want. Build a good network. Choose a job you feel passionate about, then you will deliver at your best.
My answer: Be clear on what you want from your career, focus on how you will get it and never accept average, always strive to be at the top of your game!
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
Julie: Professionally, there isn’t any single one that I would point to. I’m extremely proud in having built really great teams with people who successfully collaborate, lead, mentor and achieve. Achievement, for me, is a team sport.
Beata: I’d be remiss to say that my greatest achievement in life are my two sons that have grown into strong and caring men. There are many achievements throughout my career that I’m proud of, but what I cherish the most are the partnerships and personal relationships I’ve built that enabled organizations to grow and expand their business.
Brigid: Without a doubt it is making a full recovery from a double mastectomy and PTSD which I had in 2019. I am so incredibly proud of myself and the people who supported me. My recovery was really tough – I had five operations and around 40 psychotherapy sessions! But it was totally worth it, I have reduced my risk of getting breast cancer to around 1-2% and completely eliminated my chance of getting ovarian cancer. After 2019 - I feel like I can do anything.
Yujin: Hard to point out just one but I’m pretty proud of my current APAC team at Unit4. The team has come together brilliantly and delivered a great 2019. We have strong momentum going into 2020 and there is still so much that can be done to deliver even better results. My leadership team has become so strong in such a short time, it has been a real joy to see.
My answer: My proudest achievement without question is having my two daughters, Bethany (age 16) and Charlotte (age 12) My girls have a strong sense of who they are, what they want to be and how they will achieve their goals but most importantly they are genuine and whether they are studying hard, doing what they love or being the genuine individuals that they are, I am forever a proud mum! I am also very proud of my team, having been Chief People Officer for Unit4 now for 8 months – I look back at everything my team has delivered and I can honestly say I am immensely proud of where we have got to as we drive the people experiences that differentiate Unit4. Many have been pushed outside of their comfort zones and have done so willingly but most of all my team are People Centric, Curious, are having impact and above all they are genuine!