By Nicola Wright
The past 20 months have thrown up challenges and opportunities for us all.
We adapted at speed to mass remote working and relied heavily on tech to keep us connected through lockdowns. We also saw impressive innovation and extraordinary leadership. The Women in IT Awards New York, hosted on September 21st, 2021, celebrated many such examples of leadership and innovation, and as premium sponsors of the event, we at Frank Recruitment Group were honored to celebrate with them.
To mark the Women In IT Awards, Frank Recruitment Group’s Sue Persichetti, SVP of the Americas and Head of Strategic Alliances US assembled a very special panel of guest speakers to reflect on some of the challenges and changes of the past year and a half.
Amber Takahashi, founder of Brown Girl Tech World, Miriam Noble, Head of Sales, South East Greenfield, AWS, Ashley Dostie, Senior Sales Director, NetSuite, Ashley Coneeny, Senior Regional Sales Director, NetSuite, and Amy Regan Morehouse, Senior Vice President, Trailhead Academy GTM, Salesforce discussed everything from their heroines in the sector right now, to their own experiences as leaders during the pandemic.
As we’ve all hosted conferences at our kitchen table and balanced home, school, and work, the question of how to achieve better equality in the workplace has never seemed more relevant.
So, what did we learn? Our guests shared five key takeaways:
During the roundtable, Miriam Noble, noted that the pandemic had caused many people to reappraise the value of so-called ‘soft skills’ in leadership. “I think one of the things that has surprised me the most [over the last 18 months] in a positive way is how compassion and authenticity have gone from almost being buzzwords […] to really being those traits that define a great leader now.”
She further elaborated: “It made me think about how something as simple as my daughter hijacking a video call 18 months ago would have been seen as cringeworthy. And now it’s part of our everyday lives, seeing people’s kids and pets, and seeing the good and sometimes not so good sides of work-from-home life. It’s almost like Covid was this great equalizer that made it okay to show vulnerability.”
On being vulnerable with colleagues and clients, the panel agreed that they had all observed a shift within the leadership teams at their own workplaces to focus on staff wellbeing. Throwing out the rulebook became the new normal, and leaders who were able to show empathy and compassion were really valued by their colleagues.
When so many of us found ourselves in unfamiliar territory, with work and home in constant flux, keeping an open communication channel for colleagues became more important than ever. It’s difficult to figure out how someone is actually feeling through a screen, as opposed to sitting next to them for eight or nine hours a day.
Amy Regan Morehouse spoke about how her employer, Salesforce, had brought back a focus on company-wide calls, giving everybody a space to be together and have that sense of company culture.
The leadership team at Salesforce very quickly arranged a company-wide get-together at the beginning of the pandemic to discuss the real things people were going through, to give them a platform to share and have a support system in return.
With so many employees under so much pressure working through the pandemic and having to juggle all the other rapidly changing areas of their lives, companies looked to implement wellness programs to encourage more self-care. Ashley Coneeny highlighted how wellness had become part of the calendar at NetSuite. “One of the things we’ve been doing, and it’s specific to mental health and keeping employees communicating during this scary time, is to roll out wellness days,” she said.
“It’s essentially one day a month where you pick an activity outdoors and you take pictures and share it with the vertical “You get to stay in touch with everybody else, and it’s nice to see what they’re doing for their wellness day and just having that freedom to do something other than being locked to your desk.”
With analysis from the likes of Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report finding that 500,000 more women left active work than men during the pandemic due to a lack of support and increase in stress, investing in women’s wellbeing is a must. So while some companies may still be viewing wellness days or afternoons as a perk, the reality is that these are rapidly becoming the norm, and many female employees will move on if their company’s wellness plans don’t align with their needs.
Amber Takahashi spoke about her experience breaking into the industry, and what women of color in similar situations can do to progress their own careers in tech. “One of my top pieces of advice is to not let the past or the negative imagery that is constantly displayed on social media and news outlets prevent you from getting your foot in the door,” she explained.
“A lot of times with the social unrest and a lot of things happening in this current social climate that we’re in, we create these mental barriers that prevent us from taking the next steps, when in reality these barriers aren’t actually there”.
Takahashi explained how she felt imposter syndrome was still a very real issue for many women in the industry; past research has found that women will only apply for jobs where they feel they meet all of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they believe they meet around 60% of the requirements.
Takahashi advised delegates to seize on opportunities, and dedicate time to building up their network, paying special attention to leaders who can mention your name in rooms that you may not have access to.
Takahashi also said that it had been useful to her to look beyond race, religion and background when establishing those relationships with leadership, and instead to look for people who could help her make a connection to the next step in her career. She admitted that this had sometimes required her to go outside her comfort zone. “If I hadn’t opened my mouth, if I hadn’t taken that connection and followed through with it, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have”.
Nobody works hard to not be recognized for their achievements. Our guest panel discussed how intentional praise has become more important than ever during the pandemic—and needs to be carried through beyond that, too. “Aside from keeping staff engaged on a professional and personal level, we needed to continue to talk about career growth with them,” explained Ashley Coneeny. “It was kind of to say ‘don’t give up. I know it’s hard right now but I will support you beyond this too’.”
Miriam Noble acknowledged how this is an important element to remember for new starters, too. “We have to be so much more intentional about bringing up individuals who really are doing incredible work, about finding opportunities for them to lead outside their normal responsibilities, and really giving people a chance to shine”.
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