One of the most crucial aspects of working within the technology industry, in a leadership position, is that you are close to innovation. It is an industry that thrives under continuous change and disruption. It not only welcomes them but actively promotes them. Understandably then, if you are a senior business executive in a leadership position within an organization with a global reach, like Dell Technologies, you must always stay on your toes and keep current.
What does this have to do with being a woman in the technology industry, and more specifically, in the South-Eastern Europe? We always say that technology and science are predominantly occupied by men and try to level the plain field so that more women can enter this sector and balance things out. After nearly 20 years of continually pushing women into the labor market and high-tech industries from all possible avenues, and even more commitments already underway, both through initiatives in the private sector, but also by implementing government policies and systemic changes at a societal level, today we find ourselves in a much better position. However, there is still a long way to go until we achieve parity in most areas.
How women have thrived in a region of unprecedented change and disruption
Looking back at the most significant milestones for the fortunes of women in our area, I can’t stress enough how important it was to see my country entering the European Union in 2004 as part of the EU10. Slovenia today hasn’t just excelled in many areas, but it has leapfrogged ahead of many other European countries when it comes to the status of women in every aspect, political representation, justice, economic power to name a few.
We find ourselves in the top 10 of the most desirable countries for a woman to live in, having caught up with Estonia, which has been for the past 20 years, the model, and the case study of Eastern European countries. I admit that diversity and inclusion are being parroted by many today as a talking point, but I have witnessed that these terms have a very special meaning for women from our region, because as countries, societies, and economies, we desperately needed the involvement of women in the labor market, on equal footing with men, to catch up with our western counterparts and achieve comparative rates of growth and development.
Women from my region and my generation have fought many battles and laid the ground for younger women to have a smoother journey. It is not by accident that the SEE region has become a coveted area that attracts investments, acquisition scouts for highly skilled individuals, and promising startups. As a pool of talent from marketing and sales, to engineering and manufacturing roles, it is a great place to find the best teams for outsourcing services – all these are advantages that no global corporation can overlook.
The challenges you must overcome to become a successful woman in a senior position
My personal experience and the lessons I have been taught, throughout my career, have made me pinpoint several challenges that women constantly face. We have to overcome these challenges with the help of other women. Not because men are not suitable to guide, but because women have similar shared experiences and can act as mentors for junior executives in their first steps within a large organization.
Dependence on external validation: independence and self-reliance are valuable attributes for any ambitious senior manager, but these require experience and strength of character that comes from within. When you find yourself in a leadership position, others look up to you to lead your teams to success.
Some people find themselves perpetually caught in the loop of equating success with external validation from their peers, aligning their goals with the desires of their business counterparts. Exactly on this point, one of the most important lessons I learned during my career, is the need for clarity during the most stressful or difficult periods, and the shaping of our self-perception. Difficulties can lead to opportunities and challenges to breakthroughs, as long as we preserve time for reflection, time to focus on our inner thoughts, on the visualization of our personal “next”. This is quite critical, and a key factor to shaping our responses, do not underestimate it.
Getting lost in minutiae and lacking a broader vision: one of the most remarkable things in my career were my efforts to minimize my involvement in micro-management and the tendency to control and regulate everything within my jurisdiction. This is just not possible when you have to manage an entire region with thousands of corporate customers, partners, and team members.
From my personal experience, some men and women tend to be perfectionists and cannot resist supervising everything personally. They have to realize how to unlock their potential by working more effectively in teams. As a woman executive, you have to suppress the first tendency and cultivate the second – that is, trust your teams, give them room to breathe, and always stay on the big picture, don’t lose the forest for the tree. Again, the importance of reflection is critical here, and since we are always busy, we tend to forget this or settle for a lower priority.
The transition from tactical to strategic is one of the essential things a senior manager must achieve. Although you must function within guidelines from HQ, top leadership expects from you well-informed suggestions, progress reports, and solid action plans that will make or break outcomes for the next quarters. While nobody can ignore the short-term targets, it is important to have a broader vision on our long-term achievements. Setting KPIs and define OKRs are essential today, and luckily, we do have a lot of tools to monitor our progress and draw more data that help us extract insights. However, planning for long term is equally vital, in order to aim higher.
The danger of burnout: The discussion between work and life balance is not new. Women never stopped handling a career and a family at the same time. I am very fortunate to work for an organization that is exemplary in the way it treats women and working mothers, providing flexibility and special provisions for being able to take care of children and family matters, without impacting professional performance. Trying to achieve everything, without a proper planning or by prioritizing is impossible. This is a quick path to burnout. Setting personal goals outside of job and again finding time for reflection and visualization, helps a lot. Finding a mentor and an accountability partner for your objectives, is also very helpful. Once assuming a senior position, a leader must understand the risk of burnout on a team. Providing guidance is one of the most important aspects of building a winning culture.
Aim higher and never stop
Having covered some fundamentals of what a woman executive should do to pursue a career in a demanding organization, we can ponder how we can achieve this. I believe that the technology industry can provide some powerful tools in areas like mentorship, networking, and leadership. These tools can make our lives easier and help us follow a more fulfilling and rewarding career.
Undoubtedly, our age offers wide access to knowledge, never seen before in our societies. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power, and knowledge can set anyone free”. Knowledge help us think bigger, have a clearer vision for o
ur future, but also makes it easier to seek and find help and
encouragement in shaping our future. Stories from our parents and grand parents teach us that life was never easy. However, we have more opportunities, that we can usually think of, to enjoy our work, be successful and feel fulfilled.