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One Day There Won’t Be Female Leaders, There Will Just Be Leaders

December 20, 2022
Author: Bella Shea

The number of women in tech is growing, but as of 2022 only a quarter of the total workforce is represented by females. To meet the future demand for tech workers, we need to encourage more women to pursue careers in this bourgeoning space.

Historically, encouraging more women to join the tech space has been a challenge for a number of reasons, but maybe one of the most significant is the lack of female role-models at the top. Without role-models to aspire to, it can prove difficult to change entrenched societal stereotypes.

It is critical that women in tech keep talking about the obstacles they have encountered and share experiences, tips and advice to the next generation too – as with so many challenges, with collaboration and communication, often barriers can be broken down more quickly.

Contrary to long-standing misnomers ‘lack of ambition’ is not something that holds women back from the top jobs in tech, with research showing that women are just as ambitious as men, if not more. Nor is there any difference in willingness to take risks – another quality regularly found in senior leaders.

Even the fact that fewer women choose a technical education, need not necessarily be a barrier. While a technical background can often be beneficial at the start of a career, it is not a prerequisite for a successful career in the tech industry.

Obstacles along the way

So what are the obstacles women face on their career paths? At the top – perhaps not surprisingly - are childcare responsibilities, which are still unevenly distributed and viewed within Western society. Significantly, 80% of women want flexible working hours so they can better divide attention between work and family. Among men, only half want flexible working hours.

Another significant obstacle concerns the endemic prejudice that still persists around women in tech. As with many other industries, women often have to go ‘above and beyond’ to prove themselves - especially when it comes to technical competences - in order to achieve the same recognition and seniority as male counterparts.

Imposter syndrome

At Manhattan Exchange, several female tech leaders spoke openly about the obstacles they had encountered and overcome in their careers. Sian Baker of Asda mentioned that she had never had a female role-model. "In my career in supply chain, I have only encountered men so far. In addition, I sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome. I am constantly comparing myself to others (men). Am I good enough? Can I handle this job?”

Laura Manni of Gucci recognises that feeling too. "When I started my engineering degree, only 16 out of 600 students were women. When I started my career, I had a CIO who really had to get used to the idea of women in tech. Even within a company like Gucci, this is sometimes still a concern, even today. When this is the case throughout your career it's inevitable that you do sometimes start having doubts. Am I even suitable for a position in tech? But women certainly are – of that I am convinced."

The spinning plates conundrum

The stories shared in Berlin underline how tough it is to combine a busy job with the duties as a mother and/or carer. "Three children and a full-time job. I sometimes have no idea how I managed to keep all the plates spinning. No one can do everything at once. You’ll achieve what you want but just not all at the same time - so sequence smartly. Get yourself an infrastructure of help and remember to take time for yourself to refuel," commented Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, CMO of Manhattan Associates.

Laura Manni considers herself lucky to have such a supportive husband. "I am a mother of two children. We shared family responsibilities together, which was anything but common in Italy. We had no help from the government and just shows why it is so important to have a good support network. Apart from my husband, that consists of friends and family.

“Besides this immediate network, an employer plays a very important function as an enabler for female success too. I work for a company that encourages me to succeed and have managers who empower me along the way," Manni added.

Great achievements should transcend gender

From Gucci's Laura Manni and Asda's Sian Baker, to NBK Retail's Natalie Berg and L'Oréal's Johanna Bittan, during Exchange we heard inspiring stories of women who have achieved great things in their respective companies in the tech and supply chain spaces.

Johanna Bittan described how she used her feelings and emotions when making decisions and influencing others, “I ran a programme aimed at implementing L’Oréal's first master data management system. We think of L’Oréal as a global company, but that is not the case. We have different stakeholders to win over. And the emotional thing I used was to make data as sexy as possible. They thought data was just something they had to invest in. But they needed to understand why data is important for L’Oréal to achieve their goals. I facilitated that, tapping into their emotions.”

At Manhattan Associates, we are committed to telling these types of stories and will continue to invest in our own Women’s Initiative Network. We are also dedicated to continuing to breakdown societal stereotypes and giving more women the opportunity to rise to the top in tech – in the process creating the vital role-models needed to encourage future generations of female tech leaders.

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