Aptitude, Attitude, Ambition: Empowering women to be the technology leaders of the future

Two women shaking hands

By Josie Smith, Chief IT Architect, Digital at BT                                                                                                                                   

My career to date has been exciting, challenging at times, but most of all it has been enriching. Becoming the Chief IT Architect for BT’s digital function, and in particular, being part of the team that’s transforming BT into a more “digital” organisation, has given me so many opportunities to try new things, experiment with different ideas, and discover more about myself and my abilities. But currently I am one of the very few leading women Chief IT Architects. While women currently hold just 10% of leadership roles in the industry, we need to think seriously about how we can boost female representation and reframe the conversation around diversity in tech. So where do we start? How can we, as women, affect meaningful change which delivers a long-term solution and helps bring more women to the leadership table?

The answer, I think, lies in making greater support available to women at the very start of their professional lives. My own “transformation” didn’t happen overnight; I’ve learnt that by creating the space to exchange ideas, share experiences and discuss our own desired career trajectories, we can ensure we that never lose sight of our goals, drive, and inspirations – even when the realities of work conspire to hold us back. By putting time and resources into creating an exceptional support infrastructure that works collectively, we can foster a more nurturing environment that helps women to grow and develop their skill sets.

The knowledge we need to impart to our younger colleagues, and continually remind them about at every stage of their career is this: all careers have their ups and downs, but staying true to yourself and you maintaining your self-belief will give you the resourcefulness required to succeed.

As a mentor, my advice is to always adhere to the three key concepts that have motivated and propelled me throughout my career:

  1. Aptitude – Lean into your strengths and make sure you are continually cultivating those areas where you excel. Instead of spending time comparing yourself to others and wishing you had a different skill set, realise what you have and appreciate what makes you unique in the work environment. Your abilities make you an integral team player and may even help you find solutions to challenging problems, even when others can’t see them. And when it comes to strengths, people tend to enjoy what they’re good at, so embrace this as it will continue to motivate you.
  2. Attitude – By actively demonstrating that you are open and willing to take on new roles and responsibilities you are setting an example of leadership and expressing a desire for personal growth. This will stand you apart from your peers in a positive way and get you noticed. As women, we’re often quite risk averse, we view new roles and unknown challenges as a potential danger rather than an opportunity. But if you go in with the mindset that every new job or project is a chance to combine your existing strengths with new ideas, it will likely provide you with the experience that allows you to take the next important step up.
  3. Ambition – The most important of the three As and the one that we as women in tech need to fight most hard to protect. On leaving education we expectantly feel as though we can change the world and that by contributing what we have to offer we can make a quantifiable difference. But that feeling can quickly fade when we are continually confronted with the daily complexities that work throws at us. That’s why having an excellent support infrastructure in place can be a gamechanger in terms of giving women the extra confidence and ambition they need to apply for a promotion, leadership role, or even a board position. It can also be an opportunity for women to raise their profiles through events and public speaking so that they can influence the technology landscape in a meaningful way. This is exactly what BT’s TechWomen programme is designed to enable. I truly believe that the ‘power of the pack’ can be leveraged to lift each other up – in this way, women at all levels can play a decisive role, not just the more senior ones who have already gone beyond the glass ceiling. It shouldn’t be up to a single group of women to act as gatekeepers, it’s all of our responsibility give each support so that ambition can thrive.

Clearly, there is no single formula for success. But if you’re passionate about certain aspects of technology, cultivate your interest as this is what will empower you to succeed over the long-term. And importantly, bear in mind that technology is constantly changing and advancing. That means we must all reinvent ourselves professionally every few years to keep pace with this evolution. But it also means opportunity; exploring areas that are unfamiliar or unknown forces us to be more original, creative, and disruptive in our approach to problem solving. Embrace this challenge and eventually you will be the inspiration.