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October 10, 2023 Women in Digital

Here at Women in Digital, we believe that gender diversity is just the beginning of a much broader conversation about workplace diversity. Diversity isn’t a one-dimensional concept; it takes many forms and when you examine high-performing companies it becomes increasingly apparent that diversity—of thought, culture, and experience—is not only desirable but essential. Someone we were very excited to talk to on this topic is Nazli Seghar.

Hailing from Iran and now a prominent business leader and transformation advisor, Nazli Seghar exemplifies the power of passion and perseverance. From her childhood dreams of becoming a movie director to her unexpected entry into computer science, Nazli’s story is a testament to the power of pursuing one’s true interests and passions, even when the path seems uncertain.

Today, Nazli is a Customer Success Executive at Cisco with over 20 years of experience under her belt in successfully leading teams in various government and large private organisations including the University of Newcastle, CSIRO, AWS (working in space innovation!) and Cisco where she has carried through her unrelenting drive to explore the possibilities of emerging technologies.

In this Q&A, we discuss Nazli’s journey into tech, her experiences working as a woman in tech in Iran and building a professional career in Australia, and the unique challenges that have influenced her leadership style and approach to managing diverse teams. We also heard Nazli’s advice on getting your foot in the door with large tech innovators, facing cultural barriers at work and more.

This promises to be an inspiring read!

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Nazli want to be when she grew up?

Back when I was 5 years old, I had my sights set on becoming a movie director and producer. I would go on scouring for stories, rounding up all the neighbourhood kids feeling like a mini-Hollywood casting director, and putting on performances that would leave their parents in awe (or at least, they pretended convincingly!). Lights, camera, action—In my own eyes, I was the little maestro of backyard blockbusters!

How did you end up in your current role at Cisco?

Six months ago, I embarked on an exciting journey with Cisco, taking on the role of Customer Success Executive as part of the ANZ Customer Success team. This position, relatively new to the tech industry, is centred around aiding customers to maximise the value from their investments. Rather than a traditional sales-centric role, it’s about fostering a positive customer experience as they navigate their transformational journey.

Throughout my career, I’ve always been passionate about ensuring customer success, and this role allows me to focus on just that. My particular enthusiasm lies in the industry I am currently engaged with, which adds further motivation and excitement to my work. At Cisco, I continue to champion customer satisfaction and success, making their journey both seamless and rewarding.

It is commonly recognised that there are fewer female leaders in digital and technology. Could you tell us a little bit about your career background and how you ended up working in the industry in general?

When I was faced with the decision of choosing my future career in Iran, the university entrance exams were very competitive, leaving little room for choice. I initially dreamed of becoming an architect, but circumstances led me to be accepted into the field of computer science. Surprisingly, it was harder to get into computer science, and I didn’t think I stood a chance of getting accepted and to be honest, I had only added it to my list to please my mum, who had already been disappointed that I didn’t aspire to become a doctor. With a computer science degree, I embarked on my journey in technology, and it felt like a natural fit for me. Even when an unexpected opportunity arose for me to study architecture and even work at an architectural firm a few years later, I realised just how fortunate I was to have veered away from pursuing architecture, and that I eventually found myself doing what I am doing now. My current path aligns perfectly with my curiosity for emerging technologies and my personal passion. It is a testament to the fact that when you follow your true interests and passions, you naturally gravitate towards a fulfilling and rewarding career, regardless of the specific academic path you initially embark upon.

You were able to grow an impressive resume working in Iran before moving to Australia. What was that experience like? How did go about building up your network, and professional career in Australia?

Back when I was completing my bachelor’s degree, a miraculous opportunity presented itself—I stumbled upon Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), of all things, for my thesis. Little did I know that this seemingly niche topic would open doors for me in the vast realm of the online world including leading the software team of the first web platform in Iran. Fresh out of university, I ventured into Iran’s male-dominated tech industry, working on the country’s first online platform without the convenience of Google. Instead, we relied on books and hands-on learning to deliver. Although the challenges were immense, the result was exceptionally rewarding. When I relocated to Australia, by a stroke of incredible fortune and reward for working hard and getting good marks in my master’s degree, found a job at university which was a stepping stone for me for my future career. I found myself working at CSIRO—an experience that has played a pivotal role in shaping my career and leadership in advanced technology. With each new wave of emerging technologies, I’ve been irresistibly drawn in. I was curious about the potential of cloud computing within AWS and that’s how I ended up working at AWS which led me to leading the aerospace and satellite business in ANZ for AWS and working with amazing space innovators in the region. I love pushing my limits, constantly seeking new challenges, and right now I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to be surrounded by the greatest and brightest minds in Cisco. Collaborating with these remarkable individuals who have shaped technology infrastructure across the globe is a privilege beyond measure.

Reflecting on that, is there anything you would do differently? And what would your advice be to someone starting fresh in a new country?

Growing up in war in Iran has taught me not to dwell on the past with regret. If I have emerged from those circumstances alive, I consider it a success. While I do acknowledge and learn from my mistakes, I view them primarily as opportunities for personal growth. Thus, would I change anything? Probably not, as it would hinder the valuable lessons I have learned. They are like treasures. However, I constantly strive to do better and improve upon my past experiences.

To anyone embarking on a new journey in a foreign country, my advice is to recognise that most of the limitations we assume to exist are often confined within our own minds. It is essential not to let those self-imposed limitations restrict our potential. I often advise my mentees that migrating to a new country is like finding yourself in a situation where you lack the keys to various aspects of life, from finding a home to applying for jobs and more. It can be overwhelming, but instead of succumbing to the pressure, approaching it with enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity will often result in positive outcomes and solutions to most challenges.

How would you compare your experiences working in Iran vs. Australia? Were there any interesting challenges you had to overcome?

This is an intriguing question. One of the greatest aspects of Australia is that if you remain focused on your goals and genuinely passionate about your pursuits, your efforts will not go unnoticed, and you will make progress. While challenging situations exist everywhere, in Australia, these challenges often revolve around specific individuals you encounter in your career. In Iran, however, there are additional political challenges that make things significantly more complex, especially for women. Unfortunately, being a woman in the tech industry and striving to become a leader is still more challenging for women worldwide. In Iran, this situation is exacerbated by laws that favour men. However, in Australia and Western countries in general, there is growing awareness and encouragement for gender equality in the tech space. While there is still progress to be made, the recognition and support for doing what is right is increasingly prevalent.

It is often said that as a woman in the tech industry, you must work twice as hard to gain recognition. When you add an accent to the equation, the expectation is that you must work three times as hard! Building trust becomes crucial, and being extremely results-driven becomes a necessity. In Iran, that wasn’t any barrier, but there were thousands others!

How have your cultural background and experiences influenced your leadership style and approach to managing diverse teams?

You may be aware that Iran is a collective society where strong loyalty to family is highly valued. In this cultural context, the interests of the family always come first, and individual needs take a backseat. The concept of family honour and shame is shared by all members, where success brings prestige, and any dishonour affects everyone. This deeply ingrained aspect has profoundly shaped my leadership style, emphasising the importance of unity, responsibility, and the collective well-being of those I lead.

As a leader, my team and customers are like family to me. I take responsibility for my team members’ mistakes while celebrating their individual achievements. I deeply care about my customers’ success and treat them with the same genuine interest as I would my family members. I prioritise their best interests, even if it comes at a cost to my own situation. This genuine care has fostered strong bonds with my team, leading to lasting connections that transcend time and cultural backgrounds.

Coming from a diverse cultural background, I empathise with the challenges faced by individuals from minority backgrounds. Embracing diversity, I actively seek varied viewpoints rather than surrounding myself with like-minded individuals. I value the unique perspectives that diversity brings to the team and strive to create an inclusive environment. Learning from exposure to other cultures and their leadership styles has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth.

You have worked with some heavy hitters in Australia including CSIRO, AWS and now Cisco. How did you get your foot in the door? What is your advice to others looking to get their foot in the door with large tech innovators like these organisations?

It is often said that success in one’s career is a blend of passion, hard work, and a sprinkle of luck. There are moments in life where the choices we make can have a profound impact, and that’s where luck comes into play. I have encountered several pivotal moments in my journey. Meeting two incredible women during my masters at the University of Newcastle paved the way for my first job, leading to more opportunities. The first job is always challenging, but once you secure it and perform exceptionally well, the doors begin to open. As a woman, I encourage others to seize chances and never assume they won’t be chosen. What I always emphasise to my mentees is to go for it— the worst that can happen is not getting it. Throughout my years of experience, I have hired numerous individuals. I believe that technical skills can be learned, but finding the right cultural fit is crucial. Interviews are also a chance for candidates to assess if the company aligns with their values. Ultimately, my advice is to pursue something you love and a company that brings out your passion. Go for it!

In your opinion, what can organisations and leaders do to create a more inclusive and diverse environment, particularly in relation to gender and cultural diversity?

To promote diversity and inclusivity, we must actively and consciously embrace differences with an open mind. It’s important to challenge ourselves to be comfortable with discomfort and resist the natural inclination towards familiarity, whether in gender or culture. Stepping out of our comfort zones and creating a safe environment where everyone can freely express themselves is crucial. By doing so, we can foster a culture of inclusivity, embrace diverse perspectives, and work towards a more inclusive future.

What advice do you have for women that are wanting to progress in their career but perhaps face some cultural barriers?

To pursue your ambitions, you must be resolute and courageous, with a clear destination and well-defined goals. Seek a reliable mentor, take ownership of your future, and actively engage in networking. Showcase your capabilities and ask for assistance when needed. If cultural barriers arise, seek advice from those who have overcome similar challenges. With determination and perseverance, success will be within reach. Remember, it is up to you to demonstrate your worth and make your dreams a reality.

Any final thoughts you would like to add?

First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude to the Women in Digital for providing this opportunity and for the incredible work you do.

To all the amazing women out there, I offer this advice: never underestimate your capabilities and always aim high. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. Believe in yourself and embrace the power of your potential. Keep pushing boundaries and reaching for the stars!

And just for fun… What is a podcast or book you are loving right now?

One of the books I cherish, recommended by a mentor, is “Untamed”. Additionally, I found great enjoyment in reading “The Dopamine Nation”. As a dedicated podcast listener, “Space Connect” is among my favourites, and “Everyday AI” by CSIRO also captivates my interest. These resources have enriched my knowledge and sparked my curiosity in various subjects.

Is there something you wish was illegal but isn’t?

I believe that while society is aware of the prohibition of certain forms of discrimination, additional measures should be implemented to combat them in various ways. I strongly advocate making such discrimination illegal, akin to crossing a red light. By enacting stringent laws and enforcing them rigorously, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable society that upholds the values of fairness and respect for all individuals.

What is your favourite way to waste time?

I have a deep passion for cooking, especially when it comes to discovering new recipes that I haven’t tried before and preparing them in my kitchen! There’s something incredibly satisfying about exploring different flavours, ingredients, and techniques to create delicious dishes. Cooking allows me to unleash my creativity and brings joy as I experiment with new flavours and textures. It’s a delightful journey of culinary discovery that I thoroughly enjoy.

You’re suddenly teleported to an airport with a plane ticket in hand. What location are you hoping to see on the ticket?

Egypt, I really want to visit Egypt.

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.


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August 23, 2023 Women in Digital

The signs of a growing tech industry are all around us, and for many women, a career-pivot in technology is an exciting pursuit – though one that may require some encouragement.

The tech sector is now the seventh largest employing sector in Australia, employing 861,000 people according to the Tech Council of Australia. With more opportunities becoming accessible for people to work in this lucrative industry, we are seeing more women entering the tech sector as a mid-career transition, like Teena Glassick.

Like many tech leaders we connect with, Teena Glassick’s journey into the world of technology wasn’t a straight path right after high school. It took some interesting twists and turns. Initially, Teena pursued her passion for dance starting a Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the Victorian College of Arts in Melbourne. However, her path took a different direction when she decided to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Microbiology and Biochemistry. After completing her research-focused honours year, Teena spent five years exploring various research roles before she took the bold move to enrol in a Graduate Diploma in Informational Technology. Today, Teena is a Senior Director of Product Engineering and Operations at Skedulo.

In this Q&A, we get to know Teena’s fascinating journey into tech, the challenges she’s overcome, advice to people pondering a career pivot into the industry and where to get started!

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Teena want to be when she grew up?

Either an author or a ballerina. I absolutely loved writing stories from quite a young age, with my most famous piece being a story called “The Storm”, which I wrote in Year 2 and got a special Principal’s award for!

Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in your current role??

I discovered Skedulo through the Tech Girls Are Superheroes program. I had been a mentor for the program and joined the winning teams as an ambassador on their trip to Silicon Valley in 2018. Skedulo was one of the companies we visited. I met our CEO Matt Fairhurst and some other members of the team. I was very inspired by their product and leadership team and after that trip I just kept them on my radar. Then, in 2021, a recruiter contacted me about an opportunity at Skedulo, to help support their high capacity vaccination booking product and I was really excited by the role and joined the team.

After your first career pivot from dance to biology, what motivated you to pivot from academia into tech? How did you evaluate the potential risks and rewards of the transition?

To have a career in academia, you really need to do a PhD. I had enrolled in a PhD and even had a supervisor and scholarship ready to go and I got cold feet just before I was due to start! I was just not sure that was the right pathway for me and to be honest, whilst I enjoyed the learning and the research, I did not enjoy the lab work and was not sure if I was ready to commit.

At the time, I was quite interested in the field of Bioinformatics and decided to do an IT postgraduate degree as a possible pathway into that field. I really enjoyed my study and in particular I really liked my software development subjects and decided to pursue a career as a Software Developer. The advice I gave myself and give to my young adult daughters is to just try things out until you find the thing that ‘fits’ and that you enjoy.

How did your experience in academia lend itself to a career in tech? Were there transferable skills that you took through with you?

I think there are many skills and capabilities that are transferable across professions. For me specifically, my main callouts in the transition from life sciences to IT are research skills and applying the scientific method (which is the systematic way of exploring observations and answering questions) to software development practices and processes.

How did you prepare yourself for this transition? Were there any specific resources, mentors, or networks that supported you during your career pivots? How did they contribute to your success?

When thinking about a career pivot, I try to do some personal learning and research about specific roles and pathways into those roles. I have been very fortunate in my career to have had a couple of great managers who have believed in me more than I believed in myself and have encouraged me and supported my career growth and changes I’ve made along the way. I don’t have the highest self esteem so having people who want to ‘lift me up’ has been crucial for me.

When I first started my IT degree, my husband was also incredibly supportive. He had a strong background in computer science and maths and he firmly believed in my abilities to make the change and kept being my cheerleader while I was trying to balance full time work and part time study.

How did you manage to juggle a career pivot, while raising two children and working your way up into leadership positions?

Balancing a career and young children is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done! My daughters are my world and I went through periods of immense guilt when they were very young. I wanted to spend all my time with them, but I also did not want to give up or pause (for too long) a career that I had invested so heavily in.

The key to my survival and success was a flexible and supportive workplace and managers. When I first transitioned from an individual contributor role into a management role, I actually did this in a job share capacity with a colleague who also had young children and we were both working part time. This is fairly unheard of and was a very progressive decision from the company I worked for. My colleague and I found really effective ways of sharing an engineering management role with a shared inbox (this was pre-Slack!!), effective splitting of our responsibilities and ensuring that we had full coverage for any issues and escalations. We worked together in this way for a number of years and formed a great partnership. I think the company benefited from this decision and so did we.

Were there challenges and opportunities you encountered during this transition that you perhaps didn’t expect?

The biggest challenge I had when transitioning from an individual contributor role to a leadership role, was needing to become a manager to people who had previously been my peers (and friends). I think I lacked empathy as an IC about the challenges of leadership, thinking it was going to be a lot easier than it was. I did not fully appreciate that leadership is a distinct craft in itself and that I needed to develop and mature a whole new set of skills and capabilities to be successful, and I definitely made some mistakes (and still do) along the way.

What would you say to someone wondering if it’s ‘too late’ to make a change and pivot?

I don’t think it is ever too late to make a career pivot. We spend so much of our lives working and I am so grateful that I am in a role that I am passionate about and genuinely enjoy.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently? What would you tell younger Teena?

I think I would probably just be a bit kinder to myself especially during those early years of balancing being a mum and maintaining a career. I tried (in vain) to be ‘perfect’ in both roles and just felt constant guilt on both sides – either I was not being a good enough Mum or I was not being a good enough employee. What I would tell women trying to do ‘the balance’ is that it does get easier over time and there will be times when the balance tips in one direction and that’s okay. What I would tell organisations is that flexibility and supportive leadership is so very important for parents and other people in caregiving roles who are doing a balancing act. I was so thankful for the support I received that I think I gave back more than was expected, learned to become very outcomes focused through ruthless prioritisation and developed a fierce loyalty for my company and my team in return.

If you could name two things that someone needs to successfully pivot into a career in tech, what would they be?

Start with the fundamentals – technology is a craft and you need to learn the key skills and capabilities of your chosen discipline. This could be through self learning or more formal education, but you will need to learn and that will take time, so be patient.

I would also encourage people to build a network or seek out people / meetup groups related to your area of interest. There is so much available that you will be spoilt for choice and you will gain immense benefit from having that network and hearing the ‘real life’ experiences that you won’t learn from your studies.

What advice do you have for women in tech that are wanting to progress in their career and move into a more strategic, people management role?

I would seek out opportunities to ‘dip your toe in the water’ of leadership as a good first step. This could be through an interim role or just identifying a gap that needs to be filled and putting yourself forward. As an example (in the software development space), this could be through taking on a team lead type role where you can combine your IC skills with some leadership responsibilities.

And just for fun… What is a podcast or book you are loving right now?

I am reading a great book right now called “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a story of poverty and addiction in the American South and inspired by the Charles Dickens novel “David Copperfield”.
I have also been listening to this really interesting podcast called “Sounds Like a Cult” which explores modern day cult culture.

Does your car have a name? If yes, what is it? If not, what name might you give it?

It does not – if it did I’d probably call it Bullet – fast and silver.

If you could magically pivot into a new career tomorrow (no upskill required), what would it be?

Probably medicine – I’ve always found human physiology completely fascinating.

What do you think your superpower is?

Being genuine and humanistic is a leadership superpower. (I also wear my feelings all over my face, so I have no choice because people can often read me like a book!)

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.


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July 11, 2023 Women in Digital

The Australian Government and the Australian tech sector have a shared commitment to create 1.2 million tech jobs in Australia by 2030, and to help Australians across the country access those jobs. Getting more women in tech is one of the most impactful levers to meet this goal, bridging the gap of gender disparity and encouraging a wider talent pool from people of all backgrounds with non-technical experience to break into the tech industry. This is a topic Kanika Chopra is particularly passionate about.

Kanika Chopra is an experienced sales professional with an impressive history working in the tech industry. You might just recognise the big names on her resume including Telstra, Deloitte, Microsoft, DXC Technology and Data#3 where she currently works as an Enterprise Account Executive.

Like Women in Digital, Kanika is passionate about harnessing the power of technology to solve problems and create a better future for all, having always gravitated towards innovative ways technology can help to achieve customer success. In this Q&A, we get to know Kanika and get her valuable take on how to break into the industry with no technical experience, what it is really like to work as a woman of colour in tech, and gain insight into where the industry is headed to shape a future where innovation knows no boundaries and where women play a pivotal role in driving Australia’s digital economy forward.

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Kanika want to be when she grew up?

A dancer! I was such a happy and hyperactive kid so this felt like a great future profession.

Tell us a little bit more about your background and you ended up working in this industry?

When I was finished Uni, I was looking to start my professional career and ended up receiving a great offer from Telstra as a Finance Graduate. After a few years there, I pursued a full time MBA at Melbourne Business School. This was one of the best investments I’ve made in my career as it really propelled me to take risks. Soon after, I was recruited as the country’s first ‘MBA Graduate’ at Microsoft as the company looked to broaden it’s horizons and hire more non-technical talent.

You studied a Bachelor of Business in Banking & Finance, coupled with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Was there a particular experience or opportunity that led you to pursue a career in tech instead?

I accidentally fell into a career in tech. After completing the Finance graduate program, I started working with the Venture Capital team at Telstra as an Analyst. Essentially, I spent weeks listening to pitches from founders who believed that their little business idea was the next big thing. Invariably, each of these potential investments was centred around technology. The Telstra Ventures team was looking to invest millions of dollars annually into carefully selected tech start-ups that could yield new income sources for Telstra. The sorts of business ideas I heard were phenomenal. That’s when I knew, that I didn’t just want to work with numbers, I wanted to be in the digital and tech space.

We know one area you are also passionate about is diversity in the industry. We’d love to know more about your experience as a woman of colour in tech? How have your experiences shaped your career or views on the industry?

Diversity helps everyone. But it is well documented that – as a general rule – women tend to be more conservative when applying for roles or going for promotions due to our social condition. And I can definitely see that this concept of Imposter Syndrome is amplified amongst women of colour. This can show up as not speaking up or sharing our ideas. I am passionate about mentoring and helping women of colour break into the tech industry and achieve their full potential.

Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries with many people wanting to break into the IT / digital industry or pivot into this area. What advice do you have for someone who does not have prior experience?

Get networking! WID is a great start. You can also reach out to recruiters in the specific companies you want to work in.

Secondly – Get certified! You really don’t have a stale CV. The industry is moving at lightning pace and your skillset needs to evolve too. So I suggest that you pick your niche (security, cloud computing, analytics, etc.) and start nerding it out. It will pay off in spades.

The Australian Government and the Australian tech sector have a shared commitment to achieve 1.2 million tech jobs in Australia by 2030. What do you think can be done to encourage more women to work in tech?

Starting at the grassroots level, it is important to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects and STEM-focused careers. This ensures we have that the next generation of leaders are diverse and passionate. But for those women who are currently in professional careers or middle-aged, look to capitalise on the transferrable skills you already have. There is such a prominent talent shortage in tech.

It’s clear that as an industry and as a broader society, we need to do better to improve diversity in tech. What is your advice for women of colour who want to work in tech?

It’s important to challenge the status quo. Women of colour are plagued even more by the ‘pipeline problem’ whereby the number of women in STEM related fields is even lower. This is a result of systemic and cultural factors which are slowly being ironed out as globalisation makes our world smaller. My advice to women of colour is to be bold and believe in yourself. You have just as much value to provide as the other men and women in the room.

Any there any specific resources, programs, or networks you recommend for something looking to break into tech?

Free TAFE is offering Cert 4 in cybersecurity.

The certs for AWS, Azure and Google are approx. USD 100 each and they have market value!

What would you say to someone wondering if it’s ‘too late’ or impossible to make a pivot or break into the industry?

Tech is so much broader can coding and technical consulting. The roles are so varied, and it touches every industry from healthcare to retail. You could be using AI to perform remote surgery on patients, or you could be testing out technology which monitors inventory at the local supermarket. Tech is more than sitting behind a computer screen. Be open to change and skill up. See what transferrable skills you already have to break into the industry (e.g. sales or project management).

You have had the opportunity to work with some impressive tech companies including Microsoft and Deloitte, what advice do you have for women wanting to break into big tech organisations like this?

Get a mentor. These are not easy companies to get into. If you have a mentor within these organisations, they can help you navigate the nuances of the hiring process, and the extra skills you may need to acquire.

In your opinion, where do you think the industry is headed in the future? Are there any particular advancements in technology or movements you are excited by?

AI is the next big thing and it is already moving at lighting pace. We can already see the advancements in our everyday life. Just yesterday I was at the self-check out and buying a red capsicum from Woolworths. The camera used AI to narrow down the selection of produce down to red coloured ones only. It saved me a few seconds per product and improved accuracy across self-check out registers. AI is truly everywhere.

Embrace the change. Embrace your empathy, because this is the only skill which technology lacks and it is what makes us human.

And just for fun… Would you rather be 10 minutes early or 10 minutes late?

10 min early – although I am almost always 10 min late.

Call or text someone?

Call – the best friendships and relationships are made through actually talking to the other person!

What is the life hack you swear by?

Vision Boards. I believe that we can all work towards the goals we want to achieve and manifest the life or career we want. Get creative and build yourself a vision board today.

Thanks Kanika for chatting with us!

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.


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June 10, 2023 Women in Digital

Big tech is a hot market for job hunters. Known for competitive salary packages, enviable work perks and a fast-growing landscape, it’s a booming industry that people are eager to get in on. The best part is, coding skills are not usually a requirement. Truly! If we took one key learning from our chat with Emma Crichton, it’s about what you have, not what you don’t have yet.

A 2018 Glassdoor study that found 43% of roles advertised by tech companies (around 53,000 positions) were non-technical opportunities. The ability to understand ‘tech speak’ or a degree in IT or Software Engineering is simply not a necessity. In fact, a non-technical background can even work to your advantage. Of the many companies we have talked to or partnered with, we know employers are interested in the candidates, particularly for Sales and Customer Success teams, that can bring a different perspective to how they communicate technology and connect with consumers. As Emma will tell you, the ability to connect with others and build relationships are key skills.

Emma Crichton, currently an HXM Account Executive at SAP and former Product Marketing Communications Partner at TechnologyOne, did not land her first role in big tech by accident. Starting her career in various marketing roles, including a stint at Women in Digital, Emma has carved her career with intention. In this Q&A, we get to know Emma, the experiences that have shaped her as a professional, how she carved a career in big tech, and her advice, particularly for early career professionals on being intentional about building a career in big tech.

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Emma want to be when she grew up?

A barrister lawyer! (No really – I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I come from a family of lawyers and have two older brothers who I would constantly argue with). Needless to say, looking back it’s probably best I didn’t pursue that career path.

Could you tell us a little bit about how you ended up in your current role?

As the old saying goes… a friend of a friend of a friend let me know of a great opportunity! Throughout my relatively short career, people would always tell me that my personality would be suited to Account Management style roles. I didn’t understand or fully appreciate what they meant when they said that, but I decided to take a chance and gave it a go! I’ve since learned, it’s all about trust and building relationships with people, something you’ll learn soon below which has been a significant part of my background growing up.

You have had the unique opportunity to grow up in 4 different countries by the age of 14 – how do you think that experience has shaped you as a person and as a professional?

I wouldn’t be who I am today without my background. Growing up and moving schools six times in different cultures, I was constantly having to build new friendships with people. As a result of this, I am always naturally drawn to connecting with people. Particularly, in a professional context, understanding their unique challenges and how I can help them to solve these. Whether that’s for friends, colleagues or customers I am motivated by helping others.

To quote my Strength Deployment Inventory 2.0 results (a tool used to assess an individual’s strengths and their ability to interact with others, which I highly recommend!) I am: “motivated by the protection, growth, and welfare of others. You have a strong desire to help others who can genuinely benefit.”

Tell us, what first drew you to big tech as a marketer before you moved into Account Management?

I fell into it by accident after learning about the exciting graduate opportunities available in the tech space. I quickly fell in love with the fast-paced nature and constant innovation happening in big tech. It made me feel like anything was possible and I was excited by the idea that I could be part of something bigger that was contributing to society in a positive way.

Tell us more about how you have carved a career for yourself in big tech.

Curiosity and asking questions about what’s possible will open the doors to you in so many ways! There is so much opportunity in big tech and the sky’s the limit, you just have to be curious enough to find what’s out there and have the ability to back yourself (something that I tend to struggle with).

Were there any specific resources or mentors, or networks that have supported you throughout this journey? How did they contribute to your success?

Absolutely! The mentors and networks supporting me throughout my career thus far have been pinnacle in landing where I am today. My first internship was actually with Women in Digital while studying my Marketing/Journalism degree, which helped me to get a foot in the door with my graduate role in the R&D team at TechnologyOne. I met so many people (and still do as an active member of the WID community), who have been so generous in sharing their experiences with me.

From there, and to this day I have had many mentors who have helped me to better understand myself, the big tech industry, and how to navigate challenges through sharing their own stories. If it wasn’t for these mentors and them constantly challenging me to be better, I don’t think I would have been as confident in my ability to try something new and understand that it’s okay to fail at something before you can be good.

You have moved through a variety of roles in Product Marketing, Communications, Program Management and Account Management – what do they all have in common?

For all of these roles, despite all being in software people want to work with people. Having empathy and the ability to connect with people is a superpower in helping to achieve your own goals while simultaneously helping others to achieve theirs. We can achieve so much more by taking the time to ask questions and understanding what is important to people and why.

How would you describe what it is like to work in big tech for someone that is interested but hasn’t experienced it themselves? Are there any particular factors that stand out?

If you’re looking for any industry where no two days are the same and things are constantly changing – this is the place for you. I’ll admit some days this is a blessing and other days a curse! But for the most part, it’s really an exciting industry to be part of as you’ll constantly be challenged to come up with creative solutions to complex problems.

What advice would you give to graduates or early career professionals who want to be intentional about building their career in big tech?

Get out there and start speaking to people in the industry who are already doing it! It is scary, daunting and often uncomfortable – which is where all great growth comes from. When in university, I would often make an effort to attend networking events by myself, in order to force myself to meet new people and step out of my comfort zone. I always thought if I learned something new or met one new person who I didn’t know before, that I could count it as a win.

I remember once attending a deeply technical networking event on Artificial Intelligence. I was curious about the topic, but didn’t realise how detailed it would be. It was a panel of speakers at the beginning, followed by networking and I felt so out of my depth and like everyone in the audience knew that I was out of place. Afterwards, I chose to ask questions to the other attendees, who were more than excited to share their knowledge on the topic in a way I could understand. I walked away feeling like I was on cloud nine from having learned so much!

As you’ve mentioned, you have been quite involved in the industry joining clubs, attending events and volunteering as well. What would you say drives your passion for getting involved?

I love learning from other people’s experiences. It’s exciting to get to know people at different stages of their careers and hearing what they’ve learned along the way. You meet some phenomenal people who are out achieving the impossible and not letting anyone stop them. I find that mindset serves as a constant source of inspiration for me to be constantly learning, always curious and hungry to keep striving to be the best version of myself.

Do you have any tips specifically for building your network within the tech industry?

Join the industry groups related to what you’re interested in. For me, these groups provided a safe space to connect with like-minded people and ultimately these people were the ones who have helped me to get where I am today.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Do you have any career ambitions you are willing to share?

How long is a piece of string?! While I love a good long-term plan, at the moment with my new career in Account Management, I am simply focused on the next 12 months and understanding how I can best help my customers to achieve their goals.

And just for fun… We want to know if there are any podcasts or books you are loving right now.

I love listening to The Imperfects Podcast, as they interview people from all walks of life on their success and the adversities they have had to overcome to get there. I am guilty of looking at someone successful and forgetting that they have had their own share of battles that us as individuals face on a day-to-day basis. I highly recommend the two-part episode with Kate Reid, former Aerospace Engineer at the William F1 Team in the UK and more widely known as the Founder of Lune Croissanterie.

Like all of the episodes, Kate is extremely vulnerable as she bravely talks about her internal struggles of being the only female in the F1 team and then going on to create the perfect croissant dubbed by the New York Times as “the world’s best croissant”.

On your LinkedIn profile, you have “Enabling people to be at the heart of every organisation” as your headline. Tell us a bit more about this – how you came to make this your ‘why’ and what it means to you?

People are at the heart of everything I do, which extends far beyond my career. However, I’m very lucky that I work in a job where this is truly the centre of what I do day-to-day also. As employees, we should feel happy and empowered to go to work and feel like what we are doing is valuable. Only when organisations put their people first are we able to make this happen and the ROI on that is irreplaceable. Following COVID-19, this topic became the focus of far more companies who had to find creative ways to put their people first in a time of great uncertainty.

As you can tell by now – I am a very people-centric person. From what I’ve seen with the companies I’ve worked for and customers I’ve worked with, when organisations put their people at the heart of what they do, it reaps incredible results both from an employee happiness perspective to overall financial outcomes, and that’s what I help people to do!

You can have dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who do you invite?

Based on the above… Kate Reid, as her story is so incredible and I’m a sucker for a good almond croissant (as an ideal three-course menu, all courses are a different variety of croissant).

What is your mobile wallpaper?

Flowers! Fresh flowers always make me happy and brighten up the room – when I’m working in the office I like having the reminder of the beautiful things that are outside on our doorstep.

And most importantly… Did you manage to get Taylor Swift tickets?

Yes! After many gruelling hours and square eyes from staring at multiple screens patiently manifesting the idea of leaving the TicketTek waiting room to purchase tickets.

Thanks Emma for chatting with us!

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.


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May 31, 2023 Women in Digital

The business case for a diverse workplace is strong. Yet, at the grassroots level, we still fall behind. As Priya O’Grady will tell you, awareness is key.

Priya O’Grady is an experienced senior marketing leader, the Head of Marketing at Felix, a proud industry mentor and fierce advocate for diversity in digital. What you might not know beyond her LinkedIn profile, is that she is also a UK-born Indian, mother of two, daughter of a mother with a disability and the sister of a sibling in the LGBTQIA+ community.

For Priya, creating a culture of inclusion and respect for all aspects of diversity is not a mere requirement, it’s a responsibility. A responsibility that goes beyond a ‘box to tick’ and permeates every aspect of our professional lives.

In this Q&A, we get to know Priya and the experiences that have shaped her views on D&I and how to foster inclusivity in the workplace, why hiring the right person, not making a ‘diverse hire’ matters, and the fundamental importance of being able to back yourself in any room.

To kick things off, what did 5-year-old Priya want to be when she grew up?

I always thought I would be a doctor thanks to my parents pushing that on me… the reality is that I feel faint at the sight of blood so I would have been useless if I chose that as a career option.

In a 2022 report, ACS reported that women represent only 31% of the technology workers, compared to 48% across the Australian workforce. Could you tell us a little bit about your career background and how you ended up in your current role?

After finishing my degree in Media I knew it wasn’t for me (I just wasn’t passionate enough to make the sacrifices required to succeed in the role at such a young age). That’s when I started researching other courses and careers and landed on Marketing.

Once I knew what I wanted, there was no stopping me. I completed both my Master’s and Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma simultaneously and landed my first job in Marketing whilst still studying – the rest is history!

My career has been varied, covering many different industries and facets of Marketing. My initial experience in the UK was for a global consumable wholesaler – this is where I learned a lot about data-driven marketing (including direct marketing), how to be respected within the boardroom, budget management, communications, advertising and branding. I got exposed to the full marketing mix and ended up running the show for a couple of years!

I then went travelling, fell in love with an Aussie and moved here. Since then I’ve worked in the NFP sector, Mining, Energy, Education and now, Technology. Each one has its own unique challenges – but also shows that good firm principles in Marketing can let you work across a multitude of sectors.

It’s clear that as an industry and as a broader society, we need to do better to improve diversity in organisations. What has sparked your passion for diversity and how have these experiences shaped your view of D&I in the industry?

I personally come from a very diverse background… I’m a UK-born Indian, who has a disabled mother and a homosexual brother. Diversity is engrained within me. But what sparked my passion was having kids and seeing leadership teams that are made up mostly of white men, or going to events where there is no one who looks like me stand up on stage and inspire me.

I mean don’t get me wrong, I love getting inspired by successful white men, but I also want to be inspired by women, our indigenous community, people from different countries, the LGBTIQ+ community, people with disabilities and so on. They also have great stories to tell that we can all learn from.

I’m passionate about living in a world where everyone is accepted for who they are and are not held back because they don’t fit a particular box.

In your opinion, why is it important for companies to provide opportunities and growth pathways for diverse talent?

You can make better business decisions when you have a full spectrum of diversity on your team. You’re more well-informed because you work with a cross-section of diversity and can probably unlock pockets of growth that you wouldn’t have thought about.

But also, it is our responsibility as leaders to create a culture of inclusion and respect for all aspects of diversity and promote the benefits – it’s the only way future generations will prosper.

We’ve seen mentorship play a pivotal role in many career journeys. What role do you think mentorship has in helping overcome barriers and biases? Was there someone that helped give you a ‘leg up’ in your career?

I’ve had a couple of great mentors in the past that have shaped how I still do things today. The first was a CFO who taught me the importance of knowing my numbers (both financially and strategically) and how this will earn my respect with the board. The second was a Sales Manager, who went on to become CEO. He taught me how to lead high-performing teams, how it’s okay to fail and how to remain authentic in my approach.

Between the two, I now have the confidence to back myself and also know that it’s okay to ask for help when needed.

I see initiatives such as Assisterhood are already trying to overcome these barriers within the Marketing and Comms space but I believe that companies also need to take some initiative by introducing diverse mentors throughout the cross-section of management and beyond.

The great thing about mentoring is that it’s a two-way program – both the mentor and mentee learn from each other and grow.

We often hear about diversity quotas and companies ’embracing’ diversity to tick a box. What steps can companies take to move beyond treating diversity as a mere box to be ticked and truly embrace it in their culture?

Be authentic in your approach. It needs to be part of your culture and values – but also don’t discount hiring the right person for the role just to hit your diversity quota.

Promote your inclusiveness!

In an industry where it is very much who you know, not what you know, what advice would you give to someone that perhaps lacks those connections?

Ha, ha, join the club! Having said that, I’m hoping things are getting better as we become more informed as a generation.

But my main advice is back yourself – because no one else will. If you want to become a leader or are a leader but want to take the next step in your career – let it be known, seek feedback on what you need to get there and if there isn’t that opportunity where you currently work then find out how they can help you get to where you want to be.

You’ve talked about the importance of backing yourself. What advice would you give to others about building that confidence to back yourself?

Honestly, it can be hard, especially if you’re not a confident person. I personally found reflection and feedback a really good way to build my confidence. Ask your peers to provide feedback and look back at your achievements – then use this as your strength to build confidence. I also love learning from my mistakes and knowing that “I won’t be doing that again” or “next time I’ll do it differently”.

Why do you feel at the ‘grassroots’ level we’re aware of where the conversation is going, and yet leadership still falls so far behind? How do we move from focusing on diversity to embracing belonging?

Such a great question – and I definitely don’t have the answer, however, it needs to be a culture change throughout the whole organisation for us to see truly inclusive workplaces.

What can employees do to encourage companies to prioritise D&I efforts and not just gender representation?

Speak up. It’s hard for management to see the gaps beyond diversity if we don’t make it obvious. As employees, it’s as much our responsibility to promote an environment of inclusiveness as it is for the leadership team.

I also want to say that gender diversity is so important! Women are great leaders, but so are men and women with other forms of diversity (such as race, ethnicity, gender role/identity, disabilities, culture etc.).

I think overall awareness is really important. If we don’t make organisations aware of our diversity issues then how can we make change? But I also want organisations to embrace change and all the positivity that can come with it, if not for our generation, then definitely the next.

Switching gears now… We want to know if there are any podcasts or books you are loving right now.

At the moment I am reading Atomic Habits and I am listening to Patrick Lencioni’s “6 Working Geniuses“. But I love listening to the Finite podcast for B2B marketing inspo.

Do you have any marketing hacks or resources to share?

Not really a hack – but I love completing post-campaign evaluations, seeking feedback from stakeholders and then using that to improve on the next campaign.

I’m also a huge fan of the test-and-learn methodology.

And just for fun… What would you like to be known/remembered for?

Tequila shots! Just kidding! Honestly, I just want my kids to remember me as a great mum who leads by example (the dream).

What is your go-to karaoke song?

There are so many songs that I have sung very badly to! For the purpose of this, I’m going to pick Wonderwall!

What sport would you compete in if you were in the Olympics?

I’m terrible at most sporting activities, but if I had to pick one it would be the 800m. My legs are too short for the sprint races haha!

Thanks, Priya for chatting with us!

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.


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April 18, 2023 Women in Digital

Welcome to our very first Member Spotlight with the wonderful Liz Ballantyne!

Liz Ballantyne is the General Manager of marketing agency Media Mortar, Queensland Mentor Liaison of industry-wide mentoring program Assisterhood, Podcast Host of the Your Marketing Mates podcast, and is a mother of two small children. Liz has also been part of the Women in Digital community for several years now.

If you’re thinking ‘WOW! How does she juggle it all?’ We can tell you, so are we!

Juggling a full-time career and raising a family is no easy feat. Couple in other commitments like mentoring and attending regular industry events – it can seem overwhelming. Finding a supportive tribe that just ‘get it’ while building a network of like-minded humans to learn from can make all the difference, as Liz will tell you.

We thoroughly enjoyed putting together this Q&A with Liz to find out her tips for doing it all and what drives her passion for getting involved in the industry.

We love asking people this question! Tell us, what did 5-year-old Liz want to be when she grew up?

When I was really little I wanted to be a minister – I think I liked that they got to stand up and talk in front of people! As a teenager I was more interested in understanding the career path to becoming a bungee jumping instructor – mainly because I was annoyed the only career suggestions I was given at school were nurse, teacher or journalist.

It is commonly recognised that there are fewer female leaders in digital and technology. How did you end up working in this industry?

Long story really. I wanted to be a literary agent because I love books, stories and people. However when I graduated uni all the bookstores were closing down and it was a hard industry to crack into. In the end I fell into marketing and then got a graduate job at a tech company learning digital. It was a great opportunity because at the time it was one of six companies in Australia that were partnered with Google. I learnt a lot about digital marketing, tech and developers pretty quickly!

In the Your Marketing Mates podcast, we know that you and your co-host love to set a ‘word for the year’ to help set your intentions. Tell us about your word and what it means to you?

Last year it was ‘uncomfortable’ and was all about leaning into the discomfort that comes with pushing yourself and growing.

This year my word is ‘intentional’. I’m trying to be more intentional with how I use my time at work, how I spend time with my family, how I can use my voice, and how I factor in me-time.

You are a General Manager of an agency, a podcaster, a mentor liaison for a mentorship program AND a mum of two kids! How do you do it all?!

I would say not well sometimes! I have a very supportive husband who shares the load with parenting. And I have surrounded myself with a tribe of women who support me in different ways. And like everyone, I have weeks where I do lots of things well, and weeks where everything gets rather tricky and I drop a few balls. Thankfully, from what I can tell so far, the only victims who suffered during those tricky times are some house plants.

Overall though, I think what helps me ‘do it all’ is that I really enjoy 99% of it – it’s fun!

Do you have any advice for women trying to juggle it all?

I recently did a LinkedIn post on this which you can read here. But to be expand on that, I’d say the key thing is to be kind to yourself – sometimes you’ll drop a ball. Let go of the guilt of not doing everything the way you’re ‘supposed to’ and just keep trying.

And also find ‘your people’ – those people who understand the juggle and can help you. Everything is always easier when you don’t feel alone.

Finally, for me, a really helpful book was ‘I know how she does it’ by Laura Vanderkam. She interviews all these women about how they mange to juggle it all. It was honestly a life-changing read for me, and one I still re-read every few years. (TIP: It’s also available on audiobook which is super helpful if you’re trying to multi-task!)

We’ve already mentioned you do a LOT for the community from attending industry events, your podcast, Assisterhood and joining Women in Digital’s Membership. What would you say drives your passion for getting involved in the industry?

When I was 27 and pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t know what to expect about managing maternity leave, or how to juggle a career and motherhood. I’d just been offered my dream role, and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do both. When I looked for role models of career-driven women in tech and marketing, who were also mothers, I struggled to find anyone. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be stay-at-home mums, teachers or nurses. (These ladies were all wonderful and make up my supportive tribe, but they couldn’t give me the example I needed at the time.)

I absolutely loved work, and was very worried about losing my identity and my joy of work. Before I had the baby, I even wrote myself letters to read in the future, reminding myself how much I loved my job and that my daughter would do fine in childcare!

In the end, I managed to find someone to speak to, and I went back to work and started the juggle of managing work and family. But I realised a few things then:

  1. I needed to build my network to find more like-minded people
  2. I wanted to share my experience with others – in case they like me, wanted to have both family and career, but didn’t know how

Also, I love learning new things, and by getting involved in the industry and meeting new people makes for a fun way to do this.

What career advice do you have for women wanting to grow into a leadership position?

Build your network and chat to people. This is how you can find people to help you identify where you need to grow to gain those skills, and who also can help guide you on how to reach that leadership position – they may have roles open or can talk you through how to bring up the topic in your current workplace.

Also realise it’s a journey – take those small steps, like any goal, to work your way into a leadership position. I like the analogy of a career being like a jungle gym – sometimes you go up, sometimes you go backwards, sometimes you go down – there is no one way to get into the position you want, so just keep focusing on your end goal and don’t give up. I’ve had people say that there is no way a General Manager role could be part-time. But I manage to do it. Is it easy, no. Is it rewarding – absolutely.

What is a podcast or book you are loving right now?

I’ve intentionally been taking a little breather from any podcasts at the moment, and instead listening to some fiction audiobooks on my commute and while doing housework. Don’t judge me, but I just finished listening to a Nora Roberts fantasy trilogy.

When I do have a moment to sit, I’m slowly working my way through ‘Leaders Eat Last’ by Simon Sinek.

Do you have any marketing hacks / resources you wish you found earlier?

I love following different social media accounts for an easy way to get snippets of info quickly. A few good ones include:

I’m also a huge fan of two time-management techniques which help keep me on track and realistic about what I can fit in a day – the Pomodoro Technique and calendar blocking.

and just for fun… What do you think is your superpower? What superpower do you wish you had?

I recently did the Clifton Strengths test and my top strength was positivity. I’d say this is a superpower which I took for granted for a long time. I think perhaps another superpower is my resilience/stamina – which I credit my parents with helping me develop from a young age. (Ask me one day about having to do ‘stick-picking’ in a paddock as a child 😉.)

Superpower I wish I had – easy! I wish I could click my fingers and be transported to a new location. I’d never have to worry about commute times again!

If someone offered you a million dollars to give up your smartphone forever, would you do it?

Totally – I’d likely do it for less! I could easily be someone who uses my phone just for making calls and texting. But I would appreciate it if they could make MP3 players more accessible again – they are hard to find these days!

If you were an athlete, what would you choose as your walkout song?

Hmm, I’ve started playing hockey and given I have no idea how to play and get super nervous, I’ve taken to listening to music to get me confident before a game. ’Pump it Up’ by Endor or ‘The Greatest’ by Sia are my go-to songs. I also listen to ‘The Greatest’ if I’m having a low day and need to try to change my mood before a busy day at work.

Thanks Liz for chatting with us!

Keep an eye on our blog for more Women in Digital Member Spotlights and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.


 

Want to join our thriving community of digital-loving, career-driven, diversity-championing humans and get access to exclusive members-only opportunities? Join the Women in Digital Membership today! Click here to learn more.