It celebrates women as agents of change: our role in challenging stereotypes and discrimination, both conscious and unconscious, is crucial in shaping inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplaces.
The inspiring messages, stories, and conversations being shared by women around the world have encouraged me to reflect on my own career in tech – a field historically dominated by men – and the experiences that shaped my path to leadership. I have seen many positive changes over 25+ years in Managed Print Services (MPS), but there is still a long way to go if women are to achieve true representation across all areas the industry.
A new kind of leadership
Leadership stories often focus on fast-tracked success, whirlwind growth journeys, and all-or-nothing business ventures. My own journey has been more steady and cumulative – and therein lies its strength. If we are serious about empowering women to pursue lifelong careers in tech, it is important to share a diversity of leadership stories, particularly those showcasing the quiet power of personal dedication, hard work, and a willingness to embrace change.
After 13 years progressing to management within the leasing arm of IKON Office Solutions, then the world’s largest independent MPS corporation, I pivoted to a much smaller, privately owned print technology and service provider in Maidstone – an unconventional move for somebody fresh out of a US conglomerate! But my seven years at Balreed Digitec were deeply formative ones, laying the foundations for my current position in senior leadership.
As employee number 35, I had the privilege of growing in my role as the company developed: I expanded my skillset and knowledge base exponentially as I took on an enormous range of responsibilities across front-end and back-end operations. And under the mentorship of Balreed’s founder and managing director, I gained the confidence and commercial acumen to shape decision-making processes, enabling me to put my stamp on a male-dominated organisation and successfully steer it towards ambitious growth goals.
By the time the company was acquired by Apogee in 2015, I had a wealth of hard work and experience under my belt. A brand-new role was created for me at board level – Vice President of Business Management – making me the first woman on Apogee’s Executive Leadership Team. The challenge of shaping a new corporate division in tandem with my own new role has allowed me to bring a unique perspective to the leadership team, as my solid grounding and wide experience naturally lends itself to cross-departmental collaboration. By forging my own path to the boardroom, rather than yielding to traditional perceptions of what leadership should look like, I have developed a strong passion for promoting more inclusive and supportive workplace cultures for female tech talent at all levels.
Strong women: when perception isn’t reality
Unfortunately, deep-seated biases still linger in many perceptions of professional women in empowered roles. For every male leader praised for showing strong and decisive governance, a female exec with the same attributes can be labelled ‘difficult’ or ‘aggressive’.
At the start of my career in tech, it seemed that any female leader worth her salt was expected to be feisty and intimidating in her role. Over time, many talented women appeared to internalise this bias and present themselves in ways that conformed to the stereotype. This was an early barrier to my own confidence in putting myself forward for formal leadership roles, as I was determined to lead authentically rather than shape myself to fit a preconceived concept.
Instead, I built my journey to leadership on knowledge and experience. I dug deep, overcoming the challenges I encountered with hard work and determination and striving towards every goal I set myself. Embracing change and recognising each day as a new opportunity is key in helping aspiring leaders to stay true to themselves whilst taking on elevated levels of ownership. After all, tech never stands still – and neither should we!
Perceptions of the aggressive female leader have thankfully lessened over recent years. While this is partly due to increased media visibility of women in significant global leadership roles, positive change is also taking place in boardrooms across the UK. At Apogee, several women have recently followed me into the executive leadership team, and we fully expect to diversify further in the months and years ahead.