LGBT pride month graphic hands rainbow
Conversations for Change: LGBT+ History Month
24 February 2022
green sapling growing out of laptop keyboard
Why Should Your Business Consider a Hybrid Working Model?
5 March 2022
LGBT pride month graphic hands rainbow
Conversations for Change: LGBT+ History Month
24 February 2022
green sapling growing out of laptop keyboard
Why Should Your Business Consider a Hybrid Working Model?
5 March 2022

Breaking the bias: how a growth mindset and strong mentorship can sustain women in lifelong tech careers

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme is ‘Break the Bias’.

 

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.

 

The strength of mentorship

For women entering the tech industry, the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience is invaluable. While there used to be a perceived vulnerability in asking for mentoring, it is now recognised as a powerful means of developing talent, building connections, and advancing careers.

A strong female mentor can offer empathetic and constructive advice in a non-judgemental manner. By having access to somebody who has not just ‘been there, done that’ but can also provide insights into the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field, young people entering the tech industry benefit from having a role model to guide them through their own personal and professional development. This is why it is so important to have female representation at every level of the industry, as having more women ‘at the table’ equates to greater opportunities for mentoring other women through their careers.

Mentoring is also a mutually beneficial relationship: I am fortunate enough to be both a mentor and a mentee, enabling me to shift roles as a leader and a learner to ensure that all employees are represented.

Current challenges and opportunities

While there has been a great improvement in women getting into tech leadership roles, there is still a lot of work to be done. The fact that many leadership teams are still very male-dominated means that some subtle, unconscious biases persist. Female leaders can struggle to assert themselves in meetings when the small talk at the beginning is excessively male orientated, or they may feel excluded from corporate networking and socialising due to the choice of event or location. Businesses must also go further in making sure women feel supported in returning to work if they choose to have a family.

Education plays a vital role in fostering more gender diverse businesses. Schools can raise awareness of the many opportunities for women and girls in STEM by linking up with tech companies and building the necessary skills and knowledge from a young age. In turn, as younger generations come through into the workplace, the right learning and development initiatives should be in place to bring about an industry-wide cultural shift that supports women at every level of their tech careers.

We’ve come a long way since I started my career in tech in the 1990s. I have seen the enormous benefits in having diverse perspectives within leadership, and am hopeful that the years ahead will see more biases being broken and many more women flourishing in varied roles across the industry,

- Sarah Carter, VP of Business Management

Latest insights

12 February 2024

Want stronger data security? Invest in smoother hybrid working

Though high employee satisfaction is a benefit associated with hybrid working, many CIOs are still hesitant to invest in tools for easing digital collaboration – despite the fact that this tech would also enable them to tackle persistent issues concerning data security.

Keep up to date with all the latest in Managed Print Services.