HMG Live! 2020 Global Women in Technology Summit: Demonstrating Empathetic Leadership, Overcoming Insecurity, and Harnessing Self-Confidence

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As enterprise companies continue to take actionable steps to increase leadership diversity, the number of women in technology leadership roles has increased – with room to grow. Fewer than 1 in 5 CIOs or CTOs are women, according to research from Korn Ferry

Female technology leaders still face significant challenges, including often being underrepresented and underpaid. At the inaugural 2020 HMG Live! Global Women in Technology Summit, top global women technology leaders celebrated their accomplishments and explored the topics they believe are integral to the advancement of women in tech.

For technology leaders, maintaining confidence in a challenging environment is crucial. But it can be a particularly difficult endeavor for exceptional women technology executives who are still outnumbered in a male-dominated C-suite. With a steady rise in the number of women in technology leadership roles, however, women are capitalizing on their empathetic leadership styles to overcome self-doubt — even when their confidence has been shaken.

Employees and business partners look to technology executives for confidence. “The last thing you want is a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) that walks in and goes, `I think this is the right way to go? Maybe give it a shot?’,” says Kirsten Davies, SVP & CISO at The Estée Lauder Companies.

“One thing I learned is it’s not always easy to be a CIO,” says Sheila Jordan, Chief Digital Officer at Honeywell who moderated the discussion. “Some things happen to make that challenging.”

Women leaders need to build self-confidence while maintaining a balanced, risk-based approach. “Being a CISO, one of the things [our stakeholders] expect from us is to be confident. My career has been one of measured risks across the board,” says Davies. “When we use our intuition and curiosity as women and find confidence in ourselves, that’s who we are as women leaders, pivoting through those different aspects of ourselves.”

For empathetic leaders, active listening is key. This skill has only become more challenging in a world of videoconferencing, but it remains a critical behavior.

“As women, we are uniquely qualified to be active listeners,” says Jennifer Wesson Greenman, CIO at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “But I have to learn it’s always about listening to learn, not just listening.”

Active engagement requires leaders to be diligent and to gain and show respect. Maintaining regular touchpoints with clients, partners and teams, staying up to speed on industry news and personal developments, and being conscientious with meeting prep allows not only for better business, but better relationships.

“Whenever I can, I try to be prepared to show respect to my colleagues,” says Greenman, “because their time is worth no less than my own.”

In addition to being prepared, women leaders at the summit emphasized taking breaks from the management perspective and spending time to go back over the details.

“When I’m asking the teams to do better, the only way I can do that is to be able to do it myself,” says Marina Saint-Lary, Chief Solutions Officer at Globant. “Know the details, or you won’t know the burdens.”

In a global pandemic, fear and stress run rampant, and empathy is more important than ever. Understanding the intricacies of each employee’s struggles emphasizes the role of the technology executive as an empathetic leader.

Many of the women leaders have taken these actionable, empathetic steps. While working as the CIO of a utility company, Mamatha Chamarthi went with meter readers to visit customer homes and with field technicians to repair power lines. This empathy towards her employees translated to positive results in the boardroom and with clients.

“I could tell positive stories about our business at the ground level,” says Chamarthi, who is now CIO of North America and APAC, FCA. “It helped me to develop confidence when speaking about our company and it also gave our customers confidence.”

But what happens when the relationship between company and customer is damaged — when trust is broken? When trust is broken, authenticity is critical, regardless of where the fault lies.

“When someone has failed to follow through on a commitment, I take responsibility,” says Greenman. “Likely, some blamed party is at fault, but we need to take accountability for our customer needs.”

When trust is broken, in addition to authenticity, delivery of the solution is top priority. Restoring trust and customer satisfaction is the first step to rebuilding the relationship.

“You can knock a delivery out of the park and people still will not trust you because it’s relational,” says Davies. “You need extreme ownership and pivoting to prioritize the relationship.”

“Trust is built in drops, but lost in buckets,” says Chamarthi.

When their confidence is shaken, these women leaders first acknowledge their failure; but that is only the groundwork. Receiving input from colleagues and mentors provides fresh approaches to problem-solving and new perspectives. And when failure comes at an inconvenient time, prioritizing and compartmentalizing allows leaders to return to problem-solving when possible.

“I once walked from a tough meeting directly into a board presentation,” says Chamarthi. “There was no time to take a break or even a deep breath. So, I kept telling myself to compartmentalize. ‘There will be a time for you to examine the meeting you just had and think about it and talk to the people, but for now, focus. Build your own confidence’.”

For women technology leaders, insecurity is an everyday uphill battle; but it is a battle that can be won.

“I tell myself, you have to remember that they are all just normal people who have deep knowledge in their domain, and you deserve a seat at the table with them,” says Greenman. “I have earned this, and I deserve to have my voice heard.”

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