It takes a village to drive systemic change and shape a diverse, bias-free, equitable and inclusive world. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, the HCLTech Feminspiration series convened Women Game Changers from a variety of industries to spotlight how they’re driving change and creating a more equitable future for us all.
During the panel discussion, Adina Duma, Global IT Lead, Process Automation Platform, ING Bank, Carla Guzzetti, Senior Vice President, Experience and Product Messaging, Extreme Networks, Megan Cross, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Kantar and Hannah Byrne, Senior Vice President of the Digital Business Services Division, and Leigh Gordon, SVP, HR (HCL Software), HCLTech shared insights on how women leaders are building new roads to success and emerging as game-changers in the workplace, while balancing their personal and professional priorities.
Deciphering women’s aspirations
Cross said: “Women are a diverse group of people. The relevant question to ask is ‘what is the organization doing to enable women to achieve their aspirations and ambitions? We should spend more time focusing on fixing the workplace, rather than trying to fix a person. For example, are the career path options the same for all genders? Are promotions rewarded fairly and objectively? Do men and women have the same perception of their career opportunities and growth?”
Byrne added: “Apart from a workplace being transparent, what is needed more for a woman is the constant energy to pursue her aspirations. Be a self-starter—‘what can I do, where can I go, what’s next for me?’ Generally, many women think that it will come to them from the top down. But they don’t know how to ask up. You cannot stop being your own advocate. You must constantly look for what those opportunities are—and ask questions on how to move forward and succeed at the next level.”
“View your career not as a ladder, but as a wall, which can be climbed from all sides,” said Gordan.
Having the right conversation – self-advocacy and confidence
Guzzetti explained that “there is no class in the university which tells you ‘this is what you need to ask to move ahead’. That’s where mentorship comes into the picture, one must share what you have learned with the next generation’. It takes courage to not just ask, but to know ‘what to ask’.”
“Women do lack a little bit of confidence. Men are good at being so self-confident. Women could use training on how to ask and what to ask for. There is nothing to lose if you ask. Negotiation is also part of the equation. For some cultures it’s easier, I come from an ex-communist country—I was taught to censor my voice. So, it’s difficult and you must work a lot to speak up and ask. You need to prepare for the conversations as well. You need to have a win-win discussion with whom you are talking to,” said Duma.
“You must be the person that knocks on the door. Having a lot of people and perspectives around me has always helped me. Whenever you have a performance conversation with your manager, be clear about what support you need, whether that’s skillset, development courses or training. Be assertive in what you want," added Guzzetti.
Going through a period of uncertainty
Recent research shows that two-thirds of employees felt that COVID-19 caused them to reflect on their purpose in life and that 70% of employees see their purpose defined by their work. Crisis spawned by job loss, toxic workplaces, career change and parenthood are some of the reasons why women may feel the need for a burst of clarity about what they do—and don’t—want next for their careers.
“When you do not have a straight trajectory of ‘this is what I want to do’, focus on what drives your passion and every opportunity you take should float around garnering experiences around that ‘passion' to take many different shapes, sizes, forms, companies and countries. Women need to have enough faith in themselves to take risks and take a jump. Have that belief to make that leap. It’s ok if you are going through a little bit of trial and error if it’s driving you towards something that compels you, interests you and hopefully still pays your bills,” said Guzzetti.
“Coaching helped me through uncertainty when I was not sure what my next step should be. There is a lot of societal pressure on “you should know where your next step is. Surround yourself with good coaches, have that talk,” she added.
On taking risks and the plunge
While driving on an unfamiliar highway, ambiguity forces us to be alert with curiosity, not fear. For too many women, career uncertainty and lack of risk-taking leads to suboptimal choices.
“Self-awareness is important for everyone—it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man. Investing in yourself is the first step to defining your value. In terms of courage, just jump. No need to prepare. What’s the worst that can happen? You still have yourself and your capabilities,” continued Duma.
Elaborating on courage and risks, Byrne said: “Courage levels change throughout your career. Imagining what the worst that could happen, and figuring out a plan B. This allows you a little bit of space and emotional support to go to the next step. Nine times out of 10 your worst fear is so far off the mark of what would happen in reality—it’s self-sabotaging.”
Mentors and superpowers
Mentoring is often referred to as one of the top strategies to help close the gender gap in business leadership. Women need mentors to gain the proper skills, learn how to build a wide network, gain access to role models, acceptance, affirmation and ultimate career success.
Byrne revealed that mentors are all around us, “Some of the best mentors you can find are someone you had a 5-minute conversation with. It could be a peer, leader, someone who works with or for you. They are all around you. Take time to open your eyes and look for them and practice some of the ideas with them. Use them as a roleplay partner. Reinforce your inner self-confidence. Have a conversation in a safe space.”
“Use this phrase—I am good at a lot of things, but this is not one of them—who is? But it took me two decades to say that with confidence and not feel ‘I am going to be looked upon as weak’. Now I know, and can say with confidence, my superpowers are very different than yours or others, and if I know this and can own what mine are and then work with you and yours, we are much more powerful as a team. One of the things I love about HCLTech is this entrepreneurial spirit and just do it attitude, you don’t need permission. No one’s going to tell you to stop,” added Byrne.
“Remember the power of YET. I have learned it from my son’s school. We put ourselves down too often because we don’t know everything. It’s just a matter of not yet,” shared Duma.
Navigating career transitions and changing course
Making major career changes can be daunting and overwhelming. How difficult is it for women to change course and overcome the fear of failure?
Guzzetti said: “After my MBA, changing course was terrifying. To take to a different industry, take a step down and work my way back up. But I wanted to make that change, expand that skillset, see where my passion for communications in content and design could go and how that can impact a different industry. That has proven to me that I have transferable skills that can go from industry to industry.”
“I have an internal clock, every two-three year I get restless, and I’m no longer content, I can feel it and is the way my body is telling me that I must do something else,” added Duma.
“I started my career as a secondary school teacher, then I joined Accenture as a consulting Analyst, so I had a very linear career trajectory there. But I found that to be too rigid, so I took a sidestep to work in Inclusion and Diversity, because I knew that it was my passion. It’s what I love and it aligns with my purpose. After making that choice, my career has taken several steps forward, very quickly,” explained Cross.
Byrne concluded: “The ‘ah ha’ moments are usually in the rearview. It’s important to retrospectively look back upon the moments and ask ‘have you actioned them’ or have you let them pass, can I revisit them and how can you move forward. Being open to opportunities and then aligning them with those ‘ah ha’ moments can be very powerful in how your career is shaped. HCLTech often gives a lot of opportunity to change, move and morph in the organization.”