Charting the Female Lead Across the Business

Charting the Female Lead Across the Business


“You don't have to be a man to make it.” In this roundtable debate, senior female technology leaders discussed charting the female lead across the business.


The roads to CIO, CISO, data leader, sales leader or otherwise are all different; but what connects them, for the female leader? These female executives uncovered the trials, victories and invaluable lessons they unearthed along their multifaceted routes to leadership while revealing the key to success in the technology field. 


Charting the female lead: meet the panellists

With Lea Sellers moderating, the speakers of this roundtable debate include:


  • Joanna Pamphilis, CDIO, UniCredit
  • Caroline Carruthers, Chief Executive, Carruthers and Jackson
  • Ashley Somerville, VP Technology Transformation, Experian
  • Albi Van Zyl, Chief Sales Strategy and Operations Officer, NTT Data Ltd


Key takeaways: charting the female lead

  1. Nurturing the future female lead
  2. Personal experiences in leadership


Nurturing the future female lead

Kicking off the debate, moderator Lea Sellers set the scene for the panellists, pointing out that the roads to CIO, CISO, data leader, sales leader or otherwise are all different; “what connects them when we’re talking about future female leaders?


The key guiding principle of the leadership journey is the fundamental value of leadership skills “developed over time and opportunity”, according to NTT Data’s Albi Van Zyle. She emphasised the importance of mentorship and having someone recognise potential, adding: “I think that is typically every leader’s story, that's the common thread: somebody believed in you.”


Building on the idea of mentorship and nurturing the capabilities of those early on in their careers, Caroline Carruthers argued that this also involves an element of “self-belief”, which she framed as an essential trait for aspiring leaders. “You can have all the mentorship in the world, but if you don't believe in yourself, I think you're going to struggle to move forward.”


For UniCredit’s CDIO, Joanna Pamphilis, it is about resilience. 


“Male or female, charting the lead towards a leadership role requires resilience, requires the will [and] the conviction to overcome obstacles.” Overcoming these challenges in a business environment is a fundamental core topic for female technology leaders. 


Acknowledging the prior points made by her fellow panellists, Ashley Somerville added that “leadership is continuous learning”. In her view, this means going beyond the typical role and responsibilities and “stretching yourself”. Summarising the leadership journey, Ashley said: “Be honest, be brave, be courageous, but also be realistic.” 


Personal experiences in leadership

“My career was kind of born by necessity,” Albi provided a perspective on her personal journey to leadership, underscoring several crucial principles that have shaped her trajectory. An avid Brené Brown fan, she stressed the importance of cultivating courage early in your career. 


“You don't have to be a man to make it.” Albi also underlined that leadership is not about emulating behaviours, but about being true to oneself, emphasising that women do not need to behave like a man to succeed in leadership roles, a pointed comment on the value of diversity in leadership. 


Recalling a different way of life earlier in her career, Ashley commented: “I was lucky enough to be brought up where there was no kind of gender discussion that ever took place.” Equipped with the freedom to shape her own career regardless of gender norms, Ashley acknowledged that “you could be who you wanted to be.” 


What made Ashley’s journey to technology leadership unusual was the fact that much of her mentorship came from male figures. “There was no pathway forced on me, from quite an early age.”


On the other side of the spectrum, Caroline admitted that she had the “opposite” type of experience charting the female leadership role. Growing up in the North East, she developed an interest in STEM, a subject she excelled in. Despite this she was told by a career advisor “You'd make a really good secretary.” 


Years later when she started working in a male-dominated workplace, Caroline assumed that she had to behave like them to fit in. Then came the awakening.


”It was almost an epiphany of… I am me, I'm not going to pretend to be something else I'm not.”


“The reason I highlighted resilience and obstacles is because my whole career has been defined by that.” With a similar story to Caroline’s journey, Joanna spoke about her upbringing in a traditional Greek household, where going to university as a woman was considered “rare”. 


After overcoming familial obstacles Joanna entered a computer engineering program, where she realised she was the only female. Categorising this as “obstacle number two” in her journey to charting the female leadership role, she overcame this by building up the courage and resilience needed as well as problem-solving skills. “That's where my career started, and has continued.”

This roundtable was created in partnership with NTT Data Ltd.


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