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October 15, 2015

Luck has nothing to do with women in tech success

C-level Briefing: Alex Tempest, Director of Partners at TalkTalk Business, talks women in tech and how "it is a privilege to be a woman in this industry at the moment."

By Ellie Burns

Following Cisco CTO Alison Vincent, techUK President Jacqueline de Rojas and Egnyte CSO Isabelle Guis, Alex Tempest is next to tackle the women in tech issue with Editor Ellie Burns.

Tempest is Director of Partners at TalkTalk Business, having joined the company in 2012 from Juniper Networks.

Responsible for a partner community of 750 resellers and a team of over 30 partner account managers, her responsibilities include channel development and helping partners realise the benefits of the company’s Next Generation IP-based converged voice and data services.

In this latest addition to CBR’s Women in Tech series, Tempest discusses an industry which she believes is "on the cusp of a major shift."

 

EB: How do you think women should approach a work environment which is male dominated?

AT: I believe that the cultural and political heartbeat of any organisation lies with the leadership team, and understanding this dynamic is critical when approaching the work environment, from both a male and female perspective.

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It’s essential that women recognise the importance their contribution has to a business, and this must be reflected in the attitude, energy and enthusiasm of the senior team. Fuelled by this, women should be aware of their skills and adapt them accordingly, ensuring they are clear on their objectives and their own individual path to success.

By embracing this ethos, they can be strong in their opinions and confident in their abilities, regardless of the team structure or gender scenario.

 

EB: Do you think a woman’s approach to work is impacted by the male-dominated environment?

AT: In a male-centric workplace, it is important for women to play on their strengths and develop skills that allow them to be confident and directive, which will help them to establish their position as a leader.

They should think strategically and define their value by understanding what they bring to the table, then emphasise these skills to drive business success.

While in my experience I wouldn’t call the technology industry ‘male dominated’, there is still work to be done to equalise the gender imbalance and I’m definitely seeing a dynamic change in terms of leadership flow as well as culture across the industry.

 

EB: Have you personally faced discrimination due to the fact that you are a woman? How did you deal with that discrimination?

AT: I haven’t experienced this myself, but I have seen others face it. Let’s be clear, discrimination at work because you’re female doesn’t just come from men. To this end, I’ve often been intrigued at how men unconsciously create lasting relationships and will go that extra mile to make sure they keep them.

There is definitely room for more women to echo this behaviour. Building a strong network helps to champion your career progression and that can only be a good thing.

 

EB: How have you learned to work as a minority in the workplace?

AT: I don’t see myself as a minority in the workplace: I see myself as a valued member of an organisation that hired me because I was the right person for the job. This ethos is evident in our leadership culture and filters through TalkTalk as a company.

While some would consider me to be lucky, I believe luck has nothing to do with it and my parents are hugely responsible for that. From my earliest memories, they taught me that everything was within my grasp, so it never occurred to me that it wasn’t.

They instilled in me that losing was just as important as winning, because it showed you how to approach something differently. Critically, they taught me to treat everyone equally, but I guess having a twin brother is a constant reminder of that!

 

EB: How has being a woman impacted your career progression?

AT: If there’s been an impact at all, then it’s been in a very positive way. I am privileged to work for an organisation that encourages qualities such as drive, energy, enthusiasm and intelligence, whether you’re male or female.

The fact that TalkTalk has so many females in its senior leadership team is testament to a collective belief that it makes business sense to have the right people in the right roles.

Furthermore, I believe that it is a privilege to be a woman in this industry at the moment, as tech dominates the media landscape and spearheads innovation on a national level.

More broadly as an industry, we are seeing a dynamic change in the perceived importance of STEM skills in young people, evident in the introduction of coding programmes in schools – initiatives like these are truly breaking down barriers.

 

EB: Following high profile remarks viewed as sexist from individuals such as Tim Hunt, why do you think sexist views still exist in the 21st century?

AT: I believe these preconceptions exist because we allow them to! This is a tradition that has been around for a long time but thankfully through a combination of education, programmes that support the development of women in business roles, and the world’s adoption of social media we are slowly but surely eradicating this tradition.

Tim Hunt’s comments may have been taken out of context and rightly or wrongly, he is now paying the price. The reality is those 39 words went viral and the world condemned him. While this may not have been the right approach, it brought to the fore the fact that people will not tolerate sexist views.

On a more positive note, we have recently seen Chelsea win the Women’s FA Cup final with a fantastic attendance of 31,000, and a 21 year old female politician make her first speech in the House of Commons – it all demonstrates that there is clear momentum behind gender equality and that the balance is shifting.

 

EB: Do you think the workplace will ever achieve true gender equality?

AT: I do, and I feel we are on the cusp of a major shift. Despite the ratio of women working in FTSE100 companies being disproportionately low, we are seeing the government address the issue and debate how to make positive steps forward.

It is particularly significant when we look at the millennial generation, hopefully have a less ‘gendered’ view of business and a more balanced view on what great leadership qualities look like.

I truly believe that gender equality will not be addressed by simply talking about the issue. It requires actions and a need to be thoughtful on the future of businesses at all levels.

It’s our responsibility as senior business figures to continue to educate and to help millennials achieve this potential. By providing good role models and instilling the drive to maximise their self-worth, we can help them get there.

 

EB: What advice would you give a female tech pro with aspirations to get to the top?

AT: It is important for women to be aware of their environment, invest in their career plan, understand where they fit in the business road map and adapt their thought process to reflect this. There are three ways that I would advise to achieve this:

– Get a sponsor – someone who will mentor and promote you within your organisation. For women in any work environment, I believe this is an absolute must, so start building relationships with your boss and other senior leaders from the beginning.

Also, pay particular attention to the individuals who believe in you, as they are going to be your best advocates. I frequently think of these people as my ‘board’. My board is not limited to people I work with, it extends to people I trust in my life who I can discuss, brainstorm, download to and who ultimately, have helped me become the person I am today.

– Take risks – there’s a learning curve for everybody, be confident in your skill set and take the jump.
– Celebrate who you are – wisdom is not linked to gender, so make sure you share it!

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