How to make it as a woman in technology

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Despite gender diversity targets, enhanced mentoring schemes, more flexible working schedules and supposedly innovative programs designed to allow women time out to raise a family, there remains a scarcity of women working in financial technology, particularly at the senior level.

There are a scattering of names at the top – Michele Trogni, CIO of UBS; Natasha Davydova managing director of group technology and operations at Deutsche Bank; Angela Heward, global CIO at VTB Capital and Laura Barrowman, managing director at Credit Suisse.

Part of this is down to a supply problem; women make up just 19% of Computer Science graduates in the UK, according the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and the number of female candidates has declined by 10% since 2006. Our own figures suggest that women comprise just 19% of those working in financial technology in the UK.

Another woman to make it to the top in technology is Karin Cook, who is currently COO for HSBC’s global private banking business, and her career has been far from conventional. She started as a bilingual secretary at Goldman Sachs in Paris, having initially moved to the French capital intending to work in the hospitality sector.

After a brief period in this role, she switched to a managerial position in its futures operations division in 1990, before moving back to London for an executive director job at Morgan Stanley in 1995. She joined HSBC in 2004, where she has held the posts of global head of OTC derivative operations, chief technology and services officer at the private bank and finally moved into her current post in April this year.

During her time at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, she had two children. And, in case you’re wondering whether the US investment banks were particularly female-friendly in the 1990s, she took just seven weeks maternity leave in both instances.

At an event organized by technology recruiters Nicol Curtin this week, she offered tips to women working in banking technology about what they should do to succeed.

1. Speak up about your achievements

Women have a tendency to assume that their achievements have been recognized by their superiors, while men are more likely to blow their own trumpet, says Cook. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that men still make up more of the senior management in the financial sector and they tend to be less likely to recognize achievements.

“It might feel slightly unnatural to speak up or boast about your achievements, but if you’ve delivered something, make sure that you tell people. Female bosses are in minority and, while the male and female managers I’ve had have been equally good, the men tended to be less likely to recognize individual achievements.”

2. Don’t be afraid to play to your strengths

It’s something of a cliché to suggest that women gravitate away from the pure technical IT roles and towards ‘softer’ positions like project management and change. Many women in more technical roles at the event spoke of the need to prove themselves to their male counterparts – showing not just that they’ve been through the same experience as them, but that their knowledge often has to exceed men in the department in order to gain recognition. However, Cook believes that it’s still important to play to your other qualities.

“General management skills, an ability to design and implement a strategy, leading change programs, developing business relationships and listening skills – these are all female attributes and can help you succeed,” she says.

3. Take what you want

Research suggests that women are less likely to apply for a role they feel beyond their current capabilities than their male counterparts. The downside of this, of course, is that this means they miss out on potential promotional opportunities.

“The fact is that some of your male colleagues are likely to apply for the same role, while women only put themselves forward if they feel they’re perfect for that job,” says Cook. “The worst that will happen is that you don’t get the job, but you have to believe in and push yourself.”

4. Give up on unrealistic dreams of being a domestic goddess

Leave it to Nigella Lawson; if you want to succeed in financial technology, you need to know what it’s feasible to achieve and “not feel guilty” about the things you can’t fit into your life. Family commitments will sometimes interfere with work and vice versa – it’s a juggling act, so don’t dwell on the things you drop.

“I used to want to be a domestic goddess, but I’m over that now,” says Cook. “If you’re a parent and have a demanding career, the two inevitably inflict on one another. I enjoy spending time with my two children, but it’s important not to feel guilty for not spending enough time at home because of work commitments. You can be successful and enjoy both the professional and personal sides of your life.”

5. Be a role model

Any senior women working in financial services have a duty to be a role model for those working their way up the ranks, says Cook. This could be anything from talking to a room full of aspiring female technologists to formal mentoring schemes.

“Take the opportunity to inspire junior colleagues. Women in the senior ranks are all role models, whether you’re conscious of it or not, and that gives us a responsibility to make a difference,” says Cook.

6. Always have one eye on the bigger picture

If you’re working on a demanding project, with pressure to deliver and restrictive deadlines, it’s hard to think strategically about your career. You should always take time out to pause, and think about what your next move could be, says Cook.

“Don’t ignore career-enhancing opportunities because you’re too busy with your current role,” she says. “You should never be too busy to think about your career, and what comes next.”

7. Learn to talk about football

While direct discrimination from male colleagues may be rare in this age of gender diversity, in such a male-dominated environment assumptions can be made. Cook spoke of taking male subordinates to meetings with tech vendors, only to have the male salesman focus all their attention on her colleague, assuming she was simply “facilitating the meeting”.

Still, making concessions to bond with your male colleagues is no bad thing, and men have an ability to spend a depressingly long period of time talking about football on a Monday morning. “I made sure to swot up the weekend’s football results, so I had something to talk about with my male colleagues in the first five minutes of Monday meetings,” says Cook.

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