A Reflection from Michelle-Joy Low, Head of Data & Artificial Intelligence at Reece Group
Today, women make up only 29% of Australia’s tech workforce. Improving the representation and retention of women in tech and other related STEM fields is important – with ongoing skills shortages and research increasingly showing the benefits of diversity in all its forms on organisational performance. Despite the progress that’s been made to date, there’s still much work to be done to create inclusive cultures and environments that help women enter technology, and more importantly stay in the sector to advance into leadership positions.
As the leader of the Data and Artificial Intelligence practice at Reece, I have the privilege of working with incredible women who are building careers in technology within the organisation. It’s always inspiring to hear the stories of how others have overcome biases and adversity to do what they love. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of these strong women, and reflect on what more we can do as an organisation – and society more broadly – to advance diversity and inclusion.
Journeys are ultimately a collection of narratives. And in my experience the narratives we tell ourselves can be a source of resilience, perseverance, and hope. Here are some narratives that have shaped my journey and the journeys of women I admire:
My experience as a woman in tech upholds documented research on the social penalty women face when they are confident or assertive. This, however, has motivated me to seek out more intelligent ways to break this bias – holding fast to the discipline of acknowledging another's position, noting shared goals and offering solutions.
The strategy of holding a positive future focus I have found works well in creating more equitable communication environments. Sometimes, the most popular opinion in the room isn’t the right one – so speak up, help create a safe space for all to contribute – your voice matters.
With every setback, you’ve learnt something to do differently next time
Without mistakes, we would never learn and grow. Reflection might seem like wasted time when you’re already juggling a million things, but the perspective gained in the long run is invaluable.
Carol Dweck's seminal work on mindset fundamentally changed my relationship with performance and identity; particularly helpful was realising that a growth mindset can be developed –– it is not an innate gift or ability –– and that cultivating a growth mindset turned my setbacks into curiosity and new problems to be solved. That gave me a much more positive outlook on the way I approach problems.
Don’t underestimate the impact you have on others
I always come back to Maya Angelou's quote: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
How you treat others matters greatly – often it's the little actions that have a disproportionately large impact. The folks who have inspired me most are those who did seemingly small things incredibly well – keeping promises, being generous, supportive and persistent in hard times – this was true regardless of position or privilege. It's a great reminder that anyone can impact another; each day we have the opportunity to decide if that is for better or worse.
Kindness always wins
Be kind, be collaborative and be curious. Great ideas don’t happen in a vacuum, especially in tech. Build relationships across your organisation, within and beyond the tech function. It will help you grow as a leader, do your job more effectively and stretch your thinking.
The adversity we sometimes face as women can create the temptation to respond to difficult situations in kind. But I’ve learned that choosing the higher road of kindness is what helps me sleep better at night. Michelle Obama says it best - "When they go low, we go high".
The work to break the bias is never finished, celebrate and learn from progress
We have a long way to go to #BreakTheBias but every conversation we have and step we take in the right direction is worth celebrating. The voice of one might not drive change instantly, but the collective voice of everyone working towards the same outcome is powerful. Do what you can to make sure other members of your team feel included and have an opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions in a safe and inclusive environment. Diversity of thought lends itself to perspective and perspective drives change.
One of our values at Reece is ‘Try, Try, Try’ – this is at the core of who we are as a team and how we show up for each other and our customers. It starts with recognising each small improvement, generating motivation for yourself and others to make long-lasting change.
We’re always on the lookout for female leaders to join our business and have a number of roles open across tech and operations. If you’re passionate about making a difference, come and join us: https://careers.reece.com/au/