ANZ Tech Leader’s First-Hand Tips On Breaking Barriers For Women In STEM

Leigh Gibson, ANZ's Tech Area Lead, gives a fascinating first-person account of her journey to becoming a leader in tech

ANZ Tech Leader's First-Hand Tips On Breaking Barriers For Women In STEM

I landed my first IT role as an application developer fresh from university and in the middle of the dot-com bubble in the 1990s. I loved the nitty gritty of the work that I was getting to do but couldn’t help but feel somewhat disheartened when I looked around the room – I was one of only a handful of women in STEM. The nineties were supposed to be the era of “Girl Power” but it seemed that memo hadn’t reached our industry.

Over the last 20 years, diversity has continued to be an issue for the tech community. Recent figures suggest that only 16% of STEM graduates are female and that women make up only 31% of IT roles across Australia.

The nineties were supposed to be the era of “Girl Power” but it seemed that memo hadn’t reached our industry.

As the technology leader for ANZ’s Internet Banking and ATM Tribe, I’m passionate about lifting up other women in my male-dominated field. In addition to having large-scale tech lead experience, I also have my own startup founder story – I created and maintained a retail platform to spotlight independent Australian fashion designers over four years.

In 2017, I was thrilled to bring together my two worlds as ANZ aligned with the SheStarts accelerator program, which is focused on female founders who have an idea that can both scale globally and also have a positive impact. One of the current SheStarts participants, Pioneera, is trialing their technology within ANZ’s corporate offices with the aim to reduce workplace stress.

I’ve now been a mentor and advisor for SheStarts for nearly two years, and have recently returned from a trip to San Francisco’s Silicon Valley with the SheStarts team. Our USA Delegation aimed to show the founders the potential of their business and facilitate introductions with a variety of innovative women, investors and industry leaders.

Despite hearing from enterprise powerhouses such as Google and LinkedIn, it was the advice of startup stars including AirBnB and Juvo that was the most thought-provoking.

Focus on your problem without being attached to your current solution, know your value and listen to feedback. 

It can be easy to get fixated on the latest trend or feature that is doing the rounds and attempt to make it fit the problem you are trying to solve. Avoid jumping on tech band-wagons just for the sake of riding a wave (remember when everything had a QR code?).

Never undersell yourself or your business. The better communicator with more charisma can win the pitch over the better solution. 

Women are notorious for underselling ourselves and our skills. For startups, this can be the difference between securing funding or heading back to the drawing board. If you struggle with feeling too self-promotional, imagine you’re advocating for a friend or family member when selling your idea. 

Women are notorious for underselling ourselves and our skills. For startups, this can be the difference between securing funding or heading back to the drawing board.

Being a leader means being yourself, listening to your team, and being comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.

Leadership is one of the most difficult roles in business. So often we think that to be a good leader you need to be fearless, certain and unapologetic. However, for many women that style of leadership does not come naturally and can be a double-edged sword. In my experience, women are held to a high performance standard and mistakes can be judged harshly. This is a tricky environment to navigate. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with your team. If you made a mistake, own it. Your team will respect your honesty. 

In my experience, women are held to a high performance standard and mistakes can be judged harshly.

Our future lies in technology and it’s important that women have the skills and confidence to take part. I’m hopeful that with strong mentorship programs such as SheStarts and partnerships with forward thinking companies such as ANZ, the future for women in tech is bright.

Leigh Gibson is the Tech Area Lead for ANZ.

Women Love Tech
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