Silke Barlow, the Country General Manager of Lenovo Australia, has earned a reputation for making her mark as a women in the tech space. In this interview, she draws on over two decades of experience spanning multiple countries and leadership roles, to share her insights on the significance of hard and soft skills in the tech industry. And how females can foster the development of a diverse and dynamic workforce in this sector.
A Silke start
Silke’s professional journey began as a Product Marketing Specialist at IBM in Germany. Before transitioning to Lenovo in 2005 during a period of significant growth in the tech industry. Over the next 10 years, she embraced diverse portfolios, worked internationally, and lived in different countries. Including France, until she eventually settled in Australia. After leaving Lenovo in 2015, Silke held senior leadership positions at Unisys and Fujitsu before returning to Lenovo Australia in 2023.
Decoding hard and soft skills
According to Silke, there’s nothing difficult about the concept of hard and soft skills. Instead, she simplifies the difference between both with the following explanation.
“I think of hard skills as job-specific or industry-specific skills and knowledge. That can be learned through formal education, training, or hands-on experience. Although not always, they can be technical in nature, and often easily measurable. When looking at hard skills from the lens of a tech role, it could be skills and knowledge in the realm of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, software development, coding, and data analysis.
“Soft skills, on the other hand, are interpersonal skills, sometimes referred to as ‘human skills.’ One could argue that soft skills are something that can come naturally to people. However, they can indeed be a trained or taught skill we acquire over time through experience and professional development. These skills include abilities like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, emotional intelligence, and empathy.
“Soft skills are not tied to an occupation or industry but are equally important. In most industries soft skills are often the distinguishing factor between good and great.”
Hard v Soft skills in the tech space
Silke stresses the importance of both hard and soft skills for tech professionals.
“Hard skills are crucial for innovation and solving technical challenges. However, soft skills are equally vital for effective collaboration, communication, and problem-solving. The balance between the two becomes even more critical in the era of hybrid and remote work. Where soft skills facilitate knowledge sharing and positive work environments,” says Silke.
Addressing the trend observed on LinkedIn, Silke advocates for a balance between hard and soft skills for thriving in the tech workplace. “A well-rounded individual with a balance of both skill sets can navigate challenges, drive results, and maintain a positive work culture,” she adds.
Tackling challenges for women in tech
Skill set aside, Silke acknowledges the challenges women in tech face. Citing gender bias, lack of representation, and limited access to leadership opportunities. “That’s why initiatives like Lenovo’s Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL) program, internal and external networking opportunities, and flexible work arrangements are all vital strategies to address these challenges,” she says.
Silke also cites Lenovo’s Grow @ Lenovo program. “It focuses on on-the-job experience, colleague relationships, and formal education to enhance employee growth, foster a diverse and skilled workforce, and play a pivotal role in incorporating both hard and soft skills into formal training and development,” says Silke.
“I want to use my role to actively promote agility within the organisation. And lead by example through forums, conferences, and internal initiatives,” she adds.
Ultimately, Silke’s advice for women aspiring to leadership roles in tech revolves around confidence, curiosity, and continuous learning. She encourages women to advocate for themselves, stay confident and curious, and prioritise continuous learning to stay relevant in the constantly evolving tech industry.