How leaders can empower more women to the top in tech

Leaders need to adopt grassroots 'followership' styles to encourage more women into tech, says Alexandra Limerick at WEX

In this guest feature, Alexandra Limerick, Director of Business Solutions, Global Product & Innovation at WEX, explains why leaders need to adopt grassroots followership styles to encourage more women into tech.

Working women face complex choices today that could lead to the unravelling of recent advances in gender equity — in pay, the professional ranks, and attaining leadership positions.

Sadly, research suggests some working mothers may have to step away from their jobs because of the pandemic’s impact on their blended working and home lives. Many women have pressed pause on their careers or taken up part-time work to care for either young children or elder parents during this time.

The last 12 months have also led to women losing a disproportionate number of jobs partly due to a segregated workforce in which women make up more of the lower-income service and retail jobs that vanished due to COVID-19. Other considerations include no longer being able to afford childcare or childcare businesses simply closing themselves.

Looking at the United States alone, its first female recession deepened in September with approximately 865,000 women dropping out of the workforce, compared to 216,000 men. This loss is unwinding years of work and creates an alarming trend for women and the future workforce.

We need to continue to support women getting and retaining their seats in organisations. Whilst our male colleagues can help, as I wholeheartedly believe we must work together, it’s also imperative that we help each other whilst looking within ourselves to bring our talents forward.

A network for change

It’s one of the reasons why I joined a small group of colleagues to start a ‘Women in Tech’ group within my own company. A forum to address some of these challenges and help women find a space to increase their confidence and network.

In the first instance, it’s about bringing visibility and awareness to the challenges we know exist, starting the discussion and continuing and providing a framework for change. We are bringing together women and supporters of women with an ambition to drive better gender and diversity balance, increase empowerment in our organisation, the marketplace we operate, and the communities in which we live and work. The work starts at the grassroots with recruitment, creating space for learning and providing a network to drive positive outcomes.

Leading by example

I find a good leader interested in the right things for you as an individual and one that you know will make a difference in your career. I’m in a unique position where I currently have a female and male leader, and I genuinely don’t have a preference. I find both are shaping my career in different ways. I also had an amazing boss at Visa, who was female, and I have worked with amazing women throughout my career.

Overall, I have always found a balance of leadership has been valuable. It’s the diversity in thought, experience and perspectives that create the strong business advice that resonates with me. Many of my male bosses have helped pave the way forward, and my female bosses have shown me how to solve some of the challenges through their experience. These managers, both men and women alike, have helped shape me into the leader I am today.

Visionary leadership

I view my leadership style as empowering and about bringing people up to reach their full potential. I’m a believer in visionary leadership because that’s work best for me personally through my journey. Hence, leading my team, I’m clear about where we are going, what we’re doing and where we need to be as individuals, a team and a business.

I empower; I spend time with my team and coach in that style; I’m not too prescriptive on each task because my team can stand on their own feet in their sphere of expertise and work hard to deliver with confidence.

For me, it’s also about consistency and trying to create those development pathways for women. As a leader in my team, I primarily see my role as encouraging them to be individual contributors and leaders themselves.

Providing this learning opportunity is key and especially important for women in the technology sphere, who are often individual contributors. They need to be encouraged to move beyond this – to create cross-functional team networks and lead their projects with great business engagement. Leadership starts with followership, and by creating structure and purpose in their work, women can bring the organisation with them.

The grassroots for success

Ultimately to get more women to the top, particularly in the technology industry, we need to be thinking of those that come after us. I want to create the next generation of free, independent thinkers who have made mistakes on their own, come up with their plans and delivered their outcomes. I want to provide a safe space to be able to be themselves whilst driving positive results in their roles – whatever those roles might be.

By combining the grassroots approach of encouraging young women to be empowered, to have a voice, be proud of their tech roles and make a difference and, lead from the front in a senior leadership role, we can create a pathway for the future that will create the balanced workforce we desperately need.

Through the pandemic and beyond, encouraging the hiring, retention and promotion of women continues to be a mission we should all be behind. We need to stop hiring in our image and make ourselves feel uncomfortable – challenge ourselves to deliver on diversity and equity in the workplace so we can see the potential of all humankind flourish.

Based in London, Alexandra plays an instrumental role in growing the WEX business globally, specialises in digital transformation, proposition development and scaled operational rollouts to bring about measurable change in customer payment behaviours.

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