NetSuite: women leaders in technology is a legacy that needs to catch up

Nicky Tozer, EMEA Vice President Oracle NetSuite, had an unusal journey into technology. Here, she explains why the lack of women leaders in tech is a legacy issue.

Nicky Tozer’s journey to becoming EMEA VP at Oracle NetSuite was an unusual one.

She was originally seeking a career that would fit with her degree in management science, French and German. But, while investigating suitable graduate programmes, Nicky took a temporary job as a receptionist in a software company. This led to stints in telemarketing then field sales and the rest, as they say, is history.

For Nicky, the lack of women in senior roles within the sector is a legacy issue, but Oracle NetSuite is fostering a diverse and inclusive workspace.

Nicky, what made you want to stay in tech – a very male-dominated environment?

From a sales representative perspective, I enjoyed the freedom that it gave me — not going to the same place, not working on the same projects every day.

The male environment never represented a major problem. There were times when I would walk in as the sales rep with my team, and, obviously, everyone would direct the questions at the guys. But I found that if you waited for a moment to come along where you could say something credible, they would say, ‘she knows what she’s talking about, let’s carry on’. Also, because I was a female and all the other sales reps were male, they remembered me.

Why is it still challenging for women to get into the technology sector?

It’s a legacy issue that needs to catch up. If I look at my business as an example – for people in my age group – there will be fewer women in leadership roles and fewer women generally in this industry. Even at the next generation down, there will still be fewer women, but more than there are at my level. 

We hire something like 80 graduates each year who come in as what we used to call telemarketing; it’s now business development reps. They are almost 50:50 split and then, if they’ve done a good job, they get promoted into a sales team, which is also a 50:50 split as are the managers of that team. So, the legacy of what was the tech industry 20 or 30 years ago is slowly moving into exciting times, which will have all sorts of gender and diversity mixed in it. I’m starting to see a huge shift in the opportunities for everybody. 

Some people would argue that the pace of change isn’t fast enough?

I think it’s difficult to promote more women if they aren’t there in the first place. If I look at my career, I was literally the only woman in every room for most of it. There won’t be many women in my age group who would be ready and have the experience, to be promoted into those roles.

Sometimes it’s just a fact of life. I can’t promote, or nobody can promote women into roles where they haven’t existed or have that experience because previously it was harder to get in. But we can help the ones that are there to improve faster.

I’ve seen that in both our organisation and the tech industry generally, but also in these industry events that I go. For example, in some of the events we sponsor, I see a huge improvement in the number of women that are in leadership roles.  The guys who are in the room with us see it as a huge significance to ensure that we are promoting women and helping to enable the ones that are there to make that step up into leadership ladder. 

How does Oracle NetSuite upskill women who are not in a managerial role?

We work very hard to ensure that we have diversity at the very earliest stages of careers, so we start to build that step change. We have an Oracle Women’s Leadership group. It helps with all sorts of conferences and online material, mentorship which, at a global level, provides a formal framework, to give women practical ways to improve whatever they feel they need to improve to make those changes. 

Also, at a more informal level, I have a group of women that I mentor and other women leaders do the same in their parts of the organisation. Even more informally, they see that a woman is leading the consulting bit of the business for NetSuite; which they love because it gives inspiration. So, there is a mixture of formal and informal things we do to try and ensure that we have a diverse organisation now and into the future. 

What D&I initiative are you most proud of at NetSuite?

For me, it’s how we bring people into the organisation. I never looked at being female as something that held me back. And whenever it did, I tried to focus on what I could change rather than what I couldn’t. ‘How could I be better than the next person, whether they’re male, female or otherwise?’  It doesn’t matter.  You’ve just got to be the best you can be and drive yourself forwards. 

I can’t change where we’ve got to, but I can make sure that, as we go forward, we hire a diverse group. Then we coach them to be the best that they can be and confident, by providing an environment that allows that talent to come forward. I guess that’s what we’re most proud of in that we’re creating an opportunity for us to hire a mixed group, who we then support to believe that they are as valuable as everybody else.

When do D&I initiatives go wrong? 

If you approach something with the right objective and manage it well, you will achieve the desired outcome. I have in the past, seen ‘Women in’ groups formed because they were ‘trendy’, and deemed as the right thing to do. More often than not, they failed because they didn’t establish a strategic purpose, framework or provide emotional support.

This is changing, and Women’s networks are growing in importance in businesses, supported by men who want women at the table to bring a fresh perspective. When we have a diverse group, we have more collaboration, more creativity, more innovation and success for everyone.  

What advice would you give to women wanting to progress?

Consider your strengths and weaknesses, what you want to achieve and acknowledge where the challenges are; but don’t make them the thing that defines you or suddenly creates a problem for you. Understand that it may be a barrier and work out how to navigate it.

Talk to people, whether it’s a mentor or a confident person in your peer group who can help you highlight what you have to offer. If you are skilled at what you do and can present in the right way, the supporting evidence to it doesn’t then matter who you are. People can’t, not, listen to you.

What about women’s tendency to suffer from impostor syndrome?

I think we give men more credit than we should for not having that. Everybody has a sense at some point in their career of ‘waiting to be found out’. It happens to men just as much as women.

Because of the rate at which we’re growing in NetSuite, we’re all challenged. We underestimate how many people of all genders and diversities feel about this all the time. I’m generalising, but I think women talk about things, and to each other more and are more likely to open up about the challenges they face. This is not usually the case for men, which is why ‘impostor syndrome’ is more talked about as a women’s issue.

What is the representation of women at Oracle NetSuite, and how does the organisation foster an inclusive environment?

As I mentioned earlier, in the teams we’re bringing in straight out of university, it’s probably 50:50; at my level, it’s probably slightly lower.  But it varies a lot. 

We leverage diverse backgrounds for all our employees, also from suppliers and customers and partners. And we do have several initiatives: Oracle Women’s Leadership Group, Oracle Pride Employee Network, Inclusive Leadership, Cultural Competency Skills Matters and veterans’ programmes.

Oracle proactively looks for diversity across the organisation; both in terms of how we elevate existing staff to how we hire for the future. It’s important to us. 

Our job is to make sure that our people are successful and that they believe they have equal value and opportunity. Those kinds of things are more difficult to teach than how to sell software. But that’s what we strive towards in all the programmes that we have.
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