Virtual support at the Women in IT Summit 2020 – day one

As the world works around COVID-19, the first day of the Women in IT Summit 2020 explores how we can live, and work, with the virus.

The world has been thrown upside down due to COVID-19, and the tech industry is no exception. The Women in IT summit 2020, joined by speakers from various industries with extraordinary experience and hosted by Sabinije von Gaffke, founder of Impactfulness Ventures, spent its first day exploring the impact that the novel virus has had on the industry.

Same year, different world

The morning panel was moderated by Caroline Lawson, Field CTO EMEA. SailPoint, who was joined by Avril Chester, Founder and CEO, Cancer Central; Jacqueline de Rojas, CBE, President, techUK; Joanne Webb, Former Global e-Commerce and Digital Director working at Merlin Entertainments plc and R. Michael Anderson, Leadership Mentor working at The Technology Leadership Insider. As the tech industry adjusts to working with COVID-19, the panel discussed how leaders could adapt, better themselves and champion diversity and inclusion amidst the change.

As the world adapts to life with COVID-19, the tech industry must do the same. The typical 9-5 has flown out the window, and remote working has become the norm across the world. As we turn to our leaders during this time, the panel had some advice for them. Jacqueline do Rojas said: “We can’t expect employees to work core hours anymore.

“We will be remembered for how we treated our employees in this crisis. This is our legacy.”

R. Michael Anderson further commented: “I can tell you when it comes to a crisis like this, we need you, as a leader, to step up. People’s character will be defined by how they show up in a crisis.”

To leaders concerned with the rise of flexible and remote working amid COVID-19, Joanne Webb has some advice: “We all know stories of people where they can’t work from home because the boss doesn’t believe they’ll get some work done. Well, my argument to that boss or leader is that if you don’t have trust in your team, then you have a big problem. At the end of the day, if you can’t trust your team, what are you doing? You need to look at yourself, and you need to understand what’s going on.”

But “how are leaders feeling?” Asked Caroline, and “how should they manage their wellbeing?”. Having founded three companies and gained a master’s in psychology, Michael Chapman provided his insight: “Really focus on creating strong boundaries of getting your self-care. This is a time to live as clean of a life as you can for yourself and your employees because that’s when you make the most positive decisions. Have some grace and compassion with yourself as you go through this. That’ll enable you to have that much more with you and your team.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has created conversation across the world, and that does not exclude the Women in IT summit 2020. Caroline asks: “Do you believe that leaders in the technology field understand that this is more than just about driving diversity?” Jacqueline answers: “One of the things that I think is a little bit worrying is that businesses still talk less about Black Lives Matter or racism, and instead talk more in terms of diversity and inclusion. That feels like a retreat into a safe space where racism could be a little bit more palatable and diluted as a subject. We mustn’t dilute diversity and inclusion at all, and we need to have a specific focus on racism.”

Adapting to the digital

Louise Brown opened the afternoon of the Women in IT Summit 2020 by detailing the steps that Heathrow Airport is taking during the epidemic. As the aviation and travel industry has been one of the most impacted by COVID-19, Louise revealed how an industry that thrives on travel, can work from home.

Fiona Daniel, CEO and Founder working at FD2I followed with advice on how leaders can find their ‘digital voice’. The afternoon fireside chat, moderated by Fiona had Georgina Owens, SVP IT Services working at DAZN; Joanne Rewcastle, Head of Internal Digital and Cross-Government Engagement working at DWP Digital, and Joanne Webb join Fiona in asking, how can you encourage your team to find their digital voice?

Georgina commented: “As a leader, I think it’s important to look out for little signs within your team; you know when somebody maybe a little bit quieter than you would expect them to be. Or watching if some members are becoming a little bit more dominant than what they would do.”

Joanne Webb continues: “You need to be flexible and accommodating; it’s really important, and everyone does appreciate it.

“It’s important to make sure that you accommodate for all different personalities. So, for example, make sure you send out an agenda if you’re having a meeting for those who like a bit more structure. For introverts, it can also help start to build their confidence. Just because you may be the leader of a team, that doesn’t mean to say you have to run the show and be a dictator.”

A viewer asked: “How do I give space for others to talk?” Joanne Rewcastle replies: “Be happy with silence. Sometimes it does take people a while, and if the instinct is to kind of jump in, then do.”

Fiona adds a well known quote: “People who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people with nothing to say.”

When asked how their team members have responded and adapted to the COVID-19 working arrangements, Joanne Rewcastle said: “Mixed, very mixed from the proactive to the radical changes. We do a daily check-in call at a slightly eccentric time of 10 past 10 in the morning. We got into a routine with that, and then we all get something out of it even though we’re probably in quite different places in terms of how we are coping as well.”

Georgina continues: “Our teams have all adapted differently, and some of them have just gone all out for the daily calls, and some have delegated them to others because it’s not their natural style. I think from a surprise point of view, one of the things that I have noticed is that some extroverts have become introverts.

Echoing Georgina, Joanne Webb comments: “The extrovert and introvert thing I understand because it’s tough work when you’re face to face on a screen all the time. If they usually pick up their energy from other people and if those people aren’t there, it can perhaps be harder.”

Was there one piece of advice each of the panelist had for leaders and their team to find their voices. ‘Remember it’s OK to be human,’ ‘find a network’, ‘find a friend as there’s somebody out there who feels the same as you do’ and ‘be confident in your opinion’ where just some of the tips offered.

The Women in IT Summit (a Bonhill Group event) was full of actions over 1,000 delegates could take away and look to tailor for their organisation’s needs.

The agenda and a full list of speakers can be found here

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