Three of Capita’s female leaders discuss how they got ahead in male-dominated industries

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Three of Capita’s most successful women took part in the Women in Tech online festival recently, designed to showcase female talent within the tech industry.

Hosted by Ascend Global Media, Capita’s Michelle Prance, Market Leader Financial Services, Grainne Watson, Director of Technology Development IT, and Gillian Channer, Chief Product Officer Capita Software, took part in a panel to discuss how they have made it to senior positions within male-dominated industries. Current challenges as well as solutions to enable women to thrive in tech were also discussed.

All panellists agreed that progress was being made, but that more needs to be done. ‘33% of all FTSE 100 board members are now women, up from just 12.5% less than a decade ago, but it's not good enough,’ said Michelle Prance. ‘I look at those board memberships and a lot of them are non-executive executive roles. A lot of them may be on the steering group of those organisations, but they're not in the C-suite that are driving profit and loss and making decisions. We need more female CEOs: Chief Technology Officers, Chief Financial Officers, core decision makers running the businesses here in the UK.’

When discussing barriers to more women in senior roles, Grainne Watson was keen to get across that teaching women from an early age that their voice counts just as much as a man’s was vital. ‘I taught at Stanford and when I would ask a question, girls who had gone to an all-girls school were confident putting their hands up, whereas girls who had gone to a mixed school would be quiet when a man was talking. It points to the fact that this is happening way back at ages five, six and seven and the whole way up. Girls are learning to step back to make room for men. That demolished me as a person who was teaching girls who had gotten into Stanford.’

All three panellists agreed that having strong, positive female role models could be a way of teaching young girls more confidence. ‘The biggest role model in my life is my mum because she taught me to respect everyone and to fear no one. It's really important that some of the values that you're taught at a very young age include the resilience that you need to get ahead as a female in business,’ said Gillian Channer. And she added that it’s important role models behave in an authentic way. ‘I remember someone saying to me once, when I got my first leadership appointment, “don't become a man”.’ There is a perception that women who get ahead in business have to become really aggressive, very dominant and almost scary. The important thing to me is how do you stay true to who you are when you get ahead.’

Michelle Prance recognised that men have an important role to play in levelling the playing field. ‘Some of the things that I've seen really work is a man taking on the role of being your ‘man-bassador’, who's in your women's network, who is creating opportunities. I always think that people should have a sponsor as well as a mentor. Men have a role as sponsors to make sure that they understand a person, a female, where her career path is, and help her open up some of those doors. Men absolutely need to be a part of the conversation and we need to make them absolutely accountable for driving diversity and inclusion in organizations.’

Finally, Gillian Channer warned against tokenism when it comes to race as well as gender. ‘There are some people who try to make you their pet project to show their support of diversity and that's the worst thing you can do. Because, as soon as I become a token for anyone, my credibility is compromised. I've had the situation several times in my career where people have said, “she's only been promoted because she's black”, and this came from people who I thought were friends who know my capability and work ethic. And so, for me, the way everyone can help black people and other ethnic minorities is to respect them and their capability and not make them their tokens.’

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