Stories From The Tech Coalface: Q&A With Publicis Sapient MD Sarah Adam-Gedge And Adobe ANZ MD Suzanne Steele

Stories From The Tech Coalface: Q&A With Publicis Sapient MD Sarah Adam-Gedge And Adobe ANZ MD Suzanne Steele

Each day, both Publicis Sapient’s Sarah Adam-Gedge and Adobe’s Suzanne Steele are tasked with running the local operations of a multi-million-dollar global company. But they’re both equally committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. In this interview, the pair give B&T a rundown on how they see the sector placed at the moment.

B&T: How have you seen attitudes towards females in technology roles change throughout your career? And how much change is still required?

 Sarah Adam-Gedge: I’ve found that attitudes towards females in tech roles have changed positively as my career progressed, presenting me with both new challenges to overcome, as well as a community of younger female tech team members to be a positive role model for. Whilst we have seen a significant change, there is still so much more to do.

We (the industry) need to offer broader benefits such as flexible work practices – which help everyone not just women, and have a wider lens into the skills required to work in digital and tech i.e. more creatives and data specialists. As we see traditional tech shift to digital, and impact every facet of our lives with the increased emphasis on the experiences we have being the most important thing, the industry will become a more attractive career prospect for women starting out in their careers.

So yes, much change is still required but if I can help accelerate that change and be a voice, and role model, for the next generation of female tech leaders, then for me, that’s a good start.

Suzanne Steele: I am happy to say that attitudes and practices have improved a lot since I started out. Today there is a lot more recognition of the challenges and more people making a concerted effort to create change. There is also overwhelming evidence available about the benefits of diversity and inclusion to support our case.

Yet there is still a long way to go and I know from experience that change takes significant time, investment and commitment from the top. However, it is possible. We’ve seen this at Adobe, achieving global pay parity in 2018 and now very positive results in opportunity parity too.

However, changing processes and practices can be a lot easier than changing people’s beliefs. For example, women and emotion in the workplace has often been brought up in a negative connotation. These views are not only often misrepresented, but they are frankly outdated. As machine learning and artificial intelligence deliver many of the mundane and automated tasks that humans do today, emotional intelligence and empathy will only become more important.

In particular, emotional intelligence and authenticity are very important when you’re interacting with clients, building business relations and nurturing your team. What was once considered a negative attribute will be a required capability in the digital economy.

I’m confident that the next generation of leaders entering our workforce will also demand and drive change quicker than ever before.

B&T: What advice would you give to a woman in a technology role who wants to become a ‘leader’ in their field?

SA-G: A leader’s scope and impact aren’t just within the confines of the office walls: I would encourage women to consider how they can lead in different ways: at work, the community, volunteering, boards and of course women are quite often the leaders in their families as well.

In the early years of your early career, it is important to develop a deep core skills as this forms the base to expand and develop the different areas of interest, and then apply them through a range of broad experiences which can be gained through different industries, companies, job roles, geographies etc. All of us may not have the confidence to grasp opportunities which initially feel beyond our reach, but by surrounding ourselves with a solid support network who can help us to grow, and having great skills and a broad set of experiences, the different career opportunities that arise will be less daunting.

I think formal and informal mentoring, and identifying women (and men) who are great role models are valuable pieces of the leadership jigsaw. Learning from others, seeking feedback, and being adaptive are critical as we transition through different roles and responsibilities in a fast changing world.

Finally, regardless of whether we are leaders through a formal role title or as a result of the work we do, trust is absolutely critical. Skills and experience will count for very little, without a solid foundation of trust.

SS: I have three key pieces of advice: find a mentor, trust your intuition and embrace your difference.

Mentors have played a pivotal role in shaping my career path by giving me opportunities and guidance when I needed it. My first mentor was a business leader at a start-up and he gave me a chance at a very early stage of my career. He recognised my untapped potential and used his terrific coaching skills to help me learn and grow into a leadership role.

Fear of failure can often hold us back from acting on our intuition. I know it certainly held me back slightly when I was younger. However, our muscle memory means our intuition is often right. Follow that and be bold, even if you don’t have all the data to back it up yet. Take some risks! The fear of failure is what stops people from making bold moves, when failure is just one more step to success.

While it’s easy to tout the benefits of diverse teams and even promote differences within our organisations, embracing our own uniqueness can sometimes be a challenge. I know this was true for me.

I didn’t graduate from university, and in my 20s, I was embarrassed about my non-traditional background. Everyone, it seemed, went to university and followed a prescribed track — except me. When even casually questioned about my academic background, I bobbed and weaved as best I could, changing the subject back to something — anything — more comfortable.

Looking back, I recognise the fear. I was afraid that, if people knew, I’d be judged, falling victim to unconscious bias at the hands of my more traditionally-educated peers and colleagues.

I now have the gift of time and clarity. I see that my background has actually been my greatest differentiator — what truly pushed me forward and inspired me to excel. Today, I’m still very conscious of my background and my differences — differences that now inform one of my greatest passions: helping others realise their full

When designing digital experiences, how important is diversity in ensuring the best results?

SA-G: Great digital experiences reflect a diverse set of inputs across multi-disciplinary teams, this is a given in today’s world. Diversity is absolutely critical to designing inclusive futures because designers are interpreting user’s needs based on their personal view of the world and this needs to be expanded to involve a wide range of inputs and perspectives to be a truly inclusive design.

An interesting recent HBR article highlighted that firms with two-dimensional (2D) diversity (where leaders of companies exhibit at least three inherent and at least three acquired diversity traits) creates an environment where “outside the box” ideas are heard. Employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market. This reflects the increasing complexities of designing experiences that match brand expectations.

SS: Diversity and inclusion are good business. In fact, some recent research we did with the Centre for Inclusive Design found that that products and services designed with the needs of people experiencing poverty, disability or the effects of aging in mind can reach four times the number of intended consumers and impact the bottom-line of organisations.

Five million Australians across the country are unable to access products and services because of poor design, yet they possess over $40 billion in annual disposable income. This number includes people living with a disability and seniors, but there are also millions of Australians who are vulnerable to exclusion due to location, gender, ethnicity or financial status.

This highlights not only the importance of inclusive design, but also the business case diversity creates.

B&T: Why did Publicis Sapient/Adobe choose to support the Women Leading Tech initiative?

SA-G: Diversity and inclusion are important topics for Publicis Sapient and are firmly on our strategic agenda both on a local and global level. In today’s world where we all have choices, feeling included is a key reason people choose to stay in their jobs, as part of clubs and groups. This applies as much to me personally, and for my kids, my friendship groups, the people I work with etc.

It’s no secret that the tech industry is behind industry benchmarks in terms of gender diversity, and that we have to individually and collectively work hard at changing this. The Women Leading Tech initiative is one part of our effort to bring about important change, and we know that we share this mission with Adobe, who are a strategic of ours.

I also believe that as an industry we need to champion our women and their amazing achievements more. Supporting the Women Leading Technology event is one of the ways we can help the industry change for the better.

SS: At Adobe, we believe our success comes from our differences. We recognise the value every single employee brings to the table. As an organisation, we know we’re better together and we want to foster that understanding with our own customers, the tech industry and society in general.

It’s no secret that the tech industry suffers from a gender imbalance. Solving this issue is two-fold. Firstly, it is about getting more girls studying STEM, and secondly, it is about keeping women in the industry long-term.

To help overcome this, we are constantly looking at our own hiring practices and culture of inclusion to improve diversity – including gender diversity – within the company. Our focus is to create a workplace where employees can grow their careers in an inclusive environment that embraces differences, through community building, training and internal awareness-building and family-friendly benefit policies.

Unfortunately, we’ve had to postpone Women Leading tech until later this year, but in the meantime, we’re still telling the stories of this amazing industry.


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