Women Leading Tech: IBM’s Janelle Delaney Talks Industry Change Over The Past Few Decades

Women Leading Tech: IBM’s Janelle Delaney Talks Industry Change Over The Past Few Decades
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine
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Many think that women in tech are all millennials who’re relatively new to the game but industry veteran and partner at IBM, Janelle Delaney, has been killing it in the tech world for decades.

Delaney has seen many changes in her time in tech. At uni, she did her assignments on a typewriter and was thrilled when PCs came to the office for the first time. 

She’s risen through the ranks at IBM over several decades – taking on a plethora of jobs that have led her to her position where she’s responsible for the quality of IBM’s projects and growing project management capability across the Asia Pacific region.

With the 2022 B&T Women Leading Tech Awards fast approaching – of which IBM is one of the many valued sponsors – we spoke with Delaney about the importance of supporting women in their career journeys, increasing knowledge of tech careers, and being in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own career growth.

B&T: Why is it so important to support Women Leading Tech (WLT)?

Diversity is absolutely essential for our business performance at IBM and obviously for all businesses. Diversity of thinking helps us provide better outcomes for our clients and at IBM we focus on inclusivity meaning that all voices and all views should be considered. For IBM, the Women Leading Tech awards are important as a way to celebrate and highlight the capability and talent that we have and using it as a forum to identify role models to help inspire our future generations of women to head into tech, because the industry certainly needs more women for business success.

B&T: Can you tell us about your work history and current role, and some of the biggest challenges/obstacles that you have faced?

I started out as a COBOL programmer many years ago after doing an IT degree. I was actually in the very first year of the Bachelor of Technology degree at UTS. The system that I first worked on was written in the 1960s and I know at least two years ago, code that I’d written in the 90s was still being executed.

I’ve been in tech, and at IBM, for over 30 years now and I’ve seen so many changes over that time. I did my uni assignments on a typewriter and I remember that excitement of having the first PCs in the office. I’ve seen so many changes and I’ve been in so many different roles from programme management to business operations to transformation and today I’m a partner with IBM consulting with responsibility across Asia Pacific in driving successful client outcomes across our significant project portfolio.

One of the things that I really love about my role is that it has a real focus on our people and is about enabling our project management community and building that capability. That’s actually one of the reasons I really love working in tech – the fact that it’s about people. At IBM we work with our clients in developing solutions that are there to improve people’s lives, whether that’s how they experience the world of work, or whether it’s a fundamental shift in people’s experience. I see that tech at the end of the day is actually about people and that’s what I really love about it. 

In terms of obstacles, I feel that one of the biggest obstacles that I faced was actually myself. I found I would really dive into whatever role I was in and get totally absorbed and often forget to look up and see what was ahead of me and chart a course forward. I was really fortunate that along the way I had some really great sponsors who helped me on my journey, but looking back I spent a lot of time on what I refer to as a bit of a ‘magical mystery tour’, I just sort of let things happen. It’s really only been in more recent years that I’ve finally taken a ‘choose your own adventure’ approach to direct my own career. This is definitely advice I would have given my ‘younger’ self.

B&T: What would you say is your most career-defining moment and how has it changed you?

I think that would really be right back in my very first management role. My manager could really see the importance of diversity. This was back in the 90s, a time when diversity wasn’t really on our corporate agendas so he was ahead of his time. He looked at his own leadership team and saw that they were all of the same ilk, they were all thinking in the same way and he was seeing that this was impacting on the overall performance of his group. So he took the plunge and decided to introduce two women to his leadership team and one of those was me. That was such an important step in my career because someone actually showed faith in my abilities and was supporting me to be successful. It really was a chance to prove myself. 

I learned a lot about leadership from this particular manager and he ended up being a part of my work life at IBM for many years. We’re actually still great friends today thirty years later. He was a great role model and I tried to emulate and build into my leadership style elements of his approach including his drive for diversity. Being authentic, never hiding what you truly stand for, caring about people, remembering that your team have lives outside of work, and that well-being is such an important factor in high performance are all great things he taught me.

B&T: What advice would you give to young women hoping to become leaders in a statistically male-dominated tech space?

Anyone who wants to grow a career in tech, or in any industry, don’t make the same mistakes that I did, where I didn’t spend enough time driving my own career. You need to be in the driver’s seat investigate options and opportunities, and determine your own path forward. The other side of the coin is that you can’t do it on your own. You really should be out there seeking out sponsors and mentors, both male and female, who can help you actually chart that path forward and help support you in achieving your goals.

B&T: What have you discovered to be the best ways to promote and nurture women’s careers? 

There are two sides to this. The first is to ensure that women have the right support systems around them during all the various life stages that we go through. I see that people are our most valuable asset so it’s important to support women through those life stages so that our organisation and our industry don’t lose all those valuable skills and knowledge that women have built up over time. This might include keeping connected while a woman’s off on parental leave, helping them to smooth their return to work, or another thing that we’ve done at IBM is educating our women and managers about menopause, and the impacts of this on women to ensure they can be supported, or it might be supporting women through infertility treatment. This is all about enabling women to bring their whole selves to work, without fear of any discrimination about something that’s going on in their lives. That’s the sort of workplace we need for everyone. So it’s not just women, everybody needs to be able to come to work and bring their whole self. 

The second side I think that is important s that it’s really about supporting women and encouraging them to take on new opportunities. Even just something really simple like giving a high performing woman a nudge about a new role, that little bit of encouragement that says, “Hey, have you thought about putting your hand up for this particular role you’d actually be really great at it.” Those sort of simple words of encouragement can go a long way to helping to grow and support women.

B&T: How can we encourage and empower more young girls to consider a career in tech?

There’s two aspects to it. The first is about having information and the second is about having role models. 

I think there are many high school-aged girls who are out there making decisions about subject choices in university but are doing so without a lot of information about what a career in tech might actually look like. They’re making decisions without knowing what they could be missing out on. I think that as an industry we need to be doing a lot more with schools to ensure that the girls have a much deeper understanding of the many facets of a career in tech and really bust any myths or preconceptions that they might actually have. 

In terms of role models, these are important as another way of doing this. Celebrating women through awards, like the WLT programme, is another way to shine a light on our top talent and identify role models.

With the Women@IBM group that I’m involved in, we’re currently exploring how to open up some sessions around what we call ‘Cool Tech ’ for university students. These would enable them to hear from some amazing tech women like Dr. Anna Phan who recently spoke at the WLT finalists’ lunch on Quantum to emphasise how exciting a career in tech can be and provide some role models.

B&T: Which women have inspired you and played a role in becoming the leader that you are?

For me, it’s not about any specific woman. I’ve come across many different leaders in my career, both men and women, and I guess what I’ve always tried to do is look at what makes them successful. What are those things that I can actually try and emulate? That’s what I often do or have done throughout my career is working with different leaders and really say, “Okay, what makes them so good? What can I do that’s similar? What can I put  into my own kit bag that will improve my ability to lead?”

B&T: Could you outline the best ways that women can support other women in their organisation?

I’ve got two of those. The first one is the concept of paying it back. We have all been supported along our career journey in various ways and what we as women also need to be doing is the same for the next generation of tech women coming through. Helping to support them and encourage them by sharing our time and our knowledge to pay back to the industry. 

The second one is about having the courage to be an upstander and call out any bad behaviour. So call out anything that’s in any way discriminatory or derogatory towards women or something that’s not fostering gender diversity. To me, it is critical not to let things just slide by and actually call them out. This is really important for men as well – as women our male allies are also essential to the support of women in our organisations.

Find out more about the Women Leading Tech Awards HERE.

Tickets to the awards are on sale HERE.

As an initiative created to support gender parity and representation across the tech industry, Women Leading Tech is an event inclusive of non-binary and gender diverse members of the tech industry, as well as any individual identifying as a woman.

Thank you to our Women Leading Tech sponsors:

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