International Women’s Day: A Chat with Judy Cole

Posted on March 2021 By Speller International
International Womens Day

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Yet more importantly it strives to encourage women to lift each other up, make themselves heard and to challenge the inequality that women are so familiar with.

This week on the blog we sit down with Speller International’s Managing Director, Judy Cole. We discuss women and leadership, discrepancies in leadership roles, challenges women must overcome to be leaders and what they can do to stand up and standout.

Let’s see what Judy has to say…

Why you believe there is such a discrepancy when it comes to women in IT leadership roles?

I think it is due to a number of reasons - the ratio of women vs men in IT roles within Australia (according to ABS figures) is still only about 38% so naturally that would have an impact of the amount of women moving in to Leadership/Management roles.

Sadly, I also think that the lack of “self-promotion” of women moving into these roles is a factor. If you were to look at gender in a very stereotypical way then everybody knows that fundamentally the way men and women approach things can be very different (which is a positive). Unfortunately, companies don’t seem to fully acknowledge these fundamental differences when it comes to supporting Women to move through the leadership ladder. Instead, they look to promote those that fit the stereotypically ‘”Leader.”

It is not enough to say that as a company you need more women and set “diversity targets” when actually the search and select criteria has not actually changed from what it was 20-30 years prior. If you keep looking for the same thing in leaders over and over and those characteristics have been typically met by Males, then you are defining what you think you need based on a past “Male” persona and thus discouraging Women to even look at applying.

Why do you believe women make great leaders?

I often say a great Leader is someone who is leading people way before they are given the official role “Lead or Manager.” They do not wait around for someone to direct them to lead. A good leader is someone who people naturally want to follow BUT they then use that “power” for the good of the company.

I say that because there are negative and destructive characters who also have the ability to gain a following and they use that to promote themselves and their opinions over the common goal of the organisation. A great leader understands this difference and the responsibility they have not only to the team but to the company. They understand that the language they use, the actions they take and the things they say has an impact on how others behave, and they use that power to communicate, drive, empower and encourage people towards that goal or vision.

Although the above description is not gender specific and can be achieved with many different styles, when looking to develop women leaders internally within your organisation, looking out for these subtle styles will highlight some outstanding leaders rather than using a typical interview selection process.

What are the greatest challenges for women in leadership and how to overcome them?

Family pressure:

if the woman wants to have children then they have a ticking clock over their head from the day they start work, and unfortunately in some companies, even if they don’t want to have children, people still place that ticking clock over their head.

The average age for women to have a child is roughly 28 years old which really only leaves (10 years out of school or 6 years out of Uni) for them to find their chosen career, learn it, excel and then lead.

Many women feel they need to make that decision – career or family early on - and this unfortunately can prevent women from putting themselves forward to be promoted especially if they know they are trying for a baby/may try within the year. There is a feeling of guilt and not wanting to let people down if they do get pregnant.

This is a difficult challenge yet from my own personal experience, I found that having open and honest discussions about my intention to have a family with my manager/now business partner (Nick Speller) really assisted. We were able to put a plan in place that ensured I could continue down my Management and Leadership path while also ensuring I could take the time out to have a child and ensure our company was still able to run.

You should not feel embarrassed to have this discussion and the chance of having time off. Having a family should 100% be factored into your career plan so that you do not end up delaying your work goals.

Walk like a Man:

Because of what I mentioned above in regard to the search and selection criteria – the fundamental flaw in the way some companies still define their leadership criteria with past leaders in mind, has led to the belief in some that in order to get a seat at the management table then they need to “behave” more like a “Man” or what that really means is to be more aggressive in their style.

My advice here is, you cannot lead well if you are not being yourself. You can and should of course always take the opportunity to improve yourself and learn from those around you, but you need to do this in your own unique way. After all, it is you who people want to follow.

Unfortunately, there are still organisations out there who do not adapt to different styles and many of those companies have an outdated management hierarchical approach which in all honestly does not suit most great leaders anymore no matter the gender. If you have found yourself in one of these companies and do not naturally take that approach yourself, then you may need to make the decision to move to a company that is better aligned with your values and styles.

What can women do to ensure they are not overlooked for leadership roles?

Believe in yourself and do not wait to be given the opportunity by someone. Create the opportunity for yourself and work with your manager to plan out your career allowing for the potential option of a family, if that’s what you want.

You need to be positioning yourself and developing your leadership skills well before the formal position becomes available. Take on extra responsibility where possible to show what you can do, put your hand up to lead small initiatives, create the small initiative if need be – there is always an opportunity to show your leadership ability, so ensure you do.

Thank you Judy for our chat! If you'd like to hear more from the Speller Team, the world of SAP and job opportunities, feel free to follow Speller International on LinkedIn.

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