Leading the way for women in tech

How can technology help balance work-life culture to attract young female and male talent into the profession? Deutsche Bank’s Shephali Sillitoe, speaker at the Women of Silicon Roundabout conference, shares her experiences and perspectives with Natalie Cooper.

“Now is an exciting time for women, with lots of opportunities in tech,” says Shephali Sillitoe, chief of staff for GTB client connectivity and products at Deutsche Bank.

“To have an inclusive product offering, we need women in every part of the product process. From design and graphics to development, delivery and marketing,” she adds. “Remember, for most companies, half of the customer base is female.”

“Women have a unique perspective on technology that they can use to their advantage. It’s not just age that defines how we use technology. How a man uses it differs from how a woman does.”

We delve deeper through this Q&A …

Q. What are the biggest challenges as we move through this evolving digital era?

A. The world of technology is facing three key industry themes:

1. Attracting and keeping top talent

It’s not just graduates that want to work for cutting edge companies that have ethical, charitable policies. Design is as much an art form as it is a skill. Finding and keeping the people that can do this well is not easy.

2. Managing the growing ‘omni-channel’ reality

Keeping up with devices and channels is a challenge that won’t go away any time soon. Companies must develop standard cost-effective platforms and APIs that can keep pace with the growing number of channels.

3. Protecting customer privacy and data

Guarding customer data and its use are key to consumer confidence. We’ve all seen the scandal and subsequent fallout at Facebook for selling on customer data. As a counterpoint, Apple has launched its new TV, news and gaming services, and is marketing itself on customer privacy. It’s promising not to sell customer data, nor use customers’ purchase information and news preferences to sell advertising, nor track what customers have bought.

The digital age should make it easier for everyone – not just women – to embrace flexible lifestyle choices. There are many options out there already. But it’s about how much companies use them in conjunction with creating a culture that supports a healthy work-life balance.

A good example is embracing flexible working and/or flexible hours. To enable this, we need fast connections to the office network via laptops and access to email or desktop computers from our mobile devices. In essence, the technology needs to make connecting into work a seamless process on any device. 

Arguably, the ease of connecting to work can lead to more stress as it facilitates working much longer hours and emailing late into the night. But for me this is less of a technology issue and more about personal discipline and work culture. We need to enforce a culture where work-life balance is important and valued. People need to feel comfortable and able to switch off from work.

Q. What do you love most about your position and role within the technology space?

A. I really enjoy the variety and the impact I can make within the organisation.

I’m involved in driving the group’s strategy forward, which includes developing and executing against our target operating model. We’re creating a fit-for-purpose organisation that gives us a leading edge in the market place.

A chief of staff role covers many aspects, such as strategy, communication, headcount, financials, programme management, diversity and people programmes. I also prepare my manager (divisional head) for anything and everything, ensuring the important subjects get his attention.

For me, the trusted relationships that I’ve built, our track record of achievements and the amount I’ve learned are incredibly rewarding.

Q. How did you get to where you are now?

A. With lots of hard work, taking the time to develop my knowledge, networking and opportunities!

After university, I started as a programmer and moved on to running a small development team for a start-up. I discovered that I enjoyed pre-sales and project management more than programming, which led to heading up the consultancy part of the organisation for London and the south east. Having the development experience definitely made me a better project manager and earned me the respect of my peer group.

Fast forwarding a few years, I found myself as a single mum with a four-week-old baby and 20-month-old toddler. I had to take a serious look at financials as the company I worked for had been sold. So I did an MBA and got a couple of industry accreditations to make my CV stand out. They were tough, challenging years fitting in studies and raising two children. Being highly organised, cost-efficient and disciplined was essential.

When my youngest daughter was seven months old, I started job hunting in earnest and calling all my contacts. Within a couple of months I had landed a project manager role at an investment bank.

Since then I’ve worked at three more investment banks – I made a conscious decision to move around. In particular, I’ve chosen lateral moves to increase my depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise.

Q. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned so far?

A. Hard work on its own won’t get you where you want to go. It’s important to show passion and enthusiasm too.

Lead, don’t manage. Build a team around you that is better than you are, and treat them well. Make sure they get credit for their achievements.

Invest time and energy in building genuine trusted relationships. This will create a network of friends and respected colleagues – mutual support provides a good sounding board. These personal connections may also lead to further opportunities for career progression.

Don’t be scared to take a lateral move – especially if it takes you out of your comfort zones. These are the roles that will get you to the next level. 

Sometimes just being in the right place at the right time is what gets you that next role.

Any final thoughts?

I’d say this to any woman: don’t be put off by jargon nor how complex the environment looks. You have an amazing chance to shape a future which factors in women at the start rather than as an afterthought.

 

 

Shephali Sillitoe will speak at Women of Silicon Roundabout, at London’s Excel on 25-26 June, 2019.

Biography:

Shephali is a business executive with senior level experience in highly competitive, complex environments with direct customer base and indirect channel partner relationships. Her specialties include mergers and acquisition integration, project management, programme management and customer services.

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Natalie Cooper

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