For women in leadership, all roads lead to technology

Led by Hexagon’s Vice President of Account Management and Customer Support Tammy Heaton, this panel discussion by luminary women in the industry highlights the many approaches to a career in technology, recognizes the work left to be done and looks forward to a future with empowerment at its core.

With the recent celebration of International Women’s Day, businesses from across the spectrum of industries are highlighting the exceptional work and priceless contributions of the women who help their companies to grow and thrive. This is especially notable in the world of technology, where women from different backgrounds and experiences have come together to provide a valuable voice in an industry that is traditionally viewed as a male-dominated space. To encourage ongoing discussion, celebrate accomplishments and acknowledge the work left to be done, Hexagon hosted the Women Trailblazers in Technology panel as part of the HxGN LIVE Resiliency Series, led by Vice President of Account Management and Customer Support Tammy Heaton.

The panel has a lot to say about their careers as women in leadership roles, but one of the most striking topics of discussion is how each of the panelists came to find her role in the technology industry. Heaton points out that women make up only about one-fourth of the annual number of STEM graduates worldwide, which one could view as a simple correlation with representation in the industry. However, the panel reveals that although education plays a pivotal role in bringing new perspectives to the sector, not all of them came to work in technology through the traditional STEM route.

“I always imagined I would be in some kind of leadership role; I never imagined I would be in technology, and I think that’s important for a lot of women out there,” says Kim Nelson (former Executive Director, Microsoft.) “My background is in political science and public administration… I never dreamed I’d be working for a technology company.” While engineering and other roles are always in demand, the need for forward thinking and innovative ideas bring in people from varying disciplines, as Nelson goes on to say. “You don’t need to have a technology background to work in a technology field… whether it’s communications, marketing, financials… anything you do at another company, you can do in the STEM world.”

Ruthbea Yesner, Vice President of Smart Cities for IDC, had a similarly circuitous journey into the world of tech. “I joined an interdisciplinary program called Science and Society… that actually led me to social work, and then that led me to a startup in Silicon Valley, where I basically learned to be a product manager,” Yesner recalls, after beginning her college education as a pre-med student.  She now oversees smart cities programs around the world, from cloud computing and data analytics to transportation and public safety initiatives, and she values taking risks to achieve amazing things: “You can just have a million different paths to get yourself to a leadership role,” she says, noting that she now mentors new team members at IDC to help them develop in the same way.

Along with these incredible stories, the importance of STEM education is not at all left untouched in this discussion; Nadine Alameh (CEO, Open Geospatial Consortium) recalls that her academic abilities opened a lot of doors for her growing up in Beirut, Lebanon: “I just went through the list [of college majors]and was like ‘what’s the hardest major to apply for?’ and guess what, and it was computer and communication engineering.” Alameh’s formative years growing up during the country’s civil war led her never to take an opportunity for granted. “I was in the top 10 students in the country in science and math… math led to engineering, engineering led to software engineering… it’s opened so, so many doors.”

While these accounts of the path to success in the technology industry are astounding on their own, they make up only a fraction of the conversation available in Women Trailblazers in Tech. Also featuring Kalyn Sims (CTO, Safety & Infrastructure, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division,) the conversation includes discussion on decision making, facing challenges, uplifting women using diverse and well-managed organisational cultures and looking toward the future of what a leader looks like in the world of technology.

“The one thing I would encourage leaders to do is to always keep an open door and an open mind,” says Kalyn Sims, on how to best move forward in a world of rapid technological and social change. “We need to create work environments that are safe to share ideas, now matter how crazy we think they are. That’s how innovation comes about.”