Women in IT Global Summit keynote: reframing how we think about 2020

In the Women in IT Global Summit's opening keynote, Harriet Green OBE, explained how 2020 should be viewed as an opportunity to drive change.

In the first Women in IT event of 2021, the Women in IT Global Summit — sponsored by AWS and HSBC — was an opportunity to bring together the global Women in IT Summit and Awards community with some amazing sessions, lively discussion, actionable tips and motivational stories.

The virtual event was also an opportunity to reflect on the past year, the challenges it brought and how leaders can take those lessons to create opportunity through innovation.

The opening keynote from Harriet Green OBE, global business leader, board executive chair and director, former chairman and CEO at IBM Asia Pacific, entitled ‘A Year of Struggle and Opportunity’, focused on the “vortex of change” created by the Covid-19 pandemic and how leaders should reframe how they think about 2020 — a year that forced us to make change.

A vortex of change

“The world is in a vortex of change; a change that is brought about by climate change, the pandemic that will stretch out over the course of two years, the importance of diversity and inclusion and the technological changes with the rise of cloud, AI and cyber security,” said Green.

“We are all connected and we as women are at the centre of this vortex,” she added.

Reframing how we view 2020

Not since World War II has the world experienced since such significant disruption. 2020 has been a very challenging year on all fronts because of the pandemic: mass unemployment, a mental health crisis and a huge death toll.

The pandemic also drove significant change in how we as a society live and work — it’s mostly remote and driven by technology.

To move forward and create something positive out of 2020, it’s important to reframe how we view the year.

Green asked: “What if 2020 wasn’t a wash out? A year to cancel? What if it is the year that was so uncomfortable that it forces us to change and grow?”

While it has been challenging, the trials of 2020 should “wake us from former slumbers, where we accept that we need to change, to declare that change, work for it and become a challenger force for change. A year where we band together, instead of pushing each other further apart,” she added.

Male and female leaders need to gather their learnings from 2020, organise their painful and delightful memories so they can make 2021 work better for themselves and others.

Wellbeing and self-care

To drive positive change and opportunity off the back of 2020, the opening keynote suggested that for female leaders, it all starts with personal welfare and resilience.

Actions women can use to build their personal resilience are:

  • Cultivate more compassion for themselves and others — expressing and demonstrating compassion creates positive work relationships and improves collaboration.
  • Compartmentalise cognitive load — “leaders in IT receive 11 million bits of information every second, but our brains can only process 40 bits. We need to reduce the amount of bits being received and so we need to compartmentalise different things at different times,” said Green.
  • Exercising more mindfulness and more training — this helps improve judgement accuracy and inside problem solving.

“What coping mechanisms do you need to make yourself a better IT leader,” asked Green.

Life skills

In IT, it’s important to possess technical skills like analytical thinking, active learning strategies, critical thinking, tech leadership, innovation thinking, technical proficiency, and a strong personal brand and social presence.

However, possessing life (or soft) skills are more important; resilience, creativity, stress tolerance and flexibility.

“As we march to AI, it’s life skills that are so important — human emotion, collaboration and creativity will be crucial,” continued Green.

AI and Automation is driving business forward into the fourth industrial revolution, but many skills can’t be automated — humans need compassion and empathy, which can only be delivered by another human.

“Emotion plays an important role in human connection. It prioritises what we do and how we do it. It is complex and nuanced and helps us react with decision-making — life skills that we have been exercising our whole life are becoming increasingly important,” she added.

Psychological safety

IT leaders need to develop mechanisms that encourage; psychological safety, environments of fairness and outspoken views, while embracing diverse and inclusive thought.

Trust and a sense of belonging has to be renewed in organisations, and this means everyone has to believe they can excel in their mission. In particular, trust must be woven into the psyche of millennials and Gen Z.

“Now, leaders must prioritise going forward over winning. [Team members] need to feel like they’re learning in a structured and unstructured way, with new internships, sabbaticals, shadow days, online baking or cocktail making — this will bond individuals to your leadership brand,” said Green.

A cause for optimism

In concluding the keynote, Green explained that despite the challenges of 2020, there is cause for optimism.

“History shows that great innovation that drives growth comes after a dark period,” she noted.

She pointed to some examples.

Following the Influenza pandemic in the 1950s, Sony came out with transitor radio and effectively allowed the 1960s to happen.

After the dot-com bubble crash and the massive crash around tech in the 1990s, Apple brought out the iPod in 2001.

Following the stock market crash in 1973-1974, Microsoft was founded in 1975.

“Tech will power up and as women, we should choose to lead in this vortex of change. It’s an opportunity and the world will be better for it,” the Women in IT Global Summit keynote concluded.

To view the Women in IT Series event calendar for 2021, and register interest in any of the events happening throughout the year, please click here

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...