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The meteoric rise of women in the workplace

Stacey Hunt

In a corporate world often dominated by men, technology companies are leading the way in encouraging equal opportunities for all. One woman in particular is doing her bit for advancing workplace diversity throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Angela Fox, Dell

Appointed as vice president and general manager of Dell Australia and New Zealand in July of this year, Angela Fox is a great advocate for diversity in the IT industry. Bringing 24 years experience in the sector to the role, she is welcoming the opportunity to continue advancing inclusion in the workplace. Relocating to Sydney from Singapore where she was vice president and general manager of Dell’s Service Business across Asia Pacific and Japan, Angela is now looking forward to being closer to home.

Despite having a science degree in zoology, Angela turned to the technology sector when the opportunity to join IBM’s graduate programme was presented to her. In what was initially a chance to learn and develop skills in an area new to her, as she became more immersed in the industry she began to see the impact it could truly have.

“It’s very exciting as it continues to change, it’s so dynamic and we really have a direct impact on how the world’s playing out, both at a human and a business level so it’s a good industry to be a part of,” Angela says.

Taking up the helm for New Zealand and Australia, Angela is looking at ways to continue to expand Dell’s reach and penetration in the market. Having gone public last November she sees it as a great opportunity for the company to consolidate their position.

“For me it’s about continuing to work with the team on how we consolidate our capabilities around those key technologies and align those with the key market opportunities, the key trends, like mobility, cloud, big data and security, in order to bring even further value to our customers.”

As happens with the majority of women in high level positions, the first question most people ask them is ‘how do you juggle work and family’? For Angela carving out time for her family is essential, so while she’s at work by 8am, she makes a conscious effort to be out of the door by 6pm. With a little daughter who’s nearly five, making space for family time in the evening is a top priority for her.

Having worked her way up the ladder within the IT industry, Angela knows firsthand what it takes to be successful and for her, one of the most important pieces of advice she can offer up is to remain authentic and hold true to your values.

“You’ll be presented with situations at any point in your career where you need to make some conscious choices and I think that coming back to what’s important to you on an individual level, your value system, particularly around integrity and honesty are essential characteristics and they have the ability to define you.”

She also believes every opportunity presented to a person allows them the chance to learn and grow and how they approach those opportunities defines what they get out them.

The issue of diversity within the technology industry has been a hot topic recently with many top Silicon Valley companies such as Apple, Google and Twitter admitting there is a lack in diversity in both gender and ethnicity. While there is now a big push to encourage more people into this industry, women are certainly still in the minority which is something Angela has experienced.

“There is no doubt that over the years I have been in meetings and situations where I’ve been in the minority and to this day probably continue to be in the minority but I’ve not seen this as a barrier.”

Angela says she is fortunate to have worked in companies who are supportive of women and consciously think of how they can support them. It’s the attitude and culture within a company which can either be a help or hindrance to women’s career development.

“I do feel that can be directly influenced by the immediate management that you work for, as well as the overriding culture that exists within the company.” Angela says.

She also believes it’s important that women find their voice and have the courage to put forward their perspective.

As women continue to strive for the top jobs in a male dominated industry, they also fight for equal pay.

As Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, discusses in her book ‘Lean In’, women often underestimate their value and downplay their contributions in pay reviews, consequentially receiving lower pay increases than their male counterparts.

Angela also agrees that women need to have confidence in knowing their value.

“I think at times we as females often undervalue our contribution, or we don’t necessarily have clarity in our mind, or communicate the value that we’re bringing.”

Having people who can advocate for you, whether that be mentors or sponsors, is also critical.

“It starts with yourself, but it also means that you need to be communicating that to others, others need to be aware. You not only need to be your own advocate but within business you need others advocating for you too.”

Dell has been instrumental in encouraging workplace diversity and empowering women within the industry. The company has a number of programmes both in the market and within their own business to promote this.

‘IT is not just for Geeks’, helps encourage students at a secondary school level to consider IT as a career by showing them the wide range of jobs available and by giving them access to real people who have pursued these careers.

Additionally throughout Australia and New Zealand Dell has established WITEM - Women in IT Executive Mentoring – where they connect senior leaders with high performing individuals who companies see having a successful future.

Angela believes establishing a broader set of female role models is essential and that “senior female executives have a role to play in being engaged in mentoring individuals”.

In order for a real change to take place there has to be a shift in attitudes from men also which is why Dell established MARC – Men Advocating Real Change. Angela says males need to see the value of having diversity at all levels and advocate change just as much as females.

Within Dell they run another programme focused on females. WISE – Women in Search of Excellence – which aims to support Dell’s females through encouraging them to come together with males and work towards achieving their goals. The groups set their own agenda but most gravitate towards networking and professional development.

Angela has been instrumental in the running of these initiatives and in 2009 launched the Diversity and Inclusion Council which brings together all of these enterprise resource groups.

While these groups are all making a significant impact, Angela believes it also needs to come from the top.

“It’s a bottom up and top down approach. That passion at the professional level is as important as the commitment at the executive level.”

She says at Dell they are exceptionally fortunate that it really does start at the top. Michael Dell is extremely passionate about encouraging diversity both on a worldwide and country level.

The United States now has a host of these top level executives advocating change. From Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s code camp for girls, to Sheryl Sandberg’s book designed to encourage women to ‘lean in’ to their careers, however New Zealand and Australia are lacking local voices like these.

Angela says we are starting to see a shift and that it just takes a few key appointments for people to start seeing it as a reality. With female leaders at the likes of Microsoft and Twitter in Australia, we are heading in the right direction but there is still room for improvement.

Angela believes in order for more women to reach this level it is critical that they speak up and make people aware of their ambitions, desires and what they want out of their career.

“All too often people may have a desire to be something but nobody knows about it. So if nobody knows about it, people are not going to think about you or be consciously aware of how they could put you into a position or help take you on that journey.”

While women such as Angela who have taken up top jobs within big companies are the perfect example of how females can bridge that gender gap, there is still work to be done. But at least we’re heading in the right direction.