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Shaping Tomorrow’s Digital Landscape through Transformational Leadership

Updated: May 1

Women in STEM Summit 2024

TrustWorki, co-founder, Michelle McDaid was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the Women in STEM Summit on March 13th 2024, in Croke Park, on a topic which is close to our hearts here at TrustWorki – Women in STEM! Michelle spoke in the Women in Tech spearheading ‘Digital Transformation’ stream, alongside Sandra Healy, CEO of Inclusio and Destiny Ayo Vaughan, Founder of Mind the Gap. There was a great mix of topics on the day and a lot of focus on AI, but an overarching theme was a reminder of the importance of the people who make it all happen! If you weren’t fortunate enough to attend the event, this article will share key elements of Michelle’s talk at the event. We highly recommend adding this event into your calendar for next year!


It's about the people!

The key To Digital Transformation is people! You can't transform an organisation without transforming its people. And organisational change most often fails due to people, not technology. At TrustWorki, we foster innovation and successful business outcomes by supporting businesses to create inclusive high trust work environments, which inspire greatness. In a rapidly evolving tech sector why would businesses NOT avail of the competitive edge a broader talent pool offers?


The diversity of our customer base

Michelle spoke about how through her career, she spent more than 20 years leading software engineering teams in FinTech and HR Tech, and was often the only, or one of very few women in the room. Women are greatly underrepresented in Tech and STEM. Up to 85% of purchasing decisions are made by women.  To truly excel at creating products that resonate and engage customers, our workforces need to represent the diversity of our customer base. 


Flying on one wing instead of two

Michelle shared how she joined her last company as the first female Director of Engineering, and 4 years later, they had gotten to 50% women in that role – which proves what can be achieved by being intentional. At TrustWorki, we are really excited to be working with organisations to help them drive this type of change so that we can see that impact right across the ecosystem. Co-founders, Michelle and Rebecca were motivated by exactly this point when we set up TrustWorki. Women are 50% of the population. To quote Mary McAleese ‘to exclude women's full contribution was to be a country "flying on one wing instead of two". Imagine what opportunities and competitive advantage businesses are missing out on by not engaging with the full talent pool!


Women have always played a pivotal role in tech!

There is a narrative that the low numbers of women in tech is a pipeline issue. But technology was not always so male-dominated. The number of women in computing in the US, almost tripled from 1971 to 1985, when women became 38% of that labour force.

Today, in Ireland, just 13% of CEOs in large companies are women; 25% of STEM employees are Women; 6% of venture capital funding goes to women founders. Shockingly, female founders are frequently advised to seek out a male co-founder! This is against a backdrop of so many tech innovations over many years, having been created by women, but we don’t hear enough about them. we’ll share just a couple:

o   The precursor to WiFi was created by a woman, Hedy Lamar!

o   The first software engineer was Margaret Hamilton, who wrote the code to send humans into space.

We will share more stories of inspirational women in STEM in a future article.

Lack of interest is clearly not the issue! It’s important to remember, women have always played a pivotal role in tech!


Creating the conditions for innovation

Digital Transformation is a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with learning from failure.  If companies want to survive and to thrive into the future, they need to create the conditions for innovation.


Google’s Project Aristotle found that the biggest determinant of high performing teams was Psychological Safety – the ability to speak up, ask questions, raise concerns or share ideas without the fear of negative consequences. Teams cannot innovate without Psychological Safety, as people will be afraid to take risks or share ideas. We cannot get the full benefits of diversity if every voice isn’t heard. As Amy Edmondson found in her research to her initial surprise, those teams with better outcomes were admitting more mistakes, whilst the teams with fewer good outcomes were more likely to hide theirs.


Generative AI

Gen AI is upending how companies operate and build value, presenting huge opportunities. Companies who don’t embrace the benefits that new technology offers, will be left behind. However, caution needs to be observed as AI can produce bias by baking in and deploying biases at scale, by reflecting and perpetuating existing human biases. Leaders need to take steps to educate themselves and stay informed on the latest thinking on AI. We need to hardwire gender parity into the future of work.


Transformational leadership style involves moving away from a top-down approach to more of a role model, inspirational approach, encouraging people, encouraging creativity, and caring about the individual. There is so much to say on this topic. We will focus in on:

Three ways companies can drive successful business outcomes through transformational leadership:

1.     Diversity of thought: It is important to intentionally seek input from a diverse set of voices, across all dimensions of diversity. Starting with recruitment, some things we have seen to have a material impact on broadening the talent pool include: making the language in job specs gender neutral, ensuring gender balance on your interview panel, intentionally seeking to interview more female candidates, and learning from the data on where women are falling out of the process. The cost of attrition is high – in monetary terms it is more than nine months salary of the leaver but there are many other impacts. If you’ve been successful in hiring a diverse team, you’ll want to avoid the Leaky Pipeline. Remember, diversity is not easy. Research shows that diverse teams are slower to make decisions, but they make better decisions and perform to a higher standard. If you surround yourself with people like you, that tend to agree with you, things will be easier, but you lose out on the benefits of diversity of thought. To enable high performing teams, we need to create environments of high trust and psychological safety, where all voices are heard and where people are comfortable to challenge and unafraid of healthy conflict.

2.     Roles of influence matter: Women need to be represented in STEM roles of influence. Notice who is not in the room! Who is not at the table for key decision making? We have seen senior male leaders push back on suggestions to include female engineering leaders in meetings to enable them to get experience and exposure. In these situations, when someone says let’s keep the numbers down, it will most often be women who are not included in the meeting. These women are then excluded from promotion because they don’t have enough ‘senior stakeholder engagement experience’. One option is to show your trust in the woman and to offer to step out of the meeting yourself to instead allow her the opportunity to attend and gain experience.

3.     Sponsorship: Women are socialised to not upset the apple cart, to be liked, to conform. This constant concern with how we are seen and judged can stop women from playing big. Deborah Tannen talks about how women are likely to downplay their certainty; men are likely to minimize their doubts. Men and women are likely to have different ways of talking about their accomplishments. It is important that leaders understand this when making hiring or promotion decisions. Women’s needs also vary as they navigate different career stages. Don’t make assumptions. Be curious and ask questions. Notice when women aren’t seeking opportunities and seek to understand if this is due to a need for flexibility or lack of confidence (and beware of confusing confidence and competence).


If you’re in a senior role, use your privilege to seek out sponsorship opportunities for women. Talk about them when they are not in the room. Create opportunities for visibility and to shine a light on their achievements. Even if you are not in a senior role, you can always advocate on behalf of great women you work with.


Women aren’t broken! Don’t try to fix them. Instead, let’s together fix the system.



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