Three takeaways from episode six of Tech’s Leading Women

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In this week’s final episode of Tech’s Leading Women, we hear Dame Stephanie Shirley, CH talk about her influential history and how this changed the world of business for women. The vodcast, hosted by Zoë Morris, president of Frank Recruitment Group, is full of valuable advice from one of tech’s leading women (the title might have been a giveaway!).  

Dame Stephanie is a woman who needs no introduction! She launched her own software company in the early 1960s with a workforce almost entirely made up of women. Perhaps most importantly, considering our working climate today, she pioneered remote working all those years ago! Her passion for philanthropy should also be noted, as, over the years, she has given away millions to those most in need.   

This episode recounts the life of our special guest, what it was like to be a woman launching a business in the 1960s and the stereotypes she faced, how her earlier work is still considered pioneering today, and what still needs to be done to give women equal footing in the tech sector.   

Keep reading to see our breakdown of three key takeaways from this episode. 

1.  The need for diversity

Talk naturally led to discussions of the pandemic, and what that has meant for working women. Dame Stephanie discussed how the pandemic has allowed for improvements in the tech sector that would have previously taken years. Even though feminization of the workforce is taking place, there are still necessary moves to branch the gender pay gap. For those who speculated that it may have been an equalizing moment for women, as Dame Stephanie touched upon in our white paper, that hasn’t necessarily been the case.   

She believes that to address gender inequality, it needs to be a part of a wider discussion.  

“I believe that addressing gender inequality should be part of the diversity issue of all the things that you can do in a company to welcome non-binary people, to have Black and Asian people in the workforce, to have elderly people, to have young, mixed up in teams which is what you want for a self-creative organization. The one that makes the most difference is getting the women in proper numbers, getting the women on the committees, and getting the women up to the board level. And that's a change that I think we're beginning to see. Certainly, I do a lot of public speaking and I'm more frequently asked to speak about diversity rather than about women's issues. And that's a step forward, I think.”

Dame Stephanie Shirley, CH

She also spoke about the upcoming International Women’s Day, stating:It shouldn’t be just women, we should be thinking of in terms of diversity. So, let’s hope we see some change in that area.”  

2.  The importance of marketing

In terms of actionable advice for women looking to launch their own tech startup, Dame Stephanie talked about how prioritizing what potential customers want rather than what the organization wants to deliver and making sure to market these desires correctly is the best step forward. Her advice to women is the same as the advice she would give to men, she believes that “[You shouldn’t] just think of the technology but consider far more the marketing of it, what customers or potential customers do want, might want, say they want, are prepared to pay for, rather than delivering what you think they might like. And that market orientation has to go right through the organization. It’s not just something that stays in the marketing division or the marketers, everybody, chief executive down to the receptionist at the door, knows that that’s what they’re in business for; to sell, to promote, and to market.”  

She also continued to discuss the business changes today, specifically the need to raise funds. She recalls her own experience of funding a startup, “I started with literally, you will laugh, 6 pounds, worth about 100 pounds in today’s terms, and managed for years by funding the organization by my own labour and by a second mortgage on the family home. But today, people go out and raise money before they’ve ever really started or made certain before they’ve made a profit. And therefore, if you’re going to go that route, you do have to be able to fundraise, and that takes presentation skills, it takes a certain personality, it takes a certain image, I think, to sell to people who are going to give you money in the hope that they will get a return.”  

3.  What makes a good leader?

Successfully running a socially-progressive business is perhaps more important than ever before. Dame Stephanie recalls how she recruited in the past: “I always recruited by what is now known as the value of recruitment. I felt that I could teach, or arrange for somebody else to teach, any skill that was required in the organization. What I can’t teach is culture, and things such as trust and integrity as we’re finding today in the political field are so vital. This is what a leader does. This is what you have to have.”  

She continues to list other qualities that leaders should embody, such as:  

“You may not need technical skills, but you must have the people skills and trust and integrity. Otherwise, people will not follow you. They are just saying, ‘Come this way.’ You have to persuade them that that's what they want to do. And so, that they come willingly and enthusiastically not dragging around in the Vanguard.”

Dame Stephanie Shirley, CH

Zoë also agreed with the importance of this kind of workforce:It’s much more than just about getting a salary at the end of the month. They want to be part of an organization that means something, that has a purpose and values. 

The full episode is available online now. 

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