Elephant Skin Recommended | Straight Talk

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You can’t take things personally when you’re working in a tough atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean you have to ignore who you are.

I’ve worked full-time since I was 18 years old. While in university, I had a job as a logistics analyst for Argentina’s national post office. My team was managing all the logistics at the country level.  

I was intrigued by the kind of large-scale problems they were facing. In fact, working with them would make me decide after graduation to join a multinational company, collaborating in a multicultural environment to address complex challenges. But the work environment was challenging. I was a young woman working in a government office, having to keep up with the heavyweights of the operation, which at that time was predominantly male-dominated.

To succeed in such a tough atmosphere, I knew I would need to grow a thick elephant skin and not take things personally. In the end, I don’t think that I was treated differently, maybe because I had grown that thick skin.

As soon as I graduated and moved to Buenos Aires, I started looking for a job in a multinational company. At the time, Arthur Andersen (later acquired by EY in Argentina) happened to need IT auditors for the banking industry. I didn’t know a thing about IT: zero, nothing. I had the equivalent of a master’s degree in accounting and business administration, but I wanted to learn, and the firm provided me with a lot of support.

Like all the big firms, Arthur Andersen gave junior recruits a lot of training. If you want to learn, you can. When I didn’t know something, I asked, because I felt I had the support of my manager. The firm had many programs that guided us through engagements, and I learned a lot on the job. After a couple of audits, I got a grip and I loved it. I decided I wanted to stay in the IT sector because I found it very interesting and saw so much room for growth.

Even so, that elephant skin still came in handy. Until not so long ago, you could still be bullied as a result of biases: women were either too tough and too strong, or too soft and too emotional. It was a fine line to walk. But in the end, it is a matter of being comfortable in one’s own shoes, and that brings confidence.   

I found a better environment when I started working in the Netherlands and, over the years, the atmosphere has continuously improved for women in IT. It’s really a wonderful time to be working in technology as a woman: there is great momentum and not by chance, since this is a reflection of social movements demanding gender equality. No more fears of being labeled!

These days, I work for Philips as Director of Supplier Security, where I lead a team of excellent professionals across the globe. Our goal is to have robust 3rd-party risk management practices for Philips’ suppliers, along with monitoring and remediation in order to manage the cyber risks effectively throughout their lifecycle (from on-boarding to off-boarding). We focus a lot on getting involved right from the start, ensuring that the necessary terms and conditions are in place with any supplier who accesses, processes, or transfers our confidential information.

One of the pillars of our success is the fact that Philips is a company where men and women are equally empowered to take decisions that will translate into meaningful innovation for our customers. Philips’ diversity and inclusion is a tangible result of very effective global diversity programs and of our public commitment towards having more women in leadership positions in the years to come.

Still, I’ve had a challenging career, and I’d like to share a little advice that I’ve picked up along the way and that may make it easier for others:

Don’t worry if you don’t have an IT degree.  Many women don’t consider IT because they think you need to have a programming background. My career is proof that you don’t: I’m an Accountant, and I’ve spent my whole career in IT. You can have a career in IT and a really interesting one even if you’ve never taken a computer science course. The truth is, we now need people with all kinds of educational backgrounds. We need people with sharp business and social skills because technology is at the core of any business right now, and it is no longer clear where IT stops and the business begins.

Trust your instincts. Everybody knows that women have a sixth sense – you should use it! 

Raise your voice. Take that microphone more often with confidence, and make sure you share your opinions loud and clear. Share your success stories; women are sometimes too modest.

Find a mentor. My mentors have all given me good advice and helped me understand my strengths and my development areas.  I’ve been very lucky: their feedback has helped me all the way through my career, and still does. The truth is that no matter how far you go in your career, you will need to keep reflecting on your strengths and your weaknesses.  That’s a never-ending activity.  You always have room to become a better version of who you are.  

Build your resiliency. Unfortunately, no matter how far you go, a thick skin sometimes may come in handy. You have to keep your cool and think about the best course of action, even when you’re under a stressful situation.

Sorry, but stop apologizing. Women apologize too much.  For example, a woman’s out-of-office message will often say, Sorry, I’m on holiday.  Why the apology? You earned that holiday! Enjoy it.

Forget about perfection. Many women are addicted to trying to achieve perfection. That’s utopia and a source of continuous frustration. Just do your best!

Engage in self-reflection. It can be challenging to take that quiet moment to think where you are and where you are heading. But it’s important to occasionally assess whether you are on the right track to meet your long-term goals.

Following these guidelines should be helpful in your career, whatever the environment!

The Takeaways 

More women should consider IT careers. There is a wide variety of interesting options available. Apply for that job!

A programming background is no longer a must for those working in Information Technology.

Having a mentor can help you reflect on your strengths and your weaknesses and the direction you want to go in your career.