Q&A with Victoria Bunyard, Chief Technical Officer Benelux @ IBM

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Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Victoria! Firstly, please introduce yourself!

I’m Vicky Bunyard, I lead the technical team inside IBM who are responsible for our biggest clients, looking at technology strategy, architecture and technology landscapes that support what our clients are trying to achieve in their digital transformations.

What are you looking forward to at European Women in Technology?

I love that this is an opportunity for us to see ourselves … often technical women are in the minority, for most of my career I have been the only woman in the room. It is so important to see that we are not alone, and to meet these amazing women who are pioneering in different technologies.

What can attendees expect from your session?

Realism, pragmatism, and experience – we are often sucked in by the hype of new and different technologies, and we should be! What we can do today is wildly beyond what we could do even 5 years ago, and we need to be able to drive smart strategies for our tech that bring positive transformation without having to throw everything out and start again every time something new happens!

When you think about our theme for 2023, The New Frontier, what excites you about the future in tech, business and/or leadership?

I think now is an inflexion point, it is the time we make core decisions for the future – we came through COVID with rapid digital transformation, we did it fast and we managed something amazing that brought tech, business, leadership and, frankly speaking, life to a place that is much more intrinsically intertwined. That acceleration has shown us a future that can be so bright, with technology truly supporting our lives – the decisions we make now on security, on ethical approaches to technology, on architectures, on technical debt, on sustainability, on digital transformation, on all of these topics that surround the application of tech – these decisions will shape what the future looks like for every one of us, and that future can be amazing!

What would you say to your younger self about pursuing a career in tech and the future of women in tech?

Hmmm – what would I say to my younger self? Keep going! Every setback is a lesson, every failure is shaping the future you, every person who told you that ‘you cannot’ gave you an extra boost to say ‘Yes, I can’! And every success was a beautiful bright spot of validation, every person who stood beside me and said ‘yes, she can’ did their part to change the world, not just for me, but for every woman who comes after me – keep going!

And on the future of women in tech? Keep going! It is so essential that we have representation in technology, and not only for women – we know that diversity has a positive impact on outcomes, not only for business, but for what we as technologists put out there in the world. We need diverse teams to build that future that can be amazing. We have to encourage more people, from all walks of life, to be part of building that future – so opt in, and encourage others to opt in, to build that future!

What do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing women in technology?

Simply getting enough women to opt in is hard – young girls are still being discouraged, or even blocked from pursuing technical paths, or perhaps still being encouraged to take other paths. I still hear stories of girls being told that ‘maths is hard’ rather than being helped to see that it can be learned. I also see older women, who perhaps could be amazing in technology but who are not supported to go and learn new skills, to step into technical careers later in life … demand for technical skills is so high right now, go take the courses, build the skills and look for the chance to start a new career and perhaps change your circumstances. Finding the ways to stop girls and women from being discouraged from stepping into Tech must be a focus right now.

Once women are in tech, we need to find the ways to keep them – often studies in this space come back to career flexibility and mentorship, but this has been the story for the last 20 years, many organisations are now hugely flexible towards both women and men, and provide great mentorship and sponsorship … but still retention is a problem … if we keep asking the same question, getting the same answer and still having a problem with retention – seems to me we are asking the wrong questions!

European Women in Tech is built on community; what advice would you give to our attendees on building your network and furthering your presence?

Never, ever, be afraid to ask someone for their time – what is the worst that can happen? They say no. Would you be disappointed? Perhaps. Will your life be ruined because someone said no to talking to you? Absolutely not. Always ask, ask for help, ask for coaching, ask for mentoring, ask for feedback – if people say no, it is usually because they are protecting their own time, accept that and move on, find someone else and ask them instead. Always ask. And get really good at accepting feedback, however bad or good it is, take it, be grateful for it, and use it to build your next iteration.

Also to speak up – even when your voice shakes – don’t assume that because many people are talking about a subject that your voice is not also important. The whole point of bringing diversity to the table is to hear those diverse views and opinions, and to find those places where those voices no longer diverge. So speak up, and be visible, bring opinions (be prepared to change those opinions in the face of evidence and discussion, but bring them). This was a big learning for me, it took me a while to realise that what was needed was for me to speak up, to be visible, and to realise how important that was for the people who come after me … it is the same for every single one of you, be seen and set the tone for this amazing future that we are building together!

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