In business, technology is everything. Sarah Adam-Gedge doesn’t want to see women miss out.
Now the managing director of Avanade Australia, she’s been working with technology in some shape or form for decades, and sees it as a breeding ground for great careers.
Adam-Gedge is one of a growing club of women at the top of tech organisations, including Pip Marlow at Microsoft, Maile Carnegie at Google, Kate Burleigh at Intel, Karen Stocks at Twitter and Kate Vale at Spotify. She started in the top job in October 2014, after holding a number of executive positions at IBM.
“I’ve stuck to carving out leadership roles in technology,” she tells Women’s Agenda. “It’s fast paced, dynamic and you get to work with great people.”
She believes more women can and should join the ranks of technology organisations, and boost female leadership numbers in the future, even if they don’t have traditional tech-based skills.
“Everybody’s job in the future is going to involve technology. It’s becoming less discretionary and more mandatory. That’s the key here,” she says. “The jobs we think are important now, may not exist in the future. We have to keep moving.”
Around 100,000 technology roles are expected to be created in the next six years, eliminating more traditional roles in the process. The problem is that women are already under-represented, accounting for just 24% of the total workforce, according to ABS figures. The numbers get even smaller in more technical roles, such as development.
Adam-Gedge believes we can all be doing more to avoid obsolete roles in the future, starting with a lifetime habit of learning. “If you don’t keep learning, you’ll become less useful in the future,” she says, adding that any good employer will promote training opportunities and put an emphasis on growing its people. However, she also believes core ‘anchor’ skills are essential — she’s personally studied accounting, despite never practising as an accountant — as well as ensuring plenty of client-facing time to keep up to date with the challenges of business.
She adds that women can better embrace opportunities in technology by listening, learning and asking questions. “You don’t have to be a technical person to be effective. It’s about understanding what the business issue is and what you can bring to the table.” Understanding technology — even if that means taking a short course in coding basics — will enable you to offer a much deeper understanding of core client problems.
Arriving in Australia from New Zealand as a teenager, Adam-Gedge started her career in business consulting at Arthur Anderssn before going on to become a partner at PwC Consulting and later a partner and VP at IBM. She cites a key turning point in her leadership career as the moment she realised just how enjoyable it is to hold senior positions. “Not only do you have the opportunity to be a guardian of how a business operates, but you also get to guide it through its future.”
Having only joined the Microsoft partner organisation eight months ago, Adam-Gedge’s already seen some change in achieving a more gender equitable split, increasing the number of women by around 10%, and almost doubling the number of female senior leaders in Australia.
But she says there’s much more to be done, and no one single solution that will solve the problem. “I do think metrics are one part, but policies are also critical, as are having an open dialogue, a good culture, and strong leadership,” she says. “The last area I think that is hard to work on but just as important, I see it as a bit of a sleeper, is around unconscious bias.”
Born. New Zealand, moved to Australia as a teenager.
High school ambition. I was ambitious but certainly hadn’t entertained going into an accounting environment. I was more heading down the legal side of things. I wanted to be a partner or an executive of something.
Studied. Accounting at Queensland University of Technology.
First Job. Weekend job at Myers
Currently leads. Avanade Australia, offering technology solutions and managed services to clients. She is also on the board of Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Manage your wellbeing? Down time is hard to achieve, you have to carve it out or it doesn’t happen. You have to find personal time, which is always the most compromised time of all, then ensure you have the right guidelines in place for what you will and won’t do. Sometimes you have to set rules, such as no meetings after hours.
Advice to your 18-year-old self. I would have a different view of career horizons. Instead of looking 10 years in the future, I’d go with two to five years.
The other thing is that I’ve always been a supporter of having a diverse work environment but it’s only in my recent years that I’ve realised you have to do more than participate. You have to find your leadership in this area, be affirmative, take action. Looking back, I think I could have done more, and so I would encourage men and women not to wait until your mid career to participate in addressing diversity issues.
In terms of advice for myself at this age, I’d say stay in business roles. While there’s a great desire to move onto board roles, don’t step out of the workplace into board roles too early. We need women to stay in those business roles for longer.
Sarah Adam-Gedge’s story is the latest of our 100 Stories Project, in which we’re asking women about a turning point that’s shifted her leadership career. Telling 100 stories from January 1 2015, the project showcases the diverse range of leadership careers available, as well as some of the brilliant achievements and fascinating career paths of women. It also demonstrates how planned and unexpected forks in the road can take you places you never thought possible.
Other women featured in this series include:
Angela Ferguson: The woman designing the future of work (Google included)
Jo-Ann Hicks: eBay’s leading woman on the risks that made her digital career
Annabelle Daniel: ‘I’m the unlikely combination of CEO and single parent
Sarah Liu: Multiple job titles and variety: Life as a ‘slashie’
Lindy Stephens: When the power shifts, women should make the most of it
Kate Morris: Why I gave up law to become an online entrepreneur
Jacque Comery: Leading a team of 12 on an Antarctic base