When the power shifts, women should make the most of it - Women's Agenda

When the power shifts, women should make the most of it

Lindy Stephens is using her position and power wisely. As one of the still too few female leaders in technology, she’s challenging the sector’s dismal record on gender diversity for the next generation.

It started a few years back when, as the Australian managing director for international software company ThoughtWorks, she established a 50/50 quota for hiring men and women at the junior level. 

And it’s continuing as she seeks to guide and mentor women in the sector, and share with anyone who’ll listed how and why a quota system is benefitting her organisation.

Now the Global Director of People Operations at ThoughtWorks, responsible for overseeing its support function all over the world, Stephens knows that her very presence at the top is one that can inspire others.

She originally joined Thoughtworks as a project manager, having spent a decade managing software projects in the finance sector, before being quickly promoted into leadership positions.

Stephens can pinpoint the exact moment she realised she had power and influence in her career, and just how she could use it.

“It happened during a conversation with a woman,” she tells me. “I would say, ‘I’m not sure about this women in IT stuff, I would rather just get on with my life’. She basically said, ‘everybody else who fails because they don’t have any role models… you have to care about them!'”

Stephens says that she was so busy trying NOT to stand out, that she forgot about the fact she could be a role model for helping other women to break through.

“I often have to remind myself, when I don’t want to do a talk or an interview and I feel a little embarrassed, that it’s not about me. It’s about the fact some young woman will be in the audience and want to see what other women have achieved,” she says.

“There is this tipping point from feeling a little inexperienced to really knowing what you’re doing. That’s when the power shifts to you being desirable. It’s a personal choice what you do with that power.”

The short facts on Lindy Stephens’ story.

Born. Sydney

Grew up. Sydney

High school ambition. To be an electrical engineer

First job. Apart from working in the toy department at Grace Bros in the school holidays, it was working for the NSW Department of Housing, as an assessor for the Mortgage Assistance Scheme (during the time of super high interest rates in the early 90s).

Who and what she leads? I look after all the people support functions for ThoughtWorks globally (12 countries) – e.g. recruiting, HR, capability development, global mobility. As well as owning workforce planning and strategic people planning, and being part of the global leadership executive for the company.

How she stays informed. I follow a wide range of interesting people on twitter who link to everything I need to know.

How she manages her wellbeing. I travel a lot, so jetlag is my main problem. There is no secret solution, other than sleeping when you need to and not worrying too much about trying to ‘fix’ my bodyclock.

An average day in the life… When I’m in Australia (which is about 50% of the year), I mostly work from home. I work for a couple of hours in the morning, usually on conference and video calls with people in the US. I then have a break from about 11am – 3pm, for exercise, lunch and enjoying the sunshine. I then work most days from about 3pm – midnight, with a break for an hour or two somewhere in the middle. Most of that time is spent on conference calls and Skype with people all over the world (literally, as we have offices on six continents). Sometimes this can go on beyond midnight, but I’m rarely effective once that happens!

Leadership ‘superpower’? Being easy-going and quick to ‘get back on the horse’ when something goes wrong. Everyone gets upset about things and has a rant when things are going wrong, and that’s ok. It’s all about how quickly you get past that and get going again.

Career advice to her 18-year-old self? Don’t worry. You have all the skills you need and will be given opportunities. Be good to other people, work hard and things will happen.

Lindy Stephens’ story is the 3rd 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.

Got an idea? Get in contact. Check out more on our 100 Stories Project here

Other women featured in this series include: 

Kate Morris: Why I gave up law to become an online entrepreneur 

Jacque Comery: Leading a team of 12 on an Antarctic base 


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