Marissa Mayer (President and CEO of Yahoo!) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) are certainly women at the top. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the men/women ratio in the US is pegged at 7:3 in favour of men (1) – and the gender gap is likely to be even greater in other parts of the world.
Looking back at my own journey in this industry, my memories include numerous challenges as well as lessons. Starting off as a programmer in the FOREX department of a major bank, I was the only woman on the team. During my 3-year stay at the bank I invested weekends in learning two more programming languages to increase my chances of being assigned meaningful tasks.
After the bank I joined a development house specialising in creating custom systems for various big clients. Over a 15-year timeline, I progressed from programmer to Managing Director of an overseas subsidiary. Eventually, after a series of trials and tribulations, I decided to realise my dream and start my own software development company. And the rest is history, as they say.
So, what’s the moral of the story and how can it help you?
Hard work is not an optional extra
Establishing the overseas subsidiary company where I served as Managing Director was an idea I had put forward to the strategic committee in order to start minimising the mother company’s risk, increase its footprint and have access to a greater recruitment environment. I spent endless hours of research to provide enough analysed information to the committee in order for us to make an informed decision. The presentations and research continued for a period of six months, but finally the plan was approved.
When you’re right, you’re right
The strategic committee that approved the creation of the subsidiary company I had proposed consisted of men. As I was at the helm of the biggest profit-generating area of the company, I was rather stunned to be excluded from the committee. Backed by sound arguments, I challenged this decision, persistently, until I was eventually appointed to the committee.
Before becoming Managing Director of the overseas subsidiary, I had to actually set it up from scratch: legally register the company, find premises, open bank accounts and recruit staff. All this in a country I was not familiar with, or had any contacts in. The paperwork alone was enough to put anyone off. After much effort and time we established the office as a working concern, but the strategic paths of myself and the holding company continued to clash until I resigned and proceeded to follow my dream.
Follow the dream
Starting from scratch with no customer base, I had only my relationships from the past to build on. Although many doors were closed in my face and many promises not delivered, the breakthrough came when a special lady at a large company “believed” in my new start-up and engaged with us to develop a SharePoint system for their company. It was this special lady that promoted my new company and its work ethic. She encouraged me and gave me the much-needed confidence I was beginning to lose.
The engagement had a very tight deadline and was in a technology that is well known for its temperamental nature. We all had to dig in, with each member of the company contributing equally to make the delivery a success, within the stipulated timeframe.
Another engagement came from two more companies based on past relationships. This too was completed successfully, giving us the momentum we needed to grow into the established and reputable company we are today, after less than three years of operation.
Finally: Just because it’s tough for women in IT doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
The move to start a company in the midst of the European crisis was bold – some might say unwise. Nevertheless, I recognised an opportunity, and was convinced there was a need for companies offering tailored software solutions.
The journey was way tougher than I expected. There were many phases of insecurity and doubt as I often wondered whether I had done the right thing. Looking back, my 12-year-old daughter was right, as she often said: “Mom you just have to believe and it will be alright!”
By Margarita Maimonis
Margarita is the founder and CEO of Exelia Technologies, an advanced IT solutions company whose slogan is "if you can perceive it, we can develop it". Margarita has been in IT for the past 20 years. She holds a BSc in Computer Science and is currently working towards her Honours in Leadership and Management.
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