Being a Woman in Tech: From the Perspective of a Leader

September 16, 2020

Hazel Van Der Werken

This month we are spotlighting our women in tech at RedBit. I am so proud of all our ladies and the amazing diversity of characters, nationalities, beliefs, and skills we have so it is an absolute pleasure to see them being highlighted. That being said I am proud of all of our team, the effort, commitment and all round superpowers they bring to the table that makes RedBit who we are! Nearing the end of the month as we close of our Women in Tech theme we are inviting a panel of RedBit employees to talk to us in a podcast about how they found their way into tech and asking them what advice they would give to those starting out or thinking about making a career move into tech.  

Finding your way into tech can be a straight path, a dream perhaps that you work towards, whether that be studying a tech specific course or even just heading straight into a tech company and learning your way, or it can be unintentional path somewhat like my own.  

The Journey begins

As a fresh graduate out of university with my honours degree in Clothing Technology I was pleased as punch to be starting a job as a Graduate Management Trainee working for a clothing manufacturer. I vividly recall my initial assignment in my new job as a Work and Motion Study Engineer, specialized in both time study (using a stop watch, yes you heard me a stop watch) and motion study (this is where we got really high tech using a video recorder). If you want an old fashioned geek learning moment this practice is all about studying movement using different techniques such as performance and efficiency management as well as measuring movement using Time Measurement Unit’s where 1 TMU is defined to be 0.00001 hours, or 0.036.

In laymen terms I determined essentially what a production employee worker would. Soooo not the most popular job in the world as you can imagine and match that with 700 Scottish Glaswegian women (think Scottish traits like stubborn, no compunction with telling it like they see it x 700) working in the one factory and you have yourself a recipe for learning quickly on how to handle people and situations. My takeaway advice for anyone is if you see a cone of industrial size thread winging its way toward you then duck quickly!

This is only one of many many stories that I could tell you about my first few years after graduating but let us just leave it that it was a baptism of fire in learning real work life. There was no cushy landing pad, it was raw, it was exciting, it was scary, and it formed the very solid foundation of who I was starting to become in my career.  

Winding my way into Tech

From my crazy start in clothing manufacturing how did I end up in tech? It was just there everywhere I looked there were opportunities that involved using technology to do our jobs better.  

Hazel can you just help us define a line balancing system,

Hazel can you help us spec and implement a critical path management system,

Hazel we need someone from the business to transfer to IT as a business representative to select the right software to help automate our product technology processes

and there you had it…because I got involved and was not scared of Technology to try new things I was all of a sudden in tech!

So, I unintentionally stumbled into tech and have not looked back since.

Moving around

But here’s the thing my real passion is in customer excellence and that begins in building a culture and team that is nurtured, cared for and believes in bigger things than themselves. It has been this passion that has driven my career from Scotland, my birth country, to The Netherlands where “Hazel it will just be for 3 months” uh huh…I believe it was 3 years later when the company filed bankruptcy and I was still on client site in the Netherlands figuring out how to tell the hotel that they were likely to never see their money and in one day setting up my own consultancy business in a foreign country to where I am now in Canada and getting to fulfil my work passion working for RedBit.

At RedBit  I get to fulfill my passion of building an amazing culture, team and company which in turn drives service excellence. Where we strive purposely for excellence, but not perfection. Perfection only exists in the eye of the beholder so it’s a conscious decision to not to strive for perfection which is highly impossible but to strive for excellence where we know mistakes happen but we always will strive to learn and improve.  

Let’s focus on the team for a moment because it’s the little things that are important in creating a team that feels nurtured and empowered; how you treat people for example, how you behave, your values and the little itsy bitsy things that no one usually bothers with like reaching out and seeing how you are, noticing if you need some down time from work, taking care to listen, really listen and being vulnerable. Being vulnerable is so important. It’s not a weakness but a strength; showing your team that you are human, that you have feelings, and fears (especially in times like we face now) is so important.

It allows others to open up about how they feel and unless you are stuck in some 70’s sitcom being susceptible to feelings is okay. I spend a lot of my time thinking about the team, the individuals and how we can connect and how everyone is feeling. At the end of the day we all have a job to do, as designer, developer, tester, marketeer, sales, architect, manager, leader but that does not stop us sharing how we feel and to step up now and again and admit we are not doing ok. That’s real life.

And on that note that brings me back to where we are now…. uncertain times during a pandemic. These last 6 months have shown us how we need to adapt whether we like it or not, how freaking bizarre life can be. I am a mother, a mother of 3 amazing boys (I may be biased here) and I have to tell you these past months have been so difficult. The guilt that I have felt as a mother about the fact that I had to work whilst they were trying to navigate unchartered waters in what was the first terrible phases of on-line learning, then to move on to summer without camps or friends whilst Mama and Papa worked, it was hard.

A question one of my team had for me was about how I handle motherhood and work….I feel that I should give you a great spiel here about how it’s all manageable and it just involves being organized and committed but that’s not always how it is. What is does involve is amazing resiliency and agility in work, life and well just about everything you do. There are days, especially recently when you can actually break down and cry but we stand tall and we figure it out one day at a time but when I get on a work call, it is my saviour because it is solid and manageable and I can forget in that moment that I am not failing, that I am surviving and together we are pushing through and that I am leading a team to strive to be great, for RedBit as a team and for our clients.

That makes it all worth it.

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