For International Women's Day, we had the pleasure of interviewing Encora Inc.'s Global Vice President, People & Culture, Suzanne McKenna, about female leadership and closing the gender gap for women in technology
Suzanne, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your life before Encora?
I was born in Dublin, Ireland and relocated with my husband and two children in October 2017. I have two children, Luke aged 12 and Siún aged 5. I predominantly studied and worked in Ireland and earlier in my career, I worked in London. I studied Strategic Human Resource Management and European Employment Law. I have always worked and have remained in the technology sector from the mid-1990’s. I was employed in the sector through the dot.com boom and gained valuable people experience through these shifting times.
Tell us about your journey through the Tech industry?
I started my career with a successful Irish Technology Start up called Euristix, founded by Dr. Jim Mountjoy. In 1999, Euristix was acquired by Fore Systems. Within the same year the company’s value doubled and was acquired again by Marconi Communications. Marconi Communications was eventually merged with Ericsson Mobile. I also worked in the technology sector of Barclays Bank, which was outsourced to Hewlett Packard and most recently led the acquisition of Tektronix Communications (a Danaher Company) by NetScout. I was responsible for leading these organizations through high value change management programs via Mergers, Acquisitions, Divestiture and Outsourcing deals.
What other people programs have you undertaken in the technology sector?
The technology sector, like all sectors has witnessed many highs and lows, resulting in organizational restructuring and redesign, including the relocation of businesses to more competitive labor markets or organizational downsizing. I have led the people element of such transformation programs directly prior to my relocation to Phoenix.
Do you feel that being the only female leader within Encora puts extra pressure on you?
I am surrounded by an incredible leadership team of talented entrepreneurs and experienced professionals. As a female leader, I will say that I feel pressure to be a role model to other female talent within our organization. At Encora, I represent the single woman, the married women, the mothers, and the breadwinners. Women do have a critical role to play in the technology industry and since other women may aspire to hold a leadership position, I strive to set a good example.
What advice would you give to other women who are juggling homelife and work-life?
The words balance and sacrifice comes to mind. You need to find ‘your’ balance. You need to set your boundaries. I am lucky in that my family is supportive of my career. Some days are a struggle and I have accepted that I cannot always have perfection in my home life. I draw from whatever support I can find to help me with daily house chores, and I ensure to keep my weekend free for family time. My children are taught to help at home and be as self-sufficient as possible. I schedule a minimum of 5-10 consecutive days off per year and dedicate that time to family.
What is Encora doing to help close the gender gap, both internally and in the wider industry?
Our leadership team recognizes the importance of women in the workplace. Encora continually strives towards having a more diverse workplace. Our past and current recruitment campaigns and internship programs are designed to attract more women into STEM positions. In all open software engineering roles, women receive the same total compensation package as their male peers. Encora does not differentiate. We work with our clients and customers to ensure that women are paid the same compensation commensurate to their role in the marketplace, as their male peers.
We also offer special leave or flexible working hours to all employees who need this support at Encora. We understand that combining work and family can be challenging. We strive to consider the personal needs and challenges of our employees. At Encora we pride ourselves in applying for immigration visas for our women in their sole name. We promote our women in business and work with our business unit leaders to ensure that a percentage of promotions are applied to women in all regions each year.
Ingenious women of Encora who collectively contribute to the success of our organization.
What do you think other companies can do to encourage more women to choose careers in the technology industry?
Women in high school or secondary school need more encouragement to enter STEM roles. Better career guidance counselling is required for women at school. It is a known fact that most women graduate college with higher grades, yet there is a fear among women of entering and remaining in the discipline of software engineering. It is predominantly considered a profession for men. Organizations need to engage in graduate programs in colleges around the world, to attract women graduates in technology into their organizations.
There are many reasons why experienced workers take career breaks from the workforce, these include raising children, caring for ageing parents or sick family members. But mothers make up a big portion of those who step away. Companies must establish return-ship programs to welcome returners and re-onboard them to the various technology changes that have occurred while they were giving to society. Often women who start out their career as a software developer often move to a QA or test position. Companies need to design technical career paths for women, accompanied by up-to-date technical trainings to enable them to foster their careers as software developers.
How do you envisage Encora changing if there were more women in our organization?
With more women in technology positions and more women in leadership roles, we can add new and unique perspectives to products and services. Most industries require a balance in strategic thinking. At Encora, we understand the positive affect women have on our company. This is largely seen in Customer Satisfaction surveys. Encora understands hiring equal women to men provides us a competitive advantage in the marketplace. I am personally witnessing an increasing involvement of women in various projects across multiple functions and geos, women stepping up to lead, women stepping into design, into learning roles and women stepping up to lead development and testing functions.
Are there any female leaders who have inspired you?
During my time in business, I have admired Sheryl Sandberg. She was the first woman for me who stood out in the world of technology. I personally loved her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ which was in fact purchased for me by a former female leader on my return from maternity leave with my second child.
Whilst working in Europe, I had the pleasure of sharing a ‘Women in Technology’ forum with Anne Heraty, Co-Founder and CEO of CPL Resources. Anne shared some secrets to balancing success as a woman in business and one such tip was to ensure equilibrium with your partner and put a system in place at home which provides you the balance to work and play! She also advised on taking ownership for your career. Simply, own it. Keep learning, register to take courses, and do not wait to be invited. You and only you understand your learning requirements and areas of interest.
What is your style of leadership?
For me, leadership is not about making a point or winning the conversation. I have learned that listening can be more empowering than speaking. Our team reminds me to listen, pause and take the time to digest their suggestions. Leadership for me defines winning together and inspiring others through honest collaboration.
After so many years in tech, what drives you now?
What I enjoy most about working in the industry, is that technology is continuously evolving and revolutionizing the world. The technology services industry is such a fascinating industry to be part of. Over the last decade, Amazon grew from a small virtual bookseller to one of the most powerful and respected companies in the world. Electric cars are now a realistic alternative to petrol vehicles, solar panels can heat our water and most of us do everything we need to from a smartphone.
The tech industry may be dominated by male employees in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women that are changing the landscape. Encora created the hashtag #WomenHackers to create awareness of female innovators in STEM. What does Encora’s hashtag #WomenHackers mean to you?
I value this hashtag and I am proud of the support we have received from our CEO, Venu Raghavan and CMO, Joshua Kanter to promote #WomenHackers. #WomenHackers speaks to the fact that women are enablers and change agents of the technology industry. Our women who service the technology industry are primarily positioned in support functions rather than direct revenue-generating roles. This is a shout out by Encora to all women who wish to enter and remain in a software development career path but believe it may be a position for their male counterparts. For me, #WomenHackers represents the fact that women are equally talented programmers with equal abilities to think logically and code. The idea that people are even reading this blog, builds on the premise that change is required in the workplace and our workforce is willing to make realistic suggestions to bring about implementing that change.
Know more about Encora's #WomenHackers
What has been the proudest moment in your career at Encora so far?
Leading a globalized brilliant people team that strives to align their purposeful goals with that of our executive leaders, a team who strives to contribute directly to the success of our organization. Our people team are some of the longest serving employees of Encora. Prior to the pandemic our CEO enabled a global meeting of our people leaders. Having had the opportunity and privilege to connect with your worldwide team face to face was invaluable and that connection helped us to navigate the challenges of the pandemic. We foster a culture of trust and create a ‘safe space’ for all team members.
Our business has made significant investment in technology infrastructure and this will enable Encora to access intelligent data to make informative business decisions in the areas of diversity, equality, and inclusion. This excites me!
Are you ready to create the future you want with us? Encora is hiring! We have open vacancies for people who are just as excited about tech as we are. Let’s talk! Visit #WomenHackers for more information.