Technology leaders share their advice for making your voice heard at work

With recent research finding that people’s perceptions of others being more important to their success at work than pure hard work, panellists at the 2016 everywoman Advancing Women in Technology forum shared their secrets for making a positive, memorable impact on colleagues and peers. 

Don’t be an ‘alphazilla’ 
You can have an impact without being charming and charismatic, says Jacqueline de Rojas, vice president and general manager, northern Europe, at Citrix - but there’s no need to go to extremes and become an ‘alphazilla’- women who adopt a more aggressive, masculine approach to working with people. “I behaved more like that when I was younger, probably because I was working in a more male-dominated environment,” she says. “As I’ve matured, I now leave fewer ‘dead bodies’ behind in my pursuit for success.” 

Authenticity isn’t always necessary
Echoing the advice of Insead professor Herminia Ibarra - who says authenticity is “overrated” - Dr Alison Vincent, chief technology officer, UK and Ireland, at Cisco, said she deploys a split personality to get ahead at work. “I’ve always looked young, and that has led to difficulties being taken seriously,” she says. “So I learned to emphasise different parts of my personality: sometimes I am my normal friendly self, and other times I’m the ‘ice queen’ who gets stuff done.” This is particularly important when working with global teams, says Vincent, as the natural British reserve doesn’t resonate overseas. 

Embrace your inner actor
Self-confessed introvert Naomi Climer, president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, has an unusual technique for making herself heard. “I go to a meeting, and plan to lose my temper at 10.30am, for instance,” she says. “It grabs their attention and brings everyone back into line. But I only do it once or twice a year.”

Pretending to be an extrovert impresses everyone, adds Climer: introverts are amazed at your skills, and extroverts respond positively because you’re acting like them. 

Vincent recommends strategic “bluffing” to convince others you’re in control. “You have to have the poise to carry it off, though,” she says. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to bring our the ‘am dram’ side of your personality.” 

Develop your own leadership style
Climer picks and chooses the leadership techniques that resonate with her the most. “I’ve learned my own style, one that’s centered around collaboration,” she says. “I know what I like, and what I don’t like.” Being a leader should include an element of vulnerability, she adds: “It’s actually better not to know much when you move from being a technical specialist to a manager, so you are always asking questions.” 

De Rojas describes her leadership style as “clear, focused and strategic. I set the direction of travel, and the team can decide the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of how we get there.” 

Don’t be fooled by perceptions
If you’re worried that others’ perceptions of your personality are holding you back at work, pause and check if your judgements are correct before making any changes. 

“You have to be really careful that what you think is true, really is true,” advises Vincent. “Use someone close to you to assess your analysis of the situation.” 

“I ask for constant, honest feedback regularly through 360 assessments,” says de Rojas. “One great thing to do is ask people to tell you, anonymously, three words that they think describe you best. And you’ll learn even more if you ask them to give three words that describe the gaps in where you are.” 

You can’t win them all
As hard as you may try, there are simply some people you won’t be able to win round if the chemistry isn’t right. “I swerve and avoid difficult people,” says de Rojas. “There’s no point banging your head on a door that won’t open.”