What inspires our female leaders? A Q&A for International Women's Day

By : Susan Whitney

March 08, 2017 10:00 AM

March 8th 2017 marks International Women's Day, an annual celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world, as well as a chance to promote gender equality in the workplace and wider society.


This year's theme is 'Be Bold for Change', encouraging women and aspiring young girls to step up and take action to make the world a more equal place. And the technology sector is one area where there's still a lot of work to be done to achieve this goal. Estimates from SmartAsset found that, in 2015, only around 26 percent of technology jobs in the U.S. were filled by women. Where there is progress to be made, there is opportunity for change. 


As a leader and mother of a young girl, I proactively share the exciting and rewarding aspects of our industry. With fintech innovation at an all-time high, it’s fun to share how our solutions touch the lives of millions every day and make everyday life easier. The reaction is usually mind boggling. 


At NCR we have an incredible group of women with their own stories and journeys into the technology space. I asked a few of them what they love about their job, and what advice they have for women and young girls who may be considering a career in technology. Here's what they had to say.


Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in this sector?


Marija Zivanovic-Smith, VP Marketing, Communications and Government Relations, Chief of Staff to the Chairman & CEO: I was always attracted to subjects that have meaningful societal impact. After college I engaged in various informational interviews to research employment opportunities. I learned that the technology sector at its root level is a key element of social and economic change and may just be the perfect place for me.  Tech is global.  Tech drives productivity gains and improves living conditions. Tech is fast-paced, continually learning and adapting, innovative and never boring!


Aleksandra Lubavs, Global Head of Customer Advocacy and Integrated Marketing, Financial Services: I always had an interest in software, from my university days of being an assistant in the computer labs. Through connections and my network I landed my first job in programming and analytics, from which I was hooked on the technology sector.


Kimberly Prieto, Director, Product and Alliance Management: I landed in tech somewhat by accident. I was assigned as the subject matter expert to a project to rewrite the FX back office systems for my bank. Within a year, I was leading the global team responsible for building and deploying that solution in bank locations throughout the world.


Kristen Bernard, Vice-President and General Manager, Digital Banking: I was always drawn to technology – but I started my career as a mechanical engineer. Making the move to software wasn’t initially a conscious choice, it was an adjacent space opportunity in which one thing led to another that enabled me to build upon that initial leap of faith.


Q: What excites you about your job?


Rachel Nash, Area Director, Financial: Every day, I'm excited by how new innovations can help us to deliver better solutions to solve our customers' problems, and ultimately how we really can make every day easier. I'm also excited by innovations in other sectors that are directly influencing the solutions that we bring to market.


Wendy McLean, Associate Software Support Engineer: I'm constantly learning, which to me is why the job never gets boring and is essential for enjoying what you do. You can come across issues that have never been seen before and being in support you are there to help resolve them, making you part of the solution, which in itself is quite rewarding. 


Marija: Our corporate purpose and our values are very meaningful to me. Every day I have the honour of championing NCR’s brand, story and influence and helping Team NCR to power iNCRedible experiences that make life easier for our stakeholders. That is gratifying and impactful.


Kimberly: I really like that NCR’s suite of Digital Banking products help community financial institutions compete and win against big banks. These financial institutions are invested in their communities and often make a real difference in the lives of people.


Q: Have you seen attitudes/culture change since you started your career?


Marija: Yes. The technology sector is changing faster than ever. 20 years ago, if you understood hardware components, motherboards, chips, routers and networks, you were in IT. Vision, creativity, emotional connection and technology experience will matter more than ever in designing the next 20 years. Tech culture is now part of everyday life – there is no divergence between tech culture and our daily routines.


Q: What do you think discourages women from the tech sector?


Wendy: The lack of female representation until recently is what has discouraged women from the tech sector. Until a few years ago it was seen as a male dominated field, particularly when I was at school. This was actually very motivational to me and is part of what made me want to do better in my degree and pursue this kind of career.


Rachel: I don't think we should really think of it as a 'tech sector'. It is what the technology can do for you, so maybe some of that starts with early learning to encourage viewing technology as an enabler, not a 'science'.


Marija: I don’t think women are discouraged from the tech sector as much as they might have been in the past. Every day I see my two daughters mastering technology in ways my generation never did. So in some ways, I think that women see the technology sector differently today than 20 years ago. I think they are encouraged by the access and engagement mechanisms technology offers them to drive change. There are more and more women starting technology companies. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Thailand as the U.S. business representative on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council, where I met multiple female technology CXOs who are leading digital transformation across Asian economies and are the role models for women entering technology.


Q: What advice would you give to young people considering tech as an option?


Kristen: Tech has many facets - it doesn't just mean that you're a software engineer. So, consider what excites you and look at where your passions and tech overlap. There's so much opportunity and need for people think about tech from different angles.


Rachel: Go for it, it's exciting, ever changing, and you have an opportunity to really change how businesses, organisations and people will live their daily lives.


Wendy: Young people shouldn't be put off by thinking they don’t know enough or aren’t technical enough. These were my biggest concerns when starting out, but I’ve since learned that you don’t need to understand everything straight away and everyone learns at their own pace. Learning the ins and outs of technology and how it works is part of what I enjoy most.


Aleksandra: I think it’s the place to be! Come aboard! If you are inspired by change you will never be bored.


Marija: If you like a fast paced, exciting, adventurous, changing, innovative, competitive, world-moving, global, performance-oriented environment – join us! I believe diversity in tech amplifies creativity and innovation … that is the future.


Q: What advice would you give to someone that wants to take their career to the next level? 


Kristen: First, define what 'next level' means to you.  The next level could be lateral growth.  Most often, career growth is accomplished by stretching your skills outside of your comfort zone and picking up new perspectives and capabilities along the way.

Kimberly: Focus 80 percent of your time on doing what you do well even better, the other 20 percent should be focused on 'gaps'. Don't be afraid to take risks and move into roles that are outside of your comfort zone.

Susan Whitney

Senior Marketing Manager

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Susan Whitney leads marketing for NCR Digital Banking. Susan’s team creates and drives marketing and sales strategies for Digital Insight products and services.