STEMM PROFILE: Lindy Stephens | Global Head of Business Operations | ThoughtWorks | Melbourne | VIC
“…being open to change, and even looking forward to it, helps you to not panic when things don’t go as planned”
Lindy is Global Head of Business Operations for ThoughtWorks, a global software consultancy. She is responsible for strategic people planning and overseeing the support functions for ThoughtWorks staff around the world. Lindy has a background in software delivery, and spent over ten years as a Project Manager for large and complex software projects, primarily in the finance sector.
Lindy is passionate about the ability of great software to change the world, and creating a diverse culture within the IT industry to enable that. Her particular focus is in making technology a career of choice for young women.
What is the biggest challenge to all women pursuing a career in science?
The hard truth is that you are going to face discrimination at some point. And there’s a good chance that you won’t even know about it when it’s happening. There’s not an awful lot you can do about that (unless the discrimination is illegal or against policy, in which case you should always find support and take action), but you can work to reduce discrimination overall. We must never be complacent in the workplace when we see women or other under-represented groups being discriminated against, especially when we have advanced further in our careers and are in a more ‘powerful’ position. Even things that seem small, such as women being overlooked in meetings, can all add up to make the workplace less inclusive, and contribute to women burning out and changing careers.
What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists?
We need to become more comfortable with the idea of quotas for women, especially in education, employer graduate programs and leadership. There are many high potential women and girls who are not given opportunities in STEM because they don’t ‘look’ like what people expect. Without pushing the envelope a bit, we’re only ever going to move that needle incrementally, and it will take many years to have any real impact on the imbalance. Quotas drive different behaviours, they create noise and they create opportunities for forgotten people. We need to get over our squeamishness and do something radical if we are serious about making change.
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
I think it’s probably how comfortable I am with change. In fact, I sometimes think maybe I’m too comfortable with it! I work best in a crisis or drama, so constant change is my favourite environment – which can be exhausting for other people. But being open to change, and even looking forward to it, helps you to not panic when things don’t go as planned. I find that it also takes off some of the burden of feeling the need to be ‘perfect’, because I accept that no matter what I do, outside factors will always influence the outcomes of my work.
What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?
Humility, willingness to learn, willingness to listen, open-mindedness, determination, flexibility and great communication skills. You also need to appear confident, even if you’re actually faking it – in my experience, no-one can tell anyway!
If at times your confidence is a little shaky, where do you turn?
To be honest, my natural instinct is to turn inward and keep it to myself, which is something I’m trying to work on. The reality is that there are lots of people who want to give you support, it’s just a matter of asking. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to self-reflect and work through issues, but you’re much more likely to rebuild your confidence (especially after a failure) if you use someone else’s input to help you gain perspective.
Connect with Lindy on LinkedIn: Lindy Stephens
Follow Lindy on Twitter: @lindystephens