Discussing Female Leadership in Technology with Anita Tadayon, Product Roadmap Director at BT

Anita Tadayon, Product Roadmap Director at BT, has been on the agile journey for 20-30 years. Starting in Continuous improvement, journey and process redesign roles when she was a consultant, she now focuses on the technology sphere, specifically how we leverage Technology, Digital and Agile ways of working to make work better and easier for users and ultimately deliver value to customers. In her current role as Product Roadmap Director, she leads the team running the concept to market product developments and delivery. This involves working many teams to deliver products and services to market.  She is originally from Persia (Iran) and came to the UK on her own at the beginning of the revolution and believes strongly that this diversity of background and culture is at the heart of much of her career success.

Making Your Voice Heard

As a woman in the technology industry – particularly in the early days of her career – Anita was often the only woman in male dominated environments. Anita learned very quickly that she needed to find her voice in these contexts. Deciding that she didn’t want to live up to anyone else’s stereotype of her, Anita used her voice to define herself.

“I found courage to speak out about the way I saw things, the reality of things. Often what I said and how I said it was quite often quite different from the norm as people saw things. Today we call it “diverse or non-linear thinking” I guess. Initially, people dismissed it, but then one or two people actually started to say, “that makes a lot of sense”, or “that’s an interesting perspective”. Then other people piled in and recognised that, resulting in momentum and support for doing things differently. I soon found that being “different” as an Asian and a woman was actually an advantage because it was the source of my diverse thinking and set me apart from the rest. I could use that diversity to get heard and be heard”  

“I also refused to be defined and boxed by someone else’s measure of who I should be and how I should frame my thinking. I don’t think in boxes and if you try and put me in one, I just spill over beyond the boundaries!” 

Finding the courage to speak out can be difficult, and Anita’s advice is to imagine an extreme scenario, for example, at work it might be being made redundant or a clash with someone more senior than you.

“It does pass, and you come out of it a better person, because you learn things from everything. So, if you think about it that way, and you allow yourself to feel the pain that you’re going through, whether it’s a sexist remark, or a belittling remark, work politics, or a bigger life challenge, just allow yourself to feel the pain, then take the learnings and go again.”

Embracing and framing failure as something you learn and build resilience from is an important part of life and, by gaining perspective like this, you get the courage to speak out, and find the unique path for your success.

It can be a tendency – particularly in technical roles – to think that you need to be a subject matter expert with years of experience in order to speak out when often challenges from new perspectives is exactly what is needed. However, Anita points out that this inclination can hold women back and stop them from sharing their opinion.

“Even if you haven’t been doing it for X number of years, you can still articulate your perspective in a contextual way leveraging your experience from different contexts. What tends to happen, and I’m generalising now, is women don’t say things until they’re very sure of themselves. I would encourage women to speak up more and give an opinion, even if they’re not 100% sure.”

Role Models and Education

One of the best ways to encourage more women into the tech industry is through the use of role models. Having that image of someone who looks like them in a position of authority gives women and girls the inspiration they need to embark on a career.

“Networking, role models, showcasing our work, showing how and what different could look like. Those are the things that will increasingly give us confidence and give us the ability to be ourselves.”

Alongside this, working with schools is key to highlighting tech as a relevant career path. Whilst children are on the whole well-engaged with technology, schools trail behind in a lot of instances and don’t show the role that technology plays in every aspect of what we do.

“I’m not sure schools have grasped that. Because if they did, everybody would come out of school knowing how to code. Everybody would understand what digital means. Everybody would know something about agility, and continuous improvement. Everybody would have some use cases that they genuinely understand the difference technology makes into their day to day lives, and the potential it has. And I think kids, if they understood that, would probably make very different choices about their careers.”

Being the Difference

The current market sees huge numbers of vacancies and a limited number of suitable candidates, showing that it is important to make the industry attractive in order to bring the right skills to market. This is easier said than done, requiring long-term strategies and effort. Rather than just focusing on simple, base level attraction strategies, Anita believes that honing in on purpose is what will set companies apart.

“Your purpose, your approach to sustainability, your ESG agenda, those are the things that are going to set you apart and are increasingly important to our young people. Manifesting those and getting good examples of how you lead, live and breathe them in the entity that you are, is what is going to attract young people. They need to feel that you’re honest, that it’s real, that there’s humility, and that they have the opportunity to grow.”

Anita’s Advice

For those hoping to follow in Anita’s footsteps, her advice is to have open and honest conversations. Speak to colleagues and mentors, have safe conversations about difficult moments and listen to what they say. Not only will you receive unbiased reflection and perspective, but you will also build strong and lasting relationships throughout your working environment.

The most important thing, however, is to reframe your outlook – following Anita’s advice to her younger self:

“I would have said, don’t worry so much. Don’t try and be so good. And so perfect because the more you make mistakes the faster you will get better. Don’t try so hard. Believe and have a little bit of faith. Remember this too shall pass”