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WiT: Running marathons and technology teams with Saidah Sahad

“Women in Tech bring different perspectives to the difficult commercial challenges. Without doubt, diversity of thought results in better decision making to organizational culture and overall productivity. The role of women in our lives is pivotal, so it is important to raise such issues and hear from our women professionals to learn and relearn” Saidah Sahad

The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders to get their opinions and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.

Please give us a brief outline of your background
I broke into the IT sector by chance, though I always had a personal interest and aptitude for the sector. I completed a host of training courses for IT around the age of 15-16, though my first job was actually a standard administrative role. From there, I quickly oriented towards the IT side of the organization performing user training, application upgrades and server administration. My first ‘official’ job in Technology was with Orange, where I really developed my skills, initially in L2 support and eventually into a more service oriented role as a Service Manager for Network Services. Subsequent to this, I have spent 18 years in progressively more senior roles in Technology Services, with companies such as Savvis and BT. Following a brief period of time out to deal with a family related personal matter, in 2014, I took my most senior and challenging post with BT as Head of Security Services, which covered everything from resource planning to managing a large team to acting as senior escalation point for all of our enterprise accounts.

What is the biggest deterrent to women succeeding in the workplace?
For me, the biggest single challenge that I have seen for women to progress beyond a certain point in their career is the commonly held, tradition perception regarding a woman’s role in the family. At the point when women have children, even in those situations where women are the main breadwinner, it is often expected for the woman to put her career on the back-burner and focus on raising the family as a priority. As such, the needs of the woman in the relationship to balance her career and family interests are not accommodated and it is simply easier to conform.

What challenges have you faced in the work place, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?
I have encountered some degree of prejudice from the direction of male colleagues in the past given IT is a male dominated environment, especially since I started in IT support which was quite a physical role when I got into it! I have also encountered some degree of stereotyping, in terms of the perceptions that to be successful woman, especially in IT, it is necessary to be somehow tough and uncompromising. I’m definitely a strong woman, but I certainly don’t fulfill this kind of stereotype!

What’s the current status for women in digital – is it getting more accommodating or are there hurdles?
The position is definitely improving and this is thanks to perceptions changing regarding women in IT and based on accessibility to courses that are available now. In fact, one of the real positives in Singapore is the broad and often subsidized access to vocational courses in IT.  Given growth in the sector, opportunities for all should really open up irrespective of gender.

What are you most proud of?
I’m actually most proud of something I did outside of work – I completed 2 Marathons!

Did/do you have a mentor in your career?
Yes, I actually have multiple mentors for different areas of my professional life. For instance, when I have a HR challenge, I have a ‘go-to’ mentor who is a senior person in HR. It’s great to have subject matter experts you can revert to for different needs, though you need to be able to offer the same in return!

As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent?
I would say there are 3 things that support the nurturing of the best possible talent for an employer:

  1. Stability in leadership – strong leadership, promotes loyalty and many positive things flow from a loyal workforce
  2. Allocating budget to training and personal development. In IT, not enough resources are allocated to initiatives such as personal development, an example being personality assessment as almost all the emphasis is on Technical skills and this needs to change.  A well-rounded development plan for employees is one way to promote a retention culture.
  3. Work-life balance – companies that retain the best staff tend to have a healthy stance when it comes to this.

In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
I have always been a huge advocate for professional training and development and there is simply no limit or age criteria for when you should or should not complete certain courses. I have also advocated a philosophical approach to adversity or those moments when you doubt yourself. Throw caution to the wind be my motto, as well as go with your passion! Such a mentality is helpful when you consider the trend amongst some women to be risk averse, so it’s important to overcome this.

What initiatives do you think companies should have in place to ensure diversity?
It’s important for companies to focus on competencies for the role to resist temptations around conscious or even unconscious bias. If you are able to focus on key competencies sought with a strong job brief, it is then easier to simply focus on these criteria to ensure you simply get the best person for the job.

What advice would you give people striving to get to the next level?
As mentioned, there is no age limit around when you should or should not set yourself the challenge to go into  areas you may be passionate about. As an example, I have 20 plus years industry experience and am an experienced manager;  I have embarked on a Certified Information Systems Security Professional only recently.  There are times when it is best not to overthink in what you want to do– believe in yourself and go for it!

I would also add that it’s important to be able to have robust conversations with your employer about what’s next for you in terms of your career development and don’t be afraid to ask. In these situations, it’s always important to back your assertions up with hard evidence to show your contribution in measurable terms to back your case. It always helps to have a strong working relationship with your business leaders too to help you judge your timing and approach better; It’s always best plan your approach rather than act on impulse.

Do you have a role model/ inspiration?
Yes, Jack Welch who was one of the founding proponents of what became known as Lean Methodology. I have read extensively about his journey and have come to be inspired by his balance of business and people skills. He was an advocate of flat management structures and a style of management that was non-hierarchical. I certain buy into his values as a way to manage large teams.

Any reading/website you would recommend?
The Confidence Code by Kathy Kay & Claire Shipman.  It was recommended to me by a close friend.  My perspective of women fitting in the workplace has changed and I have adopted some of the examples from the book at the workplace and life in general.  A must read to see how other women overcome diversity in all aspects of their lives.

What is your biggest stress reliever?
Family, holidays, hobbies and exercise – as someone that has completed 2 marathons and cycled on a 12 days excursion around Indo-China, I can say I practice what I preach!  I also get lost in my own world when I started to paint with my watercolours.  The results may not be a masterpiece but hey, at least they are my own creation.

Fun Facts about you
When I did my 12 day cycling tour across Indo-China which covered about 1000km, I actually fell of my bike in the early stages and fractured my right wrist, though I only realised this when I went to the doctor upon my return to Singapore after the tour.

About Saidah Sahad
Born and bred a Singaporean, she takes the Singapore National Pledge seriously!

Saidah wanted to be in the police force but became an accidental ‘Techie’ and has not looked back. She has 20 years of experience in Telecommunications and IT and thinks being in IT is probably the next closest thing to being in the a police. She has a knack for problem solving and believes that one’s productivity and creativity are at their best after a good night’s sleep.

Obssesed with coffee drinking and reading crimes thriller books, Saidah likes to sample the best that life can offer. She has a sense of adventure and likes to keep her spirits and expectations high.

Stay tuned for our next #WomeninTech #SaltSessions interview…

 

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