International Women’s Day: Wisdom from 5 Female Trailblazers Who Are Paving the Way in the Tech Industry

Hollyn Phelps, Worldwide Communications Manager

On International Women’s Day and every day, we celebrate and honor the women who break barriers, make a difference and play a vital role across Lenovo and those who paved the way before them.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global event that brings the world together to recognize and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political contributions of women – while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality.

People from all over the globe have been celebrating IWD since 1911, and every year, a new theme is chosen based on modern challenges and trends. For this year, the theme is #EachforEqual, and it’s all about promoting the idea that an “equal world is an enabled world”.

This theme reminds us that as individuals, we all have a role to play in forging a gender equal world by applauding women’s acts of courage and achievements, challenging bias, questioning stereotypes and taking collective action for equality.

At Lenovo, we know equality makes us better, and we’re committed to working toward it together.

To celebrate this important day, we asked a few of our female trailblazers to share their thoughts, experiences and wisdom on how they are leading the way as women in the technology industry and what #EachforEqual means to them.

The importance of an #EachforEqual culture

Renee Ure, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Lenovo Data Center Group: Skill gaps often lead to gender inequality in the workplace. To have gender equality means we must have equal opportunity to learn and grow. Lenovo’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG) give access to anyone who wants to close any skill gap in their employee development plan.

These resources do not cost our employees anything except time. Better yet is Lenovo gives them the time to learn new skills. A lot of companies pay lip service to gender equality but Lenovo practices it by ensuring equality of opportunity, regardless of gender.

Fiona O’Brien, EMEA Chief Channel Officer & Head of Operations at Lenovo: Every team benefits from a variety of different perspectives. As a company, we are focused on building a diverse and inclusive workforce as it allows us to see the world from many different angles, solve complex problems and build a business which resonates across borders and cultures.

Lenovo’s culture of trust in its people is a great foundation for equality, allowing for flexibility in working conditions while still getting the job done. Though we are making big strides, our journey towards true gender equality is not over.

Kirsten Hamstra, Director, WW Social Media Marketing: One of the things that most attracted me to Lenovo was seeing how diverse and inclusive the brand’s employee base truly is. Lenovo walks the walk and demonstrates real commitment with its diversity and inclusion efforts.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many successful women at Lenovo at all levels and am inspired to see so many rise in prominent leadership roles. Not only do these women mentor and share their success with others, but they often have developed and grown their careers across many areas of the business. That’s one of the things that sets Lenovo apart from other global technology brands.

Catherine Ladousse, Executive Director of  EMEA Communications: Diversity is the DNA of the Lenovo culture and it’s been great to see the increasing focus on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) highlighted in the latest publication of our annual D&I report and the multiple programs dedicated to creating an inclusive culture –  in particular through our Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL) network. Our values are based on equity and loyalty and while our D&I strategy focused on giving equal opportunity to all people to succeed is well recognized, we still have work to do.

Laura Laltrello, Vice President, Lenovo Data Center Services: Awareness of our bias. Our global diversity team educates recruiters, managers, and employees on our individual biases. Decision making is rational and emotional. When we are making decisions about who to hire, who to promote, or even how to write a job description, those biases play a big role in the emotional side of a decision.

What changed the game in my career

Renee Ure: A game changer for me happened while I was responsible for almost a million square feet of manufacturing space for IBM in North America during the mid-1990s. The engineers who reported to me came up with a manufacturing process for our computers that was state of the art at the time. The catch was I needed to secure $25 million to change our manufacturing facility.

I ended up meeting with the Senior Vice President (the boss of my boss’s boss!) and Chief Financial Officer to make a case for the funds. After repeatedly being asked how I could guarantee the success of our idea, I took my badge off and threw it on the middle of the conference room table. While I believed in our idea and knew it would result in savings, I realized I needed to make a bold statement.

If it doesn’t work and we do not get this much return in this period – there’s my badge. Take it. You won’t have to fire me. I will resign.

It was scary to put everything on the line. The Senior Vice President was a lot older than me with a lot more experience too. He was impressed with my commitment and gave us the greenlight. He told me years later, that because I showed passion, energy and more importantly, the confidence, he knew there was no way I would let him and the IBM team down.

That experience was a game changer for me. It changed the way I dealt with challenges. From that point on, I made sure I knew every aspect of a challenge so I could put my name and badge behind it.

It also reinforced in me the importance of ownership. Ownership is not easy – especially if you are wrong – but it is a vital leadership competency. A leader must walk the talk, and if your team is in the thick of things, you are right there with them, rolling up your sleeves.

Laura Laltrello: Early in my career I believed the work should speak for itself. If I do a great job and show my work, I will get more opportunities. I started learning this was simply not true. I knew I needed to spend more time building relationships, but frankly, my confidence was in my work not in myself. In a career review one day, one of my bosses said just a few words that completely changed my outlook.  He said – people like you; they like spending time with you. Use that.

We usually think feedback is teaching someone what they need to work on. In many cases, feedback is about teaching someone a strength they don’t know they have. These few words were powerful and changed my outlook completely. From this point, I spent more time on relationships and collaboration than just the work.

In many cases, feedback is about teaching someone a strength they don’t know they have.

My biggest barriers and what I did about them

Fiona O’Brien: It can be difficult to be the only woman in the room, or at the table. Self-belief and bravery are key parts of my success. Making your voice heard requires confidence in your opinions and in your right to be there. However, it can be difficult to silence the inner critic and overcome the idea that others are more qualified in their opinion or in their right to decide.

This imposter syndrome trait seems more prevalent in women than men – and it’s something that I have had to work on over the years. That’s were the bravery comes in – sometimes you have to fake the confidence until you feel it. My top piece of advice is to surround yourself with people who will support your ambitions and help you get there – and trust yourself and your abilities.

This imposter syndrome trait seems more prevalent in women than men – and it’s something that I have had to work on over the years. That’s were the bravery comes in – sometimes you have to fake the confidence until you feel it.

Renee Ure: I made manager by my mid-twenties – the only female manager – in a procurement organization of a thousand people. Despite this, my boss would exclude me from work functions that my all-male peers would regularly attend. The fact that I was treated differently bothered me greatly. I talked to my boss about it and how his actions made me feel. But it wasn’t easy.

That first conversation with him was really tough for me. It would have been easier to keep my feelings close to my vest, but I found the courage to make myself speak up. After that difficult discussion, I developed sharp communication skills and became better at addressing problems.

Reactions to my boldness were not always positive but my willingness to communicate the value I brought to the organization became my edge.

The workplace stereotypes and myths attached to women

Kirsten Hamstra: Women in the workplace who are also devoted mothers (raises hand) are often stereotyped in having divided loyalties. Can a mom of two really have a focused demanding career that intellectually challenges while still being engaged and present with their family?

Can a mom of two really have a focused demanding career that intellectually challenges while still being engaged and present with their family?

To challenge this, I try to view my colleagues as all having outside interests and responsibilities that they juggle along with work. It’s being well-balanced and finding joy in all of it that keeps me motivated to go for what fulfills me, both personally and professionally.

Catherine Ladousse: The notion of unconscious bias where people might be perceived more by gender than their identity or skills is a real factor in today’s workplaces. It creates specific behaviors with unintentional consequences which in some instances can be defined as sexism i.e. inappropriate comments or discussions on topics which exclude or even criticize women.

In the workplace, we often need to challenge traditional ideas or stereotypes that “women lack authority, are more emotional than men; are less strategic” last but not least, “women have less flexibility and time to focus on their jobs as they juggle multiple tasks at work and at home”.

Rather than these old-fashioned stereotypes, many of these qualities, take multi-tasking for example, are those required to succeed in the new world where we no longer manage hierarchically but where attributes such as emotion, empathy and team work demonstrate the ability to inspire teams and drive them to ambitious goals.

Rather than these old-fashioned stereotypes, many of these qualities, take multi-tasking for example, are those required to succeed in the new world where we no longer manage hierarchically but where attributes such as emotion, empathy and team work demonstrate the ability to inspire teams and drive them to ambitious goals.

Renee Ure: When I began my career, the common stereotypes were women are too nice, women are too emotional, and women are weak. I guess I threw those out the door because none of them fit me.

However, there is another stereotype that did and still does fit me and other women in the workplace. I tend to be too dismissive of positive feedback. I would love to change that in me and let other women know it is okay to receive praise. We might be resistant to praise because we feel we have more to prove than men, so we constantly strive for perfection.

A key goal in my life was to have children. When my career began to heat up, I added the goal of becoming a successful business leader. The ‘conventional wisdom’ of the time in the mid-1980s was I could not do both. One of my male colleagues even took me aside to give me ‘advice’ as I rose up the leadership ladder. He wanted to let me know the time was approaching for me to make a choice between continuing with my career or leaving it behind to start a family.

I’m sure he meant well but I refused to make a choice. The idea that I (or any woman) had to choose was a myth to me. I wanted family and a career, so I set out to disprove that myth.

It was difficult though. Back then, you could not find examples of women who were in the career position I am in today with children. I was fortunate that my partner clearly understood what my personal and professional goals were and supported me every step of the way.

Women can have a career and family, but it is unreasonable to think they should be able to do it all without support. Both parties in a relationship or marriage need to be engaged and share the workload of domestic duties. Open communication and aligned goals are important.

Fiona O’Brien: Unfortunately, there is still an assumption that work/life balance challenges are faced by women alone. Time issues have an impact on both sexes but critically men often escape judgement if they make sacrifices to advance their career. We need to be more honest, step away from the idea of perfection and the myths told about “work/life balance” and simply be kinder to ourselves.

How I empower and influence those around me

Catherine Ladousse: I always encourage my team or any individual to take risks, be brave and to try new challenges as it is always more inspiring and interesting to learn! Secondly, I pay attention to ensure I recognize the efforts of the team and celebrate their success. It is very important to create strong and close relationships.

Kirsten Hamstra: By trusting them to be the experts that they are and allowing them the same opportunities and visibility for their work that I’ve been given along my career.

Fiona O’Brien: I have spent the last ten years in an EMEA environment which has challenged me in how I communicate on a daily basis. I have learnt that you can never over communicate a message, as you break down language and cultural barriers. Listen before you speak to establish a baseline and gain an understanding of where the other person is coming from.  You also have to make an effort to give everyone a voice – be diligent about ensuring that those who don’t naturally push themselves forward are given a platform to air their views.

Renee Ure: I encourage everyone who reports to me to have a sense of ownership. Emblazoned on the wall of our team room are the words “Be stronger than your excuses…” I live by that and empower others to do the same. That attitude is an important leadership capability. Do we own a problem or deflect it? Greater ownership leads to a great organization.

Laura Laltrello: I was always the youngest. The little sister. I got to learn a LOT from the mistakes my sister made and tried to not repeat them. Now, I get to be a big sister to a lot of women and men. I get to share with them the lessons I have learned throughout my career to hopefully help them avoid mistakes I made. Many of these conversations with women are about building their confidence behind their competence.

The most important advice I can give you

Laura Laltrello: People, and the environment you are in, impact your happiness (job satisfaction) more than the work. When you’re searching for that perfect “job”, you should really be searching for who will your peers be? What type of environment will I work in? Do I work well in this environment? Understand the environment and who your peers will be and make sure it’s one where you will thrive.

Kirsten Hamstra: Find your allies and build relationships across all areas of the business. There’s opportunity to create positive change in tech and now many women to look up to as mentors and role models in what has long been a very male-dominated industry.

Catherine Ladousse: Don’t fear being in a minority, take advantage of it to be visible. Speak up, express your views, and be confident. If you get a position, it is because you have the right skills and the right experience. I would also recommend finding a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor will help with career and personal advice while a sponsor will identify relevant jobs, development opportunities and help you to get them.

Fiona O’Brien: As you start your career, regardless of industry, the key is to be authentic, agile and open to new experiences.  Build your own integrity so you know what you stand for, and then channel that into everything you do – at work, with your family and with the wider world.

Renee Ure: Always keep the client’s needs in your sights. The tech industry moves fast, and it is easy to get lost in it. If you make the client or customer your North Star, you will focus on what matters. The tech industry is filled with passionate people who have strong opinions. Collaboration is great but to thrive you must develop the ability to debate and question ideas. The client and your chosen organization will not get the best result without a little healthy conflict.

The Quotes I Live By

Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so

Be stronger than your excuses

You are as good as anyone in this town, but you are no better than any of them

With enough determination and hard work, you can achieve whatever you want

You are not born a woman, you become one


Lenovo Tech World '22

Last year we entered the next reality. This year we're living it. Join the visionary virtual event on Oct. 18 and see how Lenovo's smarter technology is empowering people everywhere to change their world for the better..

Register today.
Don't Miss StoryHub Updates: