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Becoming the tech leaders of tomorrow

Female leader leans on table in front of team of colleagues

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Bilge Mert, CTO of Brit takes a look at the leadership skills women should be building and honing today, in order to become the leaders of the future.

AS PRACTITIONERS WORKING IN THE TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY, WE’RE WELL AWARE THAT THE PACE OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE IS ONLY INCREASING.

Eighty-nine per-cent of the world’s big data has been produced in just the past two years. The processing capacity of technology is currently doubling every 18 months, and the AI industry is growing by 16.4% year on year.

Workers in the tech industry are skilled on predicting forthcoming changes and anticipating how businesses must adapt to navigate and capitalise on these changes, but what about when it comes to ourselves and our own personal development?

In the midst of rapid technological change, it’s worth taking a step back and thinking about how we ourselves might need to adapt as professionals to thrive in this rapidly changing age.

In this article, Bilge Mert, CTO of Brit, is doing exactly that – she takes a look at the leadership skills women should be building and honing today, in order to become the leaders of the future.

Bilge Mert is CTO at Brit Insurance. Before Brit, Bilge was at InsurTech iptiQ, Swiss Re’s start-up. She has also previously worked at British American Tobacco, Mondelez and Accenture UK.

Bilge Mert, CTO of Brit

FROM SUPPORT FUNCTION TO C-SUITE

The past 10 years has seen a significant shift in the role of the CTO. In my career lifetime, the role of the CTO has progressed from being a back-office support function to a strategic and advisory department that serves as a critical business enabler and growth driver. In most sectors, tech heads now sit on an equal footing with fellow C-suite members.

In fact, research shows that the more ingrained a CTO is in business decision making, the more successful the business is. A recent McKinsey study found that nearly three-quarters of top-performing companies highly involve their most senior tech leaders in setting the overarching company strategy.

The ubiquity of tech and data in day to day operations has dramatically transformed the function of the tech department and the role CTOs serve, so if this pace of change is only set to ramp up further in the coming years, how is the role going to look in the future as tech advancements progress even quicker?

SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TECH LEADERS OF THE FUTURE?

Tech professionals have a distinct set of skills and knowledge, grounded in the work we do on a day to day basis. However, to become a future leader, tech leaders in the industry need to be thinking about the soft skills that can complement these core competencies.

Firstly, is storytelling. As the pace of technological innovation increases exponentially, the gulf between technological knowledge and non-technological knowledge is only set to widen. CTOs, especially within insurance, often manage a vast legacy technology infrastructure that requires significant modernisation to enable business value. That requires deep tech expertise, however many people sat around the boardroom struggle to understand the intricacies and challenges of the transformation. Storytelling and taking fellow colleagues on a journey therefore is critical.

This involves not only an ability to simplify and distil complicated concepts into layman terms, but an ability to articulate why a certain development is needed in commercial terms – what is the opportunity? What is the risk if we don’t?

Take ChatGPT for example, a tech professional can tell you how the software works, along with the science and technology that underpins it. A tech leader however will be able to articulate to a non-specialist audience what it means for their business, what are the commercial risks and strategic opportunities. 

Secondly, is the ability to build and lead a team. Too often, people wait until they become leaders to learn how to lead, but in my view you don’t need to be a leader in order to lead. Leadership skills are something we should be developing and finessing over the entirety of our careers not just when we reach the top. Think about how you can start implementing leadership skills in your role today, whether it’s delegating to your team more or taking ownership of a particular project or initiative. The best leaders are ones that have trusted and empowered team-mates working around them.

Underpinning this approach to leadership is a “servant leadership” style. As a servant leader, you’re a servant first. You focus on the needs of your team members before your own. It’s thought that servant leadership leads to greater engagement, increased innovation and lower turnover. In the increasingly competitive landscape both from a talent and commercial perspective, it’s clear to see how such a leadership style can be more conducive to not only retaining the best talent, but also building a team that is empowered to drive innovation and challenge the status quo.

WHY WOMEN?

Compassion, empathy, empowerment, ability to see things from other people’s perspective, resolve conflict and adapt accordingly. These are all skills commonly attributed to women leaders. There is also a wide digital skills shortage in the market and we do need to make sure that we are reaching across genders and all aspects of diversity to ensure that we expand the talent pool that can drive change.

While skills can’t be reduced down to just gender, or simplified through such a binary lens, there is a wealth of literature that highlights these emotional intelligence skills as common tenets of many female leadership styles.

With such an emphasis on knowledge, technical skills and maths and science, it’s unsurprising that people don’t often associate tech with emotional intelligence.

However, as the workplace becomes increasingly technological, reliant on automation, machine learning and online connectivity – it’s the skills that make us human that are going to make us stand out and truly add value as a tech leader.

The coming decades are set to be incredibly competitive as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold, and the success of many businesses will hinge on their tech strategies. Women still account for the minority of leaders in the tech space. Not only can women bring the essential skills needed to lead tech strategies in this increasingly complex and technical arena, but they can also bring diversity of thought and a differing perspective needed in order to foster new and creative ideas and ways of thinking.

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