The interview: More women set to take senior roles in tech – HP SVP Bethany Mayer
Bethany Mayer, senior vice-president and general manager of Hewlett-Packard's Network Functions Virtualisation Business

The interview: More women set to take senior roles in tech – HP SVP Bethany Mayer

23 Jun 2014

The culture of leadership in the technology industry is changing and the proportion of female leaders in senior positions in the multi-billion-dollar sector will be transformed in the next 10 to 15 years, says Bethany Mayer, SVP and GM of Hewlett-Packard’s Network Functions Virtualisation Business.

Mayer is also in charge of HP’s US$2.5bn a year networking division, which, under her leadership, has grown through 17 consecutive quarters and holds the No 2 market share position. In this role, she leads a global team of more than 6,000 employees that helps companies improve their performance through innovative networking technologies.

Mayer will be in Dublin on 30 June to address the Open Tech Ireland gathering on SDN technology at Royal Hospital Kilmainham, and will later that day join us for the Top 100 Women in STEM Celebration at the Guinness Storehouse.

Mayer drove HP to introduce the industry’s first complete software-defined network (SDN) product portfolio and partner ecosystem, leading the networking industry in a major paradigm shift.

Mayer volunteers as a fundraiser for the Canary Foundation, which is focused on early cancer detection. She also sits on the board of Teen Challenge, which is focused on reducing teen drug and alcohol addiction, and is on the board of Professional BusinessWomen of California (PBWC).

In February 2013, Mayer hosted a dynamic two-day Women’s Technology Leadership Forum (now known as Women’s Innovation Council) for 30 of the US’ most prominent women CIOs. Focusing on ‘Innovation with Purpose’, participants explored issues, including the crisis in STEM education for girls, climate change, poverty and healthcare, and explored ways to innovate collaboratively in addressing them.

Mayer has also sponsored various other leadership summits for future technology leaders. She has recently been named a Watermark Women Who Have Made Their Mark Award winner. Business Insider also recently recognised her as one of the 50 Most Powerful People in Enterprise Tech.

In 2012, Mayer won the Gold Stevie award for Female Executive of the Year in the 2012 Stevie Awards for Women in Business. In 2008, the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal recognised her as one of the Top Women of Influence in Silicon Valley.

The culture of leadership in tech is changing

Speaking with, Mayer said the culture of leadership of tech companies is changing.

“Statistically there aren’t very many (women) at a senior level in technology and that’s still the case, it’s actually very low. And in particular, technical women at a senior level within technology, it’s not a very large group.

“However, the pipeline is going to get much stronger over the next 10 to 15 years. There will be a lot more women who have spent time rising through the ranks and getting to a senior level, especially technical women. There are more technical women advancing in their careers now and I think what we will see is a continued rise in technical women in the industry.

“When I was starting out there weren’t a lot of women on the technical side so there wasn’t a lot of pipelines there for women to actually move in their careers on the technical side. Now that’s changed.”

“Today, many more women are technical and have both degrees as well as experience in technology and I think there will be an advance over the course of the next few years to grow the senior ranks. It has been an interesting journey. There will be many more women like me in the years to come.”

Mayer believes part of the culture change has predominantly a lot to do with women themselves wanting to pursue technical roles within the industry and not just mindset changes at management level.

“Having more women wanting to have a technical role in a technology company will help, no question. I think that there are places in the industry where women do get to a glass ceiling. I haven’t personally experienced that. I have been very fortunate. I have continued to progress in my career based on results and performance. I have been able to grow.”

While there is a belief that the reason so few women occupy senior positions has been due to a perceived male bias in the sector, Mayer hasn’t experienced this herself. HP, which is the biggest tech hardware player on the planet, is headed by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and has a long-standing tradition of strong female leadership, including former executive vice-president Ann Livermore.

“We’ve seen many reports on bias in the industry or bias in the market, but from a personal perspective I have not experienced that. I think it’s just a matter of those mindsets changing over the next few years and they have changed.

“I have kids who are now in the workforce and they have a very different way of thinking about people’s capabilities. And from what I can tell, they don’t seem to care whether it is a man or a woman that’s doing the job, they have a mindset that whoever is best for that job will get the job and I really think that is the change. What we’ve seen up to now may have been a reality, but I think that reality has changed.”

Be curious, go forth and flourish

Mayer welcomes the rise of outlets that inspire young people to learn how to code, such as CoderDojo, Black Girls Code, and many other coding groups that have emerged. But diversity in the workplace, she opines, should be augmented by diversity in your career choices, too.

“One thing that has helped with my kids, and one thing that young people should be is open to is different opportunities and being curious about different paths from a career perspective.

“My career wasn’t very straightforward. I didn’t start out doing the same thing I ended up doing. I didn’t start as a coder, then go on to be a development manager, then go to R&D … it just didn’t happen that way at all.

“And the reason for that is I have a curiosity about different things and technology is just one area I find fascinating and I’ve gone and done what I’m interested in, what makes me passionate and what will satisfy me and what will have meaning for me. I work hard, I work long hours, I travel – that work needs to have meaning for you and you need to enjoy it and be passionate about it.

“I would say to people starting out – don’t lock yourself in to one particular path, there are a lot of different paths and kinds of jobs, be it in technology companies where you can move laterally because you find something interesting that’s new or that’s maybe outside your industry.”

And that is the truth about technology companies today: there are many different avenues to pursue within the business, indeed any business that today is touched by technology and depends on it.

“I would just say young people need to remain open to potential and to things that might draw their interest and give them passion in their career.

“And that will in itself lead to good things because if you are excited about what you are doing oftentimes you do a very good job and you work very hard and try your best and it shows.

“So I think it is important that there’s not one particular path you have to go down to be successful, there are a lot of different ways you can travel in your career.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

On Monday 30 June, we will celebrate our 100 Top Women in STEM, and Bethany Mayer will be a special guest.

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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