Workday’s Chris Byrne sits at a microphone recording a podcast. The Workday logo is on a screen behind her.
Chris Byrne. Image: Workday

Workday’s Chris Byrne on leading remotely and getting women into tech

16 Dec 20201.23k Views

Workday’s Chris Byrne discusses her career journey, her experience leading a remote team and what she sees coming in 2021.

Having been with ‘born-in-the-cloud’ company Workday for just shy of 15 years, Chris Byrne is no stranger to digital transformation.

Workday provides enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources, and Byrne is the senior vice-president of global operations and the site lead of the company’s EMEA HQ in Dublin.

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Byrne said she is a “software engineer at heart” and that two women in her school years were instrumental in guiding her towards a career in tech. “Mrs Sitzler encouraged me to go to third-level education, while my maths teacher Sister Sara encouraged me to consider computer science,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

“Technology can offer such an interesting career path. It has given me the chance to work in diverse countries from Ireland to New Zealand and work with organisations like IBM, NASA and even the CIA.”

Women in tech

Women have traditionally been underrepresented in technology and this gender imbalance is a challenge that stood out to Byrne as she progressed, with just five women being in her graduate class of 30 people. “In my first job, I realised it was important to be assertive, speak up and be heard, and give visibility into my achievements,” she said. “I learned that you need to put yourself forward for roles and not just expect opportunities to land in your lap.”

Now, Byrne said any companies building products need to have true diversity among the people developing those products if they want to be reflective of their users.

“From Bletchley Park to NASA, women have always played their part in the tech revolution,” she added.

“Workday joined the 30% Club in Ireland, which strives for greater gender balance on boards and executive leadership. I look at many data points now with that 30pc lens. When you have 30pc gender diversity, you’ve made a major improvement that is going to allow you to bring the best ideas and get the best from people.”

However, a recent report from Balance for Better Business suggests that many companies in Ireland still have work to do when it comes to achieving these targets at senior and board level.

Byrne said technology and software development in particular is a team sport rather than an individual one. “One reason perhaps we don’t see more women in tech is that we don’t highlight the collaborative nature of what we do as much as we could. The encouragement and support of male colleagues can also help make a huge difference here.”

She also believes the perception that tech jobs are solely about coding prevents some people from pursuing a career in the industry.

“For every software developer, there are a host of interlocking roles such as product design, quality assurance, operations, user experience – and that’s just to name a few. It would be amazing if we, men and women, could encourage more second-level students to pursue these multi-opportunity careers, especially when considering college choices.”

The effects of Covid-19

Like many leaders, Byrne has had to shift to managing remote teams during Covid-19. “As a leader, you feel incredibly responsible for every single employee and their wellbeing, as well as making sure your customers are never let down,” she said of the experience so far.

She added that while tech has been a great enabler, it cannot replace human connection. “The crisis of Covid means leaders need to communicate and influence like never before, especially with employees. This started with advice on health and safety, employee wellbeing, getting useful, factual information out to people and listening to their concerns,” she said.

“Over time, you then have to paint a picture of the future, giving employees hope that we can come out the far side of this global crisis. That includes motivation and a little humour. As we held quarterly virtual employee meetings, our ‘house band’ of employees, ‘The Early Twenties’, would play a theme song to give people a lift – Don’t Stop Believin’ was a big hit!”

Outside of working life, Byrne said Covid-19 has also affected the Workday volunteering programme. “I am very focused on how we can get back safely in 2021 for our employees and see how we can jump-start all our local community initiatives too.”

Tech trends 2021

Looking ahead, Byrne said Workday’s team of more than 1,200 is continuing to grow. “We continue to create new teams here in Dublin – like people analytics, strategic sourcing, analytics and machine learning,” she said.

“Covid has now forced acceleration of transformation for many companies – how they work, how they sell, how they manage employees, how they transact, how they manage customer relationships. It’s all about responding in a changing world.

“Organisations embracing transformation can not only get the best data and insights, but also ensure their employees can focus on the most meaningful and impactful work by, for example, automating more mundane tasks.”

Byrne also said that cloud adoption is growing rapidly, even though it’s still at a relatively young stage.

“Digital transformation is much higher on every company’s agenda, regardless of size or industry, especially since ‘software as a service’ is available for organisations of all sizes. When the layer of machine learning is added to existing technology, I think it’s a game changer.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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