Amelia Forbes is hard to pin-down. An ex-pro athlete who tried her hand as a professional snowboarder (‘that didn’t work out – but it was fun!’), Amelia decided to pursue another long-time passion – technology. Today, Amelia speaks to us as Change Agent, Disruptor, Solutions Leader & Hybrid Cloud Consultant and Executive at IBM. It’s a mouthful!
“I was fortunate to be part of the 90’s tech boom as a student. That led me to pursue a career in technology as an IT Manager, Project Manager and Website Developer. In 2010, I joined IBM as a graduate, my initial role was Project Coordinator working within the National Australia Bank account responsible for property moves and laptop refresh projects across NAB retail and branch locations within Australia.
Amelia holds a leadership position in a male-dominated sector (women represent 25 per cent of the Australian tech workforce) but she’s clearly not fazed by the imbalance.
“I’ve never thought about it too much. Even in high school, I gravitated towards geeky subjects and was ok among the guys. I’ve never seen my gender as a roadblock to my success. In my 10 years at IBM, I’ve never felt discriminated against for being a female leader. But if anyone asked me to take a role because I’m a woman – I would absolutely say no. It’s not a numbers game – you’ve got to be the right fit for the role,” she shares.
After a decade of ‘making the world a better place, one solution at a time’, we sit down with Amelia for her advice to other women looking to disrupt the world of digital tech.
1. Ask for what you want – or you won’t get it
When Amelia started at IBM she was a young-gun graduate who hit the ground running. She assumed a leadership role within her first two years – a tour de force she attributes to her ability to approach managers with her goals.
“I’ve always asked for what I wanted – and accepted it when I was told no…when I first joined IBM, I was 27 and I wanted to be a project manager. I had previously run my own business – so I felt ready. At the time, there wasn’t room for a project manager in my team. My manager trusted me and empowered me to take on another role and lead a project. She knew I was doing it for the right reasons. My manager saw my leadership qualities and before I knew it, I was leading a team as a People Manager,” she shares.
2. Research and compare employers
Amelia says researching employers is key. In particular, she advises considering how the size of an organisation may impact your experience and opportunities.
“Large organisations can seem intimidating – particularly when considering structural hierarchy. They aren’t the place to be if you want to be CEO tomorrow. However, if you want exposure across multifaceted areas such as business, technology, agile HR, you will discover a breadth of disciplines.”
She continues, “A global technology organisation like IBM is such an incredible place to build a foundation for your career. You have the flexibility to shape your career. With a larger organisation comes education, resources and opportunities for overseas work. In the last two weeks for example, my teams have been programming robots! It’s really cool. I recently undertook a leadership development program which was five days at a winery with people from a range of companies – not just IBMers. Another exciting prospect with larger firms is the opportunity for an international career. I’ve flagged my readiness for positions around the world. I would love to go to Switzerland – anywhere in Europe where it snows!”
3. Don’t assume you need to know it all
Amelia emphasises that it’s better to have a deeper understanding of people than it is to know everything about the technology you’re working with.
“Leadership in the tech sector is not all about numbers. Don’t go in there expecting to be an expert – there’s so much to learn. Focus on being a servant leader. Get behind a team, clear roadblocks, nurture leadership skills, demonstrate empathy and, have the hard-hitting conversations. It’s not about being a deep technologist. It’s about understanding people,” Amelia explains.
In addition to her leadership role, Amelia also wears the hat of a Culture Coach – she guides IBMers as they begin navigating the winds of change.
“We are on a huge physical and cultural transformation journey at IBM. We’re renovating our HQ to accommodate new work styles such as hot desking and flexible working. We’re collaborating with a trusted partner to communicate with our workforce about these changes. It’s a not a ‘top down’ approach or a matter of the C-Suite team directing – it’s about crowdsourcing. We’re gathering perceptions through focus groups, as well as HR and workforce leadership teams. It’s really exciting! Yet it requires a lot of energy. As a company that is more than 100 years old, some of our processes can be ingrained – so we need to check in with our culture frequently to ensure we’re on the right track and providing everyone a safe space for collaboration,” she says.
Why does Amelia choose IBM?
With an average tenure of 1.7 years globally, the tech industry has one of the highest turnover rates. As a millennial in the digital industry, her 10 years is unorthodox. So why does she stick around?
“IBM provides me with a flexible lifestyle so I can be the best I can be at work. I’m motivated by the agility of our roles and the endless learning opportunities. As long as I’m learning every day, there’s no limit to what I can overcome. Finally, it’s our values at IBM. If I didn’t feel my values were aligned, I wouldn’t stay. IBM is an incredible environment to be yourself. Here, we embrace diversity – it’s not just about gender. I feel supported and have the freedom to be me.”