Victoria Normark recently joined Privitar from Snow Software. As Privitar’s Chief Technology Officer, Victoria oversees the company’s global engineering and technology strategy. Prior to leading engineering at Snow Software, she was a management consultant who helped large bureaucratic businesses transform into modern agile organisations. Based in Stockholm, Normark spends significant time on-location with Privitar’s global engineering teams. We caught up with Victoria to find out about life as a female leader in the channel.
What is your background within the tech channel?
I started my professional career as a software developer, and over the years, my role evolved to be a combination of a developer and scrum master. I felt that what you build and how you build it were equally important to the result. I dug in deep for a couple of years focusing on agile and lean software development, then expanded into agile leadership, which is really just mature leadership. To build highly motivated, self-driven, self-sufficient teams, you really need that kind of leadership. So we shouldn’t call it agile leadership, we should call it leadership needed for agile teams. This kind of leadership should be the model, independent of what methodology you use. It’s all about creating a culture of participation, where people actually understand where we’re going by contributing and being involved, rather than by reading it on a powerpoint slide.
It’s very inspiring to hear of a female Chief Technology Officer. Do you feel there are currently enough women being recruited into such roles of leadership within the tech channel?
Probably not. For obvious reasons, people are just not seeing a woman in front of them when you say CTO. Even if companies are actively recruiting women, there aren’t that many female candidates, especially at the leadership levels. If we want more women in tech leadership, we need to start much earlier than looking at the CTO level. We need to work with our kids, and increase interest and participation in STEM early, foster that interest as they go through school, and continue to support them as they begin and develop their professional careers.
What can the tech channel do to encourage more women to pursue a career in the industry?
I think we are seeing a positive trend. Girls are playing more computer and mobile games now than 5-10 years ago, which can trigger an interest in tech.
I recently saw some statistics on applicants for the Masters program in data science at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the percentage of women had gone from 7.5 % in 2008 to 19.6 % in 2021.
One thing that is concerning to me is that we are not adequately teaching IT as a subject in elementary school, at least not in Sweden. The students know more about IT than the teachers. For example, I heard from my daughter that they had a course in school where they should learn how to program in Python, but the teacher could not explain it to them, so almost everyone was failing. They also have no basic theory about IT, learning things like what the cloud is, how a wifi works, the difference between SaaS and installed software, basic IT security and so on, largely because the teachers themselves don’t have the knowledge base.
We need to start early in the process by teaching the teachers, then build in lessons about basics of IT into the standard curriculum. Having fun labs, like programming Lego robots, should be on the agenda too. I think that could be one way to trigger the interest for tech early, especially for girls who might not be exposed to tech in the same way as boys by their parents.
IT is changing society drastically, and we don’t do a good enough job teaching it and encouraging interest in elementary school.
What advice can you give to aspiring young women to pursue a career in the channel?
Never ever think twice. Just do it. Don’t ever believe that you have to perform better than men to be seen as equal, that is just not true. Just be yourself, the men around you want nothing else than that from you. And isn’t that what diversity is all about? That we are contributing with our differences? If we tried to behave as the majority, the value of diversity would be lost.
One positive thing about the IT industry is that, from my experience and at least in Sweden, it’s more equal than other industries. I’ve never met a developer who treated me badly, in any way. I’ve always felt respected, and maybe even a bit admired, but never ever been treated in a disrespectful way.
Why did you want to work in the tech sector?
When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. The universe fascinated me. When I read about Christer Fuglesang (a Swedish astronaut), I learned that he studied engineering physics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and I wanted to do that too. I never realised this was unusual in any way.
Programming came later, when I studied for my PhD (I never finished though) and found myself enjoying programming more than my actual research assignment. Programming just fits my nature. I like to structure things, and I love problem solving. I could have an “Eureka” moment in the evening and then long to get back to work to try it out, to see if the idea worked or not.
It was never a conscious choice to work in the tech industry, it just happened.
How can companies look to create a better work place of diversity and inclusion in the channel?
I believe having an articulated strategy on hiring for diversity is a must, but is not a silver bullet.
Recruitment can be challenging. I’ve had teams that actively recruit for diversity, but if you don’t get any candidates it’s hard. Also, we don’t want to hire candidates that most likely won’t succeed in the role, that doesn’t benefit anyone. We can’t force women into tech and leadership positions. So the solution has to be as mentioned above, get more women into tech early. The results of these efforts won’t show until quite a few years though. It’s slow machinery, but it’s moving!
Once you succeed in building diverse teams, you want to keep your people. I think listening, doing employee surveys or monthly check-ins to take the temperature can give you input on where to improve.
Creating a culture of trust, where employees feel they can be themselves, without playing a role, is really important. To do this, you need to work with leadership, so that they lead by example. Just be you at work, there is no need to play any charade. If you, as a leader, can show vulnerability, show that you don’t understand everything or just be tired one day, your employees will follow. With that kind of culture, it’s more likely for people to feel included, just as they are.
Why do you think diversity and inclusion is important?
The more different perspectives, the more creative solutions, and the more you can achieve.
Our thinking is very much colored by our frames of reference, which we start building when we grow up. The culture we are raised in, the experiences we gain when growing up, and the knowledge we have about things all contribute to our frames of reference. It’s really hard for us to think outside of these frames of reference. Sometimes we tend to think about things as “right” and “wrong.” We have to get away from this way of thinking. Diversity and inclusion won’t work if we’re not open minded about other ways of seeing things, that there is more than one “right.” We have to be curious and ask a lot of questions, really try to understand different perspectives, try to understand how other people can be right in their context, in their frames of reference. That’s when we can harvest the value from diversity and be more innovative and creative together. That’s when conversations are not about making compromises, but rather finding new, better solutions that we couldn’t think of ourselves.
What is your favourite part about your current role?
There are several things, but I’ll share two.
I feel data is the future. More and more companies want to make use of the large amounts of data that exists, but at the same time we need to keep that data safe to use, without revealing personal data. I chose Privitar because of the company’s commitment to helping organisations use their data to maximise business benefits in a safe and ethical manner
I also love people and I love creating an inspiring and motivating environment together with all the people around me.
What inspires you about the tech channel?
I love the feeling of being at the forefront of evolution. I love the idea of rolling forward rather than rolling back. We can’t solve the problems of today by going backwards, we have to innovate and move forward instead. An example of that is climate change. We can’t go back to the Stone Age to stop today’s problems from happening, that’s not realistic. We have to find new solutions on renewable energy instead. We have a never ending (or at least a far, far in the future ending) source of energy in the sun. Let’s use that!
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