The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 12

I can and I will…a Women in Tech success story

Lee-Ann Dias
Partner Solutions Professional, Microsoft

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Our industry is putting a lot of effort into creating a more diverse workplace. Despite the efforts, anecdotal evidence and the current employment statistics suggest there is more work to do.
 
But, it is not all doom an gloom. On this episode I speak with Lee-Ann Dias, a Partner Solutions Professional at Microsoft, who is thumbing her nose at the statistics. Lee-Ann’s has worked in areas from Customer Success to Technical and Business Development.
 
Lee-Ann is poster child for the The Woman in Tech movement. Her career began off the back of a university degree in computer science and has continued to soar.
 
There are many paths for entry into this industry for women, but some are working better than others. I thought it would be interesting to talk to Lee-Ann about her career success to date and get her thoughts on how we can improve the pathways for women.

Chris L.: 

Welcome to the Intelligent Workplace, Lee Ann Dias.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Thanks, Chris.

Chris L.:                             

This is great. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to get together to have this chat.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Me too. Thanks for coming all the way up to Sydney.

Chris L.:                             

Well, we must give a little shout out to our common friend, Allie for joining the dots between us.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Oh absolutely. And Allie is amazing. We’re going to probably talk about her as well.

Chris L.:                             

Fair enough. I’ve asked you to join me today to talk about our pathways for women in the industry, as you are a shining light of what the Women in Tech Movement is looking to achieve. As a successful woman in the industry, how do you feel that we are doing in attracting more women and creating a more diverse workforce?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Okay. I definitely think our efforts have actually paid off. Compared to four years ago. I only moved to Australia three and a half years ago. When I worked in Asia, I didn’t really come across the gender gap. Females in tech.

Chris L.:                             

Is it really nearly 50-50 over there?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

It was almost, it was close to 50-50. I worked in teams where we had three or four female developers on the team. Tech doesn’t equate to coding, but if you do code, I think it’s pretty cool.

Chris L.:                             

Yeah. Can I be honest with you? I work in an office here in Australia, [inaudible 00:03:09] has a dev team and I’m just not seeing that diversity.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Yes, Australia was really hard. I remember going to events and being the only female in the room, or being one of two females in the room. That’s changed in most recent times, and I can see there’s at least 10 females in the room. So, our efforts are definitely paying off.

Chris L.:                             

Getting better.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Yeah. But we can definitely do much more.

Chris L.:                             

Let’s take a bit of a step back to your schooling guys. What were your interests way back then?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Well, I enjoy computer science, but I was very passionate about music as well. I used to run my own music school. In my spare time, I don’t know if I had much of that, but I would actually sing at a restaurant every Saturday. I had a regular gig as backup singer. Then moved out by myself and started doing solo acts as well, solo gigs. Music, singing and computer science. I also enjoyed sport.

Chris L.:                             

You were busy.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I was busy. It was very hectic. Yeah.

Chris L.:                             

When did the idea of having a career in the tech industry dawn upon you?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I never intended to have a career in the tech industry. I wanted to do computer science because I was passionate about it, but I wanted to become a lecturer in computer science.

Chris L.:                             

Okay.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

After Uni, I thought I would spend some time … My parents were living in Singapore at the time, so I said I’ll spend some time in Singapore, and was really bored because I had such an active lifestyle in Goa. I decided to apply for jobs. The first job I got was, I applied for was a business development executive in an IT firm.

Chris L.:                             

Okay.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Spent a month there and they offered me a junior consultant position in the CRM team.

Chris L.:                             

How nice.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I said, okay, it’s something different, let’s check it out and see how we go. I absolutely enjoyed myself. So that was what made me stay.

Chris L.:                             

You just really fell into it a way I suppose.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Yeah, I did. I did. I think a lot of that had to do with the people I was surrounded by. I had really good mentors. I had really good customers, and I was quite fascinated by what CRM could do for businesses.

Chris L.:                             

Yeah, okay. You mentioned mentors. We want to discuss a few of the ways that we can bring females into the workplace these days. Do you think mentors are a really key component for getting people interested at a young age and then fostering them through their career?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Absolutely. I think mentors play a very important part in shaping our business career. Because they provide that roadmap, the career roadmap. What are the opportunities available as opposed to, there are standardized options available to everyone. But if you can’t actually stop looking outside the box and think you don’t have to go this path, the path that is documented for that particular business because you’re starting to think long term. The reality is, the IT industry, people are moving. After every three years, people move.

Chris L.:                             

Sure.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

It’s providing that long-term pathway because people are ambitious. They’re looking for something that is going to challenge them, excite them, and you need to provide that. Mentors play a great role.

Chris L.:                             

Do you currently have one or more mentors looking after you

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I do have a few mentors actually, in various capacities. I have mentors at work and then I have mentors outside work as well who might just be talking. I had a business coach last year, and or mentor. She was the ex CIO of VicRoads. She played a very important part in just making me realize the importance of what I bring to the table and how to communicate more effectively. Which were things I had to really work on.

Chris L.:                             

That’s probably something you didn’t really get taught at university.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

No. You don’t get thought those skills unfortunately.

Chris L.:                             

No, unfortunately. Do you think that whole idea of, the networking, building relationships, maybe there needs to be more of a focus on that perhaps in teaching young women how to enter the tech industry?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Yeah, absolutely. Networking also, because when women go into networking events, the tendency is to stick to other women, which is great. But how to break into conversations with everyone else’s in that group. How to start conversations with our male counterparts. What can you start talking to them about? But at the same time, making sure that it’s a topic that you’re comfortable with. You don’t have to talk code to be comfortable in a tech situation.

Chris L.:                             

Yeah. It’s interesting, I was speaking to someone recently on the podcast and we talked about, I’m a 40 year old white male in the IT industry. There’s a lot more of me than there are, say females of your age. We were talking about the things that I could do to make females feel more inclusive in my workplace. One of the things that we spoke about was the whole idea of topics of discussion when we’re having small talk banter or whatever, don’t always go to sport. Think about the other people in the room and how you can bring them in in an inclusive way. On the flip side, when you go and there’s three 40 year old white males over there, what sort of things do you use to break the ice?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I can’t think what I use. I might have attended a presentation and might be on that topic.

Chris L.:                             

How did you see that?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Oh that was pretty impressive. What did you think about, and then extend the conversation. Or sometimes I might just join the conversation and listen in to what people are saying. I might not necessarily be an active participant in that sense, but I have a lot of respect for people who include you in that conversation, like you said. But then body language is so important. Someone’s standing next to you, they’re trying to navigate, and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, you see they try to navigate the room, they don’t know anyone in the room.

                                            

The best you can do is basically turn yourself to make it inviting enough for that person to enter and say, hey, you can just join us. All you do is just turn yourself and that person feels comfortable to come and stand with you. They might not talk initially, but I think those are really important.

Chris L.:                             

That’s okay too. The listening is a good skill. I’m not great at listing all the time, because I am a bit of a talker. But I appreciate that it can be difficult to enter a conversation that way. I do speak to a lot of young females, I do feel a little bit nervous that I don’t want to break up the boys club, that sort of thing. But I think, have a bit of confidence in yourself. As you say, walk up to them, be confident and find some of that commonality, just open the door for you.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Being the general … I participate in a lot of Dynamics networking events. The general dynamics scene over here is very friendly and very inviting. You’d actually find that when you go to an event and you walk up to someone, they’re more than willing to listen to you or to talk to you.

Chris L.:                             

Oh, very good. Very good. Let’s go back a little bit. I know you didn’t do your schooling in Australia, but let’s have a bit of a chat about how we get the young women, 12, 13, to 14 years old into the whole idea of a tech career or bring interesting in tech at the start there. I want to know why, and I’ve been to a number of these events where we do lots of things with the girls in the room. So much of it is focused on coding. I don’t quite understand why it seems to be a fallback position? Do you know why?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I’m not sure why that is. Especially today with so many low code, no code platforms.

Chris L.:                             

Which is one of your areas of specialties, isn’t it.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

That is right. I’m very passionate about our platform because it allows a lot of people without any historical coding experience to build really cool business solutions.

Chris L.:                             

Are you seeing that in your workplace now?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Definitely. Seeing that in my workplace and seeing that even outside the workplace. I attended an event only a few days ago and I heard from customers who came across the platform, self-trained on the platform through various YouTube videos and blogs and they’ve created some really cool apps. Yes, I don’t know why we focus on code. We should really focus on technology as an enabler. We should focus on what are the challenges that businesses have and how does the technology piece fit in? There’s things you can do. You can still run hackathons, which don’t involve code. Which is pretty cool.

Chris L.:                             

Nice. I guess hackathons are for probably, a little bit older females, not our school aged girls. Do you think there’s a way we can get the interest peaking for young girls who are around the, just getting into high school? How do we attract them?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Just starting to get into high school, I think we can start with designing. If we are trying to avoid tech, let’s think about analytics. You have Power BI is the one that I will equate to. You’ve got a whole load of data. School students understand you have student names, you have date of birth, and then you have age. You need to understand what the age is, you use formulas to compute the age.

                                            

You can talk to them about date difference. It’s something that they’ll understand. It’s relatable. Then you might have various other parameters that you capture about a student. But showing them how visualizations work. Those little formulas as opposed to code, date difference, calculate age using the date difference or what is the day or what is the month for that specific date that’s been specified.

                                            

It’s enabling you to use the commands that are available, and it’s teaching them what visualizations would also look like, because you’re showing them how to model data that is in front of them. I think as we make advancements towards data and AI, that’s going to be an important part for these students as they graduate.

Chris L.:                             

They need to understand, yeah. What about the idea, I’ve got this idea in my head that maybe instead of trying to get young girls, young women into tech right from the start, like in a university decisions and that sort of thing. What about the idea of leading these young women, go off, explore their passions, develop a skill and then we talked to them in their sort of their early 20s perhaps. We find ways to bring those skills that they’ve then formed into our industry. Instead of saying, hey, you must follow this path into our industry. Do you think that could work?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I think absolutely that would work. Because what happens is an individual is going to pursue the path that they’re passionate about. In that time, they’ve also picked up some industries skills, which is quite relevant to the tech. They understand what the problems are in the industry. All they need to do is then understand the tech and how to basically apply those business challenges to the tech. How would tech enable the businesses to address those challenges and also have better outcomes.

Chris L.:                             

I work with an amazing young woman who was a fine arts student and she’s now doing design on our product. Not a traditional pathway feeding into the industry. Do you have anybody that you work with currently that might have come from elsewhere, but is now doing fantastic stuff here at Microsoft?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I’ve only been at Microsoft for about less than a year. There’s definitely going to be that person in Microsoft or more than one person. But I definitely know there are people in the industry who come from similar backgrounds. They come from a UI, UX expertise. When they start working with businesses and apps, they bring that into the apps, which creates a better user interface, better solution because it just flows, and creates better user adoption as well.

Chris L.:                             

They haven’t taken the traditional route into the industry.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

No. But what is really fascinating is I used to run a grad program at my previous company. I’ve worked with graduates for a period of time. It always amazes me when someone’s new, fresh off the boat into Dynamics or building applications, they will challenge you and they will probably tell you, you can do things in a much different way than you thought it could be done. 99% of the time, they are right, and they have a better solution than you did even with your 10 years of experience.

Chris L.:                             

Okay. The graduates you are working with, are they all going through traditional routes to get to you in the tech industry or are they a bit different?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

The ones I work with had an information technology or computer science degree. But I haven’t worked with any of those. I’m sure it would be the same though.

Chris L.:                             

Yeah. If you could have changed your own journey into the industry, would you have done something different or look to find other support services?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I think I’m pretty happy with the way my career part panned out. If I could do something differently, I don’t think there’s anything I could change. Because a big part, as I’ve mentioned earlier as well, a big part to where I am in my career right now is of course I’ve had really good mentors throughout, really good bosses as well. That has helped shape the person I am today. A lot of hard work, but you can get far with hard work, but if someone’s not shaping you and molding you to be the best version of yourself, you can’t really go too far.

Chris L.:                             

I think also with mentors, they often will be older than you. Potentially, a long career, that sort of thing. They’ve got relationships. I think that’s one of the key things about a good mentor that they need to help you build relationships and learn how to leverage them to help you with your career. How do we do more of that for the young women entering the industry?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I think networking events are important, also awareness events. Just creating awareness about what’s available, what are the paths people are choosing? What are the career options that are available to … It’s not only women. What are those options available to people in the tech industry? I think it’s important because that awareness bit is missing and it’s missing because when you join a company, you follow the career progression part for a specific company, for a specific product. But there’s people who started somewhere and they moved far from where they started. No one talks about those. Well people do, but there’s not many networking sessions that actually address those pathways.

Chris L.:                             

Are you a member of a network here in Sydney?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I am a member of the Dynamics 365 User Group.

Chris L.:                             

Yep. Not a specifically female networking group?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I’m not a member of any specific female groups. The reason for that is being a female in the industry, I think it’s important … While those female groups are important, they can’t be exclusive. They need to be inclusive, because we need to learn how to work with our male counterparts. At the same time, we need to be mindful that we don’t want to reverse the gender skills as well. That’s the only reason I’m not part of a female group.

Chris L.:                             

What about the idea of potentially giving back one day? Would you be keen to mentor young women coming into the industry yourself?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Always came to mentor young women coming into the industry. Keen to mentor anyone who actually also wants to step up, never done a presentation before at a tech event, and wants to step up and do a presentation. So, anytime willing to-

Chris L.:                             

Have you already started? You don’t need to be old to be a mentor?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

No. I’ve done that in the past. In my previous roles in organizations, I’ve actually mentored both males and females and basically assisted them. Where they’ve had no experience presenting, I’ve worked with them to just sharpen and polish their presentation skills and allow them to present and taking a back seat. I think the hardest part for me is actually taking a back seat because you’re so used to presenting all the time and when someone steps up, it’s such a great thing. But when you’re used to talking, you probably know this as well, it’s hard to just stay there and say, “Oh wow, I’m so proud of this person.” I can actually sit back and enjoy this whole presentation and just be a part of it, but don’t have to say much.

Chris L.:                             

How you sharing your skills and your knowledge and your experience with your Microsoft coworkers these days?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Well, PowerApps has been flavor of month or flavor for a few months. Well, I’ve been working with a few of my Microsoft colleagues on building apps, and talking about not just building apps, but really explaining the concepts behind where the data’s stored and then how you basically retrieve the data into the app if you’re going to report what you’re going to look for in the reporting.

                                            

I’ve been able to bring in my experience implementing solutions in the last few years into Microsoft and talking about what to look out for while you’re working with things.

Chris L.:                             

Are you seeing some great results with your-

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Yeah, our good friend, Allie, is a great example of that. Allie came to us a few months ago and she was just trying to improve a process. Then one of the things my manager and me suggested that she does is use a PowerApp. We said we can help her build the PowerApp. She was really keen on building the power app herself. She did most of the work and all I did was really guide her and talked to her about what the components were, what she could use to build our app.

                                            

Allie, no tech experience, no coding experience before has built an app for the finance team that also the account executives are going to be using.

Chris L.:                             

Nice. What a great example of mentoring. Even if maybe unofficially perhaps, you’re sharing your skills, you’re empowering other women in the industry to do that, and without having to code. Without even realizing that’s exactly what we want, how fantastic that is.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

The truth is, if anyone else wants to do stuff like that, I’m more than happy for people to reach out to me on LinkedIn. The WeBooks piece, they allow us to use it for functions and stuff like that. We can always run an event to talk about apps, talk about how you start building new apps and just give people a place or a platform to share ideas.

Chris L.:                             

Yeah. We’ll share your LinkedIn details on the show notes. That’s fantastic.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Sounds good.

Chris L.:                             

That’s fantastic. Thanks for joining me today. Let’s just round this one out. You’ve been pretty successful so far in your career. You’re doing really well, but what advice would you have given to school-age Lee Ann that would have really set you up to achieve success?

Lee Ann Dias:                   

I think school-aged Lee Ann didn’t even know where she was going. I thought music was an option that I was going to pursue for a while, while at school. Because when I was in school, I actually had an offer to teach music, move to another state, and teach music in a music school. Considering where I am now, if someone had told me what the options were, I would have started thinking differently. I might’ve done additional courses on the side as well. It’s not about being more successful, but I think I would focus more on things like AI and data, which are the skills I’ve picked over the last few years. But I would have a head start. That’s the advice I would give, is how do you get the head start? Things are moving at a much rapid pace than they have ever had. How do you make sure that when you’re actually looking for a job, whatever you’ve been doing is not out to date or whatever you’ve thought about doing actually still exists in the industry?

Chris L.:                             

Good advice. Well, thanks again for joining me today. It’s been really interesting meeting with you and chatting with you about the challenges we have in trying to increase diversity in our workforce. I think we’re getting there slowly. Maybe got a little bit more to do.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Yeah, thanks, Chris. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Chris L.:                             

Thanks for your time. Cheers.

Lee Ann Dias:                   

Thank you.

 

More Episodes

New-world networking…lessons from LinkedIn.

Sally Illingworth, is one of the new wave of influences with a network of 50,000 LinkedIn followers. She is an experienced Content Marketing Strategist who is an engaging presenter.

Sally is also passionate about diversity in the workplace. #brainsoverbreasts is her online campaign that recognises women for their intellect, not their inherent female body features.

View Episode