Women4IT Interview: CEO Dana Farrugia on her long standing career in tech, diversity driven leadership and the importance of female role models.
Women are underrepresented in the technology sector, but is this a myth or reality? Meet Dana Farrugia, CEO of Tech.mt. Responsible for ensuring sector growth for technology and innovation in Malta, Dana has established herself as a leader and innovative thinker in an often male-dominated environment, proving that gender is no barrier to success.
With a combination of intellect and emotion, Dana is a strong believer of inclusive leadership and equal opportunities. Beyond her enthusiasm for creative ideas, she also sits on the Board of Directors of Malta Enterprise and the Malta Start-up Foundation and uses her expertise to assist businesses to expand their potential to reach niche markets. The thematic goal for her career has always been to leverage the opportunities of emerging technologies and make them more accessible in preparation for the future.
W4IT: Could you tell us more about who you are and what you do?
DF: My name is Dana and I am CEO at Tech.mt, a foundation established by the Government of Malta to promote the national strategy for Technology and Innovation. My career in the technology world did not start today. Way back almost 20 years, I joined a newly opened telecoms company here in Malta. The market was previously a monopoly at that time, with only one mobile operator owning the market. With this new telecom company being introduced, the market behaviour changed, competition came in place and opportunities to join the world of technology increased. And I was one of those who took the plunge. I started from the very beginning, joining the Billing Team overseeing all systems’ end to end processes and handling high-level customer queries.
The technology world took me by surprise, I joined in a world where SMS did not exist yet and here we are today, looking at robots that might replace human relationships. I surfed the tech world gradually as it evolved and with the continuous evolution in this sector, learning has always been and still is an ongoing process. This is the key to success in the technology world, to always keep abreast with new products and systems.
It is a world that keeps me on the edge to keep up with its constant change, to me, it’s a place where I never get bored.
W4IT: Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
DF: I would describe my leadership style as inclusive and direct. I lead by facilitating open communication, which I feel is one of my greatest strengths. I try to give each member of my team a chance to do what they are best at and create a team effort that delivers a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. I believe that as leaders, we need to capitalise on the strengths and differences of our teams to facilitate innovation, collaboration and commitment.
I am totally committed to ‘we’ before ‘me’ philosophy. Diversity is all around us, however, it is up to us leaders to determine how to make the most of this. For me, equality is about cultivating an inclusive culture that empowers a person to say, I fit in here, I feel valued, and because of this, I can contribute to this organisation. Fostering trust will generate confidence, inspiration and create a sense of belonging and as a result, it will bring out the best in your team. I do my best to ensure that all my team members are valued and treated respectfully and fairly.
W4IT: What is it like to be a woman working in the Tech sector?
DF: I always stress that a career should be genderless, if it is made for you then you will fit and succeed. If you are in an environment which is hindering your process for growth then it is time to move on, that job no longer fits your evolution.
Every career is challenging but I must admit that I found a lot of support during my career and I have met people who today I regard my mentors who have been crucial to my evolution as a leader, a manager and a human being.
W4IT: What are some of the best workplace initiatives to help promote gender diversity?
DF: Unless women are given an adequate amount of support structures to help them combine work and family commitments, women will still find it tough and challenging to keep hold of their job while coping with their responsibilities. Definitely, by adopting gender-smart work policies, gaps unaddressed by laws are filled and inequality at the place of work is minimised. Diverse organisations perform better. Having said that, policies alone will only get us so far.
Flexibility and a sense of autonomy are crucial for retaining women, especially mothers with young children. Performance metrics for all employees should be based on results, not hours spent in the office. Primarily, I believe that workplace culture needs to be filtered from the top. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a diverse and inclusive organisation. It is all about creating a culture where social norms and attitudes are improved. By putting forward equal rights and opportunities, a win-win situation attaining organisational value and success is created.
W4IT: What has been the most career-defining moment that you are proud of?
DF: My most career-defining moment was when I was appointed as CEO of Tech.mt as it was a target I have dreamed to achieve all my life. Now my daily target is to improve and be better than the day before in my role as CEO. This milestone has taught me that if you work hard and never lose focus on your target, you will make it happen. Nothing is impossible.
W4IT: What do you think we should be doing more of to encourage more girls to consider a career in Tech?
DF: Indeed, the technology industry has a reputation for being a man’s world. Although there have been great strides toward progress in this male-dominated industry, the ultimate end goal still remains a bit out of reach.
In order to resolve the STEM talent gap, the problem must be tackled from all fronts, and that includes schools, universities, research institutions and companies themselves, otherwise, the needle on progress will not move. But for any of this change to take place, it needs to start at an early stage.
Parents are extremely influential in a young child’s life; even casual conversations can change the way a child thinks. Supportive and encouraging parents can make all the difference in helping their child follow whatever career they choose.
One potential approach is to instigate a growth mindset and help girls believe that their capabilities can, in fact, be enhanced, as opposed to being static and unchangeable. We need to do a better job of showing them how essential STEM subjects are for reaching those goals. Stating that STEM offers excellent career opportunities is not enough. We must go one step further and show girls how STEM can make a difference.
Girls today are fortunate enough to have many accomplished women they can look up to. We need to honour these pioneers and share their stories with young women to support the fact that a career in the technology sector is for anyone who has the curiosity and passion to pursue one. The whole point of addressing this is to make women feel naturally part of the technology industry, instead of the lesser minority.
Women who are already in the technology industry, on the other hand, need to be incredibly supportive of other women. We need to inspire and support others to take the plunge and engage in an industry that is amazingly energetic, exciting and satisfying.
The answers are out there: give girls role models, teach them the skills they will need, inspire them, and prove to them that a career in the technology sector will help change the world for the better.
W4IT: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the Tech industry? What do you wish you had known?
DF: If you are considering a career in technology, you should definitely go for it. If it makes you happy then do more of it and surround yourself with technology-related role models and qualitative material. Continue studying and refine your skills in this area, always keep yourself top of the game. Make sure you are ready to work hard and that you can handle multiple swift changes happening at one go in your environment. The rest is all up to you.
The project Nr.2017-1-094 “YOUNG-ICT WOMEN: Innovative Solutions to increase the numbers of EU vulnerable girls and young women into the digital agenda” benefits from a 2.714.304 € grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment. The aim of the project is to increase the numbers of EU vulnerable girls and young women into the digital agenda.
Project implemented by:
A Multi-Stakeholder Partnership