Risks and rewards: Microsoft’s latest Women in Business Leadership event

Back in May, Microsoft held the latest event in its Women in Business Leadership series, with guest speaker and Olympic Gold Medallist, Anna Watkins MBE. It was hosted at the stunning Convent Garden Hotel, and was the perfect setting for a discussion around the responsibilities and risks involved in being a successful senior woman in business today.

All the attendees agreed that progress has been made in terms of women taking more senior roles, and business culture is heading in a positive direction. At the same time, however, there is a still a lot to do to reach an equal and diverse senior workforce in the UK, especially in IT.

Our own Rebecca Corke shared her impressions of what were the most promising and powerful ideas to emerge from the event:

  • Diversity is better for everyone. Anna Watkins set the conversation off by describing the need for diversity in a winning team. She knows the reason she and her teammate won gold was their contrasting but complimentary skills: Anna was always the technical, mathematical rower, and her teammate was always thinking big and reaching for the stars. Together they found a winning balance. It’s the same in business. The best teams are diverse, and not just in terms of gender. ‘It’s more about creating the right environment where people can blossom and do and be their best,’ says Rebecca.


  • Take a punt. ‘Don’t be afraid to take a punt on someone even if they’re not quite perfect for the role. After all, when in your career did someone take a punt on you?’ Imposter syndrome is a big problem for young women and it was universally agreed that creating a recruitment process and workplace where young women can feel confident and strong is key. As senior women in business, the attendees agreed that they have a responsibility to act as a mentor and prove success is possible. Rebecca herself has mentored several women within Microsoft from internships, through graduate recruitment and on into their careers and has found it an extremely rewarding experience.


  • Feel the fear and do it anyway. You have to be willing to make a leap in your own career, and just believe the safety net will be there. Many of the women talked about their personal experience of accepting a job that was a bit left field, or taking a risk in their career. ‘Just hearing those stories made me think, “Yeah!”,’ says Rebecca, ‘and that positivity has rippled through back at work.’ ‘The feedback from everyone was tremendous,’ says Rebecca, and the conversations continued well beyond the event. Rebecca was even able to find an external mentor of her own as a result.

And that was the key to the whole evening: a chance to network and develop personal and professional relationships with some truly inspiring and exciting women. ‘We’re all so busy, it’s great to just stop and engage with somebody,’ says Rebecca, ‘I left feeling really fired up.’

Four Women in Top Positions at Microsoft

There are more women “feeling the fear and doing anyway” and the trend is changing in a positive way. Microsoft is certainly playing its part.

Within the company’s major reorganisation, there are four women in Microsoft’s top 14 executive positions: Amy Hood (executive vice president and chief financial officer), Julie Larson-Green (executive vice president, Devices and Studios), Lisa Brummel (executive vice president, Human Resources) and Tami Reller (executive vice president, Marketing).

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s Chief Executive, said of his company’s significant reorganisation: “It’s a big day for me and the women and men around the table who form the Microsoft leadership team. 

“We're ready to take Microsoft in bold new directions and really delight both our consumer and business customers."

Reller and Larson-Green were execs who saw their duties significantly expanded this week and Microsoft is a part of a small but growing trend among larger tech companies, says Chris O’Brien of the Los Angeles Times.

“For instance, Microsoft is now on par with Cisco Systems, which has 4 women in the top 14. The leader in Silicon Valley is Oracle, which lists six women in its top 26 executive roles. 

“HP, led by Chief Executive Meg Whitman, has women in 3 of 14 top spots. Yahoo, with Marissa Mayer in the captain's chair, has 3 of 12.

“Lagging a bit are Facebook, 1 of 4 and Google, 1 of 13.”

A small change in the big corporation, certainly, and those who ‘stepped up’ in the top executive positions will show their company the benefits of the diversity, something which Anna Watkins explained in her talk.

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