Product Director, Wendy Rowe: Becoming a female business leader in finance and IT

The Wolters Kluwer team are dedicated and passionate about developing software that will help our customers drive efficiency and growth while facing the challenges of today. Leading the charge is Product Director, Wendy Rowe.

My early years in the accounting profession were spent as a junior tax assistant working in several compliance tax departments for Ernst & Young. In the eighties, accounting was still a male-dominated industry and back then, a set of Trust Accounts were still being prepared manually. Spreadsheets were being used more progressively, although tax and accounting applications were very much stand-alone and not consistently used by any means.

I saw the use of software solutions as essential in delivering efficiencies and increasing productivity. So, I threw myself into any opportunities that allowed me to develop my appreciation for what software had to offer, and I became increasingly exposed to new scenarios which challenged and inspired me in equal measure.

Navigating the tax and accounting industry

I am constantly asked by young women, both in accounting and in IT, how to navigate the complexities of male-dominated fields to secure senior management, director, partner or board roles. The key learning that I always share with new colleagues that join Wolters Kluwer stems from advice I received from a mentor when I was just 23 years old.

He said, ‘Wendy, always think of yourself as a customer – this will guide your career and will ensure you focus on what’s most important enabling you to make the right product decisions.’ This has stayed with me throughout my career and has proved to be an invaluable mantra time and time again.

It’s a fact that women are still up against unacknowledged barriers to advancements in many professions, and many highly talented and high-achieving women still struggle to rise beyond a certain level in a business hierarchy. But it can be done – I’m living proof! And the landscape is improving. In September 2018 it was widely reported that three in every ten directors of FTSE 100 firms are now women. It’s been a hard-fought victory, and there’s every opportunity to continue building on this success.

On that note, here are my top tips for rising through the ranks to leadership, be it in accounting, IT or indeed any other sector:

Recognise yourself as a leader

At Wolters Kluwer TAA UK, every member of the team is afforded several days’ training around the Living Leader programme, which recognises every person as a leader amongst leaders. What always stands out is people’s realisation that they can, in one way or another, act as a leader to others within the business because of specific strengths and skills that they have.

Women looking to move into management and leadership roles would do well to recognise their ability to lead early on and have the confidence to nurture this ability through mentorships with more experienced leaders.

Become visible within your organisation to build presence:

Flying under the radar may have its place in certain scenarios, but if you want to move through the ranks, you’ve got to stand out. There are two ways to do this: firstly, be the best and most innovative at what you do. Secondly, make yourself known to management.

Be a role model or mentor for others:

One of the biggest mistakes I see many women make in both IT and finance is that they underestimate the value of their skills within the business. If you’re five years out of training or university, don’t underestimate what you’ve learned within those five years – to a newly graduated trainee, your expertise will seem vast. If you want to rise to management and eventually board level, you need to engage with all levels of the business, including those less senior than you.

Be yourself at work and use the strengths

In many instances it’s important to separate our working and personal lives, but the best workplaces are the ones where people feel free to be themselves. It’s okay to stand out from the crowd in a good way – in fact, you’re likely to rise through the ranks quicker if you do. As a woman in IT or accountancy, you’re likely to find that both your organisation and the media want your female point of view.

Make sure you make yourself known to your organisation’s PR team and ask for media training if it’s available. There are endless PR and profile building opportunities for women in IT and finance and it’s up to you to demand your share of the media footprint. Your CV should include links to any coverage you’ve received in the press.

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