As CEO of 3stepIT and BNP Paribas 3 Step IT, Carmen Ene is focused on helping businesses across Europe transition to a future-fit way of managing their more sustainable, secure, and efficient technology.

Carmen became CEO of 3stepiIT in 2015, and in 2019, she led the establishment of the joint venture with BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions. The joint enterprise provides circular technology lifecycle management services across the Nordics and Western Europe, with 2.4 million devices under management. Carmen has over 20 years of experience in international IT and financing, having held senior positions at IBM, including Vice President of Enterprise in Global Business Services.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role.

I am originally from Romania and have spent all my career working in Tech and IT.

Before joining 3stepIT, I was at IBM for 20 years. At IBM I had the opportunity to cover many different roles, including General Manager of Global Financing for IBM Italy, Vice President of Enterprise in the Global Business Services division, and Vice President of Global Financing in Northeast Europe.

In 2015 I became CEO of 3stepIT, a Nordic scale-up with decades of experience in circular technology management.

From the moment they approached me, I was inspired by their circular business model and excited about the possibility of improving how businesses around Europe used technology. For 3stepIT and its customers, tech wasn’t just a tool to own but a platform to use whose value could be maximised by making it available for reuse.

I’ve led the company for eight years. During this time, the business grew by 70% and entered a partnership with BNP Paribas – one of the top financial institutions in Europe – becoming an international player in the tech sector with operations in 11 markets.

Since launching the Joint Venture, BNP Paribas 3 Step IT, we’ve experienced tremendous growth and demand for our services across Europe. I am now focusing exclusively on leading BNP Paribas 3 Step IT to support this incredible growth. I look forward to enhancing our expansion plans on the continent even further.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never really sat down and planned my career years in advance. I have always tried to carefully evaluate my career decisions before making them. I have also always been a very ambitious person. My background has undoubtedly influenced my attitude towards work opportunities.

My career started in technology in Romania, just as the country was coming out of communism. When IBM acquired the company I had co-founded, my main aspiration was to make the most of the freedom, which would allow me and my family to have.

Moving to Austria with IBM was the start of my international career – and I’ve never looked back. The first years were challenging; I wanted to prove myself and prove to IBM that they had made the right choice in giving me a chance. However, I learned a lot very quickly, and that experience also taught me to be open to new opportunities and ready to take some risks – comfortable jobs where there’s nothing to build or achieve are not for me.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way, and how did you overcome these?

From a career perspective, the biggest challenge I have ever faced was moving from Romania to Austria at the start of my career with IBM. Not only was I a woman working in a male-dominated industry, but I was also from Eastern Europe. This came with its share of prejudice and judgment.

It was tough, but I decided that I had to trust myself and my ability to do the job I had moved to Austria to do, and I put all my energy into proving the initial doubters wrong.

That experience also taught me another vital lesson I’ve taken with me throughout my career: never take yourself too seriously and always be ready to be natural. Half of the battle is won if you can get someone to laugh with you.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Creating a joint venture between the small, Nordic scale-up I was leading and a major European banking group in 2019 to launch BNP Paribas 3 Step IT. This was one of my most significant career achievements. Not only was it definitely a smart business decision for both companies, but it also allowed me to feel like an entrepreneur again. As someone who started her career with her own start-up, that was priceless on a personal level.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

Grit and determination. I had to have plenty of both growing up during the Communist regime in Romania. I was lucky enough to have a father who taught me the importance of work ethics and accountability from a very early age.

He used to tell me,

“Carmen, life is a long-distance race. Sometimes you must run fast, sometimes it’s time to slow down. Good things will always come to those who manage to stay optimistic and keep going”.

That significantly influenced my career and the choices I made later in life. I am still someone who likes to “keep going”. If I know I have achieved all I can in a role, it’s time for me to move on to the next challenge.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

To listen because the world is changing. And tech is changing.

For instance, only a few years ago, sustainability and technology could not be farther apart. Today every CIO has ESG measurements included in their annual review.

Studying and working are essential to excel. But it’s the ability to intuitively understand what will matter in the technology space in the short and the long term is equally important.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

Being very practical, I believe we need more women in senior tech roles, and we need to use technology to its full potential to enable flexible work and democratise access to tech education.

The gender gap is quickly becoming a digital gap as well. If women can’t access technology from a young age, it will negatively impact their ability to choose a tech career. We might think this issue is limited to emerging markets, but it’s not. Women are still poorly represented in the tech sector in the EU, making up just 17% of European IT workers.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

They need to educate the leaders to consider gender diversity as something to aspire to, especially in IT.

I was against gender quotas when I was younger, as I thought what would matter in the end were personal capabilities. I then had to recognise that women were often overlooked and undervalued when seeking a career in IT. Something had to be put in place to ensure they could have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

Hiring is only half of the story, though; I read this fascinating piece of research by Deloitte last year, which showed that post-pandemic, only 38% of women working in tech felt their organisation’s commitment to supporting them had been sufficient, with 57% expecting to leave their current employer for a new role within two years and 22% considering departing the workforce altogether.

These are staggering figures, and it’s clear more needs to be done both in terms of being open to hiring more women in tech and offering career opportunities for women already in the sector.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

I’d do two things, convince more young women to consider a career in tech. I’d also get CIOs to see the benefits gender diversity could bring to their teams.

As I said, tech is changing, and women can bring much value to the workplace, especially when other skills are also considered when selecting new talent.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g., podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

There are so many valuable resources out there today. I love reading, and I also enjoy podcasts like ThinkCast by Gartner, Tech Tonic by the Economist and the Circular Economy Show podcast by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

However, it’s crucial to remember that while listening and reading are essential, nothing beats talking to people in the industry. So, my recommendation to women working in tech is to network with other women in the sector. That’s also crucial to take advantage of career opportunities that might not be formally advertised.

Read more about our inspirational women here.