Joan Mulvihill

Digitalisation and Sustainability Lead for Siemens in Ireland, Joan Mulvihill is at the forefront of driving technology adoption in Ireland for over a decade.

Having previously held the positions of CEO of the Irish Internet Association followed and Centre Director for the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing, Joan’s current role in leading digitalisation for Siemens’ customers builds on her deep commitment to and understanding of the needs of Irish business to create sustainable value.  With her colleagues at Siemens, Joan believes in collaborating with customers in the leveraging of collective domain expertise, creative thinking and problem solving to realise solutions that transform businesses and create a sustainable future.

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

I’m the Digitalisation Lead at Siemens in Ireland, working across Ireland and the UK. I’d best describe my role as the Digitalisation Coach as my job is not to have all the answers but rather to ask the right questions. Our clients who plan their digital transformation journeys often want to focus on the ‘digital’, but I believe it’s all about the journey and the roadmap.

You must be clear about where you are going and why. There are so many things that can distract you, you need to have a defined end goal and staging posts to stay on track. And you need to know the ‘why’ to keep going when things get hard.

The ‘digital’ piece is the vehicle that gets us to our destination. We select it once we have a sense of the terrain, duration and speed. I work closely with my digital industry colleagues who have the most incredible fleet of digitalisation tools and years of experience and skill in their configuration.

I’ve been working with change for my entire career, more by accident than design. It wasn’t until the late noughties that I found myself in the technology sector as the CEO of the Irish Internet Association. It was incredible to see all these feisty start-ups disrupting markets and competing and obliterating long established corporations. It was an exciting time, and I was hooked.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not. I have truly flaneured my way through the past 30 years! To flaneur is to progress without any apparent sense of direction while being secretly attuned to the streets we walk in covert search of the aesthetic and adventure. In that sense, my career has been accidental and opportunistic. I’ve always been attracted to roles with decent humans trying to do exciting things. There was no grand plan.

I spent my earlier years in retail, manufacturing and professional services but the second half has been in tech. For many years I prided myself in the fact that I’d never worked in the same type of job or even the same industry twice.

Wandering down the technology road has truly captured my imagination and secured my attention for the longest time. It’s because of the expansive empowering reach of it all. Once you work in tech you are in the business of possibility and change.

There’s a lot of talk about women in particular experiencing imposter syndrome. I’m no different but being an imposter for me has always felt like an advantage. I am never hampered by the accepted norms and conventions of a sector or business, so my mind stays free to bring new perspectives. I have no interest in being an expert and besides, people generally remember the imposter in the room and what they had to say!

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

I was made redundant in October 2008 at the start of the financial crash. That was a challenge! But looking back, I learned more about myself and who I was as a leader in those 12 months of unemployment than from any other period in my career. I will never regret it happening to me.

If you stay open and attuned to the world, unexpected paths bring us to where we are supposed to be. I found my purpose that year, professionally and personally, and I realised that what doesn’t kill us doesn’t make us stronger. It simply reveals to us how strong we were all along.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I used to call 2013 “The Year of the Gong” because I won some pretty cool and prestigious awards that year. While it’s lovely to get that recognition and I appreciate it greatly, I don’t know what single thing I’ve done to deserve them. To be honest, I think given the total absence of a plan, the fact that I have a career at all is an achievement in itself – I will concede to being proud of my curiosity, creativity and adaptability that have allowed me to take so many interesting twists and turns.

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

That’s a super question because it forces me to consider how I measure success. I don’t need to be the most important, powerful or highest paid person in the room to feel successful. I just need to be in any room where there are decent humans trying to do exciting things.

The major factor in achieving that has been surrounding myself with decent humans as much as I can. There are so many good people in the world. My advice is to find them, spend time with them, listen and learn. Nurture your network and that way when you are confronted with an obstacle, when one of you finds the solution to the big problem, together great things can be achieved.

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

Technology will constantly change. Smarter people will see to that. I think to truly excel in a tech career hinges on staying curious about what is coming next and importantly, keeping an open mind about the merits of it.

Not everything new is better. Technology makes anything possible but just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. As technology evolves at pace, we need more leaders with technological understanding as well as societal sensibility who can make those sound judgement calls.

My feeling is that the future is going to be more human. Once we have roboticized, automated and programmed all that can be roboticized, automated and programmed, the only thing left for humans to do will be that which is intrinsically human: creativity, intention and purpose. If you want to have a standout career in technology in the future, start by knowing what you stand for.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

To say no is to betray the women who are experiencing barriers right now. While it is not my lived experience, I do believe and know that there are barriers. But, I think being somewhat established before I came into tech eased my path.

The world cannot dismantle centuries of conscious and unconscious bias with a few years of equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policy. We are making progress, but we could accelerate things by borrowing more from the start-up disruptors’ playbook in overcoming barriers. The reality is that industry is tackling ED&I from an old paradigm change management perspective which is generally slow. We might benefit from moving a little faster.

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

We cannot be what we cannot see. I need to own the fact that not only am I a woman in a largely male dominated industry with quite a bit of bro-culture but I am also nearly 50 years old in a largely millennial dominated industry. If even the most celebrated Hollywood stars think there are no parts for women over a certain age, my guess is that this generation of Silicon Valley women are feeling the same.

The barriers to getting into tech are not what they were but companies need to show young women that they can progress and that their careers can have longevity. If younger women need to see what their future can look like, then I personally need to show up for them. I take this responsibility seriously.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Set up our own companies and reverse the stats? I said earlier that we’re taking an old paradigm approach to this kind of change. We should think more like disruptive start-ups. Entrepreneurs don’t go to work for large organisations and try to change them from within. Start-up founders see how they want things to be done differently and they do it themselves. They don’t seek approval from the top down, they generally build from the bottom up – by understanding what their customers really want and giving it to them in a better way. A magic wand? Support more women founders to build organisations right from the start.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Read books and listen to podcasts that have absolutely nothing to do with tech. Tech is only interesting in so far as it solves problems in the real world. So, spend as much time in the real world as you can. Spend time on a farm and wonder about where our food comes from and how the planet works. Study anthropology or just people watch and think about how humans function. Listen to what Monica Parker from Hatch Analytics has to say about VUCA, then go for a walk and experience a moment of real ‘awe’. Attend whatever events or gatherings you can and seek out conversations with the decent humans, not the just the important ones (although there are some very important people who are very decent too!). And go to www.Congregation.ie and read some fun stuff written by the best humans I know.