Lisa AgonaLisa Agona is CMO of the global IT service provider, Ensono.

Under her leadership, Ensono has become the number one company in customer satisfaction for IT outsourcing, and has doubled its revenue to an impressive £420 million in under three years.

Lisa has been in the marketing industry for thirty years, with previous roles in Accenture and LexisNexis. During her previous position as CMO for LexisNexis, Lisa helped grow a nascent US-based $500 million identity risk management business to $1.5 billion, spanning multiple industries and countries.

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

I’ve been the global CMO of Ensono, the private equity backed hybrid IT services company, for over three years. What I particularly enjoy about my job is having the opportunity to work with my colleagues around the world to build Ensono, a new brand,  into a recognized global transformation company.

I studied at West Virginia University right after high school, earning an Economics degree, which initially sparked my love of learning. I later returned to university, attending Columbia Business School and achieving an MBA in Management. This drive to learn has really helped me embrace new opportunities, most notably taking on my first global CMO role at LexisNexis where we drove 7 consecutive years of above-retail growth to $1.5 billion.

I’ve spent the majority of my personal and working life in New York City, and have moved to Atlanta and now Chicago for new roles. Armed with two suits, little cash and the dream of launching my career in marketing, I bought a one-way ticket to New York City and haven’t looked back since!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never plotted out my desired career bath – who does nowadays? But I knew which direction I wanted to be moving in. Typically, I’m a keen planner but there have been situations and opportunities in my career that I could never have foreseen, let alone plan for.

I’m driven by a desire to make a difference to my own life and to the lives of others, to be financially independent, and to experience new places and discover new cultures. I knew I didn’t want to stay in my hometown but, at first, I wasn’t sure exactly where these motivations and beliefs would take me.

I’ve worked for a lot of large global companies, and a few years ago I felt it was time to take my career in a different direction and diversify. When Ensono reached out to me about a CMO position, I was drawn to the prospect of helping reinvent a company and have enjoyed the challenge of building up the brand, our market, and creating a new team.

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

As with any career, I’ve faced challenges along the way. I come from a working-class family in a former steel town, so leaving home to go to college was a massive step for me. After that, I faced the typical financial challenges all students face, and while I knew that I wanted to advance my career and make a difference, I didn’t know what that looked like straight away.

I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a woman in business and as someone entering the tech field for the first time is having the confidence to make myself heard. Knowledge is power, and key to confidence, so I went back into education after my economics degree to pursue business school. There, I met people from across the world, built up my base business knowledge and really worked on my confidence.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One of my biggest career achievements to date has been securing my first CMO position at LexisNexis. I had been working with the legal research and risk analytics firm for a couple of years before the promotion, and proved myself during a large scale acquisition of a big public company. While this position initially felt daunting, I surprised myself with what I was able to achieve and learned a great deal from the experience.

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

I think that having a serious internal drive and persevering, even when things get tough, has helped me get where I am now. A big driver for me is the belief that it is important for everyone, especially women, to establish their own financial independence, and I’ve always taken pride in my career and my ability to provide for myself. Everyone should find what it is that drives them, and harness that.

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

A common misconception that people have about careers in the technology sector is that high-level tech skills are valued above all else. I’ve found that many people, myself included, really value the softer skills involved with a career in technology. The industry has its own language and expertise, and being able to communicate these effectively across all audiences – not just to the tech aficionados – is a real talent. I would urge anyone looking to launch or accelerate a career in this sector to invest in their communication skills. While technical skills are important, it’s emotional intelligence and the ability to build trust that’s going to get people noticed.

For women entering the sector, I think it’s especially important for them to get involved with community organisations – both inside and outside of work. These could be anything from women in tech communities, to profession-led communities, to hobby-related communities. It’s crucial for women, who are vastly underrepresented in the tech sector, to identify their supporters and advocates, and build these up over time. Communities are a great way to network with likeminded people and for women to support other women in their careers.

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

There are still barriers for women working in tech to overcome. One of the hardest to combat is unconscious gender bias. This gender bias stems from our continued buy-in of traditional gender roles, which typically allocate computing skills and interest in technology as masculine traits.

While nobody is deliberately circulating this bias, its effects can be felt from the C-Suite all the way to the graduate level. In order to combat these biases, building awareness of them is key. At Ensono, we have just started a company-wide ‘Women’s Initiative’ scheme, which has already seen our senior executive teams trained on unconscious bias and its insidious effects. I’m also a big fan of women in tech conferences that give women the space to share stories and help change the narrative around gender in tech.

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

Until unconscious bias is completely eradicated, companies will continue to need to implement formal programs that support women’s progression in the tech industry. While large leaps towards equality have been made, a lot more needs to be done to truly diversify the face of tech. Ensuring that at least one qualified woman is on the down select slate for each open position is a start.

One of our female spokespeople, Lin Classon, attended a tech conference last year only to find herself in a shocking minority. After raising this with us, we launched an independent research project into the diversity of tech events, discovering that 70% of women were the only female speaker present. Not only did this motivate us to continue our internal women’s initiative schemes, but we also raised awareness of the problem in the wider press.

It’s vital that organisations don’t just wait for change, but make a stand and evoke change internally, whether that’s investing in career programs for women, encouraging women to take part in community organisations or raising awareness of the ongoing gender bias issue.

There is currently only 15% 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?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would banish gender roles and unconscious bias completely. Women are often given negative attributes – bossy, hysterical, overbearing – while men in the same position are described as confident, firm, assertive. In order to level the playing field, we need to stop making assumptions based on gender and stop allocating characteristics to women that are viewed as inferior.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I am particularly inspired by the researcher Brené Brown, whose Ted Talks and books teach us all – men and women – to explore our ability to be vulnerable, and to overcome our fears. Other resources that I have found empowering include Thrive Global for lifestyle and professional enlightenment, and for professional resources that can be used to advance your own workplace and communities.