Caroline Serfass featured

Inspirational Woman: Caroline Serfass | Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer, Canon EMEA

Caroline SerfassCaroline Serfass joined Canon EMEA as Chief Information Officer in January 2013 to lead the company’s IT strategy and help transform business systems across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, to provide a strong foundation for future growth.

Caroline's experience spans across a variety of functions, including internal audit, manufacturing operations, supply chain and IT. Prior to joining Canon, she spent most of her career in the healthcare industry. Notably, Caroline was CIO Europe at global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company. Caroline then held the position of Vice President IT International at Medtronic, the world leader in medical devices. At both companies, she made technology one of the key pillars of their transformation and growth. She began her career as the first IT manager of a small mining company in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Caroline studied engineering at École Centrale in France and holds an MSc in Robotics from École Polytechnique, Montreal.

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

I’m the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Canon EMEA. I joined Canon in January 2013 to lead the company’s IT strategy and help transform its business systems across Europe, Middle East and Africa region, to provide a strong foundation for future growth. We execute all the usual IT functions of a big enterprise, whilst also looking for ways to invest in new capabilities for future projects in both ERP and Digital.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?  

My interest in technology started as a child. I loved maths and was good in the subject at school. I was fortunate that my parents and teachers encouraged me to pursue the topic further in higher education. At university, I studied engineering before going on to study for a masters in robotics.

When I started my career, the technology sector was booming, so given my education and interest, it was natural for me to work in the industry. I never planned though exactly what I would do. I began my career as the first IT manager of a small mining company in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and since then have worked in a variety of functions, in big international corporations including internal audit, manufacturing operations, supply chain and IT.

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

Throughout my career, people have sometimes been surprised to discover that I work in IT, which is generally perceived to be a male-dominated industry. For women in general though, there have always been misconceptions that we’re not ambitious enough and lack commitment to a certain field if we want to have children. As more women enter the industry and start working in senior roles, these misconceptions are slowly disappearing, which is really positive to see.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

When I joined Canon in 2013, I was the first woman to sit on its senior management team. It was a huge achievement for me, but it has also been wonderful to see that the number of women working in senior positions at Canon has since increased. There are now three of us on the executive team, and I hope that this visibility encourages more women to think about working in technology in the future.

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

When I joined Canon in 2013, I’d been fortunate that I’d had the opportunity and experience to work in a number of different roles and sectors, including positions in finance, supply logistics, manufacturing operations, and across industries including the healthcare sector. As a result of my cross functional experience, I have been able to highlight the importance technology has in driving business results. It is this varied experience that has allowed me to gain new perspectives through different ways of working and help the businesses I’ve worked for to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

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

At times, I’ve felt a level of pressure being a woman in a senior STEM role and have felt like I’ve had to conform to the working habits of my male colleagues. As I’ve developed in my career and built up my confidence, I’ve learnt that to succeed you really have to free yourself of that and be more authentic in the way you show up, make decisions and lead a team.

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

It’s important that we encourage girls from a young age to take an interest in STEM subjects and to do so will involve wider societal change. In a recent survey in the UK, Accenture revealed that half of parents and two-thirds of teachers admit to gender stereotyping STEM job roles. If we want to see more women enter the industry, it’s crucial that both parents and teachers encourage girls’ aspirations and help to build enthusiasm. What an individual believes about themselves is really important, and we need to help girls believe that they can do the same, or better than their male counterparts.

When women leave education and embark on their careers, it’s also important that they are able to see other women working in the technology industry. All companies need to play their part to ensure they have women visible in senior roles, so that other women can see that they have the potential to work and succeed in the industry. As more women enter STEM, people’s perceptions are slowly changing, and women are gaining the confidence they need to succeed.

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

The topic of diversity is now a much bigger priority for businesses than it was 20 years ago when I started out, which is great to see. Whilst this is benefitting both present and future employees, research has also highlighted that having a strong female representation is also good for business. In McKinsey’s annual ‘Women in The Workplace’ report, an increasing number of companies reported that their financial outperformance had improved as a result of having a diverse executive team.

As a result, it’s now more important than ever for companies to embrace diversity and make it a business priority. To do so, companies should make sure that they have diverse candidate pools and an equal representation of people from diverse backgrounds within their business.

How is Canon working to build its level of diversity?

One way we’re trying to attract more women to work at Canon, is by updating our current recruitment process. We have mandatory unconscious bias training for our managers, to make sure that we hire the best person for the role, regardless of their background. We’re also a supporter of flexible working to support the needs of our employees.

To make sure we continue with this progress, we launched our ‘SHE-RISE’ programme in March, to support the success of our female employees. 15 women from across Canon EMEA were selected to take part, and now have access to ongoing coaching, mentoring, and training from female executives across the business. We hope that this initiative, amongst others, will help more women at Canon achieve their ambitions and take up senior positions.

As a result of these efforts, Canon was included in the Financial Time’s Diversity Leaders 2020 Report. The report included the top 700 European companies that offer inclusive and diverse workplaces and so it was great to see Canon featured on this list.

How has the IT sector changed since you first joined the industry? Are these changes making it easier or harder for women to take up a career in technology? 

Today, IT and technology are at the forefront of every company’s priorities and plans for the future. When I first entered the industry, IT used to be almost all technical work, and a bit of a back-office job. Today, while the technical dimension is still fundamental, there is a huge dimension of transformation in the role, which makes it more attractive for people who don’t just have a technical background but are also interested in wider business strategy. As the sector becomes broader and more strategic, I think this will help to attract a more diverse pool of leaders.

There is currently only 17% 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?

The one thing that I would do if I could wave a magic wand would be to make all women believe in their own ability. At an educational level, many girls and young women drop out of studying STEM subjects because they don’t have the confidence they need to succeed – either as a result of pressure from their peers that STEM topics are not ‘cool’ enough or via an ingrained belief that they’re simply not as good at them as their male counterparts.

Even when I started my career, I felt pressure being a woman predominantly working amongst men, and often felt like I needed to adapt my working style to those around me. As I progressed in my career however, I learned the importance of being authentic and having courage in my own convictions.

Having confidence in myself is what ultimately helped me get to where I am today, and I hope that by having more women visible in the industry, it will encourage others to believe that they can do it too.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One of my favourite documentaries this year was ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama and I am also really enjoying her current podcast series. I truly believe that she has become one of the leading female figures of our time and is a wonderful role model for women everywhere.

I also enjoyed reading ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, which focuses on female empowerment in the workplace, as well as ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

Inspirational Woman: Cathy Southwick | Chief Information Officer, Pure Storage

Cathy Southwick Cathy Southwick joined Pure Storage in 2018 as Chief Information Officer. In this role, she leads Pure’s global IT strategy and advances the company’s operations through the delivery of next-generation technology capabilities and systems.

Cathy is an accomplished leader with over 20 years of experience defining andexecuting forward-looking IT strategies. Prior to Pure, Cathy held leadership positions at AT&T, including Vice President, Technology Engineering and Vice President, Cloud Planning & Engineering. During her tenure at AT&T, Cathy led the planning and execution of IT strategies from the Core Network, IT application modernization, and the IT cloud.

Before joining AT&T, Cathy spent 11 years at Viking Freight System (now owned by FedEx) where she held escalating leadership positions in IT architecture and planning, software development, merger integration, strategic planning, human resources management, procurement, project/portfolio management, and process re-engineering.

Cathy holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Saint Mary's College and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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

I’ve spent over 25 years working in the technology industry, and I’ve loved every moment. Technology has evolved so much over that time, becoming increasingly integral to every aspect of our lives, and it’s been fascinating to be at the forefront of technology innovation and  transformation.

My current role is CIO at Pure Storage, a company that, despite only being ten years old, has completely disrupted the data storage market. Data is more essential than ever for the success of a business, and my main focus as CIO is making sure we deliver the next-gen technology that empowers our customers to live the Modern Data Experience only Pure can create.

Before joining Pure, I held various leadership positions at AT&T where I gained extensive experience with IT innovation, network functions virtualization, IT transformation, application and cloud migrations, engineering, and cloud infrastructure. Spending such a long tenure at a company gave me deep insight into not only what it takes to build a successful tech team, but also how to play a crucial part in the running of a business.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no. I’m definitely goal-driven, which has its benefits as it’s always given me something clear to work toward. But I’ve also learned that adhering too strictly to a certain vision or plan for your career can hold you back--you risk getting tunnel-vision that shields you from other, potentially better, opportunities to diversify your career. If you spend too much time honing one specific set of skills, you may see other doors for career growth closed. You never know what opportunity might be right in front of you, especially in the technology industry, so I’ve learned to strike a balance between setting clear goals and looking for opportunities to try something new.

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

Like many of my peers, my career began at a time when it wasn’t common to have women in tech leadership roles. As a result, I didn’t have many role models, and on many occasions I’d be the only woman in a meeting. Early in my career, I’d feel the need to say something unique and valuable every time just to prove why I was in the room, but not any longer.  I now focus on the outcomes we’re trying to drive and how I can help amplify other voices in the room that may not feel like their voices are being heard.

Another challenge I’ve faced is learning to not over-manage people – something I readily admit to having done as I’ve risen up the leadership ranks. It takes time and experience to overcome, but I realised that management and leadership are not about getting involved in every granular detail of every project taking place on your team. Rather, being a leader is about removing roadblocks, focusing on the bigger picture, creating a vision and creating an environment in which your team can achieve greatness on their own.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

When I reflect on it, I would say my biggest sense of achievement comes from the different teams I’ve built and managed. Everyone brings something unique to a team and has their own way of looking at a problem, and I always strive to encourage my team members to take ownership and explore how their skillset can contribute to a collective goal. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch individuals flourish when they’re empowered to make the decisions that lead not only to their own personal success, but also to that of the business.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the opportunity to lead some of the most successful technical challenges to enable a business, but in the end, it’s our people who deliver the results.

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

I’ve always had a genuine passion for technology, and no matter what role I’ve held, technology has always been at the core of my work. It may be a cliché, but you really do have to do something you love to be successful – it’s a motivator in itself. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have amazing mentors all throughout my career, both men and women.

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

Seek out a mentor! Whether it’s a woman or a man, finding someone who has a role you aspire to and asking for her/his mentorship is one of the best ways to learn and make the connections that can end up benefiting your career down the road. You cannot be afraid to ask for help or guidance. What’s the worst that could happen? If the person says no, you’re exactly where you were before you asked.

On the flipside of that, you have to learn to be the driver of your own career. That would be the advice I would give to my younger, more naïve self. Doing more takes courage, whether it be networking, speaking up in a meeting or learning something new - but it also pays off. It seems obvious, but a surprising amount of people go to work, doing the exact same thing, day in and day out, expecting that it will be enough to get them noticed. But in reality, if you’re just doing the work, and not sharing or helping others, you could easily be seen as just doing the bare minimum.  Real growth means stepping out of your comfort-zone and sometimes even having to take on new challenging work that you never dreamed you could accomplish..

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

I think one of the biggest barriers is encouraging people into the tech industry in the first place. This issue extends beyond that of gender, but relates to a wider one around the lack of diversity in the industry. A lot of people have this idea that there’s a certain “type” of person who seeks out a career in tech, when in reality, the potential for diversity in this industry is endless--you don’t have to look, talk, or behave in any specific way to excel in this field.

One way to overcome this stereotypical idea involves placing a greater emphasis and appreciation on the wide variety of opportunities and routes into a tech career. The greater emphasis being placed on STEM education for example is great, but more must be done to encourage other types of “soft skills” and demonstrate how they can serve as a route into a successful technology career.

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

I’ve been fortunate to work in several companies in which there was a big focus on creating opportunities for women to excel, and the same can be said of Pure Storage. There’s such a big emphasis on fostering a culture of inclusivity and equality, encouraging mentorships to ensure everyone can reach their full potential.  We need to ensure that companies and employees are talking about the challenges and differences that exist in the workplace for their talent… education of the issues and finding creative ways to solve problems should be at the forefront.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Increasing and changing the pipelines for recruiting female talent at all stages of careers can be a game changer.  Additionally, being more supportive of one another is a topic that’s come up a lot among Pure’s Women’s Leadership. It’s common for women to be hesitant to vocalize support for their female peers because there’s a fear that if their colleague isn’t successful, then it will look bad on them as well. But we need to embrace the idea that we can bring one another up and boost our collective confidence in the workplace by being more vocally supportive of our female peers.

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many conversations around diversity and inclusion, and the idea came up that even if you’re in an environment that’s accepting of diversity, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel like you belong. In that sense, we need to try to go beyond just accepting our female peers and instead embrace and actively promote the unique ideas and perspectives they’re capable of bringing to the table.  Be the Change you want to see!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are too many to list!  There are many organizations that are focused on helping women in tech.  I would encourage everyone to get engaged and involved… it could be with your company’s ERG, networking events (CIO roundtables), technology conferences, partnering with vendors and partners on their events, etc.  Do a search in your area on the internet or reach out to other women peers to find out what is available locally to you.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.

Inspirational Woman: Tiffany Hall | Chief Information Officer, Cancer Research UK

Tiffany Hall

Tiffany Hall joined Cancer Research UK as Chief Information Officer in July 2017 – the first person to hold the role and one of the first technology board positions in the charity sector.

CRUK is the UK’s largest charity, encompassing ground-breaking research and lobbying on government health policies, all supported by fundraising initiatives and over 600 retail outlets.  Tiffany is responsible for setting and delivering the overall CRUK technology strategy to maximise the value that technology can bring to the Charity in support of its aims. Since joining CRUK, she has steered the organisation through its largest ever reconfiguring of their digital and IT teams, triggering wholesale culture change across the organisation.

Prior to joining CRUK, Tiffany worked at the BBC for over 20 years in a range of technology leadership roles across the enterprise IT and broadcast engineering spectrum, including that of CIO. Her earlier career was spent in IT roles with Shell UK. She has been very much engaged in the UK digital skills agenda, in an advisory capacity with the Tech Partnership, as a STEM ambassador, and by working with DCMS on the Tech Talent Charter to help employers tackle the challenges of diversity in UK tech roles.

In January 2019 Tiffany was awarded CIO of the Year at the UK’s Women in IT Awards - the world's largest technology diversity event.  And in May 2019 she was ranked number 9 in the UK CIO top 100.

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

I did a degree in Maths with Computing – a long time ago! – and worked briefly editing primary school maths books.  I then joined Shell UK as an IT graduate trainee, starting with coding.  I worked up and through various roles at Shell for seven years before joining the BBC as an IT project manager.  I was 20 years at the BBC and my career there took me into the broadcast engineering part of the technology function, so delivering hardware tech solutions as well as software ones, which was hugely enjoyable, particularly my time working with BBC News.

I joined Cancer Research UK (CRUK) as its Chief Information Officer in July 2017 to bring together two disparate technical teams into a single Technology department with a common culture, and to deliver more value to the organisation more efficiently.  It’s an inspiring and rewarding place to work, full of amazing and impressive people, passionate about our belief that together we will beat cancer.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

There were a couple of deliberate interventions I made to get some specific experience that I realised was missing from my career to date, that would stop me from making the next move.  And before I left the BBC, I had a very deliberate long hard think about next steps Other than that, not really!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Oh yes.  There was one role at the BBC where I was really stretched outside of my comfort zone, and really didn’t do very well which led to some difficult conversations with my boss and with our HR business partner.  We all concluded that I was a square peg in a round hole, and to cut a long story short, I moved instead into a different role.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am very proud of my part in taking the BBC newsroom off video tape onto desktop and server-based video editing.  This seems very straightforward now, but back in the late ‘90s, for full broadcast-quality high definition video, it was ground-breaking and difficult.

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

Always thinking across organisational boundaries, looking at what is needed from an org-wide perspective, rather than a narrow and parochial one, and creating and using the connections and networks to help make that happen.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think mentoring can be incredibly powerful, and I have informally mentored and supported many colleagues.  I have also been mentored, and the HR team at Cancer Research UK (my employer) are currently seeking a mentor for me.  I’m also currently sponsoring three of our high potential leaders at CRUK, at our “Head of” level in the charity, with a view to their development to become candidates as Directors.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I would run a targeted programme of training and development for primary school teachers – also open to parents – to show them the huge range of professions and roles that are out there for all children to consider themselves candidates for, and ensure that these teachers (85 per cent female in the UK) are stretching the aspirations of the girls as well as the boys.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Work a ski season!  That is the real answer, however, on a more career-focussed note I would have liked to have worked in an IT role outside the UK at some point.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’m new enough in my current role for my next challenge to be right here at CRUK, as the culture-change journey I mentioned earlier is still very much underway and is hard.  In future, I’d really like to become involved again in the UK education sector in some way, which - other than my early publishing work - I’ve only done on a voluntary and fairly occasional basis.

Monique Breen featured

Inspirational Woman: Monique Breen | Chief Information Officer for International Gas, Structured Products and Treasury at BP


Tell us a bit about your role at BP

As Chief Information Officer for International Gas, Structured Products and Treasury I oversee all aspects of technology and systems strategies in service of the individual business priorities. I manage over 100 people and am accountable for applications deployed across Europe, North America and Asia. My remit includes delivering critical business outcomes, including multi-billion dollars’ worth of daily payments across the BP Group, 24x7 scheduling and balancing of gas and power with Europe’s Transmission System Operators and compliance with financial regulatory requirements.

The key responsibility of my role is to continuously - look for technology improvements through high performing teams and partners, ensuring the business has a competitive advantage in the marketplace and industry where traditional business models are being disrupted.

What does a typical day look like?

Every day is different! This is one of the things I love about my job. I often find myself spending time with business teams helping them to solve issues, figuring out what data is lacking, finding gaps in user experiences and how to expedite the onboarding of new products into our systems There may be days where an operational incident might consume some or most of my day – from a systems interface issue to dealing with the impact of a hurricane!

I also spend time reviewing my team to ensure it is operating at an optimal level and delivering a strong performance within defined parameters, including budget and headcount. This may involve attending recruitment fairs, interviewing candidates and coordinating meet-ups to encourage the sharing of domain knowledge and gaining external perspectives via guest speakers.

The best part of my day is when my team demonstrates some of the innovative solutions they are working on – whether it’s a new app or an external customer facing product that showcases the best in class design.

I am collaborating with some external partners to provide industry and leading-edge solutions, I frequently check-in with them to further the development of these initiatives.

I go home having been intellectually challenged and rewarded from the day’s achievements in a fast-paced yet friendly work environment.

What is digital transformation all about?

To me, it’s about solving for the needs of a business or consumer much more comprehensively than we could do before and allowing us to put into practice business models that seemed inconceivable. Digital technology makes it all possible.

What does this mean in practice?

Funny you ask that, as I’m writing this from a cottage in Norfolk I’ve rented through AirBnB. It wasn’t so long ago when it involved a set of arduous tasks such as rifling through several sites finding somewhere suitable on my available dates, getting in contact with the owner using another channel, searching for references and paying through a BACs bank payment or cheque. Now I’m able to do with a few taps on my mobile as I commute into work.

How does digital transformation impact BP’s working environment?

From a productivity perspective, we can remove redundant time-consuming processes through robotic process automation and machine learning to predict system behaviour and minimise downtime. We can connect with our colleagues across the globe more closely using new collaboration tools. The cloud offers us scale and flexibility and comes with innovative solutions that we can purchase off-the-shelf.

The expectations of our internal business are continually being raised because of their experience as consumers in their personal lives, like Amazon and Netflix. This means we need design products with the user at the centre, ensuring they are made available on multiple devices, accessed anywhere safely and at any time. We will be adopting artificial intelligence more and more to drive better and faster business decisions leveraging extensive sources of data. To that end, we are always looking to upskill our staff as well as attracting the best talent in the market.

Why is it important to get more female technologists into our business?

There’s been a lot of research to prove how it makes good business sense, but to me it’s much more obvious than that. If you think about it, we deliver our products to women as well as men inside and outside BP, and in fact to all types of diversity. In our data-centric world and the infusion of artificial intelligence, any biases in source data could lead to prejudiced decision making. In short, why would I want a product targeted at me as a woman to only be developed by men? We should capitalise on all of the available talent and ideas in the market.

How do we support this?

We start early with schools – through community partnerships and encouraging girls to consider STEM based subjects. We can’t solve this challenge alone, but we want to play an active role in growing the female talent of the future.

We explicitly target women in our recruitment process: by making sure we reach a diverse talent, by ensuring that we have mixed candidates at interview (even if this means delaying the recruitment process), and by championing agile working practices across the business.