Women in Technology WA (WiTWA) believe – “If you can see her you can be her, so let’s see her!”
To celebrate women in technology, WiTWA is hosting its 2021 WiTWA Tech [+] Awards on Friday 5 November at Crown Towers. These awards will shine a light on a diverse representation of Western Australia’s talented female leaders spanning local and national industries.
This year, we’re proud to have six nominees representing Kinetic IT and PROTECT+ in the Tech [+} Awards, each showcasing their inspiring stories and unique pathways into the career they have today. We sat down with each nominee to break down the conversation around being a woman in what has traditionally been a male dominated ICT industry. We’re excited to celebrate and elevate these women, who have pushed through the challenges, led by example, and continue to make an impact in the ICT community.
VANNESSA VAN BEEK – HER STORY SO FAR
Vannessa Van Beek is the PROTECT+ Director of Security at Kinetic IT. Leading a team of 30, Vannessa’s crew leads our cyber security practice, PROTECT+. Her role involves real variety – people development, strategy, teamwork, engaging with customers, and growing our capabilities and customers we serve.
Growing up, Vannessa’s grit and determination was fostered in Geraldton, about 420 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia. Having overcome significant adversities in childhood, Vannessa persevered and, while holding down three part-time jobs, became the first woman in her family to graduate university. After unsuccessfully scouting for law clerkships and sensing limited opportunities due to the recession of the 1990s, Vannessa pivoted to the IT industry – and has not looked back since.
It was the allure of the “information superhighway” that pulled Vannessa into account management where she became dedicated to building her expertise and leadership skills in a highly technical and male-dominated team. And it’s the customer relationships and success stories that have seen her stay.
SHAKING UP THE SYSTEM
While six months pregnant with her first child, Vannessa’s dream job came up. Filled with apprehension due to her changing personal circumstances, a supportive manager encouraged her to apply. Vannessa was the successful candidate and after 11 months’ parental leave returned to lead a team of 10 and continued to chase her career goals. “I loved it,” she says. Her time was split between the office during the day, “then home to spend time with my daughter and family from 4-7pm and then worked 2-3 hours most workday evenings”.
“It was challenging but I loved it,” she says. “I will always remember the advocacy of the male manager who supported making this happen. He said, ‘it was about the right candidate for the role’ and my pregnancy should not stop me fulfilling the role.”
But as any parent knows, it’s a tough gig. “Navigating roles returning to work after parental leave was a challenge, I wondered if my brain would ever work again after the sleepless nights,” she says. As Vannessa’s family grew so, too, did her career. The mum of two was lucky enough to be supported by flexible work and job share arrangements when taking on more senior roles.
While not perfect, Vannessa recognises the privilege of diversity and the flexibility she has enjoyed throughout her career. “The very idea of having a personal and professional life with space for both is something not everyone in the world has,” she says. “I feel extremely fortunate to be working in a role I love, while also having the support of my husband Luke and children Ellen and John.”
Describing the work-life balance as more of a navigation between personal and professional goals, she says “Like sailing, when the yacht is heeled over it feels a bit unbalanced but it travels faster, and then it stabilises again. My career has been a story of professional goals spilling into my family, and my personal life splashing back having an impact on my professional goals – so I think more in terms of navigating than balancing.”
After her second child was born, Vannessa was supported to job share with a colleague. From Monday to Wednesday, Vannessa managed a customer portfolio at her workplace, with the remaining days picked up by her job share partner. Trust and clear rules of engagement, Vannessa says, were key to their success. “My job share partner and I made a commitment to ensure no issue was left unresolved and to take accountability for whatever came across our desks.”
When a large account came up for renewal, Vannessa says she and her job share partner were nervous about how the customer would receive the job share arrangement. To her surprise, the customer was impressed to have two experienced account managers looking after them, leading to a successful contract renewal and a positive long-term business relationship. The job share arrangement continued for two years and was a success for Vannessa, her job share partner, and the customer.
Throughout her early career, Vannessa progressed and was awarded the Luke Bozza Memorial Scholarship to study an MBA. She worked across multiple sectors exceeding targets and received the National Chief of Business Sales Award.
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Vannessa has faced her fair share of roadblocks.
“One of my colleagues challenged me when I accepted [a new] role, indicating it was a complex role generally only men were successful in because of the tough commercial negotiations. Further questions followed like did I feel guilty not being at home for my kids and did I think my kids would be ‘affected’ if I took the role,” Vannessa says. “I responded, ‘yes absolutely I think my kids will be affected – they will understand women are powerful, great negotiators and capable of resolving complex problems.’ I loved the role and smashed the targets,” she says.
Other roadblocks Vannessa has faced have included receiving challenging feedback. She was told to “share more of yourself at work… we do not know you.” It was a turning point that encouraged Vannessa to be vulnerable and to share her story to foster strong connections within her team. Transforming her style to connect individually, authentically, and vulnerably, Vannessa also incorporated her interest in First Nations cultures. Having grown up on Yamatji Country, she created space for storytelling within her team, encouraging her leaders to share photos of their people and places to build respect and connection.
Vannessa’s biggest test came at the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in January 2020. Leading a team of 40 leaders across the country, she led a large-scale transformation program that transitioned teams from reactive to proactive service providers, anticipating customer needs to ensure continuity of service. Taking inspiration from American academic Brene Brown she immersed her team in the ‘Dare to Lead’ framework. They used daily stand-ups and agile methodologies to track progress and execute at pace. By pushing boundaries, empowering individuals to lead, and mentoring and setting goals, Vannessa says the focus on her people saw high-quality customer outcomes achieved.
SAGE ADVICE FROM VANNESSA
Vannessa is a leader who believes in the transformation of people. She loves her work and her team. She encourages women to transform and become future leaders by taking the lead.
Fairness, support, and results are key themes Vannessa has promoted throughout the teams and programs she has led. To encourage diversity, she led the charge in male parental leave, facilitating parents to share caring responsibilities while maintaining their career; fostered flexible work, part-time and job-sharing opportunities; mentored graduates; established networking opportunities; and participated in Woman Within International, a women’s empowerment program for over a decade. These initiatives have inspired others to achieve their personal and professional goals.
“Say ‘yes’ when career opportunities present and don’t wait for the ‘perfect environment or perfect team’,” she says. “Be prepared to take risks and back yourself. As Richard Branson says: ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!’
“IT has is the most diverse and interesting jobs,” Vannessa continues. “The IT industry needs creative people who can work together to solve problems. This is a career with no barriers to entry or boundaries.”
WITWA TECH [+] AWARDS
People’s Choice is now open! Cast your vote and support the amazing women making a difference in the ICT community. Register your vote here
For more information on the WiTWA Tech [+] Awards or to find out more about this year’s nominees, check out https://www.witwa.org.au/initiatives/tech-award/