Rising up the tech ladder

Maggie van't Hoff is up for Leader of the Year in this week's FDM everywoman in Technology awards. She talks to Workigmums.co.uk about how ruthless prioritisation is how she carves out some work life balance.

Maggie van't Hoff is a finalist in this year’s FDM everywoman in Technology awards, which will be announced on Tuesday. She is one of four women up for Leader of the Year in a corporate. The awards aim to inspire more women to go into technology. Currently, women make up just 17 per cent of technology professionals, often attributed to a lack of awareness of the huge diversity and opportunity the profession offers.

Maggie feels passionately that she wants to encourage more women into the industry and to help them rise up the ranks as she has done.

Maggie joined Shell in the US after finishing her Computer Science degree and worked there for 15 years before moving to the UK. She has also worked for Shell in the Netherlands. In the top 50 of Shell IT, her current role is General Manager of Retail IT where she addresses how Shell can apply IT to deliver best value.

She says that, although she was one of the few women doing Computer Science at university, the industry has changed in recent years and now embraces areas such as social media which may appear less “geeky” and less traditionally male territory. She adds that many people working in the IT industry don't have an IT background.

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Although Shell recruits an equal number of men and women graduates and although there are five senior women in Shell’s IT leadership team, Maggie says she has had a hard time recently finding female candidates for her team and this concerns her. She thinks part of the reason is there are not enough women role models in senior leadership positions in the industry and she is keen to address this through women’s networks, mentoring and going into schools to speak.

Work life balance

Maggie has three children, aged 9, 6 and 4. When she had her third child she went down to four days a week. She says for her to have any work life balance requires “ruthless prioritisation”. “I have to sit down with my diary months in advance and plan. My husband works full time and also travels for work. We sit with the calendar and work out how to manage the logistics,” she says.

She also has a great nanny who covers from Monday to Thursday, although she has tried other childcare options. On Fridays Maggie does the school run and plays with her four-year-old son, goes for coffee mornings or plays tennis with friends.

She returned to work full time after her first two children, but when she was pregnant with the third, a colleague asked her: “If you do my job what am I supposed to do? I realised that to make the team more successful I had to delegate more. It made me think what my role should be when I came back from maternity leave and how I would be able to manage if I didn’t change things.”

For the first two years when she went back she took a strategy job which involved less travel. Once she could manage her time better she was able to take on new challenges and last year was promoted to her current position which involves more international travel. She again speaks of being “ruthless” with her time when she is away from home. She packs in her business meetings so she can get back home for the weekend. Her husband does the same, she says. “You need to have some balance.”

Maggie admits to checking emails on Fridays, but she ensures that it does not take over the whole day. She also says that work ebbs and flows and that there may be times when you have to work longer hours. However, that should not be routine, she states.

She thinks it is vital that there are more female role models around. She is both an internal and external mentor [through a women of the future competition Shell organised] to 20 individuals and says she feels it is important to show women that they can do senior roles and have a work life balance. So many she sees are afraid to ask for reduced hours because of a fear that it will effectively bring any chances of promotion to an end. Many women are struggling with prioritisation.

“When I go to women’s networks [Maggie is an active member of the Shell Senior Women’s Network] I hear from women who are struggling and want to quit. I tell them my story. I feel women can do it, but they need to take a stand. They need to be clear about their priorities. They need to challenge senior leaders who are burning the candle at both ends and tell them they are not good role models for their staff,” she says. “They also need to be supported by leaders who give them permission to ask for more flexibility.”

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