Nina Wiater discusses changes and stereotypes in the IT industry, the situation of women in the technology business, modern leadership and flannel shirt eccentricities with Sebastian Drzewiecki, VP and Managing Director of Sabre’s Global Development Center, and founder of the nowoczesnylider.pl portal and organizer of the Mentoring Walk.
NW: You have over 18 years of experience in the IT and technology sector. How do you think the industry has changed over the years?
SD: In hindsight, the Polish IT industry has certainly become more mature. In local companies, activities are more transparent while technology departments play an increasingly important role in business and strategic planning. Poland has for many years been perceived by global companies as a cost-attractive location, primarily for operational processes. Today this image is changing. We are becoming more and more innovative, with Polish teams creating new market products and our experts enjoying international recognition. What is worth continuously working on is the maturity of the ecosystem in which innovations can turn from ideas into real business solutions.
NW: In retrospect, how do you assess the situation of women in the IT industry?
SD: In this industry, it does not matter if the boss is a woman or a man - what truly counts is competence. Unfortunately, it is still more difficult to recruit women to work in the modern technology industry, as statistically less of them graduate from a university of technology. Of course, this does not mean that there are no successful women in Polish companies or women in management positions.
NW: You manage a huge team of professionals (about 1,500 people), what percentage of them are women? How old are they and what positions do they hold?
SD: 26% of Sabre's employees are women which is above the market average. Most of them work in senior positions (124 people), with a number in positions such as director or manager.
NW: Why is it that men are more often employed in the IT industry? How has this situation changed from your perspective over the years?
SD: Apart from the above-mentioned disproportion in technical studies, it is worth noting that the job advertisements in the IT industry are written in a rather aggressive language. We conducted a study that showed that adjusting the language of an ad to a more neutral tone is more interesting. Another element is building ecosystems that women may want to join. An example of this is the nationwide association, "Women in Technology", which supports both men and women in achieving their professional goals.
NW: You received the “Male Champion of Change” award from the Sukces Pisany Szminką Foundation. You were recognized for your actions aimed at promoting gender equality and supporting women in business. Please tell me how you support the activities of women in Sabre? What support do you give them in their development?
SD: One element is stability from a family point of view. Women want to feel secure during their maternity leave, and they want to feel that the organization they work for will take care of them. That is why a lot of companies rely on paternity leave and in our case we have additional paid leave for fathers, who can exchange childcare duties with mothers during this time. This certainly helps the other partner to return to the labor market faster. We also offer our teams a number of training courses, in which the main factor is the company's business plans as well as the interests and predispositions of employees. What distinguishes us on the market is the strengthening of women's self-confidence in new organizations, assistance in gaining new experience and mentoring programs.
NW: Are these programs implemented internally in Sabre or do you use external platforms?
SD: We work on both models. As far as internal activities are concerned, a new mentoring program will be launched soon, which I hope many women will join. We also use external tools and initiatives, such as the Mentoring Walk, which we did in Kraków. Additionally, there are other CSR programs worth mentioning, which are aimed at developing technological competences among the youngest.
NW: There is much talk about the gender pay gap. Are there any measures taken in Sabre to harmonize salaries? Is it still the proverbial “glass ceiling” for women?
SD: As far as wages at Sabre are concerned, I can say that I was also at the round table that created the Charter of Equal Rights, organized jointly with Forbes Women. It was then confirmed that there are no differences between men's and women's salaries in our company.
NW: What are the biggest misconceptions regarding stereotypes in the IT industry?
SD: I think that the biggest stereotype and misconception is that IT employees are not social. Some people still see IT experts as being eccentrics who wear flannel shirts. Some of these stereotypes may be true, but where does this come from? Technology companies give their employees a lot of freedom with regard to dress code, of course, as long as they do not have direct contact with the customer. We just want to create an open and relaxed working environment. IT employees are people with great passions and hobbies. And because they are constantly online, they have knowledge in abundance.
NW: Apparently the pandemic did not significantly affect the number of job advertisements for IT experts?
SD: Yes, that is true. In many cases, it depends on the business area you work in. I am sure the job market will not change for engineers or developers.
NW: You are very active outside of work. You run the nowoczesnylider.pl blog and you are also the organizer of Mentoring Walk, where you actively promote support for women and space for female leaders to exchange experiences, mutual inspiration, and continuous development. Where did this idea come from?
SD: When it comes to Mentoring Walk, I am rather an inspirer. I think that people who were lucky enough to reach management levels should also impart some of their skills and knowledge to others. Such mentoring programs are particularly useful and often build long term relationships or help participants redefine their career paths.
NW: How do you find time to reconcile your professional duties with running such projects?
SD: I'm lucky that a lot of people from my company got involved in Mentoring Walk in Kraków, which made it possible to separate the work and create a cool, active community that is involved in this concept. I also remember that during the first meeting in Poznań people watched the launch of this project from a distance, yet by the third Mentoring Walk we didn't even have to look for people willing to help. The nowoczesnylider.pl blog, in turn, came from my experience as a lecturer - I very much enjoy sharing my knowledge and I am happy to share my experiences with my readers and guests on my podcasts.
NW: Nowoczesnylider.pl is a source of inspiration, useful information, and advice for managers. What are your topics? Where do you get your inspiration from?
SD: The idea itself appeared in my previous workplace, where we created a development program for potential leaders. We wanted to provide people who are promoted with access to knowledge and professional tools to develop competencies related to people management. Interestingly, the program was voluntary and took place after working hours, and yet no one ever left a session early. The concept received a great deal of interest, but as it was addressed to a specific group of people in a particular company, an idea emerged to use this managerial knowledge more widely - in the form of podcasts with experts in order to reach a larger audience. The topics covered by the nowoczesnylider.pl project obviously revolve around leadership in the modern world. I chose some of the issues in cooperation with colleagues from the industry and beyond, simply asking for interesting but important topics. So far, we have produced about 10 podcasts. Some episodes were created after consultations and suggestions that we received from the audience. And some of the podcasts were simply our response to trends, events, and hot topics such as crisis management, stress management, and the economic climate.
NW: You play golf in your free time, which is seen in many circles as a typical male sport. Do you come across women on the golf course?
SD: Playing golf is also a way for me to meet people who are from outside my circle. There were three women in my group, and I still play with two of them. They are great players. That is why in golf, as well as in IT, gender does not matter, it’s skills that count.
NW: Do you miss the golf course?
SD: Yes, I do. I hope to be back on it soon.
Thank you very much and I wish you all the best for your initiatives, and luck on the golf course.