Their Stories

Overcoming Barriers

Featured, SheLeadsTech, Stories

Sarah Orton, CISA, is director of IT risk and compliance at AstraZeneca. She has more than 20 years of IT risk assurance and advisory experience spanning financial services, utilities, professional services, central government and pharmaceuticals. She is vice president of the ISACA® Northern England Chapter board and she leads the ISACA UK and Ireland chapter-wide initiative for SheLeadsTech. She also serves on the ISACA global Women’s Leadership Council. She uses her amassed leadership experience to share with other women how they can empower themselves to lead as well.

Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles you have faced when stepping into a leadership position?

A: Lack of self-confidence. Despite that, with much support, encouragement and coaching from partners and directors at Deloitte, I was able to achieve a director position in 2006. Self-confidence is not only about knowing that you are capable yourself, but also believing that others see you the same way. It is important to have faith in yourself. Achieving a director position at Deloitte was a major career milestone and gave me the confidence to achieve anything in the future.

Q: What is one of the most important internal (of your own effort) factors that led you to this role?

A: I believe hard work and commitment to my career have made me the director I am today. In the 21st century workplace, much stock is placed on how well someone manages his or her own professional profile, and some people choose to do this to the detriment of other things, whether that be technical specialism or service delivery. Every individual has his or her own approach to managing his or her own career. My personal approach has been to work hard to deliver and build credibility in the work that I do. It helps to have integrity during stakeholder discussions I participate in and to do the right thing from an organizational perspective. When I returned from maternity leave in 2004 as a senior manager working for Deloitte, it was challenging to reestablish my credibility and profile, and it was especially difficult as a woman in a highly competitive work environment. I felt I had to prove that having a baby had not affected my professional drive and ambition. Sponsorship to go for a director position in 2006, and achieving it, was a proud moment in my professional career.

Q: What other challenges do you see women face in being ready to take a leadership position?

A: Women lack role models and people to both support and encourage them to overcome the self-confidence/self-sabotage barriers. Self-sabotage is that ability to talk yourself out of going for things due to a lack of confidence. Speaking to a mentor or coach can enable you to recognize your own self-sabotaging behavior(s) of which you may not even be aware. I, personally, have had a mentor over the last couple of years at AstraZeneca and, through this mentorship, I started to recognize areas of focus which I may have been neglecting. These include making senior stakeholders aware of my career aspirations and building relationships outside of my immediate sphere, both of which were, ultimately, factors that led me to a number of informal sponsors when I was pursuing my last leadership role.

Q: What is the most important external (not of your own effort) factor that led to this role?

A: The opportunity presenting itself and access to a network of supportive professional contacts. Again, by having a wide network of contacts within your organization, it is easier to canvas support at important times in your career. Some individuals may not recognize the value of their network, but if they are not building a network, they are effectively sabotaging their career. It is essential to have a supportive network when career opportunities arise. My network at Deloitte provided insightful feedback on key skills I needed to develop to qualify as a candidate for the director position, shared how they felt I was perceived reputationally and recommended tweaks I should make to improve my chances. This was all helpful support in getting to the next level.

Q: What challenges do you see organizations face as they look to hire more women in leadership positions?

A: These days I think it is important that organizations provide the right environment in which women can feel comfortable, thrive, be valued and appreciated. In the 21st century, flexibility in both the work environment and work hours needs to be provided. Employers who provide this needed flexibility will attract and retain talent. Women of the 21st century demand new challenges and opportunities to progress.

Q: What do you think organizations can and should do to address retention issues for technology professionals, especially women?

A: Organizations need to create an environment that is inclusive, where women feel that their voices can be heard. This applies more widely, of course, to the diversity and inclusion agenda which expects organizations to employ women and other minority groups to “make up the numbers.” The true proof of the pudding is how well these individuals are regarded and whether their voices are heard in a meeting environment. If women feel they can be heard and make an impact, that factors heavily in their feelings about whether they remain at an organization.