As the South East Asia Managing Director at ThoughtWorks, a global technology company that provides software design and delivery and pioneering tools and consulting services, Jessie Xia, finds herself in the centre of some cutting edge agile technology development.
Having first joined ThoughtWorks China in 2005 as the Head of People she has since held multiple roles in people development, software business analysis, project management and client relationship.
Coming from a non-tech background and a basic knowledge of English, Jessie found it hard to imagine a long-term successful career in the tech industry. However, passionate about creating values by pushing oneself, enabling others to perform and turning her job into her interests, she has thrived in her professional career.
In this chat with the Women Icons Network, Xia Jie Jessie shares her thoughts and experiences at the workplace.
Transitioning from graduate school to the corporate world
My first job was not related to my university major, which was accounting. Personally, I like to gain practical skills a lot more than just studying in school, so I was very excited about my first job. I believe that my excitement and willingness to learn helped enable a smooth transition from school to the corporate world.
Joining the tech industry was not something I actively pursued. In fact, it was my first interaction with ThoughtWorkers that sparked my curiosity and passion for tech, especially when I learnt about how tech can be used to create real-world impact. That was what spurred my decision to join ThoughtWorks in China, back in 2005.
Any challenge that you were not prepared to face and how did you tackle it?
Throughout my career, the many new roles and opportunities I was given did come with its own set of challenges and there was a lot I had to learn.
When I first joined ThoughtWorks, I was from a non-tech background stepping into a traditionally male-dominated space. Furthermore, I was not fluent in English at that point. Initially, I thought these challenges would set me back in my career progression, but I was fortunate enough to be in an environment that welcomed my questions and my curiosity. My colleagues also acted as a solid support system that I could rely on.
I started to view these challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, and the inclusive culture at ThoughtWorks was significant in encouraging my career development journey. For example, I’ve benefited greatly from the ThoughtWorks culture of bringing in people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs, together to share ideas and do great work.
Being in such an environment gave me the opportunity to expand my skill set, explore new roles in various departments including HR and Operations, and also prepared me for my current role as the Managing Director heading the offices in Singapore and Thailand.
What choices have you faced, if any, that required you to step back and consider?
In my 15 years at ThoughtWorks, I had to make many tough decisions. Through it all, a key lesson I have learnt is that when we stay in your comfort zone for too long, productivity gradually decreases. There is only growth when we are challenged to break out of our comfort zones.
One choice I had to make was whether or not to accept a senior leadership role. At that point of time, I suffered from “Imposter Syndrome”, as self-doubt made me believe I was incapable of handling those responsibilities. Coupled with the problems I experienced on a daily basis, I was often on the verge of breaking down. This situation is what I call being in the “panic zone”, which I stayed in for a few months. Fortunately, I managed to cross this hurdle, which meant fewer late nights and a gradual decline in work emergencies.
Looking back, I am grateful for the support of capable colleagues who helped with team building and client relationship management, all the while conscientiously performing their duties. Gradually, I moved back into the “growth zone”, and began to manage my time better. This experience has helped me to improve my skills as a leader, taught me how to get out of difficult situations and to actively face challenges head on, which helped me proactively steer the company ahead. I believe that the secret to being a successful senior leader is to cultivate a team with members who are as strong or even stronger than yourself, to fight alongside you.
A lesson you learned on the job that you always remember
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is to intentionally invest in nurturing and mentoring others no matter how busy we are as leaders. With our hectic schedules, it is easy to get caught up in the work we do and unintentionally let these important aspects of leadership take the back seat. The key to successful leadership is having not only a strong, but diverse team.
Firstly, a strong team is crucial to supporting the business, ensuring each member has sufficient bandwidth to work, growth and constantly improve themselves. This requires patience. Sometimes, we may feel like we are the only person who can complete certain complicated tasks. But this is exactly why we need to invest in the capabilities of others in the long run. We need to think strategically about what will help the company and team to be successful for the future, and to grow collectively as a team.
Secondly, it has been proven that a diverse team produces the best results because of the new perspectives each member can bring to the table. Personally, this means I must take up the responsibility of being a good role model as a woman in the tech industry, to continue inspiring women. At ThoughtWorks, beyond hiring and retaining women of different backgrounds, we have initiatives that help women with a passion for technology build a successful career by partnering with academic institutions and running training programmes internally.
How can the industry work collectively to improve the state of Gender Equality @ Workplaces?
In Singapore, women make up less than one third of the tech industry. While we have seen an increase in numbers over the past few years, for real change to happen, we must continuously and deliberately be advocates and share our success stories to encourage other companies to also adopt a culture of inclusivity and equality. For example, companies can add more inclusive guidelines in their code of conduct and be intentional about executing them.
This cultural shift must first start with a shift in perception, and this starts at home and in schools. As parents, we must expose the next generation of technology professionals to STEM education and show young women the possibilities of a career in the tech space.
Beyond promoting gender equality, we should also look to empower a wider range of diversity by including groups which are traditionally under-represented in the tech community. We value diversity not only because of our firm belief that it is the right thing to do, but also because of our organizational culture, our clients, and the tech industry that will benefit greatly from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
We are also aware that change does not happen overnight, but what we can start doing collectively is to implement policies that support a safe workplace where every individual can thrive. Across the tech industry, we must hire people for their passion and capabilities and let every employee know that they are being seen and supported, no matter what their background, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation is.