Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Pam: It’s a pleasure! Thanks for having me.
People may be surprised to know that I am a pretty good cricket player, thanks to my father! He taught me and my three siblings to play when we were growing up, and as a result, I have really good hand/eye coordination. That skill has been hugely useful – not just when the senior leadership played cricket against our peers on one of our trips to India, but in breaking through barriers in general.
For instance, I remember when we moved to a small village outside of London so we could get a better education. We were the only family of color in that village at the time, and it was hard to make friends. One day at school, we were playing a game of rounders (a baseball-like game) and the other kids were so surprised at how far I was able to hit the balls. Some of the students came up to me afterwards and said” We didn’t realize you’d be so good!” and invited me over for tea. Sports has always been a good way for me to both build resilience and break through barriers.
Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Pam: Well, it wasn’t a straight path to CEO, that’s for sure! I’m often asked if I have a five-year career plan and I don’t—never have.
I would say that getting here is not something I would have achieved if I hadn’t taken to heart one of the first pieces of advice I was given: “The success of your career will be down to you and no one else….”
There have been many experiences that have served to help me grow personally and professionally, but I’d have to say my experiences as a woman of color have been the most influential. It’s no secret there aren’t nearly as many women as men in technology. We are working to change that at Avanade. Being the only woman of color in the room for a long time really challenged me and motivated me to go above and beyond. It propelled me forward. It has helped me progress and fight for my place at the table.
Other personal experiences and challenges that stand out as huge growth opportunities:
- Taking risks. The first calculated risk and one of the most important I’ve made was the decision to take a management science degree, which led me to a technology career rather than the career in law that I always thought I would follow. I was the first person in my family to go to college, so making that change was a big decision for me. My mother—who was my first source of inspiration and continues to be to this day—encouraged me to trust my gut and to just go for it.
- Finding my voice. When I’ve had trouble finding my voice, I’ve asked mentors for advice or to create opportunities in meetings for me to share my opinions. That helped me build the confidence I carry today and allowed me to successfully grow as a leader. It’s also something that I’m conscious of helping others with especially in large group settings.
- Reaching out to the power of the community. When I moved to Seattle from my home in London to head up our Product & Innovation team at Avanade in 2016, I didn’t know many people. One of the first things I did was seek out a community I could rely on for support while I was so far away from my family and friends. I was lucky enough to find the African American employee resource group that I decided to join. Through that group, I met some wonderful people who helped me to find my bearings, better understand my new environment and start to thrive.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Pam: I think effective leaders have:
- The ability to challenge old ways of thinking. Earlier in my career, I sponsored an in-person meeting for 200 people from across our European locations. My goal was to help everyone get to know one another, so we could work more effectively together. It was the first time we had ever run a facilitated workshop for that many people and there was some skepticism that it would work. I persevered and it was hugely successful at creating the team spirit that I had hoped it would. It was a great reminder to push against the conventional and to take risks!
- The desire to be accountable and to hold others accountable too. Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is how you handle the adversity, take accountability and learn from them. It’s an old but true statement that you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.
- A strong voice that advocates for others. As a woman who is often the only one like me in the room, I feel a responsibility as a leader to ensure that we create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work every day.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Pam: I think these three are the most relevant for the time we live in right now and are applicable to leaders in any industry or organization:
- Embrace the things that can go wrong—and don’t panic when they do. In my first six months as CEO, we’ve all found ourselves facing a global pandemic that has completely disrupted the way we work, live, learn and play. The human toll has been both brutal and tragic. And organizations are scrambling to respond. My first instincts were to make sure that we were taking care of the health and well-being of our global team as our offices and client sites became off limits, and then we shifted quickly to focusing on helping our clients make the transition to remote working and beyond. With so much uncertainty and anxiety, it would have been easy to panic but keeping a calm demeanor in a crisis is really important; not just for your own sake but for the ripple effect you have as a leader on the rest of your team or organization.
- Innovation should be at the heart of everything you do. At Avanade, we’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that technology innovation has been a part of our DNA for our entire 20-year history. What’s the secret? In my experience, the most successful innovative thinking comes about when you bring together a diverse range of voices, experiences and perspectives. It also needs an agile approach – being able to adapt and innovate at pace as well as “fail fast”. There’s no doubt in my mind that innovation will continue to be a driving force for our clients as they rethink the future.
- The experience you are giving to your employees is everything. Maya Angelou once wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I’m passionate about the experience that our employees have and our goal is to have our team feel inspired, confident and cared for. If they do, you can be sure they will pass it along to your clients, partners and recruits.
There are many ways that the employee experience can come to life. Sometimes it’s as simple as a direct reply from me to an employee email. Or an acknowledgement of a success or win on social media. Sometimes it’s more than that. One of our team members wrote about how grateful she was that Avanade had made the bold move of providing job security and flexible working arrangements for everyone in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another wrote about the importance of spearheading programs that enabled her to give back to the world of nonprofits and overcome the prejudices that minorities experience in the technology industry.
Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?
Pam: Anchoring everyone around a common purpose is one of the best ways to build, lead and manage a team. One of the first things I did as CEO was to formally introduce our company’s purpose, which is to make a genuine human impact. It’s why we do what we do. In the technology industry, it’s easy to get lost in what innovation can do for our clients and their customers. We can make their business processes faster, more effective and accurate. We can help deliver ambitious business goals. But our purpose inspires all of us to look beyond the technology to the actual human impact of the work we do.
What does this look like? There are many examples, but one that stands out is our recent work with Answer ALS, which is the largest global research effort in the fight against ALS. Avanade has helped to create a data query engine that allows ALS researchers around the world to submit a complicated research query into its massive data repository and get an answer in hours rather than days or weeks. And it’s an answer informed by and based on what researchers and patients are finding in other parts of the world. The ability to access that information from all corners of the globe so quickly is what we, along with Answer ALS, think could be a game-changer in the fight against the disease.
Adam: What are your best tips for fellow leaders on the topic of diversity and inclusion?
Pam: Commit to doing more!
As a female leader in the technology industry, there’s so much more that we could be doing to ensure that we have more gender parity in the technology industry overall and to help educate the next generation on the power of STEM as a path forward.
We also need to be fostering an inclusive and diverse environment – a workplace where everyone can focus on doing their best work without prejudice or fear. The challenges our clients face today require the thinking of people with diverse perspectives, backgrounds and experiences and it shouldn’t matter who your partner is or the color of your skin or whether you have a disability.
So, I encourage people to ask: ‘What more could I be doing to create an environment within my company and in my industry where everyone can do their best work and where everyone truly feels valued, welcomed and heard?’ Asking that question opens yourself up to look for ways you as a colleague, manager, mentor can create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Pam: I’ve had the privilege of having many great mentors, but my mum gave me a piece of advice that I’ve taken with me throughout my entire career: Walk through the door.
I would never have achieved the successes in my career if I had not walked through the doors that were opened for me time and time again. Yes, it can be daunting and downright scary, but think about how you are holding yourself and your teams back if you don’t take hold of the opportunities that present themselves. Focusing on my teams and stakeholder relationships gave me the strength and confidence to take on many new opportunities.
Today, as you would expect as CEO, my role is more and more about opening doors for others, which is hugely rewarding.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Pam: One of the ways Avanade is paying it forward that I’m particularly proud and passionate about is our Technology for Social Good initiative, which is all about making an impact on the communities and people that are served by non-profit organizations and charities.
Non-profits are on the front lines of helping many people in need, especially in times like these. They face many of the same challenges as our other clients but lack the resources and technical expertise to address them. From the work we have done with SOS Children’s Villages to the Canadian Red Cross, this initiative allows our employees to apply their skills and work on causes near and dear to their heart—and it’s so inspiring to see the work that we’re doing with these clients.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Pam: I love working with clients and leading Avanade, but outside of work I enjoy spending time with my family. I make the effort to connect with them virtually as much as possible since the pandemic has prevented us from physically getting together.
I especially enjoy Barre Fusion classes, which is a cardio workout that incorporates yoga and a ballet barre. Since we’re still staying at home in London due to COVID-19, I’m keeping up on the studio classes by taking them online. I’m also fortunate to live close to the river so I like to get out for long walks when the weather is good.
I also love music. Playing saxophone is a way for me to be creative and share my love of music with others.
I’m a big advocate for stepping away to unplug and recharge; it really is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being. And in today’s world, where we’re all juggling many new and stressful elements, taking time to be with your families or engage in your hobbies enables you to recharge, regain perspective and come back with a renewed energy.