The Swedish Chamber met with Dr. Cara Antoine, Managing Director of Digital Transformation at IG&H, also serving as the President of the Board of Women in Tech NL. During the spring we had the pleasure to have her speak at our Tech Talent-webinar; this time we got a glimpse of what made her into the technological leader she is today.
Being born in the US, raised in Australia and having lived around Europe for the past 26 years, it is safe to say that Dr. Cara Antoine is somewhat of a global citizen. Today she is based in the Netherlands, but her passion for people, cultures and diversity remains the same. Not least in her work.
In her current role as Managing Director at IG&H for digital transformation, she helps to transform businesses and cultures across global industries while taking the people along with her; what ultimately seems to have been the golden thread throughout her career.
— I have always been pretty agnostic in my technology background, so I started off with process control and process excellence, to later move more and more into the digital space as I progressed, really focusing on the digital transformation of organisations and of cultures.
The will to enable cultural and organisational transformation through technology stems from Cara’s passion to change, improve and save people and the planet.
“But what does it mean to save the planet or people’s lives?”, she asks herself just before bringing up a personal example from her career. She points to the hardhat behind her.
— When I was working at Shell, I was asked to digitise the environment of the upstream production and the off-shore facilities in order to save lives. I started to fly to the different assets, and in doing so, I recognised that while digitisation would help us improve our operational effectiveness in the organisation, it was not the silver bullet that was going to help us to save lives. The problem was the mechanism of flying.
After starting to reduce the number of people flying to the offshore facility by enabling them to work in a digital way through remote operations, Cara and her team started to see more people being able to go home safely at night.
— It was very transformational, but because of that strategy less people were killed. And that is something I am very proud to have been connected to.
Dr. Cara Antoine visiting an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
The power of “I believe in you”
Another way for Cara to impact is through her commitment to Women in Tech. As a young girl, she fell in love with science and technology. From reading about the accomplishments of great pioneers like Grace Hopper and Amelia Aerhart, to being utterly fascinated by the inside of a wireless radio when dropping it to the floor during a sibling chase around the house; tech fascinated her.
As soon as she was old enough, she signed up for the school’s electrical engineering course. Little did she know that the teacher of the class would remain one of her most important role models until this day.
— I was the only girl, but luckily I had a teacher who believed in every student in the class. That teacher inspired me to use my creativity to bind and solder the different colored wires, connect them to a circuit board, attach a speaker and then create a sound. And when we made it play, I thought ‘wow if I can make this music play, that is what I want to do’.
I believe in you. Those four words were the most empowering ones Cara had ever been told as a kid. And ever since, she has been searching for those same kinds of role models for the coming generations. Because the stubborn fact is that there is a significant number of women and girls in technologian roles still missing.
— Many are not being encouraged in the same way I was lucky to be as a young girl, and so I am very motivated to change that. We are missing a significant portion of the workforce in terms of diversity. And I know that we can do so much better.
Diversity in the space of tech
Getting more diverse technological solutions requires there to be diverse thoughts coming into the development. Needless to say, Women in Tech’s mission to get 5 million more women into tech between now and 2030, is crucial.
To reach that goal, Cara and her companions in the Netherlands focus on 5 of the 17 sustainable development goals from the UN.
— Gender equality is at the heart of all we do, but we also focus on entrepreneurialism, science, technology, innovation, education and social inclusion. And in each of those areas, we are leading initiatives and events, conversations and podcasts on themes to help progress what is happening.
A big part of getting more girls and women into tech has to do with creating accessibility. That is why Women in Tech NL make sure to get out to the classrooms of less privileged schools, equipping them and arranging activities such as virtual game creation through low coding and building a robot.
— At the end they get a certificate that they have become ‘coders’. And to see kids running around the classroom after hitting that green button is just the most beautiful thing. It is so empowering and liberating to give them that new skill, having them think ‘I can accomplish anything I want’.
Technologists with business presence
Going back to the importance of setting up role models, Cara shares the remarkable fact that 60% of individuals having a role model are more likely to be interested in tech. And for that reason, Women in Tech have created a 4 month long program to highlight relatable and accessible females to look up to.
Each month covers a different theme: passion, purpose, presence and pay-it-forward. But it is not expertise within technology that is important. Rather it is having the skills of leading others and the confidence to inspire and influence.
— We too often find that there is a tipping point. Either you are really strong in technology but not so good in terms of leadership, or vice versa. And there has to be a balance. Because to be someone others look up to, you do not have to know the most about AI or machine learning, but be a great human being in life and in work.
While emphasizing the theme of presence, Cara shares that there is a need for females to know how to promote their story, present themselves, share skills with others and pay the way forward.
— Women have a very important role to play in their own self development. So it is equally important to be accomplished in tech as it is to be confident in business. It is essential to have skills such as personal branding, storytelling, public speaking, pitching and negotiating.
A group of individuals wearing blind glasses during the Blind Day Global Accessibility Day.
The inclusion solution
As for the future of leadership, with basically every company turning into a tech one, Cara believes in re-shifting the masculine world and keeping the people at the center. The fact that we are working in a digital space is unimportant, because at the end of the day it is people’s way of working that is transforming, and not companies themselves.
— Transformation can be enabled or empowered by digital technology, but if the people do not change or know how to change, then nothing is going to change.
We are still working off data sets that were historically developed by men. And so in order to diversify future technological solutions and really represent the society holistically, there is a need to diversify thoughts and design inclusion in the solution while building it. Basically, making the new leadership inclusive.
— To me, diversity is getting different people in the room with you. But inclusion has to do with making sure every voice is being heard. ‘I go where I am invited and I stay where I belong’, that is a quote I like to use. So giving people a feeling of belonging is very important.
What kind of a leader are you?
— In terms of my own approach and what I think is important for leaders, I believe in getting to know people’s deepest passions within your teams. To know what their values are, their motivations and their talents. It has never been more important than now to be more human than ever, and so keeping people at the center is what I as a technologist lead with.
Text: Jennifer Nilsson, Swedish Chamber of Commerce