A career is not a ladder, it is more like a jungle gym

By Birgit Jackson, Director Integrated Racks and IT Solutions Business in EMEA at Vertiv, shares her career journey and challenges and opportunities for women in IT.

Today, Birgit Jackson, mother of two, is director of integrated racks and IT solutions business in EMEA at Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions. She leads the Integrated Racks and IT Solutions line of business and manages a team that is responsible for the product lifecycle management and financial performance in EMEA. Birgit joined the company in May 2021 and brought with her more than 20 years of experience gained through a diverse career in global product management. Over the years, she has defined product lines, positioning and price structure, led on product strategies, and directed company-wide marketing and communications initiatives. But how and where did her career in technology begin?

Birgit studied physics at university and she has always been passionate about technology and numbers. When she started her career she didn’t want to limit herself to R&D - she wanted to be in an office and in touch with people. This led her to embark on a career in product management; it gave Birgit the perfect combination of R&D and sales. She has worked in the technology industry all of her working life and today, Birgit is a decisive and strategic business leader with a passion for working with the ground-breaking technologies which power a smart, digital future.

The road to success

Birgit began her tech career in Munich back in 1997, when she worked for Nokia Display Products. At the time, it was the market leader in mobile phones and it was fascinating to witness how quickly society changed with this new technology in people’s hands. Mobile phones were, and still are, particularly interesting because they comprise of so much technology - hardware, software and data. Being a part of defining the future of the mobile industry was one of the most exciting times in Birgit’s career.

Birgit then joined Compaq Computer / Hewlett Packard, followed by Siemens, before moving to NEC Display Solutions Europe. Her role at Siemens was especially interesting. As the portfolio definition manager, she was responsible for the project management of future products which meant looking at design and technology trends and predictions 10 years ahead.

Commenting on her time at NEC, Birgit said: “I started as a product manager for desktop displays a year after my daughter was born. I knew that I was capable of doing my job and

managing a family. My managers at NEC were very supportive and they gave me the flexibility and opportunity to grow in my career. I was promoted quickly and was eventually appointed head of product management for all NEC display solutions products.”

Birgit continued: “I really enjoyed this role as I had the freedom to create an environment in which my team could thrive. One of my proudest moments in this role was introducing a new and successful product management team structure. It included bringing in new team members and coaching product managers to expand their skills. I gave them the tools to really understand relevant business trends and developed a new communication structure which improved collaboration with the management in Japan and other regional heads of product management.

Birgit joined Vertiv because she believes that it is another company that defines the future through technology - data is the new “oil” - and she is thrilled to be part of a fast moving business and work with a very talented team. Birgit said: “We are living in a time of accelerated digital transformation. Critical infrastructure now has utility status and I’m really excited to be part of a company at the forefront of creating and implementing the IT solutions that will power the digital world.”

Championing women in technology

Outside of Birgit’s day job, she’s passionate about inspiring women to undertake careers in technology and helping to break down the stigmas and roadblocks which stop women entering the field. She believes that one of the most pressing challenges that women in IT face is gender bias: men are often more likely to be promoted than women, even when they have comparable qualifications and experience. Unlike male counterparts, there is a lack of relatable female role models in STEM industries. Females are often underrepresented in leadership positions in tech companies, which can make it more challenging for women to advance their careers and achieve their goals.

For Birgit, it’s vital that this situation changes and that more women are able to succeed in technology industries. She said: “It’s well known that more diverse teams deliver better results, women lead innovative organisations and women in leadership positions attract more women to work in the company and industry.”

To encourage more women into STEM industries, Birgit believes it’s important to raise awareness of the career options and opportunities available in tech . This should start with education playing a key role in inspiring women to work in the field. She thinks women and

men should be encouraged on to follow their talent at a young age and that being a “girl” doesn’t mean you cannot be passionate about solving mathematical problems. Sadly, it is still very often almost predefined that women should embark on careers in HR or marketing and men should be engineers. Early work experience such as internships and school-work programmes are a great way for young students to explore career opportunities.

Birgit says that one of the main enablers of her career success was management having trust in her ability, talent and commitment. She feels strongly that trust is the basis for attracting and maintaining the best talent - and not only women. Being trusted to work flexibly to manage a family and a job is key.

Sharing success

During her career, Birgit was fortunate to have always had people who supported her as well as great mentors. She said: “One of the things I really enjoy is leading teams and helping them to succeed and grow. Vertiv is a great place to learn and there are lots of opportunities to develop skills and careers. I think the best advice I can share is to build a good network of people around you and find a job that you are really passionate about. I now ensure that I make time to mentor other female talents because I want to help women to be more confident and successful in their careers.”

Although the world of work is different (in a good way) for women today, it’s an evolution. There are more opportunities and most companies, including Vertiv, are investing resources to design ad hoc programmes and strategies to recruit more female talent, drive diversity and enrich talent . Technology has also made the world smaller which means most businesses now put talent as a higher priority than where people are located. This helps to provide more flexibility for women to progress in their careers. There are also more female role models in leadership positions than 20 years ago.

Birgit’s final thoughts: “I highly recommend reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”; it is very inspiring. The most important take away for me was to accept that a career is not a ladder, it is more like a jungle gym.”

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