The Opportunities and Challenges for Women Pursuing a Career in the IT Industry

Q&A with Eva Sóley Guðbjörnsdóttir, Deputy CEO and CFO, atNorth

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role:

I’m a Financial Engineer, I did both my B.Sc. and M.Sc. at Columbia University in New York. I was very lucky to get a scholarship there back in the days when I played soccer for Columbia University and did all my studies there.

When I hit the ‘real world’, I started my career in banking, first as an analyst then moving up the ranks to become CFO a few years later. This created the opportunity for me later on to move into an operational role in the IT sector when I became the CFO of Advania, a Nordic information technology service corporation, in Iceland in 2015. This was my entry point into the IT world. At that time, the company I work for now, atNorth, was only one department out of approximately 20, but it was already growing fast. Hence, there were always a lot of projects (and fun) around this department - it was fast-moving, exciting and successful and one of my favourites during my time at Advania.

We then saw an opportunity to divest this department, spinning it off into a separate entity in 2017, which became known as the now fast-growing company, atNorth. At that time, I stayed with Advania as the CFO; however, I always followed and kept up to date with the exciting growth journey that atNorth was on.

I then left Advania in 2019 to join Icelandair for about two and a half years, which was super interesting and an overall great experience to learn more about the airline business. However, with my heart still in the exciting world of IT, I decided to leave the aviation industry and thankfully, my friends at atNorth knocked on my door shortly thereafter and invited me to join their exciting growth journey again!

It has been super exciting to join the company at such a pivotal point in its growth and to be connected with the atNorth team again.

2. Did you ever sit down and plan your career? Have you always wanted to work in the IT industry?

Yes and no, I did plan to go to the US for my B.Sc. degree and find a good school there where I could play soccer and do my studies in the financial spectrum. I then deliberately decided that I wanted to move back to Iceland after graduation in 2006 to work for one of the Icelandic banks.

At that time, I foresaw myself working in the financial sector for the rest of my life, as the sector was very exciting and growing very fast.

But no, I didn’t always plan to work in the IT industry. After the financial economic collapse in 2008, I stopped planning and just focused on working with great people on interesting projects. It just so happens that I’ve landed in the most exciting industry where technology and innovation are driving superhuman changes across the globe.

3. Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Challenges are bound to happen – probably most if not all weeks of the year. In my mind, the driving factors when facing challenges are to maintain an open mind and dialogue, listen, stay positive and strive to be as transparent as possible and honest towards people.

4. What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I believe that completion of all large projects (and even sometimes small, complex projects) is a huge achievement in and of itself. But, such wins are never something I do on my own, it is always a team effort where the whole team wins. There is no I in team, and teamwork is something I have championed my whole career and find the same strong alignment in atNorth’s culture and values.

In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, on a personal level, being part of business leadership teams and mentoring and supporting the career path of other women and seeing their successes brings me great joy and sense of accomplishment.

5. What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Honesty takes you a long way. Focusing on leading teams by example and being part of the team all the way through projects will bring success. Hard work cannot be underestimated - it is true that nothing comes easily in life, especially not when faced with complex situations within your career. Having this hard work under your belt helps you deal with (and foresee) challenges as they arise.

Striving to create diverse teams with team members that bring in skills or qualities that are lacking in the team – we all have our own strengths and weaknesses and building a strong and successful team can come down to the ability to identify these within each other and lean into

others’ strengths where we can. Case in point - I always strive to be surrounded by smarter team members than myself!

6. What top tips would you give to those considering, or trying to excel in their career in IT?

Staying current when it comes to IT innovation and striving to keep up with the progresses and developments in this sector – which is challenging as it changes fast!

7. Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome? From where I stand now, I don’t think there are barriers for success for women in IT. I saw this shifting back in my days with Advania where the top layers of the org chart were even and balanced when it comes to gender diversity. It is, however, sometimes challenging to find women in IT in certain positions, so we also need more women into IT that are interested in excelling in this space and find ways to make the sector interesting enough for them to step into and stay in the space. I have learned personally that once you step in, it is difficult to step out again. I did it for a short while and went into aviation, but this fast-growing ever-changing tech environment called me back!

I know there is still room for improvement, but I think the IT industry is one sector that is streets ahead in its capacity to be open, accepting and positive towards diversity. There are certainly still glass ceilings of sorts when it comes to female roles (particularly at senior level) within IT and tech; however, from what I have seen throughout my journey across different countries is that much of this is due to more of a lack of education in earlier schooling years - not a lack of desire or opportunity.

8. What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would say the usual suspects here: podcasts, books, conferences, etc. But, networking and being active in social circles and on social media can also be a huge motivator for women in our sector.

9. What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology - is there more that needs to be done to encourage women to work within the IT sector?

We absolutely need to attract more young female talent into this super interesting space! We must do more to mentor our younger generations, to fuel their fire when it comes to an interest in joining the IT industry. But, equally beyond this, we need senior management to continue to

lend better support to females, enabling flexible work environments where young talent can maintain a work life balance, as we know this is a make or break factor for our younger generations.

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