Q&A with Jessica Twentyman, freelance journalist

  • Posted on March 12, 2015

How do professional women outside of Avanade juggle work/life balance, use technology to do their jobs more effectively and build listening skills? As part of Avanade's International Women’s Day events, Avanade asked freelance journalist Jessica Twentyman to give her perspective on these topics—and more.

What is the single most important thing you do to achieve work/life balance? 

Jessica:  I switch off. It’s a simple as that. I close the laptop, I turn off the tablet and tuck the mobile phone away in a drawer. I regularly set aside whole chunks of time - an evening here, a weekend there - when I am absolutely, resolutely offline. Work-related emails can wait until I’m working. Just because technology makes an ‘always on’ lifestyle possible, that doesn’t mean I should pursue it or that it’s good for me.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given? What impact did it have on your career?

Jessica: “Shut up and listen.” Seriously: in my first job in journalism, I was handed that advice on more than one occasion and by more than one person. And while their delivery might have been rather abrupt, my advisors’ message was pretty wise, because I quickly found that shutting up and listening doesn’t just allow you to hear what’s being said. It also allows you to hear what’s not being said - and that’s when things get interesting. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not for one minute advocating a career-long vow of mute compliance for any woman. Far from it. What kind of progress would that be? So as an add-on piece of advice, I’d also like to offer, “Ask more questions.” That pretty much sums it up: shut up, listen, ask more questions - and repeat. Do that for long enough, and when the time comes to contribute your own opinions, your own ideas, you’ll find they’ll be better ones.

What is your company doing that you think is working to attract, retain and promote women professionals?

Jessica: I can’t really talk about ‘my company’. I’m a self-employed freelance journalist, so I’m both my own company and its only employee. But if I was to comment on the IT industry in general, I’d say that while I’ve seen significant steps forward in the two decades that I’ve been covering the business, I still hear too many stories of women experiencing unequal pay, unfair treatment and what I’ll euphemistically refer to as ‘general bad manners’. And when it comes to encouraging young women to pursue careers in the IT industry, I think most companies still have a lot of work to do. 

All around us, we interact with and use many devices and technologies to communicate with our coworkers and teams. From your perspective has this helped women balance work and home life or has it hurt—and why?

Jessica: In general, it’s helped. I’m totally in favor of companies using technology to support flexible working that allows people to better balance their home and work lives, regardless of gender. But it’s generally true that women tend to shoulder a greater burden on the home front, so it may have additional advantages for them. Plus we tend to live longer, too, so with an ageing population, even if you don’t have kids, there’s a fair chance that you’ll end up as somebody’s caregiver, whether that’s an elderly parent or spouse or somebody else. Again, in that situation, mobile and cloud technologies that let you choose your own workspace are big enablers. It’s a question, I suppose, of the policies and expectations that are put in place around these technologies. If they don’t support an employee’s freedom to choose the time and place in which they work, then that’s no real progress.

The digital world we live in has changed the way we work. What opportunities do you think the evolving digital workplace presents for women professionals?

Jessica: There are huge opportunities ahead - but we all need to up our game when it comes to digital literacy. I’m not suggesting everyone needs deep-level programming skills, but I can’t imagine many jobs, ten years from now, that won’t involve some sort of interaction with digital channels, stacks of data and online customers. And the most interesting jobs, I think, will be those that involve building those channels, understanding that data and communicating with those customers.

About Jessica

Jessica Twentyman is a business and technology writer who has been covering the IT industry for twenty years. Her work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal Europe, Director and The Register, among others. She is a Contributing Editor on Diginomica.com and her main area of focus is how companies use technology for competitive advantage.

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