Reflections on WITEM

The Dell Women in IT Executive Mentoring (WITEM) is a 12-month program for talented Executive Level 2 (EL2) women in the APS. It brings together mentors and mentees and supports women to progress as leaders in the digital profession. Felicity Hitchcock from the DTA, shares her thoughts as a mentee in the Program.

Woman sitting at her desk networking with others at her computer
Caption: Supporting women to progress as leaders in the digital profession.

How was your experience on the program, especially during COVID-19?

There are 3 key words I would use to describe my experience – supportive, engaging and empowering. 2020 brought many challenges and participating in the WITEM program this year meant that we just had to look at doing things a little differently.

Given the situation with COVID this year, I would have liked more face-to-face interaction, but I have not found this an obstacle in developing a strong rapport with my mentor.

What were the highlights of the program?

There has been 2 clear highlights – Margie Warrell and the 9-month mentee session.

Margie’s Brave Women Rising workshops perfectly aligned with the challenges we face as women, but also the challenges I had been reflecting on personally. She guided us through questions we should ask ourselves (and which I had often thought about):

  • Who do you want to be as a leader?
  • Who are you at your most powerful?

She also encouraged us to embrace the discomfort – don't wait for confidence and to lean in.

It was empowering to reflect on what strengthens me, focus only on what can be controlled, and operate with self-certainty. I’m actively looking to choose growth over comfort and to build a culture of courage, encouraging people to bring their boldest thinking by making it safe to do so.

The 9-month mentee session was an opportunity to forge further connections with other mentees. The format of the session allowed for a further dusting of professional gold from Antony Stinziani followed by smaller group sessions. I found this enlightening and a great relationship/network building activity.

Why did you decide to join the program and what were your goals?

It was while I was reading the words of Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook, founder of LeanIn.Org) that I began reflecting on how I saw myself as a leader – whether I thought I deserved a seat at the table, and most of all, why I did not seem to be leaning in. It was through this period of reflection that I realised I was at a point in my career where I had become comfortable and was no longer challenging myself.

The WITEM program presented an opportunity for me to further this reflection and work directly with a mentor on how best to continue my personal and professional development to achieve my goals.

The main goals I had when joining the program were to:

  • improve my overall confidence
  • understand more about different leadership qualities that are expected across the APS and in the Senior Executive ranks
  • increase my networks
  • hone my existing skills and talents as well as help me enhance these
  • reflect on opportunities for improvement or further development
  • understand what more I can offer the APS and the IT/Digital community
  • develop strategies to achieve my short and long-term goals (reflected in my existing 10-year plan).

What have you gained from the Program?

The Program has made me feel more confident and empowered. I am still working on embracing the discomfort from reduced opportunities caused by COVID restrictions.

I have done a lot of reflection and believe this has been vital to understand where I am positioned, and which steps are best for me to take next. As someone who is based in Sydney, with my manager being in Canberra, it has helped addressed the challenges and opportunities of my working arrangement. I feel I will be ready and prepared for opportunities as they arise.

The restriction or reduction of face-to-face interactions and a move to virtual connections and networking has given rise to one of the most valuable insights I have had while on the program. While this change has given rise to a number of challenges, it has highlighted for me how far the tug of war between privacy and having a digital presence can go. How does one increase their networks without a digital presence or face to face interactions? An internal battle between personal privacy choices and the desire to develop a strong professional reputation then results.

How was the mentorship experience?

My mentor has been incredibly supportive and encouraging as we take the journey through the program together. They've brought with them a diverse set of experiences gained throughout the APS and private sector.

I found it easy to talk with my mentor. There were always nuggets of gold that came out of our conversations. Whether they know it or not, their words and guidance always helped me look inwards before I begin to look outwards. I think this has helped shape how I approach things. They have helped me see beyond what is there, to what could be there.

Would you encourage others to do this program and would you be a mentor yourself?

I fully encourage others to do this program. I am gaining a lot out of the WITEM™ Program and I'm happy to be a mentor myself if asked. I want to help someone through their journey, the same way I have been helped.

Interested in joining WITEM?

Applications for the next WITEM™ program are scheduled to commence in early 2021. Register your interest at capability@dta.gov.au or visit the WITEM Program page.