With over 20 years of experience working in the IT industry, Jo Masters is currently the CEO at Tquila ANZ, where she is responsible for the strategic direction, resourcing and performance of the company, as well as building a values-aligned culture across the organisation. As recognition for being the key driver to the tremendous growth of Tquila ANZ in the past three years, Jo was recently included in the Top 25 Women Leaders in Tech Services and Consulting of 2019.
You've had and impressive career to date, can you tell me about your progression into your current role?
I started my career working in the finance department in hotels, where I later became the General Manager and managed several hotels at once. At one point I was asked to assess the system they’d implemented, which hadn’t been done properly as the support was poor, so I got the manuals out and started training them. That software company then headhunted me to work for them. While I wasn’t sure if IT was going to be as exciting and fun as hospitality, I’ve never looked back. Soon, I started running a software company in Australia, before being promoted to look after APAC, then the Americas and eventually I ran it globally. When the company was sold, I decided to come back to Australia for better work-life balance and to spend more time with my son. I was headhunted to be the CEO at Tquila, which was too good an opportunity to pass on, especially after meeting the two co-founders, seeing their passion and realising how aligned we were.
I know that you're heavily involved in sport, can you talk a bit about that and how it's impacted your leadership style?
Over the years I’ve created, captained and coached several softball teams. I get more satisfaction from seeing somebody else hit a homerun or be the champion, being a part of that and celebrating together. I’ve found a lot of similarities between creating a high performing softball team and a high performing work team; in a way, it really comes down to having empathy for people. I’m lucky to have attracted a lot of great people in my life all around me.
Is there anything you'd attribute your success to?
I’ve been raised to be a hard worker. When I was young, I always worked for either my parents or grandparents. I was one of those kids who thought it was more fun working in the business than playing outside. My dad also raised me to believe that there’s nothing I can’t do because I’m a girl, he’d knock down all the barriers and raise my sister and I to believe in that. Plus, seeing my mum and grandma’s success and the drive behind them also helped.
Another crucial thing is the support of my husband. When we had our son, I had a more senior role, so we agreed that I would take four months off work and he would take over after. That was a real struggle because I wanted to be a stay at home mum. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back, but he told me I’d regret it if I didn’t. I’ve got to thank him because he put his career on hold for many years to be the main carer of our son; while he still worked, he let me shine and supported me. He’s taken a more senior role recently and it has put a strain on the family, which made me reflect. So my advice would be that if you have both parents in senior roles, get help if you can afford it. Just like one of my favourite sayings, “you can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once!”
Given you're both extremely busy and have a son going through final years of school, how do you manage your time effectively?
It’s tough. Sometimes, I see my husband getting up before our son does to get some work done, then there’s also working at night. Both of us try to balance that and put our son first. We do manage a family calendar but sometimes there are a few battles, so diary management is very important. We also have some good friends who we can lean on to look after our son.
Have you had any mentors or role models in your career? Do you see value in having a mentor?
Absolutely. I’ve had informal ones, those I didn’t realise were mentors but who I looked up to and learnt a lot from. I’ve also had formal ones when I was working in America, where every Executive had to select someone from the senior leadership team who they’d like to mentor. I was lucky to have two select me, so I got two mentors, which made me feel fairly special. When I asked them the reason they selected me, they said it’s because they saw how much potential I had. They’re both really kind, gave so much to me and still celebrate my successes today.
Do you find females are always supportive of each other? Or are there instances where some feel that they've had to overcome hurdles and that others should therefore have to do the same?
I did have some not-so-nice experiences when I moved to America, where a female I was supposed to report to got her nose out of joint when the company gave me a promotion. She ended up resigning over it and told me I was “too nice to ever get the top job”. It was disappointing but the world has been changing. Before, women felt they had to try and be like men to compete in a male-dominated field. Now we’re supporting each other more, and more networks are being cheerleaders for other women, like Women in Technology and SheEO. Women bring something different and unique to the workforce. You don’t have to be like a man to compete with men, you can supplement the workforce – diversity supplements it.
Do you think your gender has ever hindered you or blocked any personal or professional progression?
Not really. I used to sit in boardrooms as the only female but I wouldn’t notice it until someone else pointed it out. I’ve never given it much thought or made an issue of it, I kind of just ploughed through. But I’m not naïve, I know a lot of people are passed over for jobs because of their gender or race, which is really sad and narrow-minded.
There was an instance where a Manager and mentor of mine asked me to promise I wouldn’t fall pregnant for the next two years. I genuinely wasn’t planning to at the time, but I did fall pregnant, and he felt I betrayed him and accused me of that. The way he managed me after that was very different. I could tell he was bringing in someone else to take over my job, to do it temporarily when I was gone. I wasn’t going to worry about that because it wouldn’t have been the best for my child. I just had to trust in the universe and worry about getting another job when I returned from maternity leave to find I’d been replaced. Quite the opposite happened, however – my replacement did wrong by the company and I was begged to come back early, which was quite satisfying! Despite this, my relationship with the manager was never the same. I just thought the way he handled it was so wrong – he should have been supporting his people instead.
So what advice would you offer females to help them avoid that type of situation or help them ensure taking maternity leave doesn't halt their career progression?
There’s no perfect timing to have a child, just have the child when you’re ready to do so. I’m a big believer in not leaving it too late - I actually think you’re supposed to have children when you’re younger and more energetic. I know a lot of people think they should have a career first, but there’s always a time to build a career, especially with how fast-paced the world is today, you can come back and quickly train yourself up on something. The ecosystem I work in is a perfect example; businesses can’t find enough people who know Salesforce. Therefore, consider finding something you can do online while on maternity leave and upskill yourself in preparation for coming back.
What does diversity & inclusion mean to you? Why is it important in the workplace?
Having diversity & inclusion in the workplace is about empowering and respecting people, making sure they feel safe and included. I know not everyone is going to accept other people’s beliefs and opinions, and you don’t need to, but you need to respect them. That’s what we try to have here at Tqulia. I think that’s how you have a more interesting workforce and a higher-performing team. We’ve got people from many diverse backgrounds – for example we’ve recently had someone from Russia join us. He’s quite direct and to the point which can bring so much value to a project. I’ve always worked with so many different cultures around the world so I really value that.
As someone who has worked in many different roles, across varied industries and locations, have you noticed any differences around diversity & inclusion initiatives or progressive workplace attitudes between these roles, industries or locations?
I’ve found that in America, they are more politically correct and do more training and education around it. Even though it was 10 years ago, there was already so much training around what’s right, what’s wrong and how to make people feel included, which is very valuable. Fortunately, the company I was working for had a great HR department, so when I was setting up an offshore team in India, they proposed doing cultural training. At the time, training was only provided to us to learn about the Indian culture. I suggested also providing training to the offshore team for them to learn about our culture, which they then implemented. I had teams all around the world so thought to myself, why not have everyone learn about other cultures and open up our minds? That was really powerful and helped us become a better team.
What are your thoughts on diversity in the tech consulting and technology sectors here in Australia?
There are some industries women flock to and some that men flock to traditionally. When I go to IT conferences it can be 80% male, versus a beauty conference I recently attended which was probably 80% female. We need to ensure all people feel welcomed in those traditionally male or female dominated areas, that’s the big barrier. I’ve seen over time that women don’t tend to believe in themselves as much as men do. I’m very proud because I’ve always had a lot of women working for me, I have a lot of direct reports who are women because they’re the best person for the job. I’d push them along the way, encourage them to put their hand up for jobs. A lot of times I’d be encouraging them to take my previous role, which I’d already know inside out. I’d tell them “I know you’ll be better than me, because this is where I lacked in expertise and this is your strength”.
Coming back to Tquila, you have some pretty impressive stats in terms of diversity in the business, can you tell me more about that?
Currently, 38% of our workforce is female. As for my direct reports, it was 80% female 12 months ago but is now 60% - I’ve just promoted a male as he was the best person for the job.
I know that Tquila is involved in many diversity and gender related initiatives, can you tell me a bit more about those?
One of those would be our “Workforce for Women” initiative where we’ve partnered with Salesforce to help women facing disadvantages; whether it’s someone over a certain age, someone who’s gone through domestic violence, or a recent widow who feels out of touch with the workforce. Under our partnership with “Fitted for Work”, we educate these women on what the Salesforce ecosystem is, what opportunity there is for them, have them apply for roles and employ them here at Tquila, which has been very rewarding.
Another one we have is our Women @ Tquila group, which I was very careful in implementing as I didn’t want the men to feel sidelined. One of my direct reports asked me if it was the right thing to do and I told her “You and I are brave, we can stand up to any men, other females can’t.” With this group, we aim to give them a safe environment, educate them while reflecting on whether we have the culture we think we have. It’s also a place where they can feel safe to come forth if they ever feel they’re encountering gender discrimination.
Apart from that, we also have “Equality at Tquila” which has a much broader scope and sees us taking part in different initiatives. We allow employees to bring forward their cultural celebrations and embrace this together as a team. For example, we celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, with traditional costumes, food and stories about family traditions. As another example, we embrace “Wear It Purple Day” which brings awareness to the LGBTIQA community within the team. “Harmony Day” is something we also intend on celebrating which highlights how Australia lives in harmony with all cultures.
Following on from your point about not sidelining males - have you ever encountered any pushback or resistance from males in relation to your initiatives? How have they been received?
No issues at all - I’ve had quite the opposite in fact. A big part of why I came to work here was because of the co-founders (who are both male). I could tell straight away they had high integrity, were passionate, fair and cared about people, so I could tell we were culturally aligned. They love all these initiatives and the fact that they have a female CEO - they really get behind everything. Among other colleagues, I’ve actually had men come up to me and say I’m an inspiration to them, teaching them things they can do for their daughters to make sure they feel brave. I’ve had more support from males than anything else. They’ve been very supportive of the women programs, so we’re trying to implement a celebration day for them as well.
What advice would you give other leaders in the tech industry who are looking to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture?
Educate yourselves first. When I was working in America, I was appalled when I saw the news saying Australians were racists because of the riots in Cronulla. I had to challenge myself to realise that there might indeed be racism in Australia. Maybe I was a little naïve but the more I learn about Australia the more I recognise the racism that exists in this country, especially towards the indigenous. That makes me the saddest, because we haven’t taken the time to understand them and have messed up their world.
Also, a quick win is to just do a quick survey with your staff and ask what’s important to them in the workplace and how they think programs should be rolled out. You can also reach out to employees to find out how they’re feeling, offer them a safe space to come forward if they’re experiencing inequality and have someone they can safely talk to. Another way would be to roll out education programs about how people are feeling. Take alcohol as an example, some cultures drink and some don’t. We shouldn’t judge people who don’t drink or question why. Instead, we should be accepting of other people’s choices. Understanding what are the right questions to ask and what’s offensive is critical.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I think there’s a lot of push for gender equality at the moment, but my advice for businesses is to not take it so far that it ostracises the other gender. I saw this happen at a conference I was at recently - it was an amazing IT event with the highest number of women they’d ever had. They took a photo with just the women to attract more women, which was great, but there was a lot of backlash from the men asking why there wasn’t an all-male photo as well. There have also been suggestions that females are getting jobs because they’re females. None of us want that, we want to get the job because we are the best person for the job, not to fill a gender or diversity quota. We just want an equal running and playing field. I just want to make that point - let’s not go too far, because what we want is equality.