Vice President Benelux & East Europe
Business & Decision
Ada, last year you received the Datanews award “ICT Woman of the year”. Could you present yourself and tell us about your career?
I studied information technology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The degree was quite new, it was only the 6th year it was being given, to help you identify the period: we were programming with punch cards! In 1992, along with some friends I founded a consultancy company for the banking sector called “Flux Consultancy” where I took care of the area of data warehouse. It was the very beginning of that sector, to give you an example: I was personally involved in the construction of various major bank players’ data warehousing like CGER, Général de Banque, BBL, Crédit Communal.
In 2001, the company employed around 40 people and was acquired by Business & Decision, a much larger French company. I stayed onboard with the company, and three years later I became Director of B&D Belgium, a company specialized in Business Intelligence. Today we have 2 entities in Belgium: B&D Life Science and B&D Consultancy with more than 380 employees and we also purchased companies in Luxembourg, Netherlands and Russia. I’m in charge of this region that is generating 40 Million €.
Could you please detail for us the main obstacles you have encountered in your career?
I don’t feel I have encountered any external disadvantages because I am a woman; I have always been recognized for my work. My main challenges had always been internal: feeling uncertain of my capacities, auto-limiting myself. Those doubts of how far I could go may be typical for a woman though they are not limited to the female gender. I think it’s normal to have doubts and even beneficial to reflect on your capacities, but you have also to think whether you really want to do it, to take the new responsibilities. And then at one time you have to overcome the doubts and make a decision.
I should say that at B&D I was offered the position of Director three times before accepting it, so it seems the others believed in me before I was ready for the challenge myself!
Since I became Director, I have had propositions from companies that I didn’t want to join even though I was offered better pay or a greater visibility. For me there are other considerations that are more important, like the culture of the company. I stayed a long time with Business & Decision and my reward is seeing our company growing into a European style mid-size company with the culture of paying attention to people.
What changed for you since you received the award?
Contacts are easier than before. After getting the award, it is easier to get appointments with potential customers. I have to confess that this was one of the objectives: I participated in the contest following the sales department’s advice, because I wanted to do more networking and make the company known. Our company is not a small one, we have more than 380 consultants in Belgium and yet we are not well known by the public. This award greatly improved the visibility and the image of Business & Decision.
At the “She goes ICT” 2014 event you took the opportunity to present your initiative “My Digital Future”, could you explain it to us?
My Digital Future(1) has the objective of promoting ICT(2) careers and fostering entrepreneurship amongst students from secondary schools in Brussels, especially from the ones situated in disadvantaged neighborhoods. We proposed an intensive hands-on training during the November break available to the 6th year of senior school. We particularly target those schools because 30% of young people in Brussels are unemployed, and also because ICT can play an integrating social role. This program creates at least ‘digital awareness’: just to understand how to create a website or do a mobile application will give them a big advantage. It will be useful for them in any domain they’ll end up working for. We also teach programming, and at the end of the workshops they can submit a project to win an award of 1.000€. You would be surprised by the very interesting projects we had this year.
At PWI we are sensitive to the gender issue, and anyone in ICT knows there are not many women in this domain, can you share your views and experience on this challenge?
We have 15 percent of girls attending our training (4 girls out of 27 participants), which is the same representation of female presence in any technological career. We can compare that with India where 50% of students in ICT are female.
I think it’s a question of motivation and ambition. Traditionally, family is very important for women, so taking good care of their husband and family is seen as more important than their personal ambition: women seem happy without reaching a high professional level. As I see it, there is more social pressure on the professional side for men and more on the family side for women. And it begins when a girl comes home with her boyfriend, the family will not be happy if the boy is not a ‘good candidate’, meaning his studies or career are not prestigious enough. The other way around wouldn’t cause so much of a fuss. Later on, women think that their husband’s career should be more important than theirs or at least equally successful; they refrain from taking more valuable positions than their husband, sacrificing their career for his.
Do you see a positive result of your efforts to bring young people to ICT? What do you see as the future for your program?
We have a very positive result: 75% of the participants to our training program say they will be following a career in ICT. The hands-on training demystified IT and changed the image of this career that it consists only of programming. Now they know it also involves communication and collaboration.
As for the future, I would love to see more companies involved in this awareness program because we need help to increase our reach. We are looking for volunteers to run the workshops but also for companies that could sponsor this program and ensure that their employees have some time to organize them.
What advice would you give to girls? Will you encourage them to go into ICT?
Yes! It’s not so techy if you forgive the expression, newer tools are much easier to understand and women have strong skills in communication and collaboration. ICT is coming to all domains, so I would recommend adding an extra year to all degree courses to give students the needed digital tools.
Thank you very much for sharing your insights from your career and your view of the future in the ICT field. We congratulate you for your merited award and wish this article will motivate others to collaborate with you and extend your social IT program!
Ada Sekirin was born in Russia. She came to Belgium when she was 17, in the late 1970s. She studied a Masters in Information Technology at the ULB and later an MBA from Brussels Open University. After her studies, Sekirin worked for a while as a consultant in the financial sector. In 1994, she became founding partner of Flux Consultancy and developed the Business Intelligence expertise of the company. After the acquisition of Flux Consultancy by Business & Decision (end of 2001) and the merger, in 2003, with SPSInfoquest's Belgian subsidiary, creating Business & Decision Benelux, Ada Sekirin was appointed Director of Business & Decision Benelux, running also activities in Russia and Italy. Sekirin is married and has four daughters. In early 2013 the ICT trade journal ‘Data News’ voted her ‘ICT Woman of the Year’.
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(1) Youtube video “My Digital Future”
(2) ICT: Information and Communication Technology
Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Business & Decision, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement