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Knowledge24: ‘You can’t go it alone’ in life, says actress Viola Davis

During the ServiceNow Knowledge24 user conference in Vegas, actress, author and producer Viola Davis said: “I did not start with a leap, but rather with a series of staggers where I went from one little safe place to the next.”

Sharing career advice, Davis talked about how important it is to share the series of smaller steps that lead to the bigger success stories people often see shared on platforms such as social media.

When there’s a path already taken by someone else, it’s easier to follow it – and studies show that it’s more common for women to avoid technology careers because they don’t see others like them in the field, or there are misconceptions about the types of people who usually go into technology careers, as well as what is required to become a technologist.

Younger people have previously expressed that they wish women already in the technology sector would openly support them in choosing a tech career. This is just one of the reasons role models have been highlighted as such an important part of encouraging women into the technology sector – young women and girls are more likely to choose a career they can visualise themselves in, which is easier to do if they can see others like them in that industry.

Both Davis and ServiceNow’s CFO, Gina Mastantuono agreed that, “You can’t go it alone”, and Davis described how mentorship and help from other women played a huge role in helping her navigate both her career and her life.

“My journey has been about a series of safe places created through either mentorship or women who stepped out of their ego and stepped out of any self-serving nature to lift me up, even for a moment. That kept me and led me to the next safe space,” Davis said. “There was no leaping.”

To offer the same opportunities to others from underrepresented backgrounds in the film sector, Davis and her husband have created the studio JuVee Productions.

All three women on the stage – Davis, Mastantuono, and ServiceNow’s chief people officer Jacqui Canney – spoke about the importance of using your own successes and positions of leadership to elevate others, something Davis pointed out is especially important for people from underrepresented groups.

Davis explained: “When you’re dark skinned, people do not see you. So if you’re poor, dark, a woman, they do not see you.”

Black women only make up 0.7% of tech sector workers in the UK, according to research by BCS, and those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background only make up 13% of IT directors.

When it comes to technology talent, Davis highlighted the number of “diverse voices” there are which will bring in diverse ideas – she also pointed out that leadership can often falsely be seen as a solo venture, when it should be seen as an opportunity to “create a safe space or space for change” for others.

Summarised by ServiceNow’s Mastantuono: “It’s about bringing people up, and sometimes getting out of the way and letting them grow and be phenomenal.”

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