“Your difference is your superpower”: A Q&A with Lynn Dang, head of talent acquisition at Microsoft Australia

Lynn Dang

Head of talent acquisition at Microsoft Australia Lynn Dang.

Lynn Dang is passionate about turning the dial for women in tech.

“It’s not a lack of women wanting to be promoted,” Dang says.

Instead, according to Dang, we need to dismantle the systems and structural barriers that currently prevent women from advancing at critical mass in the tech industry.

This is something Dang knows a thing or two about. She’s the head of talent acquisition at Microsoft Australia, and right now, she’s focused on inclusive hiring.

In this Q&A with Women’s Agenda, Dang talks intersectionality, inspiration and work-life integration.

Was your tech career planned or did it happen by chance?

It has been a mix of both.

As an introverted, curious child, I was always interested in how computers worked, and would spend my weekends pulling them apart, putting them together and looking at various software. I was also tech support for family and friends (and still am to this day). This ultimately led to an information systems major at university and a career in the technology industry.

In more recent years, as I have moved into leadership roles, my focus has primarily been on levelling the playing field and creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce to drive innovation in our products and services and to represent the customers that we serve.

What are you working on right now that’s got you excited?

Inclusive hiring.

It’s about having a screen-in mindset in our recruitment processes and ensuring we are looking at systematic changes to include more people in tech.

Increasingly, I am doing more work exploring intersectionality, that is, pushing for gender equality, but also being proactive, deliberate and thoughtful in including those who live in the intersections of Indigenous, race, abilities, LGBTQIA, age and so on.

What is a key issue facing women in your profession?

Commitment to structural and systematic changes from those with the power and privilege to do so.

We have had lots of approaches, such as asking women to ‘lean in’ or lip service to supporting more women into leadership positions. However, that focus on ‘fixing women’ has not shifted the dial. It’s not a lack of women wanting to be promoted, take up leadership positions, or find pathways into tech. Rather, it’s the very structures and systems that create barriers for women to advance at critical mass.

Personally, I am convinced we need to fix our systems and dismantle structural barriers to achieve gender equality.

It feels hard because it is hard, but discomfort will help us grow and be better.

What’s the best professional tip you’ve been given?

Be your authentic self.

It may sound simple, but growing up in a refugee camp and as a refugee child living in public housing in Australia, I always felt the need and pressure to minimise my identity and the spaces I occupied to assimilate into the mainstream. I was too ethnic, too different, too poor, too smart, too quiet.

Throughout my career, I have been on a journey to realise these are the things that make me unique and allow me to bring a different perspective to the many challenges and opportunities to the tech industry.

Your difference is your superpower.

Have mentors aided your career?

They have been an amazing support network. They have given me clarity, coaching and guidance throughout my career. They have challenged me to be a better version of myself every day and in every role.

They have also supported me at key critical career moments. For example, my first board appointment happened with the sponsorship of Steven Worrall, the managing director of Microsoft Australia.

I continue to have sponsors and mentors to help me realise my current career goals and future aspirations. I also am very fortunate to be a position to be a mentor and sponsor to others.

Along with your career, what other priorities do you juggle?

I am a mother of two young primary school-aged children and I serve as a board member for Australia for UNHCR.

I have less of a distinction around work-life balance and more on work-life integration.

It’s choosing a career path that allows me the flexibility to be there for school assemblies and also bring my children to work. It’s about a partner that allows me to achieve all the things, such as international travel for work or visiting refugee camps in Uganda with the UNHCR.

We ask women to lean in at work, but we also need to ask men to lean in at home. I’m grateful I have a wonderful, supportive partner who is the primary carer, cooks our meals, picks up the kids from school, helps them with their homework and books parade costumes.

How do you stay at the top of your game?

By prioritising it and making self-care a habit.

Recovery is essential to sustaining high performance. I ensure I make the time to look after my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. It makes me a better leader, mother and partner as a result. That involves carving out the time to go for a run regularly, sleeping eight hours a night and practising mindfulness.

I strive to be in the present moment whether it’s with my work, children, partner or friends.

Where do you get your news?

I’m a voracious reader of all industry news. I use the traditional channels like mainstream media but I also use Twitter and LinkedIn to get my feed on.

Things change in the tech industry rapidly so it’s important to curate a diversity of thoughts and perspectives.

Any podcast recommendations?

Michael Gervais’ Finding Mastery podcast. Michael is a high-performance psychologist. He interviews people who excel in the highest stress environments to discover the mental skills to push the boundaries and master their craft.

I’ve learnt many lessons from listening to these stories, changing my perspective on what is possible.

This is an edited version of an interview first published by Women’s Agenda.

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