Top 25 LATAM Businesswoman Talks about the Top 5 Trends in IT

The NextWomen LATAM Theme.

Yolanda Auza is President of Unisys Colombia and General Manager of Unisys LACSA, a region made up of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Colombia.

Yolanda was promoted to the LACSA role in 2006, since which time she has achieved a high-growth profitable consolidated operation across the eight countries she manages for the global IT company.

In March 2010, Latin Business Chronicle selected her in the Top 25 Businesswomen in Latin American. In 2011 has selected again as one of Latin-American’s 50 Top Businesswomen.

Yolanda has enjoyed an impressive 14-year career with Unisys Colombia, being appointed as President in 2001, a position whose prime responsibility is the leadership of a growing business. In November of the same year she was appointed General Manager for the Andean Region with responsibility over Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. 

Yolanda obtained her Systems Engineering degree at Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá) in 1981 and took part in the Senior Management study program at the same university.

We spoke to Yolanda about the IT trends she’s observing across the LATAM countries she manages; how the political instability in the region affects her role; and her experience of studying as a female engineer in Bogota in the 1980s.

TNW: How do the challenges you face in your role differ from those of your counterparts in other regions of the world?

AY: I have learnt that every country and every region manage challenges differently, depending on the economic situation, cultural matters, maturity of market, legal framework, etc. I also have learnt that you have to apply your abilities everywhere but also have a clear understanding about the differences and value them. It’s also very important having a vision, a goal, something you can share and have people aligned with common objectives.

TNW: The LACSA region of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Colombia is huge and disparate. Are you observing any high level trends in your industry across the region, or does each country have its own distinct patterns? 

AY: These are the top 5 trends in IT across the region:

  • High impact on mobility and social network. Virtually all countries have found the way to provide a large population with access to mobile phones and the use of mobile internet is increasing.
  • Governments everywhere have programs to increase use and knowledge of Information Technologies.
  • Banking, Retail and Communications are leading the use of Information Technology.
  • Most of the countries have initiatives to develop Information Technology Industries to increase employment, productivity and eventually export.
  • A high number of small and medium businesses do not demonstrate adequate IT use and support.

There are also different levels of maturity in each country that can drive the market to be more hardware-driven than services-driven. For example, whilst some countries like Uruguay have already given each child a computer, others are working very hard towards this goal and still have a long way to go.

Whilst some countries view IT outsourcing services as a way to be more productive, others see outsourcing as a threat to good labor practices  

TNW: How does the political instability of the parts of the LACSA region affect your role?

AY: I should be politically neutral, but I have to act when there are effects of political instability. I should be sensitive to the care of our employees in case of political unrest; I need to be flexible and understand that people’s safety comes first. On the other hand, when we commit to a project in one specific country, we evaluate the risk and put the team at the table with the customer so both parties are clear how to manage those risks.

TNW: Colombia has been working to create economy that is today considered attractive and prosperous by many national and international investors and a reduction in violence in the country has led to the growth of internal travel and tourism. How are these changes reflected in your role? Do you feel optimistic about the future of your country?   

AY: Even when we experienced tough times I felt optimistic, now that we have better conditions I feel even more optimistic. 

Colombia is resilient, the people are committed and want to work with flexibility to serve and to get results.

The very big difference has been that in the past I spent lots of energy and time convincing people outside Colombia to come, to meet us, to know us, to appreciate us, to make them confident that no matter the situation we will deliver results. Nowadays I spend my time taking advantage of all the opportunities generated by the world having confidence in Colombia.

TNW: LATAM has a reputation for being a traditionally macho culture. As a woman at the top of a male dominated profession, how does this affect you on a daily, and long-term, basis?

AY:

In Colombia, Information technology careers are born with no gender discrimination. In fact, when I studied there were 50% women in my class.

In this country, in this industry, it's people’s skill-sets which are valued the most. I must say that it seems to be the women of today who don't want to study in this field. I support diversity everywhere; the benefits of embracing diversity are well-known.

TNW: You obtained your Systems Engineering degree at Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá) in 1981 and took part in the Senior Management study program at the same university. Was it your ambition then to become a senior leader in the tech field? What has been your career strategy to achieve this ambition?

AY: Not really. When I studied, and all throughout my life, what I wanted to do was to learn every day; produce quality results; put energy into things I did; commit; be consistent in thinking, saying and acting. My career itself is very rich: you need to deeply understand the business of your customers to fulfil their needs; you need to understand how technology changes - and at the same time you have to understand how to grow and manage your own business. I took advantage of this holistic view, and when opportunities came I embraced them and committed to them.

My ambition is to learn every day, work with passion, and enjoy what I do. 

TNW: What was it like studying Engineering as a female in Bogota in 1981? 

AY: I started in 1976 and as I mentioned in my engineering studies there were 50% women out of over than 80 people. I do believe at that time it was a more “feminine” engineering. Now I believe that fewer than 10% of people graduating from High School study Engineering; the majority prefer to select careers around health (medicine, odontology, physiology), economy, etc.

TNW: Generally speaking, how do young women across the LACSA region view the possibility of a career in STEM? Does Unisys have any programmes to encourage girls and women into these fields?

AY: In the region we have a lot of space for women developing STEM careers; every day there are more educated women, but we need to make these areas more attractive to them.

At UNISYS we believe that diversity is required to have a more “intelligent company”; more productive and more efficient.

We are supporting programs like the first annual Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Award which will be open to girls in grades 9 through 12, and is tied to a national competition from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).  

Within Unisys LACSA, the country with the highest female participation is Colombia with more than 30%. It is easier with their participation in projects from consulting thru development or Systems integration. There is less participation in Puerto Rico, Central America and Peru.

UNISYS does not have any LACSA formal programs to encourage girls to participate, beyond the recurring testimony that the women in leadership positions share in different forums and Universities to show what career opportunities in Information Technology are available for women. 

TNW: Who are your mentors and/or heroes? Do you have a motto which sums up your approach to business, and to life?

AY: I normally had very good bosses who not only coached me, but also believed in my capabilities and offered me opportunities that made me grow. My father, my mother, my sisters and brother are exceptional people. My father always pushes us to learn, to excel, to be independent, to not have limits. My mother takes care of the family and teaches us how you can lead your family with kindness, sweetness, respect and lots of love; my sisters overcame such obstacles that when I see my own business or career hurdles they seem trivial.

My motto is: be consistent, enjoy every moment, learn every day, teach every day.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

AY: Final comment for girls: women are losing space in Information Technology. Contrary to many areas where women have had to fight to get a position, this was never the situation in the IT industry. So, be present in this area that affects everything, and if you are able to do it well, you can impact society in very positive ways.

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