Ivana Nikolik, Europe 40Under40 Top Business Leader, Forbes Councils Official Member, Business Development Executive, Women in Tech Ambassador and Mentor, Thought Leader

Ivana is an International Business Development Executive at IWConnect, leading company’s growth strategy primarily in the EMEA region by utilizing the internal technology knowledge and IT expertise to address client’s requirements while successfully converting them into customized business proposals. She is an experienced C-level executive, corporate Board Member and cross-functional energetic leader with 15 years of experience in FDI sector, international affairs, and IT industry.

This year, Ivana was recognized as a TOP Business Leader in Europe by receiving the prestigious Award 40Under40, she’s an official Member of FORBES Councils and former Forbes Fellow Under 30. Women in Tech Ambassador and Mentor, Member of the Financial Times’ group Women at the Top, and Techstars Startup Mentor where she is actively giving her utmost contribution as a real role model into empowering, mentoring, and inspiring young women to pursue their careers in a Tech world.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Ivana shared her career story, the most rewarding aspect of her role as a Business Development Executive at IWConnect, how she has perceived and converted the challenges into motivation, thoughts on diversity and inclusion of women in tech, significant career milestones, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

How has the tech industry changed for women since you started in tech?

I am truly happy and content to see the companies’ awareness of diverse work environment constantly increasing, however females are still clearly underrepresented in the tech industry with only 26% of the Tech jobs globally according to the World Economic Forum.

If I draw a parallel when I started in Tech and nowadays situation, unfortunately there is no major progress in this field. There is undoubtedly an urgent need to accelerate digitization, drive technical innovations and, last but not least, compensate for the lack of IT specialists on the market in general. We definitely need more females to facilitate better problem-solving ability and to increase performance at business level as there is an extensive market and potential in building high tech products and services to women. In other words, in a competitive market where half of the world population is women, it is imperative to know that tech companies cannot afford to overlook the importance of female contributions as women are clients, customers, decision makers, end users.

Moreover, encouraging young women to pursue their interest and career in tech is not enough, we need them to have a large pool of successful female leaders in tech whom they can choose as their role model or mentor. We must all collectively participate in building a new environment that makes women feel comfortable and useful. Our actions today determine the future we’ll create for the coming generations of tomorrow. We must embrace diversity and promote inclusion at all levels. It’s only through this way that we can eliminate all the standing barriers and build relationship that thrives on intellectual capacity and teamwork.

Finally, the question is: Where do we need more women’s representation”? And the answer is simply- Everywhere!

Ivana, did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into technology?

In my career story, I have learned that the Tech industry is where I can give my utmost contribution and success, the place where I feel like “at home” which certainly comes from my diverse and unique educational background, a combination of Economy (Business Management) and Tech (Computer networks and E-technologies). This absolutely doesn’t mean that I’ve regret accepting job positions in the past related to other industries, just the opposite, I have perceived those experiences as a leverage and affirmation to where I see myself most comfortable and confident to lead change, share vision and strive for success.

My dream job was never a specific one, rather always connected with a wish to have a profession that will be dynamic and international on one side, which will give me an opportunity to constantly evolve and grow, on the other side. That’s how “I ended up” in Tech, which is a major driver of economic growth and one of the most fast-paced industries in the world, so I am truly grateful that I am living my dream.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your job as the Business Development Executive at IWConnect? 

It’s an absolute fulfillment to be part of and work in a business environment where diversity and authenticity are truly encouraged, where there is an open field for growth, and lot of company’s success is built on the strength and perseverance of the females we have at IWConnect. The most rewarding part is when you are personally overachieving defined goals and set KPIs, especially when the clients and partners are sharing their success with you, that winning moment when you and your team helped them achieve a certain goal or reach a major milestone. Furthermore, one of the key intangible rewarding aspects is to see the impact on my team-members when inspiring and empowering them with empathy and teamwork.

Are there any challenges that you have faced as a woman working in this field? If so, how did you overcome them?

I would say not only in this field, but rather in general. There have been pervasive challenges on the way, and unfortunately, we can still witness some obstacles today, especially when it comes to lack of transparency in leadership, gender bias or stereotypes prejudice based on gender. Studies are also confirming that men are more likely to receive promotions and leadership positions, even when women demonstrate equivalent or even superior performance. This imbalance is often due to unconscious biases and stereotypes about women’s abilities in the workplace.

Despite these facts, I have always perceived and converted the challenges into motivation, which I really believe is one of the crucial factors for running my successful career. This has been my driving force, as a person who is an overachiever not only professionally, but as well as in my personal life. The question is whether you are accepting and converting those challenges into successful stories, or you are perceiving them as an obstacle and trying to avoid or simply cancel them. In my case, there is only a play and fast-forward button, so I constantly welcome and grab the challenge by trusting in myself, with honest and truthful approach bringing pragmatic and confident message to the team and trying to make a positive impact on a broader scale.

Women aren’t the only underrepresented group in tech – what can be done to make tech more diverse across race, class, and gender?

Couldn’t agree more! We must embrace diversity and promote inclusion at all levels. Our actions today determine the future we’ll create for the coming generations of tomorrow.

One solution to close the gender gap is to advance women into higher positions. In fact, a recent study on gender diversity and business performance in Tech shows that diverse teams produce higher levels of profitability, particularly when women occupy a large percentage of top leadership roles.

As we take a moment to celebrate the incredible successes and achievements of all women at the top, it is crucial to recognize that there is still a long way to go in establishing gender equality, especially in the technology industry.

Closing the gender tech gap is not a one-woman job. Rather, it requires the collective efforts of many dedicated female tech professionals to break into the field and lift other women up — but it also requires men to be allies, advocating for their female peers and educating themselves on problems that arise from gender inequality.

I am truly content to see that the awareness of diverse work environment is constantly increasing, where around 70% of businesses acknowledge that there’s a lack of diversity in their tech teams and around half of them are actively working on solving this issue. The first step here will be to expand the talent pool by sourcing internationally. Tech companies should start looking not only at the diverse talent in their country of operation but also abroad, to look for culture add. The talent elsewhere will be pretty different racially, ethnically, and culturally. What’s important is to look at candidates’ value sets and how they can contribute to the company’s culture in addition to their excellent tech skills.

How do you stay up to date with the latest trends in technology?

Tech is constantly evolving, so staying up to date with industry trends and cutting-edge technologies is really important, in order to be ahead of the curve. Personally, I am reading a lot on a daily basis, books on emerging technology topics, industry publications and newsletters, listening podcasts, participating at conferences and events that present the latest developments and trends in technology, which are helping me to easily anticipate changes, take proactive steps to adapt to them, and finally, to increase my own value.

Are there any women in tech that have particularly inspired you?

I can not say one in particular, but we should admire all the women who reached the top in Tech industry with their hard and smart work, and who are confidently leading the change, sharing their vision and strive for success. However, we need a larger pool of such successful female leaders – role models that inspires the next generation of trailblazers.

I am delighted when I see that I am making an impact by giving my uttermost contribution as an Ambassador and Mentor for women to enter and grow their careers in the Tech world and I will undoubtedly continue to do so.

Fun fact about you?

I’ve always had a passion for sports, photography and traveling. Having a healthy work-life balance is critical to cultivating a healthy and productive workplace steeped in positivity and for me, there is an undeniable bond between athletic and business success!

Since I remember, I have always practiced some sport and it became an integral part of my life – triathlon finisher, marathon runner, basketball (used to practice in primary and high school on a playmaker position), mountain-biking, skiing, hiking, etc. Overall, mostly enjoying doing outdoor sports – I simply love the feeling of being in nature.

What are you particularly proud of in your career?

The full support and blessings I’ve always had from my family and loved ones which is giving me а wind at my back to continue aspiring for new heights.

Since the very beginning of my career, I truly appreciated and valued the opportunities to be in leadership positions, starting with a small team, to being given the responsibility of leading hundreds of people as a CEO.

I have set a major milestone every year, but I am particularly proud of the last 2 accomplishments – the invitation I received last year from FORBES to become official Member of their Business Council, and this year – to be recognized as one of the TOP Business Leaders in Europe by receiving the prestigious Award 40Under40 and becoming part of the Business Elites Executive Club.

Success is not necessarily a destination but a journey that helps us develop the skills and resources we need to thrive. It’s important to set powerful goals, to give our brain a place to aim and when we achieve those goals, always to reach a little higher. Perseverance is crucial, to never quit, never give up!

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? 

Step up and take the lead! Embrace the challenge with strength, intelligence and fearlessness, and thrive as a girl/woman in Tech!

In one word, what does it mean to be a woman in tech?


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