“Ask for what you believe you deserve” – Lillian Barnard, Director for Public-Sector at Microsoft SA

Image: Supplied
Image: Supplied

What lesson have you learnt from your parents that you value the most?

The importance of life and loving people was key for my parents. Humility was fundamental for my father, and until this day I treat all people with respect. Another lesson I learned from my father was how to be unselfish – extending yourself to other people. He did not only talk to us about it, he lived it – practicing what he preached.  

How did you end up in IT?

IT chose me. After finishing my BCom (Hons) degree in 1992, I had two opportunities. The first was a job in the banking sector and the other was a job at an IT company. I debated both opportunities with my older sister and was more intrigued by the job in IT and ultimately went with the IT company. Looking back 20 years now, it was an absolute fantastic career choice.

You’ve held many positions, how has it been breaking ground in male-dominated industry?

It was hard then, but even today it’s still difficult to break the proverbial glass ceiling and obtain recognition as a female leader in a business. You had to be very deliberate about a lot of things and where you wanted to go in your career. You needed to knock on closed doors numerous times before someone would open it for you, and needed to get mentorship and coaching along the way to keep you motivated and focused.

What has been your career highlight to date?

Getting a significant leadership position – country sales operations leader - at a blue chip company at the age of 28 was amazing. That role fundamentally changed my career trajectory. In roles like that you automatically get noticed. In addition, having had the opportunity to build an international career was also the opportunity of a lifetime.

What are you hoping to achieve as the new director of public sector at Microsoft?

I really believe in Microsoft’s vision of empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. In my current role, I want to enable a Digital Government government; this process will allow government to a more effective, efficient and accessible. I want Microsoft to become the strategic partner of choice for government, which assists government in delivering on its mandate to deliver services to the people of South Africa.

What is the one thing that you’d like to share with young women climbing the corporate ladder?

Have the courage of your convictions to ask for what you believe you deserve, whether it is a raise, promotion or the next opportunity. This is something I wish someone had told me when I was 21. Unless you ask for something, people would not know what you want or are capable of, so no matter how audacious, have the courage to ask.

Why is mentorship of young women so important to you?

Mentorship is the story of my life as it has made all the difference in my life. You underestimate the power of it, until you see the impact of it in your life. Somebody else is helping you grow professionally and personally, sharing their life lessons with you, and telling you about their mistakes so that you can avoid repeating these and get a head start on the journey to success. You do not only reach the goals you set for yourself, but your mentor helps you set even higher goals and provides the support you need to reach those. It played a tremendous role in my career and so I think it is important to pay it forward.

Do you have anymore goals to achieve?

Previously it was to start my own consultancy, but I have achieved that and it was an incredibly gratifying experience. Now though, becoming captain of the ‘ship’ is part of the career goals. 

What’s your favourite thing to do in your down time or to relax?

I do love travelling, reading, and speaking at events, but my favourite thing to do to relax is simply spending time with my family. I also like to setup empowerment gatherings where women can share knowledge and learn from each other.


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