International Women’s Day 2022 – celebrating women in technology
Tuesday 8 March 2022 – Sydney, Australia. To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we interviewed five inspirational women working in Australia’s technology industry to hear their stories – what have been some career highs and challenges, as well as what opportunities are available for the next generation.
Our interviewees included Anita Williams, Carolyn Macpherson, Heather Zhang, Karen Selff and Michelle Winzer. Individual differences aside, they all agree that a great deal of opportunity awaits in the technology industry for anyone who has passion, aptitude and the right attitude.
The good news is that although traditionally a male-dominated field, the technology and IT industry has significantly evolved, today providing just as many career opportunities for women as men.
But there are still many challenges that need to be tackled as the industry continues to develop, to promote more diversity and a level playing field.
Here are some sound bites of what our interviewees had to share about their experiences working in technology, and their advice for the next generation of female leaders.
Career challenges and pivotal moments
The role of mentorship in anyone’s career development cannot be underestimated; good mentorship is key to overcoming challenges along the way according to our interviewees. Strong support from leaders – both men and women – as well as from direct managers and the broader team can make a huge difference in one’s career journey.
Our own Heather Zhang, Senior Consultant Professional Services at experteq, spoke about how the support of her manager helped her a great deal when she first started out in the workforce. “I received a lot of support from my manager who was a woman,” she says. “The workplace in China was not as friendly as it is here in Australia, and so at first I felt like I was not so confident, but my manager gave me a lot of support which helped me along.”
Of career challenges, Michelle Winzer, Board Member for experteq and Group Executive at RACQ, says, “I relocated my family, with three children that were 10, 13 and 15, interstate for one of the job opportunities that I took on.
That was really difficult – but absolutely worth it.” Michelle further spoke about how it was key to at times go out of your comfort zone in your career and take those steps no matter how scary they might be.
She also talked about how culture and behaviour can be damaging in corporate Australia and how important it is to call it out. “Over the years, there have been many situations where people haven’t treated others equally. I absolutely call out problematic behaviour, so there have been really challenging situations.”
Karen Selff, Service Design and Transition Manager at experteq, told us about a life-changing moment in her career: “After having worked for a telecommunications ICT company for 24 years, I was made redundant during COVID-19. While redundancy was common in the organisation, for it to finally happen at a time when you would least want something like this to happen, it was a very scary period.”
Similarly, Carolyn Macpherson, Head of IT Operations at BankVic, shared that retrenchment was one of three pivotal moments in her career to date. “It was a shock but it also shaped where I am today, because since then, I know what I want from a company, as opposed to what happened with the retrenchment.”
Our interviewees unanimously agreed though, that the knocks along the way help to build resilience, inner strength and agility – all of which are essential in a sector that is facing constant change as technology continues to evolve at an accelerated pace.
Opportunities in technology for the next gen
According to Michelle, now is a great time to embark on and build a career in the technology space. “I think that the world is changing so much, and technology is moving at a rapid pace, so there’s no better time for a future in technology,” she says.
“Technology is a very broad field and I think that there are many options for people,” says Anita Williams, Technical Consultant at experteq, who kick-started her career with tele-consultancy services in Mumbai. “It’s a very broad field for both men and women.”
“If you have that aptitude,” she says, “you can definitely build a good career in technology, especially as this is a field where women are encouraged, they are offered roles, and companies want more women to participate in technology.”
“Even in the workplace, you see a lot of encouragement and people do want gender equality and a more diverse workspace, because it really helps in a work environment,” she adds.
Anita notes that when she was at university in India, her class had an equal number of male and female students. Then, when she moved to Australia: “I started seeing an imbalance in the numbers. In my first workplace, I was typically the only female consultant in most situations. Now, we are seeing more women. Hopefully over the years, things will change.”
Heather’s experience has been similar. “In the two companies that I have worked for, the technical team typically has only two to three women,” she says. “I really do hope that I will see more and more women in the workplace as my colleagues.”
“I am curious about what other companies think and how they do things,” adds Heather. “What they prefer, and whether they have any preference at all. I’ve heard that there are too few women in technology in Australia, so when companies recruit, they tend to favour women in this sector.”
COVID-19 also changed things dramatically, according to Carolyn. “Working through the last two years has really changed the playing field, in being able to get equipment and licences, and keep people moving and working,” she says. It prompted widespread disruption that if anything has provided just as many opportunities as challenges. “It’s been a massive challenge,” she notes. “We are still dealing with the repercussions of it from an IT perspective and will be for some time – but within this is opportunity.”
When it comes to inspiration, our interviewees have drawn strength from various people – and for some almost too many to mention. As Carolyn puts it: “There are so many amazing women out there, in so many different fields.”
“Initially when I was studying, I looked up to a lot of seniors, especially young girls, who were taking up technology,” recalls Anita. Today, she says she greatly respects Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. “She is a great leader as a woman who has seen a lot of changes during her role, and she’s handled it all so well.”
Karen says, “There are about three women leaders that I’ve worked with over my career that have really inspired me more than anybody. Each of them had a way of really being able to put a human face on leadership.”
The late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, former Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, is who Heather would love to have dinner with, if only it were possible. “Today it’s easy for us to say that women should have same rights as men.
During her time, everything was so different and she had to fight so hard for women’s rights. I think there’s still lots of room for improvement, so if I ever had a chance, I really would like to know what she thinks we should do at this time.”
For Michelle: “Brené Brown is at the top of my list. I think she’d be an amazing woman just to understand a bit more about.”
All in all, the future is bright for women and the next generation of female leaders in Australia’s IT and technology industry.
The industry has come a long way and though there is still room for improvement, there are many inspirational leaders, some we have spoken to, who continue to drive change and shape the industry’s future.