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Empowering women in tech requires role models and a new narrative

Women in technology panel: Improving accessibility, participation and leadership

Empowering women in business technology will be a key success factor of the industry as a whole. Not only has greater diversity in leadership positions proven to lead to better business outcomes, it will also mean that organisations will have a larger pool of talent to recruit from.

Yet the business technology community still has some way to go until women do not only have the same career opportunities, but also proactively choose to pursue such careers in greater numbers.

Moderated by Topaz Conway, Chairwoman at SBE Australia and  Director at StartupAUS, six high achieving women in tech took the stage at CeBIT Australia 2017 to discuss the complex matter of improving female participation and leadership in the tech industry.

Providing role models early

The first issue that became instantly clear in the panel discussion was that girls need to have access to female role models much earlier in life, so they can connect the STEM skills taught in school to tangible outcomes.

“You can’t be, if you can’t see,” stated Jo Burston, CEO and Founder of Inspiring Rare Birds. “If you speak to a 5-year-old girl about who they want to be when they grow up, they need to be able to picture themselves and it can be difficult to see a career path in coding at that age. That’s why we need to have more successful women in tech get more involved in schools and talk about their achievements, so that young girls can get a sense of what their life could be like.”

This approach would not only help giving girls a better idea about the opportunities out there, but also bust some still commonly held stereotypes about what it means to be a woman. “Societal images are still preventing young women to get into these areas,” observed Julia Dickinson, General Manager of Satellite Engineering at nbn Australia.

On the flipside of the coin there were calls for the industry to become more proactive in schools to give teachers the tools to talk to children about careers in business technology. “A high school teacher will have up to six brochures lying around that explain the career opportunities for engineers. This is only starting to happen in business technology and we need to get a lot more organised about this,” said Westpac’s CIO Consumer Bank, Anastasia Cammaroto.

Women in tech panel

Changing the messaging - it’s not all about learning how to code

Yet talking to girls at a younger age about the opportunities in the technology space alone, will not lead to greater diversity. The panel agreed that the message needed to change and that a career in technology is not all about the ability to code, but also about problem solving capabilities.

“I have built a successful technology business without having a tech background”, said Burton. “I outsourced all of the build, but wasn’t afraid to tackle a problem with a technology solution.”

Cammaroto added: “They are 32 distinctly different roles available at Westpac that all fall under the technology umbrella - not all of them require you to code. We need to start talking more broadly about building the ability to solve business problems and think innovatively. These are skills than can come from someone with a biomedical science degree.”

This ability to upskill and think laterally applied also when looking to promote and upskill female talent in-house. “I’m really big on finding the right women in the business that have the right fundamental capabilities, but might still need some training on the technical capabilities,” said Sandra Coleman, GM Strategy, Transformation and Technology at REST Industry Super. “Encouraging these women to believe in themselves and take on the challenge is a leadership skill.

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