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5 women who've made it in IT

5 women who've made it in IT

Ahead of International Women’s Day, CIO Australia speaks to five women, who have made their mark in IT, about their career journey, their biggest achievements, and their advice for other women in the industry.

Susan Sly, CIO at AEMO; Vic ICT for Women board member; 2013 CIO of the Year award winner

How did you get to where you are today?

I worked in a public relations role at one stage and also in a human resource management role. I think the diversity of the roles I’ve had — the last 13 of which have been within the IT industry — have been a huge benefit to me in working in a CIO role now.

My foundation in IT was in the military, which gave me a great platform on which to build from the leadership perspective. The greatest reward in my career has been helping people overcome obstacles to realise potential.

When I was working with Defence, I was working with a team who did not necessarily have the best reputation. Their level of performance certainly was not among the highest nationally. My first couple of weeks with them included us having to manage some fairly severe IT outages and incidents that demonstrated we had some poor practices and poor technology in place.

Within six months, we ran a program where we had managers stepping up, we did some changes around our structure, and we engaged some vendors so that we were working with them, not against them. Within those six months, they went to being the top performing region in Australia and a number of the staff were actually head hunted by the national organisation to move into roles within it.

Have you ever found it difficult to keep going ahead in your career?

Certainly making the transition some 16 years ago to when I first became a parent was a bit of a difficult stage in my career. I was very fortunate to have worked for a great manager then who taught me how to actually manage a career successfully with work-life balance and making it sustainable.

A trend that we see, and it’s more prevalent in women, is that when people take career breaks they tend to return on a basis that they don’t have an entitlement to capability development. My view is we need to be making time for them to develop in their profession. We’ve got to really actively encourage people to focus on their own development, both technically and as managers/leaders. I think until we do that actively, rather than passively, we will still continue to struggle with diversity.

Why is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?

Our history is generally male dominated, our present is still male dominated. It is an industry that is meant to be providing services to every part of the community, in every part of business, and services that are client driven and intuitive to use. My firm belief is in order to do that you have to reflect diversity in your workforce, and we don’t at present.

If we had a great suite of diversity across the industry, we would be able to better target and develop the services we need to. So women need to be very conscious about having a place at the table. They also need to hook into good mentors in the industry.

Maggie Alexander, founder of FITT and M&M Consulting Services; 2013 NSW ICT Woman of the Year award winner

How did you get to where you are today?

I started out as a teacher. I got an opportunity in 1980 to work on a big project at TAFE NSW, which was deploying computers into education and also into the administration of TAFE. This was a multi-million dollar project, and I helped develop the strategy for training people to use the computers. It gave me my start in IT.

After TAFE, I worked as chief development officer – information & research for the Advanced Technology Centre at the NSW Department of Industrial Development and Decentralisation. We promoted the use of computerised technology to try to make the manufacturing sector a bit more competitive. That was a really great time for me because I was a computer industry advisor for the department.

One day when I was accompanying the Minister for Technology at a lunch, I met a chap who was working for Digital Equipment Corporation, him being the managing director. He asked me, “What’s a talented woman like you working for the government?” And he recruited me to go work for a computer company.

After my time at Digital Equipment Corporation, I went to work for Deloitte. I didn’t really like it that much. It was one of those career decisions where I said to myself ‘I don’t think I like this, but I like consulting’. So I set up my own consulting business, and that’s what the next period of my career was about. I left the corporate world as an employee, and became my own master of my destiny and started up my own consulting business 18 years ago.

My 23 years working on the management of FITT was a great achievement. Helping to start FITT up in 1989 was a bit of a turning point for me because I had focused completely on myself and my career up until that point in time. When I volunteered to help start up FITT, I started to think for the first time about other people, other women in the industry.

What do you enjoy most about working in IT?

I enjoy the diversity in my role. I have the ability to work across three dimensions – people, process and technology. As a change manager, I look not only at the change in technology but also the change in the people and process. That basically gives me good balance, because I’m not skewed totally towards the IT side, or even the process side, so I get the ability to look at the whole.

I’ve got to be able to manage the change, project, people, technology, and also the analysis of the problem within an organisation at a strategic and a technical level, look at the process and the process design. In my kind of consulting role, I have to be multi-skilled, and that gives me great opportunities and it gives me variety — I’m never bored.

Why is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?

If you look back on the industry when it first started up, 50 per cent of the working population in the IT industry were women. That dropped by the time I entered the industry in 1980 to 25 per cent. Nowadays, I think the industry is down to about 18 per cent.

This matters because women bring a range of skills to the workplace. The ICT industry is fast moving; technology drives change all the time. Without diversity in thinking and a diverse range of skills, we won’t be able to take advantage of the changes in technology.

The industry does provide a really great career for women because it is much more flexible than other industries. So you can work from home more. Most of the big companies now have got a good attitude towards work-life balance and flexibility. And FITT did play a part in that. We really did push work-life balance as an issue for women in the industry, and employers in the industry took notice and certainly have taken that up to ensure women have more flexible working conditions.

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