Friday, 08 March 2019 05:19

More women leaders 'needed to attract female ICT talent' Featured

More women leaders 'needed to attract female ICT talent' Image by uslikajme on Pixabay

Women who work in the Australian technology sector are as one in saying that more of their tribe are needed in the ICT industry for a number of reasons. To mark International Women's Day, a number of them offered their opinions as to how the IT industry can attract more female talent in 2019 and in the years ahead.

laura dooninSeveral of them also outlined what could be done to ensure that women were able to break through the glass ceiling and assume leadership roles in what is a massively male-dominated sector.

Laura Doonin, director at e-commerce provider Moustache Republic, said she was privileged to be a woman in technology at a time when she felt the right conversations were taking place.

"Women are taking a stand to move towards equality and change is in the air, but the lack of female leadership is a real thing," she said. "The speed of technology and digital innovation is not slowing down and there is a greater need now more than ever before for leaders with strong emotional intelligence to be in positions of power to ensure ethical business practices.

"I believe women in the tech industry don’t need to be coders. I am in no way a data scientist, but if we understand technology and it’s intended purpose and are strategic then now is the time for a 'feminine' type of leadership – one that is thoughtful, collaborative, and inclusive.”

lara pascoe“Inspiring a new generation of women to learn computer science empowers female entrepreneurs and employees to come up with unique solutions to new problems," said Lara Pascoe, regional marketing lead at secondary storage solutions provider Cohesity.

"Computer science is a growing field, one in which we desperately need more top talent. It is one in which women can’t be left behind. To start at the grassroots level, there needs to be a focus on engaging women in STEM courses and education, teaching them how to code and apply computer engineering practises.

"We are seeing a lot more education, support and ‘women in tech’ initiatives around the world and I think it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing some positive change.”

Shannon Campbell, a senior security specialist at CQR Consulting, said the term information technology, which was born in the 1960s, referred to the "amazing ability" to store and index data in place.

shannon campbell"The focus switched to the evolving IT space where coding created capability and then hackers broke the code. Today, this coding and the hacking focus and stigma of sitting behind a desk staring at a computer all day is what girls believe 'being in IT' is all about."

She said her vision of IT was much wider, sexier and much more involved than coding and hacking. "The IT space has evolved rapidly. We have the world at our fingertips, we are interconnected and it is an essential enabler of business. Do we need to change the name of IT to something more representative of today to inspire?" Campbell asked.

“By changing the name, can we reach a whole new generation of girls and young women who want to be communicators, problem solvers and global entrepreneurs in an integrated corporate environment? Can we help companies build empires, market goods all over the world, secure secrets, create effective and efficient human processes to support this critical enabler? This new world view must be mentored in the workplace and marketed by women to schools and universities to capture the interest of the next generation and leave them with powerful images of the possible."

She added that IT was not not just for coders and hackers. "There's a real skills shortage in information communication technology corporate integration experts. It’s about business goals, communication, risk, security and money at all levels of business.”

Carmen Culina, head of Product at digital transformation firm Certus 3, pointed out that, according to some studies, 5% or fewer of the managers in the tech industry were female. "This is to everyone's detriment, she said.

"We need a greater sense of personal accountability for this situation from corporate leaders and managers responsible for hiring and promotion.

"STEM skills education may go part of the way in improving participation, but it won't solve the problems inside science and technology companies that prevent women from getting into the executive pipeline and ultimately the CEO's position.”

Nicole Stirling, director, Marketing, Asia Pacific & Japan for Acquia, a company that sells a customised version of the open source content management system Drupal, felt there was a big chance for women to use their unique upbringing, skills and personality to the technology community.

nicole stirling"Right now, women represent roughly 17% of the Drupal community, which far exceeds representation in open source of 1.5%, but it’s still too low," she said.

"The open source community creates connection, learning, employment and leadership opportunity. If you’re even remotely curious about what’s involved in being a 'Drupalist', ask to shadow a developer for a week or sign up for a computer science course.

Stirling also recommended that women take an active role in their personal careers. "Don’t rely on your employer to challenge or train you. Join a developer or Girls in Tech community and get involved, be outspoken. Learn what others are doing and take their experiences into any networking you do," she added.

Inclusion and diversity are the biggest challenges facing the ICT industry, according to Tori Starkey, general manager-Marketing for camera and office equipment manufacturer, Ricoh Australia.

tori starkey"In particular, diversity of thinking," she said. "We are continually seeing that teams that are cognitively diverse and have psychological safety are the best performing, yet often female leaders in particular are deemed to have limited 'leadership capability' or aren't a good 'cultural fit' if they have a differently leadership style and way of thinking to the norm. This leaves a lot of potential on the table in terms of innovation, creative thinking and problem solving.

“From a marketing perspective diversity also enables us to better align and understand our customers to design experiences and solutions that create value. If we don't actively address inclusion as well as diversity, we will never address the talent pipeline issue in one of our fastest growing industries.”

Vivienne Horsfall, ANZ marketing manager for identity management vendor Ping Identity, said attracting women into IT started from the grassroots.

vivienne horsfall"Changing the perception of STEM programs in school is paramount," she said. "Programs must be inspirational, relevant and capture the imagination while evoking an intrinsic 'coolness'. Providing influential female role models and mentors is extremely powerful as girls can project their future self.

“Getting excited about the application of STEM in the real world is an important element to capture their imagination. These experiences must be relevant to the different development stages to have greater appeal."

Horsfall pointed out that, for example, younger girls often wanted to have fun, and therefore an excursion to a theme park working alongside engineers to understand the design and technology of building a rollercoaster was an appealing proposition.

"As they mature, there tends to be increased consciousness of the world around them so investigating technologies that are saving the world - cleaning water supplies and our oceans becomes more relevant and finally playing with the technologies that are changing our lives such as robotics & AI.

“The workplace itself is changing and as more companies embrace and honour their mantra and truly understand the benefits of a diverse workforce, women will feel valued and the domino effect will prevail.”

petra smithPetra Smith, virtual security consultant at Aura Information Security, said the cyber security skills shortage was now approaching three million people globally. "But less than 20% of the current workforce in the industry are women," she observed.

"This comes at a time when analysis from AustCyber suggests that a shortage in Australia’s cyber security workforce may be costing the country more than $400 million in lost revenue and salaries and predicting that we may need 17,600 more cyber security workers by 2026.

“Diverse teams are better at solving problems and in an industry that's all about solving complex problems, the lack of diversity another business risk.

"So how do we solve the problem of gender inequality in technology? Representation matters. Women and gender minorities need to see people like them succeeding. It isn't enough to interest young women to enter the industry. We also need to break down the barriers that keep women from advancing and becoming tomorrow's role models. I feel incredibly fortunate that my job gives me opportunities to inspire women at the start of their tech careers to get into information security by sharing my experience.”

Joanne Wong, senior regional marketing director for the Asia Pacific and Japan at security intelligence company LogRhythm, said there was a long way to go before greater gender diversity was achieved in the technology talent pool, though many steps had been taken towards improving gender equity in the workplace.

joanne wong"To help strike the balance, we will need to rally both organisations and individuals," she said. "From an organisational level, companies will have to set the stage to help women acquire tech-related skills. These organisations can pave the way for women to either shift their careers or develop a hybrid skillset, marrying their current skills with technology. For example, a finance manager can learn analytics which may be relevant for fintech companies."

Wong stressed that at an individual level, it was vital that women to adopt a mindset of lifelong learning and constant upskilling to stay relevant. "In a fast-moving environment where organisations are going digital, cyber security know-how is becoming an increasingly vital skillset for any employee," she said. "Women who are willing to learn this skill will be able to get an edge over the others and in fact, play a significant role to help the company grow.

“Gender fairness at the workplace is a big ambition, but definitely one that is achievable. As a cyber security professional, I believe technology will be at the heart of some of the biggest changes in the next decade. Artificial intelligence will be a huge enabler but we will still need irreplaceable abilities such as human instinct and experience to help us discern false positives from true cyber incidents. Women will be able to harness their 'women's intuition' by giving a different perspective based on their life experiences and wisdom. It is those who are able to leverage both technology and personal skill sets that will truly stand out from the crowd.”

barbara kayBarbara Kay, senior director of Security Product Marketing at enterprise technology solutions company ExtraHop, was of the opinion that the need for both male and female cyber security professionals created a great, reasonably level playing field.

"Today’s youth are growing up surrounded and buffeted by security and privacy concerns," she said. "Using tools like Khan Academy and, anyone can get more comfortable with the technical components and then layer on understanding of the security concepts.

"Gaining a certification in security is also a way to establish credibility - and frankly this space is starved for people. Bring your curiosity and you will find more environments using tools and automation to facilitate effective workflows and an environment that enhances skill development on the job. When it comes to cyber security, learning never stops for both men and women.”

Corryn Webb, talent lead at IT solutions provider Veritec, said her employer supported the goal of encouraging more women to join the industry.

“Diversity, fairness and respect are fundamental values of Veritec," she said. "One of many initiatives we have is the recent launch of the Veritec Impressive Women group, a forum to celebrate inclusion and one that takes inspiration from female leaders in the industry who share their own journeys, conduct workshops and develop actions to encourage others to join the IT Industry and support progression.

"Our dedication to diversity is exemplified with our very own Women in Information and Communication Champion of Change who is our chief executive, Keiran Mott.”

claudia pirkoClaudia Pirko, regional vice-president of enterprise software company BlackLine, said she had seen organisations trying to grapple with the inclusion of more women in the IT industry for the last two decades.

"I don’t think this is a quick fix that can be changed overnight or by simply enforcing women quotas," she observed. "It requires a much more robust approach, starting all the way from primary school and then through high school and on to university, and then, of course, as women consider their first job placement.

“Women (and men) for that matter need to see more diversity in their peers and management and then accepting and supporting women in IT and in IT leadership will become more of the standard and norm. I know for me, personally, when I started my Computing Science Degree in 1998 it was very daunting as a female as at least 90% of my colleagues back then were men.”

Barbara Staruk, managing director, Product and Development of Tribal Group, said a key factors in making women take up careers in IT was to get to a position where it was not exceptional.

barbara staruk"My parents were both developers, having gone to the same technical university," she said. "They worked as developers at the same company for many years when I was young. In my mind, there was no difference in my mother and my father. Women literally played the same roles as men.

"This is the environment that we need to re-create – where women in an IT role is to be expected and normalised. This happens by the small number of women who are currently in these roles creating spaces to show the younger generations that is not only possible, but ‘normal’. This can happen through interactions in primary school, mentorship or just through promotion on social media."

Staruk said another factor that could drive change was to avoid separation earlier in life. "A part of normalising women’s role in technology is normalising girls roles in the classroom," she said. "If young girls are given the same expectations in terms of interest and aptitude for STEM learning, the outcome of more [women being] interested in STEM will follow.

“Moving women into senior roles in IT is also another step on the same process. Organisations need to be flexible to the demands of family and the realities of working parenthood. Tribal has a strong ethos in flexibility, this must be present in every organisation to ensure that it is a better option for a woman and mother to continue to progress in their roles while managing a family. As technology evolves, the IT industry has every capability to offer the flexibility to encourage women to balance progression in work and family responsibilities."

She said it was very important to bear in mind that many roles in technology were actually simply business roles.

"There is an incorrect conception that one must be a ‘technologist’ to work in a technology company. But, we must remember that much of what powers technology is business roles: project management, finance, consulting services, etc. For those who aren’t ‘technology’ interested, there are still many roles in technology.”

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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