Ahead of International Women\u2019s 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.\n\nSusan Sly, CIO at AEMO; Vic ICT for Women board member; 2013 CIO of the Year award winner\nHow did you get to where you are today?\nI 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\u2019ve had \u2014 the last 13 of which have been within the IT industry \u2014 have been a huge benefit to me in working in a CIO role now.\nMy 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.\nWhen 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.\nWithin 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.\nHave you ever found it difficult to keep going ahead in your career?\nCertainly 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.\nA trend that we see, and it\u2019s more prevalent in women, is that when people take career breaks they tend to return on a basis that they don\u2019t have an entitlement to capability development. My view is we need to be making time for them to develop in their profession. We\u2019ve 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.\nWhy is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?\nOur 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\u2019t at present.\nIf 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.\n\nMaggie Alexander, founder of FITT and MM Consulting Services; 2013 NSW ICT Woman of the Year award winner\nHow did you get to where you are today?\nI 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.\nAfter TAFE, I worked as chief development officer \u2013 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.\nOne 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, \u201cWhat\u2019s a talented woman like you working for the government?\u201d And he recruited me to go work for a computer company.\nAfter my time at Digital Equipment Corporation, I went to work for Deloitte. I didn\u2019t really like it that much. It was one of those career decisions where I said to myself \u2018I don\u2019t think I like this, but I like consulting\u2019. So I set up my own consulting business, and that\u2019s 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.\nMy 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.\nWhat do you enjoy most about working in IT?\nI enjoy the diversity in my role. I have the ability to work across three dimensions \u2013 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\u2019m not skewed totally towards the IT side, or even the process side, so I get the ability to look at the whole.\nI\u2019ve 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 \u2014 I\u2019m never bored.\nWhy is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?\nIf 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.\nThis 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\u2019t be able to take advantage of the changes in technology.\nThe 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.\nPage Break\n\nPhoto by Peter Harrison, Flickr, CC Licence\nPia Waugh, director of co-ordination and Gov 2.0, Department of Finance and Deregulation; 2013 Government 2.0 Innovator award winner\nHow did you get to where you are today?\nAs I got into Linux and open source, it opened up a whole different way I look at IT. I used to think tech was just what you use to do stuff, and then suddenly I realised it underpins society in a whole bunch of ways. It\u2019s a technology that you use to find the opportunities available to you and the people that you can connect with, and the way that you live your life. So it became quite profound to me being involved in the open source community.\nGovHack is one of the things I\u2019m most proud of, as well as what I\u2019ve been able to do for Linux Australia to get the open source momentum going. Those are things that I\u2019ve done in my spare time, and this is where you get that strange nexus between work and play and how the two can blend with each other if you are really passionate about what you do.\nI\u2019m also really proud of developing the [Digital Culture] Public Sphere consultation when I was working for the minister, which is a way of governments being able to do public policy consultation online.\nMore recently, I\u2019m very proud of what we\u2019ve been able to do with open data in federal government. I have played a very significant part in getting data.gov.au back up and running, getting thousands of new data sets available, getting lots of agencies focused on this space. I\u2019m very proud of what I\u2019ve been able to for the open data and open government movement in Australia more broadly.\nHave you ever found it difficult to keep going ahead in your career?\nThere have been a very small number of times where I\u2019ve had a run in with someone who has seen my gender as an inhibitor, and I refused to let that one person ruin my career and what I enjoy.\nI\u2019ve always taken the approach that the best thing you can do is be the most awesome version of yourself. Don\u2019t go into a career to try to address gender balance, go into it for your own reasons. What\u2019s happening now is more and more women are going into IT because is it a fun and exciting career. A lot of people take the approach of \u2018you should go into IT because we don\u2019t have enough women\u2019, which is not at all an enticing reason to do something.\nGo out and volunteer for projects, and whenever you find someone who inspires you stay in touch with them. Create a network of people who inspire you, challenge you and help you to move up.\nMost of all just do what you love, because when you love what you do, you tend to do it in a really amazing way. You tend to go above and beyond the 9 to 5 mentality.\nWhy is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?\nGender balance gives you balance in perspectives. If you have all men or all women, you tend to lose a diversity of perspectives which is important for making good products, for responding to the broader community and market needs, and for getting challenging ideas happening.\nThe industry needs to inform education a lot more about what it needs, because a lot of the degrees at university and a lot of the stuff that\u2019s taught in schools is sometimes five, 10, even 20 years out of date. Looking at Web 2.0 tools is really vital. Getting kids involved in open source projects not only gives them skill development and the opportunity to learn from highly skilled developers out there in the world, but it also gives them the opportunity to create a portfolio.\nThe most compelling thing when going into a job is being able to show what you can do. In the IT sector, the best way that you can make a name for yourself is just by doing good stuff. So it\u2019s about giving kids the opportunity and the encouragement to make stuff. Some of the hacking competitions are wonderful for that. We get lots of schools participating in GovHack now, and we have lots of different hacking competitions and game development competitions.\nEveryone seems to be focusing on high school, but primary school is where we need to start. There\u2019s a Steiner school in north-west Sydney that introduced technology at all levels, and they\u2019ve had amazing results in getting a lot of girls engaged in technology to the point where most of their IT services are run by the students.\n\nRhody Burton, SAP head of Channels business for A\/NZ; ARN Women in IT \u2018Rising Star\u2019 award winner\nHow did you get to where you are today?\nI literally fell into IT. I was working in London in my very early 20s just temping and I happened to get asked what temp job I wanted next, one of them being in IT. The other was what was described as a toothpaste company which sounded incredibly boring, so I chose IT.\nBack in the mid-1990s, my partner and I at the time were travelling around Europe in a kombi van. Literally the way we would communicate with people at home was to find a fancy hotel that we couldn\u2019t afford to stay in, we would pay them a British pound, and we would use the fax machine to fax one letter back to my boyfriend\u2019s Dad who would then ring everyone and read out this letter.\nSo suddenly I was working for this company that had the Internet, had email and I was just exposed to the possibility of where technology could take you. I just got hooked. From there it was just this love of technology and the dynamic people in the industry.\nHave you ever found it difficult to keep going ahead in your career\nYeah, definitely. Very early on in my career, I found it difficult to have a voice, be heard and to put my hand up. Early on in my career I wondered if I was able to get ahead. But I was very fortunate to have some great mentors along the way.\nIf I think back to the most difficult time for me, it was probably during the period after having my kids. That period of coming back from maternity leave and then finding myself pregnant again \u2014 just seeing how the business at that stage reacted to that with regards to job security \u2014 was really, really challenging for me.\nBuilding a network is just so incredibly important. I was at a \u2018women in IT\u2019 event a couple of years ago and for the first time heard about \u2018imposter syndrome\u2019, and it really resonated with me. I know I and a lot of other women in the industry sometimes wonder or wait for someone to tap us on the shoulder and say "hey, how did you get this job and what are you doing here?"\nSo I built a really strong network of amazing women across the industry who I have either worked with or met through organisations such as FITT. For me, it\u2019s been one of the things that has enabled me to be honest with how I\u2019m feeling and build up my confidence.\nAlso, make sure that you are consciously making decisions to make an effort and to reach out and help others because, in my experience, in turns around and comes back to you in absolute spades.\nWhy is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?\nIt is absolutely known that companies that have a diverse workforce actually return more profit to shareholders, as they have more innovative ideas. It\u2019s not just about increasing the number of women in your organisation; there are some real business benefits to it.\nI also think not just focusing on the tech roles is important. I\u2019m not in a technical role. Girls don\u2019t necessarily think about doing marketing, for example, in IT. They don\u2019t necessarily make the linkages and think about IT as being a viable industry to work in.\nAt SAP, one of things I was incredibly excited about and have pushed out to my kid\u2019s school is a Young ICT Explorers competition. It\u2019s annual competition, and it starts in Year 3 and it goes all the way up to Year 12. It actually encourages the youth to apply various ICT technology to practical challenges.\nIt\u2019s not just about what program you create or the technical aspect of it. The kids that win these awards need to think about how they would market it, articulate the sales pitch, and why this technology that they\u2019ve created should win the competition. Some of the kids did language learning apps and sensor controlled robots. The talent is staggering.\nI think the sad thing, from what I\u2019ve observed, is in Years 3-6 the gender mix is pretty balanced. As we start to hit high school we see the percentage of girl participants start to decline, and by the time we get to Year 12 the numbers really don\u2019t look that great. I know other tech companies do similar programs, but I think it\u2019s about how we as an industry forge together and help promote what each other is doing more and tackle this issue because it\u2019s an industry-wide issue.\nPage Break\n\nYvette Adams, founder of The Creative Collective; 2013 ICT Woman of the Year award winner\nHow did you get to where you are today?\nI didn\u2019t go to university; I just worked for the New Zealand government straight out of school in a communications role. Then I went to the UK, London and worked in mainly PR\/marketing and media roles.\nI came to Australia in 2004, worked for a couple companies and started The Creative Collective. It became a fully cloud-based business. I started hiring people, and in 2011 we moved out of being a home based business into a commercial warehouse I bought. Today, we\u2019re a team of five staff, 30 contractors and five trainers. I actually split the business in to two as of 1 January 2014, into services and training divisions.\nI fell into IT and I kind of straddle in two industries because I have one foot in the creative industry and one foot firmly in IT.\nWhat do you enjoy most about working in IT?\nI love that I do have a life. I\u2019m not one of these business owners who can never catch a break. A great incentive is that you can work from anywhere through online or cloud-based systems. That gives me a balanced lifestyle, and I think a lot of women who have growing families deserve and need that.\nI also love that it\u2019s always changing. I am one of those people who gets bored pretty easily, so because it\u2019s ever-changing it suits me to a T.\nWhy is it so important to encourage more women to pursue a career in IT, and what needs to change?\nWomen are completely different creatures and we approach everything differently. I\u2019m not particularly technical; I know a little bit of code but not a lot. But you can get people around you who do know and create amazing things. I would love to see more women understand that concept and put themselves out there and see what they might be able to create because they may have the ideas, they just need the people to help them do it.\nWomen are their own worst enemies. A lot of women need encouragement and they quite possibly won\u2019t put themselves out there. Whether it\u2019s female or male colleagues, family or friends, we need to encourage a supportive environment where we encourage women to stick their hand up and go for those roles and have a go. We\u2019re more than capable, but like I said we are just our own worst enemies.\nI think a lot of women are intimidated by IT. They think you have to be highly intelligent and that it\u2019s highly technical, and perhaps they think it might be a bit boring. But it actually involves a lot of creativity, problem solving, multitasking.\nAlso, kids need to learn code and technology skills like they do maths and literacy. I never used algebra or calculus. I don\u2019t know why I learnt them at school. It would have been useful for me to have learnt how to code. Some do argue that you do need algebra or calculus for certain careers. But I argue back that coding would give you more options than algebra or calculus would.\nThe views in this article are those of the individuals quoted, not necessarily the organisation to which they are affiliated.