At a conference, one of the male attendees handed Elinor Swery an empty glass thinking she was a waiter, not a delegate.\nIn another incident, she got this advice from a senior male colleague who listened to her talk about her research for her doctorate in mechanical engineering.\n\u2018Next time, wear more makeup and put on a skirt and high heels\u2019.\n\u201cHe did not talk about my research,\u201d says Swery, who is now a technical consultant at IBM New Zealand.\nSwery says he was really nice, but was astounded when she did not take the advice kindly. \u201cI was only trying to help,\u201d he said.\nShe replied, \u201cI don\u2019t see the other guys wearing makeup.\u201d\nSwery related these two incidents as one of the speakers at this year\u2019s Women in Technology conference at the University of Auckland.\nElinor Swery is Cognitive Innovation Lead in IBM New Zealand, working on Watson, a cognitive technology that processes information more like a human than a computer.\n\u2018They call me Mrs Watson\u2019\n\u201cThis is the 21st century,\u201d says Swery, who attended the conference last year as a PhD student. \u201cWe should shatter stereotypes and encourage girls to do more subjects like physics.\u201d\nSwery, for instance, recalls being just one of three girls in her physics class.\nIn her mechanical engineering class, there were 14 girls and 40 boys. \u201cYou do notice, why aren\u2019t there more girls?\u201d\nShe says she also did not have female lecturers at mechanical engineering. \u201cDo not underestimate the power of having female role models.\u201d\n\u201cHave a conversation with younger girls, make sure everyone knows the importance of IT at an early age,\u201d she says.\nWhen she was first exposed to coding, \u201cI was jealous because the boys had already done it in their teenage years.\u201d\nIn 2012, she started her PhD in mechanical engineering. It was a fantastic course, she says. Swery spent seven months in Europe working for big companies as part of her research.\nWhile she cites some of her negative experiences on working in a male dominated field, being a minority has many advantages. \u201cWe should embrace those,\u201d she says. \u201cWe stand out, and boy, do you stand out if someone meets you in a conference and you are the only female.\u201d\n\u201cYou can make great impressions, use that to your advantage. As women we bring that different perspective.\u201d\nShe says she also had great male mentors. \u201cIt is important for us to get the full picture.\u201d\nLeaning in\nSheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook \nShe shares the view of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg who wrote on Lean In that \u2018Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.\u2019\n\u201cYou may have to take a sidestep in your career.\u201d\nShe cites her case as a mechanical engineer, who is now in information technology. Swery is Cognitive Innovation Lead in IBM New Zealand, working on Watson, a cognitive technology that processes information more like a human than a computer.\n\u201cThey call me Mrs Watson now.\u201d\nJust because you are a mechanical engineer does not mean you will not be successful in IT, she says. \u201cIt is for the better,\u201d she says of her career move.\nThe lesson from this: \u201cIt is super important to not let anyone define you by labels.\u201d\nShe recalls the first time she was asked to work on a project that was a new field for her. She asked her brother for information on the topic, watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot on the subject.\n\u201cTake the opportunity, push yourself to learn,\u201d she says, when facing a similar situation.\nShe quotes Sir Richard Branson: \u201cIf someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you\u2019re not sure you can do it, say yes - then learn how to do it later.\u201d\nShe also calls on industry colleagues to talk to young female students to consider IT.\n\u2019\u2019As a young person I did not know what careers you had in IT,\u201d she says. \u201cOpen up those opportunities through events like Shadow Tech and show young people what the industry looks like.\u201d\nTo parents, she says, \u201cBe open-minded, give kids all the opportunities they deserve.\u201d\nLiz Coulter of the University of Auckland: \u2018For best results, add women\u2019\nLiz Coulter, director of ITS at the University of Auckland and lead organiser of the event, says the conference aims to discuss issues faced by women in technology roles, and how they can encourage more people to consider a career in the sector.\nResearch shows that diversity improves problem solving, productivity, innovation, and ultimately, the bottom line, says Coulter.\nAccording to a report by the National Centre for Women and Information Technology in the US, gender-balanced companies perform better financially, demonstrate superior team dynamics and productivity, produce work teams that stay on schedule and under budget and demonstrate improved employee performance.\nA research study finds Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women directors saw return on invested capital increase by at least 66 per cent; return on sales increase by at least 42 per cent while average return on equity increase by at least 53 per cent.\nAnother research finds teams that have at least one female, outperform all male groups in collective intelligence tests.\nAs Coulter puts it, \u201cfor better results, add women.\u201d\nBut a lot still needs to be done in the workplace, she says.\nRecruitment and retention of women in IT is particularly challenging. While there are generally more females than males graduating from universities, in the IT disciplines females only make up just over 30 per cent of IT graduates.\nIn New Zealand, latest figures state females comprise 26 per cent of IT teams in universities. In Australia, the figure is 24 per cent, says Coulter.\nMaintaining women in the IT industry is also a problem, with more than 56 per cent of women dropping out mid-career. Currently 24.5 per cent of New Zealanders working in IT are women and most of these roles are in non-technical areas.\nThese statistics are similar to other developed countries, which is a concern raised by the United Nations, says Coulter.\nShe says several factors will influence girls to go into IT.\nThese include parents, particularly mothers; having role models and mentors who will encourage them to go into the area; and a classroom environment that is more welcoming to girls. \u201cMiddle school is a crucial period for girls to get interested in IT.\u201d\nA panel of women business technology leaders talked about \u201cmaking a difference\u201d in a male-dominated industry.\nLyndal Stewart of Business Mechanix: Get ready for the \u2018new normal\u2019\n\u201cObstacles are a state of mind. I face challenges head on,\u201d says Lyndal Stewart, CEO of Business Mechanix.\n\u201cI don\u2019t let my gender define my talents,\u201d says Stewart, who is also director of startup Find My Study and a group fitness instructor.\nShe says having this mix of interests is critical to managing stress.\n\u201cI truly operate balance in my life,\u201d she says. \u201cI don\u2019t work weekends, so I can take the time to recharge. I teach fitness classes so I\u2019m IT-free for at least an hour,\u201d she says, smiling.\nStewart started in the finance sector, before moving into technology roles.\nShe also had stints in sales and marketing and they were good for her career. \u201cI had a mixed background of technology, HR and finance\u201d, which was helpful when she became CEO.\n\u201cNo matter what age you are, you can learn,\u201d she says. Stewart also mentors, and says she learns a lot too from her mentees.\nHer take on the gender diversity issue is this: \u201cWe need to stop hiding behind badges and work in the new normal - mixed gender, mixed ethnicities.\u201d\n\u201cThe best thing I ever did was believe in myself,\u201d she states. \u201cIt does not matter what critics say, just keep believing.\n\u201cSurround yourself with people you admire. Do not waste your time with people who bring you down, be with people who bring you up.\u201d\nCatherine Fletcher, ASB: Making a difference is a personal choice\nCatherine Fletcher now holds a business related role, but the majority of her career has been centred in or around technology.\nFletcher is now general manager of wealth and insurance operations at ASB Bank. She left school at the end of year 12 and started working in the male dominated share broking industry.\nShe also started her own company, OutSource IT Limited, and one of the things she focused on was customer service.\n\u201cWe put experienced people in customer sites and took care of their technology like it was our technology.\n\u201cI made a career as a translator,\u201d says Fletcher. \u2018\u2019The skills I have are [around creating] an understanding of the business for technical people and helping the business understand technology.\n\u201cBusiness and technology are inextricably interwoven, it is not one or the other,\u201d she says. \u201cIt is not them and us - we have to work collaboratively and together.\u201d\nMaking a difference is a personal choice, she says, quoting the British primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall.\nWe always think about the \u201cpeople impact\u201d, she says. \u201cCustomers walk into your door physically or through the virtual door. Do not lose focus on the people aspect,\u201d in things you do, she advises.\nShe says among the insights that worked for her is, \u201cjust put yourself out there, take every opportunity that comes to you\u201d.\nHelen Ward of PwC: Inspiring future technologists\n\u201cIt\u2019s a great time to get involved in technology,\u201d says Helen Ward, consulting partner at PwC in Auckland.\nThe past five years have seen an exponential change in the industry, she states.\nThere are new and exciting fields to explore that include human centred design (\u201ca great field to combine creativity and technology\u201d), robotics and big data. There are also new roles like that of data scientists.\nShe is also excited about the increasing use of technology to improve people\u2019s lives. \u201cWe are combining technology with biology and human sciences to design technology that works well with the human body.\u201d\nShe points out participation of women in science, engineering and technology has increased significantly since the 1980s and continues to grow strongly.\nYet, she echoes the challenges discussed by Liz Coulter and Elinor Swery that there is plenty of room for change.\nThese include changing employer attitudes to career breaks and providing significantly flexible work options for women. There should also be initiatives to purposely reduce unconscious bias, she says.\n\u201cWe are still judged by how we look and dress and sadly it is not just our male colleagues that do this.\n\u201cAs more women take on leadership roles in technology, there is an opportunity to change things,\u201d she states. \u201cWe need to lead the change.\u201d\nMilena Velez of Blacksmith: Collaboration imperatives\nMilena Velez, culture and development consultant at Blacksmith, talks about collaboration as a key skill in the current workplace.\n\u201cCollaboration is a co-creative human endeavour that requires facilitation, not control,\u201d says Velez, who started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Thailand. She now runs leadership workshops for Blacksmith.\nFind and ask questions that will find new ways of thinking.Milena Velez, Blacksmith\nShe shares the four \u2018core muscles\u2019 for leading and working collaboratively:\nPausing: Creating space and slowing down enough to maintain a consistent space.\nAsking generative questions: Finding and asking questions that will find new ways of thinking.\nNavigating power: Recognising and navigating group dynamics and their causes.\nListening actively: Listening for understanding.