Women at the top of Australia's IT leadership pyramid are leading the charge towards breaking the bias that still runs rampant across the nation's industry.
Speaking to ARN on this year's International Women’s Day theme, top executive leaders detailed their plans to help create an industry free of bias -- unconscious or otherwise -- stereotypes and discrimination.
Executive head of Telstra Enterprise marketing and commercial Kerrie-Anne Turner and ARN WIICTA 2017 Achievement winner said the theme of bias is more relevant than ever as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[It's about] normalising what in fact should be normal: having a career and raising kids and the conscious and unconscious bias that many leaders reinforce by their actions and words,” Turner said.
According to HashiCorp APJ senior partner sales director and ARN Hall of Fame inductee Rhody Hill, diversity is one of the most important and powerful strengths of any business.
“I pride myself on building diverse teams and being mindful of bias. I choose companies that take this seriously, and HashiCorp has made important commitments to diversity,” she said.
As Rachel Bondi marks her 25th year with Microsoft, the chief partner officer has seen her fair share of the ‘blokey’ culture. The ARN WIICTA 2021 Diversity and Inclusion winner spent 19 years at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters and the rest in her current base in Sydney.
“My relationship with work has changed especially over the past five years," she said. "My tenure and experience at Microsoft mean I'm in a position of responsibility, and addressing inequities is an emerging value system for me which I'm getting super sharp on.
"It’s an overarching priority on putting impact first. The focus is on gender equality in relation to sexual harassment, sex and gender discrimination and everyday sexism in the workplace experienced by people who identify as women.”
Bondi said things were improving, but discrimination exists, and if Australia doesn’t address it’s ‘blokey’ ways, investors may have reason to go elsewhere.
“I want to lead a purpose-focused partner organisation addressing unequal opportunities in our society,” Bondi said. “One of the collateral impacts of COVID-19 is the lack of visibility women have due to working from home – it’s having a drastic impact on professional women. Literature suggests women who are working remotely are being overlooked for promotions and this is totally unacceptable.”
Gender diversity pays off
Gender-diverse companies are 48 per cent more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies, according to the McKinsey report Diversity wins: How inclusion matters.
Accordingly, companies that fail to promote and retain women in technical roles, especially those who are in the early stages of their careers, end up preparing fewer women for senior roles. This potentially has negative financial and cultural consequences. According to the report, companies where women are well represented at the top earn up to 50 per cent higher profits and share performance.
Kelly Johnson has been a part of the IT industry for more than 30 years, spending most of her time at distribution giant Ingram Micro before taking her leadership journey to the next phase as Australia country manager for security company Eset.
Johnson describes "not being heard nor valued" as her main challenge during her career journey.
“Trying to perform at your best when the environment doesn’t support this turned me into a bit of a warrior,” Johnson revealed. “I found it was important to focus on the goals at hand – what am I trying to achieve? Winning through top performance is hard to argue with.
“Networking and volunteering to do projects has also been an important way to get noticed and recognised. Adding value to the team and the business is imperative.”
A fear of failure was Stax head of sales and growth markets Davinia Simon’s toughest challenge rising through the ranks because she would create limiting beliefs that she wouldn’t always know how to do everything that the next level required.
“I had to address those limiting beliefs and develop a growth mindset to acknowledge how quickly I can learn and develop new skills and ways of working. I soon realised that my career potential was limitless,” Simon said.
“I like to operate as my true self, and promote a safe environment for those around me to do the same. I’m comfortable sharing my strengths and weaknesses to teams and I’m quick to admit my mistakes. This ensures that those around me feel they can do the same, because self awareness is critical for all of us to grow."
The main thing that has held HashiCorp’s Hill back in her career was herself.
“I was told to throw my hat in the ring for a senior role and I politely declined, telling my boss I wasn’t ready for that and couldn’t wait to learn from the amazing person they brought in,” Hill said. “I was tapped on the shoulder for a more senior role at another company but recommended a peer of mine instead who got the job.
“Actually what those experiences would have given me was direct sales leadership skills. I could have learned how to build a new business or stepped up earlier than I thought but I don’t have any regrets.”
Alongside the past couple of years, The Missing Link COO Karen Drewitt points to the global financial crisis as a tough period for women as "everything needed to be done with less".
Drewitt, who won the ARN WIICTA Achievement award in 2015, thinks of her leadership position to coach, mentor, support and provide guidance but also challenge people in their thought processes.
“What it taught me was to look for creative solutions and understand the important metrics for the company," she said. "The last couple of years have also provided a new set of challenges, being more attuned with people’s wellbeing and providing clear and consistent communication."
Balancing responsibilities, fear of failure when starting something new and becoming the first person in Australia considered for the global marketing manager role at Cisco Networking Academy outside of the US were Emma Reid’s toughest challenges rising through the ranks.
The academy provides skills-to-jobs tech curriculum free of charge to educational institutions globally and so far has served 15.1 million students.
“In 2014, experts across Asia Pacific recognised a troubling trend - a growing number of female students were turning their backs on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects," Reid said. "At the time, female enrolments in system engineering degrees in Australia were less than two per cent, leaving young women ill-prepared for the technology-driven jobs of the future.
“One of the key strategic priorities of Cisco’s strategy is to create an inclusive digital economy by empowering people with the IT skills they need to thrive.”
Cisco also runs a Women Rock-IT program to motivate young women to consider STEM subjects, so far achieving 900,000 youngsters enrolled in free technology courses.