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Doing Business with Nicole Ferguson of REANNZ: ‘Blind hiring’, mentoring and other steps towards diversity

Doing Business with Nicole Ferguson of REANNZ: ‘Blind hiring’, mentoring and other steps towards diversity

‘It’s about providing a work environment that fits with a diverse workforce.’

We’re hiring at the moment, and I’m trialling a 'blind' hiring process; creating our short-list of applicants for interview without knowing the applicant’s name, or gender.

Nicole Ferguson, REANNZ

Name: Nicole Ferguson

Title: Chief Executive Officer, REANNZ

Twitter handle: @nicolerferg @reannz

How long have you been in your current role?

Since November last year – so, 10 months. The time has just flown by. I’ve also been with REANNZ in one capacity or another since 2010.

What business technology issue is your role focusing on?

We’re focused on supporting NZ’s researchers, scientists and students to collaborate effectively. Our high-speed, global network enables our users to collect, send, store and process big data; anywhere in the world. This means NZ is able to participate in global science challenges, use the world’s most innovative scientific instruments and make discoveries that put NZ on the map - contributing to a progressive society and a strong economy.

What are your interests away from work?

Away from work, I’m a keen hockey player and snowboarder. As I write this, I am off on a short break to Queenstown to enjoy the fresh air and freedom of the slopes.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

The best response when you receive any feedback, whether positive or negative, is simply 'Thank you’. Don’t brush compliments off with modesty, don’t get defensive if someone is taking the time to help you improve. A simple 'Thank you' is the best response in most circumstances!

Professionally, who do you admire most?

There’s not just one person. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had great support from a number of personal mentors throughout my career – and I admire all of them. They have all had different qualities that I have valued, learned from and looked to incorporate as I’ve developed my own style.

How long have you been working in your field? How did you get into your role?

Since I graduated! Becoming part of this industry was actually a very happy accident, as I was posted to REANNZ in my first week at KPMG. After working with REANNZ for two-and-a-half years, I decided to join them permanently – I loved the research and education sector, loved the technology and loved the fast pace!

Can you share one key pointer for keeping abreast of business technology trends?

Work at REANNZ! Technology changes so fast, it’s about being able to sift through all of the tech news and focus on the things that might make a difference to you or your customers.

Prepare to be the disruptor - not the disrupted. How have you applied this insight to your organisation, or with a customer you have worked with?

REANNZ exists to serve the needs of organisations that, by their very nature, are operating at the edge of discovery all the time. To support that, we have to make sure we stay ahead in what we do. We are looking forward to the next generation of network technology, experimenting with it and contributing to its development. For example, some of our most innovative work, with Software Defined Networking, is now being taught as part of fourth-year computer science courses in New Zealand universities.

Our high-speed, global network enables our users to collect, send, store and process big data; anywhere in the world. This means NZ is able to participate in global science challenges, use the world’s most innovative scientific instruments and make discoveries that put NZ on the map

Nicole Ferguson, REANNZ

What insights do you have for building a diverse team?

People are predisposed to wanting to work with people who are just like themselves. It’s tough to overcome.

We’re hiring at the moment, and I’m trialling a 'blind' hiring process; creating our short-list of applicants for interview without knowing the applicant’s name, or gender.

However, systems like that won’t help if you can’t get a diverse range of applicants to apply in the first place. Thinking about how the words you use in your job advertising would appeal to various groups, and making sure the position is open long enough are all steps in the right direction. In some cases, tapping people on the shoulder to apply is important; women in particular are more likely to apply if they are invited.

Finally, it’s about providing a work environment that fits with a diverse workforce. Diverse means more than just gender or ethnicity. Every one of us leads a slightly different life, so it’s essential that organisations accommodate that by being truly flexible on work location, hours, enabling job sharing and reduced hours where necessary, and generally supporting the different ways in which people work. REANNZ is an organisation of fewer than 30 people, and we manage it – it’s not just something for large organisations to work towards.

Are you or your organisation working on anything at the moment to encourage more young people, especially females, to consider careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths)?

I am incredibly encouraged by what has become a global movement in raising awareness of the gender diversity issue in all areas, particularly in STEM.

My sister is a maths teacher, and has recently moved from an all-boys to an all-girls high school. The most striking difference? The number of hands that shoot up when she asks the class a question. At the boys’ school, most hands shoot up, and many simply shout out the answer. At the all-girls school…hardly any hands go up.

Girls seem to be less inclined to offer up an answer, to take the risk, if they aren’t 100 per cent sure it’s right – that fear of making a mistake is a lot more restricting to them, than their male counterparts.

When that reluctance continues into university, and into the workplace, that’s a huge disadvantage.

My work so far has been in speaking to various groups, particularly new professionals, about what tips and tricks are important to help them gain confidence and be successful. Encouraging women to put their hand up, by being honest about what has worked for me in my career, and what has not!

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

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Tags customer focusDXSTEMREANNZ (Research and Education Network New Zealand)women in technologycxdisruptionmentoringdigitalCEOnetworks

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