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Creating technology career paths for women

Creating technology career paths for women

A panel at the Microsoft Ignite 2016 in Auckland discusses ways to attract - and retain - more women to business technology roles.

Kaye Harding of Datacom with the panelists: Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ; and Nuwanthi Samarakone, CEO - ICE Professionals.

Kaye Harding of Datacom with the panelists: Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ; and Nuwanthi Samarakone, CEO - ICE Professionals.

Kaye Harding of Datacom with the panelists: Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ; and Nuwanthi Samarakone, CEO - ICE Professionals.
Kaye Harding of Datacom with the panelists: Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ; and Nuwanthi Samarakone, CEO - ICE Professionals.

Are you asking the right questions?

Nuwanthie Samarakone, CEO at ICE Professionals, says her manager at a previous position asked her what she wanted from the job.

“I want to be the CEO,” she told the manager.

She then followed this with a request to “shadow” the company CEO.

Though the manager was astounded by this request, she was able to
‘shadow’ the company’s male CEO for two weeks.

“It was the best shadowing experience I ever had,” she says. “I was able to talk to the CEO and the board of directors.”

Get a 'really solid sponsor', male or female, inside your own organisation or even outside.

Nuwanthie Samarakone

The CEO told her no one had ever made request in the company.

The lesson from this, she says, is “Are we asking the right questions and are we actually challenging ourselves?”

“Take a step back and think, and reflect on your career,” she says. “What are your strengths, how do you leverage your strengths?”

She also advises getting a “really solid sponsor”, male or female, inside your own organisation or even outside.

“The perspectives they will bring to the table will really enable you to think differently and enhance your thought process. This will help you to articulate how you want to be perceived in the room, whether it is in a meeting or at board level.”

The small stuff is just as impactful

Damian Sharkey, Workstream director at Westpac NZ, believes there are two parts involved in encouraging diversity in the workplace.

There is the hard stuff and the small or ‘soft’ stuff, both of which are important.

On the big stuff, he recalls how the bank's former CEO, Gail Kelly, observed during a boardroom meeting that there were 15 male executives around the table and only one female.

He says the bank has set a target to get 50 per cent women in leadership roles by 2020. “We are sitting at 48 per cent, in a few months time we will hit that target,” he states.

We are tasked with serving the communities we are in. We need to represent the diversity we have out there.”

He says having role models is important and feels the Westpac annual Women of Influence award highlights some of these women leaders.

This year, he notes how the overall winner, Helen Robinson, was the former managing director at Microsoft New Zealand.

He also acknowledges Michelle Dickinson, who is one of the winners (for science and innovation) this year.

She is trying to get young girls into STEM. That is setting the target and role models.”

But, as he puts it, the small or ‘'soft stuff'’ can be just as impactful.

For instance, Westpac mandates all staff to undergo “unconscious bias training”, to be aware of things that could impact their decision-making.

At the womenin technology forum at the Microsoft Ignite 2016.
At the womenin technology forum at the Microsoft Ignite 2016.

We are tasked with serving the communities we are in. We need to represent the diversity we have out there.

Damian Sharkey, Westpac NZ

He relates an anecdote to illustrate this. There is an accident involving a father and a son and both are taken to the hospital. The doctor said, “I can not look after the child, he is my son.”

People may ask, 'how can the son have two fathers'? The doctor is a woman, he says. It is interesting the way people think and assume that the doctor is a male.

“It is a mirror to how we see the world when we are aware of biases” like this, he states.

He says it is important to be aware of this ‘'unconscious bias'’ and how to help others in the workplace succeed.

Role model: Dr Michelle Dickinson (aka NanoGirl) at the launch of the book 'Sounds Like a Game Changer: A Soon-to-Be Obsolete Collection of Technology Cartoons by Jim' at the Microsoft Ignite NZ 2016.
Role model: Dr Michelle Dickinson (aka NanoGirl) at the launch of the book 'Sounds Like a Game Changer: A Soon-to-Be Obsolete Collection of Technology Cartoons by Jim' at the Microsoft Ignite NZ 2016.

Of trolls and men

“The reason why I am in technology 20 years later, is because of the men who supported and mentored me in my career,” says technology consultant and author Sonia Cuff.

She recently wrote an article criticising the suggestion of women half dressed as school girls being part of the entertainment for the launch of a gaming product. And then the trolls came, she says.

People hiding behind pseudonyms attacked her point of view, but some brave males defended her online. Each of her defenders used their real name.

And this, she says, is why “men matter for women in tech”.

“Because when you stand up, when you have a voice that things are not right in the workplace...that carries a lot of weight.”

“You are the majority in the workplace, you are vitally important,” says Cuff.

Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; and Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ at the women in technology panel discussion at the Microsoft Ignite 2016.
Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; and Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ at the women in technology panel discussion at the Microsoft Ignite 2016.

If you see a female in a technical audience, she may even be more technical than you

Sonia Cuff on unconscious bias

“Corporate culture [of equality] is not something you slap on the wall in the office, it comes from the interaction we have,” with people.

She says many women in technology suffer from “death by a thousand paper cuts”.

These are little things like not getting to work on the most challenging projects, or who gets the easiest support tickets.

Or it could be the questions women get when they are at a technology conference. Cuff says at one such event, she was asked whether she was one of the vendors. When she said she was speaking at a Microsoft event, the next question was whether she was in sales.

This is where unconscious bias sets in.

“We really like talking technology,” she says, speaking on behalf of the other women in technology roles. “If you see a female in a technical audience, she may even be more technical than you.”

Level the playing field

Donna Wright, business planning director at Microsoft, heads the Women of Microsoft New Zealand programme.

She says programme aims to create an environment where every woman at Microsoft can thrive and be valued.

''One of our programmes is around building support and capability around the gaps some women in our business have. These could be areas around building a personal brand, networking and career mapping," she says.

“It is about creating that equal playing field,” says Wright. “It is about attracting women to work at Microsoft and also the IT industry, and with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).''

She says Microsoft is talking to universities about [graduates] working in the technology industry. “We have graduates that are lawyers and pharmacologists ... this is an industry that takes diverse background perspectives.”

Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ; and Nuwanthi Samarakone, CEO - ICE Professionals.
Donna Wright, Business Planning Director – Microsoft; Sonia Cuff, Technology Consultant; Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director - Westpac NZ; and Nuwanthi Samarakone, CEO - ICE Professionals.

We have programmes for women around building a personal brand, networking and career mapping.

Donna Wright, Microsoft

BYOD? Bring it on

Kaye Harding, business unit manager (AWS and DevOps) at Datacom, worked in the electricity sector in her twenties.

Back then, one of her male colleagues there told her she would go far in her career because, “I think like a male”.

She recalls this now, as an active participant in Datacom’s Women in Technology group.

Datacom, she says, has “great programmes” to encourage more women to go into technology.

One of these, she says, is BYOD, not for ‘bring your own device’, but ‘bring your own daughter’ to work.

This was started this year in Melbourne and Sydney, and will be brought to New Zealand and the company's other offices around the globe.

Kaye Harding of Datacom moderating the Women in Technology panel discussion at the Microsoft Ignite 2016.
Kaye Harding of Datacom moderating the Women in Technology panel discussion at the Microsoft Ignite 2016.

The programme is aimed at primary school age and young teenagers who are invited to spend the day at Datacom and work on some projects.

“You can bring your daughter, granddaughter, niece, anyone that is related to you,” she says.

“The idea is to make it a really fun day, have them get a sense of achievement of doing something fun with IT and hopefully encourage them to enter IT.”

Microsoft's Nicola Ferguson introduces the panellists.
Microsoft's Nicola Ferguson introduces the panellists.

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