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Dr Kathryn Hempstalk of Xero: ‘We want more women who not only code, but also lead’

Dr Kathryn Hempstalk of Xero: ‘We want more women who not only code, but also lead’

The senior data scientist at Xero says her journey to engineering began from exposure to computing and programming at a young age. So what can government and industry leaders learn from her experience?

I was lucky enough to have a teacher who recognised that I was bored, and gave me material to learn how to code.

Dr Kathryn Hempstalk, Xero

A lack of gender parity appears to be a continual theme with a recent survey conducted by Kaggle uncovering that within the data science field women are more likely to have a post graduate degree yet are paid less (in comparison to the median salary). It seems evident to me that if expertise and pay weren’t affected by gender we would see more women in senior roles and - at least academically speaking - would potentially have more talent in those roles too.

This suggests that while we have seen some positive change in more recent years, the reality is that there still aren’t enough female engineers at the top. However, the more women that progress to these leadership roles, the more likely other women will recognise their ability to do the same. There needs to be a concentrated effort to change the status quo where leadership roles in technical positions are male-dominated.

For me, the journey to engineering began from exposure to computing and programming at a young age. The all girls school I attended had very limited computing classes where the only class available was typing. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who recognised that I was bored, and gave me material to learn how to code. My parents bought a IBM 286 DOS PC when I was in primary school that I used to play games and code.

It was extremely rare to have a computer at home, let alone one that ran many applications faster than its peers. Exposure to computing from a young age is integral to piquing interest in computing for younger generations and to demonstrate to young girls opportunities beyond stereotypical, gender-cast careers.

Visible role models in the computing field are also important for young people. The more exposure they have to female engineers, the easier time they’ll have envisioning themselves in similar careers. Technology companies can play their part by supporting initiatives that give school-age kids the opportunity to take part in coding and robotics in order to show young girls what is possible.

Anna Curzon of Xero: ‘Speak up and make a difference’

Gender diverse organisations are more successful

It has been repeatedly proven that organisations with higher diversity levels are more successful. In fact a 2016 report from Credit Suisse found that higher participation of women in decision making roles in senior corporate management continued to generate higher market returns and superior profits. These organisations are more successful because a diverse staff each bring something different to the table. The reality is that consumers are a broad range of people and a staff that mirrors its customer demographics is going to have greater insight and be more successful in creating products or services that meet the needs of their consumers.

Dr Elinor Swery of IBM: 'Have a conversation with younger girls, make sure everyone knows the importance of IT at an early age'

Not just a box ticking strategy

Supporting more women into the technical side of a business should be a top priority for all technology organisations. Being upfront with gender diversity statistics is a start, but in order to create true progress there needs to be a solid commitment. We’re proud to have women represent 27 per cent of technical positions at Xero, which is higher than most global technology brands, but like the industry as a whole there’s still room for meaningful progress.

Dr Kathryn Hempstalk of Xero
Dr Kathryn Hempstalk of Xero

Technology companies can play their part by supporting initiatives that give school-age kids the opportunity to take part in coding and robotics in order to show young girls what is possible.

Gender diversity will only exist within a company when there’s a commitment to it from the top down.

Setting hard targets is rarely the answer, as it’s more important for people to be hired or promoted based on merit in order to appoint the best person for the job. Proactive strategies to bolster gender diversity can include implementing frameworks for flexible working, diversity and inclusion training for staff and supporting and nurturing existing talent, and offering opportunities for staff to learn the skills needed to progress within the organisation.

We may be headed for a talent shortage in tech within the next 10 years, so these strategies will likely be necessary to ensure an organisation’s future success.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but by exposing kids to computing at a young age, we can foster more women to take an interest in engineering. If technology companies build diversity into their company culture and make it a priority to champion female engineers’ development, we’ll hopefully see more women who not only code, but also lead.

Diversifying tech: Change the conversation, challenge the norms, celebrate successes

Dr Kathryn Hempstalk is a senior data scientist at Xero.

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