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A lesson on inclusive leadership

A lesson on inclusive leadership

Jo Stewart-Rattray is no stranger to isolation - as a child growing up in a rural area, and as the only woman in a boardroom or a client meeting.

Jo Stewart-Rattray at the recent SheLeadsTech event at the ASB Cube in Auckland

Jo Stewart-Rattray at the recent SheLeadsTech event at the ASB Cube in Auckland

I was a CIO and somebody told me, ‘Have you ever thought of specialising in security?

Jo Stewart-Rattray, BRM Holdich and ISACA

“I have been the only woman in a boardroom, client meeting, or conference session countless times,” says Jo Stewart-Rattray, director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich.

This is, perhaps, a not so uncommon experience for female professionals navigating the male-dominated field of information technology.

Stewart-Rattray, who grew up in the Australian bush, is no stranger to the feeling of isolation.

So when she experienced the same thing while building her career in information technology, she made it her commitment, if advocacy, to ensure fewer women will undergo this experience.

“This is what drove me to spearhead the global initiative, SheLeadsTech, through global business technology association ISACA, to address the global underrepresentation of women in the technology workforce,” she says.

The programme provides cybersecurity training, as well as mentoring and leadership programmes for women and other underrepresented sectors in the field of technology.

SheLeadsTech aims to narrow the existing inequity in information security and technology as a whole. The work ahead is massive.

A cybersecurity report by ISACA launched in March as part of International Women’s Day stated that while 79 per cent of men claim that women and men have equal opportunities in their workplace, only 41 per cent of women agree. Furthermore, globally, only 44 per cent of organisations have diversity programmes that support women in cybersecurity.

Stewart-Rattray delves into what worked for her as a woman in information technology, and more specifically, in risk management and information security.

“It’s about a choice. I chose to go to technology. I chose to go the path of security,” she states.

“I was a CIO and somebody told me, ‘Have you ever thought of specialising in security?’”

Not long after, this same person came back and told her about a managing consultant role for the company.

That was over 15 years ago and since then she has been advocating for people to consider a career in information technology, and more specifically, working for more diversity in the sector.

“You have to be strong and confident as a woman in the technology landscape,” she declares. 

Stewart-Rattray describes herself as an “accidental feminist activist.”

She has met women working in technology in different parts of the world as part of her work with ISACA.

She realised SheLeadsTech has created safe places for women to network and share their stories without fear.

“The advocacy proponent of the SheLeadsTech programme is incredibly important.”

Provide the space and opportunity to mentor a peer.

Jo Stewart-Rattray

Career pivots

Stewart-Rattray has an undergraduate degree and a masters in education and psychology.

That background, she says, was really helpful when she was talking to organisations and addressing people’s concerns and methods for security awareness programmes.

Her experience points to the fact that there is no set background that is ideal for moving into the security space. “You can come from different backgrounds.”

She is forthright that a career in cybersecurity means commitment to lifelong learning.

“You have to study and persevere,” she says.

Stewart-Rattray has four ISACA credentials and is also a certified cybersecurity professionals from the Australian Computer Society.

According to her, “in any technology landscape, we don’t just stop learning. You are continuously updating your skills, you have to keep abreast of trends. There is a lot of reading across the board.”

She says ICT executives have a responsibility to “give back and encourage generations below us” to nurture a career in technology.

Leading panel discussions across the globe, “I have asked time and again what can be done to address the gender gap,” shares Stewart-Rattray.

She says women of all ages, whether new to the profession or long-term in their roles, tell her the same thing: They need mentors and role models.

Stewart-Rattray, who continues to mentor up and coming ICT professionals, shares some advice on choosing a good mentor.

Credentials: “Look for someone you admire, your 'girl crush' if you will. This person can be in your office or working at another company, male or female, but should hold qualifications or a role that you desire.”

Advocate: “Your mentor ultimately needs to be an advocate for you, especially if the person is someone you work with. Seek out a person you can confide in, that will support you, give you confidence. And along the way, assist you in reaching for your goals or getting your next promotion.”

Time: “This doesn’t mean every day or even every week you need to have a one-to-one, but you need to ensure your mentor has the time to invest in you and your career. We’re all busy, so be realistic. If they don’t have time, ask someone else.” 

Network: “There’s an old saying, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears.’ Over the years, your career path will deviate, twist, and turn, so continue to network through industry associations and social functions, to meet new people that can assist you along your journey or be your next mentor.”

Mentor back: “Don’t forget about your experiences at university and how you felt at your first job. Provide the space and opportunity to mentor a peer. This experience will prove rewarding, will give you a new perspective as a mentor, and you’ll help a fellow woman through her journey in the technology profession.”

“By helping one another, we can help forge a leadership path for women, where we all sit at the board table,” she concludes.

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