Avoid the superwoman syndrome, say successful IT women panel

The panel, which included women in leading roles within ICT firms in the country, highlighted the challenges and opportunities in the sector

Women who want to aim high in their careers should avoid the ‘superwoman syndrome’ or trying to do everything and grind themselves down, say a panel of successful women in IT who spoke at the Australasian Computer Science Week event.

The panel consisted of Jo Allison, COO of Gen-I and Jo Healey, MD of Fujitsu NZ, Lyndal Stewart, CEO of Business Mechanix and Helen Robinson, independent director of several IT organisations.

The panel brought to light pervasive board-level perspectives on women that persist to this day and prevent them from being accepted.

“There is a huge challenge to accepting women technologists at the board level. And that is across vertical sectors,” said Stewart.

“I agree with this. There are currently an over-supply of male executives to whom a woman pitching or being part of deal with a very assertive role is just a bitch. But a male with the same behaviour would be just considered spot-on. I think this is worse at the board level. I have personally witnessed and heard about it. It is a real issue,” said Allison.

The panel discussed how women can grow to success in the IT industry, and urged them to “believe in themselves and go what for you really want”.

“I believe it is important to have role models and access to mentoring at a younger age. At the moment, we are trying to utilise dads in our organisation to understand their daughters, and help educate them on the choices, decisions and perspectives out there. Part of this could also involve allowing them to understand how off-putting their style can be to young women, and working to adjust that,” said Allison.

“I personally mentor young women. This is not specifically related to the IT industry, but we do career workshops and educate them about the opportunities that exist for them in a broad sense.

"We also work with students in secondary schools. By the time they get to tertiary schools they have already made some decisions. We provide these students an insight into what careers are like within ICT. We explain the expectations of roles, what shapes they take and the business-centric nature of roles. In effect, we work on broadening the understanding of the industry at an early age,” said Healey.

The panel stressed on the importance for women of the next generation to diversify skills and look beyond IT to move within organisations.

“You need a mix of skills. You need a big understanding of the business and the financials. Within organisations you really need to know what they are saying. It is really important to have a blend of skills. I think we will see more of that coming through,” said Stewart.

Allison added, “You should not think narrow when you think of a career in IT. Marketing of IT services is one of the hardest jobs in the country. Some of the most successful people in IT organisations today don’t have anything to do directly with IT. Some successful CIOs in the country have never had an IT job. Fundamentally they understand what technology can do for their company and customers. They don’t get embroiled in the technology but focus on the business outcomes.”

The informal panel that addressed questions from the live audience, as well as a Twitter audience, also touched upon ways they follow to enforce a work-life balance, relieve stress, and handle technology in their own lives.

The Australasian Computer Science Week is an event for computer science researchers in Australasia. The event, which is being conducted in Auckland, consists of multiple parallel conferences covering a wide range of topics in computer science and related areas.

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