Women Leading Tech & Learning From Each Other

Women Leading Tech & Learning From Each Other
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Brigitte Barta (main photo) is the digital content manager and strategist at Icon Agency. Barta was also nominated at B&T’s recent Women Leading Tech Awards. In this guest post, Barta offers her own tips and experiences in working in the tech space on how to make the industry a more inclusive and positive career for all women…

One of the key recommendations of Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Pulse report was that more women need to be encouraged to join and stay in the tech industry. According to the report, women make up 29 per cent of employment in technology in Australia and, based on current trends, it would take 66 years for technology occupations to reach anything like 50 per cent female participation. The report makes the case that hastening this trend by half would add $11 billion to Australia’s economy. While achieving balance does not appear to be a priority for the government or the corporate sector, there are reasons to be optimistic.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend B&T’s Women Leading Tech Awards as a nominee. It was a glamorous affair indeed, and at first I felt decidedly underdressed in my red velvet frock, when clearly sequins were called for.

The fact I was there was surprising for a number of reasons –  not just because it was a novelty to be travelling interstate after two years of border closures. I was also shortlisted in the design category, for work within a budding but under-recognised area: content design.

Content strategists/designers and information architects are like the librarians or editors of the digital world. We beaver away in quiet corners and our work is only noticed if we aren’t doing it well. I was gratified to be acknowledged but certainly didn’t expect to win, and I didn’t – which was frankly a huge relief as I hadn’t prepared a speech.

But mostly I was amazed by the way the night panned out. Among the winners, there wasn’t a single one that seemed predictable or undeserving. The speeches were the highlight of the night. Each winner seemed genuinely stunned to be up on stage – it was as if they, as women, were so accustomed to being overlooked that they were like a deer in headlights. The cumulative effect of this nervous energy was not embarrassment but exhilaration. Each and every one of these inspirational women pulled a rabbit out of the hat and held the audience in thrall as they talked of trials and tribulations along their often long careers, of the work still to do, and of the power of women supporting each other in the very male-dominated world of technology.

Some of the winners revealed the nuts and bolts of what they do – and what they described touched on ingenuity and fresh approaches.

Pauline Thomas, highly commended in the product category, said she was going to talk in three bullet points, because that’s what product managers do. Her three bullets wouldn’t fit on a slide but they provided a fascinating glimpse of the world that Thomas has come from and the one she has created.

She said: “I was asked today, what do you do as a product manager and I just went blank – I don’t build, code, design, sell, operate or support – I just pull things together and tell people what to do!”.

“The real thing that keeps me going is what my CEO once told me: ‘whatever you do, just make the boat go faster’. So that’s what I do – and that’s what every one of us can do, no matter what your job is –make the boat go faster.”

Many of the made the point that we not only need more women in tech leadership roles but we also need to acknowledge the contributions of women from diverse backgrounds and encourage them to come out of dark corners.

At least two of the winners are involved in recruiting Indigenous students into the tech sector. Some of the speeches brought me to tears with their directness: “I come from a culture that oppresses women,” said Niloofar Aliakbarzadeh, who won the award for Engineering. With that remark alone, she grabbed my attention immediately. Likewise, Dr Faezeh Marzbanrad, winner in the Education/Research category said she wants to inspire others, particularly women of colour, mothers, her Muslim sisters and the strong women of her home country, Iran.

Pauline Thomas, too, talked about growing up in a country where women were treated as somebody to be protected, to be looked after, as the weaker sex. She said, “I want to thank this country, my company, my family, friends and colleagues for teaching me that women can be at work, can be on stage, can lead”.

Being able to hear these stories, and giving women a platform to become visible as role models in the world of technology, adds up to more than the sum of the parts. In a survey run by S&P Global, more than 50 per cent of respondents said that seeing women role models in senior leadership positions is an important factor in career satisfaction. Yet, as pointed out in a recent article from Deloitte about the effects of the pandemic on women in tech, half of the industry’s female workers drop out of tech by mid-career and women make up less than a quarter of tech’s senior leadership roles – with gender bias the top obstacle preventing women from moving into leadership positions. According to PwC’s Women in Tech report from 2017, in the UK a whopping 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in tech, which is maybe not surprising when only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. These are sobering stats but they reflect the need to recognise the work being done by women in tech, especially those who aren’t necessarily in the C-suite.

By the end of the night any feeling of fashion dissonance had evaporated in the warm glow generated by a deep vein of diversity running through the room. The afterparty was a loud disco-ball affair in the basement of Sydney Town Hall, where it was perfectly acceptable to take off your stilettos. I left in the rain, knowing the tech world is full of possibilities when women band together, believe in each other and share their stories.

If women keep working on it, we can make the boat go faster and shift those statistics in the right direction, in Australia and beyond. There is such power in acknowledgment, encouragement, support and celebration itself.

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Brigitte Barta icon agency

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