Women in Technology Brisbane Event: Redefining Diversity and Building Relationships

Datacom yesterday sponsored the final event in Women in Technology Queensland’s ICT City Breakfast Series, held at Microsoft in Brisbane. The two presenters, Datacom Managing Director Kirsty Hunter and GHD CIO Elizabeth Harper, shared how they rose to the top as women in technology in their respective workplaces. Both Harper and Hunter strove to stretch beyond the common idea that a more nurturing and compassionate nature is the key reason more women in technology are needed in leadership roles.

A woman’s touch

Why does having women in technology leadership roles matter? Research shows that diversity spurs better innovation by encouraging experimentation, the transfer of knowledge and boundary stretching, according to a study by Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Businesses. Researchers found that an equal gender split of half women, half men was ideal for encouraging all the factors that led to innovation except for one.

Research by Zenger Folkman shows that while women make up only 28 per cent of the IT workforce, women in technology are more effective in leadership capacities than men. Women in technology are even more effective in traditionally “male” competencies such as taking initiative in addition to driving results. And studies of Norwegian and British firms show that leadership teams with more women tend to generate more revenue than those with more male representatives.

Extending diversity beyond gender and tips for getting ahead

However, as Hunter expressed in her talk at the Women in Technology Breakfast Series, diversity can be found even when one gender tips the balance at an organisation. Even in an organisation with 70 per cent men, she posited, there’s diversity among the males which spans race, culture, ethnic background, religion and sexual orientation. It’s one of the reasons she says she’s actually learned to overlook gender differences in the workplace and instead focus on the individual.

An acceptance of gender imbalance in the workplace doesn’t mean women in technology face an easy road. Both Harper and Hunter outlined principles they followed to help them on their paths. For Harper, finding a mentor and learning how to “play the game” were two key steps. On the latter note, part of the learning curve involved moving past the idea that chatting with key colleagues or executives about their lives and interests wasn’t an idle endeavour. For Hunter, her rise through Datacom over the last 18 years was also helped by a similar concerted effort at relationship-growing in addition to balance between work and personal life, confidence and humour. Both of these women in technology said they learned the water cooler effect wasn’t so much a gossip-fest as it was a rapport-building exercise that was just as an important as being highly skilled, hardworking and passionate.

Getting more women in technology leadership roles — or leadership roles in any field — is still an uphill battle. But as both Harper and Hunter showed, it’s one that can be won.

How has your organisation encouraged women in technology leadership roles?

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