An equal world is an enabled world, yet the Australian Government has reported that women only hold 14.1% of chair positions and 26.8% of directorship roles. It's never been more important to make gender diversity a priority, and in the lead up to International Women's Day, we decided to turn the spotlight on RMIT Online's very own leadership team. Check out what these inspiring leaders had to say about the importance of diversity and female representation in IT roles, seeking out mentoring opportunities and the challenges women face today's workforce.
Helen Souness, CEO at RMIT Online
Why it's important to have female role models in tech?
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Although clearly there are fantastic examples of women smashing glass ceilings, for women to enter non-traditional female professions like software coding and data science, it really helps to see women ahead of you thriving in the same path. When my daughter was younger, I was amazed how she had a view from as young as seven that ‘computers are for boys’ despite having two parents working in digital.
Somehow the Mark Zuckerberg stereotype of young men in t shirts working in tech gets through and can put girls off the most exciting, and some of the most well paid, professions. Having female role models girls can relate to, in tech, could not be more important to open up possibilities for young women, and to provide mentors and role models once they hit the workforce too.
Rachael Francis, HR Director at RMIT Online
Why is it important to have diversity in an executive team?
Many studies over recent years have shown that having women on your executive team or board is good for your bottom line. Diversity brings with it a variety of voices and perspectives to the table, which can boost problem-solving capacity and lead to greater productivity. It also means that your executives are more likely to mirror your customers, client market and communities as 50 per cent of the world are women.
Newer studies are also showing that companies with a good percentage of women in executive teams are more likely to have engaged employees and wider talent pools for all levels. According to Forbes, there are five areas in which women-led companies are performing better relative to male-led companies: strategy, mission, belief, communication and autonomy. So in essence, having women on your executive team is good for your business, and also good for your employees.
Narelle Stefanac, Growth Director at RMIT Online
What do you see as the main challenges faced by women in tech?
Over the years, I have loved witnessing the emergence of women as experts in the technology sector. I have also noticed that the desire for women to prove their subject matter expertise can act as a delimiter on career advancement (if not balanced correctly).
Does management expect a high level of performance from you, yet you have not been promoted beyond your current role? This might be a red flag that you’ve nailed your expertise currency, but lacking in relationship currency.
Many women seek out mentors, yet they fail to seek out sponsors. Your ability to ascend in your tech career often has to do with someone’s judgement of you and your ability to do the ‘next thing’. Do you have the right advocates and influencers around you? What do people say when you are not in the room?
You know your stuff! Don’t get pigeon-holed.
Frequently and succinctly own and articulate the value you deliver against the strategic priorities of the organisation, and surround yourself with a few influential advocates. When others can regurgitate your message and advocate for you when you are not in the room, you know you are winning in your career in tech.
Claire Hopkins, Chief Student Experience Officer at RMIT Online
What advice would you give my 18 year old self?
Have belief. Belief that you are good enough. Belief that what makes you different is the secret sauce that drives your unique value. Belief that everyone has their own path and yours doesn’t have to be the same or on the same timeline.
It took me a long time to build my self-confidence and if I could go back in time I would want to knock that message into my 18 year old brain! I see it come up over and over again with other women who I mentor and wish there was a magic wand I could wave for them to accelerate that realisation – it really is a mind game, and I’m not sure it served a useful purpose to be doubting my abilities for so many years. So, if you don’t feel it down to the tips of your toes, fake it – most people are and they’re doing just fine!
Claire Macken, Director, Future Learning
Who is a mentor of yours and how have they helped shape your career?
It’s not an over exaggeration to say that my entire career success can be in, a large part, attributed to great mentors. It turns out I’m not alone. Warren Buffet mentored Bill Gates. Barbara Walters mentored Oprah Winfrey. In fact, it was Oprah who said, “a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Even outside of the famous, mentoring can provide a huge benefit for your career success. I can personally point to two examples and two separate mentors of many to demonstrate this point.
One is an experienced professor who explained to me the role of learning and sent me on a path that has shaped the rest of my career. Today, over 20 years later, I frequently contact her for advice, which I value and respect deeply. She prompts me to think about who am I, and who I want to be, both professionally and personally.
If I’m ever thinking of changing my job, practically the first call I ever make is to another mentor, John. I’ve known John for a really long time, and I’ve only recently worked out that he never says “yes” or “no” to anything. He just asks the right question and the right time.
As a mentee, I believe I also have responsibilities. I need to be open to guidance and feedback and take the initiative to seek out mentorship when I need it. Forbes estimates that 76% of people think mentors are important, but only 37% have one. Find yourself a mentor! It’s time to be proactive about your career today.
Anshu Arora, Marketing Director
What qualities do women bring to the male-dominated world of tech?
We live in a ‘data’ driven world where tech and business must work together to drive customer solutions and business growth. This is why soft skills are more important than ever. And why emotional intelligence is such an important predicator of performance and an asset that drives strategic planning and management.
Although women have excellent technical skills, broadly speaking they also are more likely to be empathetic. It is this empathy that is a key quality that women bring to the world of tech. This asset can be leveraged to better understand customers pain points and expectations, which ultimately help develop better solutions, grow revenue and build advocacy. Having a better understanding of customers, both internal and external, helps to drive effective communication, which is critical to the success of any business growth. Having women as part of a team can help balance the team out and improve internal communication as well the brands story to its customers.