Three women in tech keeping the gender conversation going

Over recent years, tech companies globally have made concerted efforts to address the gender imbalance that exists within the tech sector — whether that’s by broadening recruiting efforts, increasing accountability and transparency around pay and promotions, introducing gender quotas, mandating unconscious bias training, or getting involved in tech-focused early learning programs.

But like any social change, it does not happen overnight. Rather, it’s a progressive movement. ZDNet speaks to three women who are making a conscious effort to keep the conversation about gender going. 

Jane Crofts, founder of Data to the People 

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Jane Crofts’ inquisitive nature was what brought her into the tech sector in the first place. She found herself asking questions about why there was this consistent tension between data roles and non-data roles while she was a go-between for the business and IT sectors. It was also around the same time when data literacy became a mainstream conversation.

“I was trying to understand what was the core of this tension and why it was such a consistent experience for me when I felt that I could translate and operate across both data and business. So I was trying to put my finger on what was about me that could do it, and why it wasn’t possible for other people,” she said.

Her curiosity led her to create Databilities, an evidence-based data literacy competency framework that was launched at the 2018 United Nations World Data Forum. 

“What it has allowed me to do from there is start to think about how it could be used as a tool for different purposes to help achieve an overall goal of improving data literacy,” she said.

In that same year, Data to People, alongside Qlik, Accenture, Cognizant, PluralSight, and Chartered Institute of Marketing founded the Data Literacy Project.

Part of her confidence, Crofts tells ZDNet, is attributable to the female role models that have surrounded her: Her mum, who she describes as an “extremely professional woman” and three “incredibly talented and smart” sisters.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by very strong female role models around me,” she said. 

Despite this, Crofts has still faced her share of challenges as a woman in tech. 

“I was going to these vendor, partner summits and I would be the only woman leading an organisation who was doing that kind of work,” she said. 

“I was also at a summit in Singapore and they were trying to take leaders of organisations out for drinks and I would say, ‘Sorry guys, I have a little one at the hotel room and I’m not going to go’, and their reaction would be like, ‘What?’ So I see that [reaction] and I continue to see it.”

It’s also partly the reason that drives her to keep on top of the gender conversation. 

“I get a little frustrated at times by this focus of women in tech, but I think the only way this is ever to evolve is for us to keep being present and trying,” Crofts said.

“I’ve seen first-hand women, they just can’t work in that environment anymore where they’re not understood, and that’s never going to change if we don’t keep trying.”

Best advice you can offer to other women in tech? Take off the mask that “everything is awesome” and have the conversation about how it was actually a really rough week. The minute you say that to someone, you’re almost instantly met with “I know what you mean”. The more we can encourage ourselves and others to get past that and be real humans … then we can build that trust with everyone. 

Kerrie-Anne Turner, head of commercial business and channels at VMware ANZ

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Despite telling her mum that she did not want to do anything with those “computer things”, Kerri-Anne Turner has managed to spend the last 30 years building a career in the tech sector. It all started with her first job working at a technology distribution company in customer service and tech support. 

“What I realised is that I’ve chosen an industry that’s so cool, which wasn’t really that cool back then. But I knew it was cool. I knew it was innovative. I knew it was exciting. I knew it was an industry that was going to help me progress my career, but more importantly, it was going to help me see the world,” she said. 

“I was fascinated with the notion that technology could actually make differences to organisations, and ultimately, much later on, a difference to our planet as well.” 

These days, beyond her day-to-day responsibilities as head of commercial business and channels at VMware, Turner is leading the company’s global Women’s Group, a role she stepped up to because she felt a “deep personal sense of responsibility” to the generation that follows her. 

“I feel like I have an obligation to create a conversation and a path for men and women and young business leaders in the Australia and New Zealand markets to not only enter the conversation to become part of the technology industry, but it also helps us do better business and grow,” she explained. 

Some key initiatives that VMware has introduced to promote gender diversity and inclusion, according to Turner, have been around bringing flexibility to the workplace by advertising senior roles as job share positions and introducing a program known as Taara in India to get at least 15,000 women back into the workforce. 

“The problem in India … is it has one of the highest graduates of females in STEM but it also has the lowest participation of women, so getting them from university into the tech sector isn’t the problem. Keep them in the problem,” she said. 

Turner added how the company’s executive team in Australia is held accountable for these initiatives through monthly meetings. 

“That executive meeting is held with our talent acquisition team, our HR team, and a number of our senior management leaders, and we look at the data and the amount of female representations in our business. We look at it by role, we look at how we’re progressing women through promotion, we look for opportunities to accelerate those things we’re doing well, and we look at opportunities to address those things that are potential problems,” she said. 

Best advice you can offer to other women in tech? Just say yes. Think about where you want to take your talent. It’s really, really important. There are plenty of phenomenal technology companies in Australia today that really set the bar with the inclusion aspect of women in the business and recognise the value that brings, not only in gender, but diversity across cultures, experiences, and ethnicity.  

Keri Le Page, Inclusion and Diversity partner at IBM ANZ 

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Up until two years ago when she joined IBM, Keri Le Page had spent the majority of her career in the financial sector. The major difference Page noticed by moving into a company like IBM was that conversations around tackling inclusion and diversity were already embedded into the company. 

“The thing most heartening at IBM is really the fact that [diversity and inclusion] is just a given,” she said. 

“I’ve had lots of conversations about why we did it, about how we should do it, what it should look like, where do the priorities lie, and the underlying absolute belief is that diversity and inclusion is fundamental, which I find amazing coming from a whole range of different places,” she said. 

But it doesn’t mean her job is done yet. 

One year, she focused on disability, which culminated in seeing IBM being included on the Australian Network on Disability Access and Inclusion Index 2018-19.

More recently, Page headed up the recent launch of the company’s gender affirmation treatment policy to help support several local employees undergoing the gender affirmation treatment by providing them access to two weeks paid time off on top of their regular four weeks annual leave.

“It means those people who are undergoing gender affirmation treatment don’t have the stresses around how do I find the time to get all to the appointments,” she said.

Page said she’s also focused on bringing more women through the pipeline, which has come as a result of discussions that were had during a recent global gender council. 

“For International Women’s Day this year, we brought 100 school girls from year 10 and we ran a full day of various scenes in the workplace … we had a tech round where they got to experience some cool techie things we do at IBM and speed networking sessions with an IBM woman,” she said. 

A similar program was run last year in India with 1,000 school girls. 

“It was to bring them through, show them what they can do, what the different pathways are, and inspire them to think about tech in the future whether that’s IBM or not … it’s a long term gain but we need to be thinking long term,” Page said. 

Best advice you can offer to other women in tech? Find the right company that does actually value you because it’s not about you not being the right fit, it’s about finding a place that understands that diversity and inclusion. 

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