by Chloe Gunn
I sat down with Sara Brownlie to talk IT past, present and future and discuss advice for women considering joining the IT industry. We also talk about Catalyst and the impact of open source technology.
Not only is Sara on the Catalyst Board of Directors, she also sits on the REANNZ (Research and Education Advanced Network of New Zealand) Board, the Rongotai College Board of Trustees and volunteers for Victim Support. She is someone that many women can look up to, and is one of the countless inspiring women leading the way to increase female presence in the IT world.
Chloe Gunn: Why do you think the IT industry has been heavily male-dominated in the past?
Sara Brownlie: Historically, there have been many industries where women were either actively encouraged or discouraged to join. There is now growing importance placed on diversity and inclusion, but unfortunately, there remain pockets of strong stereotypes which continue to hold back the potential of and enthusiasm for women to join some industries.
CG: Do you see more women joining the IT industry in future?
SB: More women are coming into ICT, but this is happening slowly. In 2015, women made up only 30% of students studying Information Communication Technology (ICT) and 18% of those studying engineering and other related technologies. In 2016, only 22% of students graduating in ICT were women. If the graduate pool is low, then the hiring pool into ICT roles will also be low.
But the trends are changing, and a host of initiatives are underway in NZ to improve this. ShadowTech is one of those initiatives - in 2018 over 600 girls participated.
Also, some companies are pro-actively targeting relationships with girls’ schools to encourage female interest in the sector. I've seen Tiwai Point Aluminum Shelter quoted as an exemplar in growing their female workforce - they partnered with the local Southern Girls’ High School and in 10 years, increased the percentage of females in the workplace up to 50%.
In addition, I think schools and parents are increasingly encouraging all work opportunities to be considered by everyone and anyone, which over time will naturally lead to more diversity across all industries.
But there is still work to be done. At the moment, only 3% of 15-year-old NZ girls want a tech-related career. If that doesn't change, then the diversity mix will drop, not increase.
A further challenge is keeping women in the ICT workforce. Internationally, there is a low retention rate of women in technology - women leave at an alarming 45% higher rate than men. So the challenge for employers in the industry is about creating an environment that is inclusive and encouraging for everyone.
Catalyst has a diversity policy which actively promotes equal opportunities for all and promotes an inclusive workplace. On top of that, we are involved in a range of initiatives to support emerging talent – in particular, ShadowTech and Open Source Academy.
CG: What brought you into the IT open source community and Catalyst?
SB: I think that Catalyst, open source and IT are all about the potential to make better, to be better. In my role, I see Catalyst helping the open source community improve, grow and develop. By virtue of that, it can then create flexible and innovative IT solutions for their customers. I believe that for every organisation, IT must be the foundation for improvement. Everyone has limited resources, and unless you can automate, reduce or speed up the process, you can't increase what you create or deliver. IT is the enabler.
CG:What would you say to women considering a career in IT?
SB: Be courageous and do not limit your ambition by what anyone else tells you or by any doubts you may have about your ability. Support your colleagues, and they will support you. Continually learn and improve as the IT landscape is continually changing. If you can, find a female champion - someone who believes in you and lifts your confidence and self-belief on those hard days.
I hope you enjoyed reading this interview. It appears things are changing and the opportunities for women are ever-increasing. It is up to us in the industry to speak up, support and encourage girls and women to take the leap and engage with IT, and if that sparks passion, Catalyst will be here as a supportive and diverse work environment.
Below are some useful resources for kick-starting your future in IT
Are you studying IT or considering a future in IT?
Check out Catalyst’s annual Open Source Academy. The Academy is a Catalyst initiative designed to provide training and work experience for young New Zealand technologists. We run the two-week Open Source Academy in January each year and a three-day Arduino Academy over the July school holidays. Every year, Catalyst reserves at least 50% of academy places for young women, and each Academy intake passes that mark. Click here to find out more about the Catalyst Open Source Academy.
Additionally, ShadowTech provides girls in years 9 -11 with an opportunity to experience what working in the tech sector is like, encouraging them onto education pathways that lead into tech sector roles. Click here to find out more about ShadowTech.
Are you currently studying computer science, engineering and other STEM subjects at Victora University Wellington?
VUWWIT is a group for undergraduate students who identify as women or non-binary and are studying computer science, engineering and other STEM subjects at VUW. They aim to provide opportunities for members to socialise with each other and the industry in a supportive environment. They also provide skills workshops to aid with undergraduate life and career prospects. Click here to find out more about the VUWWIT group.
Are you already in a tech role?
TechWomen is a group of passionate New Zealand tech, digital and ICT focused individuals from leading organisations that work together, with the support of NZTech, to help address one of the significant challenges for the successful growth of technology in New Zealand – a shortage of women in tech roles. Find out more about TechWomen here.
Catalyst is a New Zealand-owned and operated company where values,
community, and integrity are paramount. Since 1997, Catalyst has been
dedicated to using the world’s best open source software and tools to
deliver robust IT solutions for our clients. We have grown through
long-term commitments to our clients, a culture of collaboration and
organisations consistently experiencing the superior economic and social
value that open source delivers.