Inspiration…Perspiration….Serendipity: Pathways to a career in ICT

Last week I was asked to be a Keynote at an ICT teachers workshop. I was given the topic to talk to, very similar to the title to this blog, and I was to introduce two young professional women in ICT. We all spoke about our pathways and I was surprised by the commonalities in our stories, particularly serendipity. If nothing else it confirmed the power of positive encouragement from teachers and significant others to kick start a career in ICT, and also the realization of the ability of ICT to initiate social good. This underpinned the reasons for all three of us selecting this lifestyle, and all three of us did not start with an ICT Bachelors degree.

My career was influenced by 3 serendipitous events coupled with a few revelations along the way. Yes a lot of perspiration – but then that it is just what you do!

Serendipity #1 My friend the Biology teacher became the ICT leader in the school. When we needed a second lab in the school he said “Cmon Catherine, you will be good at this”. If he had not singled me out, I would not have thought about taking a technical role. He mentored me, and this lead to Revelation # 1  I learned that teaching IT was very different to teaching Geography.  In IT I was the facilitator of knowledge discovery, I could not keep up with the young males (always males) who spent all their spare time tinkering. Then came Serendipity #2 with a Monash Teaching Fellowships and a Deputy Principal who walked into our office one day and put the application on my desk and said “Catherine you would like this”. I never would have considered it. 50% teaching at uni level, 50% research. I was a women in IT unable to convince year 11 females to come and do IT (I had completed a Grad Dip at this stage), and wondering why. The Dean of the Faculty of IT at Monash was unable to recruit enough female domestic students to study IT yet had the perception that classes in Singapore were gender balanced. So began my research career. Revelation #2  I really enjoy research, I really enjoy writing and reading.  It led to a position in student management at Monash which led to another Revelation #3 – I liked academia more than management. I applied for and was successful in gaining a Lecturer position at Swinburne on the strength of my research Masters and a promise to do PhD. I doubt that you could do that now. Closely followed Revelation #4 and Serendipity #3. My first conference paper from my Masters was published while I was at Swinburne and the conference was in Hawaii. Tough gig but I rose to the challenge. At that conference I realised my love was IT education, not IT per se. It felt right, the keynotes were inspirational and I actually sat in that audience and thought this is not work, I love this. Serendipity #3 – On the trip home due to flight cancellations and delays I found myself sitting next to the keynote, a renowned professor of Higher Ed from Melbourne University. I broached the PhD topic with him, he was interested, and that led to this career.
12 years of research, women in computing, conference organisation, and a strong network of colleagues who also mentor me. Through the Swinburne WICT group – which I initiated and am still the academic mentor, and through my program coordination role at Swinburne I have the privilege of guiding smart women in their careers (and many smart men too). They inspire me. I keep in touch with graduates working overseas, interstate, leading teams,  through WICT networks and they also come back to inspire current students.I still don’t feel like an ICT expert, but I don’t need to be. If I can facilitate, guide and mentor others while leading in areas of my strengths, ICT education.

I am still excited and enjoying this career. Which brings me back to the two smart young women who presented with me. Both graduates from another university, one inspired by a Chemistry teacher, another inspired by a social good program delivered by her employer. The takeaway from this blog is never  underestimate how a comment to a student, i.e. that they are good at IT and should look to following through with it, can have real impact.


February 28, 2013. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

NZ_OzWIT 2012 “persistence, challenge, passion, enthusiasm, growth, balance”

The first ever New Zealand and Australian Women in IT Conference was held in beautiful Christchurch on the 10th and 11th of October. Christchurch welcomed us with a bit of an earthshake, 4.1 on the Richter scale. “Was that a truck going past?”
Nicky Wagner MP opened our conference and emphasized the need for ICT to increase diversity in 4 areas; gender, background, lifestyle and nationality.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall’s keynote, reminded us that we are in a constantly changing frontier and that even the creators of the World Wide Web did not know what it could do until it was invented, and they are still learning.
Professional NZ Women shared their personal journeys. They chose this career out of “convenience”, “challenge” ” passion” and “shopping” !
The Academic stream of the conference provided the underlying theories that attempt to unpack the reasons behind the increasing lack of diversity in ICT. Stereotypes, self-efficacy, confidence, support groups and strategies to persist and flourish were shared.
The student poster session demonstrated the varied and creative applications and research into aspects of ICT.
Day 2 . Kay Giles, CE of CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic) advised all to put family first -then the rest will fall into place. Start each day with something to do, something to look forward to and something to love.
Lyndal Stewart from Business Mechanix gave us DBA to CEO in 15 easy steps. Demonstrating thatl “enthusiasm is infectious” and that “time as a precious gift”.
The ‘influencer’ panel unpacked leadership styles, Sue Wilkinson an “eagle who facilitates conversation”, Melanie Tobeck “persistent,even dogmatic” Jo Healey “an active listener, a leader who stands on others shoulders”. These women ‘run their own game’ and have created the ICT business environment that works for them.
The final session delivered by Jo Miller led each of us to “Build our own Brand”. It was noisy, energetic, and left everyone with solid strategies advice for the future.
We were enthused to go and model the workplace culture we want, mentor women to enter computing, as well as become leading influencers in our organisations.
If the energy in the room could be bottled……

October 14, 2012. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Being the only girl in the group reflections

Last week our Women in ICT group lunch event was titled “Being the only girl in the group: strategies for success”. I presented the attendees with some scenarios, gleaned from a Resource Booklet for Female Graduate Students, created by the School of IS at another university in 2002. Students discussed the scenario’s (eg. my ideas are overlooked, trivialized. My group excludes me. I keep being assigned the note taking tasks, being criticized more than others) and provided strategies for dealing with this. Several things struck me. Each of these women discussed the point that it may be more trust at stake than gender. Their strategies involved being prepared, taking the lead, gaining the groups confidence. We are still only 18% of the Faculty, but what a positive and powerful 18% these women are. The second thing that was important last week was that our lunch was held in a new Women’s space on campus. I remembered my recollections of the Women’s room in the university I attended in the 1970s. Some of the students were thrilled to find this space, with a kitchen attached, where they could work or socialise. We talked about the relatively short time that women have been permitted to study on university campuses (120 yrs). We have come a long way as a group – women are more than 56% of the cohort of most university student bodies these daysin Australia- but we are also aware that there is a long road ahead to normalise the expectation that ICT is a career for women. I left the lunch feeling very positive about the outlook of these women, however the task ahead for all of us is to alter societal stereotypes and expectations of careers for women.

September 17, 2012. Tags: , , . Gender, ICT. Leave a comment.

Great idea, but where is the T for Technology (STEM)

Great idea, but where is the T for Technology (STEM).

June 21, 2012. Tags: . Gender, ICT. Leave a comment.

Great idea, but where is the T for Technology (STEM)

The Parliamentary “Friends of Women in Science, Maths and Engineering” group has been launched by Senator The Hon Chris Evans. Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research.

Great! We need to shine a light on opportunities for women, celebrate successes, promote entry into these traditionally male areas … but… where is the T for technology? 

STEM is the traditional acronym used worldwide, and massess of research has already been conducted in STEM related fields. We have less than 20% female representation in most ICT positions, less than 5% in the more technical areas, yet the T was left out of this group. Why? [see earlier blog]

In the US it is all about STEM, and 2012 Generation STEM was just published showing that GIRLS LIKE STEM. This Girl Scout Research Institute report offers a ‘strength based perspective’ and found that overwhelmingly girls ARE interested in STEM, they want to use it to help people, however many of the students are also high achievers and have many career options available to them. They also found that percieved gender barriers are still high, and posit that many young women internalise these outdated subtle cultural stereotypes. We are not the USA, we do however have strong similarities with their culture, and our women in ICT experiences mimic theirs.

Lets get the T put into this group and empower, encourage and grow Women in STEM for “future productivity and global competitiveness”. Just as we are doing now through our Swinburne Women in ICT group as well as the Digital Divas Club.

June 21, 2012. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Is it just about image? Does computer engineering Barbie discourage girls? Really?

 I trawl through a lot of media, blogs and articles, like most of my colleagues, and also get some sent to me because of my known interest in gender and computing. I read this one just today, it was sent to me Monday by a friend. Does Computer Engineering Barbie Discourage Girls From Pursuing Math and Science? GOOD MAGAZINE | JUNE 14, 2012

I have a Computer Engineering Barbie in my office at work (a gift from a colleague). I am not comfortable however giving her to my grand-daughter, and never bought a Barbie for my own daughters. I just never took to her over shapely proportions.

 However I ascribe to the belief that being a computer engineer and loving fashion, shoes, handbags, whatever… are not mutually exclusive, and that  there are many individual differences among  girls that one image portrayed by one doll can hardly be ascribed blame for a lack of interest in a whole career path.

I think we have to get past image – the lack of interest in this discipline, by girls and boys, is more embedded in how we approach teaching it  as well as how we apply it. Liz Dwyer comments in her post that the girls who won the Google engineering award were intellectually curious, tenacious and ambitious – not particularly gendered traits.

With an approach that promotes curiousity, creativity, persisitence and problem solving we may well do better in attracting more girls and a more diverse cohort of boys to our discipline.

June 20, 2012. Gender, ICT, Image. Leave a comment.

“It’s the culture stupid…” a response to the brogramming media

This is my first blog, it was a media article I submitted to the newspapers – strangely no-one took it up…Maybe the title could have been toned down, but honestly … why?

Caroline Simmard from Stanford was motivated to respond  to the blog post  “Why aren’t there more women in tech: wrong question” with the above comment.  This all came in quick succession after a series of posts and emails earlier in March deploring the media reporting of the “Brogramming” Facebook group,  and closely followed by the “One step at a time” post of a young female software engineer who loves her job and challenges the male stereotypes daily. Media articles like ‘Brogramming” do no more than replace one male stereotype (geeky unsocial) with another (macho bravado). Neither are particularly attractive to females.

Caroline is one of dozens of smart scientists, educators and researchers who are working to improve the diversity of students entering the creative and collaborative discipline of computing (aka  ICT, IT, IS). It is startling that in 2012 we have not made any inroads to increasing diversity in this ubiquitous and influential discipline.  But when the weekend papers show the current stats of women’s economic situation with only 1.4% of women earning more than $104,000 compared to 6.4% of men, I think we have moved beyond the media issue of male bravado and unfriendly work environments,  to the economic necessity of getting more women in our society credentialed and confident to become active participators in our discipline.

The National Centre for Women in I.T. in the US produces a “Scorecard” which highlights the latest statistics regarding female engagement with computing in the USA. I have complied the Australian equivalent , with a bit of a Victorian slant  and drawing on their format:

Women are underrepresented in the computing workforce. While they make up  45% of the Australian  workforce,  there are only 18% in computing.

Computing needs women. In the US work teams with 50:50 gender membership have been shown to be more experimental and more efficient than single-sex teams. Firms with female senior managers outperform those without women in leadership positions. Women found high-tech start-ups with less funding and fewer failures than the average. There is no reason to believe that the same would not apply in Australia.

Girls are missing out on computing education. Since 2001 the number of female students sitting the final VCE IT exams has decreased from 5879 to 643 in 2011. Only 93 female students in Victoria satisfactorily completed the Software Development Unit. The overall number of students sitting the final year VCE IT exams has decreased by 75%.  While VCE IT is not a prerequisite for any IT degree the pattern of declining enrolments is similar in VTAC first preferences for IT courses has declined 67% in the same time period.

In 2001, 686 secondary schools in Victoria delivered IT Units 3 & 4 . This has decreased to 443 in 2011 providing less opportunity for students to study IT in senior secondary school (in Victoria).

Women are more credentialed than men in our society, yet not in IT. Women now represent 55.6% of students on campus in Australian universities. Women earned 57% of all bachelor degrees in 2010. In the same year women earned 19% of undergraduate computing degrees.

If the solution was simple, we would have solved it by now, it is multi-layered and embedded in both the culture and societal stereotypes.

Australia recognises the issues of lack of diversity in the more technical careers. The 2012 Young Australian of the Year, Marita Cheng, was awarded this accolade  for her work in promoting engineering to women through her Robogals program.

Another program working towards greater diversity in ICT in Australia is the Digital Divas Club,  featured last year on the ABCs 7.30 show (Sleek Geeks, May 17) .

Digital Divas Club ( started in 2009 funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant shared across Monash Swinburne and Deakin Universities, the DEECD, the ACS, Netspace and Brentwood Secondary College.

A women (ex-FICT Swinburne student Alana George now working in San Francisco for Thoughtworks) created our portal and managed it for 2 years.

A women (Brentwood current teacher Anna Crow) designed the bulk of our curricula. In total 11 secondary schools have participated in the research (all but one have continued with the program).

In 2012 we took the program interstate and it is running at two schools in Sydney.

Twenty-two undergraduate (female) students have already been trained as Expert Divas and worked in schools with the program. Since 2009 we have collected surveys and interview data from 284 female students, most in junior secondary school, some in middle school.

We have widely disseminated our findings. Over the last three years hundreds people have interacted with the project via local, national and international presentations at conferences, teacher focused events, as well as regional and national print media and national television media.

We won’t give up, and the problem is not going to go away without active intervention.

Plenty of bright, involved young women at my university are supporting  the Digital Divas program by being our Expert Divas. As well they run our university Women in ICT group and volunteer for many other initiatives like the Go Girl Go for IT program. Working with these  young clever women is the highlight of my career, and with them I intend to continue to work actively to change the deploring statistics.

My advice to all who are concerned about the lack of diversity (women) in ICT is to become an evangelist for change . Make it personal and promote the positive aspects of the  I.C.T. profession widely.

May 6, 2012. Gender, ICT, Image. Leave a comment.