Today, women all over the world are celebrating International Women’s Day, a global day to salute the social, political and economic achievements of women past, present and future.
In the NSW Public Sector about 5% of the workforce works in STEM qualified roles. Women remain widely underrepresented in ICT/digital roles – both in senior executive and non-executive levels with only 29% of STEM roles being occupied by women.
This years’ theme is “choose to challenge”. We spoke to three senior women in tech in NSW government to reflect on their experiences navigating the world of tech, and how we can collectively continue to challenge the status quo.
Meet Sandie Matthews
Sandie Matthews is the Chief Information Officer at NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and has over 20 years’ experience working with Commonwealth, State and Local Government Departments. Sandie made the transition from strategic business operations into the technology domain about 11 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Meet Kathleen Mackay
Born and raised in Scotland, Kathleen Mackay started her career as a developer. Today, Kathleen is the Chief Digital Officer at Revenue NSW. Kathleen is passionate about gender equity and believes that diverse and inclusive teams are the foundation for achieving great things.
Meet Stephanie Salter
Stephanie Salter is the Director, Transport Digital Accelerator at Transport for NSW. She is passionate about using human centred design to deliver outcomes for the communities and working with start-ups to creatively solve problems. One such project has been the Women Safety After Dark Challenge.
What does it mean to be a woman in technology in 2021?
Sandie: It is about showcasing our unique capabilities, changing culture, driving resilience, and creating more pathways for younger women to expand their career options. It is also about providing women a voice and the confidence to actively contribute in what has been a very male dominated environment.
Kathleen: I look forward to the day when I am simply asked ‘what does it mean to work in technology?’ Technology, particularly the digital, data and AI side, is fascinating, inspiring, creative, and I love it! With all organisations increasingly relying on technology to enable their operations, it’s an amazing time to work in this field with plenty of opportunities to solve problems and make an impact.
Stephanie: Previously, there was greater emphasis on trying out different things, learning a variety of skills such a wireframing, development, and business analysis when working in the digital space. Now in 2021, skills have become more specialised. There is an opportunity in 2021 to use agile ways of working to get exposure to different skills and have a more holistic approach to understanding the digital landscape.
What has changed since you started working in ICT/digital?
Sandie: Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot more females in the workforce, especially in technology-based roles within the public sector. While there has been a significant shift in the right direction and many visible change’s, we still having a long way to go. As leaders we should be more aware about treating every member of staff as an individual while we administer our leadership and management equitably across diverse teams, providing everyone with an opportunity to shine.
The bottom line is males and females are different and we should be embracing those differences and perspectives as this more often or not provides better solutions and business outcomes.
Kathleen: We have a greater number of women in less technical dimensions – customer experience, project delivery, and user experience design. There is a still a gap in more technical roles such as enterprise architecture, solution design, development, and cyber security roles.
Outside of technology there are gaps too. I was disappointed to read that there are only 10 female CEOs in Australia’s top 200 companies. 30 percent of ASX 200 companies have between 40 – 60 % of women in their executive leadership team, this is an increase on prior years and hopefully provides a pipeline for future CEO recruitment.
Stephanie: There are more opportunities for women to have digital career pathways as the industry has grown exponentially. There is more emphasis on deliberately hiring with diversity and inclusion in mind and meaningful conversations around unconscious bias.
What changes are you making to encourage and support women in technology?
Sandie: I am a strong advocate for women and I also try to provide opportunities for those that have not necessarily followed a traditional educational pathway. There is much to learn from individual experiences and learning pathways and by only focusing on traditional educational journeys we miss out on providing opportunities for a particular cohort of candidates which historically many women fall into. The advantage of technology is the rapid pace of evolution and therefore it is never too late for someone to switch career paths. For example, women who have worked as being a stay-at-home mum often have demonstrated experience in; thinking strategically, project management, managing completing priorities and able to quickly identify patterns, abnormalities and these are all skills required within the technology domain.
Kathleen: Since I was a graduate, I have talked publicly about my work in technology whether this be in schools, at dinner parties, or at conferences. The point is to be a visible leader.
In addition, as parents and role models I believe we should encourage students, from junior school age, to learn technology skills and to feel that learning to code is just like learning times tables and grammar, only much more fun of course!
Stephanie: I enjoy mentoring younger women, sharing insights over coffee, and hiring with a diversity and inclusion mindset. I am also the Co-Sponsor of the Human Centered Design Community of Practice, which is empowering more public servants to understand digital government & skills, learn from the stories from a wide range of people and make these stories more accessible for everyone.
Transport for NSW also has a ‘Champions of Change’ Group which supports more male members becoming champions of change to build a thriving workforce. Transport for NSW also has an active Women in Leadership and Women in Technology Network to support and encourage more females to progress their careers.
What does the gender balance feel like today?
Sandie: We are not there yet. We need to make a conscious effort to not just play lip service or being seen to be doing the right thing in regards to having a diverse workforce. We need to stop underestimating women, we aren’t stupid, and we know when an organisation is serious about creating equal opportunities. Having a diverse workforce and creating opportunities for women provides more well-rounded and balanced solutions and this by default ensures that digital technologies enable the business to operate more efficient and effectively. It is equally important to have a diverse representation of women from diverse backgrounds – CALD, Aboriginal, disability and different age groups and more effort should be focused on targeting young females in years 9 & 10 to highlight the range of digital jobs and opportunities.
As women we’ve all had our own experiences and journeys that have led to where we are today. We also need to pause and reflect on our journeys, create more pathways for younger women to step up and break down the generational cycle of slow progress. Women need to champion women!
Kathleen: We aren’t there yet, not by a long shot and we have all the research and evidence to highlight this. One positive change however is some of my male colleagues are showing an increasing awareness of gender discrimination and are progressively offering more support and encouragement to the women around them. For example, just asking the question ‘what should I be doing more of or doing better to support you?’, can make a huge difference to both the women and men in the team.
Stephanie: In the past, I have been the only female in technology related meetings. Now we are seeing more females stepping into ICT/digital related roles. However, we aren’t there yet. Women are underrepresented in board rooms and at senior executive levels. It is especially important to have a diverse representation in board rooms to understand different ideas and perspectives to drive creative thinking and innovation in the broader public sector.
If you’re interested about your next role in the public sector, don’t forget to check out https://iworkfor.nsw.gov.au/
Learn more about what the NSW Public Service Commission is doing to increase digital capabilities in the sector.
Learn more about the workforce profile of the NSW public service.