Monday, 08 March 2021 00:05

More roles for women in IT than just coding, female tech leader says Featured

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Penelope Feros: "You don’t have to think like a man just because you’re in tech." Penelope Feros: "You don’t have to think like a man just because you’re in tech." Supplied

The business world needs to move away from the perception that IT equals coding and recognise that there is much more to working in technology, the vice-president of online services provider Cherwell APAC, says.

Penelope Feros told iTWire in comments to mark International Women's Day, which falls on Monday, that the tech industry was about "much more than that [coding] and women bring valuable skills to an organisation and are often viewed as great problem solvers".

Regarding ways to support girls and women in STEM, Feros said as IT was a heavily male-dominated industry, entering the sector could be a daunting experience for women.

"The important thing is not to be intimidated by this. You don’t have to think like a man just because you’re in tech," she said.

"If you’re equipped with the right skillset and capabilities, this will hold you in good stead. The technology industry isn’t just about coding. It’s much more than that and women bring valuable skills to an organisation and are often viewed as great problem solvers."

She stressed that a lot more needed to be done to promote STEM and IT among girls and women.

"We need to move away from just the perception that IT equals coding. There are many roles in technology such as marketing, sales, solution design, graphics and business analysis that women would be great at doing and not just the technical aspects of technology," Feros added.

Karina Mansfield (below, right), managing director of the security awareness training firm KnowBe4 A/NZ, said women needed to be supported at their workplaces in order to succeed in tech careers.

"Flexible work arrangements for mums can make such a difference," she said. "This can be in the form of flexi-time with school drop-offs and pick-ups and medical appointments.

karina mansfield"This will help more women return to the workplace after having children and assist them in achieving a good work-life balance."

Mansfield said organisations should also take a pragmatic approach to helping women integrate back into the workforce after having children.

"Some women take a one- to two-year break before going back to work and this in itself can be daunting," she pointed out. "Organisations must make a concerted effort and ensure a more programatic approach to transitioning women back into the workplace, and ensure the necessary governance around this.

"It is so important that women stay connected to colleagues and supervisors and connected to the organisation while they’re on maternity leave. It also helps to have more inclusive paternity programs so that mums can receive additional support at home.

"At the end of the day, it’s to the organisation’s benefit to be able to retain women in their workforce, many of whom have experience and the right skillsets to do the job well.”

Mansfield was of the opinion that educational institutions had put in place pretty good initiatives and programs to attract young women into STEM studies.

"However, more can be done in terms of collaboration between government, enterprise and education to assist girls and women in exploring the possibilities of studying STEM subjects and also moving into jobs in this industry," she said.

"It’s also dispelling the notion the technology is only for men when in in fact STEM-type subjects and jobs nurture lifelong learning and provide an innovative and creative forward thinking environment and is just as applicable to women as it is to men."

She suggested that "we need to start developing an interest in STEM" and this interest should be nurtured when girls were in primary school and at the lower levels of high school.

"Organisations can do their part by getting women in technology to talk about their experiences in this industry ad also be involved in mentoring programs," Mansfield suggested.

"Enterprises can also offer work placements which gives girls an opportunity to understand what the industry is about and also what the opportunities are in this industry.

"It’s largely incumbent on enterprises globally to ensure that we are putting in place programs that include diversity and inclusion while ensuring that they are governed well so as to create a culture and environment that girls and women can feel supported.“

Flexibility, as opposed to just an offer of part-time work, was key to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Nicole Devine (below, left), chief operating officer at digital transformation specialist and cloud consultant Versent Australia, said.

“The key is flexibility, as opposed to just offering part-time work. They are different to each other," Devine explained. "Flexibility empowers the person to determine what works for their balance. However, leaders need to understand that they can’t just leave it up to the individual to make the decision. They should be 100% on board and enable it.”

nicole devineDevine said it was possible to manage stress and a work-life balance by bearing in mind that most things were just solvable problems.

"They almost always have a solution. When I feel overwhelmed, I just think of the single most important item right now," she said.

"I get it done, and out of the way. If it’s all really going wrong, I think about who I need to get in the room to help solve it. The key is to face into it, and just work out what to do. Remember that you’re just making choices along the way – they aren’t concrete or unmoveable. Make some choices, move forward, and if you find that it’s not working, make another choice.”

Devine advised women who were beginning their careers in technology or the corporate sector to build a support network.

“[It does not matter] whether it’s mentors or advisers you can bounce ideas off of, or fellow working parents with kids; friends who can carpool or do pick-ups," she elaborated.

"Remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself – don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s okay to need help and, more often than not, people want to help, be it personal- or work-related. If you ask someone to be your mentor or adviser, it’s flattering to them, and they can learn from you too.”

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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