Whenever I talk to young women today about entering the technology field, I tell them about an extraordinary woman I met in Dublin some time ago who had just begun her university career. She described her first day as an IT major when she was one of just two women in a class of 30. The other woman was terrified, but my colleague went full-on into the experience. She saw herself as a creative woman, which is not the first thing you think of when it comes to IT, but she took a different approach to coding, and she celebrates that difference. And that’s something I hadn’t thought of, that technology could be a creative field.
This is my advice to young women: Determine what you want to do in technology, find your own path, and make it happen. It’s not about which obstacles you will inevitably encounter, it’s about finding your way around them.
You never know who might become a good ally or colleague. So seek out the tech clubs, the meet-ups and the other opportunities that can help you maneuver around any real obstacles and establish a successful career of your own making.
For me, the process of getting into the technology field more than 25 years ago was a bit circuitous. I started working in logistics for shows and bands, but there was very little technology — even mobile phones were a dream for most! Like most Australians I did some traveling, and when I came back I went to work for a technology company that specialized in technology training and found that I loved it.
Since I worked for a training company, I took all the courses I could and, before I knew it, I was lecturing on technology issues. I continued taking courses and became involved in large systems implementations. I also got hooked on infrastructure. There were challenges with infrastructure, which at the time was a very male-oriented area, so I felt I had to be smarter, more qualified, and more on top of my game than the men.
Rather than see this as an obstacle, I joined a utility company implementing its core business systems, started on a 10-week contract, and left seven-and-a-half years later as its Chief Information Officer.
As a CIO, I was in charge of operational and strategic management infrastructure, and competing primarily with males.
After getting over my initial shock at how men (and women!) were reacting poorly to me, I realized that I had to not plunge head-first into the job, but rather find a way around the obstacles. I was one of the first CIOs with Systems IT and Operational IT under one umbrella in an almost entirely male organization, so encouraging women into tech roles has become a big deal for me. I want women to feel that they are supported by other women.
As CIO, I became increasingly involved in security and was tapped on the shoulder for a consulting role after leaving that position. In consulting, you must be very qualified and very professional to be taken seriously. At this point in my career, I pursued several credentials. Additionally, a male colleague suggested that the global technology association ISACA could help me and that I could also help ISACA. It was great advice. I’ve always had male and female counterparts as sounding boards, shining lights, who have offered advice and mentorship and served as allies and sponsors.
In my career, there has also been a bit of good luck. First, I really love security, and as I got more into consulting I found a real niche for a former CIO who could talk about governance with other C-level professionals. Early in my career, I did large implementation projects and I have now come back to those types of projects. I was involved in the de-merging of an iconic Australian business from its original owner and served as a program director for that transformation project.
I oversaw all of it, not just the technology piece, because it’s safe to say that all companies are technology-driven companies now, and technology is involved in every aspect of business. I’ve since participated in several more very large projects like that and now I serve as a virtual CIO for an organization that is not quite big enough for a full-time CIO. I also do technology innovation planning with a focus on security and governance.
After all that I have been through in my career, when young men or women ask me for advice, I will do everything I can to make the time to meet with them. I strongly believe in giving back, and I want to see more women in the C-suite. That is why I’ve participated in Australian mentoring programs, with a special focus on women in their last year of university. Through these programs, we give advice on interviews and career progression.
I have also been involved with groups that have a core goal of attracting more women in technology into the boardroom. One in particular was a structured program to connect women who aspire to that role with speakers in order to talk them through the process and understand what it takes to become a board member. This program worked to prepare them for a board position, and then it was up to the individual to find her first seat at the table. Of the several women I mentored, all but one are now serving on boards.
Getting more women into tech roles and, more importantly, keeping women in tech is the idea behind ISACA’s Connecting Women Leaders in Technology Program. We recognize that we need to work with female constituents to increase participation in the field — currently, women represent about 25 percent of the IT workforce and just thirty percent of our inaugural CSX Conference attendees were women. At the event, we ran focus groups and found that women were delighted that we were recognizing their place in cyber security.
We believe that it’s important to engage, elevate and empower, particularly because women are sorely under-represented at the senior levels of organizations, and we need to change that. We need to not only attract more women, but sustain them in the profession, too. We know that the industry loses women in the child-raising years, so we’re looking at a range of offerings including “anywhere, anytime” professional development opportunities that will help busy women, including working or stay-at-home moms, join online learning opportunities that will keep their skills sharp. We want women who step out of the workforce to be able to step back in when they’re ready, and we want to help elevate them to the C-suite.
About Jo Stewart-Rattray
ISACA Director Jo Stewart-Rattray, CISA, CISM, CGEIT, CRISC, FACS CP, is director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich (Australia). Stewart-Rattray has more than 25 years’ experience in the IT field; some of which were spent as CIO in the utilities space, and 15 in the information security arena.