Meet the Women of Australian Tech: 5 Game-changers Share Their Stories
According to the McKell Institute, In Australia women constitute 50.6% of the population.
Despite making up nearly half the total workforce, most senior roles in organisations in Australia are heavily male-dominated. Men hold 74.9 % of ASX200 board positions, and there are still 16 ASX200 boards with no female members.
At the top levels of organisations, women hold just 16.3% of CEO positions and 28.5% of key management personnel positions within companies reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Among ASX100 companies, 5% of CEOs, 10% of COOs/Deputy CEOs and 6% of CFOs were women in 2015.
And pay, the full-time gender pay gap is trending down, but men still take home $26,527 a year more than women on average.
Beyond the numbers, figures, statistics and horror stories, there’s no better way to address gender diversity in tech than with the women right there in the face of it all.
So we’ve been out speaking to women across the technology spectrum, from US Software companies experiencing rapid growth, to Australian startups, to larger Australian corporations going through a transformation.
From Front End to Sales and Marketing, we aim to shed some light on the issues facing our industry and shed some light on the female game changers right here on our shores. Today, we celebrate the pioneering work they are doing and gain some tangible advice and challenges to our industry to finally bridge the divide.
- Petra Sprekos, General Manager – Commercial Operations, OEM & Media, Carsales.com
Petra’s career began in a family real estate agency in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Since then Petra has held various roles within the property industry before becoming the General Manager of the real estate portal realestateVIEW.com.au.
In 2016, Petra joined as a general manager for Melbourne based CarSales. Her journey to leadership came early, becoming a GM at the age of 27. Her proudest feat in her current role is her ability to drive focus and growth in the lifestyle, leisure and industry brands for Carsales.
- Adelaine Ho, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Technical Lead at hipages
Adelaine started at hipages in 2009 as a front-end developer, throughout the growth of the company she’s pioneered hipages diversity initiatives, ensuring hipages maintains and creates a diverse and inclusive environment.
Her proudest project to date is the Get Quotes platform and the messaging centre, describing the products as the stand out compared to competitors when released in 2012. Within a year of launch, the new product was turning over 17,000 jobs a week. And today, 100,000 jobs a month.
- Sophie Langford, Head of Marketing, Asia Pacific and Japan, Qualtrics
Sophie joined Qualtrics within a year of launch into Sydney from the US. As the first marketing hire, she was brought on to start-up the marketing function and team.
Launching and growing of the Qualtrics brand in APAC has been her proudest achievement to date, Qualtrics has gone from no brand awareness to being a key player in the market research, customer experience, and employee experience spaces in just 2.5 years.
- Michelle Bendschneider, Director of Products, Telstra
Michelle first became a people leader at 22 having a team of roughly 15. She started in the world of SAP, in the mid-90s as it was taking off, at the time, deploying one of the most significant solutions for that product in the world.
Overnight she had gone from an individual contributor without a team, to a leader. With a background originally in Software Engineering, she has held executive roles in Sales, Services and Technology solution domains, across multiple industry segments and geographies.
- Hollie King, Head of Sales Strategy & Operations and Finance, Qualtrics
Hollie too joined Qualtrics having worked across the finance and tech space both here in Sydney and the UK across 15 years.
Hollie started at Qualtrics as part of the APJ the founding team nearly three years ago to set the strategy with sales on entering new markets, operationalizing and executing to those plans. A key recent project of impact to-date in the role has been forming a financing partnership for Qualtrics with Macquarie Bank. A great brand in the Australian marketplace, providing innovative solutions for customers, helps keep the sales team productive, and ultimately drive growth.
What They Wish They Knew
Although now in senior positions, we asked the panel to reflect on some of the key learnings they wish they’d known at the start of this journey, both working in the tech space and becoming a leader.
Advice varied from the personal to the practical with a strong emphasis on driving visibility of the impact of your work.
Get experience across the technology stack
Petra: Technology is so broad, you need to make sure you have done all roles or at least the main ones, Sales, Marketing, Development and Product. Having a good understanding of all the main areas of the business early would have helped me understand and penetrate the market more effectively. I would have also understood the reasons why and challenged my team in areas I did doubt in my gut but accepted as they were the experts. I also wouldn’t have made so many mistakes. Lucky for me, I never made a mistake twice, but knowing what I know now, makes me wonder where the businesses I worked for would be.
Failing is part of learning
Adelaine: I love this quote by Thomas Edison, “I failed my way to success”. I used to think I was a cursed child when it came to conducting Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) A/B tests. Every test I ran, the results would be negative even when the test hypothesis seemed to be a definite winner. Very quickly, I realised that the lessons we learnt from each failed test gave us insights to know the behaviours of our end users more. I preach this to my colleagues when they run tests now. Failing allows us to reiterate and test again; like a drug, it becomes addictive as we try to figure what doesn’t work and what works. Enjoy the journey of growth; it’s exhilarating.
Hollie: Something I wish I knew earlier was to be more visible. It’s not just the work, make sure the right people know you are doing it. This is a common misconception for most females that working hard alone will get them where they want to be. That is needed but with the right visibility and exposure along the way. I would also suggest being strategic in ensuring you are working on the projects that have maximum impact on the business.
Master all levels of communication
Sophie: I’d agree with Hollie on visibility, always take the opportunity to be visible across the company, take on special projects, speaking opportunities etc. Also, confidence is critical in your communications, and it is crucial to communicate with data and how your role and responsibilities align with revenue growth. Finally, the ability to cross-pollinate across departments is important, always be sharing your strategy and how it can impact their teams/departments.
Michelle: I would tell myself to slow down a little; that is, not to respond at the moment. I would give myself the permission to balance the passion and energy and pace with a moment of mindfulness and to enjoy the ride. I’d also find a good mentor to learn from, gain insights from business leaders and always be authentic.
Stopping the Divide
The reasons for the underrepresentation of women in IT are complicated, but many of our panel believe awareness is a crucial factor, from school education, to workplace communication, even the way society still views the employment system. They had this advice to share:
Petra: It’s all about awareness; awareness that being diverse as a business drives innovation and growth. I have never been the one to be a loud feminist, but I have always found myself in situations where I am a minority having worked in male-dominated industries all my life. Secretly I like it; I understand that females bring another perspective to the table and thankfully at Carsales most of the males think this way too. Businesses need to keep talking about it; society needs to keep talking about it. Social media has been incredible when it comes to strong dominant females owning a lot of the conversation across topics and issues; it has provided a great platform for anyone (male or female, short or tall, black or white) to have a voice. I think that this next generation will be fine and we will start to see the divide go.
Address wider societal issues
Adelaine: There is a societal shift – in many young families, both parents are in the workforce. It is vital that couples share responsibilities of child caring and have mutual support for their partner’s career progression.
I attended a conference where Andrew Stevens, member of Male Champions of Change mentioned that we need to be accepting of changes that need to occur in a system which was originally designed by men to ‘play the game’; to disrupt this, we need to change the system to suit both genders and not teach women how to be more like men. This was a great takeaway for me.
Start in the early stages
Hollie: It’s a complicated issue and multifaceted. It starts with a lack of pipeline in some areas at the start of careers with the time taken out later in careers. I’m interested in working with schools to attract girls into taking STEM subjects. We need to focus on attracting female talent, but then also retaining the talent.
Companies have a sense of responsibility for ensuring pay is fair across similar roles, it has to come from the top.
Lastly, we (females) as individuals need to ensure we negotiate pay well on our behalf. Being well armed with market data helps with confidence to negotiate.
Qualtrics and Hollie as part of a team of leaders from each Regional HQ is working with the Clayman Institute at Stanford University to learn from experts in the space.
Don’t shy away from talking about pay
Sophie: It starts in education, we just don’t have enough females pursuing an IT/tech degree. Most of the females who are in tech leadership roles have fallen into the tech industry rather than seeking out tech organisations as a preferred industry for them to work in. I certainly fell into the tech industry, however now that I’m here, I would not have it any other way. I believe it is one of the most exciting and dynamic industries. In order to attract more females into this industry, we need to promote the success of females. I believe there may still be a pay gap between females and males in the IT/tech industry – not necessarily at Qualtrics due to our leveling system, but certainly in other tech organisations. Females need to negotiate pay right from the start, and organisations should look at a leveling system which allows people at the same levels be paid exactly the same.
Advice for Aspiring Leaders
Based on the insights that emerged from these interviews, what can aspiring professionals do to advance towards a leadership role in technology? We suggest three things: ask yourself what you are really looking for, embrace change, seize opportunities and ask for support and mentorship both internally and externally.
Michelle: There are all types of leadership. Individual contributors can be great leaders and technology specialists have just as much leadership impact as a people leader despite the two being quite different. What type do you envision for yourself? Do you see yourself steering a large group of people? Or do you feel you have more value as an individual contributor with leadership skills? Often there is a perception that the larger the pool of people you lead, the more important you are in the organisation but that’s not the case in the modern ways of leading. Leading is about influencing outcomes that you don’t necessarily control and being accountable for those that you do.
Sophie: External mentors (outside of your organisation), are great to be used as a sounding board to your ideas and strategies, as they will come with a fresh perspective and won’t be caught up in the details.
Also internal mentors, preferably from a different department, are great resources as they will internally promote your work, up and across the organisation, this will help with visibility and may be able to get you onto different and more visible projects.
Hollie: Alliances are key to being happy in the workplace, ultimately if people are happy they stay longer. Support is key, when people lobby for you on your behalf it can have a big positive and wide impact. Having alliances makes the world of difference.
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