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So you want to work in…
tech?

Think of the tech industry, and no doubt what springs to mind is a circle of men in graphic t-shirts sitting around computers, nary a woman in sight – an image that’s more off-putting than encouraging. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find an industry that is shifting, with a group of incredible women leading the charge. There’s a spot for you in tech if you want it, reports Natalie Brown.

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Despite the global spotlight on the need for more women in tech, the gender gap persists. Australian social enterprise Code Like A Girl reports women make up less than 24% of the technical information and communications technology (ICT) workforce, and fewer than 3% of girls are considering a career in technology.

So what’s stopping young women from entering the industry?

“One of the most damning hurdles for girls and women in tech is unconscious bias,” says Jenine Beekhuyzen, founder of the Tech Girls Movement. Females are being shut out from opportunities they should have access to as a result of recruitment and promotion processes. “People hire those who look like them. Most of the time that isn’t women.”

Inspiring girls to realise their potential, Jenine’s campaign provides skills to students through their 12 week STEM Entrepreneurship program. “I want girls to have choices,” says Jenine, “and this comes from seeing women working in STEM and realising they can do it too.”

Diversity, not only in terms of gender, is paramount to building successful business models, fair workplaces and better ideas.

“We have a responsibility to society to make sure that technology is designed and implemented with everybody in mind,” explains Natalie Ganderton, Emerging Technology Lead at Qantas. As technology becomes more embedded within all areas of business and life, it’s more important than ever.

Prakriti Mateti, Team Leader at Zendesk, has studied engineering and worked in tech for around 10 years. She says that while she’s been surrounded by men for her entire career, it’s changing for the better. “Right now is still a better time to be a woman in tech than for many years, and it’s only going to get better from here.”

The key ingredient to cutting it in the industry? Passion, says Natalie Ganderton.

“It’s easy to feel intimidated by teams full of men, but the only way to change it is to pick an area you’re passionate about, get in there and use that passion to make an impact and then put out a hand to pull other talented women up!” she says.

One doesn’t necessarily need to be invested in the technical side of things to work in the industry, either. While coding is one of the most sought-after and important skills of the 21st Century, it isn’t the only path. “Yes, you need builders: the coders and testers and right-brained thinkers,” says Rowena Samaraweera of Adventures in Digital, “but the design and the brand experience all come from creatives.

“If you are into art, design and fashion there is a place for you in tech. If you are a poet and a storyteller, we need you to inspire and grab hearts and minds,” says Rowena.


It is empowering to see people doing it ahead of you. We chat to seven women about their own paths to success, the mentors who’ve guided them along the way, and what they’d tell their teenage self.

~ the opportunity makers ~

Anna Guenther
Starter-Upper

“Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life.”
~ Anna Guenther

What do you do?
I run a crowdfunding platform in New Zealand called PledgeMe. In the last 7 years we’ve had over $30 million pledged and over 1,400 successful campaigns.
We’ve just launched here in Australia.
Crowdfunding is the idea that you can go out to your crowd for funding. You set a goal of how much money you need, a deadline to raise it by, and offer something in return.
My day is always a mix of meeting with people IRL and online, chatting about crowdfunding, scoping out new ideas with the wider team, emails, and writing.
I love that I get to meet with so many people making things happen – from publishing a manual on how to teach yoga in prisons through to making a bionic hand for their friend.

A big opportunity?

📎
The high school exchange I did to Germany taught me how people and cultures can be quite different, but that we can learn and adapt to new environments. That’s made me more open to learning and changing in business, I’m really good at questioning the status quo!

Something fun about your work?
I think the best thing is how quickly you can go from an idea to making things happen! We’ve launched Unconferences off the back of a tweet! I get to work with an amazing community of doers, makers, and optimists. My previous jobs were in academic institutions and government, so the speed of the tech industry is exciting and different.

Something challenging?
The hardest thing about running your own company is the resilience you need. The best things and the worst things often happen in the same 24 hour period!

📎
The thing I’ve learnt is to ask for help more, build strong friendships, and to give first – you never know what’ll come back.

Are your goals firm, or fluid?
We set big goals as a team, and then work towards making them happen. Some things just come up along the way, and we roll with that as well. We make all of our major decisions around goals and strategy by checking in the mission of PledgeMe: to help people fund the things they care about. If the goal aligns with that mission, and we have the time and resources to do it well, we hit go!

One piece of advice for teen-Anna?
Be ok being a bit different. And, keep reading. I was deputy head librarian at school and I’ve never lost my love of reading.

A mentor?
So many!

📎
I collect friends and mentors. If you want to make anything happen in the world, you need to do it with people.

One of my early mentors helped me realise I was a feminist! I had been asked to talk at a conference on the Future of Feminism. I told the organisers that I wasn’t a feminist, and they wanted me to come and share why. I like being clear on my views, so I decided to go out to my crowd for feedback on why they were (or weren’t) feminists. This particular advisor talked me through my reasoning and the history of equality movements. She was a 1970s activist and helped me realise all the privilege and biases I hadn’t even realised I had. That open and caring conversation helped me realise that I was, in fact, a feminist.

Whose career do you admire?
Claudia Batten, a Kiwi entrepreneur, has started and sold a few companies. In the first few months of starting my company, I saw her present and she talked about her squiggly line theory. The idea is that despite what school tells us, there’s no stair-like progression in life. In fact, life is a squiggly line of ups and downs. It helped me reset my expectations around what starting (and growing) a company would actually be like.

A recent lesson?
I learn a lot all the time! One thing that I’ve been working on lately is being kinder online. This is specifically around the call-out culture that you can often see on Twitter when people don’t live up to our expectations.

📎
I now try and call people in before I call them out.

For example, there was an event last year where only 10% of the speakers identified as women. I sent an email to the organisers with some names of possible women and people of colour in the design/tech space that would make great speakers. Previously, I might have called them out online. But the personal approach worked well. They ended up adding more speakers to the line-up, and this year their event was 50/50!

An approach to tricky decisions?
I talk to my team or friends. There’s a lot that can be solved over a cheese platter with insight from your crowd!

If it wasn’t a career in tech, what would it be?
Funny you ask – I recently started a cheese company with some friends. So, it would probably be all things cheese!

Holly Tattersall
The Recruiter

“I strongly believe you should only take advice from those who are in a position that you seek to achieve.”
~ Holly Tattersall

What do you do?
My role is all about connecting people – you could call me a career matchmaker! As the founder of Digital Talent Co. I work within the Digital industry and manage a team to connect the right employers and job seekers. As the founder of Women in Digital I connect and empower women within the industry. It’s quite male dominated so creating a supportive network has been incredibly rewarding.  

One big opportunity?
Before starting my own business I worked at a leading recruitment agency. In this role I was tasked with meeting and connecting as many mentors and mentees as possible. One particular employer I met started to mentor me, which was a pivotal experience. This inspired me to start a mentoring program for other young women, and call it Women in Digital. The rest, as they say, is history!

Something fun about your work?
The industry itself is really fun! There is a stereotype that the digital and IT industry is really boring and geeky. It’s actually pretty exciting, challenging and sociable once you get into it.

Something challenging?
Keeping up to date with the latest technology changes! The industry moves so quickly and its essential for us, as recruiters, to understand the work that our clients (the employers) and candidates (job seekers) are doing.

Are your goals firm, or fluid?
Goal setting is essential for me. I find that my motivation and energy fluctuates from day to day, and week to week.

📎
Striving for a goal gives me a greater sense of purpose, vision and drive, which gets me through the low weeks, and helps create meaning around those good weeks.

One piece of advice for teen-Holly?
That you don’t need to know exactly where you are going or what you are doing in your future career! Just be open to new opportunities and pursue what you enjoy because that will lead you to success.

A mentor?
I have a mentor who has helped me to redefine success on myterms, to gain greater belief and self-confidence in my uniqueness and ability. Previously, I might have looked at success from an external perspective, like society’s expectations. I strongly believe you should only take advice from those who are in a position that you seek to achieve. In my instance, my mentor has the personal and professional success that I seek, so I definitely look up to her and use her advice as a reference point.

A recent lesson?
I’ve learned that you must be clear and firm on the outcome you seek. Without clarity, your energy can be wasted on analysing whether or not things will work out as you wish.

📎
If you enter a challenging time with a ‘it might work out’ mindset then you are almost certain to fail. A blind belief that the outcome you seek will eventuate will subconsciously guide you to success.

An approach to tricky decisions?
As simple as it sounds, a pros and cons list will help you greatly! This and some trusted advice will help you come to a decision that is right for you.

If it wasn’t a career in tech, what would it be?
Some sort of wildlife or animal welfare role. I’m a bleeding heart and always need to be helping others in some way!

~ the tech teamers ~

Lauren Tan
Netflix-er

“Don’t be afraid of failing. Growing up, it’s easy to get conditioned to always having to excel at something, like in school. It’s perfectly okay to try something new, just to see what it’s like.”
~ Lauren Tan

What do you do?
I’m a software engineer turned engineering manager at Netflix. I lead one of the Studio Engineering teams in building the world’s largest studio. Netflix has been producing its own movies and series for a few years now, and my team helps make our creatives’ lives much easier. For example, the apps we create are used in every aspect of the film or series production process, from planning and strategy all the way to being used on set!

An average day for me is coaching my team on their professional growth, and working closely with other teams at Netflix to ensure we’re building the right things at the right time. In my time as an engineer, I spent most of my time coding, building an app that helps Netflix intelligently optimise when we release new stuff on Netflix.com.

One big opportunity?
My career in tech wasn’t really that exciting when I first started out. I was fresh out of uni at Monash and working on a start-up with my friend. We fell flat on our faces! I learned a ton from that experience and went on to work at a few tech companies in Melbourne doing front end engineering.

My career really moved quickly after I started writing about the technical things I learned on my blog. One of the creators of the JavaScript framework I was using (Ember.js) at the time found my blog and retweeted it, and it all grew from there!
I eventually started doing public speaking as well, and that led to being discovered by a software consulting company in Boston. I moved to America in 2015, and about a year or two later, I went on to work at Netflix after again being discovered from a talk I did at a conference.

Something fun about your work?
I really enjoy working at Netflix because I get to bring together things that make me happy: programming, entertainment, and working with stunning colleagues.

📎
I know how fortunate I am to be working in an industry that I’m really passionate about, and I’m privileged to make what used to be a hobby my career.

One of the unexpected things about becoming a software engineer is that you actually get to communicate with a lot of people. There’s the stereotype of a solitary/anti-social programmer, which is not at all the case at a company like Netflix. I get to work with people from many different teams, and we’re all working closely together to solve challenging problems.

Something challenging?
Programming can get overwhelming at times, because the field is growing rapidly and there’s always so much more to learn. If you’re just starting to learn how to program, take it easy, and have fun!

Are your goals firm, or fluid?
I generally have high-level goals I set for myself. I used to be deathly afraid of public speaking of any kind, and so I promised myself that I would give it a good go. A year later, after doing a couple more conference talks, I can confidently say that public speaking is no longer one of my greatest fears!

A mantra?
“Do things that scare you” is probably the one maxim that’s had the greatest impact on my life. Growing up, I was always very timid and afraid about doing anything.

📎
These days, I try to lean into experiences that scare me, because I’ve learned that these teach me the most.

This is why I decided to change from being a software engineer to an engineering manager. As someone who loves to write code, spending all my time on things outside of programming was a scary thought! But I knew that I would learn a ton from the experience, and it’s not an irreversible decision in the long run.

Whose career do you admire?
I look up to my mother the most. She raised my sister and I by herself, working long hours to give us a comfortable life she never had growing up. All that despite being hearing impaired! She taught me the value of hard work and being determined, and not letting your fear hold you back. She’s the strongest woman I know, and I love her to death.

If it wasn’t a career in tech, what would it be?
For the longest time, I wanted to open an ice cream shop. I made a lot of ice cream at home when I was studying, and it’s been a passion ever since. I enjoy that you can geek out on ice cream science (yes, that’s a thing) and bring joy to others around you. This is definitely something I would consider doing when I’m sick of computers!

Natalie Ganderton
Flying tech leader

“All the best solutions have not been found yet, your questions are not stupid, and your opinions are worth exploring.”
~ Natalie Ganderton

What do you do?
As the Emerging Technologies Lead at Qantas, I get to play with cutting-edge technologies as they become available, and daydream about what the future would look like for Qantas using these technologies.
My team and I are working with technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), Virtual/Augmented/Mixed Reality, Lidar (the tech helping self-driving cars “see”) and many more. This involves some really technical aspects such as building predictive models or experimenting with tech like Natural Language or Image Processing. It also involves lots of non-technical things like talking to people to understand their challenges and desired outcomes, and explaining the best ways certain technologies could be used.
I think that my imagination gets more of a work-out in this job than some of my technical skills!

One big opportunity?
When I was at university, I had an amazing internship at Air New Zealand, and my career plan was built around getting a job there at the end of my degree. As I was about to graduate, the economy shifted and they were unable to hire any graduates that year. I was devastated!
I then applied and was offered a job in my field (Operations Research – optimisation modelling) for an energy company, but I didn’t take it because I was intimidated. I didn’t feel like I was good enough.
This seems crazy to me now.

📎
A job where you can already do everything in the job description can be a negative thing, because it doesn’t offer any development opportunities.

I didn’t know that at the time, so instead I took an entry-level job in IT Support. This turned out to be a great job at a fantastic company, and I learned so many general things about technology, and saw how good technology really enables business outcomes.
When opportunity knocked for a role in my field, I was ready, and wasn’t going to say no again! To my surprise, I was offered the job and I grabbed it with both hands. I learned so much in that first year, and it really set me up with the confidence that I can learn anything about a new job and environment once I get in the door.

Something challenging?
Emerging technology always involves breaking new ground. There is no pattern for how things should be done. You’re always fighting against processes that were set up for different purposes or changing and expanding mindsets. It can feel like you’re doing everything ‘the hard way,’ but it does mean that the successes are even more meaningful.

Are your goals firm, or fluid?
My goals tend to be more short-term and task-oriented rather than the loftier type of “where do you see yourself in five years” goal. Every move I’ve made, I could never have planned or predicted so I feel like focusing one to two steps in front of me at a time works well for me, while staying open to opportunities that crop up.

One piece of advice for teen-Natalie?
Oh, if only I could tell younger Natalie to believe in herself a bit more! And to question everything. All the best solutions have not been found yet, your questions are not stupid, and your opinions are worth exploring.

A mentor?
Whenever I’ve got a big decision to make, I call my friend Kate Billing, who is an amazing leadership coach and thought leader in NZ. When I was applying for a job at Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi, I was daunted by the big step up and a change back to airlines after 10 years in other industries. I wasn’t sure how or even if I should go for it! Kate helped me objectively look at my skills and how they matched up to the job description. We then looked at the gaps as opportunities for development and suddenly I felt confident that I could explain why I was a great candidate, what I would bring with me and how I was going to use the opportunity to grow. That job really set the direction for my career, and I never would have made that step without such a great mentor.
I’ve also had great male mentors – guys in senior positions who have believed in me, given me opportunities and pushed me to aim higher and get my point across more clearly. Great supporters come in all forms, and if someone believes that you can do something, listen to them and give it your best shot!

What are you working on at the moment?
There are a couple of areas that I see as being really interesting and important. Firstly, the ethical application of AI is something that needs to be considered by everyone looking to implement AI and machine learning models. Also, having a mix of genders, ethnicities and backgrounds involved is necessary to make sure many different perspectives are considered. For example, current leading image-processing algorithms are better at identifying men than they are at women, and white men even better than anyone else. This isn’t an evil conspiracy, but merely a matter of representation. The industry desperately needs diverse voices speaking up for the rest of the population to make sure these algorithms perform fairly for everybody.

Final tips?
It’s an exciting time! Jobs are changing. Will companies offer more continuous learning programs, or should it be up to individuals to make sure they’re keeping up with the latest skills and tools?

📎
For young people entering the workforce, be prepared to embrace technology in pretty much all fields and show willingness to learn and develop… constantly!

If it wasn’t a career in TECH, what would it be?
In another life I would have followed the music! I love all forms of music, from singing to DJing to musical theatre!

Prakriti Mateti
Engineer/manager

“Stand up for yourself, make space for yourself and your underrepresented or marginalised peers, but also be gentle with yourself and take care of your mental and physical health.”
~ Prakriti Mateti

What do you do?
I’m an Engineering Team Lead at Zendesk. I manage a team of engineers working together on a technical product. I’m responsible for delivery; ensuring the team is delivering high-quality software to our customers in an efficient and productive way. I’m also responsible for people putting a team together and ensuring they’re working well, everyone is happy, and looking after everyone’s career progression, learning, and growth. Another part of my role is contributing to the wider engineering organisation and office culture. I’m deeply invested in diversity and inclusion so I spend a bit of time working on continuously improving these aspects of Zendesk.
On an average day I’m usually talking to a lot of people and often switching context. The nature of my job means that I don’t usually have large chunks of time sitting and working by myself, which is great for me because I love to collaborate and to help people work better together.
I also put my foot in my mouth at least a couple of times every day by saying silly things that get quoted in one of our fun Slack channels called #out-of-context-quotes!

Are your goals firm, or fluid?
Both. I find direction more useful than specific goals most of the time. I like to have a rough idea of where I’m going in general. This allows me to adapt to changes and go with the flow a little bit while keeping some vision in sight. I don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity only because I have a strict plan and set of goals. When I feel like I’m getting close enough to something I want, that’s when I start to think about any remaining specific steps that I might need to take to help me get all the way there.

📎
Every time I feel like I’ve achieved a goal I like to sit with it, process it, feel it, and live it for some time before thinking about the next milestone. This allows me to appreciate the journey and enjoy it for what it is instead of turning my career into a checklist of milestones.

One piece of advice for teen-Prakriti?
Be true to who you are. This might sound easy but as time goes on with work, familial, and societal obligations and peer pressure, I find that it only gets more difficult. I think underrepresented groups in tech (not just women) can struggle even more with the pressure to conform. Underrepresented groups often don’t have the privilege to challenge the status quo if it may mean career-ending consequences.
Be true to who you are whenever possible, but also be kind to yourself and quick to forgive yourself if you’re ever in a situation where you can’t.

Who do you look up to?
I look up to my mother. She had an interesting career journey. She studied Engineering and started off in a relevant career but marrying an army officer made it difficult. She moved to teaching and eventually landed in tech, retiring as the head of a department. Now she focuses on running and fitness. Her latest achievement was completing the Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa.
She has been open to opportunity all her life and has played the best hand she could with the cards that were available. She never stopped learning, no matter what field she was working in, and even though she’s retired now she still finds ways to challenge herself and grow every day.

Tell us about your experience in tech, as a woman.
I’ve studied engineering and worked in tech for about 10 years and all of that time has been spent surrounded by lots and lots of men. Most of tech is not diverse and is not inclusive. It’s all changing for the better though. It’s exhausting at times and there’s a special word for it: diversity fatigue. But right now is still a better time to be a woman in tech than for many years, and it’s only going to get better from here.

📎
I can talk about this for ages but if I had to pick one piece of advice at this moment it would be to stand up for yourself, make space for yourself and your underrepresented or marginalised peers, but to also be gentle with yourself and take care of your mental and physical health.

We can’t always be everything for everyone, including ourselves, and that’s perfectly fine!

A recent lesson?
I learned that I really can’t do it all and that’s okay! I juggled two roles at work (team lead and tech lead) for over a year. I enjoyed the work and was unwilling to give up either. I decided I would do both and show that it was possible. It worked pretty well for a while but eventually the full responsibilities of both roles, and all the other things I was trying to be involved in – including diversity and speaking work – started to stress me out and I realised I wasn’t able to be fully present for the team in the tech lead role. I brought someone else from the team into that role and it turned out to be a great decision. It provided a great growth opportunity for the new tech lead and I was freed up to look ahead towards the next step in my career.

An approach to tricky decisions?
About a year and a half ago, I faced a career choice. We have two career paths for a senior engineer at Zendesk: one is technical and the other is managerial. Both are quite compelling and I found that I was interested in work done by both these types of roles. Zendesk is pretty flexible and people are allowed to switch between the tracks but it’s not an easy transition so it felt like this was a high-stakes decision that could impact the rest of my career!
I did some research. I started by discussing it with my manager, who gave me the confidence that I could do either role by helping me understand bits of both roles that I’d be good at. The next step was to find people to talk to with a little experience in each role, and someone who had recently made the transition. I also spoke to close family and friends to get a more unprejudiced picture of my skills. I often judge myself pretty harshly and this helps combat imposter syndrome thoughts. The final step was to look at my skills and strengths to see which role would allow me to leverage more of them. I also thought about what I would enjoy doing more.
I realised that being a people manager and team leader would allow me to have greater impact within Zendesk and would give me more personal satisfaction.

If it wasn’t a career in tech, what would it be?
This is such a cliché but I would have loved to be an astronaut. Or a pilot. Or a teacher. I love food so can I just get paid to eat lots of delicious food please?

~ the marketers & managers ~

Jacquie Ford
‘booker, ‘grammer, manager

“Be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons.”
~ Jacquie Ford

What do you do?
As a Program Manager at Facebook I focus on helping streamline Global Sales and Marketing operations for an organization called Creative Shop. Essentially we help advertisers navigate the best way to explore creative marketing ideas on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. The team I support experiments with different creative approaches to building marketing and ad campaigns to see what works most effectively. We then package those learnings up to share with the creative industry and Influencers.
An average day for me includes lots of problem solving! Lots of meetings to listen to different points of view, ask questions and unpack complex problems. It involves looking at varying data sets and reports and then laying out processes or crafting business and operational recommendations to our executive team.

One big opportunity?
There are many! But perhaps my first big career opportunity was when I was working part time while studying. I had a regular customer who I had great banter with. Turns out, he worked in advertising and he offered me a grad account executive role. I moved my classes to evening classes so that I could take the full-time job and never looked back.

📎
I had no idea what I was doing, but I listened, learned and I chose to give it a shot. And it worked! I graduated University while working full time!

The second pivotal moment for me was when I realised I deserved more and could do more than a specific role was offering. I didn’t feel like my worth was being reflected in my salary or the working conditions. I took a leap of faith and applied for a job that I never thought I’d get… just to see what happened! I didn’t get that job, but it did open the door to another job, taking me to Singapore and now the USA, working for Facebook.

Something fun about your work?
Working at Facebook is incredibly energising. I love expressing myself creatively through Instagram, and connecting with friends and businesses on Facebook, and now I get paid to do it! But the most surprising thing about working here is how passionate and driven people are to achieve the mission of the business to make the world more connected. It’s not all fun and games and socialising or posting fun pics all day. Everyone works really, really hard.

Something challenging?
A challenge is how quickly things change, and how dependent people have become on their tech. It’s really hard to keep up with changing behaviours and technology. It’s also really hard to anticipate some of the negative stuff that comes with the digital age – I hate seeing how we have become slaves to our mobile devices, and what that is doing to us as a culture and community. On the flipside, I’m super excited to see the steps that innovative brands are taking to de-tether people from their machines and make them sit up and look around again.

Are your goals firm, or fluid?
I think goal setting is really important. It keeps you focused on the things that matter most, and helps you make decisions based on purpose. I do think it’s important to check in on those goals regularly; sometimes a realignment is necessary.

📎
Achieving the goals that you set for yourself is how you gain confidence and self-esteem, and not reaching your goals is how you grow.

One piece of advice for teen-Jacquie?
Always be learning.

A mentor?
So many smart, driven, capable, confident women have empowered me just by turning up and kicking arse every day. Sheryl Sandberg continues to be a big inspiration. My co-workers at Facebook who are thriving in their careers and raising families motivate me to want more, to strive, and to believe that I can get there. I have also had very influential male role models and mentors – the allies – encouraging me, getting me a seat at the table, recognising my opinion, celebrating my contribution and most importantly, calling out those who are <bold>not</italic> doing that.

Whose career do you admire?
Michelle Obama continues to impress me the more I learn. I deeply admire her vision, determination, tenacity, fairness and humility, and I try to model my behaviour on those values. Closer to home, I have loved watching Lisa Messenger’s career journey, as well as some amazing colleagues here at Facebook; Kay Hse, Melissa Oppenheim, Kelly Stonelake. Amazing women, doing amazing things with conviction, purpose and passion.

Tell us about your experience in tech, as a woman.
I have experienced many instances of discrimination based on my gender in all of my roles, even here at Facebook. From minor to major instances. But I am proud to say that I speak up and let my colleagues know that I expect more, and I will continue to do so.

📎
We need to continue to hold our male colleagues and business leads accountable for levelling the playing field and help them acknowledge the unconscious bias they bring to the workplace every day.

Diversity across the board – not just in terms of gender – is paramount in building successful business models, fair workplaces and better ideas.

A recent lesson?
‘Having the hard conversation’ is something Sheryl Sandberg emphasises a lot here at Facebook. In the past, I have avoided confronting awkward or challenging conversations, often shrugging them off or using humour to mask my opinions/feelings. But in the past few years, I’ve benefited from being on the receiving end as well as delivering the hard conversation. In short, having the hard conversation makes us better and these are the moments that teach me the most.
I have recently been re-structured into a new role. Change, and changing goalposts can be emotionally taxing and can make you question things… but at the end of the day none of this is personal. This is where ‘owning your story’ comes into play. I find, rather than letting others write my path, I need to own it and make decisions that are best for me, and get support. You need to be honest with yourself, and speak up for yourself when it matters.

An approach to tricky decisions?
I use lists. Listing out the pros and cons is the best way to rationalise decisions and take the emotion out of it. Does the opportunity excite and scare me? Aim higher, I say – you’ll get bored otherwise!
I recently moved from a production-based role into an operations/business-focused role. I wanted to get away from the stress of hard deadlines and flex more strategic muscle. On paper, I didn’t have the right credentials according to the job description, but the role really excited me. This got me over the line throughout the interview process. You can’t ‘learn’ passion.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a few personal projects which is what I’m most excited about. One being the birth of my third child and first baby girl! The others are my positivity scratchie cards (See more on Instagram). And also a lifestyle blog for working mums to help them through the weekly juggle of work/family life.

If it wasn’t a career in tech, what would it be?
I would say film/documentary is probably the fall-back plan if a career in tech didn’t happen. And maybe that’s still to come!

Rowena Samaraweera
Biz owning marketer

“I have learnt that my inner critic is meaner than any enemy, and I am better at being kind to myself, allowing myself to mess up, be human, and learn.”
~ Rowena Samaraweera

What do you do?
Adventures in Digital Consulting is my strategic digital and marketing consultancy that helps companies transform their business, design and launch new products and services, and build the teams they need to survive and thrive.
A typical day might start with a conference call with a dispersed team. I’ll then drop my son or daughter to school and return to the home office to check in and clear emails and social media enquiries. I might also be busy working on my website, my blog and my social media and networking tools. The rest of the day will be spent on client work involving researching customers, planning out campaign strategies, working on customer research or insights, crunching analytics on who is doing what online, or running workshops to design full customer journey maps. I have meetings at client offices, in cafes or sometimes the local pub! I work closely with Product or Tech teams to work out how to ‘sell’ or communicate product features and plan launch campaigns.

One big opportunity?
One turning point was taking a Head of Marketing role that meant leaving a company that I loved but that lacked progression for me. Another turning point was taking a temporary contract in a smaller business instead of carrying on looking for the perfect ‘big’ role. Three years later I was running an important part of a global business that took me to London, New York, Fiji.

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Both of these were the biggest risks of my life at the time – and the analytical part of me was arguing strongly – but sometimes you just have to try something new.

In both cases, having people who believed in me made all the difference: the first time it was a recruiter who had faith in me; the second time, an ambitious leader who empowered me to do my thing and make scary decisions to help that business grow quickly.

Something fun about your work?
Seeing new things come to life and making changes every day – I love the challenge of the unknown and have the most fun when I am out on a limb.
Something unexpected is that I don’t have an IT degree. A lot of us in digital don’t because you need a blend of technical skills and commercial brains in a team. The role of creativity in tech and digital is vastly underrated.

Tech makes you feel things
Great customer experience comes from making the customer or user feel something. Yes, you need builders: the coders and testers and right-brained thinkers. But creativity, design, the brand experience all come from creatives. If you are into art, design and fashion there is a place for you in tech. If you are a poet and a story teller, we need you to inspire and grab hearts and minds.
Content is the new king. Communication is becoming more and more visual and story-telling is essential.
Many of the tech people I know are ‘secret creatives’ and the good news is that the industry needs about a MILLION of you. Go to art school, I say. Start writing now. Teach yourself design. Learn how to take great photos.

Something challenging?
Technology is changing at an incredible pace and I am using systems and process I hadn’t heard of two years ago.
There is a huge amount of ‘noise’ and the speed of change can be very intimidating. Sometimes I think I don’t ‘know enough’- and I don’t think you can ever be a true expert. My approach is to surround myself with smart people, ask lots of questions and stay in ‘learning mode’.

One piece of advice for teen-Rowena?
Have more fun! I was a very serious teen and I think that life, my family and my friends have taught me to relax more and enjoy the journey. Let the perfectionism go!

A mantra?
Firstly, #noregrets – which means to me that I don’t want to die wondering.
Secondly, be kind to myself and others. I have learnt that my inner critic is meaner than any enemy, and I am better at being kind to myself, allowing myself to mess up, be human, and learn.
Then, ‘WWND?’ If I am feeling scared I think: What Would Nush Do? I have an amazing gutsy, courageous girlfriend called (Danusia, or Nush) who demands her desires and no bullshit from the universe!
And finally: respect yourself. You can’t respect yourself if you don’t have integrity and stay true to your values.

A mentor?
Some amazing (male and female) mentors, leaders, and supporters have empowered me: ready to back me up; pull me back in line when I needed it; teach me new things, without micro-managing. Some of these leaders have put me forward for things I thought I couldn’t do, nominated me for training or leadership programmes and recommended me for roles I didn’t know existed.

Whose career do you admire?
Very early in my career I worked with two incredible General Managers, women who showed me you could lead, parent and live a great life. I have seen incredible resilience, personal integrity and strength in these two women and they each have told me to be myself and do my own thing.
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I think it is incredibly important for women and minorities to be able to look ahead and see people ‘like me, that I like”.  
I loved my time working at Flight Centre and being part of the empire of Skroo Turner: an entrepreneur with an incredible track record of success, a genuine commitment to his values and a willingness to bring people on the journey. I spent my first two weeks at Flight Centre reading old management books about him, sitting next to a guy who looked like he might be a relation. It was such a surprise to me that it was <italic>him</italic>! No office, no EA, no necktie… and a few weeks later he was saying “hi Rowie” to me in the lift and asking about my numbers!

A hurdle?
Balancing an exciting career, senior roles and family has meant some crazy moments running from Board meetings to emergency wards; cross-country flying to make parent-teacher interviews and a fair few conference calls from the car outside my daughter’s ballet class. At its lowest point it feels undoable and like you are doing nothing well. But by focusing on outcomes and prioritising, I get my work done and do my very best for my family.

An approach to tricky decisions?
I have spent a lot of time angsting over decisions. I lacked confidence, but I now waste a lot less time wondering. Either you will get the job, or you won’t. If you don’t, it’s not a disaster – in fact you might gain some great feedback on what you need to do to progress. Here’s my criteria for taking a job:
(1) Will I be empowered to do stuff?
(2) Is there a leader or someone in the team I can learn from?
(3) Is this a culture where people can thrive and grow?

If it wasn’t a career in tech, what would it be?
I wanted to be a doctor. I am not unhappy that plan changed – I suspect even if I had studied medicine I would probably be off tinkering with a new way to do it by now, likely involving innovation or technology.