Liz Coulter is used to having big shoes to fill - men sized ones, usually. The director of IT Services at the University of Auckland started her IT career in Australia before moving to England, then back to Australia and finally to New Zealand where she settled last year. And yes, the main motivator for the move across the ditch was a man. Her father was one of the first programmers in Australia who brought Ethernet down under and created AusCERT. Her IT career was almost decided at birth.
Coulter was the guest speaker at the Women in IT forum organized by VMware in Auckland late last month, as part of the VMware Solutions Symposium. "In 2010, the VP of VMware APAC realized the percentage of women in the company was really low, so he created the Diversity Council," explains Rhody Burton, who now leads the council, along with her channel manager ANZ role. "When I joined, there was only one other woman in the business. I am very passionate about this," she added at the event.
Addressing a mostly female crowd, Coulter said she has always held jobs where she was mostly the only woman among men and it was her education and technical knowledge that helped her progress into more senior roles. Coulter says it is very important to look at the numbers and figure out what is stopping more women from entering the industry. "This is really important and something we should all embrace," says Coulter. At the moment, about 26 percent of staff in her area at the university are females. "Women are being encouraged to play different roles," she adds.
Coulter says the gender gap may have something to do with the nature of the industry and its characteristics but points out that soft skills are just as important as technical skills. "It's important to be a people person. One thing women have is compassion. Sometimes they don't realize it's more than just the technology. It's the services, the customer service. What is missing in IT are these softer skills and they are in demand," she adds.
About the people, not their gender
The same opinion is shared by Dale Campbell, Motion Computing business development manager at Simms International. "There is this idea that you have to be technical but it's not true. There are sales roles, marketing roles, and others," points out Campbell.
About a year and a half ago, Campbell started the "Women in IT NZ" LinkedIn group. To date, the group has brought together a total of 150 members and Campbell says the number continues to grow every week. The idea behind it is to create a social environment where women can share stories and ask questions. It is also an online platform to organise real meet ups. She says the group does not exist based on any kind of discrimination that she might have ever felt. In fact, Campbell says that her 15 years in the industry have been free from any sort of exclusion and she has always felt "just like another person".
"There has never been a problem, I have never even thought about that," she says.
Simms currently employs a total of nine staff in New Zealand and the ratio is five males to four females, according to the company's managing director Paul Johnston.
"I take the view that companies must ensure the best candidates are given the jobs, irrespective of gender," he says. "As a father of three girls I want them to have absolute equality but do not want them to be given a job ahead of someone, just because they are a woman. If people have to 'actively think' about attracting women I think there could be some sort of underlying problem with them in the first place."