Breaking women-in-tech stereotypes


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As we approach International Women’s Day I have been thinking about my role as a Chief Operating Officer (COO) in an IT company and reflecting on my career. If I had asked the child version of myself whether I thought I would be here, I honestly would have said no.

Thankfully along the way I have met some inspirational people who have changed my life. There were those who pushed me to be the best version of myself, even when I couldn’t see it, and then there were those who told me I would fail and never amount to anything. Both have driven me equally for different reasons.

I was having a conversation recently and was asked where I learned to be such an empathetic, forward-thinking, strong leader? It was an interesting question. For me, as much as I learned lessons from leaders that I admired, I also learned from those with less desirable traits – those who were bullies, unjust, unreasonable and incapable of seeing beyond themselves. They taught me to recognise what I didn’t want to be and reinforced my determination to lead through compassion, support and trust.

During this same conversation I was asked about the best piece of advice I have ever received. Funnily enough this was from a male speaker, whose name I sadly don’t remember. During his presentation he bluntly stated that women have a harder time being seen as credible leaders and speakers. His reasoning? When a professional man gets up to speak people listen to what he has to say taking little notice of what he looks like. However, when a professional woman addresses an audience, she is often first assessed on her ‘looks’ and only if they like what they see will they listen. Sadly, I have experienced this firsthand, but being armed with this advice has helped me understand the way a lot of people think and navigate what is still a very male dominated industry. You may laugh, but I have personally been in situations where I have had three meetings on a particular day, and I have had to change my appearance for each of them.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I haven’t allowed this to perpetuate and as a female leader in the industry I have made it my responsibility to address these stereotypes and narrow-minded views. I have never been afraid to challenge male colleagues ‘head on’ and educate with some considerable success. There is still plenty of work to do, but fortunately I’m now in a company that understands what I bring to the organisation and they embrace it.

Notwithstanding the challenges, working in the IT industry has been a hugely rewarding part of my life. The pace is fast, the work is energising and exciting, and everything I do is to help people do what they do better so they can go on and achieve great things. This gives me a huge sense of satisfaction and drive.

So what advice do I want to impart to other women trying to make it as an executive in a male dominated environment? Be that women that helps others to rise and seek out others like you for support when you need to – you’re not alone. If you find that ladder that lets you climb, then leave a map for others to find. Be that sister building up others, be that trailblazer who cuts a path for others to follow and most importantly be the role model the younger you would have wanted to look up to.

Related: INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: What’s the future for your IT?

Kate Murdoch
Kate Murdoch
Kate Murdoch is Chief Operating Officer at Stratus Blue. She can be contacted at kate@stratusblue.co.nz

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