08 Mar

International Women’s Day Spotlight: Go Girl, Go for IT

To celebrate International Women’s Day, JOST&Co would like to champion the work of volunteers at the VicICT program Go Girl, Go for IT, which informs girls about career opportunities in the IT field. We know that IT has been a traditionally male-dominated field, but with the explosion of IT technology in the last 20 years, it’s about time that women become a more equal contributor!

To get a sense of what it’s like to be a Go Girl volunteer and why we need to get more women and girls into careers in IT, we asked volunteers Jessica Huynh and Zora Hoare to share some insights with us.

Jessica Huynh

Hi Jessica! To begin, please tell us a bit about what you do in your day job.

In my day job I’m an IT project manager. I like to think of myself as a soccer coach and referee – the team is relying on me to give them direction and purpose, while setting the boundaries and rules needed to do their job well.

For any girls out there who might want to get into this particular area of I.T., what was your journey to get there and do you have any advice?

I’ve been fortunate to have IT in the family genes… my father is a software engineer and he pushed me strongly to be in project management early on as “there aren’t enough girls at that level / they’re always looking for women there”. Funny how that goes!

I was admitted into the Bachelor of Information Technology (scholarship course) at Swinburne University and got involved in the Women in ICT group there, quickly going from a member to an undergraduate lead and organising events for other university women to hear from senior women in the IT field. 

On graduating university, it took me some time to find a job – I started off as a “Project Administrator” learning the fundamentals of Project Management, and I’m now exercising what I’ve learnt along the way as a Project Manager.  

If there’s one piece of advice I’ve stuck to through the years, it would be “keep challenging yourself”. I was quite introverted in my primary and high school days, and through my challenges and experiences I’m now working with talented teams delivering amazing solutions to my customers; communicating with many stakeholders and building my personal brand.

What preconceptions do you want to challenge about I.T.?

IT is not that industry where you sit in the back corner or a dimly lit room, eating pizza and working late nights. There’s no ‘shape’ that an IT person fits; and no specific skin colour, or size, or way of thinking that all IT people have. 

We’re all different, just like you and me, and that’s what the IT field really thrives on. We’re all customers of an IT product – whether it’s your mobile phone, that cool camera app you’re now using, the laptop or computer you’re interacting with every day; to even online shopping sites and medical procedures. 

I completed my Invisalign treatment about 4 months ago – and if you think about it, the establishment and evolution of Invisalign, and other similar products, is all thanks to how far technology has progressed with 3D scanning, imaging and printing.

If we can use and consume an IT product, why can’t we be a part of making them or seeing them come to life? What’s stopping you?

What drew you into volunteering with Go Girl?

I want to see many other girls get the same opportunities that I’ve received… to put it simply – thanks to this career, I’ve travelled the world, watched production lines come to life at the click of a button, worked with other amazing women (and men) across different time zones at the same time, and made a visible impact in the companies I’ve worked in.

I want girls to dare to dream of – and realise – the possibilities an IT career can bring them; because if I can, you definitely can. 

How did you find organising the CyberEdition 2020 event? Being involved in an entirely online event would certainly have showcased everyone’s skills in a very direct way!

Go Girl – CyberEdition was an event and experience I won’t forget, especially as a leadership team member wearing more than 1 hat. The challenge to move from an in-person event to an online one was fraught with difficulties – from simple things like “how do I walk or move around the event?” to “we need a solution to cater for 1200+ girls attending! And there’s schools that don’t use our current technology platform!!” – and over time as these were identified the team really pitched in together to review and solve the solution.

Teamwork in a remote environment is different – most of us were juggling full time work at the same time (which made it interesting), but the main difference is that calls and work can come in at any time and any place. There’ve been some interesting in-depth discussions I’ve had at 11pm (between me and a small group of other leaders resolving an urgent issue) but these have been really productive and so, so helpful. Everyone who pitched in for this really stepped up a notch and it was amazing and motivating to see.

The week before the event, we made a major discovery around moving our volunteers and presenters into breakout rooms. We called on everyone – even senior managers and directors who were conducting presentations for Go Girl – to be available to test their connection to our conferencing platform and make sure we could move them to their (virtual) breakout rooms. We were amazed at the acceptance and positive outpouring we received, and how much people supported us, even if we had to go back to them with last-minute discoveries.

On the event day, our technology was tested unlike before; and we found flaws and problems. We had a fire alarm at the physical location our online hosts were at; and were quickly faced with forming a Plan B that hadn’t even been discussed. Volunteers and IT professionals presenting were quick on their feet, changing their presentation length and sharing different (and still interesting) facts about how they got into IT.

I recall watching the sight around me on multiple screens with a mix of shock and awe at the professionalism of all the presenters and volunteers to pivot quickly to a different presenting model that still allowed the girls attending to get inspired.

That’s what I call “flexibility” and “thinking on your feet”! 

What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a volunteer?

For me, it’s watching my team come to life closer to the Go Girl – CyberEdition date and seeing how they responded to the challenges on the day.

I led two teams in the end – the volunteers team, and the girls liaison team.

The girls liaison team were reaching out to schools across Australia, and several times we got surprised by the positivity of the school and how much they wanted their girls to attend the event even if it was virtual. That was rewarding to hear, and really goes to show the importance of events like Go Girl, Go for IT and that schools are promoting a STEM agenda. 

The volunteer team was the one driving the readiness of the event. With lots to do, I delegated to my team to develop the onboarding pack and social events with minimal oversight from me, and was amazed at the quality of the content and how they owned their activities. We agreed to alternate the presenter role in each of the onboarding sessions and I was really grateful to see everyone stepping up and being willing to contribute.

Within the volunteer team we also had a legally blind female – which the rest of the team and myself didn’t know about until the event day – and she blended in and worked really well alongside us. (Read – Impairments do not define a person!)

I’m very grateful to both my teams for working and dealing with me, and my co-leads for driving the teams along when I couldn’t. 

Overall, volunteering full stop is a rewarding experience and I’ve been able to do different things, work with different people and better understand myself.

We know that I.T. is a traditionally male-dominated field. Do you think the field is changing for the better? How can we better facilitate women and girls in I.T. careers?

I do think the field is changing for the better – albeit slowly. I’ve encountered men and women who have championed for me, as a young Asian female, to get more opportunities and exposure to grow; and I’ve also championed other females to be vocal and open about themselves and what they’re looking for. We’ve seen women breaking down barriers – Melanie Perkins’ starting up and growing Canva to the success story it is now – and it’s so important that we all get a say about what we want for our future. IT is very much where our future is going – chatbots, interactive games, robots and cyborgs and so much more – and there’s no better time than now for girls to get involved.

Go Girl’s mission is to inform girls and I think it’s a huge starting piece in the puzzle. Girls should know that possibilities and opportunities are endless, but if they don’t – it’s our obligation as adults to let them know. By the same token, we should inform and spread awareness with the girls’ parents; so that they can nurture, accept, and be proud that their daughter wants to be an IT professional. 

We should also be coaching and mentoring anyone who wants to be more involved and become a part of IT, as there could be many women who are currently transitioning careers at this point and want to break into IT. 

In organisations and universities, we should have women in IT groups (that also allow any supportive men to join too!) that allow every female to come together and celebrate their achievements and share any concerns with like-minded individuals. There are definitely places that have already established this really well, and I’ve usually found that people are receptive to the idea or already have something in place. 

Is there any message you would like to end with (for example a piece of advice or inspiring words to remember)?

Young females go through a period in their life where they’re always comparing themselves to the latest magazine, to that friend or popular girl who keeps up with the trend, or to the standards of a guy they like; and it’s a difficult period where they’re trying to fit into society – but they don’t know if they’re doing it right and whether they’ll be accepted.

My advice – having gone through it in my teenage years – is to simply be yourself, be different, and own who you are. It’s okay to be different – in fact, more people are embracing their differences now. 

You’ll find over time that those things you worried so much over are trivial in nature, and that a field like IT is open and welcoming to everyone. Come join me in the IT world – you won’t regret it!

Zora Hoare

Hi Zora, to get started, what you do in your day job?

I work as the Head of Customer & Employee Experience at a global Fintech company-eNett International – a WEX Company. For the past 15 years, I have led IT and business transformation initiatives with a focus on improving customer experience whilst driving commercial goals. 

For any girls out there who might want to get into this particular area of I.T., what was your journey to get there and do you have any advice?

Having a solid foundation and knowledge of project management principles and understanding the company’s objectives were the starting point. I looked for opportunities to gain practical experience by working on challenging projects whilst utilising my transferrable skills. I also found it very useful to have mentors and supportive managers along the way. 

What preconceptions do you want to challenge about I.T.?

I believe that anyone can be equally good at coding, testing, analysis, design, and any other IT disciplines regardless of gender. I think it’s wrong to make general statements like “women have better organisational and planning skills; hence, they are better project managers.” Based on my experience, I believe this is not true and some men are equally good project managers. 

What drew you into volunteering with Go Girl?

I enjoyed science subjects at school, with math and coding being my favourite. I was lucky to have access to great education in Slovakia and being surrounded by like-minded classmates, inspiring teachers, and supporting parents. And yet, I experienced challenging situations. For example, I felt intimidated by being the only girl in an advanced coding class so I ended up unenrolling from the class. My aim is to change the stereotypes and provide equal opportunities for our future generations, which includes supporting the amazing females in STEM. That’s what drew me to the Go Girl program, and it’s been a truly rewarding experience. 

How did you find organising the CyberEdition 2020 event? Being involved in an entirely online event would certainly have showcased everyone’s skills in a very direct way!

I love challenging projects, and CyberEdition2020 certainly fell into that category. As a co-lead Program Manager, I was responsible for the overall planning and execution of the event, working closely with other in-stream volunteers across 6 workstreams. Working on a tight timeline in addition to our day-jobs, we built a new ‘event’ website with 50+ Zoom links at the back-end and arranged 100+ speakers. The event was attended by 600+ schoolgirls and it was a great success considering the limitations due to the lockdown. 

What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a volunteer?

I have done several volunteering jobs over the years for various charities and causes. Being involved in the CyberEdition2020 event was truly rewarding and one of the special highlights for me in 2020. 

We know that I.T. is a traditionally male-dominated field. Do you think the field is changing for the better? How can we better facilitate women and girls in I.T. careers?

Thanks to many amazing individuals who are championing and driving the change, we are seeing that the field is changing for the better with more and more leaders and companies recognising the importance of taking actions to improve equality in IT and businesses overall.  

Is there any message you would like to end with (for example a piece of advice or inspiring words to remember)?

I’ve learnt that there are many different pathways to have a successful career in IT and that it is very important to develop a broader skillset (e.g. communication skills) in addition to the core technical knowledge. Let’s challenge stereotypes and drive the change together! We can achieve that by learning from and supporting each other.