High Tech's High Heelers: Women Are Not Well Represented in the Technology Industry-But That Perhaps Increases the Visibility of Those That Do Make It to the Top. We Talk to a Couple of Women Who Have and Find out Why

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If you want to successfully scale management heights in IT, you could perhaps start by heading for a career in--health. Oddly enough that was the industry both Katrina Troughton and Carol Lee Anderson (nee Davidson) had in their sights when they started work.

Troughton was initially headed for medical school; Anderson's career started in mental health.

Now Troughton is the chief executive of IBM New Zealand while Anderson is SAP's account executive for telecommunications and founder/director of Women in Technology.

Neither had sat down and thought--yep, it's a career in IT for me. In fact both agree that there are quite a lot of women who just seem to have fallen into the industry by accident rather than intention. Not that there's a whole lot of them, particularly in the upper ranks.

While women make up about a quarter of New Zealand's total IT workforce, they hold only about eight percent of senior management roles in IT compared to the 31 percent of women in senior roles nationwide.

Anderson calls it her "one in 10" rule.

"There's usually one woman in this industry for every 10 men and in most of the high-level board meetings in this industry, I'm often the only woman. I recently ran a workshop for a big local company and all 23 attendees were male."

Recognising the sad lack of natural networking opportunities for women in the industry, Anderson got proactive and in 1996 organised a lunch at Auckland's The Loaded Hog which turned out the incubator for what is now a 1500-member organisation: Women in Technology (WIT).

"The relationships started to develop from that and I kept talking about this vision of WIT, even had the logo sorted but because I was building my career and travelling a lot, it wasn't happening."

The catalyst was a restless night during which she got up and wrote in lipstick across her bathroom mirror: "the world is full of possibilities".

"The next day I formally launched WIT."

That was nearly three years ago and since then the organisation has had around 6000 people through its door attending networking events or training courses. Last year, it launched a new mentoring programme that aims to provide a structured approach to support the development of women in IT. It also launched a programme, partially funded by NZ Trade & Enterprise, designed to boost the number of women working in ICT by 500% (ie an extra 50,000 women) over the next decade.

The speaker at its first networking event this year was Katrina Troughton. Still in her 30s, she is both the youngest person and first woman to head IBM in New Zealand--although IT had not been her first career choice.

New Zealand born and educated at Hutt Valley High School, Troughton was accepted for medical school but instead opted for a double degree that included physiology, pharmacology, economics and marketing. A career counsellor suggested she should go see IBM.

"I didn't know much about IT at all. I think one of the key inhibitors for women entering the industry is that they have this view of geeks sitting in front of machines. But then I came to IBM and met this guy who said what are you interested in and I said-well, health. He said 'fantastic' and started talking about the role of IT in health and why it's important and I got sold--so I joined them through the graduate programme."

She was lucky, says Troughton, in that the New Zealand marketplace offered a very broad view of the industry. After working her way up to become software manager for IBM in New Zealand, Troughton took on a broader Asia Pacific role as business unit executive for data management. It was, she says, a great experience in that she got to know the different business styles across the region.

"We started with a unit that was around 50 people across the whole region and ended up with 500 to 600 and half that growth was in the acquisition and integration of [the database business of] Informix, so I got to know their people in China very well. …