Kristy Simpkin and Alison Rice are Co-Presidents of Women in Technology, a volunteer organisation. Women in Technology (WiT) focuses on women working in information technology and life sciences. WiT was founded in 1997 with the support of 10 women. Since then, the association has grown to over 5500 members and affiliates. Kristy and Alison shared with us the growth trajectory of WiT, their own amazing individual leadership journeys, and their view of future jobs within the technology sector.
Tell us about some of the pioneering medical innovations which were celebrated at this year’s Women in Technology Awards.
Dr Arabella Young is a newly minted PhD graduate working at the interface between autoimmunity and tumour immunology. Her aim is better understanding which patients with cancer will benefit from immunotherapy and how to harness the immune system to prevent treatment-related complications.
Prof Kathy Andrews’ research focuses on the successful identification and development of novel drugs for malaria prevention and treatment.
Dr Kirsty Short research focuses on infectious disease, such as the flu, and understanding how chronic conditions can exacerbate their impact and how this is important for pandemic preparedness.
Prof Colleen Nelson’s research is aimed at developing new treatment for Prostate Cancer.
Prof Neena Mitter’s work is not medical but relies on science and has developed innovative biotechnology for crop protection and basic plant stem cell biology to improve avocado propagation. These two examples will fundamentally change the economy of Queensland and perhaps more significantly will help address the global issue of food security.
Dr Carrie Hillyard has played a leading role in Queensland and Australia in changing the way that researchers interact with industry.
What are the jobs of the future in technology?
Knowledge services: knowing and valuing knowledge and know-how. Bringing together people with disparate backgrounds to problem-solve, create new technology and new knowledge.
Skillsets: Like many fields, whilst the technical skill sets will still be required, there will be a need to bring problem solving/critical thinking skills to bear in a diverse environment.
Industries: The application of technology in areas such as health and aged care are already becoming increasingly important. This enables improvements in the quality of care and health outcomes. If embraced effectively, this will also lead to a decreasing burden on the existing public health care system.
Whilst technology will have a significant societal impact on these industries, it will also reshape how a customer interacts in most industries. So the jobs of the future will focus around customer experience.
Why did you choose to be Co-Presidents for Women in Technology and what benefits does this approach bring to the organisation?
In the past, the President has tended to come from the ICT sector. In the case of the last two Presidents, Sue Johnston and Fiona Hayes, they have worked for themselves. WiT has been very well served by Sue and Fiona. When Fiona announced that she would be stepping down, it was felt that it was time to have a President from the Life Sciences sector. With this in mind, I was approached to take on the role.
I work full time as a Research Development Manager for Griffith University, based at the Nathan campus. I was mindful of the time commitment and of what the role involved and did not feel that I could take on the Presidency by myself. Kristy was Vice-President and had a demanding new role at PwC in addition to a young family. Kristy was equally aware of the time commitment and demands of the role. In discussion with Kristy, I put it to her that we could share the role. We discussed this further and agreed that it would work well to address coverage across ICT and LS as well as capacity and availability to attend events, effectively enabling us to ‘share’ the duties.
Benefits include increased recognition of diversity of membership, complementary expertise, greater coverage, addresses the issue of work and family commitments while leading a high-profile volunteer organisation.
WiT covers a diverse range of disciplines and skill sets. The establishment of Co-President roles enables us to ensure we can better represent our membership through this role. Our organisation is continually evolving. As a professional body we want to ensure that our governance and processes support the next stage of our growth. Establishing these roles and this structure enables us to focus on our aligned disciplines, but also lets us work together to deliver a stronger organisation.
As an organisation, how has Women in Technology changed and grown over the last decade?
In April 1997 Sonja Bernhardt contacted the Queensland Information Industries Branch about forming a network for women involved in Information Technology and Telecommunications. Initial discussions were held with Brian Cordiner (Director of the IIB), who advised further contact with the IIBAusIndustries Advisor – Liz Manning. Arrangements were then made with like-minded women identified by the IIB.
Women in IT grew over the next 5 years and came to the attention of Anne Marie Birkill who was looking for an association for her like-minded Biotech Women. Anne Marie with a number of others, including Dr Carrie Hillyard, decided to join forces with WiT for the potential to work with the IT industry, and to broaden their networks. Today we all benefit from their foresight. WiT is recognised as the peak body for women working in ICT and life sciences.
WiT through the ICT and Life Sciences chapters have organised events that resonate with the membership. We’ve actively engaged with the membership with post event and annual surveys. We had an excellent response to our Annual Survey this year. So much so that we enlisted the help of Ingrid van den Mast from Datacom to help us analyse the data. We found out that people are members of WiT because it is an inclusive, welcoming and supportive community. They like the mentoring, networking and professional development events because they are empowering, and help advance your career. In fact, the survey tells us that WiT’s mission, Advance, Empower, Connect resonates with the membership.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Women working in ICT and Sciences face similar obstacles in terms of opportunities for career progression, pay disparity and work-life balance etc. WiT has a role to play in upskilling women to take greater control of their career trajectory, but the entrenched challenge of systemic change remains. WiT recognises the importance of actively engaging men and women in the conversation to effect systemic change but is equally cognizant that this will take time.
With such a wide membership base, it is often hard to meet the needs of all members. Our annual survey is an important part of understanding these needs, and feeds into our bi-annual strategic planning processes. But with limited capacity, it requires a considered process of prioritisation, and building on our learnings each year.
What are you most proud of?
The WiT awards are the highlight of Women in Technology’s event calendar and the prestige of the awards are well recognised within the ICT and scientific communities. Each year we receive significant numbers of outstanding applications for each category, making judging very challenging. I am most proud of the extensive work we have done to bring scientific rigour to the evaluation of the applications for the WiT awards, which in turn enhances their standing.
This year’s Awards were a stand out for me. All disciplines were strong with amazing applicants. We have continued to build robust processes around our awards, and I am proud of the professionalism that the 2017 WiT Awards has displayed.
What is one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Have the confidence and self-belief to lead. Have the vision and integrity to bring your team with you on the journey. Trust those who work for you and watch them grow. Create and provide opportunities for those who work for you so that they will be ready for their own leadership journey.
Work out your own boundaries early. Establish a clear sense of what’s important, and how you prioritise and balance based on your needs, and the needs of the organisation you work for. Go with it, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t always nail the balance.