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IWD 2024: Why I’m a passionate advocate for inclusion in the IT sector
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

Want to know what being in an extreme minority group feels like? Any woman who enrolled in a computer science or computer engineering degree at an Australian university in the early 1990s can give you a firsthand account.

I know because I was among them: one of just a smattering of women studying the former and a mere handful doing the latter – and the only one in my year at RMIT who completed the combined program.

Upon graduating, I did a short stint with a management consultancy before coming to the conclusion I was far more passionate about building software than spreadsheets.

That’s because software engineering is challenging and creative. After all, in no other industry are you able to come up with an idea and create a product or company using nothing more than the power of your brain! 

The lonely only

Having a solid technical grounding has afforded me a plethora of opportunities to exercise that creativity – pursuing higher studies, starting my own company and working in senior roles for some of the world’s most innovative and agile software vendors.

Very often though, I’ve been the only woman in the room and I know how isolating and discomfiting that can be. That feeling of being an outsider is a big part of the reason so many women used to call time on their technology careers prematurely back in the day – and why even more opted to give the sector a wide berth from the get-go.

That’s not something I want to happen on my watch at Fastly, the edge cloud company, where I’ve served as the Senior Vice President of Engineering for the past two years following my initial role with the company as Vice President of Engineering (Platform).

Driving positive change

For that reason, I’m passionate about attracting a diverse talent pool and supporting the people in that pool to find their feet and feel comfortable, particularly in those all-important, early career years.

At Fastly, we stepped up our efforts at the grassroots level last year via an engineering internship program that invited 12 students to spend their summer break working with our team on programs and projects. 

The right mentor can be make or break for new starters and that’s why we scanned our ranks for experienced, high calibre individuals who were genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect of helping our rookie recruits succeed. 

Women, including several women of colour, comprised half of last year’s internship intake. They all went on to accept offers of full-time employment at Fastly, and it’s been thoroughly rewarding watching them gain experience and confidence.

Building networks

I’m determined to do whatever we can to keep our newest engineers engaged and enthusiastic about working in the sector long term. Helping them ‘find their people’ is a big part of that.

In common with a growing number of technology vendors, Fastly runs an employee resource group for women which delivers a regular program of social and career development events.

Having instant access to that informal support network – something women working in the technology industry a couple of decades ago could scarcely dare to dream about – is making the career journeys of the women within our ranks, new recruits included, easier and more enjoyable.

Sponsorship for success

I’m also a firm believer in sponsorship: bringing motivated, high performing individuals together with senior executives who can connect them with opportunities to stretch themselves on career advancing projects and tasks.

Having been the beneficiary of that sort of targeted support myself at various stages in my career – I actually obtained my first board role via a sponsor who put my name forward – I know how powerful it can be. 

That’s why I’ll continue to pay it forward, helping a handful of up-and-coming women become better versions of themselves professionally. 

Reaping the benefits of inclusion

What’s good for women employees is also good for organisations and the IT sector at large.

Difficult problems are solved best when smart people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds come together to do the best work of their lives. 

Women need to be part of that process and, as we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, I’m committed to doing whatever I can to ensure they feel included, supported and valued for the contributions they make.