International Women's Day is the 8th March. It is a day for celebrating the achievements of women everywhere, as well as the move towards gender parity both in and out of the workplace.

Historically, the tech industry has been primarily male-dominated. According to the most recent BCS Diversity in IT report, just 17% of IT Specialists in the industry are women, and while this is a relatively low statistic, it's one that we are starting to see a gradual increase in the gender parity.

At our recent IT & Digital Leaders: Public Sector Dialogue, we had an almost even split ratio of our female to male speakers and delegates (48% female) and is a statistic we'd like to see continuing to improve at our future Dialogues.

To celebrate International Women's Day at Noord, we spoke to a few of the talented and inspiring ladies involved with our Dialogues about what International Women's Day means to them.

Joan Mulvihill, Centre Director at Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce (IC4)

Nadine Thomson, Director of Technology at Condé Nast International

Lisa Emery, Chief Information Officer and SIRO at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust 

Sally Beauchannon, IT Business Relationship Manager at Royal Holloway University of London

What made you want to pursue a career in IT?

JM: I came into the tech sector through the management door when I took on the role of CEO of the Irish Internet Association in 2009. Notwithstanding a few years as a business analyst in my early 20's in Woolworths, I'd never worked in IT before so it was all very new. I'm still not a technologist by any stretching of that definition but I do have a solid understanding of and deep appreciation for the transformation that technology can bring to the most traditional business. Working with industry partners in the adoption and exploitation technology of the technology has been truly rewarding

NT: I was in my first year at University studying a Science degree to become a Vet. I wasn’t enjoying Physics, so I swapped it for computer programming. I found programming very creative and loved that it was all about solving problems. Around this time email and the internet were just starting to come into popular use (I know it’s hard to believe there was a time without these). I could see that technology was going to change our world and I wanted to be part of it. After six months I changed my degree to Computer Science and I have never looked back.

LE: You might say a career in IT pursued me! I’ve always had an interest in tech, but started my career in laboratory science. I ended up volunteering to be involved in a couple of laboratory computer system implementations, which then led to an offer of an IT project management job. I quite fancied the change and went for it. That led to programme roles, and eventually to the CIO role I am now in!

SB: I had no initial desire to pursue a career in IT. I trained and worked as an actor. I like the human side of IT and seem to have a knack for being able to explain complex IT issues in terms people can understand. I now work as a Business Relationship Manager for IT, which is all the soft invisible skills that IT sometimes lacks.

What is your biggest achievement you’ve had since starting your career?

JM: There have been some amazing stand-out days and I couldn't pick just one.  I think for me the biggest achievement has been the path I've taken.  I have never worked in the same industry twice and I've never held the same position twice.   Having a career that spans retail, manufacturing, professional services, non-profit, and now academia, I've worked in roles as varied as buying toys for Woolworths,  negotiating car leasing contracts with Becton Dickonson, resolving succession planning for family businesses, leading an industry representative body for the tech sector and now running a research centre in a university, the achievement I am most proud of is my ability to adapt constantly to new challenges and continuously learn new disciplines working with new people and very different environments.

NT: I love bringing people together with technology. At STA Travel I built a global tech team to enable a travel business that needed to collaborate across countries to help our Customers have a great experience wherever they travelled. I ran a technology transformation programme which brought people across our different countries together to solve business challenges using technology.

I have recently joined Conde Nast International to lead the technology team across our European and Asian countries. Conde Nast International is connecting its geographies together to harness our combined size and skills to create a unique offering in multimedia publishing for our Customers. The reinvention of our company over the next few years will be highly dependent on technology.

LE: Talking about this particular career (as a CIO) I’d have to say I’m most proud of the team I have built. They are just fantastic and continue to do more and more amazing things.

SB: Bringing together several organisations to create a Fire Safety/Social Care joint project which reduced deaths of smoke inhalation for vulnerable people.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

JM: It's always been a really important day for me. I have had amazing female role-models in my life starting with my own mother. She graduated with Science Degree and was a maths and science teacher. She was and still is very independent and I think IWD exists because of people like her and the women of her generation who made so much more possible for me, for us. IWD says that we are not resting back on their brave choices and determination, it marks their achievements and also gives us a platform to move things forward and do our bit for the next generation.

NT: International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on many of the amazing women around us. Women throughout history have changed the world and will continue to do so. It is an occasion to pause and think about all the remarkable women who have shaped our lives. From British suffragette, Emily Pankhurst, to Pakistan activist, Malala Yousafzai, to #metoo founder Tarana Burke. In Technology, we have Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamarr, Lucy Peng, Zoe Quinn, Anne-Marie Imafidon to name just a very few.

LE: It’s really important to shine a spotlight and urge people to action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate and take forward the role of women in science and technology, and to be an active part of encouraging young girls and women to pursue careers in STEM.

SB: It reminds me that I am connected throughout the world to women I have never met; who live a life which I can never imagine; and that they are just as important as me. It makes me sad because we should all be able to walk forward together.

How important is it that women are represented in the IT industry?

JM: It's hugely important to me that women are represented in all facets of society and industry. However, given the influence that technology is having on society and how we live our lives and engage with one another, I do believe that this industry in particular should be at the forefront of female representation. And besides, we are supposed to be the "disruptors" so if we cannot make change happen here of all places then can we really lay any claim to that title?

NT: As our lives are increasingly impacted by technology, it is critical that women are part of the teams that design, develop and lead technology change. Women are over 50% of the population and control $20 Trillion of the world’s wealth. A team without representation of the real world will not design products that fit our world. We have seen this historically where seat belts and airbags in cars were less safe for women for decades as women’s bodies had not been part of testing, medicines are more risky for women as clinical trials used all male groups, smartphones don’t fit in women’s hands to the latest trials on artificial hearts that would fit 86% of men but only 20% of women (the heart isn’t the right size). It is vital that we contribute to the change around us to ensure the world we create is designed with everyone in mind.

LE: Really important. There is so much more to the industry than just the technology. We really need people who can act as change agents, and bring a different dynamic to the way in which we utilise and deploy tech. Only 17% of IT specialists are female, and men still therefore make most of the hiring decisions. We need to change the environment to be more reflective of society as a whole, and to help our colleagues whether male or female to achieve this balance.

SB: I don’t see IT singled out from any other industry. I do know that women often see, think and feel about things differently; and we should listen to them more when developing IT models and ways of working with IT.

What advice would you give to a young woman looking to start a career in IT?

JM: Don't get stuck on the 'career in IT' title. A career in IT can be as well served in a non-technology company as a technology one. Some of the most outstanding CIOs and CTOs that I know do not work for technology companies, they work in other industries where they are driving change and enabling growth the innovation and development in their sector, serving customers better through the leadership within the IT function.

NT: There are so many different roles you can take in a career in tech. Starting on one path doesn’t mean you cannot switch to another. Nothing beats practical experience so just get started as soon as you can. Have confidence and believe in yourself.

LE: Go for it! There are more and more great role models out there, lots of excellent groups on social media, and ever increasing networking opportunities so that support element is getting better and better. It’s about so much more than coding or kit, it’s about using technology to drive change. There are so many different career opportunities – from a personal perspective I can vouch for that – you’ll never be bored!

SB: IT is changing the world faster than most of us realise. It’s a fantastic exciting ride. Never think it’s beyond your understanding. It’s just been explained badly. Keep asking, keep questioning – as it might be you who changes the world.

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