Carol Lee Anderson and Cheryl Horo are living proof of the advice they give to members of their organisation Women in Technology (WIT) — nothing is achieved without hard work and sacrifice and you have to know how to sell yourself.
Founder and director Anderson says she has invested more than half of her personal wealth, built from a successful IT career, into WIT; while Wellington-based general manager Horo routinely works evenings and weekends to get the work done.
Their belief in making sacrifices to achieve goals is often shared by guest speakers at WIT functions.
“You put successful people on a pedestal and people think they got there by luck, but when you get them there you see that they’ve had belief in themselves,” says Horo. “No-one has got to where they are without hard work and what they’ve had to give up blows people away.”
The pair cite a government statistic that only 18 percent of technology employees (including the telco sector) are women – Anderson believes the percentage is “a stretch” – and they also point to the low numbers of women represented on technology industry boards.
However, the purpose of the society is not just to attract more females to the industry, but to encourage females already in the sector to support up and comers.
“It’s the theory of sending the lift back down. It’s bringing women into the industry and up through it, and then making sure they’re supported and understand the value of networks and the value of themselves and what they offer their company,” Anderson says.
“Men do that really well, but women just tend to complete a project and know they’ve done a good job and just move on to the next one.”
Despite the society’s name, Anderson and Horo stress it provides a voice for the wider technology industry and as a forum for providing business expertise, rather than just serving women in IT.
The events, such as its annual debate and mix-and-mingle drinks aren’t women-only, and include speakers who have been successful in a field outside tech.
Anderson says men have joked about forming Guys in Technology (GITS) or Boys in Technology (BITS), but are generally supportive of WIT and enjoy the functions.
“The things we’ve offered are things men wanted as well. The value of our networking is it’s such a conducive environment to getting together and forming business relationships,” Anderson says.
She adds men who attend events also get an understanding of what it’s like to be in the minority at an industry function.
Women in Technology has no time for whingers and those with a victim mentality, say Anderson and Horo. It’s about encouraging IT women to create their own opportunities and make change.
“We have zero tolerance for anyone bitching about men or their environment,” Anderson says.
Women in Technology believes it has achieved the main objectives set for itself when first formed in 2000. They include establishing relationships with government ministers whose portfolios include technology, women’s affairs, small business and education, while attracting inspiring speakers, to provoke thought among industry members about the issues women in technology face. They also seek to provide increased opportunities by getting involved with schools nationwide, supporting technology employees among corporates, and signing up individual members. There is also a mentoring programme, while Horo runs the Go Girl, Go IT initiative.
The two are supported in their work by administrator Kirsty Harkins and corporate services manager Glenda Mullany.
Both Anderson and Horo have hectic schedules in and outside the society.
After selling frame relay networks in the US, Anderson came to New Zealand in 1994, and set up ISP backbones for Bell South before it became Vodafone. She is also a former technology manager for Oracle and an ex-services manager at SAP.
As well as being the mother of 15-month-old twins, she directs Vision Recruit, set up in 2005, and Tourism Recruit, while also being involved in getting a hotel chain running. She says the line between her work with Women in Technology and her IT recruitment work is often blurred, as each involves developing people in their careers.
Horo has worked in customer-focused roles and was the Computer Society’s national office manager for four years until she joined WIT in 2004. The male dominance of the technology industry was reflected in the Computer Society’s membership, of which only two percent were women, Horo says.
WIT formally began after an unofficial start over a lunch at the Auckland pub Loaded Hog in 1996, Anderson says.
“I had the joy of meeting all these amazing women but they weren’t meeting each other. So many important meetings were made [at the lunches] and it was the beginning of Women in Technology.”
The popularity of the informal women’s gatherings she organised was growing and needed the support of an organised structure, but her career was taking up most of her time then.
It’s hard to quantify WIT’s membership today, as corporate members’ staff numbers constantly change, but the pair say there are five or siz thousand active financial members. Nearly 80,000 people have attended WIT events, they say.