AWISE change of guard leading women into IT future

New board members to usher in a new era for Australian women in IT

The Australian Women in IT and Science Entity (AWISE) has announced its key leadership roles for 2008, in preparation for the national launch of several projects aimed at boosting the significance of women in the nation's IT industry.

Qld & NT regional manager for Lan Systems Barbara Tobin will fulfil the role of president and chair, while Tina Swaker, senior manager of support and delivery with the KAZ Group, steps in as the new AWISE treasurer.

Sonja Bernhardt, CEO of software development firm ThoughtWare, who was an AWISE co-founder and its inaugural president, is now the organization's newly voted secretary.

Bernhardt was the first Australian inducted into the Hall of Fame for Women in Technology International, and has big plans for AWISE in 2008.

"AWISE is an umbrella organization. The industry has been fragmented for many years, and as a result there are many women and girl-in-IT groups," she said.

Bernhardt said the aim of AWISE was to bring all of those people together under one umbrella, so members could share knowledge about how they go about their mentoring, role model programs and initiatives for women in IT.

Since its inception in 2005, AWISE has given away over $175,000 and conducted 27 projects and programs aimed at augmenting the role of women in IT.

This year, Bernhardt said AWISE is looking at different ways of approaching the old problem of reduced women in science and technology fields, while still supporting the traditional methods of role modelling and mentoring.

"AWISE is rolling out two highly successful programs into every state and territory, that are approaching the market from both ends - from the children's end, and from the executive corporate board end."

The first, called Go Girl Go For IT, is about taking women that work in IT, biotech and nanotech areas, and showcasing them to schoolchildren over several days.

"The school kids get to go and talk to these women and learn about what they do, so they get a realistic view of what life in the industry is about," Bernhardt said.

"There is such a massive diversity of women in IT, all sorts of ages, nationalities and body shapes, but the one singular thread is that these women are highly passionate about what they do and that comes through very strongly."

At the other end of the spectrum is the Board Readiness program, a national initiative to take women in the IT industry through a structured program aimed at preparing them for appointment to paid and executive boards.

"A lot of boards have realized that alongside the financial, accounting and legal representatives on their boards, they should also be appointing people with technology skills because it's having such an impact on their industry," Bernhardt said.

Another key item on AWISE's agenda for 2008 is to establish itself alongside the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS) as a premier not-for-profit IT organization.

"At the moment, when something nationally significant happens in IT, people tend to just go to the AIIA and ACS," she said.

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