Stepping forward

Women in top ICT roles share their views on workplace diversity.

Harris is confident this will change. "It is a time issue, it is not an organisational issue. We have got to make sure we are encouraging young women to be as interested in this profession, as much as guys are."

For her part, she says she is interested on presenting to students about having a career in ICT and to also become a mentor.

At the same time, Harris stresses it is important to set aside time for oneself outside work. "Otherwise, the job is 24x7," she says. "We run the payments system which is on behalf of the banking sector. We have got something like $40 billion going through that system every day. That tends to keep me quite focused and awake at night."

Harris is a keen scuba diver and travels throughout the Pacific for diving experiences. "It is a great way to forget about work," she says, having just returned from a scuba diving holiday in the Philippines. "Scuba diving is just gorgeous. I need to take that time out and have those breaks."n

Standout strategies Jackie Korhonen says some people are surprised the first time they meet her. "A lot of people are expecting someone with an Indian background," says Korhonen, the chief executive Australia and New Zealand for outsourcing company Infosys.

She says being someone "not what they immediately expect" works for Infosys, as the company would be seen as having staff of different backgrounds and "would get a fair go and a good career opportunity".

"People may not be aware that part of my role is to make people see that Infosys is a company that will welcome people from a very diverse set of backgrounds and cultures," says Korhonen, who joined the IT services company last year.

Korhonen highlights the issue of attracting talent, as she says this is one challenge CIOs in New Zealand and overseas will face once the market picks up and budgets are approved for "transformation initiatives".

This situation, she says, will lead enterprises to ask questions such as; "What programmes do I need in place in my company to attract women? Is there anything special I need to do so they will put up their hand to work in my organisation?"

For Korhonen, the diversity programme involves recruiting from half of the population, women, and people from various ethnic backgrounds and personal situations.

Korhonen says Infosys has just launched a scholarship with Monash University in Australia to sponsor indigenous students who are doing IT studies. The company will also provide them with work experience. She also talks to industry groups like Women in ICT in Victoria, and to students on having a career in ICT.

Korhonen, who has been working in ICT for some 25 years, is a suitable speaker for such forums. At the University of Sydney, where she completed a dual science and chemical engineering degree, she recalls being one of just a handful of females in class. After graduation she joined IBM.

She has worked in global sourcing for IBM across the Asia Pacific. From 1985 to 2008, she lived in Australia, Singapore and China working on "huge, multi-billion dollar mega-deals that carried significant risk". This stint gave her the best possible preparation for her current role, she says.

She recalls being involved in very large deal making opportunities. "They were called megadeals and they are very binary. You win big or you lose big," says Korhonen. "Those engagements last a year or more. They were very absorbing when you don't win. It is quite a setback for you at the time," she says.

"Personally it helps to become a bit more resilient. Over anyone's career there are good things and setbacks that happen. The people who have long lasting careers are the ones who can take those setbacks, learn from them, and keep going and not let them become absorbed by the disappointment."

This resiliency can be traced to her background as a professional tennis player in her teens. "Sport teaches good lessons that are relevant in other parts of your life," says Korhonen who competed in the European circuit.

Two strategies helped her rise through the ranks.

The first, she says, was to put in the hard yards into any role she took on, and second is she asked to work in a business area that the company has targeted for growth.

"You have to be committed to whatever role you have at the time. You have to be the sort person who will be prepared to accept setbacks and keep going."

Another insight she gives that worked for her as she forged a career in the ICT supplier and vendor side, is putting yourself into the strategic areas of the business, a new business area or one targeted for growth. "That is where the investment will come, where you will get noticed by the CEO and where they will put the business in the future."

"You have to position yourself at the forefront of where your company wants to go," says Korhonen. "This opportunity lies maybe in assignments overseas, in different cultures.

"The industry is increasingly becoming global and I think an individual's ability to work cross culturally and to be able to pick up ways of doing business in different countries, and understand some of the nuances of that culture, is an important skill."

Working in a global organisation is also useful as she has an international network of colleagues. They share what is happening in their marketplace and emerging trends. "They give me different perspectives on where the industry is going."

Those who are developing a career in ICT should expect a lot of changes, she says. "If anything, the rate of change is going to accelerate... Many of the jobs that will need to be done 10 years from now don't even exist today. Be prepared to keep updating your skills, be prepared for the industry to change around you very rapidly and be flexible."

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