As a female founder of a tech start-up, Emily Bobis is accustomed to being mistaken for the intern, while her (male) employee standing alongside is praised for building such a successful company.

“What’s wrong with maybe assuming that the woman runs the company? At worst, they could (run the risk) of giving a compliment,” Ms Bobis told the audience at the Women Leading in Digital breakfast, hosted by the University of Sydney Business School.

Fiona O’Sullivan, Stevie-Ann Dovico, Elisa Chan, Emily Bobis, Professor Leisa Sargent

Ms Bobis’ company, Compass IoT, which she co-founded with Angus McDonald, is a multi-award-winning road intelligence company that uses data to improve road safety and plan better transport infrastructure.

“I think there is this feeling that I need to prove I am a capable person before I can sell a capable idea,” Ms Bobis said.

Professor Leisa Sargent, the Dean of the University of Sydney Business School, pointed out women comprise just 29 percent of the workforce in the tech sector, compared to 48 percent of employees in professional and technical services.

“Part of the importance of having women in technology is to make sure that we actually have products or services that are inclusive and create opportunities for a broader cross section of society in terms of thinking about the needs of other markets and other groups,” Professor Sargent said.

Having robots alongside traditional playground objects could help inspire more young women into tech careers, was a suggestion by Stevie-Ann Dovico, the winner of the Women in Digital Executive Leader of the Year award.

“You need to start early,” Ms Dovico said. “Because it’s then you start to form opinions and how you feel about different types of subjects, things that you’d like to learn, and interesting challenges you want to take really early.”

Ms Dovico said she also wants to banish the notion that you must be a developer to work in tech.

“Tech like any other industry needs diversity of skills and capabilities,” Ms Dovico said.

The audience and panel at the Women Leading in Digital breakfast hosted by the University of Sydney Business School.

A mixed skill set was crucial to the success of her team at Amazon Music, according to Elisa Chan, the winner of the UX Leader of the Year WID Award.

“Digital extends beyond software engineering,” Ms Chan said.

“Product design, UX strategy and research are all key components to developing high quality digital experiences. Individuals in these roles may study Human-computer interactions (HCI) or Human-centered design (HCD) but many come from backgrounds like architecture, industrial design, customer service, community management, psychology, or market research.”

“When the opportunity to shift careers starts to catch on, and these roles become more prevalent in digital product development, it will help products become more user-friendly, more intuitive, and perform better by improving connection with the end user’s needs.”

Professor Sargent said employers can utilise a software aid that detects gender bias in position descriptions.

“It will tell you if the language is masculine. So you can actually think – what are the different words I can use here?”

Professor Sargent asked the panel for their advice to those in the early stage of their career.

Ms Chan encourages her team not to be afraid of failure.

“When it comes to risk and innovation, think of it as moving one step forward. ‘F’ for forward instead of ‘F’ for fail, is really important. That will help create that competitive landscape and encourage people to choose (tech) as a career path.”

Ms Dovico said she regularly advises recent graduates and interns to “leverage your networks.”

“I tell them at some point, you’re going to stop needing to apply for jobs, because people will tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, I think you would be really good at this’. If you’ve done something good, you should be celebrating it, you should be telling people about it.”

“When in doubt – do something,” said Compass IoT co-founder, Ms Bobis.

“Ideas are great, but execution is everything. When you’re not sure which option to pick, just pick any of them. And then you can always pivot later if it doesn’t work out.”

Thursday, 27 April 2023 is the International Girls in ICT Day which aims to inspire more girls and women to take up careers in technology. This year’s theme is Digital Skills for Life with the overall objective to achieve digital gender equality as well as the importance of education and connectivity.

Professor Sargent asked the panellists to imagine a metaphor for their career journey.

My career is a degustation menu, I never pick a career on the traditional criteria of seniority or pay.  I know if I don’t have something that’s going to be really hard to crack or challenging, I’ll get bored. It’s a like a degustation selection, I like to try interesting things.

Stevie-Ann Dovico
Executive Digital, Customer & Colleague, NAB

I grew up around the water, so my metaphor is waves at the beach. There are points where you’re going with the ocean, and there are points where it feels like you’re constantly fighting. There are layoffs and toxic environments, when you fall off the board, and maybe you get dragged under. But with experience you know you have the skills to handle it. I know when to put my hand up and ask for help. And sometimes, you catch the wave.

Elisa Chan
Global Head of Research & Beta, Amazon Music

I do taekwondo and I recently had my grading for my third black belt. It’s not like the colour belts where you can grade every few months. At the black belt level, each stripe represents the minimum number of training years before you can put yourself forward for grading.  When you get to black belt levels it can be very boring to focus on something singularly for four years. So even when stuff is not super interesting, being able to persist is necessary.

Emily Bobis
Founder, Compass IoT

Image: Mailchimp

Jacquelyn is the media producer and the content editor at Sydney Business Insights.

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