Tara Ridley, Director of Partner Organisation at Cisco Australia and New Zealand, talks to Women Love Tech about starting in the tech industry more than two decades ago and what the industry can do to get more women into tech. She also provides tips and advice for other women looking to build a career in the tech industry.
Working for 24 years in the tech industry is pretty impressive. How did you get into tech, and what do you enjoy most about the industry?
After two rewarding decades in the technology industry, it’s hard to believe that I fell into it by accident when I was a student studying for my Marketing degree in the UK. As part of my degree, I had to find professional work experience in order to complete my third year. The University invited a number of companies to pitch work experience opportunities as part of wider career fair.
I secured a placement with Hewlett-Packard (HP), an American technology company. It was a combination of a winning sales pitch and the fact that the head office was also conveniently very close to where my parents lived. The ability to live at home and save on rent was very appealing!
My time at HP and work experience was amazing but it was a steep learning curve. I arrived on my first day thinking I was going to work in Marketing, but found myself assigned to the Enterprise Sales Team. At the time, I didn’t even know what that was!
After the first week, I was hooked. I loved the variety of tasks; from attending different sales calls and meeting different customers, to learning about new technology and innovation and of course the competitiveness of Sales which uncovered a drive and motivation in me that I didn’t even know I had!. I was learning new things every day, which is really important for me professionally.
I love the fact that all of the things I enjoyed during that time still ring true 24 years later.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, what do you think the industry can do to encourage and promote more diversity?
A gender diverse team offers diverse solutions and ways of thinking that is beneficial to all industries, not just technology. Diversity encourages improved collaboration and staff retention, but more can certainly be done to promote diversity, and equality, in the workforce.
A diverse team is also a better reflection of today’s customers who come from all walks of life. True workplace diversity goes beyond correcting the gender ratio — it covers all backgrounds and ethnicities.
Simple tweaks in hiring policies and HR practices can contribute to greater diversity in the tech industry. For example, companies could state in job descriptions that they are actively seeking applicants from candidates of all backgrounds. Matching a diverse slate of candidates with interviewers from different backgrounds and genders will show that the company is serious about diversity.
What tips would you give other women looking to get into tech? Either straight out of University or looking for a career change.
Be open to the opportunities available: The technology industry isn’t just for people with a technical background. It’s an innovative and creative sector that is booming. Women who are passionate about what they do and are hungry to learn will find lots of opportunities, in lots of different areas. Working in tech does not necessarily mean you have to be a programmer, coder or architect – there are many roles available across the industry to suit other skills such as Marketing, Sales and Finance. If you have an appetite for change and growth, it may be the industry for you. Some of our most successful hires have come from the Pharmaceutical, Finance and Real Estate Industries. They bring a different perspective and diversity of experience which has been invaluable.
Hone your communications skills: Being able to communicate is one of the most important skills in the technology industry, regardless of gender or role. Strong communicators are more visible within companies. Practice makes perfect — leading or presenting meetings will help improve confidence when it comes to public speaking.
When I first started in technology at the age of 20, I was fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented senior women. These women not only inspired me, but taught and showed me, that anything is possible if you want it and work towards your goals. Watching these women climb the corporate ladder to become more senior in their roles encouraged me to work harder and reminded me that I could be one of those women too if I set my mind to it.
If you can see it, you can be it: Female role models are so important. They inspire and give women the ability to imagine their future selves. If you are in a senior leadership role, champion gender diversity in the workforce and support those around you to succeed.
Beyond the workplace, there are also local female-centric tech events and groups that support women in the industry like Women Who Code and Code Like a Girl. Meeting like-minded people and helping to expand the network of women in technology is a step towards improving diversity.
At Cisco, we provide incredible mentorship opportunities for women, such as the Cisco Executive Shadow Program. Through the program, our female employees can shadow, learn and undergo professional development from an executive for three weeks. As a mentor of this program, it has been very rewarding to share my knowledge and experience with some of my wonderful female colleagues at Cisco.
Like my mentors, I want to help inspire and empower the next generation of successful women in tech.
Through my involvement in the Cisco Executive Shadow program, as well as other initiatives such as the employee led Cisco Connected Women and Cisco Empowered Women’s Network, I have the ability support those around me. I’d like the industry to get to a point where women are no longer a minority but are equally represented. That is the goal!