IWD 2023: 50 Plus Women Speak Out About Cracking The Code

By Giulia Sirignani
on 8 March 2023

On International Women’s Day, the question for all of us is, “How are women doing?” At work, home, school, sport and in all the spaces we inhabit, what are our lived experiences and is the dial moving for us when it comes to gender equity?

The theme for 2023 is ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future.’

Women Love Tech asked women leaders, entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, creators, writers, journalists, film makers, psychologists and thought leaders about what this year’s theme means to them.

Broadcaster, author and women’s advocate Tracey Spicer has been investigating and writing about this year’s theme for her new book, Man-Made.

“To me, cracking the code is about continuing to progress the fight for equity into the future,” says Tracey. “Unfortunately, a lot of the bias from the past is embedded in the machines that will run our futures through unbalanced and stereotypical data sets, right down to machine learning which is embedding racism, sexism and bigotry into some of the innovations that we’ll be using in the coming years and decades.”

Megan Dalla-Camina who is the Founder and CEO of Women Rising says there are 12 statistics you won’t believe still exist for women in 2023.

Megan says,

“1. It will take 136 years to close the gender pay gap

2. It will take 268 years to reach economic parity

3. Only 5% of CEOs of ASX 200 companies are women

4. Only 10.6% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women

5. Women lead only 15 out of 195 countries

6. Globally women are paid 20% less than men

7. Women founders got only 0.7% of start-up funding in 2022

8. Full-time working mothers spend on average 20 hours more per week on childcare and housework than their male partners

9. Only 1 in 5 boards have gender balance

10. 46% of women feel burned out at work

11. Over 50% of women want to leave their employer in the next 2 years

12. 93% of women believe their employer won’t take action if they report non-inclusive behaviours.”

“Statistics don’t lie,” adds Megan. “They tell the story of women’s lived experiences. Although we have made significant progress in so many areas, we are still woefully lacking when it comes to a gender equal and diverse world for women.”

Psychoanalyst and Author, Lissy Abrahams, sees firsthand in her work how women are navigating gender inequity.

“We need to crack our cultural, economic and social codes and behaviours that entrench inequality. As a woman who developed a business with several decades under my belt, I can tell you that it’s never too late,” says Lissy. “I have some top tips for you to get cracking. The first is that you are good enough. But you have to stop apologising, stop pleasing people and stop minimising yourself by talking yourself down. You’re also going to have haters and do you know that globally, 24% of women have reduced their internet usage due to online attacks. I encourage you to not dim your light for anyone. Double down and share your genius and speak louder knowing that your voice matters.”

Elisha Harrington, Senior Director at Service Now says today is about empowerment for women.

“For me cracking the code is about empowering women from all walks of life to step into any room, unrelenting and fearless, filled by their experience, skill sets and vision for the future,” says Elisha. “As technologies continue to advance and disruptive innovations such as Chat GPT, Blockchain, and advancements in clean energy really take the world by storm, upskilling is vital ensuring that women are staying ahead of the curve and driving change for a sustainable future,” says Elisha.

Melanie Cochrane
Melanie Cochrane, Equifax ANZ MD

Melanie Cochrane is the CEO of Equifax Australia/NZ. Cracking the code for her means women feeling empowered through financial inclusion and literacy.

“The phrase inclusive innovation really resonates for me. Whether that’s enabling greater financial literacy, inclusion through using data and AI, or whether it’s innovating with leave and flexibility policies, I think there’s a role that we can all play,” says Melanie

Based in in the mid-west of the United States, Paula Bracher-Ratliff is the owner and CEO of Women Impact Tech whose mission is to elevate female technologists in the workforce.

“Our goal is to ensure that over the next 5 years, not only to get more women involved in technology but we change the statistics. Today only 28.8 % of tech jobs are women vs men. “

Director of Customer Success at Paypal Australia, Alison O’Brien, says she notices male bias embedded everywhere she looks.

“There are so many examples of male-centric design. From crash test dummies being designed for male bodies, to the height of shelves in supermarkets, and in tech, there are examples. There’s a study that found speech recognition software was 70% more likely to accurately recognise male speech,” says Ali.  

Aruna Pattam, Data and AI Expert at Capgemini, believes gender bias can be addressed through proactively recruiting more women into tech roles.

“We need more women to be involved in the development of AI technologies. We need more women to become AI engineers , Data scientists and Programmers. We need more women to be involved in the design of AI systems that are both inclusive and unbiased,” says Aruna.

Belinda Lyone, Co-CEO of COS, says: “At COS, we have achieved 52 per cent female leadership in our leadership group and I have witnessed firsthand the power diversity brings to decision making.”

Joanne Wurst, who is CEO at 4Tel, agrees that diversity is key.

“It’s really important when we build our systems that our diversity is reflected in not only the way the systems are built, but the output that those systems generate. However, solving the problem now is one thing, solving the future problem is another thing. And to solve that future problem we need to be talking to people not only in schools but talking to students that are in primary school. So one thing that I have been involved in for example is a local robotic groups for kids. It’s amazing how the diversity at that age is evident,” says Joanne.

Rowena Westphalen is Senior Vice President, Solutions ANZ & ASEAN at Salesforce. She says the company is acutely aware of gender parity and is taking action.

“It’s why we have introduced a new gender goal from 36.4% to 40% of women identifying and non-binary employees. That’s a global goal that we’ve set to get to by the end of 2026. The positives of gender diversity in the workforce are proven. Gender diverse companies across all roles show higher financial returns, profits, consistent growth in the long-term. They are more productive, better at attracting and attaining talent and can better gauge customer needs and demands,” says Rowena.

Nicole Gardner, Managing Director at Edge Agency, says brands play an important part in influencing our attitudes and perceptions.

“I believe there are many simple innovations we can adopt to support gender equality. For example, gender inclusive language. The simple use of gender-neutral pronouns like they or them to avoid assuming gender. Blind hiring which has become very popular recently where candidates are elevated solely because of their qualifications and skills. As a leader in my industry, I am acutely aware that the behaviours that I walk past are the behaviours that I condone,” says Nicole.

Carly Leverington is a psychologist at a virtual support and counselling provider for the LGBTQIA+ community, Unboxed Pride.  Carly sees every day the impact that exclusion, inequality and prejudice has on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“We want to close the gap that can keep so many of the LGBTQIA+ community from accessing support by providing a safe, non-judgmental place online,” says Carly.

Heather Porter, founder of website LOVE urges women leaders in the sector to give all the energy they can muster to ignite change.

“We definitely need innovation, but people follow innovation and change when backed by passion. I feel like we as leaders in this space really need to get passionate about the change,” offers Heather

Amanda Gilmore, Country Manager, Australia at Peloton Interactive encourages us to examine the detail as well as the big picture. Amanda says that it’s in the daily work moments that transformation is birthed.

“Many times, they are smaller moments than you might think. They could be as simple as making a roster of who takes notes in meetings or brings the refreshments, activities that women far more often than men will just inherently pick up. It could be setting yourself small goals in how many times you are going to speak up in a meeting,” says Amanda.

When Monica Rouvellas began her career as a Music Producer, she said she experienced sexism as she stepped on male toes on her path to success.

“Gender equality for me doesn’t mean having even numbers of men and women in the workplace, but ensuring that if women do apply for more “masculine” types of roles, that they have equal opportunity in attaining that role,” says Monica.

All leaders and thinkers in women’s equity and advancement stress the importance of education. It’s only by getting young girls into STEM that will cause the dial to move and the statistics to change in women’s favour.

“Technology and innovation is super important in terms of education and of course education is everything if you are going to get gender equity,” says entrepreneur and She’s the Boss founder Jules Brook.

Doctor, entrepreneur and writer Dr Samantha Pillay wholeheartedly agrees. When she finished her surgical training 20 years ago, only 4 % of women were surgeons. Now, that figure stands at 14 percent which underscores how there’s still a heavy imbalance in equity.

“As the author of the best-selling inspirational careers for kids picture books, I want to encourage young women to dream big and smash those glass ceilings,” says Samantha. “Help me bust the myths about many male dominated careers, About STEM. About what careers are feminine, fun, fashionable and family friendly.”

As a Chief Financial Officer at IT&T Recruitment and Technology Services specialists Talent International, Megan Woodbury knows the importance of learning and training.

“It’s about removing the bias out of our society around social norms, it’s inflating our educational platforms and doing indirect messaging to our communities that have been around for centuries,” says Megan Woodbury.

Owner of Palm Ave Online Business Managers Sophie Sonnenwerth is also a proponent of women’s need to continually upskill in technology.

“In an industry like mine that is predominantly female, it relies so heavily on embracing and learning new technology and the conversation around technical innovation and gender equality is a vital one,” says Sophie

As CEO of Western Sydney Women, Amanda Rose is a voice in her community for embracing STEM and supporting women’s growth.

“What we need to do is make sure that everyone is educated in what it actually means to be a part of the Stem and tech community, breaking that down, opening the doors and make sure we are supporting them all the way,” says Amanda.

Liz Courtney
Liz Courtney – international film director

Filmmaker, entrepreneur and climate activist Liz Courtney left her corporate career to play her part in finding solutions to decrease carbon emissions and address the climate crisis. Liz added her voice for IWD from Antarctica where she’s filming a new series with two young women climate scientists.

“I believe today’s youth are the gamechangers and that science and technology has the solution to change tipping points to turning points. I salute women in science. You have my support and I’m proud to tell your stories through film,” says Liz.

Education, while an imperative for the young is still crucial for older women’s career advancement and economic independence and wellbeing.

CEO of T.House, Tina Nettlefold, underlines how technology confidence is important for women at every age.

“I would like to see women of a certain age like myself be able to use technology and social media in a welcoming, comfortable safe space. To do that we need to break some of the biases that older women aren’t able to use technology”, says Tina.  

Giulia Sirignani and Jacine Greenwood
Journalist Giulia Sirignani and Jacine Greenwood, Founder / CEO of Roccoco Botanicals photo: Andrea Francolini

CEO of award-winning beauty brand Roccoco Botanicals Jacine Greenwood began her company 10 years ago at her kitchen table. She’s now at the helm of one of the fastest growing brands in the Asia Pacific and is convinced learning is a life-long pursuit, especially if you are driven to achieve success.

“I have found that women over 60 are often disregarded in the job market. Having employed women over 60 that have brought a wealth of not only knowledge, but ideas into my business, their experience and insight allows me to understand and innovate for the wiser generation,” says Jacine.

Chief Operating Officer at CouriersPlease Janine Zammit wants to see women make a noise while boldly disrupting.

“It’s about creating more opportunities for women to become innovators, entrepreneurs and disrupters and importantly, risk takers,” says Janine.

Founder of By the Way Media, Jessica Ridley, says women’s careers are often cut too short and this sorely needs addressing.

“Women fill about one third of the tech jobs and a lot then leave the industry after 10 years, so we need to have conversations right across government, industry and education about how we attract and retain our female talent,” says Jessica.

Both from the UK, entrepreneurs Gemma Warren and Rhian Allen believe you can’t be what you can’t see. When more women step into leadership roles, they open the doors for others.

“I came from manufacturing, and it’s been a pretty lonely female path at the top. So, I am delighted to see the embrace equity bringing to the fore, the access of women to STEM subjects to encourage them on the technological side of things,” says Gemma

“Knowledge is power. And if we can teach women of all ages how to become your own boss, how to succeed in business, how to financially literate, it is going to change the world as we know it,” says Rhian

As CEO at Evolution Media Group, Vanessa Stoyklav makes content which promotes women’s financial literacy, safety and security.

“I think cracking the code on money, cracking the code on financial independence and financial empowerment is incredibly important,” says Vanessa. “Also, as the mother of 3 boys, as mothers and women, it’s really important for us to raise sons that really think that there’s no difference between men and women as far as equality – that woman can do anything that men can do.”

Sarah Britz who’s the Founder of Spend With Us says an inclusive culture is key and needs to be further nurtured.

“This means challenging the assumptions that limit women’s potential and creating a more inclusive and supportive culture that values diversity and innovation,” says Sarah.

Caterina Nesci, CMO at Tema Moda, agrees.

“Together we can try to create a more inclusive world that ensures success and prosperity for all women,” says Caterina.

Alyssa Blackburn, Director at Information Management, AvePoint is dismayed that we still need to be having this conversation at all.

“The time for discussion on how to drive a gender-equal future through innovation and technology is over. Now is well and truly the time for action. There is no excuse for employees that fail to provide things like flexible working arrangements,” says Alyssa.

Rochelle Barton, Founder of EduInfluencers agrees that workplace culture is a huge piece of the gender parity puzzle. After founding her business, she now has an all women team in a workspace by women and for women.

“I choose to do things differently, using innovation to ensure that our team has flexibility in their work, workspace and times. They are encouraged to pursue personal work ventures, to write and explore and to think, to be creative and be their authentic selves without pretence,” says Rochelle. “Cracking the Code is about showing that boundaries and barriers, real or imagined, are actually for being pushed through or climbed on.”

Like Rochelle, Sarah Spence founded a company that now employs 20 women. Sarah is adamant that the work environment allows full expression for women and all their needs.

“I was so sick of the corporate cultures that I had been in where I effectively had to come to work and either pretend I wasn’t a woman with menstrual pain and everything else going on, and I basically had to pretend that I wasn’t a mother when I was at work and then when I got home I had to pretend that I didn’t have a job. It just wasn’t sustainable for me, and I was determined to never work in that environment again,” says Sarah from Content Copywriting.

Dr Kristy Goodwin, Author of the book Dear Digital We Need To Talk, has strong views, positive and negative, of the impact of technology on women of all ages. She says where technology works for women is in providing flexibility.

“The real benefit and one that will afford women greater flexibility in how they manage their work lives is providing schedule flexibility. Flexibility around when we work. This is the silver-lining of the pandemic and this will address part of the wellbeing gap we are seeing between males and females,” says Kristy.

“I think it’s really important that we stop putting the onus on women to solve the issues and we put the onus on industry,” says Terri Martin, General Manager of The Marketing Room. “We need to be saying, how do we actually rethink this model? How do we come up with different ways of working that allow women to do the things they need to do?”

Tzipi Cohen Hyams moved to Australia from Israel to work as Microscopy Facility Manager at the Ingham Institute. To her, cultural diversity underpins innovation.  

“This year, the theme cracking the code -innovation for a gender equal future means feeling less isolated and more at ease at work and a more diverse research environment,” says Tzipi.

Azadeh Williams who’s CEO at AZK Media believes in the power of storytelling and the need for bold conversations around gender and diversity.

“We need to continue to amplify and share great stories on who is leading the way on diversity programs. We need to build debate on how to break the bias and we need to recognise who’s getting it right,” says Azadeh.

Podcaster and fashion stylist, Madeleine Park, agrees.

“To me cracking the code is about finding innovative ways to share the meaningful stories and lived experience of other women,” says Madeleine.

“I’m looking forward to a world that everybody can be a part of a world that is kinder, stringer and you are able to do whatever it is that you set your mind to,” says Rochelle Courtenay Founder of NGO Share the Dignity.

Sonia Bestulic, Author and founder of Flourish For Mums, asks that we live into our imaginings of a gender equal future.

“For me, this ignites my imagination as I ask myself and I ask you what if the code was already cracked? What would the world look like in a gender equal future? How could we all be interacting differently? And if you can invest some moments, even close your eyes, and transport yourself into that world and it takes you on a trajectory of experiencing limitless possibilities,” says Sonia.

Chief Marketer at data security giant Equifax Australia/NZ neatly ties up what Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future means to her and many women today.

Roni Millard, CMO, Equifax A/NZ
Roni Millard, CMO, Equifax A/NZ

“For me this is about achieving genuine equality for women, breathing life into our big hairy and audacious goals. Let 2023 be the year that we, as powerful women, continue to rise to be seen and heard so that we can birth new versions of ourselves that we are meant to be,” says Roni Millard.

From all of us here at Women Love Tech, Happy International Women’s Day.

We intend to stay steadfastly on our mission to find and tell the stories of women in STEM everywhere, thereby helping to Crack the Code.

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