From programmer to industry leader, as one of Australia’s only Chief Information Officers in technology, Andrea Walsh has shattered the glass ceiling. And she’s championing other women, while she’s at it.
So, is she a game changer? Let’s find out. I’m Sarah Harris. Welcome to Game Changers.
Sarah: Andrea, welcome to Game Changers, now you are one of Australia’s only female CIOs of a technology company. You must see yourself as a bit of a role model?
Andrea: I never thought I was, but having been in the role now for number of years I look around and I do think where are all the other women, where are all the females.
Sarah: And, where are they?
Andrea: There is just a real shortage of women in I.T and technology, which is a real shame.
Sarah: So, tell us a little bit about Isentia and what it actually does.
Andrea: So, Isentia is a media monitoring company. And basically what that means is we take information and news from across varying countries, about 18 countries, multiple languages, and we filter that and disseminate it to what is important to our clients and what are the leading issues that they need to focus on. An average day, there’s about 7 million news items that we’re processing.
Sarah: That is a big job, lots of information to get through. So, what does your role as CIO involve?
Andrea: So, I lead the technology team. We are responsible for all the systems and the technology that processes those 7 million items a day. And we also provide all the services for our clients and tools for them to be able to do their job each day.
Sarah: Why do you think there’s a lack of women in IT roles?
Andrea: I think through education. I don’t think that girls are encouraged to take up sciences and engineering when they’re younger. It’s very much seen as, ‘it’s for the boys’. I think it starts really early on. And then I also think women don’t put themselves forward necessarily for opportunities, and roles to re-train. And maybe say, I might be interested but unless I’m absolutely sure I not going to give it a go.
Sarah: You are quoted as saying, “we’re on the cusp of a technological revolution”. What are you most excited about?
Andrea: There is so much. I think that’s what’s exciting. I think with cloud technology, it’s enabled a lot of organisations to be able to experiment with technologies. And things like artificial intelligence, so looking at machine learning. And I think that will really shape future roles and jobs.
Sarah: You really passionate, which I love, about women moving up in the industry. In particular, girls learning how to code. For someone who is not as technologically advanced as you, perhaps, explain to me what coding actually is.
Andrea: It’s basically creating something using computer and technology. Sometimes, yes, it has to be, or can be, detailed lines of programming. But some of the tools that are available, especially to young children who are interested in coding, enables kids to build stories, cartoons and make videos.
Sarah: The number of girls studying, as you said before, STEM, which is science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it is slowly increasing. Which is brilliant. But it’s not at a rate of ‘the boys’ just yet.
Andrea: No. Certainly not. And I think that it is great that it is slowly increasing. But it’s got a considerable way to go.
Sarah: Well, how do we change that?
Andrea: I think again, it goes back to the education. It’s encouraging girls and young children to get involved in these subjects. And I also think that they have maybe a brand, or an image, issue with engineering and IT often see as ‘it’s for the boys’. I think it’s also about the parents and the carers. So often we teach our children when they come home about doing their homework, reading, writing, maths. But what about the children who want to learn technology, and they want to learn to code? And if the parents aren’t IT, how do they support them. So I think it’s really about, as I say, the education, but then also then about the parents and finding these great programs that are out there to give the kids opportunity.
Sarah: Your daughter is eight and she’s already taken an interest.
Andrea: When I first showed her the iPad, she just took it instantly. It was quite amazing to experience. We certainly encourage here to use it. There’s s o many educational programs for children that you can use on the iPad. So I’m a big advocate of it.
Sarah: It does bring up that other thing as well, because I have a little boy who’s 18 months, and he’s very savvy when it comes to technology. You know, he’s coming up to the television and trying to swipe it like an Ipad. But I do kind of worry that (you know) we’re introducing technology to these kids too early, because there’s been research that show that it’s actually changing the chemistry of the brain. When should we be introducing this sort of stuff to our kids? Because as a parent you sort of think to yourself, I don’t want my kids to have their head in technology all the time. But at the same time, you don’t want to hold them back, because that’s the future.
Andrea: I think its each individual parent’s choice. For our daughter’s, Charlotte, we introduced it quite early on, so it was before kindergarten. But we’re very strict with her, both from what she can do on there and so content she can see. And also how long she spends on there, because the last thing we want is to build a relationship and the communication is with the back of an Ipad all of the time.
Sarah: IT is a well-paying field, but there id still a gender pay gap when it comes to technology, isn’t there?
Andrea: Where I work at Isentia, we pay the market rate and we pay on skills regardless of gender. But it is a known issue within many industries and with many organisations and that’s something we need to address.
Sarah: What advice you want to give to women that you mentor?
Andrea: I would say, seek every opportunity. Just go for it – what can you lose at the end of the day? I think work with other areas of the business as well; get to know the business and the industry in which you work. Do things that are potentially outside your remit so you can learn and grow from them.
Sarah: You are a trailblazer and a Game Changer. Thank you for joining us today.
Andrea: Thank you.
Disclaimer: Featured in Game Changers