From cutting code to managing projects

Linda Zeelie, one of the world’s ’25 influential project managers’, on her career

Why do you think there is a shortage of women in the Australian IT industry?

I think IT is perceived as a technology industry. It's perceived as something that needs you to be interested in network diagrams and you know, all the technology-type stuff. And I think a lot of our training courses and university courses encourage that as well, whereas to be honest, IT to me is a whole industry on its own, where it's got soft skills, you can do HR [Human Resources], you can do finances, analysis, design, testing, configuration management, project management, there's just a whole myriad of roles in IT where you don't have to code a program at all.

But people don't see it that way. They [think] you must be sitting in front of a computer programming all day [to be in the IT industry].

I've worked in a couple of places around the world, and I was actually shocked at how low the percentage of females in the Australian industry is. I always saw myself as a person in the IT industry; I never thought of myself as a 'woman', until I moved to Australia, because here there are so few. You kind of stick out a little.

I've actually been involved in a number of programs through the Australian Computer Society and Uni SA [the University of South Australia] to encourage girls in the industry, and as part of that, I've actually stopped to think of what's different about Australia that girls aren't interested in IT, and I think it's just a perception that IT is technical.

My daughter is in high school and I said to her, 'Do you want to go into IT?', and she said 'Oh no, I don't like computers'. But she wants to be a project manager, and I'm like 'Well, you could be a project manager in IT', and she goes 'Oh, can I?' And she's got a mother working in the industry, so obviously the perception is really strong.

What has being a woman in IT been like for you?

As I said before, I never really thought of myself as a 'woman' in IT - I was just a 'person' in IT. There are a number of instances where I'm very often the only woman in the room, so it is becoming a little bit more obvious to me about being a woman in IT.

The more successful you are and the higher up you go, the tougher it does get, because it is a man's world. I haven't really seen that as a barrier before, it's just something you need to learn to live with and get on with.

But the disadvantages are there, and the advantages for women aren't quite there, so the benefit ratio doesn't quite add up, and so I understand why a lot of women do not want to go into the industry.

What's the hardest part of being a woman in IT?

The networks. A successful senior business person has very good networks, and as I've said, the networks [in IT] are all very male-oriented, and so networking is very hard and knowing the right people is difficult.

Probably [the next hardest part] after that would be the work-life balance, because as a woman, I've got two kids, and so those are challenges that often my male colleagues don't have to deal with as directly as I do.

Trying not to let my job take over my life is a challenge, because it easily could.

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