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Profile: Cathy Morison, tech veteran

Diversity talk: “Women should not be herded into a career to meet quotas”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Cathy Morison, tech veteran.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Cathy Morison, tech veteran.

Cathy Morison, tech veteran

Cathy Morison has been working in Information Technology for over three decades.  Initially, her passion stemmed from her love of typewriters as a child, and her career evolved around the growth in popularity and sophistication of word processing, typesetting and eventually online typography.

Her career has zig-zagged between utilising her writing and IT skills as a technical writer and getting her ‘hands dirty’ in system administration and – later – business analysis, system design and application development.  She has designed and built several unique web-based applications, including one which received several innovation awards.

What got you interested in technology?

My initial plan was to study law or agriculture. Agriculture was my first love, but whilst having a session with a careers counselor at school, he advised me that it wasn’t a career for a woman. It was obviously enough to put me off, and I selected law as my first choice at university. After opting to have a gap year, I sort of ‘fell’ into a secretarial role as my typing speed in a law firm was almost double the average. I moved into a word processing role by choice, largely because I so much enjoyed typing and still had a keen interest in the law. I quickly progressed to the computer room to maintain the Wang minis that most law firms had to manage their word processing.

I worked in a computer room operational role for a number of years and from law firms to the public service – doing systems administration and database management, writing basic procedures and managing operations.

After the birth of my third child, I took a step back and set up my own business, doing mostly graphic design, typesetting. digital publishing, web development, and technical writing. My technical writing skills were a combination of my love of writing and an understanding of IT systems developed from – at that stage – almost 15 years of work with IT. The natural progression from there was to systems and business analysis.

From 2004, I moved out of operational IT work and focused on systems development. Since that time, I have designed and written several fully-fledged web-based applications, and continue to grow my skills in business analysis, database design and programming (in multiple languages).

I have been involved in IT for so long that it is ‘just what I do’. Sometimes people are a little surprised that I have had such a long association with the IT field, but I have never felt undervalued in the field. If I were to point to a role model specific to IT, it would probably be Grace Hopper. I recall seeing a video of her speaking and thinking ‘Wow – she is amazing!’

I have compromised my earning capacity, but have maximised my job satisfaction.

Other than my initial deflection from studying agriculture, I have never had anyone try to stop me from learning or advancing. I love to learn, and the wonderful thing about IT is you learn something new every day. The only limitation that I could probably point to is the choice I made to work part-time whilst raising our children – and definitely making them my first priority. It meant that I stepped back from a public service role that would have ended in me progressing to a much higher level professionally than I have. The flip-side of that is that I have been able to maintain control of what I did and when and how I did it. I have compromised my earning capacity, but have maximised my job satisfaction.

A day in Cathy’s life

I have ‘fallen into’ what is undoubtedly the perfect position for me. I work for Qirx Pty Ltd, a highly respected IT service company in Canberra that specialises in delivering cloud-based solutions. I have the enviable task of developing a delivery platform for their product ‘Qirx in a Box’. In this role, I have total autonomy and the flexibility of being able to work anywhere, as long as I have my laptop with me.

I work four days a week, and while I specifically take Friday off, my job description sets no limits on the days of the week or time of the day that I work. This incredible flexibility has allowed me to continue to support my (now almost grown up) children and expand my interests – often involving pro bono support of IT for not-for-profit clients and groups.

A typical day for me usually starts with a brisk walk to my local coffee shop with my laptop in my backpack (usually around 6 am). Over a coffee, I will get the routine emails and other basics out of the way before either heading to the office or setting up in my home office to work on the whatever task is the order of the day. As the product I am working on is always evolving, each day presents a new challenge.

My boss Denis Stevens is a very progressive entrepreneur who established and continues to lead the company and is undoubtedly the best boss I have ever had. The company was recently voted as one of the Top 20 Businesses of the Future by Westpac Bank, resulting in Denis being taken on a study tour to the USA and China to visit other progressive businesses.

I had the privilege of being able to design and build a specialty system that, at the time, was considered a world-leader in its field. The SupportLink system was a three-tier referral management system that was used by multiple police forces in Australia. This system received a number of awards, including an innovation award from the Queensland Police Service and a National Innovation in Software award.

The SupportLink system met a social need, so the rewards for me were two-fold. I could take pride in developing something that worked really well, was very successful and which did ‘good work’.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

This is a tricky question to answer without also asking why women pursue the careers that they do.

I was deflected from my first choice by a thoughtless and misguided comment by someone who thought he was doing the right thing by me. Had that not happened, my career trajectory may have been very different from my current one, but it is possible that I still may have become in involved in technology.

In my case, I followed a passion. I found opportunities and grabbed them. As I look back, the term ‘manifested’ springs to mind because – without the benefit of a University degree or even a clear intention – I ended up doing something that was a perfect fit for me. I did not make those choices because I felt that women should have a greater level of representation in the fields of technology. It reminds me of the saying – ‘work at something you love and you will never have to go to work again’. Had I not had a love of technology, working in technology would be as meaningless for me as being a hairdresser.

To best facilitate the success of women in technology, a work environment that supports women working part-time is critical.

I don’t believe that women should be herded into a career to meet quotas. Every woman should be entitled to the right and opportunity to pursue a career that for her is meaningful and contributes to her life’s purpose. If this career is in technology, then the obstacles that stand in her way are the ones we should be addressing.

I think that a world where more women worked in STEM will be a world that is open to and achieving a better balance between work and family. I would see these benefits flowing through for men also – increasing choices for fathers who wish to put family first and still be able to follow a secure career path.

Challenges

Most women will face the challenge of work-life balance during their career and I believe this to be the biggest I have faced. Some women will and should be allowed to continue to, choose family over career. To best facilitate the success of women in technology, a work environment that supports women working part-time is critical.

My decision to place a much greater focus on my family than my career after my children were born was not really a choice. It was something that I did instinctively and certainly have no regrets doing. I dealt with that choice my ‘evolving’ my career to a certain extent, and being involved in technology probably facilitated rather than hindered that choice. However, it did involve me sacrificing many of the benefits experienced by someone with an unbroken career path and an eye for higher level management.

In IT, I see very few other challenges for women. They are the equal of their male counterparts in all ways that matter. Provided a woman has a passion for the field and can find a role that allows her to meet her chosen level of work-life balance, the difficulties she may face in entering or advancing in this field are not unique to technology.

Tips & tricks

The best advice I can give to anyone, regardless of gender or industry, is to try to follow a career that adds meaning to your life.

Get to know yourself. Understand what really drives you and be open to taking ‘the road less travelled’ to get there. Thomas Edison once said, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”. Be open to these opportunities. Look beyond the overalls.

What has been a great support for me is an understanding of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Understand your strengths and focus on a field that matches those strengths. If you are a square peg trying to fit into a round hole because you think it is the right thing to do, or because gender equality says you should be able to, then it will only happen if you shrink yourself to fit. If you are a girl that fits technology, then you shouldn’t have to shrink to fit into the role. Have the wisdom to know what you are meant to do, and the Universe will give you the strength to get there.

 

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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