Women in Tech: The tech surfer’s perspective from a land down under

For Salt a global, award-winning digital recruitment agency, latest Women in Tech interview, we met with Sydney native Kristeen McCarthy, a technology enthusiast holding previous positions leading teams in digital transformation, to talk about diversity, advice and how to navigate and progress in your career.

The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders from around the world to get their opinions and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.

  1. What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?

Honestly, my most career-defining moment was when I got separated from my first husband and decided I needed to reinvent myself completely… Mission accomplished… I am proud of reinventing and reinvigorating several floundering programs, but reinventing myself and taking a risk on a new path is probably my favourite.

  1. What do you think we should be doing more of to encourage more girls to consider a career in tech?

I believe role models and real-life examples are important for both genders to understand what we all have to offer.  I remind my kids that the job I have now did not exist 5 years ago so they cannot possibly know what will be out there – so they should all do what they enjoy regardless of the gender stereotypes that are imprinted on most of us.

  1. What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?

Interestingly, there were no gender issues when I worked in a male-dominated dealing room.  The biggest challenges have been organisational terrorists in small teams – the people who are allowed to behave atrociously because they bring in the most revenue or have key knowledge they won’t share.  A close second is the number of dismissive comments and assumptions around what women “want”…

  1. What is the biggest deterrent in your opinion to women succeeding in the workplace?

In Australia, in 2018 we are held back most by our own preconceived view and bias of what women are capable of and how they should behave.

  1. Who has been your biggest advocate/mentor in the workplace and why?

I used to think a lot of my managers were advocates and mentors, however in most cases they just liked having me around because I made them look good – and however much I liked them, they had very little interest in seeing my career progress, they just wanted me to keep doing more of the same!  I’m fortunate now to have a range of people who can advocate for me and advise me – fabulous to get a balanced view and then form my own course of action based on a combination of outlooks plus what I know in my heart I want to do most.

  1. As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent?

My number 1 view on this would be to make sure that key performers have their career progression supported by semi-forced rotation through key role types… don’t let people stagnate or get trapped!

  1. In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?

Treat everyone as equal – but many women need very transparent feedback on both sides of the equation as they tend to leave things unsaid more than most men.

  1. What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?

Training in unconscious bias is the best thing I have experienced – many leaders don’t realise they are hiring and promoting people who fit the stereotype of their experience and cultural background.

Quotas are great – but I’ve seen them go very wrong.  Diversity is about a lot more than just gender – I have observed a manager who was very proud to have appointed a female to a key position in Finance, which got his quota in line for that year.  Now she was awesome and did a great job.  However, her experience and background were almost identical to his own – right down to the fact that her husband worked part-time and cared for their kids.  So he ticked the gender diversity box but missed an opportunity to get the diversity of thought into his team that some of the other candidates offered. So a safe decision, but in my opinion, he missed out on potential benefits to his team.

  1. Who is your modern-day hero?

I struggle to land on one…I admire the ruthless nature of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, although I’m sure he’s not very nice to be around. I already mentioned Sheryl Sandberg, but ultimately my heroes are the founders of a couple of local cancer charities I’m involved with – The Nelune Foundation and Tour De Cure – for their selfless service to curing and dealing with the consequences of cancer. Truly amazing people.

  1. Any reading/website you would recommend to stay updated?

Simplest one is the Harvard Business Review tip of the day – I also look at IT news a lot and follow several influencers on LinkedIn and Twitter.

  1. What is your biggest stress reliever?

See above – Cycling is number 1 right now, although I also use Yoga and lots of Chardonnay. And the Twitter feed ‘Thoughts of Dog’ @dogfeelings always makes me smile!!

  1. Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?

Don’t imprint your parents’ gender expectations on your career – I wish Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ had been available. Don’t leave before you’ve left, keep an open mind, stay curious.

The other one is that your strengths are what will make you a star, so learn what they are and practice them as much if not more than you work on your weaknesses.

  1. What job did you dream of when you were a kid – your Plan A career path?

I wanted to be a sports teacher, but my Y9 career test told me I should be a lumberjack.  Still need to work on that.

  1. Fun fact about you?

I was a national standard lacrosse player in my 20s and I got my first tattoo when I was 41!

About Kristeen McCarthy

Kristeen doesn’t have a typical technology background – holding a degree in Geography from Durham in the UK, and a post-grad accounting qualification, she started out in banking working as an internal auditor with JP Morgan.  From there Kristeen moved into Treasury and Risk Management disciplines –delivering major transformational programs of work for Westpac in Australia, including the St George merger and designing for the increased regulation post-GFC.

Over the years Kristeen realised a love of tech – always an early adopter of new gadgets, frequently before they really work well!  In 20I5, Kristeen made a career switch into Technology, establishing and managing a team supporting the Digital business of BT Financial Group which grew to include the operations and contact centre technology.  In 2017 she was fortunate to get the opportunity to join a small tech startup as part of the team brought in to grow the company to the next level.

Kristeen lives near the beach with her husband, 2 boys and 3 stepchildren plus 2 crazy dogs.  She loves to cycle, surf, eat, drink and travel – and has occasionally dabbled with a blog which you can find at www.eyesuptoday.com

Find more Salt Women in Tech interviews here…

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Women in Tech: The tech surfer's perspective from a land down under

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