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By 28 August 2015 | Categories: interviews

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It is only fitting to end off women’s month with one of SA’s leading IT ladies; Lisa Lyhne, board member at Dariel. In an insightful interview we picked her brain to find out where SA’s IT industry stands with regards to women empowerment.

TechSmart: Is the SA IT industry where it needs to be in comparison with other developing countries?

Lisa Lyhne: Technology has become the electricity of the world and really the backbone of the country and while certainly there is much room for improvement, we do have exceptional talent. However what is critical is the industry’s sustainability. We need to be nurturing the young and dynamic talent we are producing in country. From a long-term perspective will see us outsourcing less and allow us to be more competitive globally in the technology space.

South Africa has continued to drop in ranking on the World Economic Forum’s biennial global competitiveness report to 56th in 2014 from 53rd in 2013. Every industry needs some form of ICT and we should be in a position to provide these services locally. Currently, the lack of skills makes it difficult to compete effectively and as a result, many developing countries are forging ahead.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in IT? Has the industry changed regarding this the past few years?

I think the most significant barrier to female leadership is our fear that we are not good enough. Girls are so often raised to be pleasers and servers of their families and communities. We are taught that our value lies in the opinions of others – when in fact it lies in our opinion of ourselves.

There have certainly been challenges – especially coming into the industry. Most of my colleagues are technologists - many of them are introverted and they need a co-ordinator to allow them to work together effectively. This is my special skill. Having worked as a technologist before, I understand the nature of the work and the people who do it – which allows me to bring my skills to the fore. What’s more, at Dariel all the staff are treated as highly competent professionals - gender or race are just attributes not defining of who you are or what you do – we are focused on highly skilled, hard-to-find people.

I also think the industry has changed somewhat over the past few years and women in general are being more accepted into the workplace as there is an increasing understanding that we bring a different set of attitudes, views and ideas to the business mix.

What changes would you like to see in the industry regarding women empowerment?

If we want to see more women entering the field, young girls need to be able to see more public role models who are women when they are considering career choices. Women entering the field need to be able to find mentors. Putting women in the public face of technology is necessary if we want to make significant progress toward increasing the gender diversity in technology fields.

What are some of the stereotypes associated with women in IT that you would like to see dispel?

Sadly perceptions, intimidation and stigma of women in IT run much deeper than anything else. The biggest stereotype I think is women are too soft or too stupid for IT. It’s a profession that is dominated by men, a ‘boys club’ if you will, and industry intimidation is high. But allowing this attitude to prevail is simply disrespectful to our own gender and capabilities.

Women are not too soft or stupid for IT. In fact, not only are we very much capable from a technical perspective but we also bring a different set of leadership, IQ and EQ qualities and dynamics to a business.

Successful female leaders intrinsically possess the right mix of how to improve one's effectiveness at leadership - how to ‘take charge’ of the leadership in an organisation. It’s this new thinking that will open up many opportunities for the corporate IT world and for our economy.

Any advice for young women looking to forge a career in IT?

To me celebrating womanhood means being an active participant in all avenues of life,  including the world which is often seen as a male preserve. However, it also means enjoying the privilege of the things that are more woman-focused, such as mothering children for example.

My top three tips for women are:

  • Believe in yourself – you have the capacity to do what you set out to do
  • Free yourself to make mistakes – but learn from them
  • Be yourself – you don’t need to play a persona to be valued. You have so much to offer as you are.

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