Our very own MD Susan Brown was featured in Grow Magazine to understand the Girls in Tech mission and what it provides for Australian women.
It all started with Adriana Gascoigne’s mission to get more women involved and empowered in the technology industry. No stranger to the tech scene, Gascoigne has worked with start- ups like Indiegogo, SGN, Algentis, Democracy. com, Swyft, ImpulseFlyer and more. She has also served as an adviser for companies like IBM, NexTravel, StartupStockExchange and others.
While she was at the heart of Silicon Valley, she noticed a stark lack of female and minority representation in the industry. That realisation led her to launch the non-profit group, Girls
In Tech, which focuses on the engagement, education and empowerment of women. Its goal is to promote the growth and success of entrepreneurial and innovative women in the technology space.
Since its launch in 2007, the group has grown significantly and now has 65 chapters around the world, including one in Australia that was initiated at the end of September last year. Girls In Tech Australia, based in Melbourne, is volunteer-based and has a current membership base of over 600 and a board of five members. At its helm is Susan Brown, the group’s managing director.grow caught up with Brown ahead of Girls In Tech Australia’s first anniversary to learn what they are all about, how the year has been and how Australian women can benefit from the group.
grow: Tell us about your professional background and how you joined Girls In Tech Australia.
I’m currently the director of The Experience Centre at PwC, designing and developing innovative digital solutions for our clients. I’ve always been in the tech space; my father taught me how to code when I was really young and I started out my career as a developer.
Two years ago, Adriana had come down to Melbourne to speak at Pause Fest and, while she was here, she did a call to action and expressed her interest in launching an Australian chapter of the group. I did not meet her during the conference, but she did meet up with a group of women, some of whom I had previously worked with and who had, a couple of weeks later, suggested that I speak with Adriana. “You will love what she’s doing,” they said. And so I connected with her, and we had a few chats, and then Adriana asked if I would consider being the managing director for Girls In Tech Australia and I said ‘yes’. She had pulled together this group of women and we all came together one evening and planned out what the Australian chapter would look like. And that’s how we kicked off.
The mission of the global group and ours is very much aligned, but we wanted to open up membership and provide a platform for growth to not only professional women, developers or entrepreneurs, but also to women who are involved in spaces like innovation, marketing, design and more.
What are some of the programs you have in place?
For the past year, since our inception, we have had events every month – from panels to workshops and networking events. One of our standout events for the year was the hackathon, Hacking for Humanity, where we approached nine di erent charities that pitched their digital issues to a room of about 80 women. The hackathon lasted a full weekend, and the women volunteered their time to create solutions for each of the charities. Some of these women continue to work with the charities.
We also had our pitch night called Amplify, where we had 10 female founders present their early stage technology start-ups to a panel of investors and were judged based on the innovativeness and feasibility of their products or services. Winners walked away with cash prizes, as well as additional resources such as software, o ice space and more to take their start-ups to the next level.
There’s an eight-week mentorship program where we pair women up with mentors and focus on honing business and technical skills, as well as providing the women with a network that they can rely on for support and advice.
Most recently we had a three-day bootcamp, sponsored by Facebook. Attendees were coached on idea formation, learned new or finessed existing skills and formed new relationships with other professionals in Australia. We plan these programs a year in advance, and we rely on the help and support from our corporate sponsors to push them out. We try not to charge for most events and, when we do, the fees are nominal, so that we’re opening the opportunity to all women – regardless of their employment status.
Next year, we’re holding the Catalyst Conference that is borne out of the global group in San Francisco. Plans for that are currently underway, and we expect our 2018 line-up to revolve around that conference.
What are some of your highlights of the past year since the chapter took off?
For me, the highlight has been launching the chapter here. I work with some of the most amazing women on the board, who are all in senior positions in various companies or are running their own businesses. We worked together to launch the chapter, and it was a
roller coaster ride of getting the paperwork and legalities right, as well as putting together the programs and events. But we are fortunate [to have] companies like Realestate.com.au, which supported us and helped us when we first started out. They trusted us even though we had no track record of the group in Australia.
The other highlight is seeing all the friendships and partnerships that were created through the various programs and events we have run. We’ve created a community of really talented and amazing women, which continues to grow.
The tech industry has been in the limelight lately with news on sexual harassment, and that has rallied women around the world to speak up. How does Girls In Tech Australia address this?
It’s great that women in senior positions, including Adriana, have spoken out about the issue publicly. At Girls In Tech Australia, we address such issues in different ways. We’ve brought in motivational speakers and have incorporated the matter into our programs. There has been and continues to be a lot of discussion on the topic – how do you address it and what do you do.
While we do not have experts or psychologists in that space, we focus on creating a safe place so that women can approach one another for advice and support.
How is the Australian tech landscape evolving in your opinion?
One of the advantages of the Australian economy, and especially in Victoria and New South Wales, is the diversity of cultures. We now have not only Australians returning from Silicon Valley, but also people from di erent countries, bringing in their knowledge and capabilities. The industry is also getting a lot of support from government and government organisations, like LaunchVic, that provide funding and resources. However, I do think that the larger corporations are a little conservative when it comes to innovation and tech and how they approach it
– they’re hesitant to work with start-ups that are new or have a limited track record, or they want someone else to get the ball rolling first before they commit. I hope that this mindset changes.
There are a number of similar groups that are coming up now such as Girl Geek Academy, Code Like A Girl and more. How does your group differ from them?
We try not to! What we do here is we try and work together and, if we see that there are opportunities for alliances, we come together. We support their events as they do with ours and, wherever we can, we volunteer and provide resources that they need. From the very first meeting I had with the board a year ago, we agreed to be part of an ecosystem; we’re not commercial, and there’s no competition or the need to be competitive. I think that’s very important, to be part of the larger picture and to do right by our mission – that is to empower and encourage women in tech. ⚫
Written by Jamuna Raj