At centreRED, we strongly believe in gender equality and supporting women’s leadership. To that end, we want to highlight some of the successful women in the tech industry and recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sanja Marais, General Manager of Technology and Innovation for Aspen Medical.
Sanja, can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
My role is quite varied, but I am mainly responsible for developing and executing ICT strategies and plans for the organisation and looking after the business’ IT requirements and needs.
We are currently very focussed on creating a cyber-resilient culture within our organisation, so a lot of my day involves activities around security improvement projects. I also spend quite a bit of time interacting with business stakeholders. There is always an interesting project on the go, so I am involved in meetings to discuss and plan for the infrastructure needs for projects and help with strategies around innovation.
It is well-known that women make up a small percentage of the workforce in tech and STEM industries. Has being a woman in tech presented challenges throughout your career? How did you handle it?
I certainly agree that we are only just starting to bridge the gap. I experienced that recently, where I attended two big tech events and there were less than 15% of female participants.
However, I think the lack of women in IT goes further than gender, it is the stereotyping of what IT “folk” look and act like – IT is the birthplace of the nerds with little propellers on their caps!
As women we have this natural tendency to have imposter syndrome, no matter which industry we are in, so confidence is what helps me get through challenges. Confidence in my experience, my knowledge and drive. I just happen to wear my brightest pink high heels and lippy to IT events because that is who I am!
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
I do enjoy the sometimes-priceless expressions when I walk into a room and introduce myself as the GM Technology and Innovation and I am the only woman there.
I also think it is the achievement to break through barriers and be part of an amazing industry with great opportunities for women.
Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into IT?
My background is Industrial Psychology and Commerce. I was a business owner back in South Africa and looked after all IT for the business. I started to get more into systems and data and the passion grew as I was implementing and managing our infrastructure. I have no formal computer science qualifications. I think the versatility of my experience and skills and deep understanding of change management, managing stakeholders and entrepreneurship is key to my success. At Aspen Medical we have strategic partners like centreRED IT that support the technical requirements of our IT solution and day-to-day operations, so I can focus on the strategic initiatives.
What has been your biggest success and biggest learning opportunity?
My biggest success is that I managed to change my career when I was well over 30 into an industry where women are underrepresented and where I had no formal qualification in that specific discipline.
My biggest learning opportunity is to never doubt myself or my intuition. When something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, and you need to make hard decisions and sometimes decisions that do not make you popular. As once said by Australian of the Year, David Hurley, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?
My advice would be that it is not easy, but do not change who you are to conform or fit the mould. It doesn’t matter which job you do, be true to yourself and stick to your standards. Make sure you build a network and maintain relationships with other women in the industry. I live by the words of Quentin Bryce, “you can have everything, just not at the same time.” We all need to be a mum, sister, daughter, partner or wife at some point. Make time for the important things.
As far as what I wish I had known? There are a few!
I wish quantifying my self-worth wasn’t so hard; ask for what you want.
I wish I knew that saying no was ok, because everyone should have boundaries.
I wish I knew that it is ok to take a sick day when I was really sick.
I wish I actually went ahead and implemented some great ideas I had way before they made other people millions of dollars.
Thanks for the inspiring answers and insight, Sanja. We’re proud to be partnering with leading women and leading organisations in Canberra!