A Few Minutes With Jo Stewart-Rattray, CISA, CRISC, CISM, CEGIT, CP, Director of Information Security and IT Assurance at BRM Holdich
Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles you have faced when stepping into a leadership position?
A: Gender was the biggest obstacle I faced when it came to my very first chief information officer (CIO) role.
After I had applied for the role, the hiring team thought that I did not have enough competition in the candidate pool and held the role open past the closing date to encourage a few other male candidates to apply. At the end of the day, I was offered and accepted the position, but it certainly was a wake-up call for me with regard to how gender plays a part in the hiring process.
Q: What is one of the most important internal (of your own effort) factors that led you to this role?
A: Continuing to fight to show that I was the best qualified candidate and that I would not be ignored.
Q: What other challenges do you see women face in being ready to take a leadership position?
A: Women often are challenged with a lack of confidence and are too honest about their salary requirements.
Q: Can you expand on how you think confidence plays a part in women taking on leadership roles?
A: Confidence plays a huge part. Most women will look at a job description and think, “Oh well, I can only do 70-75% of what is required, so I better not apply.” In the same situation, men think the complete reverse, “I can do the majority of what they ask, so why not apply?” Women always want to make sure that they can do 150%. We all need to have the confidence to pursue roles in which we can perform the majority of the duties required.
Q: What advice do you have for women on salary equality and how to approach this when pursuing leadership positions?
A: Salary equality is a real issue and we need to make sure that we do not shortchange ourselves. For instance, if, in an interview, you are asked what you are currently being paid, you need to deflect by saying that you believe the role you are applying for to be worth a certain salary according to the industry average. By telling a potential employer your current salary, you often do yourself a disservice. Those hiring will often take the number you give them and add a nominal amount to it. This may be better than your current salary, but it does not represent what the role should be paid or even what the employer intended to pay. Be careful of this.
Q: What is the most important external (not of your own effort) factor that led to your position of leadership?
A: Having great role models, shining lights and a cheer squad.
Q: Who have been your mentors as you have taken on leadership positions? Why do you look up to them?
A: To further expand on my previous answer, I have had a number of people I refer to as “shining lights” in my professional life. These people may not be formal mentors, but my shining lights are people that I look up to and admire for what they have achieved. I also like their professional style and believe that they are wiser than me. They have been both male and female and have ranged in age significantly.
I have had a board mentor over a great many years. This is a man with whom I have served alongside and with whom I get on very well. I know that even though he is extraordinarily busy, he will find the time to answer questions, give advice and be supportive if that is what I need. We no longer serve together on a board, but he is still there for me and is just a phone call or email away. To him, I say a huge thank you.
Q: How do you think organizations can better advocate for women in IT leadership?
A: Organizations need to actively seek to engage with women and determine their workplace needs and encourage more women to take on leadership roles by offering the appropriate programs. Organizations should ensure that there are women in the senior ranks already—this alone can encourage women to join an organization and aspire to be leaders. Women need role models, they need women’s achievements to be showcased, and they need mentors or champions.
Q: What should be done globally to advocate women in leadership? What about at the national level?
A: Professional bodies like ISACA® have a significant role to play. The SheLeadsTech program seeks to address the underrepresentation of women in technology leadership roles and in the technology workforce more broadly by advocating at a national and global level—making governments aware of the issues faced by women.
We have taken the program to the United Nations and Capitol Hill in the United States, which is an amazing feat in its first year of being a full-fledged program.
We also assist ISACA chapters in setting up networking opportunities and safe places for women to tell their stories and share their lived experiences, which is extremely powerful.
Q: Are there currently any countries leading the way with initiatives that advocate for women in IT leadership?
A: This is an interesting discussion. Some would say that the Nordic countries are in the lead given that they have mandated that there must be equal participation of both men and women at senior levels. However, when I recently spoke to a number of our ISACA members, both male and female, about this issue, they told me that a new issue has arisen—a new type of bias—“She only got the job because they do not currently have enough women.” This puts women in an unenviable position regardless of their qualifications and their right to be in these positions.
My experience has shown me that women around the world face gender discrimination and gender bias regardless of where they may be.
Q: How do you personally advocate women in leadership?
A: I actively encourage women to take the next step. I am a mentor and have protegees in my own city, but I also have two young women in Africa and one in Europe who I assist via electronic means.
I speak at conferences about my own experiences, encourage women to dream big, and believe in themselves and their abilities. I would love to see more young women stepping into technology leadership roles and, indeed, to the board room.
Additionally, I am very active with SheLeadsTech and the ISACA advocacy program globally and at home in Australia.
Q: What do women need to do collectively to advocate women in leadership?
A: Women need to support one another, encourage one another and know that no individual woman is alone. Joining a networking group like a local ISACA chapter can help. It helps so much to realize that this is not just your issue. It is so beneficial to share your stories and learn from other women about how they have achieved what they have or are achieving their goals in the present. Do not be afraid to put your hand up to volunteer to be either a mentor or, indeed, to be mentored. Both are rewarding experiences.
Jo Stewart-Rattray, CISA, CISM, CGEIT, CRISC, FACS CP is director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich. She has more than 25 year of experience in the IT field; some of which were spent as CIO in the utilities and as Group CIO in the tourism space, and with significant experience in the information security arena. She underpins her IT and security background with her qualifications in education and management. She specializes in consulting on governance and strategy for industry sectors including banking, finance, utilities, automotive manufacturing, tertiary education, retail and government. She is currently serving as an elected director on ISACA’s Board of Directors and is Chair of its global women’s leadership initiative, SheLeadsTech. Because of her involvement with ISACA and the SheLeadsTech program and her rural background, Stewart-Rattray was invited to join the official Australian Government delegation to the 62nd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) held in New York, New York USA, in March 2018. Stewart-Rattray has had an award established in her honor to recognize her outstanding leadership and commitment to increasing the representation of women in technology leadership and the tech workforce more broadly. The inaugural ISACA Oceania Jo Stewart-Rattray award was awarded in September 2018.