Celebrate women’s achievements. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality. We talked to two Westcon-Comstor trailblazers – Catherine Mwololo and Elmien Du Toit – what International Women’s Day means to them and asked them to share their experiences of ‘breaking the bias’.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Catherine Mwololo, CFO, Westcon-Comstor MEA: IWD is a chance for me to reflect on my journey as a woman. I’m a wife, mother and career woman, and I often reflect upon the impact I can have in the world. I envision a world where women have equal standing and opportunities, and have a voice, socially and beyond. I also see myself as a role model to young girls, or young leaders hoping to grow in the leadership Journey. I want other women to believe that they are worth it and can do it.
Elmien du Toit, COO, Westcon-Comstor MEA: For me, IWD is a time to celebrate women’s achievements in the world. There’s still room for improvement and stereotypes to address so we can get to a place where differences can truly be celebrated. This is why #BreaktheBias is so important.
Have you experienced bias in your career?
Catherine: As a woman, we inevitably experience some form of bias in one way or other in our career journey. I was once offered a role abroad after I had my new-born, I convinced myself that I wasn’t ready for the challenge. But I was fortunate to have a great support system around me, from my mentors who pushed me to pursue the opportunity. I had a manager who believed in me even when I did not believe in myself, and that gave me the confidence I needed to take on the challenge. I ended up taking the role, and it was the beginning of a big career change for me because I experienced something out of my comfort zone and country. It is these experiences that have helped me reflect on how I can help change these preconceptions and help others around me.
What changes in the role women play in IT have you seen in your career?
Elmien: Things are definitely improving over the last few years. We are used to seeing women in HR or marketing roles, but more of us are now recognised for the value and knowledge we can offer across the business. More organisations need to put equality and breaking gender-related biases on their agenda, show how they support diversity, and walk the talk with policies to support women to make it comfortable for women to thrive.
Catherine: IT was very male-dominated until a short while ago, but I’m pleased to say today we’re starting to see real change. We’re not only seeing more women in various IT roles, we’re also seeing more women talking technical languages, excelling in sales and technical roles, and more girls pursuing STEM education and training programmes.
What is the biggest barrier to change?
Catherine: Our own beliefs, biases and stereotypes will be our biggest barriers to change, and only when we start challenging them will we see the needle move. These stereotypes will not go away overnight, but as women already in the channel we have the power to challenge the norms for the next generations. The power of mentorship cannot be understated and we need more of them to pull women up and support them.
Elmien: Changing the structural and cultural inequalities will take time. Women can and will challenge, but these barriers can still hold them back. Then there are social norms around the way people think women fit into society. These barriers will not break on their own, but we need to continue putting ourselves out there and be seen and heard.
I also believe that education is power. We cannot talk about equality without addressing adjacent issues against women, such as safety. This is something I’m deeply passionate about and I fully endorse Westcon-Comstor’s initiatives in South Africa to support and empower black women as part of our commitment to invest in the talent of our future.
What role can the IT channel play to reach this point?
Catherine: How we bridge that gap so the next generation of girls can feel like they fit into the workplace is critical. That change can start from within, such as with workplace practices. Companies need to get the structure right to be able to empower women, while giving them the technology to succeed, to encourage more to take up STEM programmes to upskill. We need to stop seeing jobs as a man’s or woman’s job. I am fortunate to work at Westcon-Comstor which really walks the talk in terms of diversity and inclusion. I’m also lucky to be a senior advocate for Workplace Employee Resource Group (ERG), an initiative at Westcom-Comstor that drives to bring employees issues at workplace to light.
What advice would you give to women considering a career in IT?
Catherine: Have a goal or vision of where you’d like to be, and start from there. Seize the opportunities when they arise, don’t step back and wait for someone to push you. Believe in yourself and that you’re up for the job. Find yourself a role model or a mentor who can challenge your thinking and beliefs.
Who have been your role models?
Elmien: Don’t assume that role models have to be female. My role models were two men who valued the contributions that women can bring to the business. It was key to my development in the IT industry. I see role models as people who give others the opportunities to succeed. Put yourself out there, show your willingness to learn and success.
Catherine: The power of mentorship cannot be understated. It’s so important because often as individuals, and even more so as a woman, we’re often held back by self-doubt. These biases exist and the right mentor will be the balancing pole, your voice of reason. One, who will recognisedyour qualities and support and encourage you. #We must BreaktheBias.