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IT girls still FITT after 20 years: A history in pictures

20 years of Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications

  • Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) has turned 20, and to help celebrate, Computerworld revisits some of its highlights through the eyes of Maggie Alexander, steering committee coordinator and founding member.

    The association has encourage hundreds of young women to join the IT industry since its formation in 1989, by providing career information, contacts with the most prominent female CEOs and CIOs, and work experience and mentoring opportunity.

    Alexander and her colleagues have fought tooth and nail against overt prejudice and sexism, and are helping to smash the proverbial glass ceiling that bars women from executive roles.

    As FITT membership swelled from just a few to more than 1650, the organisation commanded the attention in press and politics, continually pushed for equal opportunity in the workplace, and paved the way for women to enter the industry.

  • 1989

    The first formal meeting of FITT — known briefly as Women in IT (WIT) — involved 12 women in a pub. Those who took up the invitation letter from Ann Moffatt, then director of IT for the University of NSW, including Maggie Alexander and Beverley Head, opted for an egalitarian committee structure rather than a “boys club” hierarchy.

    “When we told our male colleagues about the networking group called WIT that we were starting up, they were all rather amused. I remember telling my ex-boss about WIT and he said 'well, if you only get it half right, you’ll be half-wits'.”
  • 1990

    FITT began serious operations as the girls employed the hottest technology to strategise — foot-long mobile phones, faxes and landlines.

    The logo above was created along with FITT's first flyer, and Beverley Head and Helen Meredith promoted IT as an attractive career to young women via job kits posted to careers advisors. Digital and NCR provided the group's first sponsorship.

    However membership declined as the recession sank in, and many women in senior IT roles took redundancy, left FITT and the industry. The burden increased on the remaining members who balanced FITT responsibilities with senior executive jobs.

    “A male ACS member [on a panel] declared that women would never achieve equality until they could drink beer in the pub.”
  • 1990

    "Computers... will play an increasing role in big business."
  • 1991

    Recuitment, publicity and research became the focus of FITT organisers. The organisation provided work experience for student members, made FITT membership free and issued its first newletter.

    1991

    Recuitment, publicity and research became the focus of FITT organisers. The organisation provided work experience for student members, made FITT membership free and issued its first newletter.

    "Just a quarter of 1 percent of all IT professionals earning $80,000 or more are women."
  • 1991

    The newletter was sent to 50 friends of FITT. Alliances were forged with other women's advocay groups including Women in Engineering.

    "[Women in IT] often express a view that a man has more right to a job than a woman in these tough economic times"
  • 1992

    The career kit was finalised and sent out to NSW 1000 career advisors.

    Then NSW Minister of Employment and Training Virginia Chadwick launched the kit and handed FITT $2000 to produce a poster to promote women in IT in schools.

    "Our teachers are becoming aware that girls' preferences in terms of software and classroom activities are generally very different from those of boys, and that school purchasing policies and lesson activities need to reflect the needs and interets of all their students," said Chadwick.
  • 1993

    The poster proved a hit with schools and FITT members were asked to speak at a number of career days. Breakfeast meeting were held every two months, and a decision was made to barr male speakers after a promising speech from a former CSC director on the perception of women in the workplace resulted proved overtly sexist.

    "What a disaster! He was so sexist and condescending he was almost booed off the stage by the audience. We decided we would only invite women to speak in future or people who could be role models!"
  • 1995

    FITT chapters opened in Canberra, South Australia and Western Australia and linked for the first time with teleconferencing. Email came into use and workshop meetings were held on multimedia, collaboration and speed reading.

    Photo: Teleconference at North Sydney Institute (L-R): Sue Meyer, Maggie Alexander, Ann Moffat, Marilyn Cross, Shirley Alexander, Jane Busby.
  • 1993

    Opinions clash in more press coverage over the diffculties faced by women in IT.

    "Contributions from women were being ignored when we were taking part in discussions," said FITT's Alexander.

    "If you are successful in what you do, questions about sexuality are not raised," said Borland's Belinda Hanna.
  • 1997

    Breakfast meeting had taken its toll on the morale of FITT founders, so a recuitment drive was stepped-up to find new blood.

    Workshops tought members on effective presentations, mentoring and starting an IT business.

    Photo: FITT secretariat Annie Murnane testing an application at the UTS Usability Lab.
  • 1997

    Photo: Judy Hammond and Maggie Alexander in the lab.
  • 1998

    FITT held its first International Women’s Day Lunch with renewed vigor amid a the successful recuitment of gen X women.

    Photo: Women's day lunch (L-R): Ann Moffatt, Jane Busby.
  • 1998

    Photo: Women's day lunch (L-R): Annie Murnane, A FITT member, Raji Tenneti.
  • 1998

    Photo: Women's day lunch (L-R): Maggie Alexander, Susan Packer, Merri Cooper.
  • 1999

    After almost folding the previous year and facing a drop in meeting attendance due to the Y2K scare, FITT recuited women in senior IT positions from IBM, Optus and John Price and Associates.

    High-profile women in IT, including the technology advosor to former US President Bill Clinton, former Australian Infromation Industry Sheryle Moon, and HP engineer Dr Anita Borg.

    'Telecommunications' was added to the associations' name to create FITT and links were forged with the Australian Computer Society.

    FITT featured in the above federal government booklet on women’s networking groups.
  • 2005

    Membership soared from about 200 the previous year to 860 by the end of 2005, thanks to more involvement with schools, devoted recuritment drives, a new Telstra-sponsored web site, and skills development programs. The National ICT Industry Association invited FITT to spearhead its representation of women’s interests, and corporate tables were in demand at its networking events. FITT 'ambassadors' were appointed to recognise contributions of women who promoted the interests of the organisation.
  • 2007

    After scoring a spot at CeBit and playing host to former communications minister Helen Coonan the previous year, FITT introduced two small events and four free social gigs to complement its three big annual networking programs.

    A mentoring program with senior IT executives began with 25 mentees and a number of new education programs were supported.
  • 2009

    FITT now has some 1660 members, 80 percent of which hail from NSW, 10 percent from Victoria, and the rest scattered over the country.

    It has a full annual event calendar, 14 committee members and has recurited a PR agency.
  • 2009

    Almost 300 members turned up to help celebrate FITT's 20th birthday in Sydney last week.
  • 2009

    Telstra's Andrea Grant talks to FITT members about the wavering conditions facing women in IT.
  • 2009

    EWK International's Dr Marianne Broadbent speaks of the changes and turmoils she has faced in her extensive IT career.
  • 2009

    Alexander cuts the cake.
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