Our Blog

where we write about the things we love



When diversity counts… We will all – always – be “dancing”

[Our] reflections on TechWomen’s International Women’s Day events: When diversity counts

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Verna Myers, “recovering attorney” and star of this TED Talk on overcoming bias 

I’ve heard Myers’ quote a couple of times over the past few weeks and since last week’s International Women’s Day events I’ve thought a lot about it – in particular as I’ve reflected on the Wellington TechWomen’s session and a number of conversations I’ve had with colleagues about the topic of diversity and inclusion since then.

Common throughout the conversations I’ve been a part of is the understanding that diversity is a no-brainer. It’s good for everyone. It’s good for business. And, not only that, it should be practically non-negotiable in this day and age. As Tui Te Hau said at the Wellington event, “In an increasingly dynamic and complex world, we need to accommodate new perspectives and ways of doing things.”

Because – to paraphrase somebody – if we keep on doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get the same results we’ve always got (if we’re lucky… and the chances are we won’t be).

And while most progressive organisations ‘get it’, diversity is not a given or a been-there, ticked-that-box item. It’s an abiding principle to which we all need to always hold ourselves accountable. It’s always aspirational. We should always be in a state of becoming, because we can always be doing better, no matter how many strides we’ve taken thus far.

We’re at an important inflection point, where the case for diversity is very clear. But diversity should be just the table stakes, just the prelude to the conversation itself. And it’s incumbent on us all not just to hold ourselves to account on the diversity front, but to then focus our attentions on the harder part – inclusion, and making sure that everybody (whoever we are, wherever we may be from) is 100% invited to the dance.

Over the last week I’ve thought a lot about what “dancing” looks like in the context of Myers’ quote.

To me, dancing is

  • Committing to honest dialogue
  • “Showing up”
  • Being brave, even if it’s uncomfortable
  • Being aware – both self-aware and also aware of the difference around us and the magic and freshness that this difference can bring
  • Taking accountability for making positive change, however small, at an individual level
  • Being our best selves
  • Creating spaces and environments where others can be their best selves and bring their uniqueness to the floor
  • Being prepared to try out new moves, even if you feel like you have two left feet. Even if you’re scared of looking like this lot.

So, in the words of the late, great David Bowie, Let’s Dance.

And now – with dancing analogies aside – here are the reflections, highlights and insights from some of the Intergen team who attended TechWomen’s When Diversity Counts events across Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch last week.

(N.B. Out of nearly 40 of us, seven were men. A good show, but next year I’m sure there will be more... Check in here in a year’s time and we’ll see!) 



  • Emma Oettli – Head of Lean Analytics, BNZ
  • Vaughan Rowsell – founder of Vend, OMGTech and Vice Chair of the NZ Hi-Tech Trust
  • Sarah Jennings - COO, Stretchsense Ltd  
  • Kat Kolich (MC) – Head of Enterprise Data and Information Services, BNZ 


Linda McConnell - Marketing Communications Specialist, Marketing and Communications

Listening to inspirational speakers on the topic of When Diversity Counts at the TechWomen lunch was a great way to mark International Women’s Day.

TechWomen is an organisation under the NZ Tech umbrella whose focus is working together to inspire girls in tech, support the growth of women in tech roles and help improve diversity in the tech workplace. They work to three main areas:

  • Participation gap
  • Remuneration gap
  • Advancement gap

Figures show that if trends don’t change soon – and fast – it will take a further 217 years to close the gender gap – a scary thought, especially for a mum of two young girls! – making it all the more impactful attending an event to highlight the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Emma Oettli certainly bucks the gender trend. Opening the floor, Emma described how she has created a high performance culture among her growing team. She was tasked with creating the lean analytics team two years ago at BNZ and has seen a lot of success in her methods. She believes “the secret sauce” comes down to three main areas: diverse thinking, an inclusive culture and new ways of working. She concluded with some very useful advice: ‘Start somewhere!’

The highlight for me was hearing from Vaughan Rowsell. Each year for the past ten years he has set himself an ‘impossible task’. These tasks have included quitting alcohol for a year, cycling around the world in 80 days and setting up a software company. His out of the box approach to life is a natural path to building a culture of diversity in every one of his endeavours.

So, when Vaughan was asked to become vice chairman for the NZ Hi-Tech trust, one of the first changes he drove was ensuring a 50/50 gender balance on the board. One of Vaughan’s impossible tasks led to his creation of OMGTech! A charity that gives any primary and intermediate school in New Zealand the opportunity to take part in its award-winning workshops to be inspired and learn how to use future technology; and, in line with the theme of the event, these programmes ensure a 50/50 gender split. In a typically male dominated industry when the male positions fill up there are no more allocated; they are left to the female tech enthusiasts.

The event concluded with an introduction to Edwina Mistry, who has taken on the role of executive director for TechWomen. Watch this space as Edwina has instigated many great and successful initiatives including ShadowTech over the past 30 years and is brimming with energy and enthusiasm for the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead in her new role.






Raewyn Walker – Client Director, Client Development

Having not attended a specific International Women’s Day event before, I didn’t know what to expect. What we got were two stories from women who have taken on exciting challenges and, using those personality traits we describe as typically “female”, have managed to create significant impact. 

The impact of building an inclusive working environment as part of the approach to delivering fast, agile, data-driven business value seems quite different to growing an innovative kiwi start up but both had shown themes of the kind of approaches to working we now celebrate as diversity.

I felt we had made some progress as a couple of decade ago when I started out I recall being told to censure the times in which those typically feminine approaches were used, as “behaving more like a man” was deemed to be more expected and thus less likely to cause ripples. Well, when you need to cause ripples, it seems being yourself is the best course of action!

I was probably most impressed with Vaughan from Vend and his story of the massive impact his mother made on him. Her efforts to make an emerging technology commonplace and to demonstrate to him via the way she dealt with disability that nothing is impossible. I felt inspired by his story to make sure I pass these lessons to my children both by action and by example. In addition to this I was moved to action by the way he finished. Yes, his company Vend has done well in the diversity stakes but it’s still not statistically represented across the broader tech population. We can all do something to help improve the ratio. Watch this space.

Archana Nayak – Graduate Developer, Modern Applications

First of all congratulations to TechWomen, this is such a great initiative to encourage women. I was really inspired by the stories shared by the hosts and would like to participate in TechWomen’s future activities. I would also like to share my appreciation for the lunch – you took real care in considering different cultures as one of the important aspects with respect to food. Thank you so much and looking forward to exploring more opportunities at TechWomen.

Isabel Zhuang – Graduate Developer, Modern Applications

I am so thankful to TechWomen for holding this International Women’s Day lunch as I had almost forgotten what it was like to be in a room full of women, in particular, part of the majority!

There was an excited vibe buzzing around the room as each attendee entered, eager to hear the diverse speakers present and meet like-minded individuals. I enjoyed listening to all of them, but one of the points that Vaughan mentioned got me thinking. He had attended an event earlier in the month where the number of women outnumbered the men, which made him feel somewhat intimidated. What made me sad was how relatable this story was because after he said that, there was a collective sigh of understanding from all the women in the room, including me, signifying how common this feeling was.

Not only can women excel in tech fields; they are already, and we should be encouraging more young females to pursue careers in technology. Not only will this help with gender imbalances but it will also change the current mindset of what types of people should be in these professions. I have been an avid supporter in getting the word out there to young girls and attending this event has only given me more motivation to speak louder and volunteer at more events that promote women in technology.

Nigel Kaiser – Practice Manager, Service Delivery Management

The trauma of being one of a handful of males in a room full of women was somewhat offset by the great lunch… and the thought-provoking speakers talking about diversity and the value it brings to organisations and individuals.

I was particularly interested in Vaughan Rowsell’s story of confronting his own unconscious bias. Vaughan’s clearly a man of action and has used that awareness to introduce diversity into his organisation and the wider community. The work being done by the charity he co-founded to help get kids (equal numbers of girls and boys) into tech (OMGTech!) is truly inspiring.

Many years ago a bunch of mates and I were talking about a question posed by one of their med-school lecturers – a variation of this:

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Explain. 

We (a group of eight males and females, who are now surgeons, GPs, pharmacists and lawyers) were all horrified that we didn’t consider the obvious explanation (and yes, I’m aware there are other explanations that no-one would have considered back in the late 80s!).

The experience really stuck with me. Imagine a world where this wouldn’t stump anyone – where kids wouldn’t be able to comprehend jobs being stereotyped by gender. This session reminded me that we all must play a part in making that a reality.



  • Greg Sheehan – Director of Partner Development (Global), Xero
  • Tui Te Hau – General Manager of Mahuki, Te Papa’s innovation hub
  • Nicole Ferguson – CEO, REANNZ
  • Eva Sherwood (MC) – Manager, Deloitte New Zealand


Breanna Mudge – Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Marketing and Communications

As a person relatively new to working life – in the grand scheme of things – I have faced some strange situations as a woman, since my first part time job when I was 14.

Attending my second TechWomen, International Women’s Day event last Tuesday reinforced to me how much progress we as a nation have made in the last 16 years. The three speakers, and host, Eva Sherwood, were phenomenal and provided some fantastic take-aways.

Tui Te Hau spoke about how diversity and inclusion has helped throughout her career but in the past few years how it has really improved the working environment and efficiency of Mahuki at Te Papa. She also gave some fantastic tips on how to fill your cup just for you and only give from your reserves, you are no good to anyone if you burn out. Greg Sheehan from Xero braved addressing a room predominantly filled with women for the first time and spoke about how we need to bring majority groups along on the journey, investing them in these causes as well or change will never happen. Lastly, Nicole Ferguson from REANNZ gave everyone techniques on how to deal with a situation when you are the odd one out. She spoke about how draining these situations can be and how to keep on top of the game by knowing yourself and when you are at your best then limiting events you need to network or speak at if you know you aren’t your best at that time of day.

All in all it was another great event where we all left feeling inspired and motivated for the future.

Celia Voysey – Support Team Lead, Modern Applications 

Diversity isn’t just about gender. People from low socio-economic backgrounds, minority age groups or unusual family circumstances can face just as many challenges with pre-conceptions as women. It’s important that any company considers diversity from all aspects. I think Intergen’s graduate programme is a great example of how we encourage diversity within our company – having a bunch of fresh, young perspectives in every day conversations broadens our horizons!

I was particularly taken by the specific examples that were given around how we can encourage diversity through our hiring practices. Blind CV analysis and targeted ads (where language is analysed for any unconscious bias towards a particular gender) were approaches we could genuinely apply. I also liked the idea of celebrating people’s culture on a regular basis within the company – something as simple as a morning tea to celebrate Diwali can encourage inclusiveness.

Chloe Skidmore – Recruitment Specialist, People and Performance

Diversity is definitely key to success. Getting more women into technology and leadership roles seems like a no-brainer, and I often wonder at why it is so hard. Hearing the stories from our three speakers on International Women’s Day gave a little bit of an insight into some of the possible explanations for that. There are heaps of reasons, but for me, Tui’s stories resonated most, in particular her message that it’s ok to not want to fight the good fight every day. As women, we do feel more pressure to hide those off days and it’s hard.

We talked about each doing our little bit, so from now on I’m going to make an active effort to own my off-days and quietly challenge anyone who makes me feel bad for not being 100% energised and “on it”. If we don’t challenge those negative connotations, future generations will face the same thing. We’re all human, nobody is perfect, and no one should feel they need to prove themselves more than anyone else. Awareness is a magical thing, and I genuinely don’t believe much of the bias is deliberate. So, by making my colleagues aware that they’ve made me feel guilty or uneasy, I will hopefully help to keep chipping away at the barriers.

Tamzin Beazley – Design Specialist, Marketing and Communications

My highlight was a comment by Eva: You have to work the system. That resonates with me – women are working smarter by speaking up and being ambitious. Some work part-time or from home and are super-efficient in their roles. It's great that we're starting to see male colleagues supportive of these women and enabling them to work in an agile environment. 

Priyanka Roy – Practice Lead, Data Insights

I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people attending the TechWomen lunch event, both women and men! After a healthy lunch and some networking, we settled in to hear an amazing line up of speakers, who took us through their journeys as leaders in the tech industry. I liked the fact that there was a good mix of genders in the speakers arena, which gave me an opportunity to hear both perspectives. Each speaker brought their own journey to light and took us through their experiences and thoughts on why diversity in the workplace matters. Some themes and thoughts that I took away from the event were:

  • It’s about time we take action to increase the presence of women in the boardroom and not just talk about it
  • Women bring a nurturing aspect to the table and often use a different approach to solve a problem
  • We should be aware of unconscious bias
  • More men are needed to champion this cause
  • Loved the concept of ‘blind recruitment’ – which means eliminating names from resumes to hire people based on skills

Thank you TechWomen for a well-run event with a great cause!



  • Sue Suckling – Chair of the Board, NZQA
  • Kevin Rowland - COO, eStar
  • Dene Lynch – Project Manager, Dynamic Controls
  • Helen Shorthouse (MC) – Strategic Tech Leader, ChristchurchNZ

Posted by: Katy Sweetman, Marketing Director, Empired Group | 15 March 2018

Tags: Women in Tech, Diversity, Inclusion

Top Rated Posts

Blog archive

Stay up to date with all insights from the Intergen blog