Women in Tech – Helen Shorthouse

By: Jessica and Gemma 1 Aug, 2018

We are going to be exhibiting at The Canterbury Tech Summit this year on the 12th September, so in the lead up to the event we thought we’d create a conversation around the tech industry, starting with women in tech. We sat down with Helen Shorthouse, Strategic Tech Leader for Christchurch NZ to chat about current trends, gender equality and what we can look forward to at this year’s event. 

You’re currently the Strategic Tech Leader for Christchurch NZ, what does your role involve? 

In simple terms, my role is all about helping support the growth of the Christchurch tech sector.

How do I do this?A key priority is to raise the profile of Christchurch as a vibrant tech sector.  In fact we are home to the second biggest tech community in NZ but most people don’t know that.  I come across fantastic examples of our world class, creative, companies all the time so my role is about amplifying those stories and encouraging businesses to tell their own good stories.

By raising the profile of the community, our companies and the world-leading innovations that we have here we can attract more businesses, more experts coming here to share their knowledge and build connections, encourage local youngsters to consider tech as a career, attract talent from outside of Christchurch and attract those with cash to come and invest in our businesses.

Most of the work I do is focused on this profile building.  Techweek, the Hi-Tech Awards and the Tech Summit have both been good at helping to build ‘brand Christchurch’ as a tech hub.

I am particularly passionate about helping build diversity within our community and am working with others to help get more women into the tech sector.  Having greater diversity has been correlated with increased financial business performance (by 15% for gender diversity), market share (38% for gender & 33% for ethnic diversity), talent attraction (90%), innovation (78%) and customer satisfaction (77%)

I also get to help lots of people connect – this ranges from connecting people into the eco-system who are new to Christchurch or returning home, to those who want to build businesses in Christchurch for global impact.

What excites you about the tech industry in Canterbury? 

I’m really lucky that I have such a broad range of conversations and insight into the sector. I get a real buzz when someone from outside of Christchurch reflects what they think is amazing about the Christchurch tech industry and why they do business here – our creativity, connectedness, ease of meeting decision makers, ability to test and trial things and progressive thinking.  When you’re living and working here you often don’t realise what others around the world see.  We need to tell that story more, build pride in those that are here and attract more businesses and talent to Christchurch to grow the sector even more. I also get a buzz every time I meet a new company with interesting innovations and smart people, selling on a global stage…. We’ve got so many examples of this in Christchurch.

Razzbri are exhibiting at The Canterbury Tech Summit this year – what can we expect? 

A busy day!  Over 700 people who will all be on a high – filled with caffeine, insights from interesting and challenging speakers and lots of networking.  I love to see people from all over NZ coming to be part of a key NZ tech event.  It’s THE place to be and it’s great that Razzbri are joining us – it’s the perfect place to meet talent, businesses and build your brand.

Will you be attending this year? If so, what are you looking forward to the most? 

I’m definitely attending this year.  This will be my seventh Summit and each year has been better than the last – more professional.  I’m pretty excited about some of the speakers we’ve got this year – some of the local stories as well as the national and international speakers.  As I’m on the Cluster Committee I often have ‘official duties’ so my challenge is to try and sneak in to hear as much of the speakers as possible as well as catching up with people I know and meeting new people.

This year’s theme is ‘Amplify’ – do you feel this is relevant to today’s Tech Industry? 

This totally aligns with my thinking about our need to raise the profile of the tech sector and of individual businesses, i.e. amplify what we do. This helps businesses attract talent & funding, learn from each other, work together and connect with people locally, nationally and internationally.

Last year’s event focused on the topic of Artificial Intelligence – what do you think needs to be addressed at this year’s event?

AI is still a hot topic and will be covered this year, along with ARVR, blockchain, internet of things and space! Being successful in a tech businesses isn’t all about the technologies – so we’re also going to talk about commercialisation, growth and leadership.

You write about gender equality in the tech industry  – do you feel more women are now emerging into this space?

I see plenty of women working in the tech eco-system – from engineers and designers through to marketing and user experience.  There are some amazing women leaders of tech companies in  Christchurch – from smaller businesses such as Kendall Flutey of Banqer and Margaret Pickering of Stickmen Studios, through to larger organisations with Cilla Hegarty of Whoo Hoo Tax Refunds, Corinne Haines, MD of Trimble Navigation and Charlotte Walshe CEO of Jade Software.

The lack of women in tech is a big challenge – girls and boys are socialised from such a young age about what is “appropriate” behaviour, school subjects and career opportunities.  And it’s not just a NZ challenge….it’s a global issue.  At current rates of progress the World Economic Forum has estimated it is going to be another 271 years until we have gender equality.

This year NZ is celebrating the 125th anniversary of NZ being the first in the world to give women the vote – this was led by Christchurch woman Kate Sheppard. I’d love to see Christchurch leading the way again and being proactive in encouraging, valuing and celebrating diversity in our community.

Are there any technical trends we should know about for the rest of 2018? 

I think everyone probably knows the obvious tech trends and I can’t claim to be a futurist! The challenge for most businesses is to try and see what the impact and opportunities of those are going to be in their own work?  It’s all very well to say ‘yes I know AI is a thing’ but a better approach could be to ask ‘how AI can change my business, make efficiencies, give me an opportunity to be a leader?  What are others in my industry doing?  What are others doing who are outside of my industry?’And don’t forget the societal, workforce, human aspects that are also changing at a rapid rate….without over-stating the obvious, technology never operates in isolation!

You don’t necessarily have to be an expert, but keeping your ear to the ground, asking people you meet, talking with your team and customers can be great ways to help keep on top of this.

We all need to do this to stay ahead of the curve and I think the Canterbury Tech Cluster and the annual Canterbury Tech Summit are great ways of enabling this.


To find out more about The Canterbury Tech Summit, have a read of our other blog post here