Meet our women, hear their thoughts

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re introducing you to some of the women who are making things happen at Springload. We’ve asked them a few questions about the challenges of being a woman in tech and design industries, gender equality, and a woman’s perspective on working at Springload.

Bron Thomson | CEO

Have you ever experienced sexism in the workplace?

Absolutely! I recall many occasions over the years, especially in the early days of Springload, where I’d go to a meeting with someone and they would spend the whole meeting directing their conversation towards my male colleague rather than to me. 

Or the numerous times I’ve been at a networking function and in the middle of a conversation, when some man in a suit comes over and interrupts to shake hands and introduce himself to the guy I'm talking to. Barely even acknowledging me before proceeding to launch into a full-scale conversation with the guy and completely excluding me. 

As for how it affected me? Well, I have to admit I don’t have much time for people who display sexism in any environment. I usually just walk away, but sometimes I’ll really force the point by interrupting their flow and introducing myself properly to them. When I say I’m a CEO, they usually look slightly sheepish and start to give me more eye contact. (Which makes me even more pissed off at them, 'cause why should they only give me their time if they consider me ‘important’? Why not just because I’m another human worthy of their respect!).

I usually judge people like that pretty harshly and tend to avoid working with them or engaging with them wherever possible. Instead, I actively look for other more inclusive people to work with!

How do you ensure we have a diverse and inclusive workplace at Springload?

I proactively look for women to fill any open roles we have. This includes shoulder-tapping women rather than expecting that they should just think to apply. Women are less likely than men to consider themselves capable of performing in a higher role. Which means you have to seek out women and make sure they realise just how awesome they are!

We’ve also got a diversity circle where a group of Springloaders meet regularly to discuss ways we can improve our diversity and inclusion across all metrics. This ranges from looking at ways to make the bathrooms gender fluid, through to bringing in Māori and other cultures into the workplace.

What do you see as the next big actions we can take towards accelerating gender equality in New Zealand?

One of the biggest things we can do is role-modelling. It’s hard to change fixed mindsets that have been borne out of years of social conditioning, but we have real opportunity to change the mindsets of our young people. 

I love the fact that gender fluidity seems to be something that my kids are exposed to and see as absolutely normal. I love the fact that the prime minister of New Zealand is a working mum and her partner is the stay at home dad. This sort of role-modelling is the most powerful kind society can have. 

I think the fact that my kids have grown up with their mum as the person out in the workforce, and their dad as their primary caregiver is really significant. The more we see this in our society the better for everyone. Once people’s mindsets change, then their actions and behaviours will change alongside.

Alice Pennington | Studio Assistant

Have you ever experienced sexism in the workplace? 

I’ve spent the majority of my working life in hospitality and customer service and sadly, when I first started out in these industries, sexism was just another part of the working day. I once worked with a head chef who snapped his fingers at me and called me ‘girl’ for the entire three months that I worked with him! I have been catcalled across call centres, had my knowledge of technical matters dismissed as I’m ‘just a woman’ and heard men discussing which of their female colleagues might be poorly suited for her job due to her menstrual cycle. I have often been talked down to or ignored because of my gender and it gets very tiring after a while. 

It’s hard to know how to respond at the time because we’re taught from an early age to be polite and not aggressive. I’ve certainly never forgotten these moments and see them as direct motivation to prove that women are valuable and highly capable members of any workforce. In the years since, I’ve enjoyed seeing more women in traditionally male roles – and vice-versa. This variety and diversity creates a more understanding, progressive, and equal work environment. 

What’s it like working at Springload as a woman? How do you think it’s a workplace that promotes equality? 

For me, simply working for a company with a female CEO has been hugely inspiring. Springload fosters an environment where your achievements and hard work are recognised regardless of your gender. I hope that this attitude opens more doors for aspiring women not only in the tech industry, but in all workforces.  

Giving so many women an opportunity to work for such a successful tech company has created a culture of support rather than of competition, where we are encouraged to learn and grow together. For example through the Grow events that help women get into previously male-dominated areas, and share the knowledge that they’ve worked hard for. This attitude filters down from Bron, who has not only been successful in her own right, but made direct efforts to ensure that other women are able to enjoy the same opportunities and successes. 

I feel that women are supported here in many practical ways as well. From being able to bring children into the office to having flexible working hours to fit around family. It’s been clear to me from the outset that Springload values the lives and freedom of their employees, and removes so many barriers that women in particular face when negotiating the work/life balance.

Ruth Hendry | Content Director

As a new mum, can you tell us about some of the ways Springload support their staff who are women?

I couldn’t do my job as a Director without the support Springload give me — that’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact. Most importantly for me, it’s the flexible working hours. I can leave at 3pm to spend some quality time with my kids (or not-quality, depending on how many nappies I need to change). I fit in my work around my whānau’s needs: they’re the most important thing in my life.

Springload is also a really family-friendly place. Kids are welcome here after school and at events, which normalises working parenthood and makes it a welcoming, happy workplace. I’ve got especially fond memories of the time Alan terrified a whole generation of kids by dressing up as Santa at the family Christmas party.

If you could give some advice to yourself when you were just starting your career, what would it be? 

Don’t let yourself be talked over in meetings (one study shows that when men are talking with women, they interrupt 33% more often than when they talk with men). Back yourself, your knowledge and your experience. Don’t apologise unnecessarily. Treat yourself like you would treat your colleagues — with respect. Generally, stand up for yourself and don’t take any shit.

One thing I did manage to do early in (and throughout) my career was to surround myself with amazing female mentors: Harriet Nimmo at Wildscreen, Claire Murdoch at Te Papa and now Bron here at Springload. Their wisdom and support was invaluable. I particularly admire the way they remain empathetic, interesting people whilst being high-achievers in their (very different) careers.  

Have you ever experienced sexism in the workplace? 

A lot, unfortunately (although not at Springload). One particularly egregious example was when my then boss commented lasciviously on my underwear. I wish I’d walked out of the job on the spot, but I was young and in need of the money. It was a great learning experience though — it made me determined never to put up with behaviour like that again. It’s also given me a better level of understanding of why some people might put up with sexism — it’s often not as easy as simply complaining or leaving if you need a job. 

Ana Priestley | Project Manager

What’s your advice for a woman starting their career in tech – a typically male-dominated industry? 

The tech industry is such a dynamic and exciting industry to be a part of. Do not be put off by feeling this is a career filled with men. I’ve never felt that just because an industry is dominated by males that I’ll not be good enough, or that I can’t match the skills of others around me. In my experience, women have so much to give to this industry and bring a whole range of skills that make for a richer environment. 

Ideally, we would have a balance of men and women in the workplace, and Springload does such a great job in creating a balanced and holistic environment. My biggest piece of advice is to not listen to anyone who questions a woman going into a male-dominated career, if you have a passion for tech, jump in! There are so many opportunities for women, and I believe that there just needs to be a shift in the way we talk to our girls and encourage them to take whatever path they are passionate about. 

Do you feel like Springload celebrates the achievements of women appropriately? 

There’s so much encouragement and support of all people at Springload. I’ve never worked in such an inclusive environment before. Bron, our CEO is an avid supporter of women in the workplace – without excluding the men either. She brings such a positive dynamic to Springload, and she has a style of leadership that is inclusive, encouraging and celebrates everyone, regardless of gender. She’s always looking at ways to bring more women into the fold to keep growing that awesome balance in the workplace.

Cate Palmer | Front-End Developer

Have you ever experienced sexism in the workplace?

I have yet to experience anything that’s felt like sexism in the workplace at Springload, but I’ve definitely experienced it in other work and study environments. 

Usually, it’s been quite subtle and has taken the form of feeling like I’m being underestimated or assumed not to know things I do actually know (or that I need something explained to me when I’ve given no indication that I don’t understand it). But there have also been more blatant forms – comments on my appearance that come off as if they’re intended as compliments (so why would I take offence?) but are actually inappropriate to the context and just serve as a reminder of being viewed differently. 

It’s often really hard in the moment to respond. When I’m caught off guard it often takes me a while to understand why something bothers me, and usually by then the moment has passed. Sometimes, when I feel like I’m being talked down to, I’ll try to make it clear I don’t need the explanation that’s being given to me. But I’ll usually second-guess myself as to whether I’m being talked down to because I’m a woman, or whether that’s all in my head and I’m just reading sexism into everything. And as for inappropriate comments, often I’ll just ignore them. But sometimes, if they’re intended as ‘compliments’, I’ll feel obliged to say thank you even though they just serve to remind me that I’m viewed differently by some people. Even if I see myself in a really neutral way, men aren’t necessarily going to go along with my perception of myself as just a regular human being. 

What’s your advice for a woman starting their career in tech – a typically male-dominated industry? 

I didn’t even consider a tech career for a long time. I think I’d absorbed a belief that anything to do with computers wasn’t very interesting to women, or that women just weren’t as good at it as men. But my experiences so far have been more positive than I expected. I think the culture is changing, and I’ve been lucky enough to spend my time in some pretty progressive spaces (such as Enspiral Dev Academy, where I studied, and Springload). 

I do think though that being a woman can amplify your self-doubts and make it more difficult to learn. I think there’s no easy remedy to that. But finding role models and peers who are like you – talking with them, seeing them experience a kind of imposter syndrome you’re struggling with – can really help put it in perspective. It can help you see that it is a structural issue, rather than just a personal one. 

I’m lucky in that I have some great women and non-binary friends who are also developers. And some pretty top-notch role models in my family – like my mum. She was a chemical engineer back when it was a field hugely dominated by men. It's been really helpful to talk to her about going into a male-dominated technical field. I think I inherited a bit of my desire to prove myself in a ‘man’s world’ from her.

Lucy McMaster | Experience Designer

What’s some advice you’d give an aspiring woman designer? 

I firmly believe there’s so much good that can be done through design. Reaching an equal split of women and men will lead to designs that cater to more people in the world! But not just women being designers; women of colour being designers, differently-abled women being designers, queer women being designers. Diversity is a tool we can tap into to think differently and problem-solve better. More women means we can avoid exclusion in design. There's plenty of history to show that when people with power are a homogenous group, they’re more likely to miss realities for different sets of people, because there’s a limit to people's lived experience.  

There’s loads of work to do though. For anyone thinking of becoming a designer, I would want to let them know that the design profession doesn’t have a clean slate. There are few female design directors, and even fewer female designers recognised and awarded. Only 3 female designers have won the esteemed black pin at the Best Design Awards in the last 20 years. 

But I think even having this conversation right now, on International Women’s Day, for me it feels like a step forward. If you’re keen on a career in design, joining the conversation and putting the mahi in is important. There’s a lot of room for improvement in the design industry, exemplified by controversies like the Best Awards. Strength in numbers! 

Do you feel like Springload celebrates the achievements of women appropriately? 

I think the very fact that I am being given the space to talk about this is evidence of a healthy workplace environment for women! We have an amazing CEO and several directors who are female, right down to a development team which has a pretty good split (given the industry standard). Also with the beginning of Grow this year – Springload’s very own initiative. I’ve had mentorship from Lauren our experience director almost from day one, and I’ve gotten to work really closely with senior experience designers who are women. 

All of this stacks up to women being mentored, promoted, and given positions of power! I think this is evidence of Springload's celebration of people who are confident and highly skilled.

Further reading

If you want to read more about the journey towards becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace, check out the blog. 

Bron's also written a think-piece on last year's disappointing Best Awards asking; is this the Best we can do?

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