“To the Top in Tech: Aspiring CIO Sarah McCullough shares her leadership journey"

Sarah McCullough

With only a handful of female CIO’s in Australia, Business Applications Manager Sarah Mccullough is focused on changing the landscape by striving to become one. Sarah talks to Barbara Harvey about her career and her insights into how the tech industry can support and champion women in leadership roles.

I see the next step as a CIO role – and am actively working towards that with great determination!- Sarah Mccullough

How did your career in IT begin?

I started my IT career as a side gig whilst teaching scuba diving in Sydney harbour. I really loved scuba diving but found the cold winter dives too much, so I got an "office job" temping in IT. Within a few months of hard work and building up relationships, I worked my way up to being the IT supervisor and shortly after that the IT Manager. In 2008 my partner and I decided to do the traditional Auzzie thing and packed up our lives to hit London on a working holiday. I was lucky enough to snag a job at a small investment bank as their Head of IT and worked for a great CFO whilst there – who taught me that you don’t need to be an extravert to be a great leader.

You were nominated for the Telstra Women’s Business Awards Business Woman of the year, can you describe your leadership progression?

Upon moving back to Newcastle I took up an IT role in Pacific National- which is a great Aussie company providing hundreds of jobs in regional areas. I have been lucky enough to progress quickly within PN, and its parent company Asciano, after doing a variety of roles including Service Delivery, Program delivery, Customer Experience, Innovation and now Applications Management. I credit this in part to a stack of hard work, but also to great peers and a very supportive CIO who was open to adding diverse skills into IT and actively promoted women.

Lastly, in 2012 I finished my MBA in computing which gave me some great tools and taught me a lot about leadership.

What are your career aspirations?

In 5 years I hope to be in a fulfilling and challenging role that I love, ideally in a coastal or regional location. I see the next step as a CIO role – and am actively working towards that with great determination!

Being a CIO for me would mean I've broadened my IT experience and business acumen enough to be trusted with the top job- and I would see it as an honour to represent IT for an organisation.

How unique is it to be a female CIO and why are there not many female CIO's?

I don't come across many female IT CIOs, in fact I can name only a handful of them in our industry at the top. I think this is partially due to the fact there are fewer females in "c suite" roles but also because CIOs commonly originate from technical backgrounds such as engineering or infrastructure- of which fewer females choose or are encouraged to study. Whilst programs like FITT are doing fantastic work encouraging girls to study STEM programs, we still have some catching up to do.

Another factor is that women may be less likely to put up their hand for roles. I recently learnt a great lesson when taking over the Applications Portfolio for the organisation I work for- just because I haven't done a similar role before or don't have the technical depth doesn't mean I can't take on a role, learn on the way and apply my other skills to be successful.

Finally the other factor could be gender discrimination or similarity bias – with most CIO’s normally being placed by the CEO, CFO or the board, who are predominately male in most countries.

What in your opinion will it take to change the balance of female leadership in IT?

A few simple things could go a long way to turn the tide.

More women in junior IT roles would help the promotion of women to senior roles. Flexible working conditions that support family life would also help – to make it easier to juggle any senior role with other commitments.

These things would all help but probably the most powerful would be more senior leaders mentoring and actively encouraging and promoting women into senior roles – such as my previous boss who is an active supporter of diversity and women.

What are your interests or passions outside of work?

Good food, red wine, good fun and hanging out with my family, friends and our beautiful 15-year-old staffy. I have a deep love for the ocean, and love to be near the coast - the perfect day always starts and ends with a swim.

Sarah McCullough is Business Applications Manager at Pacific National

Ph: 1300 657 934  

M: +61 403 363 257


PO Box 5192 Greenwich NSW 2065

Symes Group Pty Ltd trading as Jessica Symes Toomey.

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