For Amber’s new Women In Tech interview series, we speak with female thought leaders from around the world to hear their experience growing a career in tech and to get their advice on overcoming challenges and adversity during their career.
For this week’s interview, we caught up with Katrina Donaghy, co-founder at Civic Ledger, to talk diversity, inspiration and advice on building a career in blockchain.
Can you tell us a little about what you do and what a typical day looks like for you?
I am the co-founder and co-CEO of Civic Ledger: an Australian civic-focused start up that uses blockchain and smart contract technology to help digitalise government.
A typical day starts with my long train commute to the city whereby I listen to my daily mix on Spotify and work through emails and LinkedIn requests. When I arrive at the office (we recently moved out of our co-working facility), there is the consumption of coffee then daily stand up with the team. Agile is at the heart of how we work at Civic Ledger.
My day then either involves a couple of meetings usually via Zoom and 1;1s with the team to see what they are working on and help with blockages or challenges. Now that we are scaling as a company and we have employees, my role has shifted from doing everything (when we were having to bootstrap) to being focused on finance, operations, governance, strategy and culture which comes with a fair bit of administration and reporting. I still do our social – Twitter and LinkedIn – which is not one of my strengths!
I am also one of the Directors of Civic Ledger so am responsible for our Board Meetings and associated activities such as pitching the company to investors, speaking at conferences, and participating in delegations.
Once a month I host the Brisbane Women in Blockchain Meetup so I will need to organise the logistics of the Meetup which involves a small amount of planning and administrative processes. Also, I am on the Australian Digital Commerce Association Board which I have a few weekly and monthly responsibilities.
I studied Humanities at University which led to a career in government. During my years as a public servant I learnt to solve problems using technology particularly in the area of disaster management. I remember Y2K and being part of the preparation for the event as I worked in a support role at the Triple 0 Call Centre for Ambulance and Fire. I was also part of the project team that tried to introduce combined triple 0 call taking and remember watching this multimillion-dollar project fail because of politics in the first instance but most importantly the Department in question failure to think about governance and cultural fit – which we now know as Human Centered Design and Agile software development (user stories and iteration).
It was a horrible lesson as the same Department then spent millions of taxpayers money on decoupling the technology because the people that the technology was supposed to help with their day to day duties failed to incentivise their behaviour to work together for the community that they serve.
I experienced these events between 1999 – 2001 which really influenced my approach to technology – technology must be useful and solve big problems to advance humanity.
Many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way they are treated in the workplace and industry. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
There is a level of unconscious bias in the technology industry however there is also across many verticals as we have seen more recently with the #metoo campaign with media, entertainment and politics attracting significant attention throughout 2018 and still today – if you look at some cases under #metoo they trace back some 30 years.
For me, I think it is unsophisticated to contain the discussion within the duality of “male v female” as the measurement of treatment or difference thereof. The conversation needs to be framed in the context of diversity in the workplace if we are going to affect change.
A huge lesson I have learnt over the years is that if an organisation does not reflect society in terms of its diversity and its leadership team cannot see that this is a problem – then it is unlikely to change so move on.
I do remember however when I was 20 years old I was working in retail and had to step up to Manager for 3 months and was told that I would not be paid the same as the person who owned the role of Manager. Immediately I spoke up and challenged that decision based on a rational argument and subsequently was paid the same amount.
I am yet to experience any different treatment in my role with Civic Ledger but I am a tad older and am known in the industry so I doubt that anyone would want to try it with me!
The best part about being in this position is being able to positively contribute to the Australian Blockchain Community and Industry and to shape its direction to ensure that it does reach its potential both here and globally. Australia’s blockchain and cryptocurrency community is doing its fair share of heavy lifting on the world stage with many of my peers making a huge impact to which I am very grateful that I can take my place alongside them.
What advice would you give to a woman starting her career in the tech industry? Is there any advice you wish you had known at the start of your career?
Two things. One: don’t wait for permission. Two: if you are not naturally a coder, look for other areas that interest you such as philosophy, economics, ethics, governance, policy, risk, sociology, law, fashion, design, agriculture to name but a few. Technology will be ubiquitous so think about how your chosen industry will need to intersect with emerging technology to remain relevant I.e. Fourth Industrial Revolution and Future of Work and if you can’t find a job that fits your interest – create the demand for the position by blogging, posting opinion pieces, becoming a thought leader, founding a Meetup group – see first point.
I wish someone had drilled into me when I was starting out that firstly, I must always know my worth; secondly, job position required experience and skills are always negotiable and thirdly, being curious does not mean that you are being antagonistic.