Meet Carolyn Algar – Chief Information Officer at Z
Carolyn got her start in ICT accidently. The firm she was working in as a credit controller needed testers to support a large scale software change project and her boss nominated her for the role because of her strong eye for detail. Coming from credit where every day felt the same, Carolyn instantly found the diversity that working on a project offered very appealing. “I loved the variety and the ability to jump in and just do what was needed. I got to do loads of different things and it really broke down any barriers I might have had in my head about an IT career”. By the time the project wound up, Caro was hooked and had found her career.
After that, she took on different roles in ICT including leading development teams and production support teams. The exposure to different areas was great and it helped her to get clear on what she enjoyed the most – implementing software. This led her to take on a series of roles in project management, leading a project delivery team and now CIO at Z Energy.
When asked if she always planned to be a CIO Carolyn said, “Not initially, no. When I was in project delivery I had an amazing mentor who pushed me really hard to come up with a career plan. I had never really had a plan before. It was then I looked at the breadth of experience I had across ICT, my passion for leadership and strategy and decided that CIO was where I wanted to go.” Once Carolyn had that a clear goal in mind, she took a look at where her gaps were and set about closing them. This included completing her Masters in Information Management and taking a role as project delivery manager to round out her qualifications and experience.
The thing Carolyn loves most about her role is leading people. She loves seeing others grow and develop and achieve things that they never thought possible. Carolyn also loves the variety that her role offers. “Every day is different. One day I could be working with techies on an outage, the next looking at emerging technology and how that might impact our strategy and the next I am on a steering board for a project. Sometimes three happen in one day.”
Being one of the few senior women in ICT Carolyn is often asked what advice she would give to other women considering a career in ICT. “I often hear people say that they are not interested in IT because they are not a techie or don’t have an interest in coding. There is so much more to the field than that. I don’t have a coding background and neither do many of my colleagues.” Carolyn also highlights how flexible the ICT field is. “I think because of the project nature of many aspects of ICT, flexible practices like contracting, part-time, and telecommuting are reasonably commonplace in ICT. It is also a career that can take you around the world. I have lived and worked in the USA, Canada and Australia which were all fantastic experiences for me and for my family”.
It is challenging working in a field that is largely male-dominated. Earlier in her career, Carolyn was acutely aware of being different from her male colleagues and has regularly felt pressure to adapt and conform. “I would sit in a room of male colleagues who all agreed with each other and would second guess myself if I held an alternate view. I soon began to realise that my alternate view brought a richness to the discussion that was not there before. There is a fatigue that can come with that. Adapting is tiring but so is putting forward your different take on things. I had to learn to change my mindset so that I started to relate to my unique contribution as energising instead.”
Carolyn also acknowledges the challenge of being a parent and working full time. “It takes effort to make sure work does not always win.”
Carolyn would love to see more women considering careers in ICT. She encourages employers to make it easy for their people to find out more about careers in ICT and break down some of the misconceptions. “At Z we encourage job shadowing. We regularly have people from across the business who want to know more come and spend a day or more with project teams, testers etc so they can see what skills they already have and get the chance to try before they buy.” Carolyn is very clear that achieving gender balance in a team is everyone’s responsibility. “Upskilling all hiring managers in things like unconscious bias, having them actively promote flexible working by asking all team members where flex would help and encourage the men to role model, as well as the women, is essential.”
If Carolyn could leave women working in a traditionally male field with one message it would be this, “You don’t have to lose yourself to be successful. Remember that what makes you different is also what makes your contribution valuable.”
About the author
Julie Fitzgerald is the Talent Manager at Z Energy Limited in New Zealand. Her portfolio includes recruitment, development, employee value proposition and diversity and Inclusion. Julie started her career with Z in Retail and more recently moved into the People and Culture team. She takes full advantage of Z’s approach to flexible working by working one day a week from home.
Z Energy supplies fuel to retail customers and large commercial customers like airlines, trucking companies, mines, shipping companies and vehicle fleet operators, and they also provide bitumen to roading contractors. They want Z to represent what New Zealanders can achieve when they put their minds to the things that matter – things like putting the service into service stations, fuelling New Zealand to get ahead, supporting local neighbourhoods, and rewarding their investors and bondholders for their belief in the company.
To find out more about Z, and to browse jobs available through FlexCareers click here.