To mark International Women’s Day 2022, Information Age is publishing a special series, Women in IT Leadership. We speak with 15 women in various tech roles across Australia about how they got their start in the IT industry, their approach to leadership, and how to encourage more females into technology careers.
Today we speak with Philippa Cogswell, Partner, PwC Australia
Working in technology, and cyber security in particular, there are no boring days in the job for PwC partner Philippa Cogswell.
“Having worked in the field for around 20 years, you can see how technology has become increasingly important to individuals, business organisations, society – it underpins pretty much everything we do.
“Whether it's how we engage with friends, peers and customers, whether it's products and services, it really is at the forefront of everything.
“From that evolution and innovation space, I'm never going to have a boring day in my role, and that's great.”
Philippa knows how managing cyber security is a mission-critical exercise for organisations today.
“Where I sit in the cyber security space, some of the key elements are about organisations being impacted and perhaps being offline for a day, or even longer, with the impact on the customer and client base, and significant reputational and financial impacts that are quite significant.
“One of the other key elements is just the broad scope and breadth of business risk that now comes with operating technology-related businesses.”
Turning an interest in computers into a career
Philippa found her start in the industry through an organic interest in computing and a little bit of luck.
“My friends were attending computer markets and buying certain pieces and I got interested in helping them with things like installing hard drives or doing memory upgrades. And then I said: ‘talk me through what a shopping list looks like [to build a computer]’.
“I thought: ‘let’s just start from scratch and learn how to do this’. So, it was a little bit of trial and error, but it worked out quite well.”
After finishing an environmental science degree at university, she didn’t see a huge number of opportunities, but a friend told her about a company looking to hire someone for an IT role who could work with staff, executives and membership, and had more than just strictly technical training.
“I'd just built my first computer around that time, and so my friend knew I had quite an interest in computers and thought I was a good applicant. I was looking for a new challenge at that point in time, so there was there was an element of luck.”
Her first supervisor provided a lot of time and invested a lot of energy into bringing Philippa along on the journey, upskilling and helping her.
Now, when thinking about the great examples of leaders, Philippa recalls the ones who articulate a vision or mission for their teams and gives them something to rally behind and work towards.
“It’s creating an environment that fosters autonomous, diverse thinking that also allows people to be pointed in the same direction. It’s really that sense of shared purpose that also allows people to find the work more rewarding.”
Broadening professional and travel horizons
A long stint in the UK working in cyber security, building teams and taking on new challenges, gave Philippa that global professional experience.
It was also a chance to live out her love of travelling and exploring a variety of cultures.
“I love to travel and try different things and experience different cultures. I've been fortunate to travel to almost every continent. I worked in London for about eight years and through that time spent a lot of time across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. It took me to a lot of really interesting places and I got to meet a lot of interesting people as well along the way.”
Now with a young family, the weekends are precious time to be spent outdoors, with plans to return to travel.
“I'd love to at some stage in the near future take the kids, and then let them experience some of those things from a young age.”
Her advice to women about the industry is to know there are so many roles and opportunities.
“It can be anything from deeply technical to highly strategic. It’s a forward-leaning and innovative sector, and there's no shortage of opportunity.
“It is high growth, too. Wherever you look, whether it's in a more traditional technology role or something like cyber security, there’s just so much going on and there's something for everyone in this space.”