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From the servo to Silicon Valley

Boosting women’s participation in the technology sector is a moral and economic imperative, Tesla’s Robyn Denholm has told the National Press Club.

“This is an issue especially close to my heart and it is why it was important to be here with Women in Media as champions for female representation today,” she said.

Only one in four people working in the tech sector were women and “we must do better”.

“As my story shows, women can excel in the technology industry and when they do they enjoy exceptional careers,” she said.

“Increasing women’s workforce participation and reducing the gender pay gap should be a pressing business priority for all Australians.

“Getting more women into tech will help to achieve these goals.

“Women working in tech jobs in Australia have half the gender pay gap of other high-paying professions.

“Tech jobs have the highest rates of remote working in the economy and some of the greatest job security.”

From the servo to Silicon Valley

Ms Denholm said her parents opened a service station in the south-west of Sydney in the early 1970s and she would work there on school holidays.

“I love science, maths and problem solving, which was celebrated in my house,” she said.

“This led me to accounting first in the big four and then I worked in finance and operations roles in Australia’s car industry.”

Great to hear Robyn Denholm, Chair of Tesla and the Tech Council talk about the importance and attractiveness of technology jobs particularly for women and our diverse workforce @PressClubAust — Judy Anderson (@JudyAnd59579496) September 14, 2022

In her mid-30s, she had the opportunity to switch from cars to tech.

“That fateful decision meant I left a declining Australian industry and into the fast-growing one,” she said.

“It took me from Sydney to Silicon Valley and from a first job working in the service station to my current role as the chair of Tesla, the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles.

“I know my career reads like a fairy tale, but the arc of my career is a parable for the dynamism of the tech industry and its job creation potential.”

Four career pivots

Twice as many women enter tech jobs after the age of 25 than before the age of 25.

Ms Denholm was one of them.

“I’ve had four different career pivots in my journey,” she said.

“That’s more of what’s going to happen over time.

“Not everybody’s going to start in the same field and end up in the same field.”

She offered some advice for women thinking about a career in tech.

“I think the biggest thing is not to be afraid to take a risk. to back yourself in that,” she said.

She encouraged women to seek advice on whether it was the right move but they ultimately had to make the decision.

“If it doesn’t work, then pick yourself up and actually dust yourself off and go for it again or do something different,” she said.

“I think one of the things from a cultural perspective is we’ve got to encourage risk more.

“I talked about the early companies in the startup space. Not all startups succeed.

“But the reality is that you can have a successful company without some failures along the way and innovation and technology are an absolute example of that.

“If you haven’t failed along the way, from a technology perspective, then you’re actually not pushing the envelope hard enough.

“And so to me, applying that to careers is a really important thing.

“My view is if you can live with the worst outcome that possibly could happen, then take the risk and pick it up later if you don’t get there.”

A message of hope

The self-described technology optimist shared a message of hope.

“I want to share my vision for the next generation of young Australians,” she said.

“I want to impart a sense of hope and optimism for the role that I believe that they can play in solving some of the greatest and most complex problems of our time.

“While I believe technology will be the catalyst I know the driver of any great change is winning the hearts and minds of people.”

Robyn Denholm is a leading global technology executive, Chair of the Board of Directors of Tesla Inc, Operating Partner of Blackbird Ventures and Chair of The Technology Council of Australia.


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