A woman's world

Traditionally, the IT industry has always been a man's world, but Sue Evans, head of IT&S at the National Bank of Dubai, is keen to redress this balance she tells Sarah Gain.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  February 27, 2006

|~|evansC200.jpg|~|Evans: Finding a way to make things work in different environments, is a challenge but also part of the fun.|~|Traditionally, the IT industry has always been a man's world, but Sue Evans, head of IT&S at the National Bank of Dubai, is keen to readdress this balance she tells Sarah Gain.

Arabian Computer News: How did you get to where you are today?

Sue Evans: I can hardly remember how it all started now! I went into the IT industry in 1969 in the UK, basically in an analyst programmer training-type role - that was in the public sector in the UK. I worked for the next nearly 10 years in both the public and private sectors, doing much the same sort of work.

I then joined a vendor in the UK in 1978 as a consultant and I was sent to Kuwait - that was one of the first customers that I had to support. I spent a year in Kuwait and then I moved down to Dubai with the same vendor, and I supported about three or four customers in Dubai. Then I went to Abu Dhabi and did some work, again for the same vendor, for Adnoc. I was always working on site for quite big customers.

After that, I went to South Africa for about four years in a consulting role, and then I ended up back in the UK for a very short period. In 1985 I went to Singapore and eventually down to Australia…I've almost been around the whole world!

Basically I started managing quite large projects in the 1980s, and then in the early 1990s, managing large ERP (enterprise resource planning) implementations. Those were 100-plus people projects, so I was a project director really for most of the 90s, mainly in Australia, although I did some work in Hong Kong as well.

Finally, I came back to Dubai in 1999 and that's when I joined the National Bank of Dubai (NBD). I came here just to do a few major projects - we had to implement a branch automation system and core banking replacement, which was a big undertaking. That was really all I was here for, but then three years ago I became head of IS&T.

ACN: So you've travelled all over the world! How does the IT market here in Dubai, and in the Middle East as a whole, compare to other places you've been?

SE: I think everything moves fairly quickly here. Once people decide they want to do something - although it may take time to get to that point - when the idea's sold it's pretty full on. I think that being a smaller country than the others I've lived and worked in, I also feel that you're more a part of something. You know what's happening in the local industry, it's much easier to keep abreast of what's happening in the marketplace.

It's very immediate. It's all happening right here, right now. There's never a shortage of information flowing through, everybody wants to do things quickly, and I think the enthusiasm here is probably greater - I find it very conducive for IT-type work.

ACN: So it's an enjoyable place to work? Are there any major challenges?

SE: Oh yes, I've enjoyed it. I enjoy the travel, and I enjoy different environments, different cultures. When you get to live in the place for some time you learn a lot about how different people operate.

One of the things I like about the Middle East, and why I'm still here - because I didn't really expect to still be here, I suppose - it really is truly multicultural. Even in places like Australia, people will say that it's a very multicultural environment, but not compared to here - this is definitely in a different league.

Getting things to work together, finding a way to make things work in different environments, is a challenge but also part of the fun. I think one of the biggest achievements of my career has been being able to get all sorts of projects delivered, irrespective of where I've been and who was involved - I just had to make it all work.

ACN: Has your being a woman affected your experience in any way, particularly in the Middle East, in the role that you have?

SE: Oh it's wonderful! I think it was a bigger challenge in Australia to be honest. I think I've been very fortunate that since I've been here I can honestly say that it hasn't been an issue. Perhaps people do treat me differently but I'm sure that's only been a positive thing, it's never been in a negative sense. In fact I've probably benefited in some respects. I know that maybe doesn't fit with what you might expect, but it's the truth - that's how it's been for me.

ACN: Do you know many other women in your line of work here in the region?

SE: I don't get to meet very many women. When we go off to seminars and things I'm often the only woman there. But I don't notice it now. I might have done at some stage, but I suppose after a while it just becomes normal. There are more Emirati ladies coming along to events now though, I have noticed that in the last few years, and that's really good to see. I think this will obviously increase over time as well.

ACN: Why do you think it is such a male dominated industry?

SE: Well I don't know whether it is elsewhere. It actually seems to me that there are more women than men graduating from university with IT degrees of one sort or another. And I get the impression that ladies are quite well suited to this kind of work.

I do think that in the IT industry it's very much about processes, projects, and it all requires a lot of organisational skills. Because of my background, everything's a project to me - I can even make making a cup of tea a project if I try hard enough! And because of that, and the attention to detail that's needed, I think women actually take very well to the IT environment.

ACN: Do you think more should be done to encourage women to pursue careers in IT?

SE: I suppose when I started in the industry in the late 60s there were very few women interested in IT. In fact, you could count them on one hand, almost. If I'm honest, I have to say that now I don't know the gender count here in my team. We do have quite a few ladies, but I've got to encourage more to come into IT because generally speaking IT lags behind in terms of its quota - I think that would be true across most organisations.

The problem's been that there hasn't been the enough resources in the market, but I think if we continue to target the universities and get women interested then over time it should even out. Quite regularly we have students - including quite a few ladies - coming to work with us on work-study releases from universities. They always seem very keen and I think we've got to nurture that and encourage more women so that we create more of a gender balance.||**||

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