On the 9th August, South Africa celebrated National Women's Day. I took the opportunity to chat to Melissa Oosthuisen who works as a product manager at Blue Turtle, a partner of Ivanti.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your job.

MO: I have been told I am adventurous. I have lived in two other countries besides my birth country. Although an introvert by nature, I love to meet new people, experience different cultures, and explore new places.

I have been in the industry for 21 years, with various roles, but currently I have the honour of being the only female product manager in our company and am one of ten female technical members of staff.

How did you get into IT and is it something you always wanted to do?

MO: I briefly worked on a help desk supporting traders at a bank in Liverpool street and when I returned to South Africa I had the opportunity to join a management programme at an investment firm or make a start in IT. I chose the latter by joining a small networking company as a receptionist, with the caveat that I would only perform that role for a few months. I learnt what I could, whenever I could, and was very fortunate to work with colleagues who were happy (and patient enough) to answer all my questions.

When I was in school I wanted to be an advocate or a clinical psychologist… so maybe it was War Games (the movie), maybe it was my love of puzzles, or maybe it was that little green turtle you could instruct to draw a house—the electronic version of an etch-a-sketch—but really it was likely the ever-changing landscape, the opportunity to always learn something new that drew me to IT.

We have met a few times at Women in Technology events. Why are you so passionate about this community?

MO: Although I was raised to be tough and know my worth—and I have learned to be assertive—not everyone has these building blocks for a strong foundation. I believe it’s important to encourage others through visibility, i.e., showing women that they are represented in the technology industry and that we come in all shapes and sizes.

Do you think women are under-represented in technology roles?

MO: Most definitely. Typically if there are other women in a workshop or meeting, they are from procurement or marketing, etc—non-technical roles.

What do you think organisations can do to increase gender equality?

MO: Have internship programmes. Attend school career days. Sponsor technology programs in school from an early age. Organisations should make the change part of their company culture.

Do you have any personal experience of gender related equality issues?

MO: Being asked to take minutes in a meeting when I was the only woman. My response being that I unfortunately took chemistry not shorthand at school, so probably wasn’t the best choice. Having to ensure I always use additional terms/terminology in discussions to ensure that I am taken seriously. Gender pay gap—which I would never have realised had a manager not told me what he had budgeted for my move to his cost centre—he had based it on what the existing members of his team were earning (all male)—it was 25% more than what I was earning.

What advice would you give to women who want to break into, or advance, a technology career?

MO: Keep learning. Read articles, sign up for online courses. Many vendors even offer free training. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know your worth—this applies to any career. Network. Find a mentor (male or female). If you can’t find one and you can afford it, get a life coach.

Who inspires you?

MO: Tough question. There are so many people, for different reasons. I’m currently in awe of Dr Adriana Marais. She has Honours in Theoretical Physics and Philosophy, Masters in Quantum Cryptography, a doctorate in Quantum Biology and it currently one of 100 on the Astronaut Candidates for Mars One Project.

What are you reading right now?

MO: The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins.

Any final thoughts for our readers?

MO: It’s always a struggle to find a balance between just knuckling down and getting the job done, and ensuring that you are somehow making a difference for all the women to come after you. Pick your battles. It's important to keep in mind raising women up shouldn’t be at the detriment of men, after all we want to raise strong compassionate children, not strong girls at the expense of our boys.