Kate Pounder Grew Up in a Country Town Without Internet, Now She’s CEO of the Tech Council
Kate Pounder grew up in Australian country towns so small and remote that they didn’t have basic internet or even the ability to call landlines without using an operator.
It was that upbringing that made her appreciate technology and spurred her to want to forge a career in it. Today, she’s the CEO of the Technology Council of Australia.
“I like to share that story because people see where you end up, not how you began,” she says. “They imagine you had a different starting point, and it feels unrelatable, but this shows it doesn’t really matter where you start from. What you want to dream, you can be.”
If you’re not familiar with the Tech Council, its role is to advise and engage Australian governments, businesses, and the wider community to help support the ongoing creation, development, and adoption of tech across industries. In Pounder’s words, it’s the voice of the tech industry in Australia. That means it does three things.
“We do research to help people understand tech trends — what they mean for jobs, what they mean for the economy,” she says.
“We do policy, so help to come up with solutions to both the opportunities and challenges that tech presents. And thirdly, we do engagement, so we try to bring together people in industry, government, and community to help understand each other and make decisions.”
As for why it’s so crucial to have a body like the Tech Council, it’s important to understand the role tech plays in our lives. It touches everything — and it can touch it for the better, says Pounder. Tech can help us create new jobs and products, make it easier for us to communicate and allow us to better tackle big environmental and health challenges. On the flip side, it can also have harmful consequences, too.
“For example, if we don’t help Australians found great companies then our economy can miss out on these new sources of growth,” says Pounder. “If we don’t fix our skilled migration system or our training system, then it can lead to skills shortages. Also, if we don’t have thoughtful regulatory frameworks when we’re introducing new technologies, they can have unintended consequences.”
One area the tech industry is lacking in, that the Tech Council is working to better, is gender diversity. Currently, only one in four people working in a technologically focused job are women, which Pounder says, frankly, isn’t good enough.
“These are some of the highest paid, most secure and most flexible jobs in the economy,” she says. “They’re also jobs where you do get to invent a new product, new services to solve those big problems. You absolutely want women at the table, doing that work.”
Not only do you get better products and services when you have a more gender-diverse workforce, but, says Pounder, you’re also helping tackle bigger issues women are facing. If women want to have equal pay and better leadership opportunities, they need to be part of these fast-growing industries.
Interestingly, women are twice as likely to enter a tech job when they’re 25-30 as when they do a degree that qualifies them first, Pounder says. She thinks this is because of the barriers and stereotypes women face when they’re going through the school system — they deter women from career paths in tech. It’s only once women are in the workforce that they realise they could’ve had the tech job they wanted or founded the tech company they wanted to.
Finally, what does being unstoppable mean to Pounder? “I think it means knowing the things you love and are passionate about, and that you think you can make the biggest contribution to,” she says. “It’s about having the courage and confidence to pursue those things and the resilience to overcome the challenges during them, but also having the faith in yourself to keep going.”