Like many people I have volunteered time to communities around me, from school P&F’s, and at one stage I was even VP on a local Country Womens Association through to strategic boards.. The majority of volunteer effort over the past 2 decades has been in the IT (women and IT) and business/technology fields. Below is an idea of some activities I have undertaken. It’s all about passion:-)
Women In Tech Volunteer Activities
Since 1997 I have facilitated and created industry associations and programs that motivate young women to choose studies and careers in science and technology. I enabled and encouraged other scientific and technical women to advance in their careers. I continually stretches myself and sphere of influence well beyond a regular work role. 3 pivotal leadership roles are outlined below;
- Founder of WIT – Women in Technology
- Co-Founder of AWISE – Australian Women in IT and Science Entity (closed in 2014)
- Innovator behind the sometimes controversial – but always ground-breaking and effective – campaigns to raise awareness and encourage girls and women into technology careers Screen Goddess IT Calendar 2007, Doing IT Around the World and IT’s Million $ Babes.
As part of my active involvement in WIT, I designed, managed and implemented projects and activities that address issues such as:
- increasing board readiness among women
- ICT careers awareness
- role modelling
I served as the founding President of WiT from May 1997 to August 1999, and am known as the Founder and Inaugural President.
Since founding AWISE in 2005 (a national not for profit, voluntary industry SET association) the following was achieved under my inaugural president and chair leadership:
- attracted $313,500 in funds (government and corporate) that in turn sponsored 35 projects across Australia, spanning role modeling, attitudinal/perception altering, mentoring and industry engagement
- extended a reach to tens of thousands of diverse groups such as school children (primary and secondary), tertiary students, indigenous communities, mature aged women, educationalists, and those actively engaged in the industry.
- fostered an industry partnership with IBM to attract recurrent funding.
AWISE Programs and Projects span rural, regional and city, indigenous, primary-tertiary education, return to workers, executives, entrepreneurs and corporate, WiT in Queensland has been a multiple recipient of AWISE funds for a variety of activities, additionally other Queensland SET initiatives have been funded under the AWISE banner such as; Technology Takes You Anywhere, Tech Girls are Chic, and GIDGITS.
More on Doing IT and It’s Million
September 2008 “Doing IT around the World” – pictorial study and ‘Day in the Life’ diary of 36 SET women across 24 countries, spanning all continents including Australia-Queensland. This project resulted in significant support from European, UK, USA and Asian technology organisations and increased profiles of the women involved and the overall issue of the importance of technology in today’s life.
November 2008 The “IT’s Million $ Babes Awards” highlights Australian female entrepreneurs who own multi million dollar technology companies (>50% highlighted are Queenslanders). This resulted in international media and support of globally respected organisations such as the Anita Borg Institute.
Other recent SET leadership activities have been via:
- Representing involvement in the Australian IT industry at key events such as the Digital Women’s Forum at APEC events (2007 – Port Douglas, and 2008 – Peru). At these events I included discussion of the success of WiT and AWISE Projects and programs and in Peru (May 2008) brought these to the attention of Gloria Bonder – UNESCO Chair “Gender, Sciences and Technology”, note I also promoted Jenine Beekhuyzens (a Queensland University IT researcher) “Tech Girls are Chic” Book to Gloria.
- My United Nations supported appointment to the International Taskforce of Women – that resulted in sharing news of Australian and specifically Queensland activity with European, UK, USA and Asian leaders.
Drawing up a sphere of influence around my activity would be an interesting exercise, (and I throw that don as a challenge to uni students, researchers) as there are obvious impacts such as my company and placement of school and university based female students, the establishment of AWISE and WiT and collaborative sharing of IP of programs and projects that result in enhanced activity and reduced duplication of efforts (not just within Queensland and Australian but now extending globally). However there is a wide field of informal influences – such as girls who are encouraged by an event such as Go Girl-Go For ITTM and who undertake technology studies and are then able to contribute to society through innovation, or unemployed people taking up technology careers.
One example of my extended impact is the establishment of GIDGITS – Girls into Doing Great IT Society (www.gidgits.org) where on a visit in Far North Queensland in May 2002 I met Kristine Koeplke who attended a presentation I was giving on the impact of science on our future lives. Kristine mentioned a desire to do something for girls and IT. I then provided coaching and guidance and on the spot introduced Kristine to a member of Parliament that resulted in obtaining Government support and funds and the launch of GIDGITS in February 2003. GIDGITS has since gone on to provide projects and activities for thousands of school based children and have significant support from Educational providers.
My style is to innovate, lead, build and establish the environment for independent operation without the absolute requirement for her physical presence or hands on involvement. I like to leave ‘things’ behind that make a difference.
I have been featured on a number of web sites as a role model/mentor such as:
- Education Queensland GIRLS and ICT”S
- Queensland Government Women in Hard Hats
Previously provided mentoring to girls studying at Technical and Further Education Institutions (TAFE) via the Girls With IT Project. “Sonja Bernhardt is one of the most impressive ICT mentoring and role modeling figures in Australasia. She is delighted to share her thoughts and vision with all the GWIT girls……”
In addition to being a mentor for a number of WiT programs I have been a mentor, key player:
- 7 years as an ementor for APESMA (The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia). Which assists people in developing business plans (start up or growth stage).
- IBM EXCITE program (where for 6 years I either opened or closed the program with motivational presentation to the school aged attendees)
- TTYA (Technology Takes You Anywhere) – over the years I have either been presenter or volunteer on the day, plus has both encouraged and paid for ThoughtWare staff members to be volunteers for this career day.
- Shell in their business planning and mentoring program for young people.
- Judge on the internationally respected Anita Borg Institute Social Impact Award Committee (2009, 2010)
- Judge in the Secrets of Australian IT Competition
- Judging panel chair of the Australian Institute of Project Management – Project Managers Awards (Queensland)
- Judge in the Australian Web Awards
- 2003 – Overall Chair of the Australian Judging Panels for the Asia Pacific IT Awards
- 2003 – Australian representative on the International ICT Awards Judging Panel
- 2002 – One of a select group of judges in the prestigious 2002 World Congress “Secrets of IT Innovation” Awards
- 2002 – Judge in the WIT Business Innovation and WIT Managers Awards
- 2001 – Judge in the WIT Managers and WIT Executive Awards
- 2000 – Judge in the Westpac/WIT Business Innovation Awards
- 2000 – Judge in the WIT Undergraduate Scholarships