Information technology veteran Christine Louw, who is currently the GE Transportation Sub-Saharan Africa IT Programme Manager, oversees the IT for GE Transportation in Nigeria, Kenya, Angola,
Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, where she is based. The IT scope for these countries is significant in size, but thankfully, Christine has an integrated team in each of the countries to help with implementation on the
Christine has a formidable 31 years of experience in the IT field and
is fortunate to have done ground-breaking work in several instances to shatter the glass ceiling in a predominantly male-dominated field. When she enrolled to study at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in 1978, she
wanted to be a chartered accountant, but the second year of her degree proved
to be an interesting time as the campus was restructuring the science degrees
to include IT and commerce, and she was in one of the first classes where
this change was implemented. This introduced a whole new world of possibilities
for students as WITS was at a point where the institution realised that
commerce, IT and computer science had a huge role to play in the future.
Christine said she felt very privileged to have been a part of this historic
change at WITS.
Christine graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Information
Systems. At the time, she was a qualified programmer, specialising in Common
Business Oriented Language (Cobol), the
second-oldest high-level programming language
popularly used to create business applications that run on large computer
networks. This gave Christine a very good foundation to start with,
particularly during the first few years of her career.
Due to the political climate in South Africa at the time, there were
challenges that businesses experienced in buying software from other
countries. Christine had started working at an IT company where they were
developing their own Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and again, she
was part of another ground-breaking experience as a professional and as a
woman in the tech industry. As a programmer, she found herself being deeply
involved in writing ERP software and some of those ERP fundamentals are still
being used by some IT companies today.
“This is where I learned how important it is to have a good mentor to
learn from early in your career because this is how you build a good
foundation and grow in the technology field,” said Christine, who also felt that a great deal of what contributed to her career development was being in
the right place at the right time and choosing a company that offered possibilities to learn.
Image top: Christine Louw (third from left), with the GE SSA IT team.
Image above: Christine with her daughters Marguerite and Nicole. Photos: Supplied
“If you can build a good foundation, particularly in the tech field,
it will take you far.” Christine still uses the skills she learnt early in
her career and continues to rely on the knowledge she learnt when she
started. “When you have a good base, it makes it easier to understand the underlying principles.”
“One thing I always looked for when I was job-searching was a job that allowed me to be flexible, to attend my children’s school activities and to share
important moments in their lives. I would advise women to choose a company
that is going somewhere because you will learn and grow there.” Having five
children to nurture proved to be challenging for Christine, but she was fortunate to find good people to look after her children while she was blazing a trail in the IT space.
When talking about mentorship, Christine said that she started with
her children. “Charity begins at home, so I have always done my best to
empower my children. I encouraged them to save money and pursue their
passion. I have also put more emphasis on my two daughters due to the
challenges women face in male-dominated environments.”
During her time at GE, Christine was fortunate to be part of the RISE Leadership Programme in 2015. “GE provides several opportunities for training
and it helps for one to take full advantage of them due to the fact that the
organisation is hugely diverse.”
When asked about her thoughts on encouraging women in STEM roles,
Christine responded with an affirmative “Why not? It is the right thing to do, so, why shouldn’t we? The one challenge of being in a STEM career as a
woman is that you will often find that you are the only woman in meetings.”
Christine overcame this by finding the common element and engaging the room
on that level to break the ice. She sees being the only woman in a room as an
opportunity to bring value and a different dimension to the business at hand. “Women do bring in different perspectives and have a lot of value to add.”