Microsoft's annual Tech Ed gathering, held last month, is the country's biggest IT event, attracting some 2000 software developers and IT industry professionals.
A central part of Tech Ed is the annual Tech Girls dinner, at which this year's keynote speaker was Julia Raue, chief information officer at Air New Zealand and a well-known role model for women in IT.
Sandra Pickering, general manager of IT at Vodafone, and Donna Wright, chief information officer at Coca-Cola Amatil, are other leading figures. Yet the number of women in the IT industry is still low: figures from Mercer show 24 per cent of IT professionals are women.
Companies such as Microsoft are actively encouraging women to enter the industry, which is misunderstood by women executives who assume they must have a passion for the latest technology to be taken seriously.
Sally Doherty, HR director at Microsoft NZ, says the New Zealand business is not about developing new technology - the bulk of that is done overseas. It is, at heart, a sales and marketing organisation.
Maintaining business relationships, understanding complex issues and being a good listener are all necessary skills.
And women are very adept at those things.
At Microsoft, women tend to thrive as project managers, team leaders and programme leaders, she says. In a bid to break down the misconceptions about the IT industry, Microsoft brings groups of schoolgirls into the company to show them what they can achieve there.
There are three women on the senior executive team: director of customer and partner experience Jan Ferguson, OEM director Nicola Ferguson, and Doherty. And the company has had a woman chief executive, Helen Robinson.
One of the attractions for women - technically minded or not - is that the IT industry has been into flexible working for years. "From Microsoft's perspective, we have 100 per cent commitment towards flexible working," says Doherty. "People can work from home so easily."
Senior team director Jan Ferguson did not come from a technical background. "People say you've got to be passionate about technology. I wasn't," she says. "I started as a secretary, then went overseas and ran pubs for four years, then I was a sales rep at Fisher & Paykel." She has also worked at Drake and Sky TV.
"I have never found such an industry that swivels on a pin," she says. "It's fast moving, nothing's the same every day - it's great for people who like that."
Working in IT, you need excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to persuade and sow ideas across the team, says Ferguson. The hierarchical structure is disappearing and you work a lot in virtual teams. Part of her role is translation. "You have got to take the gobbledygook and think, 'What does that really mean to the partner?'
"I think that anyone who likes new things will do well in technology," says Ferguson. "It's daunting to start with, but just open your mind."
Vodafone's Pickering has climbed to the top over 27 years in the business. She could reasonably describe herself as a techie - she was trained on the job when she came out of school. "But there are many paths to get to similar roles. There is a preconceived idea that to get to senior levels, like CIO, you have to do things that are above and beyond what women are prepared to sacrifice, but companies provide the ability to have work/life balance and have senior roles.
"In 27 years in the IT industry, I have not found barriers." The sector remains male-dominated but she puts that down to women not realising there are opportunities for them in IT rather than because of barriers.
Where women tend to make a big contribution are in the more collaborative roles, such as programme managers, project management and team management. Managing a team of specialists is often where they excel.
There is much more willingness to work across a lot of broad areas with a number of stakeholders. "Women are less likely to let egos get into roles," she says.
Pickering, previously client director at IBM, says companies are realising that it is not a good idea to outsource completely as some businesses have done in recent years. "The promises of [wholly] outsourcing have not been delivered," she says. Her advice is to do selective sourcing as Vodafone does. "What's core to company competitive advantage needs to stay in the company."
Vodafone's large IT department has a combination of permanent workers and contractors, has not slimmed down in the recession and is currently hiring. "It's always been the view that IT is a competitive enabler. There are more people than ever," says Pickering. The IT sector is stable and it's in multiple markets. "You can't go wrong."
The manager of IT Contract at recruiter Robert Walters, Annabelle Klap, says she is seeing a slow but steady increase in both contracting and permanent roles in IT. She says most women who come into IT come from the business side, rather than the engineering technology side.
There are definitely pathways for career development, says Klap - "the biggest problems we face is that there are just not enough women applying". She puts that down to tertiary choices - most women still focus on arts and commerce rather than engineering and science.
"We do tend to find women in management roles because of their organisational skills," she says, but "I don't think we see as many senior managers in the marketplace like Julia Raue as we would like".
Klap makes sure she briefs new women candidates on the IT environment so they know what to expect. "If you are a meek and mild female you won't survive."