THOUGHTWare Australia founder and CEO Sonja Bernhardt has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for continued innovation and contribution to the IT industry.
Bernhardt is the first Queensland woman to receive the accolade for services to IT and only the fifth in the country.
In 1997, she founded and was appointed inaugural president of the Women in Technology Association (WiT), an organisation that has since grown to more than 350 members and 1200 affiliates.
Eight years later she co-founded and became inaugural president of the Australian Women in IT and Science Entity (AWISE) in 2005.
Both non-profit industry groups support and encourage women into technology careers through various community projects and programs.
“I have done a lot of things with my career but I simply saw opportunities and pursued them; I’ve never considered the cumulative impact of my achievements until now. I’m just happy to be recognised for having a positive input,” she says.
“I’m very proud of having set up WiT; watching the high impact this organisation has on the industry and how strong and independent it’s become.
“AWISE was particularly difficult to do. I was dealing with hundreds of personalities from different sectors who didn’t want to give up their intellectual property and share with members to create that collaboration. It was a lengthy process but now it has support from all across Australia.”
In 2008 Bernhardt was appointed to the United Nations-supported International Taskforce for Women and ICTs. The organisation was set up to promote the communication and information exchange of technology knowledge, research and resources on a global level.
“It’s not a gender issue, it’s a participation in society and economics issue. Our society needs every social group to participate equally in IT and technology because it’s the livelihood of our future,” she says.
“The area in the IT industry that really needs more women is in creation, design and ownership of companies. Young women looking to move into these areas should ignore the perceived barriers; know who you are and why you do what you do. If you believe you can do something that will change the world, just do it.”
The Gold Coast tech expert has been at the forefront of web development and project management for more than 20 years.
However it’s her continued efforts in promoting Australia’s IT sector and breaking down gender and social stereotypes that she’s best known.
Having witnessed the evolution of IT technology and products over the last two decades, Bernhardt predicts the future ‘will be unimaginable’.
“In the short term everything will get smaller, more efficient and cheaper. Nano technology and immersion technology are already taking over,” she says.
“Long term, technology will interact with our lives in ways you can’t predict or imagine. You’ve just got to keep up with the latest developments eventually you won’t be able to participate in society.”
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