The Highs and Lows of Being a Woman in Tech
There has been momentous push to highlight gender inequality within tech, yet the question still remains: Why are there so few women in tech and in top leadership roles?
According to a recent Reuters study, 30% of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions. Only 25% of the IT jobs in the US were filled by women and considering the fact that 56% of women leave IT in the highlight of their career, it’s no surprise that there’s so few women leading the tech industry.
30% of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions
The value of having women in leadership is common sense — women make up half of the purchasing demographic so having limited or no representation of women leading companies can make them miss out on valuable insight. This common sense is backed by a study by a DDI consulting firm that found the top 20% of top-performing companies had 27% or more women in key leadership positions while the bottom 20% of companies had less than 19% of women in these roles.
I asked women in leadership roles to share their experience in the tech space, everything from why they chose a career in tech to perks/challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry to advice for young women considering tech as a career.
Advice to young women considering tech
Brush up on your math.
Becca Stucky, Director of Demand Generation at tech company Thycotic, says that math skills are critical. “Tech companies move fast, and to know you’re making the right choices, you need to be able to read trends and metrics for how your initiatives perform — this is true not only for marketing, but also for making choices for product features or UX, running tech support and client happiness teams, and even working across teams and explaining to other managers why your team is making certain choices.”
Diane Merrick, VP of Marketing at Teradici agrees with Stucky, adding “Don’t be intimidated by math and science. Ask questions. Sometimes the problem is the teacher, not the subject. You may need to explore other sources of learning.” Merrick also recommends young women check out the option of a co-op degree where you’re guaranteed work after graduation. “It is a fantastic way to help you discover what you like and maybe more importantly what you don’t like,” she says.
Know your worth
For Katie McCroskey, Senior Manager Channel Operations at Thycotic, it’s important for young women to know their value. “Women bring a lot to a tech company — different perspectives and skill sets, tech companies with more women are more successful and it’s a hot industry to be in, good paying jobs with lots of diversity in focus (dev, cybersecurity, ops, etc.) and opportunity. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by a room full of men.”
Become a life-long learner
Karen Nowicki, director of engineering for a Chicago-based software company called kCura, says that women in tech need to become life-long learners. “Make learning part of your commitment to yourself and keep looking for new ways to grow. Technology is an especially fast-paced career. Not only will you find the domain changing quickly, but career growth also demands being proficient in each new role. Joining user groups in your industry and national societies to keep current are just a couple ways to stay sharp.”
Go for it
“There are so many options open to you when you go into a tech career,” says Dr. Galina Datskovsky, CEO of Vaporstream. “It is not just programming or coding — the options are unlimited. You should never be afraid and never think that the guys are better at it then you. You are capable of the same and more. So, just go for it.”
Robbie Hardy, tech sector veteran, and author of the new book UPSETTING THE TABLE: Women Mentoring Women, says that young women should consider tech because they’ll stand out. “Technology is a great career for smart women who like a challenge and lots of opportunity. While it has been a male-dominated Wild Wild West for years, it is changing. An increasing number of women are embracing STEM, which is the basis of most technology careers. These women “stand out” and therefore their talents and integrity are more exposed than a man. This has both pluses and minuses, but if you understand that you must not take no for an answer and take your rightful seat at the table of technology (upsetting the table, as I like to say), you will succeed.”
Choosing a career in tech
Solving real-world problems
For Stucky, she enjoyed the idea of working for a company making lives better was a big motivation for her to enter the tech space. “In tech — and software specifically — if you can imagine it then you can make it. There are very few limits to what people can do when given a computer and the knowledge to code. I find that very inspiring. Software can make people’s lives easier, it can make work more productive, companies more secure, and it can connect people all over the world. Productivity is something I get especially excited about. I absolutely hate doing something if I know it can be done faster, with less steps, or if I can automate it. Even though my own coding skills are mediocre at best, I get to be part of an industry of problem solvers, idea-dreamers, and of virtual builders, who are creating entirely new markets and tools that the world never considered before now, but once made, could not imagine living without.”
Not everyone starts out with a desire to join a tech company. “My tech career began by accident,” McCroskey said. “I joined Thycotic seven years ago with a background in marketing and grew my technical knowledge and background as the company grew; now I love the challenge of constant change and teaching myself new technical topics, this constant quest for knowledge keeps me driven and engaged.”
Hardy also stumbled into tech on accident. “The technology world chose me. I was a research assistant at UNC Chapel Hill, putting my husband through his PhD program, and in order to do my job I had to learn to use technology to analyze the data we had collected. It was certainly challenging, because I am not a math and science person by nature, but once I unlocked the door to all that was possible with those 1s and 0s, I was hooked for life,” she said. “I found my sweet spot in technology management. My experience in those days as a research analyst and beyond, gave me the technology foundation I needed to be successful in managing it.”
Creating a shared vision
For Nowicki, knowing how to earn respect from an early age is a critical part of a tech career. “In high school, I became president of a rifle club and it was my first foray into leadership. I had to earn respect to get the role and incorporate everyone’s feedback to shape the program in a positive way. In college, I picked up computer science and led a national mathematics honor society where I put on a national math convention. Throughout the process, I got the hang of how to collaborate effectively and make decisions that were best for the group,” she said. “I’m also a volunteer coach for an Olympic-style junior air rifle club and there are very few female coaches. When I take the students to tournaments, the other coaches and attendees are sometimes surprised to see me. They perceive the sport to be male-dominated and have to shift how they think, so we can work together effectively. From a leadership standpoint, volunteering has taught me that you have to appreciate and maximize the unique passions and talents that everyone brings to the table and work with people of all different skill levels and backgrounds to create a shared vision.”
Ground breaking field
For Datskovsky, the opportunity to be in a revolutionary space like tech was too attractive to resist. “I always liked exact sciences and found that computer science gave the right mix of science, technology and human interaction, as well as the ability to work in a ground breaking field that is constantly changing and evolving.”
Being in an innovative space is what drew Merrick to a career in tech. “I began my career as a civil structural engineer in Ontario, Canada — a technical career but not in the “tech space”. There are several things that intrigued me about the tech space: The pace of innovation. The openness to do things differently. A lesser degree of prejudice — good ideas seemed welcome from anyone regardless of age or sex. The tech space is also a very global industry and it afforded me the opportunity to not only move to California but to travel the world.”
The challenges facing women in tech
Finding the right company
Not all women have faced challenges in their tech career. For Stucky, she says that a good company culture can make all the difference. “I give most of the credit for my personal experience to Thycotic, and our founder Jonathan Cogley’s focus on hiring good people and giving them the opportunity to succeed. Because of Thycotic’s culture, I’ve never been treated differently because I am a woman, and I have been given incredible opportunities to grow.”
Be thick-skinned and dance it off
For McCroskey, it’s important to remember that the tech industry is still a male-dominated space and women need to be confident and thick-skinned. “It is very challenging to walk into a room of ALL men knowing they are going to drill you with tech questions until you prove yourself — but this is common,” she commented. “All I can do is come as correct as possible through preparation and constantly retrospect, self-analyze, improve and sometimes just dance it off.”
Confidence to be yourself
According to Nowicki, women work and see things differently than men and add a different perspective that’s highly valuable. “When an environment doesn’t have prior experience with women in the workplace, it’s initially difficult for all involved to adjust to changing dynamics. The most important change that can be made is for women to feel confident enough to be themselves. If you’re in a workplace with a small female population, partner up with one another to build up confidence, discuss resources, and lean on one another for support.
Being the only one at the table
“Often I am the only one in the room. Frequently, I would go to a conference, and there would be a long line for the men’s room and none for the ladies’ room — although that’s a welcome change,” says Datskovsky. “It was occasionally more difficult to be taken seriously, as the men would be assumed to be the ones in charge. I always felt that I had to perform at my maximum at all times being a woman.”
Merrick admits it can get lonely as a woman in tech due to their being so few women in tech leadership. “My move to tech also involved moving from engineering to marketing, albeit marketing of very technical products. In the early years my engineering degree definitely bought me credibility. I am also told that my physical stature helped; I am quite tall. It is definitely sometimes harder to be heard as a woman. I also think we are less self-promoting. We let the work speak for itself and sometimes the work needs a voice to get noticed. As I moved up the ladder, the number of woman in my ranks definitely decreased. It can be a bit lonely. You may need to find a peer set outside of your company through associations and special interest groups. You do have to get used to being the only woman in the room on many occasions.”
Although Hardy admits there is a gender bias, she sees it as an opportunity. “There are always challenges but I like to look at challenges as opportunities. The gender bias is alive and well in technology, but not any more than any other sector. I was always the only woman in the room, but I learned early on to not own that or see it as a problem, but as a fact. I had to stand a little taller, work a little harder, be a bit more agile … but as long as I could maintain mutual trust and respect (T&R) with my colleagues, it always worked out. Once that trust and respect was gone, it was time to move on.”
The perks of being a woman in tech
According to Stucky, there are perks for anyone, not just women, to find a career in tech. “Compared to the other industries I’ve worked in, tech companies give more time off, seem to have better family leave policies, and they provide food to bring people together and so those working late have snacks. At Thycotic, we have men and women who come in early so they can pick their kids up from school, and night owls who work well into the evening.”
The best perk for McCroskey is being surrounded by other women in tech through organizations for Women in Tech. “The women tech community is unique because we seem to all admire each other and promote empowerment in each other — as it’s often us against them. There is very little backstabbing or pettiness — in my experience tech women easily feel a bond and want to learn from each other and help other women be successful.”
Finding a passion
For Nowicki, the opportunity to create and learn in different spaces is most exciting. “In my first role at a defense company, I wasn’t just coding — I got the opportunity to write the newsletter, conceptualize and apply processes, and develop tools that were first-to-market. I even had access to the internet before it was available to the public. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job because I got to work on so many different projects and was hungry to learn. That passion sticks with me today.”
Being a pioneer
Datskovsky enjoys being a pioneer in a new space. “You are still a pioneer in the tech world, and sometimes get to cover new ground, which is exciting. It is also nice to be the one to provide that diversity in the work place.”
Great pay and career advancement
Along with the opportunity to contribute to a new and innovative field, Merrick also lists perks of being in tech as good pay and career advancement. “I think there are a lot of perks to being in tech for men or women. The pace of change in tech is exciting. Tech is competitive and for that reason it is a very innovative space. Tech is very broad and there is a lot of opportunity for job changes and career advancement. Tech is still a well-paid field with a lot of job perks unheard of in other industries. I do believe women think differently and problem solve differently. With the right attitude you can make those differences work for you by bringing new and different ideas to the table.”
Hardy is never bored with her career choice in tech. “With T&R in full gear, a woman is often rewarded/ sought after for her unique skills and intuition (yes I said intuition), however, I don’t think that this is unique to technology,” she says. “Since technology is still a male dominated field, being a woman in tech gives you an opportunity to stand out from others and be recognized and rewarded for your talent and work ethic. For me, the perks are also the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of new products, techniques, and technologies. It is certainly never boring.”
Although women are still lagging in numbers in the tech space, it’s important for girls and young women to know they have the opportunity to change the tech scene and become positive influences. Want to jump into the tech space and learn to code for free? Here’s a great list of free places to learn coding basics.
Elizabeth Becker is the Client Partner of IT Staffing Firm PROTECH, www.protechitjobs.com. Her tech and workplace expertise has been featured in a variety of publications including The Ladders, Recruiter.com, Monster, LinkedIn, Tech.co and more. You can reach her with comments, feedback or to be featured in an upcoming story at firstname.lastname@example.org.