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#ChooseToChallenge: How These Women in Tech Rise to the Challenge

This year, #ChooseToChallenge is the theme of International Women’s Day. It’s been an exceptional year so far with a majority of the companies diversifying their leadership board by hiring women to lead their organizations through the difficult period. Despite the shift to remote work providing more flexibility for women, the tech industry still has a ways to go before equality is achieved.

We spoke with a group of accomplished women in the tech field who have given their thoughts on the current state of the industry. They have shared their advice for organizations and fellow professionals on how they can pave the way for equality once and for all.

The Technology Industry Is in Desperate Need of Workers With the Right Knowledge and Skills

Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer, Leaseweb Global

“If we as women cannot express our enthusiasm for a career in the industry, how can we expect more women to be involved? As the staggering talent gap shows, the technology industry is in desperate need of workers with the right knowledge and skills. In order to keep a balanced range of talent in the sector, we must all do our best to secure the interest of people considering a career in the field.

It is of the utmost importance that we remind younger generations that tech is not just reserved for the geeks among us. That’s why it is key to expose children to the basics of coding through their education. Coding and programming require a certain level of accuracy, are used to secure our daily lives and provide solutions for many of today’s biggest problems – children should be prepared to further this field.

In addition to making young people more enthusiastic about tech, it is important we teach them that women are successful in the scientific realm. At the moment, being a female manager in the tech world is considered ‘abnormal.’

Even from an early age, we have all been told that boys have more talent for STEM subjects than girls. Think about it, how often have you heard that boys are better at math and girls are better in English? Beyond that, boys traditionally play with cars, LEGOS and robots, while girls are expected to play with dolls. These societally ingrained images of male and female stick with people for their entire life, impacting every industry and the direction that young men and women take when it comes to their careers. Therefore, it is not very surprising that girls ultimately opt out of the STEM subjects.”

My Biggest Ongoing Challenge Has Been Making the Time to Invest in Myself

Michelle Fitzgerald, Director of Demand Gen and Events, Plutora:

“#ChooseToChallenge being the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day has made me reflect on challenges that I’ve faced throughout my career, and how I have addressed them. I find that my biggest ongoing challenge has been making the time to invest in myself, both professionally and personally. Taking time to advance skill sets, learn new things and to just recharge tends to take a back seat in the fast-paced world we’re living in. This year, making it a priority to set aside time has improved my balance and allowed for growth.

Another challenge that I see myself and other women in tech trying to overcome is finding connections. Working remotely during a pandemic has really put a spotlight on the benefits we get from engaging with our colleagues in-person. Without being able to travel into an office or grab a casual lunch, we’ve had to get creative in how we build and maintain our relationships.

This year, I would encourage women to set aside the time to connect with others, especially other women in their field. One great way to do that is to take on a mentorship role while also seeking a mentor for themselves. Having great mentors throughout my career has really helped shape my journey. I have learned so much from others’ experiences and have valued their encouragement to challenge myself. Mentorship is extremely important for growth and those connections are so valuable.

At the end of the day, it comes down investing in yourself and connecting with others. Develop the skills you need to get to where you want to be. Then trust in your intuition but be open to asking for help and insight when you need it.”

We Must All Be Diligent in Nurturing an Environment in Which Women Can Thrive and Grow

Gina O’Reilly, COO, Nitro

“The undeniable impact of women in the workforce has definitely taken a hit as a result of the pandemic, as many are struggling to juggle full-time jobs on both the work and home fronts and finding it impossible to strike a healthy balance between the two during these unprecedented times. In fact, it was reported by The National Women’s Law Center that 100% of the jobs lost in December in the US were all positions held by women, which is a shocking stat in and of itself.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. For me, this starts with women themselves looking within and then companies at large working to constantly challenge the status quo, particularly when it comes to promoting and supporting a more equitable workplace for all. I’ve always believed in championing the diversity of thought and contribution across the board, regardless of race or gender, as it’s that diversity of voices that leads to stronger decision making, more collaborative and productive work environments, and ultimately, better business results.

We must all be diligent in nurturing an environment in which women, particularly those juggling the demands of both career and family, can thrive and grow. In the tech industry, achieving this environment doesn’t come without its challenges. There are simply not enough women pursuing a career in this space, particularly in the engineering field. Making progress here has to again start from within. Companies need to invest in programs that promote STEM roles to women and ensure we have sufficient gender diversity in our talent pipelines, which might require just looking that bit harder.

I also believe strong mentoring can be another key way to attract more women into tech roles — and this responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on successful women. Diversity in business has proven to benefit everyone, and I’ve seen great things happen when male leaders are also involved in, and passionate about, the growth and mentorship of female colleagues (and vice versa).

Today, businesses of all shapes and sizes can #ChoosetoChallenge their organizations with this common goal in mind. Women are constantly having to work to break the proverbial glass ceiling and it’s our job as employers to not only make that less challenging, but work on eliminating it altogether.”

Challenge Gender Equality as It Is, and Work for the Parity That There Must Be

Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy, EMEA, Exabeam:

“The unfortunate reality is that we continue to live and work in an unequal world. Currently, just one-quarter of the cybersecurity sector is made up of women. And, whilst finding ways to bridge this gap is crucial, it also requires a genuine commitment to changing the fabric of everyday working life.

Early on in my career when working in a technical support role, I realized I was somewhat of a novelty factor. A customer once pointed out, “I have never spoken to a woman in support before — let’s see if you can help me,” as if it was a challenge I could not meet…whilst another asked me out on a date at the end of a support call. There were times where I’d walk into a meeting, and there’d be a man in the back speaking to me like I wasn’t supposed to be there. I felt I had to constantly justify my own position to men like these, ultimately, working harder to prove my worth. And still, it would take months before they would treat me like an equal. But regardless of this, I chose to challenge, I chose to persist.

There have been a lot of steps forward, with brighter and more accessible paths being made for women in the industry. Security community events are commonly ensuring there is greater speaker diversification. And, when women and girls see themselves represented, they are far more likely to relate, interact and aspire towards the same goal. This is why the power of mentorship is so important. There are countless benefits of learning from people who have walked in your shoes. However, we cannot walk alone. It is not just women who should support one another, but male allies too. This International Women’s Day, I urge everyone to stand up and be counted, to challenge gender equality as it is, and work for the parity that there must be.”

Adding Flexible Hours Open up More Opportunities for Women in Tech

Annemie Vanoosterhout, release and project manager, Datadobi

“The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, ‘Choose to Challenge,’ means two things to me: there’s a challenge for organizations as well as individuals to bring change. First, both women and men must challenge their work environments to make room for people of all genders, races, and backgrounds. As we emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic, organizations have the opportunity to turn remote work into an advantage. Adding flexible hours that allow working from home can benefit women in particular who are balancing job responsibilities and families, and open up more opportunities for them in tech.

However, the responsibility is not on organizations alone. Women also must challenge themselves to move beyond what they think, or maybe what others think, they can do. In my career, I had one or two occasions when my supervisor didn’t see me as a good fit for the next level up and I was passed over for another candidate. I used the opportunity to work with the new manager to excel where I could contribute the most. Not being accepted right away doesn’t mean you can’t push the boundaries and show people what you are capable of. You just sometimes have to accept that people aren’t caught up with you yet.

A recent article I read said that women try to take on too much of the burden, and that we try to change the world. Of course, we do! If not us, who? But the reality is we shouldn’t be expected to do it alone.”

We Often Need to ‘Prove Ourselves’ More Than Men to Show What We’re Capable Of!

Madelene Campos, Software Developer at BrightGauge, a ConnectWise solution

“I first started in the tech industry about five years ago, when I made a career change from being a professional musician to software development. During this time, I’ve noticed that the amazing women I’ve had a chance to work with all tend to perform at a very high level. They are extremely thorough, detail-orientated and give 100%.

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In many industries, not just in tech, being taken seriously due to gender perception continues to feel like an issue. We often need to ‘prove ourselves’ more than men to show what we’re capable of. To help address this, organizations need to work with their HR teams to ensure that their employees, regardless of gender, are receiving equal pay and benefits.

We need to encourage more women to consider opting for a career in tech. Joining a support group that is inclusive and can give advice is a great way to get one’s foot in the door. There are many organizations that focus and support underrepresented groups in tech, such as PyLadies and RailsGirls. Even if women don’t want to code, there are so many other opportunities within tech. It’s important to understand that no one is born with tech skills. Learning how to solve problems, think critically and, at the very least, grow an awareness of what is happening in the tooling we use on a daily basis, is definitely worth the time and effort.”

We as a Society Must Challenge the Notion That the Tech Industry and Other Stem Fields Are a ‘Man’s World’

Darine Fayed, General Counsel and DPO, Pathwire

“On International Women’s Day, we as a society must challenge the notion that the tech industry and other STEM fields are a ‘man’s world.’ Young women who are still in school and determining what the path ahead looks like must be reminded that they are more than capable of becoming excellent engineers, developers and data scientists. To make this happen, universities and tech companies must open up education and job opportunities for women to pave the way for a career in tech.

Women should feel more empowered to break glass ceilings and challenge themselves to push past stereotypes. With gender disparities in the tech industry being more of an open conversation now than in the past, it is now up to companies to foster an environment where women are welcome and supported. By making a concerted effort to combat unconscious biases that women should pursue other careers and opening up opportunities for girls and young women, we could be having a very different conversation in International Women’s Days to come.”

Without Diversity of Perspective, We Risk Missing Out on Delivering the Best Solutions Possible

Sofia Kauffman, Chief People Officer, Zerto

“International Women’s Day is hugely important because it celebrates the trailblazers who first started breaking down gender inequality barriers and set the way for many more women to navigate this landscape. It shines a light on where we’ve come from, but more importantly, it helps us to see what’s on the path ahead.

The tech industry is founded on innovation, and that can only occur when there is diversity throughout and a willingness to leave comfort zones. Women offer a fresh perspective on problem-solving, and that’s exactly what the tech industry is all about. Without diversity of perspective, we risk missing out on delivering the best solutions possible.

To those women who want to enter the tech industry: be yourself unapologetically. There is a perception among women that they need to prove themselves. Don’t do that. Be who you are because it inspires trust in those around you. You bring something to the table that no one else does. Learn from others, listen to their experiences, and heed their advice—but never stop being your true authentic self. It got you this far, and it will take you wherever you want to go.

Never let someone diminish your hard work and success. It can eat away at people and cause many to doubt themselves. Ignore the outside voices and keep doing your thing. There are always going to be naysayers and detractors. Find the people that build you up, and if none exist, build yourself up. You’re worth it.”

Diversity of Any Kind Within an Organization Is Really the Smart Thing to Do

Samina Subedar, Vice President of Marketing, StorCentric

“Many industries, such as high tech, have traditionally been dominated by men. Yet, it is one in which I have built my career, and I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the men and women that judged me not by my gender, but rather my abilities, actions and attitude.

I would offer that as we look towards this year’s International Women’s Day, we ask ourselves what we can do to help our female colleagues to be judged likewise. Not only is it the right thing to do, but another advantage of supporting and championing a female colleague — perhaps bringing their talents to the attention of senior management — is that it also positions you as an identifier and cultivator of talent within your organization. Which, it has been my experience, is almost always overwhelmingly appreciated (and many times, rewarded).

When it gets right down to it, diversity of any kind within an organization is really the smart thing to do — it brings unique perspectives together, which leads to increased innovation and enhanced problem solving, which in turn without fail, positively impacts the bottom line.”

Having Different Views and Input From a Diverse Team Can Enable Competitive Advantage

Judy Kaldenberg, Sr. Marketing Director, Nexsan, a StorCentric Company

“Many women have rejected the idea of pursuing a career in tech, and I can understand why. Having built my career in technology sales and now marketing, I can tell you at times, it wasn’t easy. But, I am so glad I did! Being at the forefront of the development and delivery of many exciting technology innovations has been immensely rewarding.

Having different views and input from a diverse team can enable competitive advantage and an increased ability to win in today’s dynamic global economy. I am fortunate to now work for StorCentric’s Nexsan that has known this from the onset and operated accordingly.

On International Women’s Day and all year long, I am appreciative for working in an industry that continues to blaze new trails not only in technology innovation but in its consistent progress towards creating work environments that recognize differences between people and appreciate that these differences are an asset to be valued.”

Companies Must Be Thoughtful About Intersecting a Woman’s Path and Sparking Her Interest

Robin Meyer, Deputy General Counsel, TokenEx

“On International Women’s Day, I’m thankful for group chats with my ‘law girls’ (#EverFierce) and my ‘patio girls.’ These are brilliant and well-thinking women. During the pandemic, we came together in a more regular cadence than before. Our chats solidified a safe space to share personal and professional thoughts and concerns. Under the circumstances, I think it’s been important to lean on a trusted group of women that help celebrate successes of every size. Every success is a victory! These women have staying power to encourage one another and put things into perspective for me, reminding me not to waste energy on unimportant issues.

To me, #ChoosetoChallenge is personal. It means doing some intentional life planning to stay clear on who you are (and who you don’t feel the need to be) and what is crucial to you personally and professionally, asking for what you want and bringing all of your expertise and self to your “world.” Get quiet, think, ask and bring it! I’m also interested to see how remote working impacts workplace gender parity in 2021. Without the physical barriers or office walls, we are left with a person’s unique voice and ideas and the work product they contribute to the team. I was hired during the pandemic, and I am proud to work for a company that views all employees as resources to be allocated appropriately regardless of gender, age, race, etc. Being agnostic about gender in hiring, salary and promotion are practices that promote parity.

When I think about increasing gender parity in the broader tech industry, companies must be thoughtful about intersecting a woman’s path and sparking her interest, to make her want a STEM career. My advice to women pursuing a career in STEM is to do the ask! Look for women in the lane you want to be in and reach out to them. Before my recent career transition from public to private sector, I reached out to several people that I did not know to get their advice. It turned out to be invaluable, as they highlighted pieces of my expertise that were in-demand in the private sector. I would not have known that without asking. Their advice catapulted me through the transition and enabled me to see my expertise objectively. Remember, the ask is a compliment to their expertise, and the worst that can happen is they say no (although no one did). Ditch your fear and take the next one step.”

Being a Woman in Tech, the Same Core Principles to Success Remain True

Diane Albano, CRO, Globalization Partners

“While the industry has made progress, gender bias in the tech industry against women remains prevalent. When it comes right down to it, being a woman in tech or a woman in another high-power, high-intensity, highly-competitive field, the same core principles to success remain true.

Seek a mentor, be a mentor: Mentors in the workplace are so critical. I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s both important to be a mentor and to find a mentor as a mentee. The daily challenges of professional advancement significantly ease when there’s a mentor to turn to for career advice. Getting the word out on the importance of mentoring and the responsibility of mentoring needs to be reinforced early in one’s career. This way, as time goes on the tables turn and the mentee becomes the next mentor.

There are many paths. Choose the path that fits you: I always loved math and science—I am not a technologist, but I have been in high-tech my entire career. It’s not only about pure engineering and development but also the surrounding roles (eg: sales, marketing, operations, etc.). If your passion and drive are in engineering and development, pursue it unabashedly.

Be assertive, confident, and vocal: Perception plays a major role in highly-competitive fields, and tech is no exception. Being assertive and confident in your skillset and ideas can directly impact your colleagues’ and superiors’ professional perception of you. It can impact how you’re viewed, but that is not always enough when gender bias is quietly rampant. In those instances, confidently questioning the presence of inequality is not only justified but necessitated. If a situation or ‘cultural norm’ seems wrong or unreasonable, then challenge them. Sometimes it’s the status quo that needs challenging. I have an entire career of challenging the status quo and then working to make it right. Pursuit of progress towards a fair and equitable environment is always a worthy undertaking.”

Thank you everyone for sharing your insights with us. We look forward to seeing you again here.

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