“Our work should equip
the next generation of women
to outdo us in every field
this is the legacy we’ll leave behind”
Women in tech and the empowerment of women has garnered much attention over the last few years, with many brands and organizations discussing the topic at length, while dedicating resources to bring attention to the “cause.”
Actually bringing about change within an industry dominated by men, however, requires more than talking.
It requires action.
A panel of industry leaders discussed what it means to be a woman in tech, and, most importantly, how to lead the way for other women.
Beyond a hashtag
When I attended my first tech conference, I distinctly recall leaning over to my co-worker and whispering, “Where are the women?” It seemed as though we were in a sea of predominately white men, and with good reason. We were.
The number of computer scientists who are women has actually decreased since 1995, notes Girls Who Code, an organization founded to close the gender gap in technology. While 66% of girls between the ages of 6-12 express interest in computer science, only 4% of college freshmen in the field are women.
We’ve heard quite a bit of talk about women in tech, but if we’re honest, much of it isn’t positive. 2017 saw a memo written by a now-former Google employee which claimed women simply were not as well-suited as their male counterparts to work within the field due to biological reasons, a spate of sexual harassment claims, and an all-male panel slated to discuss “women’s empowerment”, which was canceled after a backlash.
How do we move from just talking about gender equality in tech to actually driving change? We start by supporting other women, said Alicia Tillman, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP.
“Despite the fact that we have networks and forums, more often than not, what holds women back is other women. You see examples and you start to understand…if you’ve ever been handed an opportunity, really focus on giving someone else that opportunity. We as women, we’ve got to support each other.”
Lisa Hornschemeier, Principal PM Manager at Microsoft also discussed the strength of women supporting other women. “About five to six years into my career, I started wondering about whether I wanted to be a career woman or a mom, and did I have to choose?” Hornschemeier pulled together about 15 women and they’d go to lunch monthly. That group grew into a global infinity organization within Microsoft, with 1200 members.
“Always remember the goal (of a female affinity association) is to not have to have that club anymore,” Lisa added, encouraging the audience to lift up the women that surround you within professional settings.
Shalini Mitha, Global Head of Solution Marketing for SAP hybris, encouraged authenticity. “Embody the cause you want to help. Help people shine on their own, and create awareness for others, and don’t take credit for them.”
The numbers don’t lie
“We are creating projects which are going to be used by everyone,” said Pooja Bhalla, Director of Product Management at SAP hybris, “but if we don’t look at it diversely, it’s going to be built by one gender…if we only look at or focus on one gender, we are going to lose a huge talent pool.”
Bhalla cited the example of building an e-commerce platform, noting that women and men have different approaches as to how they buy products, and if women are left out of the design aspect, it’s likely that businesses will also lose them as customers, noting that 80% of all consumer goods purchases are actually driven by women.
“By 2018 more than 9 million jobs will be in this space, requiring STEM as a foundation,” said Supriya Iyer, VP of Strategy & Solution Management at SAP Hybris. Iyer noted that it cannot be just one gender who fills all of those jobs or drives all of the strategy within the field.
Getting there: Be consistent
So how do we, as women, make enough of an impact that we don’t need any further panels or conversations about women in tech?
Tillman encouraged building relationships, and fostering them. “Prioritize a phone call over an email. You will never create a relationship over email.” She also urged women to trust their instincts and point of view. “You have to be trusted. You have to be consistent. Attach yourself to and understand what matters to you, and don’t compromise on that.”
“We need role models to kill that unconscious bias that we all have,” said Bhalla, “we need affinity programs to remind women that they can be leaders, too. Women don’t imagine themselves going beyond a level, because they don’t see women there.”
Tillman also reminded participants that leading this charge starts at home, and at young ages.
She encouraged parents to talk to teachers, citing an instance where an instructor said that a female student was “being bossy.” When the situation was dissected, it was assessed that the young girl was actually displaying leadership behaviors, but because she was female, they were being attributed as negative.
“I think ultimately, it’s about building confidence; teaching your girls to be women who are confident,” said Mitha. “A lot of times the confidence isn’t there, and you’re in these environments where if you’re a woman, you feel inferior, when in fact if you empower them, they realize they have every right to be there.”
You don't need permission to be in the room if your hands were the first to push open the door. Speak up.
— Cali (@caligreen) February 18, 2016
Iyer recounted telling her nine year old daughter that she was on this panel, and her daughter asking her if she was nervous. Iyer admitted that she was. “What I was trying to show her was that, hey, you can do it, too, mom is doing it, so can you.”
“How can you uplift the women around you?” Challenged Hornschemeier. “It’s not about creating a secret society, or female club. The goal is to not have a need for a female club where we work anymore.”