What does it mean to be a woman in tech? For starters, a woman in tech knows that she has to go the extra mile or at least has had to, traditionally. A woman in tech knows she must build her own support system in a traditionally male-dominated domain. A woman in tech has extraordinary resiliency to stay the course against all odds.
Women are unstoppable when they continue on their paths despite failures, setbacks, and doubts. The fields of science and technology have historically placed several barriers to entry and advancement for women, and yet women overcome them too. But do all women overcome these barriers? Is the road to success in technology now a smooth one for women? Do women feel safe opting for a career in technology? How do women in tech brace themselves for the challenges ahead?
These and many such questions have buzzed in my head for a long time and coaxed me to read innumerable articles carrying stories of women’s resilience. Reading articles alone was not sufficient, so I decided to contact women and know their side of the stories. I had the good fortune of connecting with some women who have been working in the field of technology for a substantial period. This article outlines some of the key points I gleaned from the articles I read and the women I contacted.
It sounds surprising, doesn’t it? We are talking about women’s resiliency at one end, and then one of their main challenges is overcoming self-doubt! The doubt, however, is an outcome of years of conditioning.
Nishi Churiwala, ex-Head of Technology, ParentNetwork.io and current Engineering Manager, Glance, says, “Women should be taught how to be braver and pick up opportunities and roles even if they do not know a domain or have not had much experience with some things. We tend to be underconfident in our skills.”
Nishi is not the only one who feels that. Sheryl Sandberg has said in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, that women hold themselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising their hands, and by pulling back when they should be leaning in.
Impostor syndrome refers to the feeling that one does not belong or does not deserve to be where they are professionally compared to others. While impostor syndrome is common across men and women in technology, women are 22% more likely to be suffering from it, as per a
Where does it all stem from? Not seeing enough women in leadership positions, seeing women struggle to get equal pay, being continuously reminded that they are women and that they do not belong in technology, and their ideas being dismissed and their contributions not recognized - have all ingrained a sense of insecurity in women.
Tanvi Kumar, a software engineer with 14 years of experience, says, “The biggest challenge for women in tech is making people believe that being a girl, getting married, or having a kid doesn’t stop us from learning new things or delivering our work. If we take responsibility, we can finish the work, drive the project, take care of family, and attend parent-teacher meetings. When I had my baby and even now when I tell people that I have a kid, people sometimes feel bad that I am leaving early to pick up my kid, but I ensure I am available when need be; I am available for a night release. At the time of work, work is my priority, and at the time my family needs me, I will give them the time.”
Hemanginy Anand, Senior Quality Assurance Engineer at a leading automobile company, says, “I'm a woman in a man's world. So, the biggest challenge was to prove to a male chauvinistic society that females are equally competent, and I'm dealing with it by taking challenges as opportunities and delivering the output with full conviction.”
Perhaps, the most annoying thing for women in tech is the need to prove themselves constantly. This, despite a
According to the
To compete with their male counterparts and constantly prove their worth, women put in extra hours or do extra work. Women also work harder to get equal recognition and compensation as their male peers. And yet, the representation of women in leadership positions is not very encouraging. The
While several studies put forth a compelling case for diversity and inclusion, numbers such as the above prove that there is still a long way to go.
Meghann, a fine-arts major, who is currently living and working in Japan, and working towards a shift to web development, says, “I think personally getting over my own idea of someone who works in tech and not being able to imagine myself, as a woman, being able to become a professional in that field. Most people I hear about are men, and most of the women around me in my life are not interested in that field, so I didn't have any encouragement or support to pursue a career or hobby in technology.” Many women have a similar concern. They see a lack of support as well as a lack of motivation because of a lack of role models in technology.
I recently attended a #WomenInTechWeek event organized by Turing Community, where Amanda Renteria, the CEO of Code for America, said, “if we don’t have women at the table, we simply won’t be our best as a country, as a world.” She added that she thought diversity was essentially four things - “an absolute responsibility for people who are leaders; a requirement; an opportunity to reconstruct who we are as an organization, an industry; and more fun with different people who bring different perspectives and life experiences to the table.”
I loved the perspectives of all the panel members, primarily female and leaders of their organizations. Most of them resonated with the sentiment that there hasn’t been a better time for women in technology. Xiaoyin Qu, the Co-Founder of Run The World, said that the sky is the limit for women today as there is money available for female entrepreneurs.
While the number of women donning the entrepreneurial cap has been increasing in the recent past, a large number of women still don’t feel motivated enough to take on leadership roles. The main reason most women in my personal interactions cited for this was a lack of role models. The field of tech is still largely male-dominated, and hence, women feel uncomfortable bringing up problems that may not be big but can still stunt women’s growth.
For example, Xiaoyin mentioned that women could talk to her about their periods and how they didn’t have the energy those couple of days in the month, but they would find it difficult to have the same conversation with a male boss. Similarly, all women may not have the same experience during their pregnancies. Some women have a more difficult pregnancy than others, which is not part of regular conversations. Accordingly, some women may need a longer maternity break than others. However, having a child does not take away their competence at work.
Since leadership positions are teeming with males, most females assume that women who make it to the c-suite are either super talented or just lucky. It is not often that they come across a woman at that level who goes through pregnancy or shares her struggles with the menstrual cycle, or menopause, or managing her child while taking care of the demands of her important position at the office.
Xiaoyin also talked about encouraging male employees and leaders in her company to learn the nuances of working with women, to understand the problems they face, and how they juggle several hats. An interesting thing she shared was how 12 noon is sleep time for kids and hence, having meetings with parents who work from home may not be suitable at that time.
At the same panel, Jonathan Siddharth, the CEO of Turing, said that he felt diversity was important for two main reasons. One that a company with a diverse workforce gets diverse perspectives that can help solve problems better and build better products catering to a broader customer base. Two, it’s only when a company has a diverse team that they can recruit amazing people from a diverse pool.
This kind of thought leadership is needed across the board in tech organizations. If men understand the needs of women at work and also that those needs in no way diminish their capacity to perform, and women see the environment and the dialogues at the office evolve to become more inclusive, and they see more women in leadership to emulate, the current problems can be overcome.
The leadership landscape is changing, and more women will hopefully be role models for the future crop of women in tech.