Retaining Women In Tech
26 November, 2019
Early in 2018 I left my position as an engineering manager at Apple. I was completely burnt out. On top of that I was fed up with the lack of supportive leadership and the isolating environment. I decided to leave and figure out what to do next later, though I was pretty sure I didn't ever want to work full-time in the tech industry again.
I ended up starting my own small business helping other small business owners with their technological needs. It was during this time that I had my eyes open to what I couldn't see from inside the tech bubble - women in the real world interacting with technology built for them, but not by them. I could see the challenges of this both through me and through the interactions with the women that I was helping. It also became apparent in every day-to-day products. For example, if you ask Siri about sports, she automatically defaults to men's sports. You have to explicitly ask for women's sports. This may seem like a trivial example but if you think about the immediate effect on people and the long-term implications of that bias, it will surely have a large impact on the future. I took a step back and realized that if I walked away from tech that I would be walking away from the ability to write the features I craved. So I returned, but not before reflecting on my career decisions. Which moments did I think were successful and which did I feel were failures. When I was successful in my career, what made it successful? As a woman, I realized it was based on three things: resilience, environment, and strong leadership.
- Resilience - It is more than just grit, it's about self-belief and not being afraid. Don't be afraid to fail. In the book Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani, she shares an experiment run by ABC news with the help of a psychologist. In this experiment, boys and girls are given salty glasses of lemonade to drink. The goal of the experiment was to see how the different groups would react. The boys reacted as expected – they immediately complained that it was awful. The girls, however, were a different story. They actually politely drank and choked down the lemonade. When asked by the researchers why they drank it, the girls admitted they didn't want to make the researchers feel bad and tell them the lemonade was terrible. Now imagine that little girl, all grown up, at her first job, in her first meeting. Does she speak up, or is she still people-pleasing and polite? My advice: Be brave, not perfect. Stand up for what you know and believe.
- Environment - The right environment is key to success. Looking back at my experiences, I thrived when I had a nurturing, collaborative, inclusive, and diverse environment and was encouraged to be myself. On the contrary, I would struggle when I felt isolated and alone. If you don't have an inclusive and diverse environment it is very hard to be successful.
- Strong Leadership - You really need strong bosses who are willing to take the time to find diverse candidates to hire, who believe that inclusion and diversity is important. One of the things I say is diversity dies in good intentions and fails due to lack of application. It's true that a lot of companies say they want diversity and inclusion but then they don't do anything to actually make it a diverse and inclusive environment. Reflecting on my career I started to see the difference strong leadership and a good boss made. When I assessed all the environments and cultures of places I'd worked, many had similarities. I flourished in large part due to a supporting boss and sponsor who guided my career. Other women who didn't have that same support would tell a very different story.
- Find an inclusive environment in the tech industry. There are definitely environments that are not inclusive, and speaking from experience, they are hard to work in.
- Even in an inclusive environment, a lot of times you may still be the only woman in the room. This is especially true when you start moving into management. There are a fair amount of female engineers but as you move up the ladder it becomes even more isolating.
- I think it is extremely important for women - especially those in management positions - to network with other women outside of your company. This is because you are never going to be able to fully get the support within your own organization.
- While companies are transitioning to a culture and environment of inclusivity and diversity, the process can be slow. That is why we need resilience and why it's so important. Eventually companies will get there, but until it gets better we have to stick it out through the rough parts.
- We need women to provide their unique solutions to the unique problems that are going to shape the future. It's in our self-interest. We can either stay in and influence it or be impacted by the fact that we weren't represented. In tech, we are literally writing the future today.
- So how do we keep women in tech? It turns out it isn't a degree, or management abilities, or the industry that has been the key to my successes. It has been resilience, an inclusive working environment and strong leadership shown by a great boss and sponsor.
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