5 Things That Make Women in Tech Successful
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The tech sector has long had an uncomfortable relationship with gender equality, and it’s one that seemingly continues to this day, as some recent numbers very much back up this archetypal view.
According to this report from McKinsey & Company, women in tech make up just over a third (37%) of those who hold entry-level jobs. And the numbers just get worse and worse as you climb that slippery corporate ladder, with just 15% of tech CEOs being female.
Worryingly, according to the Silicon Valley Bank’s 2017 Startup Outlook survey – conducted by a third-party research firm and including startups from all over the world (62% were based in the US) – the number of company boards with no women on them increased in 2017. More than 70% of the 941 startups surveyed did not have a single female board member in 2017, up from 66% the year before.
The challenge almost seems so big it can be difficult to know where to start. We decided to chat to some female tech professionals in Australia’s top companies, in order to hear about the real world ups and downs experienced by women hoping to further their careers in tech.
First up, we heading to disruptive Australian telecommunications provider Amaysim, a company who have managed to build a pretty diverse tech team.
They currently have 41 per cent women out of a total of 125 employees.
We sat down with four women across the organisation who joined between 2010 and 2017 (the length of time the company has been around) to explore some practical tips that anyone can implement:
Product Owner Sandra Kuras joined during Amaysim’s founding year. She hadn’t taken the more traditional tech study route, instead studying journalism and working at Optus before becoming a flight attendant. She was intrigued by the concept of a start-up disturbing the marketplace, and joined Amaysim in the customer service team.
Exposure to other teams within the organisation is an experience that many employees credit as one of the main benefits of working within the fast paced world of the start-up. Sandra found herself working closely with the tech team every day, and the work that she saw them doing piqued her interest.
With support and opportunity encouraged from leadership, she explains the transition into the tech team – “It was never an intentional path for me; I hadn’t realised it was a tech career that interested me.
“Companies can give employees the opportunity to interact with the tech team, and allow for space to grow and transition. Having that support and opportunity made it possible”.
There’s been a big focus on building pipelines of talent straight from universities – the focus is on attaining the best computer science talent from the point at which they graduate. These candidates then start in a coding role, but often leave a couple of years down the line when they realise coding perhaps isn’t one of their key strengths.
Coding certainly isn’t the only role for women in tech, and companies have an opportunity to be more vocal about this. Product Owner Denisse Dimatatac studied IT and took the traditional path, even coding during her internships before graduating. Very quickly she realised it wasn’t one of her key strengths. But she loved tech and had realised there were other options beyond code.
“I’d missed the human interaction elements, taking a problem and working with people to come up with the solution – figuring out the architecture.
“But I still loved tech and realised there were other options beyond code. I began a new path as a Business Analyst before becoming a Product Owner, where I flourished in the space”, she explains.
So let’s talk about code skills. Whether front end or back end, there’s a general assumption that if you like problem-solving, you could be a great fit. As a result interviews often use problem-solving tests as a first hurdle. Lack of focus on other areas can also be the reason people leave to be a more meaningful fit.
On the surface, you would presume problem solving was the main interest of Software Engineer Lian Ma. She initially studied mechanical automation, designing buildings where the components interconnected with each other, before travelling to study Information Technology and e-Commerce in Australia – “sharpening her weapons for work” as Lian describes it.
From there Lian worked in retail, where she realised that there was something she loved even more than problem-solving via solutions.
“I learnt a lot of base knowledge in that job; it became clear that front end was my favourite. It’s like sorting out a heap of mess and playing with colours – making things pretty makes me very proud of my work. My background is very mechanical, but by coding you really can create something visual”.
Outside of work Lian loves the beauty industry, and sees similarities in this passion and what drives her in work. Yes, she’s writing some kick-ass code, but that’s not what drives her career choices.
Most organisations have more men than women at the leadership table – it’s a fact and it’s not something that’s going to be fixed overnight.
Rather than focussing solely on the solutions of the future, it’s important to look at current growth and retention – to tackle the here and now. Part of that is exploring communication. It’s something Jannilla Liden, a Business Analyst, has studied over her time in the industry. It’s her goal to understand a language she calls ‘Manish’.
“I started my career working at consultancies in Sweden”, she explains, “I saw an equal split in university. It’s been the workplace where I’ve faced issues. Sometimes women just express themselves differently. You can say something and men don’t get it, then the guy next to you expresses the point in a different way, and people immediately get it.”
Janilla started looking at books around different personality types and how women and men communicate in an attempt to figure it out. “Ultimately”, she explains, “we communicate in different ways; women use sentences that invite discussion and interaction, whereas men tend to be more direct.
“For example, women may say words like ‘I think’, which a man may perceive as being unsure, when in fact it’s just to invite a conversation.
“There’s a lack of understanding around this issue. It’s something I’ve needed to know in order to survive”.
It would be naive to think all the problems facing women in tech come from men. All four women credited their confidence and success in the role to a supportive network where they celebrate each others’ successes.
There’s an effort to hire people who are supportive and open. It’s important to leave the ego at the door and create a safe environment where other people can voice their opinions and have a clear opportunity to define a role.
There are still issues with companies and their customers; sexism does happen. But the company needs to back up women in these instances and not be afraid to stand up when there is a problem. Even if it’s with your biggest customer.
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