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The Highs and Lows of Being a Female Tech Leader

May 21, 2016

8:05 pm

There has been momentous push to highlight gender inequality within tech, yet the question still remains: Why are there so few women in tech leadership roles?

According to a recent Reuters study, 30 percent of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions. Only 25 percent of all IT jobs in the U.S. were filled by women – with a stunning 56 percent of women leaving the field altogether in the highlight of their career. To combat gender inequality, we have to examine the importance of representation and having women be active in tech leadership roles.

The value of having women in leadership roles is necessary for everyone in the field. Women make up a large percentage of the consumer demographic, so having little representation of women in these roles can negatively impact the growth of the company.

I asked women in leadership roles to share their experience in the tech space, everything from why they chose a career in tech to perks/challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry to advice for young women considering tech as a career.

Choosing a Career in Tech

For leadership coach Micheline Germanos (the former General Manager for the Microsoft Marketing and Operations Group), choosing a career in tech was due to a fascination with new areas:

“Through my career, I have mostly taken positions newly created. I like to walk into uncharted paths,” Germanos says. “High tech is a fascinating field also because of the pace of change, the need for high adaptability and the possibility to always work on new things.”

Former Googler and now CEO and founder of Drawbridge, Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, says there was no single a-ha moment for her:

“I always knew that I would have a career related to math and science as I’ve always been drawn to those fields. I am a firm believer in the applied nature of science and math. In other words, while pure mathematics and science are certainly elegant, I’ve always seen the development of real-world applications using those foundations as the more productive endeavor. I ended up choosing a career in engineering, and continue to derive elegant applications of scientific concepts to solve new problems.”

Sloane Berry, Co-Founder of Odesso, recommends other women to consider a career in tech for the “wild, wild west” factor:

“The rules have not been written for so many different and dynamic sectors of the tech industry. Now a great time to bring a fresh perspective to mobile, AI, IoT, big data, cloud computing, wearables, VR, chatbots – simply because we’re all in the same boat. There is no hierarchy or glass ceiling in the fastest-growing sectors of tech. Your voice is much more likely to be heard and echoed through these communities. While older, brick-and-mortar tech companies are a bit tougher to grow in, things are changing. The number of all-male development, design, or sales teams are shrinking quickly, and many businesses are seeing the value in diverse perspectives.”

The Challenges Facing Women in Tech

Germanos doesn’t believe the challenges she has faced would have been any different if she had taken another path.

“I actually believe that it is easier to grow and develop as a female leader in the Hightech Industry (with equal capabilities and personalities) than in other, more traditional sectors, due to the dynamic nature and pace of this sector, the need for innovation and the overall speed that is inherent to this sector. Looking back, I recognize that some of the challenges I faced were often self-inflicted (like working mother guilt, perfectionism and work-like balance issues until I realized that achieving balance is a very personal journey that requires self-awareness, relentless focus and very conscious choices).”

For Thea Myhrvold, founder of TeachMeNow.com, she enjoys breaking stereotypes. She says:

“The main challenge is that the tech community in particular is traditionally dominated by men, and the stereotype that exists is that as a woman (regardless of your age) you must either be an assistant to a male colleague or working in marketing (not that there is anything wrong with either job, but often men and women don’t associate me with any other role).”

For Nikki Ralston, Startup Mentor and Advisor, the biggest issue women face is being trapped under bad managers, especially male managers that don’t want their underlings to grow.

“Mediocre people that rise up to management positions work very hard to make sure they have talented people underneath them, but also make sure to keep them down.” Her advice? “Often times women need to make a move outside of their current company to get out from under a manager that is holding them back. Make sure you are building your resume every single day so that you are ready to make that move.”

Sivaramakrishnan believes the biggest challenge facing women in tech is not being exposed at an early age.

“We need to do a better job of empowering women through initiatives in science and technology starting as early as middle and high school curriculums. We still do have to fight societal stereotypes and expectations around the role of women.”

Although Berry highly encourages women to join the tech boom, she admits there are set-back there are challenges as a woman in tech. According to Berry, they’re the same as challenges facing women in all industries.

“I have countless things mansplained to me, had ideas dismissed, or branded as ‘intimidating’ on the basis of my gender. But you don’t have to put up with that or change who you are. In my personal experience, it has been happening much less – particularly in the entrepreneurial/startup space. It can still be tough in B2B sales or BizDev you’re dealing with ‘good ol’ boys’, but if someone’s going to respect you less based on your gender, they’re clearly not a good business to partner with in the first place. It’s important that you surround yourself with positive people, because those people are more likely to succeed anyway.”

The Perks of Being a Woman in Tech

Just as there were multiple responses for what challenges these women face when being a woman in tech, there are also a variety of perks that come along with it. For Germanos, these perks far outweigh any challenges.

“I firmly believe that being a woman in tech offers a lot of perks including working in a fast paced, dynamic environment that offers accelerated learning, the opportunity to try different paths (my own career spanned R&D, product and field marketing, sales, business development and organizational development) and higher mobility both geographically and across functions. I also believe that tech companies are more likely to accommodate and offer productivity tools that allows flexible working arrangement.”

For Myhrvold, she enjoys making an impact. As a young female tech entrepreneur, she says she enjoys the perks of being a woman in tech, including the opportunity to have “a big impact and create change. You can leave your mark in the industry (look at Sheryl Sandberg and LeanIn).”

It’s not all negative as a woman in tech. Ralston says a perk for her is that people notice her. “A woman in tech is still quite a novelty and people will therefore notice you and remember you. Make a good impression and you won’t be forgotten.”

Berry loves the perks of being a woman in tech, specifically solving problems:

“It’s rewarding when a company tells them how much money they saved or earned all because of your work. It’s even more rewarding when someone tells you you’re helping them spend more time doing what they love. As long as you have empathy and creativity you’re sure to succeed and make the world even better!”

Advice to Young Women Considering Tech

For Myhrvold, it’s important not just to have women in coding jobs but also in leadership roles to mentor other women:

“There is so much impact to have in this space. As a woman in tech, you can hire and encourage other women to join this career path. We have flexible hours for working moms, and this creates a great opportunity for women to join and stay in the industry.”

Germanos encourages young women to enter the tech space due to the unique perspective they bring.

“I would first encourage them to absolutely embrace a career in tech. I will also assure them that their contribution is key because they bring a different perspective and thanks to their input, the product they will be specifying, designing or marketing has a higher chance to meet the needs of its potential buyer thanks to them.” She also adds that she’d “encourage them to actively seek mentorship from a leader they respect and to alternate between male and female mentors. In addition to providing precious learning opportunities, over time, some of these mentors can become valuable sponsors.”

For Nikki Ralston, CMO of Wizer, her advice to young women in tech is to

“Do what you love. Be dedicated to the mission. Always push yourself to learn more. One of the best advantages of working in hitech is you get to be surrounded by very intelligent people most of the time. Seek out and connect with the most intelligent people you can and learn from them.” She adds that it’s a smart idea to “make friends with a good recruiter. They know the market better than anyone and can give you the best info on your worth and opportunities. When a perfect opportunity arises, they will call you.”

Sivaramakrishnan thinks that women in tech (especially those considering entrepreneurship) need to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“There is no guaranteed success in life, and entrepreneurship is a path rife with uncertainty. Successful people mitigate risk by investing in product and technology, making the right decisions on go-to-market and surrounding themselves with the right team. Dealing with risk is a genuine hurdle and I believe some of the coping skills can certainly be learned and practiced along the way.”

Is It Worth Being a Woman in Tech?

The short answer – absolutely.

Although women are still lagging in numbers in the tech space, it’s important for girls and young women to know they have the opportunity to change the tech scene and become positive influences.

Want to jump into the tech space and learn to code for free? Here’s a great list of free places to learn coding basics.

Thank you to Micheline Germanos, Leadership Coach at Germanos Leadership; Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, CEO and Founder of Drawbridge; Sloane Berry, Co-Founder of Odesso; Thea Myhrvold, founder of TeachMeNow.com; and Nikki Ralston, CMO of Wizer for sharing their valuable insight.

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Elizabeth is a tech contributor for PROTECH, www.protechitjobs.com; Tāk http://www.takinteractive.com/ and other SFL businesses. Elizabeth is also the author of travel and children's books. More about her adventures can be found on her blog: LizzyTheWriter.com. You can reach her at [email protected]

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