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Inclusion Works: Women in Tech - Journeys, Hardships and Advice for Companies

Romina G

16 Aug 2022

8 min read

Inclusion Works: Women in Tech - Journeys, Hardships and Advice for Companies
  • diversity

Diversity and inclusion is critical to any industry or field, enabling companies to create better and safer products. The tech industry is no exception. A more diverse and inclusive company often means better employee performance and engagement, and a higher retention rate.

Despite more and more conversations about gender diversity in tech being held each year, women working in the industry are still facing some critical issues, all while remaining widely underrepresented. As part of our Inclusion Works campaign, we have launched the Women in Tech series of interviews, meant to bring more representation to the female voices working in tech, and help make a positive shift among companies.

We're lucky to be in the position where we have access to a number of female software development specialists, who have shared with us their journeys, challenges and experience working as women in tech. Below you can read a selection of responses from four female developers, working across Europe. Their names have been changed for anonymity.

What originally attracted you to the tech industry?

Kelly: When I was in school I really liked maths, so it kind of made sense to me. Later on, when choosing the university I had to pick between maths and arts, since I also loved performing. So I went to drama school but at some point I just didn't feel intellectually stimulated so I went back to university to do computer science. Later on I had a part time job at Diegesis. The thing that I love the most in the tech industry is writing code and solving problems.

Ana: I always felt really good about the tech industry. I knew it was something I was qualified for. In my early days in school I was a competitive mathematician, and was just very good at it. I was really empowered to continue so it was not news that I chose the tech industry. It was and is representing my lucrative future – intellectually stimulating and promising field I feel like home in.

Ciara: I studied informatics at school and since then I knew computer science was a thing, but the teacher often focused more on boys. I’ve always been passionate about tech so I went to a very tech oriented university. Plus my parents worked in the field so it was a natural decision for me. Though I have a great love for the tech industry, it was very challenging to find a job.

Leslie: I was always fond of the tech industry, even joined several WIT groups along the way. It gives me pleasure to develop and spread awareness through speaking out loud about the problems, having events, workshops and communities that strive for a change at an international level.

Tell us more about your experience at the beginning of your career? What challenges have you faced?

Kelly: In school I did decision maths (algorithms). My teachers advised me to do maths rather than computer science. They didn’t even put it as an option for me. The turning point was when my brother told me about an online course in learning JavaScript, and I have to say I just loved it! There’s a huge problem with introducing women into tech in schools – for me or anyone I know, a tech career was never thought of as an option. So naturally, the outcome is felt at every level.

Once in tech, I was always second guessed. Currently I work with amazing people that make me feel included and understand me. But I’ve encountered many labelling, some even in a subconscious way, from people I have worked with. For example, I was often double checked, or when agreeing a solution with me, later it was consulted with a male engineer. Sometimes I’ve even been called ‘aggressive' or 'bossy' because of me being assertive while males with the same level of assertiveness would get by with it as it is. Tech can be felt like a boy's club, especially in smaller companies, but it is all worth it.

Ana: All I know is I always had to prove myself. I am fully aware when I am not the best, and I can acknowledge people with better technical skills and more experience. But I think men aren’t “simply better” at tech. It’s just they’re thought to be so, because they are “men” and must know better. I never took it personally, because I was mostly accustomed to being in a competitive environment and in these terms, proving myself made sense. But at some point I began seeing younger, less experienced men, being listened to more often than me. This is where it struck me – had I been a man, I would have been really listened to and my contribution would have been better valued.

Ciara: My beginning was quite rough. I moved to another country in hopes to have a better working environment in the tech field, but reality hit me with exactly the opposite of my hopes. I’ve had many demeaning comments and jokes told about women in tech and about myself. I often heard discriminatory phrases and sexual comments from my mentors and senior devs.

My managers (all male) made inappropriate comments about “women bringing coffee” and when called out for that, I had even harder times. The company just called it a ‘communication problem’ and they advised me: “you just need to make them like you” even if my manager would openly say that they only hired a woman developer to see if she could actually code. This was disgusting so I just left that job.

Leslie: At the beginning, when I just started in the industry less women were talking about things like discrimination or sexism, because they feared consequences. There is definitely more noise about WIT now. Talking about it, speaking up – makes people aware and conscious that there is a real problem. I also think that the MeToo movement has catalyzed the talk but this is only the awareness phase and there’s a long way to go.

What is the most important to you in terms of company culture?

Kelly: I think the key elements that played a part for me in choosing a company were their awareness of the problem, the openness, the mentorship and of course the interaction with people from lots of other places around the world. Of course it would be easier to go and work for an industry that has a better gender split, but I can’t think of such an industry at the moment.

I truly believe that people need to be more open to believing other people's experiences - just believe them, the likelihood that someone is lying about it is very slim compared to the likelihood of it actually happening. Give voice to the inclusion, give voice to those unconsidered and underrated for no fair reason. Otherwise it's difficult to seek progress for yourself and people like you, if those who represent you fail in doing so.

Ana: I have been working in many different environments and tech companies, and from what I saw, there are D&I trainings, but oftentimes they’re handled by the wrong people. I have worked with more senior women than myself, about the same age, so I could compare my career to theirs. They were all great but often their career suffered because of their pregnancies or maternity leave. So far I have no reason to complain, partly because of working remotely, which levels the playing field in a way. Plus people feel really happier and in many ways can be more productive and focused on the results when working from home.

Ciara: I think for a company to succeed in D&I, they must have a better structured recruitment process to eliminate unconscious bias. An idea would be to have some sort of blind screening to remove the name or gender on CVs. Another strong point would be advertising a flexible working schedule. Also the mentorship matters very much. Early in my career I needed mentorship and having a program geared towards women would have been really important, as long as it was done with the right people.

Leslie: Some of the things I appreciated in my company were that they were trying to be actively inclusive in the workplace. They also had lots of workshops on the topic, and were vocal about it. And the candidate evaluation was done without cameras, to reduce bias. And also, there is a D&I team established, something that previously hasn’t been on the radar. That means so much for women working in the tech industry.

Do you have any advice for young female developers working in / aspiring to get into the tech industry?

Kelly: You just have to learn to roll with the punches and not allow yourself to be a doormat. Be brave, stick to your guns! Be prepared to be challenged and face each of them like a hero! It's definitely worth it and I wouldn’t give it up.

Ana: That is one difficult question! At the beginning I wasn’t fully aware about the discrimination women generally faced in any working field, until I met a colleague – a black woman, very smart, higher paid than me at the time. When asked what a supportive, fostering environment would look like for her, she said 'Seeing people like me promoted!'.

Now she obviously meant black women, at the same time I found it very striking because I always thought the best got to the top, but didn't pay that much attention to how many women were at the top and there weren’t (and still aren’t) as many as they deserve to be. To young female developers I would sau “Be more open and vocal about inclusion, and see things through”.

Ciara: Trust your instincts - if something makes you uncomfortable, do not tolerate it. Look for mentors and allies in your battle against discrimination. Be prepared for what you will encounter - it's a reality that has yet to be changed.

Leslie: I would rather have a warning maybe! I wasn’t told these things at my time, so here I am, doing it for you in hopes it’s going to give you more courage and understanding. Be careful and aware of toxic behaviors. Don't fear speaking up. I understand it’s difficult but you need to be brave. Once you speak up, you will gain allies that you never knew would be on your side.

What do you think companies can do to help improve diversity and inclusion in the tech industry?

Kelly: In a lot of places people are aware of the value that the title “Diversity” brings, so companies want to be seen as being inclusive, but many make promises they can’t or don’t intend to keep. When companies promise to be better – they must Really try their best to keep their promise. Get rid of the idea that you’d like to hire diverse people but they have to meet your culture and fit in. And make sure to take reporting of discrimination and micro-aggressions seriously.

Ana: Support women. Make their voices heard. Consider every opinion and every detail, and promote women rights. I strongly believe that if humanity solved the problem of discrimination against women then all other types of discrimination would come to an end too. Yes there are some fast tracks for us, but still women in senior positions are very rare.

Ciara: Be open to listen to women. Make anonymous surveys and always tend to optimise the processes and have your hand on the pulse in case of something going in the wrong direction. Practice what you preach – if you say you are inclusive, be inclusive. Also having remote work is helpful, since then there aren’t many opportunities for some to be blatantly sexist and get away with it.

Leslie: I think the best thing you could do is to train recruiters and keep their training standards high, in order to make them treat candidates fairly regardless of anything. Promote job offers within minority communities. Speak up when you see discrimination and encourage others to do so.

We would like to thank our interviewees for speaking up and being so open about their journey and hardships in the tech field. We hope to bring more awareness to the issues women are facing and inspire companies to be more diligent when it comes to how women are treated and help drive change.

To read more on the subject you can also check out this guide for women in tech.

If you are a woman who has been or is working in the tech industry, and would like to share your experience - we would love to hear from you!

Get in contact via email: mihaela@works-hub.com.

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Romina G

Fond of marketing, new challenges and old school rock hits 🤘

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