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March 8, 2019updated 14 Mar 2019 5:21pm

International Women’s Day: Life Lessons for Women in Tech

"I could have gone to HR and complained..."

By CBR Staff Writer

Although the conversation around empowering women in technology seems top of mind, the pace of change is, and has been, slow, writes Cheryl Ainoa, COO of D2L. In the US, women make up more than half of the workforce, but only 20 per cent of tech roles are filled by women. In the UK, recent figures put this at 17 per cent.

While many are doing their part – Salesforce conducted an internal review to bridge the gender pay gap – a bias against women is still prevalent.

Cheryl Ainoa, COO of D2L

The infamous “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” memo, though resulting in the author being fired, evidences that a male-centric attitude may still persist, even in a company that expounds openness and diversity.

This is not a problem faced solely in tech. The Rose Review, commissioned by the Treasury, recently revealed that female entrepreneurs looking to start a business in the UK have to do so with half as much capital as men.

I am not in a position to write a manifesto on the systemic changes that need to take place in order to rebalance the position of women in technology and business as a whole. However, as it’s International Women’s Day, and as a woman who has worked in technology for 30 years, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned that may help others cope with their day to day struggles.

Address Women in Silos

When I first started in the tech industry, I was the only woman in an entire Research & Development department. Although I went to lunch every day with my male colleagues, when it came to a “guy’s night out”, I was excluded.

I could have gone to HR and complained. The “guy’s nights out” may have been shut down. But what would that have gained me? Sometimes accepting that the playing field will be a little unequal at times, and forging ahead, is the best option.

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Now I’m in a position with more authority, I look to make sure everyone feels included. I look deeply at how I can build opportunities for people to meet each other and feel connected.

If I see teams with eight or nine men to one woman, I set up gatherings to bring these women together. Many great organisations host networking events for women. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” Circles personally helped me meet lots of incredible professional women. Women in Tech and GeekGirl Meetups are just two UK-based groups that meet regularly.

Fighting Imposter Syndrome

In preparation for one summit, I invited female colleagues to present their projects. What I found was that submissions to the event from women were low. In my experience, I’ve found that many women are less inclined than their male peers to shout about their accomplishments. They often struggle with Imposter Syndrome, feeling like they don’t deserve their position, or are not properly equipped for a task that is often well within the reach of their talents.

See also:  International Women’s Day: The Tech Sector Speaks Up

In order to solve this issue, I encouraged leadership to personally drop by to invite women in the company and encourage them to participate. This invitation, perhaps an initial validation of worthiness, was enough to prompt more women in the company to share their projects and accomplishments.

Promotion Dynamics

For a female engineer, going from level one to level two takes three years.  With a male it’s typically 18 months. Is it because men are better or more ambitious? No. It’s because the men are putting their hands up earlier.

There’s a famous Richard Branson quote that says: “if somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later”. In my experience, men are more likely to start lobbying for the next promotion when they’re about 60 per cent ready for it. They’ll take an opportunity and learn to do 40 per cent of the job later. Women generally won’t start doing that until they’re 100 per cent confident they can do the work. This is something I personally struggled with and that I’ve witnessed a lot when mentoring women over the years.

When I was passed over for a promotion as a younger woman, I assumed my boss had made his choice. Frustrated, I took the next recruiter call that came in. A month later, I went in and handed in my notice. He was shocked and asked why I was leaving. He had no idea I wanted that promotion. He explained that the reason I didn’t get that role was because there was a bigger reward coming. Needless to say, I stayed.

That experience taught me that I needed to be proactive with expressing my wants for the next job and be clear about the outcomes I produced.

As a woman working in tech, I’ve learned that we can’t just expect change to come from the men around us. We need to take our own action to make ourselves heard, to support one another, to mentor younger professionals and seek advice from those more experienced. I hope I can continue to do so for many years to come.

Why not also listen to Mozilla’s excellent podcast: “What if Women Build the Internet

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