Continuing her Women in Tech series, Editor Ellie Burns sat down with Isabelle Guis, ex-Head of Cloud Strategy at EMC and current Chief Strategy Officer at Egnyte, to talk about her own experiences and opinions about women working in technology.
EB: What attracted you to a career in technology?
IG: "I was attracted to a career in technology as a result of my academic background, which was heavily focused on STEM subjects. The French curriculum strongly encourages students to pursue scientific disciplines and I excelled in maths, biology and physics. So the more time I spent on these subjects, the better I got, and the more I enjoyed them.
"After leaving university and qualifying as an engineer, Silicon Valley was naturally the most attractive place to work. I felt like a child in a sweet shop driving down Route 101 with all of the latest technology companies I would hear about and see online all around me!"
EB: What attracted you to the role at Egnyte?
IG: "There were several factors that attracted me to my current role at Egnyte – the technology, the business model and the management team.
"Before moving to Egnyte, I worked at EMC where I was responsible for developing the cloud strategy. EMC was a big proponent of hybrid cloud, and so Egnyte’s unique hybrid cloud offering really excited me.
"Most of the large enterprise CIOs I was engaging with at the time were telling me that they wanted to move to the cloud but "on their terms" and not for everything due to significant past investment. As one of the only Enterprise File Sync and Share solutions with a hybrid offering, I knew Egnyte could solve IT pain points and give businesses the flexibility they required.
"The SaaS model also intrigued me, the faster rollout of features, data/analytics collection, instant feedback and real-time actions.
"Finally, the management team. They are a very cohesive group, comprised of a number of industry veterans with impressive track records and valuable, complimentary skill sets."
EB: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced being a woman working in technology?
IG: "In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges I have faced being a woman working in the technology industry has been establishing my own credibility and expertise. In such a male-dominated industry, quite often women are underestimated for their level of technical understanding.
"Having a degree in engineering doesn’t automatically give you the credibility you might expect to have. First impressions have been crucial in making sure that I can convey my expertise and skill set to prospective clients, employers and peers.
"Furthermore, the fact that I am French, with English as a second-language has created another stumbling block; making sure that cultural difference and linguistic barriers do not hinder working relationships has been very important in getting to where I am today."
EB: How did you overcome these challenges?
IG: "There have been several factors that have helped me overcome the challenges. First and foremost gaining accreditation, especially in the US, gave me credibility in the industry and ultimately opened more professional doors. It helped me rise above some of the other people vying for the same positions and helped get me past that initial vetting stage to secure more in-person meetings.
"Once I gained experience, my professional success helped to build a positive reputation. Former managers and co-workers would highly recommend me, which was always very helpful.
"I have also been able to turn my negative career experiences into positives. If you are underestimated and over deliver you make a BIG impression – people remember you and the ideas you bring standout more. There have been many occasions where as the only woman in the meeting I have been able to position myself as invaluable, based on my knowledge and skill set which helped me rise above any "differences".
"Lastly, I found it was about mind set – I always focussed on my role and the shared passion for technology. People’s love for high tech in Silicon Valley really is gender blind. If you love what you do and are good at it people tend to lose focus of other factors, such as gender."
EB: Having held senior roles at companies such as EMC and Cisco, is there a culture running throughout the technology industry which fosters a male-centric environment?
IG: "In my own personal experience there are individuals within the technology industry who perpetuate a male-centric culture. They create an uncomfortable environment for women through misplaced jokes, alienating other co-workers, and creating hostility towards women and their success and expertise. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but unfortunately this can be the case in any sector.
"Throughout my career I’ve felt that male-centric culture is limited to pockets of individuals rather than a company ethos or team mentality encouraged by management. I’ve found that there are many men who actively fight for gender equality.
"Personally, my career has been shaped and nurtured by many fantastic male managers who have empowered and mentored me, recognising my work with no bias and enabling me to grow. These individuals have proactively addressed issues I’ve had at work without me having to prompt or ask for their support."
EB: What do you think are the root causes of the skewed gender ratio in the technology industry?
IG: "I believe a major reason that we are seeing more men than women working in the technology industry is education. There are fewer women in technology graduate programmes and in the marketplace because STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects are still perceived by some to be ‘male’ subjects.
"For example, women accounted for only 18% of my engineering class and this translates into the workplace with fewer women taking up engineering roles than men.
"Even fewer women are taking up senior executive or board roles in the technology industry. This could be due to the career path chosen (for example, some women might have opted to take a break from or leave the workforce completely).
"Yet, this still doesn’t explain why so few women make it to the top of the corporate ladder. Some high-profile female leaders have suggested that women are less aggressive in asking for promotions or pay rises than their male counterparts; they wait to be recognised, are often under-estimated or have to work harder than men to achieve half as much.
"Either way, whether these explanations are right or wrong, there is a skewed gender ratio that exists and can’t be ignored."
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