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Women's Equality Day - Why it is time for a change in the STEM sector

 

Women's Equality Day has been celebrated in the US for almost 100 years. It commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting the right to vote to women. While much progress has been made in regards to gender equality in the US, there is still so far to go - in particular in the STEM sector.

The technology sector needs to innovate to expand its technical workforce, and quickly. Reports suggest that the percentage of computing roles women hold has largely declined in the United States over the past 25 years. According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute discussion paper, demand for advanced IT and programming skills will grow by as much as 90 percent over the next 15 years. 

With this in mind - and in honor of Women's Equality Day - these female technology executives have come together to share their experiences and explore tips for women on how to face adversity in tech head on and encourage more diversity and equality in the world of business.

Michelle Fitzgerald, Director of Demand Generation and Events, Plutora

"I believe the best way to close the gender gap in the technology industry is to encourage girls to take an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at a young age. According to the National Science Foundation, in 2018 only eight percent of female high school students enrolled in engineering courses and only 23% enrolled in AP computer science classes. The same study found that those trends continued into the workforce with women filling only 28 percent of the jobs in the science and engineering fields. By diversifying the STEM workforce, women will be able to use their different perspectives to bring fresh, new ideas to the table and help revolutionize the future of technology."

Estee Woods, Director of Public Sector & Public Safety Marketing, Cradlepoint

"As a sector devoted to improvement and innovation, the technology industry should be at the forefront of positive change when it comes to gender equality.  It's therefore surprising - and sadly ironic - that the gender gap in Silicon Valley is still a significant cause for concern. According to Silicon Valley Bank's 2019 Women in Technology Leadership report, just 56% of startups have at least one woman in an executive position, and 60% admit they have no women on their board of directors.

The continued lack of gender parity across all industries is why initiatives such as Women's Equality Day are so important.  They provide a time to pause and see how far we have come - to celebrate the trailblazers of gender equality and women's rights - but they are also a time to see just how far we have left to go.  I encourage everyone to celebrate the strong women in their lives, personally and professionally, and to empower the women in their organizations. Today, I encourage women in tech to own their voices, to value their intellect and skills, and to take an active role in their careers and organizations."

Alena Golovnya, Marketing Manager, Sinequa

"As a forward-thinking and innovative sector, it's important for the tech industry to continue creating opportunities where women go beyond just entering the industry but break the gender ‘norms' to lead. It is not enough to throw money at being seen to be hiring diversely; the industry needs to work together to drive equality in all areas such as equal pay and equal promotion opportunities to ensure the best people get the best opportunities regardless of gender. Women in STEM are needed to provide knowledge and mentorship to other women because when we encourage and empower each other, it can result in amazing things for the future of tech."

Rachael Andrews, Technical Course Director, WhiteHat Security

"As a discipline, technology can often be stereotyped as more ‘for boys.' That stereotype has permeated the industry for decades and persists in 2019, where roles are still very male dominated. IT is slowly evolving to accept more women over time, including into C-suite roles of organizations. 

Overcoming the gender bias is not easy. But the first step is for women to become comfortable expressing conviction in their abilities and greater confidence in the expertise and ideas they can contribute. Tech is changing every day and it can spark a career interest early. Whenever I speak with young women, I love hearing them say, ‘I want to be a scientist!' Pursuing a technology career has been enriching, especially in the cybersecurity industry, and I would encourage more girls and women to consider this growing field."

Shilpa Narsikar, Senior Engineering Manager, WhiteHat Security

"As a woman in engineering, who has risen up to a senior management position, I have encountered my fair share of difficult interpersonal situations while on the job. And there is one invaluable skill that has helped me to handle each instance with grace, build professional connections and advance my career: empathy. But it is often overlooked in fast-paced businesses where individuals just want to get ahead at any cost. A recent study found that 87% of CEOs see a direct link between workplace empathy and business performance, productivity, retention and general business health. In short, promoting empathy-either as an individual or as a company-actually aids in career and business success. 

In my role, when I get on customer calls, empathy is a constantly useful tool. It helps to bridge the gap between the engineering/implementation side and solve real world use cases, on how our customers are using the product. The more I fully listen and understand, the easier it is for me to propose a better solution to the customers. And it helps me encourage harmony within my diverse internal teams as well. This Women's Equality Day, let this serve as a reminder that empathy is an ability that all professionals regardless of gender, background or industry, should prioritize and work on to achieve success." 

Lauren McCaslin, Vulnerability Verification Team Lead, WhiteHat Security

"As a female in the cybersecurity space, I am aware that unconscious bias is always present. This refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions without us even realizing it. Diversity on the other hand brings various unique perspectives that can foster more creativity and collaboration, especially when all parties feel a sense of equality in each of their interactions.

Personally, my team is responsible for finding dangerous vulnerabilities in companies' application code and offering advice on how to remediate it - which could be critical in preventing a major data breach. It's very high stakes, and we'd be cheating ourselves and our customers by not being inclusive and fostering a culture that allows us to all come together to collaborate equally. Companies can encourage this by identifying and updating company policies that may unintentionally perpetuate biases that favor one side or the other, explicitly defining and sharing criteria for advancement, and most importantly: expecting and reinforcing equality across all aspects of the workplace."

Amber Johanson, VP of Global Pre-Sales Engineering, Zerto 

"It's been 99 years since women were allowed the same rights as men to vote, and so much has continued to evolve and change in that time. Back in 1920, women had to really fight for equality, but today, women are able to pursue what they are passionate about in life, regardless of what field.

However, it's still not all completely smooth sailing. There are still challenges and obstacles that arise for women, particularly in a field as male-driven as technology. In my first leadership role, I found that if I raised my voice, I was called emotional. It seems ridiculous, but I quickly realized that because of my gender, I was held to a higher standard.

The gender gap is still visible today, but we will continue working to close it. The best advice I can share to other women who are considering a job in a field that is male-dominated is this: If it's your passion, pursue it. Set the expectation of being treated as an equal and don't accept anything less."

Sophie Harpur, Product Manager, Split

"Historically, women have been credited with some of our greatest accomplishments in computing, and so it is encouraging to see a boost in education and programs for young women, to inspire them toward a career in tech," said Sophie Harpur. "But there's more we can do every day, to ensure meaningful changes provide women with equal opportunities to make equal contributions. As a society, we are just beginning to accept responsibility for the underlying and persistent biases that have thwarted women's progress. In tech in particular, I'm heartened for the increased awareness, but we still have a way to go, for women to finally close the gender gap and be accepted as equals."

April Taylor, Vice President, ConnectWise Manage, ConnectWise

"Schools are leading the way in representation for women in technology from a young age and organizations should be cognizant of the talent that makes up the current workforce. Every industry is tied to technology, so it's great that the right education is available, especially to younger women because now they're getting more exposure to potential careers within the tech sector. While there hasn't been a significant increase, we have seen more women entering our company through our internship program because of that exposure and it's our responsibility to welcome them to the tech space without making them feel different. From my personal experience working my way up through several different roles within the company, I've never felt there was any lack of equality whatsoever and I want to extend that feeling to the other women around me. We're all colleagues, we're all a team working together and we should continue to project that mentality to young girls and women throughout their careers."

Joanna Hu, Manager, Data Science, Exabeam

"Only 15% of data scientists are women. On Women's Equality Day, it's imperative to remember women in the data scientist field and technology industry bring a unique voice to the table. Tech companies around the world need diversity in their leadership to succeed. Women's backgrounds bring new perspectives that can drive the ultimate success and culture of the business. In addition, women are also great at handling interpersonal relationships and often attribute to overall harmony and quality of work environments. 

Women in the industry need to remember having curiosity, not technological background is the top reason one will succeed in the technology industry. No matter what obstacles might stand in the way, they should never let anyone limit their potential. Women are in charge of their own personal destiny. On this holiday in particular, it's important to emphasize that when choosing an employer, women should work for the people they admire and respect, not the company that offers the highest pay. Everyone, no matter their gender, should know their worth and not be afraid of advancing. Finally, it's better to keep the gender gap idea out of your mind, because if you find the right company, your work and skills will speak for themselves."

Anu Yamunan, VP, Products, Exabeam

"I've been active in the technology industry for almost two decades, and for as long as I can recall, it's common for me to be the sole woman within the leadership team. I'm excited by the prospect of this beginning to shift. In the last five years, we've begun seeing an increasing number of female CISOs and executives. More impressively, we are beginning to see more large-scale, enterprise-level businesses being led by female CISOs.        

Women, and diversity more broadly, bring a varying perspective to roles, which in turn, increases a company's ability to meet the needs of their clientele. For example, stereotypes aside, women possess an increased capacity for multitasking and for attention to detail... despite multitasking. These skills, when deployed in a balanced team, can lead to increased workflow efficiency and a fined-tuned product.        

But this is not possible without concerted efforts. On National Women's Equality Day, we recognize that concerted effort lobbied by our foresisters...and the consistent strife undergone to win this right. As we continue to see a shift in representation in the technology industry, it is important to remember those who've dedicated such concentrated effort into actualizing this reality."

Svenja de Vos, CTO, Leaseweb

"In order for the tech industry to continue growing at the rate it is, it's vital to have women involved. It's simple - if there is only men employed there won't be enough diversity of skills and quality resources to keep pace. A team composed of people with different backgrounds and a balance of genders is more representative of the clients and customers for who you are providing products and services. 

My advice for women in the industry is to develop a career in tech is to listen, learn and be the best version of yourself. Don't feel obligated to work in a stereotypical role that may not be the best one for you. Tech touches every single industry from fashion to finance to healthcare so it's time to change perception while narrowing the skills gap."

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Published Monday, August 26, 2019 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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