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A Celebration of Brilliance: International Day of Women and Girls in STEM

Women in Tech

Every year on February 11th, the world unites to celebrate the remarkable contributions of women and girls in STEM. This year, the theme - "Women and Girls in Science Leadership: A New Era for Sustainability" - shines a spotlight on their crucial role in shaping a brighter future.

VMblog is proud to join the chorus of voices advocating for gender equality in STEM fields. We recognize the persistent barriers that women and girls face, from unconscious bias to unequal access to resources. Yet, their achievements remain undeniable, fueling groundbreaking innovations in medicine, environmental protection, technology, and beyond. To amplify their stories and inspire the next generation, we reached out to leading technology industry experts who share their unique perspectives on this important day.

In the following round-up, they delve into the challenges, celebrate the victories, and offer actionable steps to advance progress towards a future where women and girls can thrive in this industry. Get inspired by their insights and empowered to become a part of this crucial movement.

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Margaret Hoagland, Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing, SIOS Technology

In my 30+ years of working in STEM, I have two pieces of advice: Do your homework and ask a lot of questions. When you are faced with a new technology, product, STEM concept - doing your homework on it quickly builds your credibility and signals to subject matter experts that you are to be taken seriously. Asking informed questions doesn’t show weakness, it shows interest and curiosity. I have been in countless meetings where a seemingly “dumb question” was met with a sigh of relief from most of the attendees who were too shy to ask themselves.

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Kelly Wells, VP of Operations at Object First
 
One of the struggles for women in a technology-driven field is imposter syndrome. When you are the only female in a room of men it can feel like you do not belong, you are not supposed to be there, you have not done enough, or are not smart enough to be in the room. It is extremely tough to overcome this feeling. I believe every woman has combatted imposter syndrome in her career and I am not immune, but women need to look for organizations, leaders, and teams that respect their voice. I have also been extremely lucky to have leaders who support and promote women. These leaders believe having women as part of the organization is a requirement and not a nice to have.

When you hear that voice in your head remember that you have done the work, you have put in the time, and you have just as much right to be there as any other person. We need to remember how much we bring to organizations. My challenge to women is to take the chance, sit at the table, speak your opinion, and go after your goals.
 
I strongly believe every woman needs to invest in herself and continue learning and developing her skills. Read self-improvement books, find a mentor, and invest in a career coach. Do whatever works for you but do something.   
 
On a final note, one of my leaders told me – do not only be in the room, have a voice at the table.”

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Amelia Wong, VP of Marketing, Member of Board of Directors, Alluxio

In the first year of Alluxio, I was the only woman on the team. As we started to grow, I made a concerted effort to hire more women. Today our executive leadership team is over 40% women, and we are still working on it. The reasoning that the candidate pool is male dominated simply is not good enough. There are many talented women who are working in the STEM field, and I invite both men and women who are in leadership positions to make a concerted effort to bring more diversity to their teams, because it enriches the dialogue and brings us one step closer to gender equality.

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Michele Pilgrim, Head of Marketing at Starburst

Innovation thrives on diversity. My experience at Starburst has reinforced my belief in the importance of including women in every conversation, project, and leadership role within STEM. We are committed to breaking down the barriers that women face, recognizing that their contributions are essential for creating cutting-edge solutions in data analytics. Our success as a company is a testament to the strength that comes from embracing diversity.

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Yaara Asaf, Head of Product at Wix Editor

As a female engineer, I'm driven to inspire young girls by showcasing the immense rewards of our field. Our work holds the power to make a difference in the world and solve real problems, for real people, making a tangible difference in people's lives. It's a chance to reshape the very fabric of our world.

I believe it’s important to encourage all young girls to embrace curiosity and fearlessness, embracing challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation. The magic happens when we step outside our comfort zones and confront the unknown, realizing our fullest potential. Follow your dreams relentlessly.

Moreover, by recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in STEM fields, we not only inspire future generations of female engineers but also advocate for equal opportunities for all minorities - fostering an environment of inclusivity and diversity.

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Nir Orman, R&D Manager, Wix Stores

There is a famous Hebrew old saying "Baal HaMeah Hu Ba'al Ha'deah" which means, that the person who has the fortune, is the person who gets to make the decisions. Once I learned that, I was looking for a way to be financially independent while leveraging my strengths. I wanted to be free to decide what I think is right and live my life the way I choose. When I had to choose what to study, I saw a lot of magazine articles showing how STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professions are among the most earning professions for university graduates.

Your road will not be easy, and at times it could get very bumpy. You have to be willing to fail sometimes but at the end of the day, it'll be worth it.  The challenges in engineering are never-ending, and that's exactly what I love about it. The key is to find the right angle to look at the challenge; precisely, you cannot fail- you can only either succeed or learn from the process. I believe that when you do your best, you should have no regrets. If you keep improving as part of your daily routine, even if it takes years, your achievements will accumulate and you'll find yourself hungry for challenges in ever-increasing sizes.

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Neria Poria Yashar, Software Engineer, Wix E-commerce Platform

Let me debunk a myth – STEM is not just for men.
It's an exhilarating playground of innovation waiting to be explored by women.
Dive into the world of coding, problem-solving, and creativity, and you'll discover that STEM is far from boring.

From my perspective, STEM is a thrilling journey where every line of code is a brushstroke in a masterpiece.
It's not just about algorithms and equations, it's about crafting solutions and pushing the boundaries of what's possible.
So, to my fellow women, embrace the fun, the challenge, and the endless opportunities that STEM has to offer.
The only limit is your curiosity!

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Naomi Nuta, VP Marketing at Cogito
 
On this day, February 11, 2024, let's spotlight a paradox in the tech realm: While women's representation in AI remains at a mere 20%, mirroring their overall presence in technology, their rate of adopting AI for personal and professional enhancement outpaces that of their male counterparts. Remarkably, working mothers, pioneers in seeking out efficiency and productivity solutions, are crossing the early adopter divide at an unprecedented rate. At Cogito Corp., we champion this movement by supporting customer service professionals, where nearly 7 in 10 agents are women, to navigate customer conversations with a focus on deepening relationships and executing flawless workflows. We are committed to developing human-centered AI models that mitigate gender biases in the contact center, reflecting our dedication to gender equality in technology. This disparity underscores the critical need to integrate women into every stage of the AI development lifecycle, from ethics and domain specificity to commercial applications. To truly innovate and create AI that benefits all, we must begin early, ensuring women's insights and expertise shape the future of technology.

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Sarah Danzl, CMO at Skillable

There are many successful women behind the advancements in AI. As the field continues to crystallize around technological advancements unlocked by AI, women should remain focused on continuous learning, growing their capabilities and skill sets. STEM jobs are evolving in real-time and it’s crucial to have a big-picture perspective on what the future holds since the role you may eventually undertake does not currently exist! In the meantime, stay patient!

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Janeth Rodriguez, VP of Revenue, Infobip

The technology industry, and all industries, can benefit from the diverse perspectives and skills that women bring to the table. Female leadership qualities, such as strong communication, management, and monitoring skills, contribute to more efficient and effective teams. Collaborating across genders allows for a broader perspective, enhancing our collective ability to identify and address challenges.
 
To maximize the potential of a diverse workforce, it's crucial to actively support and promote STEM careers for women. Encouraging girls to explore these fields not only empowers them to shape their own futures but also plays a critical role in driving innovation and progress in our society.

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Jillian Harris, Head of Product and Design, Keepingly

Today's education stands at a crucial junction. Social media promotes self-made success over traditional education and employment paths. While top-tier education remains costly, social media offers self-teaching avenues. Initiatives like the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM promote STEM education for young females. Yet, nurturing women in tech starts with parents fostering problem-solving skills early on. Engineering is not confined to classrooms; it's about creative problem-solving. Engineering encompasses various fields, offering multiple paths for young women.

In addressing bias in AI, increasing diversity, especially among women of color, is crucial. This requires comprehensive efforts, including representation, advocacy, and policy changes. Confidence and resilience are essential for navigating male-dominated spaces. It's imperative to prepare girls to face the reality of being underrepresented.

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Sara Faatz, Director, Technology Community Relations, Progress

Though incredible strides have been made in recent years, the hard work of breaking down the barriers for women in STEM is really just beginning. Women still only make up less than one-third of STEM employees despite earning the majority of all undergraduate and advanced degrees. This year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of women in STEM—but it’s also a chance to think deeply about the obstacles that prevent so many young women from realizing their potential in these fields. Working to combat discrimination is one component of this program, but it’s just as important to create the actual material conditions for tomorrow’s women in STEM to thrive. Progress’ global Women in STEM Scholarship series aims to do just that and was established to support women studying computer science, software engineering, IT and/or computer information systems.

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Sheena Blanco, Head of Customer Experience at Next DLP

The opportunities for women to work in STEM these days are myriad. Back when I was at school, Information Technology wasn’t even on the curriculum, but during my first year at Stirling University, I discovered computer science. It was through my interest in learning computer languages that I found my true calling and embarked on a stimulating and rewarding career in technology. What is clear from my journey is that there is something in STEM for everyone.

Throughout my career, I’ve developed and refined a diverse set of skills crucial to my current role, blending my technical skills in computing science with my proficiency in languages and communication. Achieving this level of expertise required not only hard work and dedication but also resilience in overcoming the gender biases that unfortunately existed in the field of technology. The landscape is now changing for the better, and it’s crucial for women to hold firm in their self-belief and know they have a very rightful place within STEM fields. Our growing presence and achievements underscore a pivotal point: capability and skill transcend any bias.

My advice for any girls or women taking up studies, or considering a career, in STEM is to go for it. On this day, we must remember that women have already contributed to STEM in some extraordinary ways, and this is only the beginning.

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Sylvia Zachary, Cybersecurity & Software Director – Secure Communications (SCOM), Cubic Defense

In my current role at Cubic Defense, I am proud to say Human Capital is a priority in all business strategies. Over my career, I have seen incredible changes for the better, such as critical breakthroughs past the infamous glass ceiling. 

Companies have created significant momentum and progress in developing environments that cultivate diversity, inclusion and equity – especially in critical industries like technology, security and public safety. However, there is always more work to be done. 

Organizational leaders today are more open to constructive feedback and wish to foster workplaces that invite talent regardless of gender. This openness to formulating cultures created to understand and promote diversity drives innovation in business solution-making. I have seen teams with this structure overwhelmingly succeed. 

And for the women still looking for their chance to break through, I encourage each of you to remember and value your contributions and accomplishments. Hold faith in your abilities, seek support systems that uplift you and help you achieve your career goals, and be open to embracing constructive criticisms that will help you succeed in the long term. 

Heading into two incredibly important occasions (Engineers Week and International Day of Women and Girls in STEM), I want women to come together and take the steps towards building these ecosystems, safe spaces, and their strengths that make them formidable.

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Arti Raman, CEO and founder, Portal26 (She/Her)
 
Encouraging women to persist in STEM careers requires ongoing representation in these roles. Unfortunately, girls often divert from STEM paths due to disparities in treatment, both in educational settings and professional fields. Recent statistics highlight a concerning 50% drop in women holding tech roles by the age of 35, signaling issues like insufficient support and undervaluation of their capabilities. While progress has been made, there's more work ahead, starting with enhancing visibility and representation.
 
As a minority tech entrepreneur, I'm acutely aware of the diversity gap. It's time to boldly fill this gap in the tech landscape by fostering trust and collaborating for increased representation. Striking a balance between personal growth and shaping the next generation of female entrepreneurs is our responsibility. We can help close this gap by applauding achievements, creating growth opportunities, and consistently reminding all girls and women of their boundless potential.
 
On this International Day of Women and Girls in STEM, it's crucial to recognize that educating our sons is equally pivotal for achieving gender equality. Men play a vital role in advancing this cause, and it begins by instilling the right values from an early age.

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Deepika Gajaria, VP of GTM and Strategy, Securin

Looking ahead, the landscape of STEM fields is evolving, and there is an exciting opportunity to create a more inclusive and diverse future. My vision is to witness a flourishing of talent, where girls, women, and individuals from various backgrounds can fully embrace their passions in STEM and find their path in dynamic fields like cybersecurity. To pave the way for the next generation of STEM professionals, I recognize the importance of starting early in their educational journey. Organizations can play a pivotal role by investing time, resources, and enthusiasm in providing hands-on security and research experiences for students.

I am a staunch supporter of initiatives like the Living Classroom and the Sierra Club, which play a crucial role in leveling the playing field for those who may not have had the privilege to access similar resources. By empowering young minds, particularly girls, to explore their interests in STEM, we are actively dismantling the barriers that once hindered people from pursuing fulfilling careers in these fields. Together, we can foster an environment where every aspiring voice is not only heard but celebrated, contributing to a brighter and more inclusive future in STEM.

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Cheryle Cushion, VP of Marketing, Zilla Security

What advice would you give women entering the STEM field?

Cliches exist for a reason, right? So yes, it remains true that women have to be prepared to work harder and to do more. That said, while there are still organizations and people who have a lot of growing to do when it comes to diversity and inclusion, I’ve seen a lot of progress in the STEM field, overall, and that’s very encouraging.

Perhaps most importantly, you should surround yourself with allies who champion your aspirations and cultivate an environment of inclusivity and support. Trust your gut in this regard. If you have any doubts about whether somebody is helping or hurting you, then you already have your answer and it’s time to move on. At the same time, make the time for mentorship and networking. Yes, it’s daunting amidst the chaos of daily life, and I certainly never found time for it until last year and my first, life-changing, self-affirming meeting with an executive coach. So my advice is to just do it - prioritize yourself and the meaningful connections that enrich your journey.

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Parrish Blaszka, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing, Nasuni

How can women support other women in their organizations?

There are many ways in which women can support fellow women in their organizations. Pay attention to the little ways in which you can lend support as they’re often easier to take action on and can be just as impactful as bigger ones. It could take the form of collaborating on a project, being a supporting voice in a meeting, or sharing an experience or learning that could help them in their journey. It doesn’t always need to be a grand gesture. More often than not, it’s the micro situations and events that arise during a typical day that lend the best opportunities for support and professional fellowship. Look for ways to make connections both in your team as well as across your organization. Be observant for opportunities to empower and celebrate the wins.

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Kristin Concannon, Senior Public Relations Manager, Nasuni

How can women develop their leadership skills?

Give yourself ample opportunity to practice! No matter the project – big or small – say ‘yes’ to the management tasks. Make sure you’re collaborating with your peers as much as you can, so you can absorb as much information as you can. Vocalize your thoughts, even if they’re against the status quo (and as long as they’re constructive). The more you put yourself out there, the more well-rounded you will become by the time it takes to enter a leadership position.

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Alyssa King, Manager, US Operations, CelerData

How do you push for systemic change around ideas that are new or not that popular?

I have always believed that your work will speak for itself, but you have to take the risk by getting an audience. Know your topic and your audience so you can tell a story and show how the change will impact them. Talk about short-term risks for long-term gains. Use numbers, but make them visual, because, at the end of the day, it always comes down to numbers. Be prepared to be questioned, know the answers ahead of time, and if you don’t know say that.  Take feedback and come back to the audience over and over if necessary. To be successful, you have to be willing to change, adapt, grow, and listen.

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Rachel Beddor, Solutions Architect, CelerData

How do you stay mindful of who’s at the table and who’s missing?

We spend a lot of time talking about ‘empowering’ ambitious women. But honestly, I'm surrounded by competent, ambitious women. Women in tech are constantly proving themselves. When we walk into a room, we aren't automatically assumed to be the engineer or the expert. We hold ourselves (and are held by others) to a higher standard for technical accuracy, teamwork, and accountability.

But women shouldn't have to be go-getters or girl bo$$es or leaned in just to have a meaningful career. Make sure to hold women and men to the same standard at your workplace. If you only have high-performing women, then something isn't right.

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Katie Popowski, Director, NA Partner Sales, Nasuni

How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader?

Extremely important, this is something I value immensely. My mentors are a great sounding board, inspiration, and backbone of my career. I value their thoughts and inputs on different situations, career advice, personal advice, etc. It’s important to have multiple mentors. Find a female leader, and a male leader, because the perspective will be different from each. I always encourage women to BE a mentor as well. It helps frame your discussions and thoughts.

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Mei Zheng, Senior Data Scientist, Smartling

As a working mother of a two-year-old, I think we need to challenge the societal expectation that we need to “have it all”. It's simply not possible (for either gender) to excel in every area of life (achieving a fulfilling and successful career, a happy family life, personal growth, and societal contributions) simultaneously without compromise or sacrifice. It's important to challenge this notion by recognizing that life is a series of trade-offs and that prioritizing one aspect at a certain point doesn't mean neglecting others forever.

My most heartfelt piece of advice for young women aspiring to balance a career in STEM and family is to select a partner who genuinely shares the load, in all its forms. This kind of partnership, where duties and thoughts about the small stuff are naturally shared, can make all the difference for both partners to have work-life balance. 

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Published Friday, February 09, 2024 7:41 AM by David Marshall
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