In my three years of being in the tech industry and two years of involvement with Women Who Code, I have come across many women who are either creating or striving to create waves in the technology and science world. Every single woman’s story is interesting, life experiences different, and aspirations and struggles varied.
Women have been revolutionizing the world of computers and technology since the very beginning of the technology era. They have played an instrumental role in the evolution of computational engines and the modern day computers. The list is never ending - starting from Ada Lovelace who developed the algorithm for the very first analytical engine built by Charles Babbage, to Grace Hopper who created the first ever compiler, to modern day Ruchi Sanghvi who was the first female engineer at Facebook, women have time and again proved that technology is indeed their cup of tea.
However, not everything is as good as it seems. It’s no hidden fact that there is a huge lack of recognition and inadequate opportunities for women in today’s technology world. Despite the list of women achievers and role models being quite long, there still is apprehension (or maybe discontent) around accepting women as equal players as men in the technology space. And this doesn’t just end with women. There are other groups which are still hugely underrepresented in the STEM world, including the LGBTQ community, the differently abled, people from non-tech backgrounds and people of color. But I will refrain from getting into those details, because the reasons are many and varied, and it would require a separate post to discuss these. However, the points discussed in this article hold largely true, if not completely, for any under-represented group.
Many organizations around the world run “women in tech” campaigns, focusing on building a strong pipeline of women in the STEM world. But let’s get real here, shall we? These companies need to do a lot more than just hiring to ensure that there’s not just a higher intake of women into tech companies, but also a higher representation of women in senior positions. It is about creating an environment that is conducive and encouraging for them to thrive. Women should be assessed based on their passion towards their work, their dedication and their strife to not only become better at what they do, but also to bring laurels to the organization they are involved with.
In my opinion, there are certain very important aspects that organizations need to start focusing on. Some of these are listed below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Make women feel like they belong and are important to the organization. Make them a part of your DNA. Listen to them, empathize with them and create avenues of growth for them. This does not mean that they need hand-holding; it just means that they should not be pushed back every time they want to take up an opportunity.
The need for mentorship cannot be emphasized enough. Senior women should come forward and be role models for younger women. Looking back, I feel not having mentors around me has been the biggest hurdle between me and my aspirations. Now that I have met so many amazing mentors over the last 3 years, I know how important it is for you to have someone to confide in, share your aspirations and dreams with, and lean on for support to keep yourself going, even in the hardest of times. Having a mentor as well as a career sponsor is an absolute must. As a data scientist, I have personally benefited immensely from one of my mentors at Thoughtworks, Sara-Jayne Terp, who has helped build my interest in “Data for Social Good” and introduced me to some of my peers in this field who I would have never been fortunate enough to meet otherwise!
As they say, too much of anything is bad. This holds true for those who are very vocal about “women in tech”. The repetitive attribution of one’s success just to their gender becomes detrimental not just to them, but to the entire community. Success, and even failures for that matter, should be attributed to the person. An outstanding woman should feel like her successes are the outcomes of her capabilities and skills, not just because she is a woman. I cringe every time words like “female”, “woman”, etc. are added to describe a woman achiever, but never words like “male” and “man” to describe their male counterparts.
If you look at the statistics from the last couple of years, the numbers around diversity at workplaces are showing positive signs, at least for industries like software and technology. Organizations should embrace this and appreciate it. From time to time, it is also necessary to stop and acknowledge how far we have come and not just highlight it as a problem. There are some amazing women out there who are revolutionizing this world – be it tech, science, banking, retail, finance or any domain for that matter. Talk about those women, their achievements and get inspired. I have been fortunate to have come across some amazing women, a lot of them at my workplace, and they have inspired me beyond words. There is never a lack of female role models around us.
One thing that’s highly detrimental to the success of women, is the ask to prove themselves all the time. Trust that they can (and they will) do a good job and give them the same space to fail as a man would receive. Failure shouldn’t mean the end of a woman's career. Very often, most women who leave the industry or the ones that stay but don’t take up opportunities, are the ones who don’t have a safe zone and a support system in case they fail.
There are many grassroots organizations, like Women Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code etc, who focus on women in STEM fields and give them an opportunity to redefine their career. If you are really keen on inclusivity, don’t make it a marketing gimmick. Go beyond visibility and do things that really matter. Visibility will follow automatically.
We are seeing more females in executive positions than ever. They are running some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies, generating billions in revenues. Sheryl Sandberg, Indra Nooyi, Ursula Burns, Chanda Kochhar, and two of my own personal inspirations, Rebecca Parsons and Vidya Laxman – these are just a few names of women who are challenging the status quo and establishing a thriving ground for other women to get inspired and build a successful, rewarding career.
The relentless ranting hints at exclusivity, breaking the very foundation of the ask of women in tech – inclusivity. “Women in tech” isn’t about reservations or receiving any special treatment. What we need is equality and the same consideration that any skilled individual deserves. We need the same appreciation and rewards for our work that would be given to a man. We don’t want the differentiator to be our gender, but to be the quality of our work, the alternative perspectives we offer and the value we add. We don’t want to prove ourselves anymore. We have been doing that for many decades now. So let’s try to shatter this facade and push for real inclusivity and diversity at our workplace.