Seven tips for woman in tech from female execs who’ve been there, done that
A group of successful women in tech recently shared their stories with theCUBE during the “AWS Partner Showcase S1 E3: Women in Tech” event, emphasizing how they made it in the male-dominated world of information technology.
Hosted by theCUBE industry analyst Lisa Martin, with special guest Danielle Greshock, director of partner SAs and worldwide ISV at Amazon Web Services Inc., the event aimed to provide advice and support to women following in their footsteps and for leaders of all genders who want to build a more diverse workforce within their organizations.
The bottom line: Women belong in tech. Whether you’re an engineer who is the only woman on your team, a high-schooler fighting the stereotype that STEM is only for boys, a Ph.D. student looking to gain experience in her field, a mom or retired military personnel taking a midlife career pivot, or any one of a thousand different women at a thousand different points in their careers, the technology industry needs woman to make sure the products they create meet everyone’s needs.
Companies, however, continue to hire men over women. Despite decades of studies from reputable organizations, such as Gartner Inc. and McKinsey & Co., that show diverse teams and inclusive companies outperform those with more uniform workforces, research conducted by the Anita B. Organization shows that tech companies hired 2.3 men for every one woman in 2020.
At the current rate of change, achieving workforce gender parity in the information technology industry will take another 133 years. The world can’t wait that long.
In case you missed watching the “AWS Partner Showcase S1 E3: Women in Tech” event, here are theCUBE’s top seven tips for creating a gender-balanced workplace. (* Disclosure below.)
1) Choose a boss who will set you up for success.
Most women starting in tech or making the move to another company would consider the company brand, starting salary, benefits and other practical considerations when accepting a job. The personality of their direct supervisor would be a minor detail, if they thought about it at all.
This is a mistake, according to Hillary Ashton, executive vice president and chief product officer at Teradata Corp. “What I would tell my younger self is choose your bosses wisely,” she said.
At first, this advice seems counterintuitive, because the common perception is that the boss chooses the employee rather than vice-versa. But Ashton pointed out the criticality of having the right boss at the start of a career: “The person you’re going to spend … a lot of your day with is going to influence a lot of the outcomes for you,” she said.
A supportive boss who opens doors and offers opportunities, mentoring and sponsoring those under them and encouraging them to grow, learn and advance will enable an employee to kickstart their career. On the other hand, bosses who don’t take the time to teach their team and won’t bother to take them to meetings or introduce them to people can create a stagnant environment where it is impossible to get ahead.
“My first boss really set me up for success. [They] gave me a lot of feedback and coaching, and some of it was really hard to hear. But it set me up for the path that I’ve been on ever since,” Ashton stated.
Here’s Hillary Ashton’s complete video interview with theCUBE:
2) Everybody has impostor syndrome.
Today she’s a top executive at AWS, but back in the dot-com bubble of the 1990s, Greshock was just breaking into tech as a female software engineer. Back then it was even more of a boys-only club than it is now, and she admits to feeling as if she were an imposter. Her solution was to prove herself through her work, and she had a successful career as an individual contributor working in software teams before becoming an Amazonian.
“Spending a lot of time, hands-on, definitely helped me with some of the imposter syndrome issues,” she said.
As well as making people feel unworthy of the position they have, imposter syndrome also stops women from applying for open tech roles. Women are 16% less likely than men to apply for a job after viewing the job description and, on average, apply to 20% fewer jobs than men, according to statistics from LinkedIn.
NetApp Inc.’s intentional hiring policy means the company reaches out and invites women they think are qualified to interview for technical positions. As she works with new employees on her team, Stephanie Curry, worldwide head of sales and go-to-market strategy for Amazon Web Services Inc. at NetApp, hears them saying how they didn’t believe they had the skills for the role and would never have applied on their own.
“And they’ve been hired, and they are doing a phenomenal job,” she stated.
Acknowledging that imposter syndrome affects everyone – from the chief executive officer on down – is important to combat it. Vera Reynolds is the engineering manager at Hound Technology Inc. (DBA Honeycomb), and she told theCUBE: “We all struggle with [imposter syndrome] from time to time, no matter how many years it’s been.”
Her advice to those starting in their careers is simple: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to show a little bit of ignorance, because we’ve all been there.”
This leads us to the next piece of advice …
3) Never be afraid to speak up and ask questions (especially when you’re the boss).
The tech industry is complex and fast-moving, and nobody knows everything — not even those in charge. Reflecting on her experience, Greshock said: “Folks who’ve been in the industry for 20, 25 years, I think we can say that it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and you’re always going to have new things to learn.”
Leaders need to model that it’s OK to ask questions, according to Reynolds. She is open when she doesn’t know an answer and joins forces with her engineering team members to figure it out. Realizing that she didn’t need to pretend to be knowledgeable about everything was a pivot point.
“That was a really powerful shift for me early in my career, just to feel like I can say that I don’t know something,” she said.
Passing that feeling on to newcomers in the field is an important way that leaders can help reduce imposter syndrome and create a more honest, open and inclusive workforce.
“It’s on all of us to remember what it’s like to not know how things work,” Reynolds stated.
Here’s Vera Reynolds’ complete video interview with theCUBE:
4) DE&I initiatives have to be intentional.
Many companies like to say they are working on diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives. But words without action are meaningless, and companies need to have concrete programs and guidelines for hiring. If not, despite their best intentions, managers will continue to hire as they have always done, and unconscious biases and workplace toxicity will remain.
“We’ve seen first and foremost, by being intentional, that you can change the way your organization looks. But also that without being intentional, there were a lot of outcomes and situations that maybe weren’t great for a healthy and productive working environment,” Greshock said.
So, AWS created a secret weapon for its DE&I hiring program: The Jefferson Frank “Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition.” Sourced from first-person information submitted by managers and employees in the AWS Partner ecosystem, the guide provides a practical “how-to” for hiring a diverse and inclusive workforce.
“People who identify as women just don’t see enough women in leadership; they don’t see enough mentors,” said Sue Persichetti, executive VP of global AWS strategic alliances at Jefferson Frank, a Tenth Revolution Group company. “Here at Jefferson Frank, we’re trying really hard to get that “Careers and Hiring Guide” out there. It’s on our website to get more women to make suggestions in partnership with AWS around how we can do this.”
Here’s Sue Persichetti’s complete video interview with theCUBE:
5) Ecosystem partners have to share cultural and values alignment around DE&I.
The responsibility to intentionally build a diverse, inclusive and equal workplace doesn’t stop at the corporate front door. Today’s tech industry is a vibrant ecosystem where partnerships create links between companies, and even direct competitors work together in coopetition deals.
Part of the partner relationship is a values alignment. AWS is known for its customer obsession, and its ecosystem partners share this drive. The same is true for DE&I, with one of the company’s core values stating that leaders “seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.”
“There is a lot of best-practice sharing and collaboration,” stated Curry, speaking on the relationship between NetApp and AWS.
She credits the diversity of the team she worked with at AWS for giving NetApp different perspectives and different experiences about how they approached the collaboration on the Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP storage service.
In the past year, Curry has tripled the number of women on her team at NetApp through intentional hiring practices, and she’s seeing the effort pay off.
“The teams are stronger, they’re more collaborative and … reflective not only of our partners, but our customers themselves,” she said.
Here’s Stephanie Curry’s complete video interview with theCUBE::
6) Don’t be afraid to demand the workplace flexibility you need.
When Persichetti was talking with colleagues during the recent AWS Summit San Francisco, she heard a shocking statistic: “About 5% of women who were in the [AWS] ecosystem have left in the past few years,” she told theCUBE. This holds across all sectors, as women resigned en masse during the pandemic because they weren’t able to cope with the burden of housework, childcare and working full time.
However, if those who left choose to rejoin the workforce, they could find a more inclusive and understanding culture. The COVID pandemic worked as an unintentional leveler, as videoconferencing revealed the human side of executives and removed the divide between co-workers.
“We saw quite a lot of people bringing their whole selves to the office, which I think was really wonderful,” Ashton said. “I think that changes the dialogue.”
Questions such as “Am I going to be able to go pick my kid up at four o’clock at the bus? Or am I going to be able to be at my kids’ conference? Or even just have enough work-life balance that I can do the things that I want to do outside of work beyond children and family,” are commonly asked during interviews, according to Greshock, who sees potential employees testing AWS’ culture for “Is this going to be a company that allows me to bring my whole self to work?”
Amazon and other organizations have brought in flexible workplace policies, more equitable pay scales, and more compassionate leave policies to help workers balance their work and home commitments and encourage new diversity hires. This means women entering (and currently in) the tech workplace need to follow the example set by Greshock’s interviewees and make sure the company they work for is willing to be flexible to meet their whole life purpose, not just their career goals.
7) Failure isn’t a bad F-word.
“No isn’t necessarily the end of the road. It can be an opener to a different door,” said Martin, as she and Greshock discussed the advice given by Ashton, Persichetti, Reynolds and Curry in their closing analysis of the “AWS Partner Showcase S1 E3: Women in Tech” event.
“I had a mentor of mine, a very strong woman who told me, ‘Your career is going to have lots of ebbs and flows, and that’s natural,’” Greshock said. And as Ashton pointed out in the first piece of advice given in this article, being a good mentor isn’t about always saying yes.
While rejection is hard to take, failure is a part of life. And while the workplace is becoming more inclusive, women, and especially women of color, are still going to encounter more obstacles on their career paths than are men.
The women taking part in the “AWS Partner Showcase S1 E3: Women in Tech” event agreed that when failure happens or career paths hit an obstacle, the trick is to see an opportunity rather than becoming discouraged. Rather than experiencing a failure as a negative event, women should see it as a signpost to a more appropriate field for their skills or simply that it was the wrong time for the desired outcome to happen, Martin explained.
After graduating with a degree in government, Ashton was planning to go on and study law. Instead, a zig-zag career trajectory led to her current position on the executive team at Teradata. And her more diverse background is a benefit, not a hinderance.
“Because I’m not a programmer by training, I’m really focused on the value that I’m able to help organizations extract from the technology that we can create,” she told theCUBE.
Likewise, Reynolds had a career where she “was very much interested in all the things” and jumped from role to role. “I’ve done things from web development, to mobile, to platforms. It would be apt to call me a generalist,” she said.
Individuals with different perspectives are critical to provide products, services and solutions for all types of people inside of technology, according to Greshock.
“Unless you bring folks with a zigzag path, the likelihood is you won’t be able to change the numbers that you have,” she said.
Here’s Martin and Greshock’s closing analysis of theCUBE’s “AWS Partner Showcase S1E3: Women in Tech” event:
And to watch theCUBE’s complete “AWS Partner Showcase S1E3: Women in Tech” broadcast, here’s our full event video playlist:
(* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for AWS Partner Showcase event. Sponsors do not have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)
Photo: Getty Images
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