Succeeding as a woman in tech: advocacy is the answer

Anjali Norwood, founding engineer at Arcadia Data, discusses why advocacy is essential for women looking to make it in the technology space.

Companies are in the midst of an inflection point in the world of technology; especially when it comes to how companies approach women in the workforce. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the number of female computer science majors has dropped from one in three to one in five in the last 30 years, which makes me wonder: why aren’t more highly capable and intelligent women pursuing careers in technology?

Not only is there a severe lack of women in the space, but the divide between men and women in tech leads to an unbalanced corporate culture.

>See also: Diversity of thought – Breaking down barriers and championing women in IT

It is important that companies address these challenges and issues head on, but for many women in the high tech workforce, it’s about drawing a line in the sand, advocating and speaking up for themselves, and learning how to navigate the industry to create a niche for themselves in technology.

Do women need to be their own number 1 advocates?

When I was studying for my master’s degree in computer science, I remained confident in my academic abilities, despite being one of the only women at a premier Indian university.

While studying and completing projects with my male classmates, I felt like I was a part of the group; but when class ended, I often felt isolated and realised that the onus was on me to make sure that I interact with my peers, speak my mind, and find my place in the group. Once I began my career in tech, I quickly learned that I needed to speak up for myself in order to continue advancing.

All too often in my career I’ve found my female colleagues feel that they are less than their male counterparts, and don’t feel comfortable speaking up; so, I made sure I was that person. When women stand up for equality in the workplace, we are not only helping ourselves, we are moving the entire organization forward, and helping everyone to be better at what we do. It can be uncomfortable, but we have to do it.

>See also: Out of her shell: Women in IT Awards’ CIO of the year

Advocating for things like flex-time around child care/elder care, extended maternity leave, and the ability to work from home can be invaluable to women in tech who are trying to do it all. At times I wish I could tell my younger self not to be too hard on myself and not let others influence my decisions, and it’s critical to speak out about what you want and what you need to be successful.

What tips would you give to women in tech?

It’s idyllic to be your own advocate and to speak up for yourself, but it’s not always enough. Issues of female empowerment in the workplace are systemic – only 24% of leadership positions are held by women who earn only 74% as much as their male counterparts – and in order for women to succeed we must feel that our opinions are respected and our struggles are understood and addressed.

One way to ensure this is for women to seek out a mentor who can help them navigate issues of advocacy and empowerment. Having mentors inside as well as outside the company is helpful since the two types of mentors tend to bring different perspectives and objectivity to their guidance.

Giving women the opportunity to succeed in the workplace helps the entire business to grow and succeed. From a societal standpoint, it’s important for women to thrive in their organisations and show that they are more than capable in order to continue propelling the industry forward.

>See also: International Women’s Day highlights the importance of gender diversity

From a business standpoint, organisations tend to gain additional insight and creativity inspired by diversity in the workforce.

Can you tell me about your experiences relating to women in tech?

When my company was first established, five of the team (co-founders and founding engineers) were men and three were women, which ultimately made a huge difference in the development of our product and corporate culture.

From the very beginning, we were all established as equals. There was no need to sit down and discuss how to treat one another because we all believed in equality – and treating the entire team with respect and integrity – right from the beginning. When organizations have women in leadership positions it helps to create a culture of openness.

I recently worked from home for a day, and the next day when I came into the office, one of my colleagues approached me to say that it had been a quiet day without me, noting that people exchanged only a handful of words between one another.

>See also: Chief of MI6 reveals real-life ‘Q’ is female in rare speech at 2017 Women in IT Awards

Women bring that energy; diversity truly helps to foster a creative and collaborative environment. By not only celebrating but promoting diversification in high tech – and encouraging women to take the steps necessary to advocate for themselves in order to feel and be successful – organizations can develop a better mix of people, providing better results for employees, customers, and the business overall.

Whether through mentorship, advocacy, or empowerment, women in STEM and tech must continue to speak up for themselves and encourage conversations around equality and respect. If we can do this, then what our organisations and colleagues can accomplish has no bounds.

Sourced by Anjali Norwood, founding engineer at Arcadia Data

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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