Female technology leaders give advice on breaking into the industry

Female leaders from tech workforce development company, Pluralsight offer other women advice about breaking into the industry including what they've learned along the way

Gender imbalance defines the tech industry, where women hold 19% of roles while men account for 77% of tech director positions. Following International Women’s Day, these female technology leaders from tech firm Pluralsight offer advice to other women who might be interested in entering the sector.

Alice Meredith

Why does tech need women and girls? Why do you think it’s important for more women to join the tech industry?

Creating cultures that are welcoming and inviting for women within tech companies is no longer something to dabble in; it is a requisite for success. Tech companies must embrace the diversity of thought and innovation that women render.  This ensures the products and services they provide are appealing to the largest single economic force in the world, American Women who control over 70% of all household spending in the U.S.  Tech companies are doing much better at recognising the value of and recruiting this previously untapped resource, yet they have been slow to create cultures that welcome and embrace gender diversity.

What was your biggest success and biggest learning opportunity in tech?

As a culture strategist, my greatest success in supporting tech teams stems from my ability to help leaders identify and rectify non-inclusive culture gaps. My greatest learning opportunity came when I realised my fear that I wouldn’t feel comfortable working within a tech industry was unfounded.  A recent study showed that one of the top three reasons why young women aren’t choosing tech careers is that they feel they wouldn’t feel comfortable working in a tech environment; I too had this fear, but it was unfounded, and I easily found my place and was able to make a difference.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?

My experience in tech flows from ‘supporting tech’ teams rather than being ‘in tech’; this by itself is a great example of the many opportunities available for women, with or without technical backgrounds, to flourish within a tech environment.  My advice to women considering a career in the tech industry is to stop considering it, go for it. Stop thinking you don’t have as much knowledge or experience as someone with a grander tech-focused degree or background. Tech is advancing so rapidly that everyone is learning together. Your voice, your diversity of thought, and the talent you bring to the table are enough, and you are needed.

Kate Gregory

Bio: https://www.pluralsight.com/authors/kate-gregory 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-gregory-711351/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gregcons?lang=en 

Expertise: Software development (C++), Location: Ontario, Canada 

What role can male team members play to best support women peers in the tech world?

A good ally supports a team member, especially when they are getting unfair treatment from elsewhere. So, if someone keeps interrupting me in a meeting, an ally will say “I don’t think Kate had finished her point” or “Kate is still explaining X to us”. If I make a suggestion, and then someone else suggests it as though it were his own, an ally might say “I think it’s great you agree with Kate’s suggestion, so do I.”

One thing a lot of allies want to do is ask me what they should do – this can be tiring, and I don’t always want to speak for all women, so doing the research themselves is another way to take some of the weight off me. They also need to examine themselves to see if they’re making assumptions about the women they work with, even if they are then acting in a nice and supportive way based on those assumptions. For example, assuming the women are the ones with childcare obligations and then adjusting schedules. Not all women will have childcare obligations and they aren’t the only ones who will.

Also putting people forward for things is good for everyone. If you get an opportunity (like being on a panel) you can’t take, why not suggest a woman for it? I know several men who won’t be on all-male panels, and suggest women to take their place and make a more diverse panel. If someone you work with somehow never seems to be suggested for the task force or the special committee or whatever, try suggesting them. (Just don’t exhaust your only woman in the company by making her be on everything because all the committees want to have a woman on them.)

Also, since many women undervalue their time, telling someone a good price to charge or a good salary to expect can be super valuable. If you’re bringing in a trainer or consultant or speaker and you ask them what they want for the gig and the number they reply is half what it should be, tell them that. Or suggest a number first. Giving someone a good idea of what they can actually charge will bear fruit for many years to come.

What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?

For better or worse, being part of an under-represented group in your industry makes you memorable. I don’t always want to be the only person in the group who anyone remembers later, but I have learned to make the best of it. I tend to stand out in crowds and that can be an advantage. I just mostly like being in tech because it’s what I’m good at and it’s what I like to spend my time doing.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?

The industry today is not at all like the one I joined in the late 70s. It’s actually more sexist and more difficult for many women. I would encourage anyone just starting in tech to find a peer support group, people who face the same issues, whether that’s being a woman in tech, being a person of colour in tech, being a late-career-changer in tech, or anything else. There is a warmth and acceptance in a good peer group that can carry you through a lot – and there’s often some highly practical advice, too. I tell young women today that if you find a horrible co-worker or a horrible employment environment, that’s not about you, it’s about them, and better workplaces and co-workers exist. Don’t let the bad ones push you out. Find a place with less bad ones. I know that’s hard work, but at least it’s possible. You don’t need to quit tech because of a horrible workplace. They are the ones who are not good enough; you’re terrific.


Julie Lerman

Bio: https://www.pluralsight.com/authors/julie-lerman


Expertise: Software development (.NET, Docker, MSFT apps)

Location: Vermont, USA

How did you get started in tech – what experiences led you to tech as a career?

My first post-college job in NYC landed me at a magazine publisher. I eventually moved to a role working for the head of accounting who had the only computer in a company of 1000. Within a few days of starting that role, his computer was on my desk and I was figuring out how to make it perform our difficult tasks. I am going to totally out myself here and confess that this was in 1984. As more people in the company started getting computers, they kept coming to me for help since I wasn’t afraid to experiment.

A few jobs later, someone had left behind a dog-eared copy of a dBase III programming book and I used that to teach myself how to automate some of the drudgeries that my job required. This wasn’t exactly my first time coding, though.  I had taken the only programming course offered in my college—BASIC — taught on some HeathKit’s built by our math professors. It was an all women’s college and one of those profs was a woman (a nod to Carol Shilepsky!). So I never thought twice about whether or not, as a woman, I had a place in front of computers. Therefore I had some concept of what that dBase III book was leading me through.

What biases have you encountered along your journey and how have you combatted them?

Early on when I was at the FoxPro user group meetings in NYC (late 1980’s), I was one of four women in the group. The other three were older and highly respected in the community. I was in my mid-20s. The only time anyone near my age would only talk to me was in order to ask me out on a date.

As a young woman I definitely was taken for granted at a few jobs. In two of these, when I gave notice having found more interesting work, the response was the same. A man in upper management who had always treated me like a wunderkind, begged me to stay and suddenly offered me roles (and pay) that were relevant to the work I was already doing and could easily be doing as well. This was always a case of too little too late and I told them thanks but no thanks. And in both cases, they turned on me with threats. This coming first from a guy who I thought was like a father figure and second from a man who was a former Navy Seal. That was a scary situation. I was 24 in one case and 26 in the other.

Certainly not used to having to defend myself. But I somehow held my cool and braved the tirades and was happy to see what a good idea it was for me to leave. In my 30 years in tech, those long-ago events still are the most memorable. Now that I’m much older and have a lot of street cred, I don’t generally feel that I’m facing bias although maybe I’m just oblivious in my rose-coloured glasses. If anything, I do worry about facing age bias now. But I stopped caring about it when it comes to my own work.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?

I had an amazing role model growing up (my mother) and was raised with the belief that I could do whatever I wanted. It never occurred to me, even when consistently being one of the only women in the room, that I didn’t belong in tech. I want to share this attitude with anyone who is typically told or shown that they don’t belong in tech. There are many communities and businesses that are welcoming that have a healthy, diverse environment where you are seen and heard, where you are given opportunity to learn and grow. Lean on your instinct to help find that place and don’t accept doubts that someone attempts to push into your head.    

Cecilia Lejeune

Bio: https://www.pluralsight.com/authors/cecilia-lejeune 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cecilialejeune/ 


Expertise: Product Design, Project Management, VR, Location: Paris, France

Why do you think there are fewer women in technology than other sectors? 

From the discussions I had with young ladies looking for a career in tech, it’s just that they are passionate about tech because they had been exposed to video games or electronics during their youth. Most of the time, the will to work in tech for a young girl doesn’t come from a fantasised idea, it comes from a concrete and memorable experience. The key to bring more women in the sector for me is to mind how we communicate about the daily life of a woman working in tech, and how this type of career is perceived by the citizens. The goal is to show young girls that this is an option for them. 

How much do you think the tech world has changed for women since you started working in tech?

I started working in tech 7 years ago. And oddly enough, I felt more awkwardness in my work relationships in the past couple years than when I started. Why? Because of the strong movements around #metoo and because of the many behaviours from men to women that were accepted before and that today seems out of place or questionable. This has brought some layers of complexity and some distance in the relationships I had with colleagues and direct management for example. If I was able to blend in a team of men easily before, today it would demand a lot of effort. I do hope that next generations will understand the importance of developing trust and open dialogue in their work relationships.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?

Personally, I wish I had known that salary-wise, it’s not okay to be paid less than a male co-worker that does the exact same job. I was too shy to speak out in my case, but it’s your entire life that is at stake! So kindly and respectfully point the difference to your manager and ask the reason for it. HR are very aware of these issues today, so get their help in the negotiation if you need to. 

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