Women make up half of the planet’s population, yet the number of women represented in some industries is far below that in comparison to men.
Technology is one such sector, but this is gradually starting to change, thanks to the hard work of women who aspire to pursue careers that are historically more male-dominated. This International Women’s Day (IWD), DiversityQ spoke to four innovative women in technology who share their experiences and advice to other women looking to get their foot in the door.
“Growing up, I never even considered the possibility that I was any less capable than a man.”
Nicole Sahin, CEO and founder of Globalization Partners.
“IWD is about celebrating the achievements of women all around the world. Many female role models surround and inspire us every day, reminding us of everything that women can achieve. I was lucky to have grown up surrounded by strong female role models: my grandmother was the sixth woman in America to join the Navy during WW2, and my mum owned her flower shop. Growing up, I never even considered the possibility that I was any less capable than a man, and early in my career, when I found myself the only woman in boardroom discussions, I learnt to speak up and be heard.
“Not that I haven’t faced challenges along the way. In my late twenties, I had an idea for a business model that would flatten barriers to global expansion. I took it to my former employer and was turned away. However, not letting this deter me, I quit my job and spent over a year travelling to 24 countries to lay the groundwork for what would become Globalization Partners. On return, I set up my business from a single laptop and worked hard to make it the half a million-dollar business it is today – and still growing!
“My advice to women: Life brings many hurdles but learning to convert the setbacks into propellent to achieve your goals is the path to success. It’s important too that organisations are conscious of what the balance of a team looks like. Creating a diverse, inclusive culture will attract talent of all genders, sexualities, and ethnicities, and in turn will result in a more collaborative, creative team.
“Let us not forget; there are great men, as well as women, championing gender equality. By celebrating women’s achievements, and the male allies and organisations that support them, we can work towards a better, fairer world.”
“I am mostly inspired by product visionaries who push boundaries.”
Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise
“When I was growing up, there were two subject areas that always interested me – computer science and genomics. I find both areas fascinating, as they have tremendous potential for impact. This is why I chose a career in computer science, and in fact, our data management software is now heavily used by genomics researchers to manage sequencing data. But, I think that if I weren’t doing this, I would probably be a genomics researcher.
“Of course, there are times in my career when I’ve wanted to give up. Nothing rewarding is ever easy. And, especially as an entrepreneur, you have to get used to people saying no. Entrepreneurs are innovating and that means breaking the mould, so it is natural that not everyone gets it at first. I’d be the first to admit that yes, sometimes this can be very disheartening, but I also find it the most interesting part of the journey. I always try to ask myself, what is the other person thinking? If I were in their shoes, how would I react? And that usually helps me find a way to bridge our positions.
“I’d say I am mostly inspired by product visionaries who push boundaries. Grace Hopper who pioneered the idea that computer code could be a language. Steve Jobs who has fundamentally changed personal computing, or Elon Musk who boldly took on the entire carbon-based automotive industry. Their relentless passion and dedication to drive change motivate me.
“When it comes to managing a work/life balance, it can be tough. I try to focus on what I am doing in that current moment, so when I am at home, I am fully present with my family, and when I am at work, I am fully present at work. This is a challenge both men and women face with our modern lifestyles, and I think balance requires cooperation. I also think looking after your mental health is incredibly important. For example, I enjoy biking, reading and hiking – these activities give me a chance to enjoy nature, relax, and recharge.”
“I enjoy the fast pace, the constant innovation and the opportunity to make businesses more successful.”
Connie Stack, Chief Strategy Officer at Digital Guardian
“Choosing a career path can be a daunting process for a young person either applying to or graduating from university. For me, I have always felt like my career chose me. While I do have a business degree, I wasn’t truly exposed to technology careers until I’d been in the workforce for 5+ years. I’d always been a so-called ‘numbers person’, and the first time I had exposure to databases and enterprise software it was love at first sight! I pivoted out of the retail industry and into technology, and I’ve been there ever since.
“There are a lot of men, women, and organisations working hard to bridge the gender gap in the technology industry. While there has been a lot written on the subject, my advice to women joining the sector would be, ‘Work hard to get more comfortable with change’. Careers in the technology industry generally require more tolerance for change – you are constantly reacting to changes in technology, regulations, customer needs and market moves. For me, this has been great, and I enjoy the fast pace, the constant innovation and the opportunity to make businesses more successful. That’s not to say I didn’t experience frustrations throughout my career in the technology sector. But the passion for what we were doing always outweighed those frustrations.
“I think it is really important that women have role models, but for me, this has never been about brand names or famous CEOs – male or female. But rather it is the large pool of personal female mentors and coworkers who have provided great advice and guidance all along the way – and continue to do so. From female founders and coworkers to my mother and aunts, they have all had a positive influence on my career. They’ve helped me navigate this fast-moving technology sector and encouraged me to make the leaps required for my career successes.”
“Work hard and push your boundaries; your work will speak for itself.”
Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, Director Consulting at Fluent Commerce
“One of the things I love about working in STEM is that it is genderless – it does not require physical strength, so men and women are at an equal advantage. One of the most amazing experiences in my career was during my time working for Amazon, leading the web development team in Paris, which at the time was all-male. I got the opportunity to take a position at Amazon HQ and moved to Seattle; and I was so inspired by the substantial numbers of incredible female software engineers or in senior roles, coming from a variety of countries and origins. Seeing how hard these women work motivated me to push myself even harder and perfect my programming and software engineering skills. It can sometimes be intimidating, seeing a lot of men in the industry. But my advice to women joining the sector, and what I learnt from these women at Amazon, would be: work hard and push your boundaries, your work will speak for itself. In coding, for example, it is digital and anonymous – if your code is good, you will get noticed for your work, not your gender.
“Surrounding yourself with women that inspire you is also important. I always looked up to my entrepreneur godmother, who has not only been an inspiration to me (and many others) but also actively helped me figure out my own path. When others doubted my decision to switch careers from mechanical engineering to computer science, she had my back. Ultimately my initial path as a mechanical engineer helped me grow faster and stronger in software engineering, system architecture and product design. The ability to think in abstraction and overall system thinking are shared skills in STEM and suits me perfectly regardless of the domain or industry.