Women taking time to celebrate and support other women in STEM is a wonderful thing; it makes women more likely to join the industry, and most importantly, remain in STEM. However, Jennifer Albertson, Software Engineering Leader, and Tracy Rankin, Vice President of Engineering, at Red Hat, say that men can offer support that is just as invaluable and needed.
Jennifer, how has Red Hat supported women in STEM?
Red Hat put myself and others on an Executive Leadership Programme recently, and it was exciting because it was a group of women working together and building skills to support each other. It became a support group that you can rely on if you’re facing challenges, have questions about what you want to do with your career, or how you should approach challenges that you face.
Another thing that Red Hat does so well is support mentorship throughout the organisation. We have several programmes that Red Hat sponsors to build mentee and mentor relationships. We use leadership programmes such as the one I went on recently to build those relationships further and help connect to those who will be going through the leadership programmes in the future.
Red Hat prioritises both retainment and recruitment, do you?
I think they’re both important. Obviously, you can’t retain women until you’ve recruited them, and it’s why they must work together. We want to encourage girls to get STEM degrees, to increase the numbers of college graduates so that there are more candidates.
At Red Hat we also focus on different types of returnship programmes. It’s not just about how we encourage the new college graduates to be interested in computer science so that we can recruit them, but how we make sure that they want to stay long-term.
We’ve realised that women may take a break in their career, and we wanted to ensure we weren’t losing our valuable employees. So, we took the time and opportunity to give them help and training to welcome them back in the workforce.
There are different ways we can support women throughout their career that isn’t just recruiting. Our company culture is focused on good communication and collaboration, which is a great way to make sure that women feel connected and supported within the organisation.
Jennifer Albertson, Software Engineering Leader, Red Hat
What about you, Tracy?
The returnship part really hits home for me on a personal level. I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I have always focused on making sure that I was a good role model for her.
So, I made a very conscious decision. It was a difficult one because I felt like I was doing great in my career at that time, but I made a very conscious decision to work part-time for six years. I wanted to find a good balance between being a mom, and also being an up and coming female in the tech industry.
I try and tell my story as much as I can because other females need to know that you can invest in yourself and continue to work at the same time. Women need to support each other in these decisions whether they are taking leave, or partaking in a career; there’s no right or wrong answer.
How do we work with male colleagues to improve STEM for women?
It’s obviously great for females to champion each other, but it’s also about the partnerships and the mentorships with our male associates. I find my mentor, who is male, to be one of the best sounding boards for me, as he always offers up a different perspective.
He comes at me from a different lens, and so we collaborate to find good ideas to move forward on.
We will appear in meetings together, where he pushes and champions me to be a better person, and I enjoy that dynamic. It has been hugely beneficial to my career, and so I try and pass that down to my female and male mentees.
One of the challenges in our industry is that if you’re looking for female mentors, there’s not as many as you’d like. The female mentors that do exist wouldn’t be able to support everybody who’s coming through. So there needs to be a balance in getting value from our male mentors just as much as our female ones.
I’ve found that they are very often just as excited and passionate about what we’re trying to achieve as we are.
I’m a mentor myself, with many male mentees, and I find that there are more similarities than differences between us. The most common thing I have found is that men suffer from impostor syndrome just as much as women, but they just don’t talk about it as much.
That was such an eye-opening revelation because suddenly we’re connecting and realising that everyone has very common concerns. If we can feel safe enough to communicate those, we can help each other overcome a lot of the challenges we face.
Tracy, what is your greatest achievement in your career?
My greatest achievement was being promoted to VP. That, to me, was a recognition of the kind of person I felt I had grown to be. I’ve never been a title driven person, and I don’t find the accomplishment of becoming a VP, great because of the title, but because it’s recognition of myself and my work. I felt like that was the recognition of my many years of hard work, and I feel very proud.
When I learnt of my promotion, I suffered from a bit of impostor syndrome, and it wasn’t until I spent time reflecting on this achievement did I realise that I did deserve this position, I earned it.
The best part was when I shared the news with my daughter, and her eyes lit up. To see the excitement and joy through an 11-year-old’s eyes gave me an appreciation of what I accomplished. I am a role model for her, and that’s the greatest thing I have accomplished.
Tracy Rankin, Vice President of Engineering at Red Hat
For me, it was starting the nonprofit chapter for ChickTech. Within one year, we pulled together an entire team of associates – many from Red Hat – and planned the event. We had over 80 girls come to Meredith College in North Carolina and have them do an entire weekend of hands-on technical activities. They built robots, did 3D printing and learnt how to program mobile phones. It was amazing to see these girls become so excited and empowered about pursuing a career in STEM, and that’s what we wanted to achieve.
On a personal level, it was an achievement for me because I went so far out of my comfort zone. From recruiting people to delegating tasks, I felt like I couldn’t do it. However, I would take a moment to think and then step right into it. It felt amazing, but seeing so many young girls become so passionate about STEM was truly the best feeling ever.