Women Impact Tech Conference

Reflections from a woman in tech

By

Chloe Cooke-Warren

When I was invited to the Women Impact Tech Conference in Austin, I was excited but unsure of what to expect. The only other event I’ve attended that focused on women in tech was when a robotics company I worked for in 2014 held a company-sponsored “global webinar for women”. So, a handful of ladies who had never met each other were told to get on a call and figure out women’s stuff. After a lot of awkward pauses and no idea of what we were supposed to be talking about, it was clear that the issues weren’t going to be solved in a single phone call. So, I had reservations upon entering the Women Impact Tech conference, but as it turned out, this was the event I had been looking for all along. 

 

The panel discussions were frank, insightful and positive without sugarcoating the issues faced by women in the tech industry. These issues aren’t small either. Only 18% of computer science majors this year will be women. The implications of that aren’t just ethical; computer science and STEM fields account for the highest paying jobs in the United States, at a time when employee wages are stagnant while the cost of living is rising. Families can’t afford to lose out on the bread-winning potential of a well-paid mom. It’s also bad for a companies revenue and growth if women aren’t included. This excerpt from an article at VentureBeat sums it up nicely:

 

“…management consulting firm McKinsey found that for companies in the top quartile for gender diversity, they were 15 percent more likely to have higher financial returns than national industry medians. A field experiment published in Management Science found that teams with an equal gender mix had better sales and profits than male-dominated teams. Research in the American Sociological Review concluded that gender diversity was associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, and greater relative profits.”

 

If this is true, why are women’s roles in tech suffering? The reasons are extremely complex. Erin Hauber, Director of the Service Design Team at USAA, brought up the need for a more inclusive work culture that can accommodate women’s needs. Many companies are slow to adopt a more considerate environment for female employees, and often don’t fuss with better maternity benefits for example. Another point was brought up by Carmel Smith, a VP of Sales for UIPath, she spoke about how a lot of sexism isn’t overt and able to be dealt with by women themselves, it happens behind closed doors and in performance reviews conducted mostly by men. This has the effect of denying a lot of women the ability to advance their careers and move into leadership positions. The difficulty of women leaders was illustrated poignantly by a Senior Systems Analyst and Tech Lead named Vannela Tata. She had at one point been a regular developer, writing code and checking it in, and getting along fine with all her colleagues. But as soon as she became a Tech Lead, it was as though she became their enemy overnight. She talked about the arduous process of working extra hours to prove to her team that her decisions were valid in ways that a male colleague would never have to. It really resonated with me and I’m sure every other woman in the room; this idea of fighting to be heard and have our contribution trusted. It’s an uphill and exhausting battle for a lot of us. It’s no wonder only 0.8% of total bachelor degrees awarded to women per year are in Computer Science.

 

Luckily the panel offered some ideas about improving this situation:

  • Collaborate. Speak up as a group within your organization, don’t just take out your frustration in a Slack channel that nobody ever sees. Collaborate with management and make sure women and their contributions have a company-sponsored light shone on them and their contributions.
  • Talk to other women. Hauber mentioned an organization called “Ladies Get Paid”, a place for women to compare notes on companies, pay scales and industry standards for fair wages. This is a great example of empowering women as peers. What other resources do we need and how do we create space for them?
  • Mentor young women. Most of the women speaking at the event wouldn’t have been there without another woman helping and inspiring them at a point early in their careers. And it’s true, the younger we can spark an interest in tech for girls, the better it will be in the future. “Latinitas” and “Code2College” attended the conference and were offering volunteer opportunities to coach high school students and young minorities.

 

This might sound obvious, but don’t overexert yourself trying to work for a prestigious company that doesn’t have a good history of hiring and promoting women. Obviously what’s considered a high ratio of women should be taken with a grain of salt within this industry, but it’s clear that forward-thinking and innovative companies recognize women as being essential to team building and talent acquisition.

 

I was glad to have been invited to the Women Impact Tech Conference and now I have more tools to help empower other women. I look forward to engaging this community, as I have a lot more to say on these issues and want to be part of the solution. What are you doing to advance women in tech?