An inspiring rallying call from the ceiling-smashing female VP of wix.com
Words Sara Parker
Women have long been the unsung heroes in the world of technology. From Ada Lovelace, who is considered to be the first computer programmer, to pioneering British coder Kathleen Booth, via Hilary J. Kahn, Joan Clarke, Betty Webb, Mary Every… and so many others who deserve more column inches than we have here today.
Women were fundamental in the evolution of programming and computer engineering and have been invaluable to the development of the technology world. And yet, in the UK – like elsewhere in the world – technology companies remain dominated by males with only 17% of females in the UK working in IT in 2016.
However, the landscape and environment is transforming. By changing the narrative, we can accelerate the process of attracting more women to the field.
To help, we asked Sara Parker, VP of PR and Communications at Wix.com, the leading website building platform, to debunk a few myths that exist about women entering the world of technology.
Myth 1: No seat at the table
By believing that your growth is limited, you’re off to a bad start. Find mentors in your field at work, in your city or anywhere in your network to help you navigate challenges. Professional situations are easier with an experienced voice, support group or professional coach to help you along the way. Make sure you also return the favour by mentoring young women who are up-and-coming.
The technology industry was largely developed by a world of disrupters, dreamers and problem-solvers. Opportunities for women in technology are vast and if you find yourself stuck, there are options. Move companies. Changing jobs doesn’t have the negative connotation it once did, and you should never be afraid to focus on your growth and experience, especially if you are truly feeling stuck. Or, start your own company. It has never been easier for women led businesses to get funding and be leaders. If this is the path you take, be the boss you always wish you had. Or reinvent yourself. Try something completely different; it is challenging to think of any opportunity that doesn’t benefit from a female technology pro.
Myth 2: Gender quotas
As a manager, I have always believed that I am judged by the strength of my team. Teams take time to gel and it is important to find the right mix. This mix, in my experience, has never been based on gender. Individuals naturally gravitate towards their interests and we do our best to nurture those efforts with responsibility and reward within the shared goals of the group.
I have been working in technology for over 20 years and honestly cannot think of a single hire I ever made based on gender. This may not be the case everywhere but there are many ways to research how a company treats its female employees – for example, look at the number of women on their management team and the CSR they undertake. Reach out to your network and simply ask. Most women are happy to share their experiences or refer you to another contact if they don’t know the company in question.
Myth 3: A work-life balance is impossible
It’s a balancing act, but not an impossible one. When my daughter was born in London, I had six months off with her before I went back to work – I am forever grateful for that time. The US has a long way to go in catching up, and generous family leave, rather than a national norm, is being touted as a benefit by some of the most high-profile technology names in the world.
Women in technology are planners by nature, and work-life balance requires planning, but they also have the ability to grasp opportunities however spontaneous they may be. Also, this may sound trite but learn to say no. Learn early on what your time is worth – seriously, do the math – and act accordingly. If you are overextended, chances are you aren’t at your best in any situation. Also, it’s okay to change course. If something doesn’t work, fix it. This is not failure. Want to go back to school, move to another city or even country? The technology industry has opportunities everywhere. Do the work, find them and take them.
Myth 4: You need to know how to code
I do not know how to code. You do not need to know how to code.
I work in the communications field of technology. That means understanding the technology, how it operates and its benefits for our users. My team translates the technology into a digestible, appetising format for our audiences. However, as a lifelong content person, understanding how messages are delivered has always been a benefit. If you work with news, broadcast, social media or any type of communications, I have always found that being able to understand the channel from an operational perspective lends itself to better messaging.
That said, it has never been easier to learn how to code. There are multiple opportunities to pick up this skill if it is something of interest. It’s great for networking too!
So, now what?
We need to establish a dialogue that enables not just women, but every workplace minority to succeed.
Listen. Trust me, there are women out here who are cheering for you. Find some of us and let us help.
Speak up. I can’t say that I have never witnessed problems, but don’t be afraid to speak up if you have ideas about how your business can do better. If your company isn’t interested in doing better, find another company.