Tech has a reputation as a boy’s club—a reputation that isn’t helped when, say, anti-diversity memos written by Google software engineers make headlines. While the buzz around the need to encourage, celebrate, and bolster diversity in women leadership—especially in technical fields—continues to grow, the tech industry’s conception of leadership hasn’t seemed to evolve much with the demand.
That’s not for want of trying. Earlier this year, Something Digital and Women Who Code sent me to Palo Alto to attend VMWare’s Women Transforming Technology conference (WT2), a conference focused exclusively on female leadership in tech. In this blog post, I summarize some of the conference’s high points, explain my takeaways, and give a few suggestions on what Something Digital and other companies like it can do to start making tech a better, more diverse field to work in.
Established to call attention to the need for more women at tech’s highest levels as well as to cultivate a more female-friendly environment at all levels of the industry, Women Transforming Technology conference ran panels on everything from, breaking STEM pipeline barriers, to pursuing successful careers in leadership, and featured keynote speakers Kara Swisher and Gloria Steinem.
I’ve known for a long time that a conference like this is vital. Despite my efforts to surround myself with female role models through groups like Women Who Code, I’ve struggled to find older female role models during my time in the tech industry. This lack of a blueprint for female success is cited as one of the main reasons behind why women are underrepresented in technical fields. According to a global survey of 500 women working in the tech sector conducted by ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association), called The Future Tech Workforce: Breaking Gender Barriers, the top three biggest barriers to women getting (and staying) in tech sector are “A lack of female mentors (48 percent), a lack of female role models (42 percent) and limited networking opportunities (27 percent).”
Considering this, one could imagine my surprise when I walked into the conference and found myself surrounded by 300 women who fit both bills: tech success and role model. The women around me ran companies and ran technology teams. Many were developers just like me and many were the women who forged the path I am following.
While there, I started asking myself a lot of questions. If these women exist, why am I only now learning about them? If their efforts have led these companies to great successes, why have they not been publicly recognized? Why have I been left to think my generation of women is forging this path alone, when all along great women were out there developing a career path for women and girls in technology?
After attending WT2, it became clear that my inability to find female role models in this industry didn’t necessarily correlate with the actual numbers of existing women in tech; rather, it points to the lack of public acknowledgement of their existence and successes. These women’s contributions are immense, and yet they are consistently underrepresented and underplayed.
These are some of the questions Swisher and Steinem addressed in their keynotes, as well as the questions a panel of female experts fielded from 300+ top women in tech earlier in the day. They are questions, I realized, that I’ve been grappling with since the beginning of my career as a developer.
Since these questions are on the minds of so many, there are certainly ideas for solutions floating around the industry. Here are a few of my own suggestions that companies can take to encourage women and girls not to just join the tech sector—and to stay—but to enjoy the space, advance, succeed, and become the next generation of women leaders in tech.
1. Recruit and hire more diversely. If women and diverse candidates aren’t at the career fairs you’re attending, expand your recruitment efforts. Here are a few services that can aid in your effort:
2. Be active in your communities. Support groups like WWC, GDI, and GIT by sponsoring meetups, providing meetup content or space, or sending people from your team to represent your company and recruit women.
3. Go to conferences that celebrate female leadership and technical skills. Here are a few:
4. Address the pipeline problem. Encourage your company or coworkers to volunteer at schools in underserved communities. Send diverse employees to speak to young people in their communities and show them that not only is it possible to forge a career in tech, it’s empowering and seriously fun. Here are a few organizations that can help jumpstart that process: