Barely a month goes by without a horror story involving sexual harassment or discrimination emerging from the tech industry.
Google, Tesla, Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, numerous venture capitalist and start-ups, as well as the major companies we don’t get to hear about because of non-disclosure agreements, have all faced exposes and court cases concerning their treatment of female employees.
And when women aren’t enduring unwanted advances or being overlooked for promotion, there is the nagging, insidious ‘bro’ culture characterised by the likes of coding tutorial site CodeBabes (whose tutors remove clothing as lessons progress) or tee shirts like this.
It’s no wonder women are put off from careers in technology.
But not all IT companies are bad apples, and the industry provides a great opportunity for women to rise to the very top, say three senior level women from the sector.
And with companies putting more of a focus on culture and diversity, there’s never been a better time to be a woman in tech, they say. You’ll just need self-assurance and a little support.
Walk the talk
Janice Cox was appointed managing director of CA Technologies ANZ in September last year.
“I have spent my career in a very male dominated environment, but I haven’t experienced a negative culture related to that. I had several great male mentors and still do. I may just have been lucky in the organisations I worked for. I do not believe I’ve been discriminated against,” says Cox, who has worked for the likes of Telstra and Hewlett-Packard.
Software giant CA takes diversity very seriously. In the US it has rolled out generous parental leave benefits, open to fathers and adoptive parents as well as mothers. Earlier this year the company was named one of the best companies to work for LGBT employees in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
For each job vacancy, CA’s ‘diverse candidate slate’ requires at least two candidates in every pool to be ‘diverse’. And the interview panel must also have minority representation.
As CA chief product officer Ayman Sayed told CIO Australia last year: “It is not okay to open a position for an SVP or a VP or a developer and have 10 male applicants”.
Cox says local initiatives like Male Champions of Change, efforts to encourage females into STEM education and changing attitudes are bringing about positive change.
“The negative issues are talked about more openly and in most workplaces, discrimination is not tolerated, regardless of who or what the discrimination relates to,” she says.
Erica Ruliffson Schultz is executive vice-president at software analytics firm New Relic.
“I’ve been in technology for my entire career, almost 25 years,” she said. “And I’ve often been the only woman in the room or one of few women, but it’s been an amazing career. It’s something I’ve valued so much, so one of my personal motivations is I want to see more women enjoy the same type of career experience I’ve had.”
Ruliffson Schultz joined New Relic in 2014 from LivePerson, following a 17 year stint at Oracle. She says things are continuing to change for the better.
“The most exciting thing is it’s an important topic of conversation in so many environments. Companies are looking hard at culture and policies to make sure they are attractive to women and other diversity groups. It really matters,” she said.
New Relic says it has a higher proportion of female employees than most IT oriented companies in Australia. As well as enjoying a dedicated women-in-leadership program, staff in Australia receive 10 weeks of paid parental and maternity leave.
“You have to walk the talk and live the values,” Ruliffson Schultz added.
There is overwhelming evidence that employing more women, and helping them attain leadership positions, is a commercial advantage.
A much cited 2015 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians. An EY and Peterson Institute for International Economics report from 2016 found companies with 30 per cent or more female leaders had net profit margins up to six percentage points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks.
“The technology industry is changing and for good reason,” says Juni Yan, vice president for BT Security across Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. “Businesses are realising the value in having greater diversity as this offers a more worldly perspective when managing people, customers and the business. It offers a good balance of views.”
The continuing skills crisis is also helping drive positive change adds Ruliffson Schultz.
“What’s driving it is – I refer to the war on talent – certainly in IT. As every company is investing more and more in technology and digital, every company is seeking the best talent to help them drive transformation,” she says.
“They recognise you have to be an attractive employer to get as diverse a range of employees as possible so you can win in the market.”
Cox, Ruliffson Schultz and Yan all advise women in the industry to work on improving their self-confidence.
“I know I lacked confidence to put myself forward for roles earlier in my career, so I really had to focus on building that confidence,” says Cox.
“I recommend women I work with to be themselves, focus on the value they bring and their achievements to maintain and build their confidence. Work hard, stay focussed, be a decent human being, and don’t forget to support, encourage and mentor other women.”
Ruliffson Schultz agrees, saying women need to get better at voicing their achievements.
“When I’m talking to young women who are looking to build their own careers in technology, finding your voice is something that’s really important. One tendency that I’ve experienced myself and I see play out often in the industry is – we too often downplay our own accomplishments or are hesitant to voice our own goals,” Ruliffson Schultz says.
“When you think about what it takes for women to be successful in a career environment that’s mostly male, we talk about what employers can do, but it’s also about what each of us can do to self advocate for our own success,” she added.
Yan adds that knowing your value is the most important thing in being successful.
“I believe your value or the potential you bring to a company is the secret to a successful career. It’s critical to recognise whether you’re the right fit for the role, whether you can help the company grow and where you can add value. I believe this is more important than your gender,” she says.
“For me, success has largely been built around engaging a team to be the best version of themselves and deliver results collectively. Whether it’s growth or bringing new products to market, decision making has always been led by logic and what’s best for the business. This ensures that everyone in the team buys into and supports that decision, and this is what has helped me get to where I am and gain the trust of the entire organisation.”
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