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Q&A: What is it really like for women in tech? (Includes interview)

Apple file photo. - Karen Graham
Apple file photo. - Karen Graham

As technology become ever more prevalent in society the ubiquitous nature is not reflected in the gender-balance in the workplace. According to a recent report from McKinsey, women account for only 25 percent of the work in this industry.

In order to assess the role of women in technology and to look at what can be done to encourage more women to become engaged in the tech sector, Digital Journal sought the views of Rachel Mooney, Chief People & Culture Officer at Snow Software and Paula Darvell, Chief Marketing Officer at Snow Software. Both share their experiences as women working in tech.

Digital Journal: As a woman in technology, do you have any advice for other women looking to forge a path or strengthen their career in this industry?

Rachel Mooney: I’ve only ever worked in tech, so interestingly it’s my full career reality. It’s a great industry, characterized by pace and change. But there has been an evolution in the culture and values of tech companies since I started back in the 1990s (for the better) and that’s been around a growing appreciation and value for difference and the importance of us all feeling we belong.

My advice is to embrace this and feel confident championing this – great companies know this is the right thing to do and battle daily to bring it to life – but it’s hard. Join your voice to the effort. If you are not being supported in your ambition to bring your whole self to work, then leave and work for a company that is willing to support you. It’s too important to compromise on this. You are too important.

Paula Darvell: I think progression in any role or industry is all about taking every opportunity to learn and grow. The more you can learn about your profession, the market, your customers, their needs and the technology solutions that can support them, the more armed you are to have a point of view – and your point of view is as important as anyone else’s.

So…surround yourself with great people, find a mentor or coach who inspires you, ask questions, read blogs and listen to podcasts by leaders and visionaries you respect and can learn from, and proactively seek out opportunities to develop. I think my other advice is that progression often requires us to step out of our comfort zone and to say yes to projects or asks that will test and challenge us. I’m not sure we ever get comfortable with being uncomfortable but, looking back, some of the most daunting things I’ve had to deliver have been the achievements I’m most proud of and the ones that have most helped further my career.

DJ: Have you faced any significant roadblocks in your career in tech and how did you overcome them?

Mooney: Yes, but I don’t know if it’s linked to being in tech or just being an ambitious woman who loves to contribute and shape a business….I suspect it’s the latter. At times, I have felt disappointed or frustrated that my opinion is considered somewhat less because I am a female – and that I have had to work harder to be heard and to be taken seriously. I have overcome this by being absolutely tireless in my messaging and, as I have gotten older, feeling more confident about calling out disempowering, dismissive attitudes. I use humour and kindness (where I can) to challenge others and I try to build allies by understanding the perspectives of others – no one comes to work wanting to ruin your day or get in your way – it’s really important to hold on to that perspective. I have learned that I suffer more when I don’t call out bad behaviour, so I refuse to carry that bad feeling now, I call out the issue and I put that feeling right where it belongs.

Darvell: I began my career in tech back in the 1990s when it’s fair to say that, across industries, both law and corporate policy and practice were certainly less favorable towards working women and even more so for working women with children. There has thankfully been some solid progress since then and it’s so good to see so much more inclusion, parity and legal protection in the workplace than was the case when I began my career. However, it’s definitely been a challenging journey and I’ve spoken to many women over the years who believe they’ve had to adopt a different, tougher and more forceful persona or shield at work in order to have a voice, be accepted and progress. No one should need to do this. Find an organization where you can be your authentic self, that encourages you to flourish, speak openly, challenge without fear of retaliation or judgement, and that truly values and respects you for all you individually bring to it.

DJ: Do you have any advice on how to participate or embrace the larger community of women in tech for those that aren’t sure where to start?

Mooney: Ask people. Start the conversation, be inclusive and don’t make assumptions about who will or will not be engaged. If someone is interested they will let you know and will respond. It’s all just about creating space for people to express themselves – do that and great things emerge.

Darvell: Most of my own connections with women in tech have developed through having the opportunity to work together and these relationships have evolved over the years to a point that many are now true friendships that I massively value. I’d advise using forums like LinkedIn to follow and connect with people and to join groups that support your interests, and also use social to share your own points of view to bring like-minded people to you.

DJ: Do you have any experiences from 2020 that have helped strengthen your own resilience?

Mooney: From 2020 I realized that the simple act of asking someone how they are and listening to the answer is one of the most powerful things one can do. Really listen and leave some time in the conversation for them to answer – really answer. Share your own feelings and thoughts – especially if you are feeling a bit challenged or flat – and relax into the reality that everyone has their own challenges and struggles, good times and wins. I have found this has helped me enormously and kept me focused and energised, rather than wallowing in self pity (which I have really wanted to do, at times!).

Darvell: People give me energy so full-time remote working and multiple lockdowns that have separated us from family and friends has been incredibly tough. It’s also been overwhelming at times to know just how many people have suffered and experienced loss during this time. I’ve built resilience by learning to limit how much media I consume, focusing on what’s within my control, checking in with people more often, and practising daily gratitude. I’m also a great believer that staying physically strong and healthy is vital for remaining balanced and, for me, getting outdoors in nature gives me energy and perspective. I’ve also learned that, even as a leader, it’s ok to share how I’m feeling with my team and colleagues as this gives them the space to share in return, and this has been massively sustaining.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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