With men making up the majority of those in the tech space, it's no surprise that there are still major challenges that women face in the industry. The value of having women in the tech space is undeniable - given that women make up more than half of the U.S. workforce. Nonetheless, being a woman never held me back – and it doesn't have to hamper your career either. In fact, I excelled at my job because of the women who came before me, and my personal determination to succeed.
Throughout my career, I've learned a few things that helped me embrace my gender, become a strong leader in tech and also help my fellow female counterparts along the way.
Take Advantage of New Technical Background Opportunities
"You should never be afraid and think that just because there are fewer women in tech, that the guys are better than you. You are capable of the same. Don't overthink it, just go for it."
There are several factors that prevent women from pursuing a career in tech. With less than half of computer science students being women, many women that might have an interest in tech may think they don't have the right educational background to pursue a career in the industry. However, just because you didn't graduate with an education in tech, doesn't mean it's too late to jump in the tech space. In fact, there are many postgraduate programs that people interested in tech can pursue to strengthen their skills. Likewise, there are companies in the space that are looking for new diverse talent that offer to teach their employees how to code and learn new skill sets.
My advice to young women interested in pursuing a tech career, who didn't graduate with a computer science degree, is to not be intimidated and consider it to be too late. Look into programs online or in your city that can help you gain the technical background you desire.
We're In This Together
Starting and maintaining a successful career can be siloed and as women, we often try to resolve issues and roadblocks on our own. I have found throughout my career that having the right role models and peer network group is a vital element of having an enjoyable and fruitful career.
There are many ways to build a network that can help you solve workplace issues, support you as you are taking on a new challenge and even swap stories and relate to during your career. This includes finding a mentor who has already navigated the same career path you are hoping to achieve. Having someone on your side that has already paved the way gives you a resource to turn to when problems arise or when you need to weigh career options.
Secondly, I have found it helpful to have peers supporting me who are on the same career trajectory as me, but not necessarily working at the same company or tech space like myself. These women in my life are often the ears that listen to me talk through daily work events and I know can relate to anything I am going through professionally.
Lastly, there are so many larger networking groups and organizations that offer regular events and meetups to connect with other professionals and leaders in the tech space. I find it refreshing to tap into these networks and meet with other women I might not otherwise know to hear their stories and learn about their approaches to their careers. I have also found that through these connections women have a great opportunity to learn about available job positions in the tech world and get their foot in the door. A few organizations that have helped me include Techstars, Woman in Hardware in NY, Hardware Club, and New Lab.
Acknowledging Gender/Unconscious Bias
"Being a great female leader is not trying to mirror a man."
It's important that while we celebrate all the achievements women in tech have accomplished these past few decades, we need to have an ongoing conversation about all that still needs work.
Although I have had a successful career in tech and secured a seat at the table, I've still faced situations where I was the only woman in the room. At first, I thought the best approach to navigate this was to change and morph my leadership and work style to fit my male counterparts. I quickly learned though that my sex isn't a problem that needs to be fixed, it is a fact that needs to be embraced. As women, even if we are the only representation in the room, it is important that we maintain our personalities and approaches and let our capabilities strengths shine through rather than projecting what we think others want to see.
In addition to staying true to myself and embracing my gender, I have also learned that it is imperative that acknowledge unconscious bias head-on rather than letting it continue. There have been many times in my career when I have faced unconscious bias where individuals have taken a different approach to me vs my male counterparts. It is easy to let these moments pass by and certainly can be less awkward, but I have learned that if I don't speak up and address these issues we won't change behavior and change the world for better opportunity and equality.
Paving the Path for Tomorrow's Women
Having the confidence to pursue a career that is male-focused, embrace your gender even if you are the only woman at the table or to speak up when you experience unconscious bias takes a lot of courage. I've learned though that staying focused and continuing to work hard for my dreams has led me to have the career that I want leading a rising tech company and also has helped me pave the way for women to follow. When I get discouraged or think it would be easier to stay in the shadows, I always think that if I don't do it now, how will the future get brighter for women in tech?
Serena Williams said it best - "I embrace being a leader and continuing to pave the way for the next generation."
The more we do today will only bring more opportunities to women in tech tomorrow.
WRITTEN BYKarina Costa