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Boomi World 2024 - have things changed for 'women in tech'? Some leadership lessons learned along the way

Sarah Aryanpur Profile picture for user saryanpur May 14, 2024
Summary:
More than 30 years on from my first 'women in tech' article, things have improved, but a lot of themes remain depressingly similar...

Image of women working in an office
(Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay )

Let's start on a positive note  - the number of women working in the IT industry has certainly increased in the last 25 years. Back then it was not unusual for technology companies to be almost completely male dominated, especially at senior management, and board level. (See Madeline Bennett's excellent ongoing What I'd say to me back then... series profiling women in tech for plenty of war stories.)

But now organizations are finding recruiting staff more difficult, and increasingly need to retain as many of their skilled staff as possible, and this includes women. Yet still many women are paid less for the same job roles, constantly feel like they aren’t good enough, and don't get enough support and flexibility when returning to work, or taking maternity leave. As well as retaining skilled staff, some technology companies continue to struggle to attract and retain highly skilled women, and women are still having to work harder to achieve results.

At the Boomi World 2024 conference five women in senior IT roles in their companies discussed how things have changed, and offered advice about what needs to happen now.

It's striking that none of the Women in Tech panel had planned a career in IT, but having fallen into the technology arena in one way or another had thrived in the environment.  For example, Shari Lava, Research Director and Analyst at IDC studied drama, but did a programming course as a backup to acting and found she absolutely loved it. Alison Biggan, Chief Marketing Officer at Boomi originally studied political science, and worked for the PGA Tour, and “ sort of fell into IT”,  whilst Nicki Brock, Senior Director of Enterprise Applications, Kore Wireless accidentally tried IT and found that she loved technology.

But having found themselves in a fast paced, innovative and relatively new industry they discovered that gender bias in leadership positions and salaries was as prevalent as in other older industries. Brock recalled: 

The data is there. I work for an organization that is 80% male and  85% of the executive is male. There is gender bias in the promotion stakes, so we have to keep talking about promotions. Ask what you have to do to get promoted when you have been overlooked. Keep bringing it up and use your voice to get more women into leadership positions.   

Karen Dosanjh, Chief Marketing Officer, OSI Digital said she discovered her promotion opportunities stopped when people found out she was pregnant:

 Suddenly people were asking me when I was leaving. It’s the ‘Motherhood Penalty’. Companies need to keep skilled women in the workplace, otherwise it is a huge loss of talent that they can't really afford. Young mothers need flexible options otherwise you lose that talent. And we have to always ask for options. When I had my children 23 years ago the promotions stopped. Returning is hard, but now I have caught up with everyone else and excelled.

All of the women on the panel agreed that it is critical to use data and statistics to back up gender bias arguments. Kate Stables, Head of Technology at Fever-Tree, said she used figures from salary surveys to show how her pay was lower and her boss fixed it straight away: 

He recognized that my salary was not up there where it should be, and he fixed it.

 

In corporate US, less than a quarter (24%) of leadership roles are filled by women, and only seven percent by Women of Color, according to Brock. She added: 

When you look at salaries, the pay gap for the same jobs is $15,000 less for women, and $33,000 less for Women of Color.

Biggan argued that awareness and accountability of gender bias are big priorities for Boomi:

We have to challenge bias and doing that raises awareness, and that can achieve a lot. More men are aware of bias now, and we use statistics to drive the conversations. For example, one software company did a worldwide analysis which generated a global pay rise for all its women’s salaries. It was data driven. You have to find your allies and use them. You have to accept and understand that all of us have allies in our companies.

IDC’s Lava agreed: 

Salary negotiations are often painted as conversations - no they are negotiations. You need to see what you can do and take it on.

Lava was once negotiating a promotion on a Zoom call, and she rather angrily pointed out why she was worth more: 

But I was on mute, so all they heard was silence, and it shocked them. In this case my silence was better. They re-negotiated!

Stables, who is part of the Women in Technology mentoring program in the UK, believes constantly calling out disparities is crucial:

In meetings, talk, make a point and sometimes reset awareness of any bias and look at more training if it is not good enough. You have to call out bad behavior and take action.

Imposter syndrome

All the women on the panel and everyone in the audience, agreed that imposter syndrome can affect gender bias and promotion chances. Boomi’s Biggan observed: 

We can all feel like imposters. 'I’m not really qualified for this, so I’ll work really hard all the time, and hopefully companies will reward that performance'. You have to really believe in yourself and then believe that you can take that bigger job. I’m lucky to have had a really strong role model in my Grandmother who was an Estee Lauder executive back in the 1920s. Use role models. We are all our own worst critics, and we should work on modeling behaviors that we want our colleagues and younger people to have.

IDC’s Shari Lava agreed:

I remind myself that most people there want me to succeed. The men in the room, the women in the room, most people there want you to succeed.

Going forward, what can women in technology do to keep the momentum going? Brock said: 

It’s exhausting but keep doing it. Keep calling out gender bias, but use data. Do your research, use statistics, facts and speak it. It’s exhausting, but you have to. Try to inspire others, inspire young people and create positive feedback loops.

Biggan said modeling good behaviors can be difficult, but it’s really important. She advises: 

Stop volunteering. Teach yourself to stop. And mentally prepare yourself for the imposter feeling. Use awareness training, and call out bad behaviors. Recognise allies in the company, and use them.

My take

I first wrote about ‘women in technology’ more than 30 years ago. Back then articles could have been called ‘no women in technology’. They were a pretty rare breed. Thankfully things have changed, and are still improving. But companies need to offer more flexibility and opportunities to women, and women need to be confident about the skills they have.

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