International Women's Day – ten things all women in tech need to know

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett March 8, 2024
Summary:
The best advice from our ‘What I’d say to me back then’ series interviewing women who’ve reached the top of the tech career ladder and finding out what advice they'd give to their younger selves.

iwd

In April 2022, diginomica published the first in a series of profiles of senior women in tech titled ‘What I’d say to me back then’. The idea was to hear directly from women about the changes they’ve seen over their 20-plus years in the industry; the advice they’d give their younger selves; and how they managed to climb the career ladder in an industry that’s still fewer than 25% women.

As I’ve been talking to these women over the past two years, I’ve found their insights both eye-opening and useful. Hearing the advice they would share with their younger selves makes me wish I'd had the opportunity to understand all this back in the early days of my career. 

To mark International Women’s Day 2024, and on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the series, I’ve picked out the top 10 pieces of advice from all the different women interviewed. Hopefully, this proves valuable to other women trying to build a career in tech and manage the work/life balance. 

You don't have to code to be a technologist

Earlier in my career, I wouldn't have said I was a technologist. I felt insecure that I couldn't code and that didn't qualify me to be considered a technologist, which I don't think is true. I'm a technologist. I spend every day around technology and I don't have to code to be a technologist.

Jennifer Quinlan might not be a technologist by trade or by education, but with 30 years’ experience in the sector, her entire career has been rooted in technology development, from AS/400 and mainframes to cloud-based systems. 

But after working at AmeriComm, Merkle and IBM, serving as CEO at R2integrated, and currently Global Managing Partner at IBM iX, Quinlan is now totally confident in her position as a technologist. Demystifying that for people like her younger self, who are not formally STEM-trained, is now her passion point. 

There’s no perfect time

I was always trying to get my timing right with everything. It just doesn't work like that. So just go for it. I wish I'd started having kids a bit earlier because I might have had one or two more. I would have told myself not to worry about getting the timing right. There's no perfect time for anything.

Salesforce Ireland’s Country Leader Carolan Lennon shared three pieces of advice she’d tell her younger self: be honest about what role suits you and go after it quicker; don't assume people know what you want regarding your ambitions and aspirations; and most importantly, don’t put things off waiting for the perfect time. There isn’t one. 

Put your family first from day one

Dave was picking the kids up from school, and I thought, 'When they come home, they'll smell chocolate chip cookies, how nice'. But they walk in, see I made cookies, and their first thought was, 'What's wrong? Are you and dad getting divorced?'. That's so sad.

Looking back over her career, Maryann Abbajay wishes she’d taken a different approach to bringing up her children. The Chief Revenue Officer at SAP SuccessFactors wishes she hadn’t dedicated so much time to work when with her family, sharing the story of the unexpected result of baking some cookies for one of her children’s fundraisers.

Abbajay would tell her younger self to spend less time telling the kids to be quiet or taking those extra work calls:

It's about the family. That is why we work. So let's keep our priorities straight.

Abbajay takes a different approach now, to the benefit of her own family, and setting an example for other working parents:

Even though my youngest is 23, when she comes in, I put people on mute and I turn around and I have whatever conversation and then come back.

Banish the fear factor

I was very intimidated when I came into Oracle. I wouldn't have told you 25 years ago - I wouldn't have told anybody! - that I didn't have a degree. I was very intimidated by that. What I want to be able to do now is show, no matter what your background, the opportunities are there.

When Siobhan Wilson started work at 16, she certainly didn’t have the confidence that she could get to where she is today - UK Country Leader and Senior Vice President EMEA Applications Customer Officer at Oracle. Wilson entered the tech sector in the early 1990s, and worked her way up the ladder at Oracle, despite not having formal computing education or a degree. 

Part of the reason Wilson is keen to share her story now is to encourage others to banish the fear factor other women may have. As she explains:

I want women to think that there are no limitations. Don't doubt yourself. Your only limit is your doubts. Be ambitious. Make conscious career decisions and you'll be alright.

Don’t self-limit

I always had something to prove, but it wasn't easy. And it wasn't hard because people were squashing me down;  it was hard because there were no examples of it. There was no-one to be inspired by. It was almost like you could self-limit by the perception of what was going on.

Stacey Epstein was the first person I interviewed for this series. Entering the technology sector back in the early nineties, she wishes she could tell her younger self - don’t live your life thinking about the bias or obstacles against you. She encourages others to avoid limiting themselves based on perception. 

You have to keep your eye on what you believe you are capable of and the opportunities that you believe you deserve, and go for them. We should all be thinking about our careers not as - ‘Will I ever get that role because I'm a woman?’, or ‘I haven't seen another woman in that role, so are they really going to consider me?’.  The focus should all be on being a high performer and the opportunities will absolutely come.

Be authentic

Be yourself. Be in a company that allows you to thrive. That's about the people you surround yourself with and the company culture. If you’re in a company or environment that doesn't make you thrive, it probably isn't the best place for you.

Qualtrics' Managing Director, EMEA Stephanie Barton has been working at tech firms for over 30 years. Of the many changes she’s seen from her early days, most notably it’s regarding dress code guidance. 

I remember training courses which actually encouraged you to operate like a man. I remember courses on what to wear and what not to wear. There were stages when you were encouraged not to wear skirts or you had to wear skirts, it flip-flopped for a little bit in the nineties. It makes me shudder when I think back as to what it was like then.

Thankfully, dress code isn’t top of the agenda for training courses for women today. Now, Barton’s top piece of advice is be yourself – whether that’s wearing skirt, trousers, shorts or dress. 

Trust yourself

Working in tech, you get to look into the living rooms of the biggest, best and most creative companies in the world. You’re there because they need your experience, your curiosity to help move business. I would tell my younger self trust what I know, be curious in where I can help and enjoy it. Don't stress so much about the end. Enjoy the process.

Etosha Thurman, SAP’s Chief Marketing & Solutions Officer of Intelligent Spend and Business Network, was the first Black woman to feature in this series. Her experiences highlight the huge obstacles still facing Women of Color working in tech (and other) industries, for example the micro-aggressions she faced about her hair. 

As part of this eye-opening account of what Black women go through to build a career in tech, Thurman says if she could go back and meet her younger self, she’s tell her you don't have to know it all to take the role. Trust what you know and enjoy the process. 

Jump at opportunities

I would say back yourself and go take a risk on something that you're not comfortable with. Jump at it a lot sooner than you think you are able for it.

With few visible female role models and colleagues, Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK and Ireland at Slack, was timid in the early stages of her career. She saw a lot of loud, confident men going for the roles she wanted, and didn't push herself forward.

But a conversation with one woman in particular changed Byrne’s view:

In my first one-to-one with her, she said, 'Why aren't you a leader yet?'. I said, I'm only such and such an age, I've only done such and such amount of years in this role, so I'm following a path. She replied, 'No, you can outstrip a lot of those males on that team. You just crack on, back yourself'. I took that first step into leadership and haven't looked back since.

Ask for help

You have to be the champion of your own growth, go and ask for opportunities. If you have challenges, talk about them and ask for help because we shouldn’t think asking for help is an indication of weakness.

After a successful college campus interview, Deepa Kuppuswamy joined Zoho Corp as a fresher – and is still there 23 years later, now Information Security Architect leading the security teams at both Zoho and ManageEngine. 

Thinking back to her early career, Kuppuswamy says she’d tell her younger self to be confident in your skills and abilities – but ask for help where needed, and banish the perception that it’s a sign of weakness.

Don’t give up

It's going to be harder than it is for men. Just accept that, settle in and get ready for a long journey. You might get lucky, and it might not be a long journey, and I hope that, but just settle in because it's going to take a little bit longer.

To achieve success as a female tech founder, Language I/O CEO Heather Shoemaker faced years of rejection and frustration. Her advice for other women following in her wake is simple - don't give up. Hopefully this message filters through, as the industry certainly can’t afford to lose more women. 

 

Loading
A grey colored placeholder image