I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. That’s the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. According to the UN’s official page, “the theme is aligned with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” But for women in tech, we have a long way to go before we’re considered equal.
For me, tech has been a brutal but fulfilling part of my professional life and I’m proud to now call it my best asset. It has helped me to evolve from a young media girl to a passionate maven. I’ve had to fight to get here but I believe every battle was worth it (even when I lost, which I did, a lot).
This International Women’s Day, it’s important that we discuss the importance of being a woman in the tech industry, and what companies should be doing to further the equality agenda.
Oh, I’ve Faced Challenges … Plenty
Throughout my 20-year career, I have faced many different challenges, and each has led to my own personal growth as a woman and now as a new mom. Some include the challenge to be heard, to take risks without losing my sense of self and to evolve when my background didn’t point to innovation or all of the fancy buzzwords of the day. It has been a tough ride, impossible at moments, but I’m proud of myself and all that I’ve accomplished along the way.
I began my career in 2000 as a 20-something print buyer who didn’t know a soul in advertising. My parents, who were educators at the time, begged me to find another career path but I resisted (as any pushy graduate would) and I followed my dreams into media/advertising. At Grey Advertising’s newly formed media arm (MediaCom), I hustled long hours negotiating with the toughest and smartest businessmen and women in media. Being told I was a “choice word” by a vendor after attempting to negotiate a great deal for my client was eye-opening.
As I moved further along in my career, I was advised by a colleague that you get more with honey. Yes, I was actually advised to be sweet over smart. Why? Because women should be nice, and they will always win? No, it’s not that easy.
Skipping forward to today, I know what it truly means to be heard as a woman in tech. It’s more than your words; it begins with your tone of voice, continues with your level of expertise and remains with your calm demeanor. It’s knowing that, because of your gender, you have to try harder than your peers. It’s about creating and studying your presentations. It’s about refining an approach each time you engage with someone. It’s about speaking with a purpose without overdoing it.
Taking Risks (and Failing!)
Any highly motivated salesperson is driven to secure financial stability. Living through the decline of print and rise of digital, this same salesperson pushes themselves to innovate overnight. You take risks and fail a lot.
For me as a woman, the most challenging part of taking risks is understanding that my failures were great for my personal growth. You aren’t celebrated when you fail, you are expected to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. Early on in my career, I walked away from a failed situation feeling extremely unpleasant about the risk I just took. I learned over time that the only person who could make me feel better was myself. Eventually, I taught myself to accept failure and simply learn to be proud of myself for the risk I just took.
This is especially the case within the tech industry. It is constantly evolving, so failure is an important part of the lesson plan. A woman in tech has to be strong enough to take the risk and fail, I had to make a lot of lemonade out of lemons. Over the years I’ve taken a lot of risks, worked for great organizations, accepted jobs I’ve loved and positions I quickly moved on from. The one life lesson I’ve learned is that in order for me to consider myself a success is that I have to be happy with most of the decisions I make. I’m not perfect but I’m happy which is all that matters!
Evolving: Learning a New Language
We grow up learning how to speak one or maybe even two languages at home. Professionally, I was trained and learned planning & buying terms in traditional media. One of the biggest challenges I faced in my professional life was learning how to speak and sell in technological terms (cookies, targeting, DSPs, data, etc.)
When I made the pivot to tech, I pushed myself to learn, but also “leaned in” and asked for help. (Yes, I read the book and many others!) Some really smart men wanted to help me and some really smart women wanted to damage my confidence. Regardless of your gender, I believe in self-education.
Today, I continuously test my own knowledge and demand a seat at the table. I ask the simplest of questions when I’m curious because I’m constantly evolving and learning. I still get excited to learn something new and I continue to ask questions, even if those questions make my colleagues laugh a little.
What Being a Female in Tech Truly Means
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day points to gender equality. Do I know that I haven’t always been treated equally? Yes. But I won’t let it stop me. I’ve tried very hard to push through the moments of not being promoted, not getting the job and/or not making the big salary because of my gender. Being in technology offers opportunities for everyone and I choose to focus on what I can be doing to further myself versus competing with my peers or even worse, quitting.
The biggest challenge for a female in tech is finding an employer that embraces talent over gender. At my current company, I am lucky enough to work with great people who respect me and my new job as a Mom! I sometimes work after my new baby goes to bed at night but I want to, I am still focused and hard-working with a voice. Not all companies embrace this and the industry needs to do better.
Tech Companies, You Need to Shape Up
Women make up only 30% of the workforce across major tech companies, which includes both tech and non-tech jobs, like marketing and HR. Taking it a step further, according to Inc, women hold 17 percent of the tech jobs at Google, 15 percent at Facebook, and 10 percent at Twitter.
While I don’t believe this will change overnight, I do believe that we can all do a better job listening to candidates and potential employers about their own goals for a specific position. My advice to tech companies, or to any company for that matter, is to hire the right person based on their experience. Please keep an open mind about someone who may not have exactly what you’re looking for but who is willing to hustle to get the job done.
Hire the risk-taker, she’s worth it!