What I’ve Learned From The Women I Work With
12:30 pm, November 8th | by Beth Devin, Manilla.com
At Manilla, we’ve been fortunate to add several new team members in the last month. The great news is that many are women who are new to technology careers. (In fact, three of the women are still going to college and working part-time.) I realized this was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about women who are just getting started with their careers in technology. How did they get here? What attracted them to a technology career? What challenges have they encountered? I talked to seven young women at Manilla to see what I could learn that might apply more broadly to the challenge of getting more gender diversity in tech. Here were the key takeaways.
Who am I?
The women I interviewed are unique in many ways. They have different family backgrounds, were raised in different regions of the United States, and had different experiences at school. However, there were a surprising number of similarities about what makes these women tick. They all mentioned that they did well in math or science classes in kindergarten through 12th grade, but they lost interest as the classes got more theoretical. Several had family members who had engineering or technology careers. They described themselves as detail-oriented, learners, problem solvers (even puzzle people), and self-motivated. They also all enjoy designing and creating things. These innate characteristics are a good fit for technology careers, which require creativity, analysis, design, and attention to detail. The more parents and educators can connect these dots when mentoring and advising students, the more likely a young person will explore a technology-
related education and career.
It’s not always a direct path
Each person I spoke with did not start out pursuing a technology career. In most cases, traditional math, science and engineering careers were promoted in high school. These young women started college assuming they would get a degree in what they were good at in high school or what a parent or role model studied when she was in college. However, based on their experiences in school, or sometimes with their first professional job, these Manilla women decided to change course. They changed degrees, changed schools, changed location, and changed careers. These were big decisions that were difficult to make. It was impressive to hear how each woman faced the situation and took steps to try something different — a combination of courage and determination. I had a similar experience in college, so their stories reinforced for me that the opportunity to attract more women to technology does not stop in high school or college. With the right information and exposure to technology work, more women can be introduced to a career they love and one at which they can excel.
It takes a village
It was uplifting to hear how each of the women had solid support systems in place that provided encouragement and help when they needed it. The support came from parents, teachers, friends, mentors and employers. The women were not judged or chastised when they decided to change their paths. They also were not pushed in a direction that they did not want to pursue. Some of the support was proactive and opened doors that made a positive difference. For example, an art teacher encouraged a student to join the school robotics team, a friend taught a friend the programming language SQL so that she could get a report-writer position, and a manager provided opportunities for a new employee to learn programming. This kind of support demonstrates the power that adults can have in supporting young people when they are branching out on their own. We can make a difference. And even if we can’t see the results immediately, we should never stop trying.
There are differences between men and women
Most of the women got their first experience being a minority in a male-dominated field when they went to college. It was then that they experienced classes in which 90 percent of the students were men. Comments about their experiences included, “Sometimes it’s awkward,” “It seems like the guys know more than me,” “It can be intimidating,” “I have to be pushy and speak up to be heard,” “I’m not always taken seriously,” and “Men are not as communicative or helpful.” Most of the women recognize these challenges but are powering through. They are confident, young women and, at times, competitive. One person said, “I like the challenge. Every day, I want to demonstrate I can do it and, in fact, I can do it better than they can.” Another woman shared that she has met several helpful guys who have taught her a great deal. We can’t change inherently who men and women are, but we can acknowledge the differences and make sure classes and the workplace support diverse styles of learning and communicating.
It’s all about finding something you enjoy doing
The most encouraging takeaway from the interviews was that all of the women are incredibly happy about where they are now. They are passionate about technology and love what they are doing. They enjoy learning and know they will never be bored with the pace of technology change and innovation. They see infinite opportunities for the role technology will play in the future, and that makes it even more exciting. Several mentioned the rewards they feel when they are creating something, and they and others can experience the end product. All in all, they are appreciative that their indirect path has led them to where they are today, and they have a bright and eager outlook for the future. (Oh, to be young again!)
How do we attract more women to tech?
I closed each interview by asking what schools and companies can do to attract more women to technology careers. Here’s what they suggested:
• Women should be able to get more information about and exposure to technology before
• More women should speak up and tell their stories at schools and in the workplace.
• Schools and companies should offer information about how to find good mentors and
• Schools and companies should promote and support women-in-tech communities and events.
• There should be more tech-related internships available.
• Companies should set specific goals to increase the number of women in their tech
• Companies should ensure that women participate in the tech recruiting process.
These are not new ideas, and many of them are being done, but they just need to be practiced more and more and more.
I came away proud and hopeful after the interviews. These women are part of the technology future, and each of them will bring energy, smarts, and creativity to a field where these contributions are valued and rewarded.
I want to thank the Manilla women I interviewed for their time and, more importantly, their willingness to be open and share their personal stories.
Beth Devin is the chief technology officer of Manilla.com, a free, award-winning service that helps consumers manage all of their bills and accounts in one place online and via mobile apps. For more tips about how to succeed in your job search, visit the Manilla Blog.
[Photo via Shutterstock]