What Do Women in Tech Want?
Takeaway: Women have long been a minority in tech, but what do those in the field most want from their employers and careers in general? We discussed this with women currently in tech, and here’s what they had to say.
To find out what women in tech want, we asked them. A query to HARO drew a large number of responses. Everyone wants equal opportunity, though some experience it more others. Some women share positive reports for the level of female representation at their places of work, while others still feel the sting of being overlooked by those who direct technical questions only to the men in the room. However, their thoughtful responses include not just what women want but what practical steps will get us there.
I’ll Have What He’s Having
There’s no mystery, really. “Women in tech want exactly what men in tech want,“ asserts Amy Romero, global chief marketing officer at CreativeDrive. That means, “More opportunities for advancement, the ability to work on challenging projects that fuel their creative drive, unlock hidden potential and sources of growth, and role models in leadership positions.“
That sentiment is echoed by a number of women, including Ashley Fry: “Women in tech ultimately want a culture and environment to be cultivated that equals the playing field compared to their male counterparts.”
Cindy McLaughlin, CEO of Envelope, agrees, “I would like the performance of women in tech, on all levels — building businesses, coding, managing, funding — to speak for itself. Most of us don’t want any special treatment; we just want the same consideration, feedback, and paths to promotion as our male colleagues.” (To learn about some women who’ve made it in the world of tech, check out 12 Top Women in Tech Right Now.)
Are Quotas the Answer?
Not according to Katherine Noall, CEO of Sphere Identity. “Women in Tech do not need quotas or special programs,” she insists, “just better decision making.” Noall’s solution “is centering attention towards the skills and achievements of individuals, with a refusal to discriminate.” She reports that her own company’s team of 40 is 48% female, a result she attributes to hiring that is completely gender-blind with a perfect “focus on skills” with no consideration for gender in hiring.
Leadership, Alliances and Mentors
“Set the example and be the change,” declares Diane Elizabeth, the CEO & founder of Skin Care Ox. “I want women to tell their stories, share their experiences — good and bad — and for everyone to support any young person who wants to enter the industry.”
“Girls and young women usually follow guidance they get from older women,” observes Elizabeth. ”So, if we, as women in tech, are not advocating, telling our stories, being ambassadors for those young people wanting experience in tech, then we are the problem, too.”
Possibly that kind of sharing would help women overcome impostor syndrome. Catherine Chan, CEO of Fitln LTD, has the impression women are more susceptible to it. “That fact holds us back hugely when we’re struggling to have our voices heard in a room full of the opposite sex.” She adds, “My biggest wish would be for women to get over this idea of being less than an authority in the arena in which they are experts.”
Libby Fischer, CEO of Whetstone Education sees leadership as key for opportunities and inspirations. “What I want most in the tech world is the opportunity for more women to be able to achieve leadership roles in this industry. The lack of women in leadership roles in tech creates fewer role models so, in turn, fully qualified women don’t see tech as a career option for them.”
For this to happen, though “we need male allies — VCs, board members, co-founders, etc. — to intentionally seek out women to fill leadership seats at their company,” Fischer says. Chan agrees that women need more men on board to help achieve “parity in pay and work delegation (I got tired of being asked to organize parties, while my male counterparts got to assist with strategic planning, which is my forte).”
Jaime Ellis, VP of marketing at Jazz Networks, agrees on the importance of seeing women as leaders and mentors:
Different perspectives are imperative, but it’s challenging to be consistently outnumbered — which frequently happens to women at technology companies. Take inventory of these imbalances and encourage female mentorship. Ask women in the organization to become a mentor, facilitate connections to women you know outside of your organization, and be vocal about initiatives or groups that support women in tech.
Funding Is Fundamental
Quite a number of women pointed out the importance of access to funding for women to succeed as entrepreneurs of tech companies. Finance, like tech, is largely male-dominated, and that can pose a serious problem for women who need funding to launch their companies. This why equal access for funding is so important.
“If you look at the ratio of funding given to female-led companies vs. male-led companies, you will find that female entrepreneurs don’t receive as much funding,” observes Carolina Abenante, founder, CSO, general counsel, executive vice-chairperson at NYIAX. The importance of funding cannot be overestimated: “It is the lifeblood that takes every idea to fruition,” she says.
Monika Radclyffe, the centre director of SETsquared Bristo, concurs. “That’s why I’d like to see more women investors and better gender representation in the venture capital industry,” she says. Likewise, Chan says she hopes for “more female funders, because they are more likely to invest in a female-run startup.” (Could crypto be the answer to this imbalance? Learn more in How Crypto Can Help Women Gain More Equal Footing in Business Leadership.)
There is cause for optimism on this front, and Leila Collins from MetaProp does expect to see greater equity in funding realized:
As the tech industry hopefully becomes more diverse, I am looking forward to having more female general partners of venture capital funds. With more women making decisions about which companies get funded, I think we will start to see companies move that are solving a wider range of issues for society. Furthermore, with more women leading venture capital firms, I think it will be easier for women to imagine themselves working in venture and tech more broadly.
Credit for Merit
Like men, women wish to be acknowledged. Accordingly, Ellis says, women should be able to “celebrate our wins.” This is beneficial for the business, as employees who “feel they’re contributing to a bigger purpose and experiencing personal growth” feel more connected and motivated. Her recommendation is to “Give a shoutout in front of a group, offer something to help support their mission, or personally thank them,” you know, the same way you would for a male employee.
Women also want to be judged only on the basis of their work — not how they look. Ellis explains:
We’re encouraged to avoid using any use of sexuality in the workplace, so that should then close the door for comments about our looks. Above clothing, please never ask or insist that we smile. Like men, women will smile when something is amusing or when we’re not focused on the task at hand. Reminders or encouragement in any professional setting should be work-specific, offer constructive value, and should avoid making someone feel ostracized.
Women Want to Be Seen and Heard as Experts in Their Field
A March 2019 study called Speak Up: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences focused its attention on what women want at tech conferences. Among its key findings were:
- Only 25% of tech conference keynotes in the last three years were women.
- Seventy percent of women surveyed who have sat on a panel at a tech conference report being the only woman.
- Seventy-six percent of women are more likely to attend a conference with a keynote speaker, panelist or other programming that features a woman.
The women surveyed for the report said they want to see and hear more women speakers and believe this should be a priority for any organization that claims inclusivity as a value.
The same applies for being seen and heard via media on tech news. In fact, “a stronger voice in the news and media” for women was one of the items that Chan said she wants. I’ve noticed a lot of tech-centered publications in which even fewer than 25% of writers are female. In fact, last year one digital publication on cybersecurity never featured a single piece by a woman for the year, or it remained under a particular editor who refused to entertain any pitches from women.
The Bias at Work
Sage Franch, co-founder and CTO of Crescendo and founder of Trendy Techie, declares her frustration with investors who direct their technical questions to the nontechnical men in the room instead of to her: “More often than not, it’s assumed that I’m not capable of answering questions about my own product.” She chalks it up to “unconscious bias.”
The same term is used by Radclyffe:
For women entrepreneurs, the unconscious bias they face when seeking investment is a challenge at a critical time in a start-up’s growth. The feedback we’ve received from women entrepreneurs is that some have been mistaken for secretaries or PAs, and many feel they have to take male colleagues to investment meetings. Women entrepreneurs are asked about how they’ll juggle their business with family, which male entrepreneurs rarely are.
So despite all the public pats on the back that companies award themselves for their diversity and inclusivity, the bias persists. That brings us to the next thing on the women in tech’s wish list.
Just Do It
Franch argues that businesses should “stop wasting their money on performative inclusion and start actually investing in supporting the women and other marginalized individuals in their workplaces.” She explains:
There can only be so many “call-to-action” events like International Women’s Day — it’s time we start the actual action. Spending money on panels and ads do not make up for a lack of internal inclusion initiatives. And it’s not enough to just hire more women, companies need to put in the effort to make their cultures inclusive from the ground up.
What should follow, according to Franch, is “more media about women year-round, not just on International Women’s Day.” Ellis makes the same point in saying, “And please make it a point to thank women regularly, not just on International Women’s Day.”
“Representation is important, and if we only talk about women in women-centric spaces, we will continue to be seen as other-than and less than,” Franch explains, and that can undercut anyone from an “underrepresented group.” That’s why it’s crucial “to change the conversation so the de-facto image of a successful person in tech is not attached to a gender, race, or (dis)ability, but to the qualities that person exemplifies.”
“Women want an open and obvious seat at every table, and guilt-free allies at the table with them,” observes Cara Walters, Stratifyd’s marketing director. “We want to have our voices heard without having to shout. Sitting at the table should feel like a safe space rather than like women against everyone else.”