Women in Technology: Closing the Gender Gap, Creating Diversity
Since its inception in 1909, International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year on March 8th. It is a day to remember the movement for promoting equal rights, especially women’s right to vote.
While attending a handful of events in 2018, I definitely couldn’t help but notice the lack of women in attendance representing the technology industry, and it seems my observations were correct. According to PwC, only 5% of women in technology are in leadership roles, and only 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice.
With a desire to take a more in-depth look into this gender gap, I reached out to two women who were top-of-mind as leaders in their fields, and who consistently push for diversity and inclusion for women, both within each of their respective companies, and the tech industry in general. We are proud to welcome Paige O’Neill, CMO at Sitecore, and Allison Abraham Simpkins, SVP, North America at Valtech, for an exclusive interview to gain their insights on this thought-provoking issue.
Paige O’Neill, CMO at Sitecore
Not only was Paige named one of the top 20 female marketers in the tech sector by B2B Marketing LLC this month, but she is also part of the Women of Sitecore initiative which focuses on building diversity and inclusion in the tech community. This comprehensive community provides the opportunity for women to come together, to share their ideas, to support one another, and to encourage each other within the tech and innovation ecosystem by sharing personal experiences, challenges, and triumphs.
As a conversant member of the #womenofsitecore movement, I invited Paige to share what she feels are some of the common barriers that women in tech are encountering as they’re ascending the corporate ladder, especially given her experience in reaching the C-suite level.
“Prior to Sitecore, I was often the only woman in the C-suite or on my leadership team and would regularly find myself without a strong female role model at work. For women, being surrounded by male leaders can make it difficult to find your own authentic leadership style and voice— instead, we simply emulate our male managers. I’ve talked to many women who have found themselves adopting a more aggressive style to fit into a male-centric workplace, or who feel like they are not truly heard when they speak up to share ideas because they are not speaking the same leadership language as male peers. Unfortunately, the underrepresentation of women in tech often fuels double standards that cause us to change our behavior in ways we would not otherwise choose.”
Creating diversity within the workplace is no doubt the first way we can avoid creating a gender gap, so I asked Paige what else organizations can do to prevent establishing that gender gap?
“Achieving gender equality in the workplace takes top-to-bottom commitment from the company; it’s so much more than just a human resources problem. The first step is to benchmark and be transparent about where the company is at present, and then set specific, measurable goals and hold managers accountable. At Sitecore, our CEO made a small but impactful change where he mandated to recruiters that he wanted to see an equal number of female and male resumes for open positions. As a result, Sitecore has hired four C-level women to the management team over a one-year period. From a bottom-up perspective, companies need to foster dialogue about why diversity is important (diverse companies achieve stronger business results…your customers are a diverse group of people…and so on) and commit to the ongoing education of all employees, through consistent training and education.”
Any form of gender stereotyping can put a negative spin on women who exhibit a higher level of ambition and a desire to be heard from more than most. Thus, my last question was to seek Paige’s advice to women in technology who could be facing those challenges now or in the future.
“Don’t let stereotypes stop you from speaking up to ask for what you want for your career. Studies show that qualified women often hesitate to articulate ambition or put themselves forward for a job or promotion because they doubt their qualifications, whereas less qualified men are more likely to speak up and ask.
In many cases, we’ve been made to believe that if we work hard, someone will notice us and select us for an exciting opportunity, but I know from personal experience that making your career ambitions known truly pays dividends. At each stage of my career, I’ve explicitly asked for what I wanted—be it a promotion, a new job, or a new assignment. I always had a twinge as to whether I could really be successful or not, but I pushed through and did it anyway.”
Allison Abraham Simpkins, SVP North America, Valtech
I was fortunate to meet Allison at Sitecore Symposium this past year. There was lots of buzz surrounding a particular session at Symposium called “Women in Digital Marketing and Technology”, a luncheon which focused on increasing awareness on the participation and leadership of women in the technology industry. The luncheon began with a session where speaker, Jodi Kovitz, CEO and Founder of #movethedial, took the stage. #movethedial is a global movement dedicated to advancing the participation and leadership of all women in technology.
Allison has become heavily invested in the #movethedial global movement, so I asked her to open up to me about the campaign, what has been the best part for her, and how women like her can become a part of the organization.
“I am thoroughly invested in #movethedial—I don’t think I have been this passionate about an organization in a long time. Meeting Jodi Kovitz, who is behind the movement, was an eye-opening learning experience for me about the impact we can make. If anyone is going to #movethedial, it is Jodi, who is truly an inspiring leader building a community that is about making positive change to our world. She is the heart behind the organization, surrounded by so many wonderful founding partners, team members, and champions. I believe in her, and I am truly grateful that I can call her a dear friend.
The best part about being involved with #movethedial is the connections I have been able to forge, the positive changes I have been able to make within Valtech, and being able to introduce it to so many other women that have truly been changed by their involvement. Jodi speaks all the time about how the efforts each and every one of us make do not have to be big grandiose ones, but small steps taken by companies and individuals who GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to help create awareness, inspire and empower others.
If anyone is interested in learning more or getting involved with #movethedial, I highly recommend attending one of their next events which are all over North America and turning global. The #movethedial events are designed to connect, inspire, and empower women AND men, and I hope by attending #movethedial, it can help another individual like myself get involved in ensuring our next generation of female leaders are not having this conversation ten years from now.”
Working for an agency means you’re continuously targeting business opportunities, going through lengthy bidding processes, and positioning yourself in a space where you showcase a certain level of ambition that women can sometimes be faulted for under an invalid gender stereotype. I wanted to hear how Allison maintains herself in that sort of environment as a woman in technology?
“I remember earlier in my career someone calling me ‘The Iron Lady’ and I took real offense to it. It made me upset that because I was being ‘ambitious’ or was strong-willed on a subject or direction I was being called such a term. It remains true to this day that a too ambitious woman will get labeled quicker than her male counterpart. Look at Serena Williams “Too mean if I don’t smile. Too black for my tennis whites. Too motivated for motherhood”. And yet as she so eloquently put it: ‘… I am proving, time and time again, there’s no wrong way to be a woman.’”
Being in the tech industry for over two decades, the reality is most times, I am the only woman in the room. Just last month, I was at an event abroad, and I was the only woman in an Executive Boardroom with 30 men. I believe that holding my own is about being authentic and confident about who I am. To me, it is important to be considerate, respectful, and kind in whatever conversation or agenda I am pushing. I think there is real hidden power in these traits. While I may push hard on a belief, I will always do it in a way that is fair and collaborative. I think these values provide a deep, unshakable confidence that allows me to succeed in that room of 30 men.”
Lastly, as a woman in technology myself, I wanted to know why it’s vital for us to be a part of the tech industry and the advice she has to women who are struggling to find their voice in the industry.
“It is really important to bring all voices to the table. Technology is everywhere, in every industry; everything we do in the business world and entangled in everything our next generation is involved in. Bringing more women into technology allows us to ensure that we have diversity. Diversity brings alternate, unique experiences and perspectives that enable better problem-solving, contribute to stronger operational efficiency and organizational performance. As a great example, statistically, if 82% of the purchasing power is held by women, but women do not make-up even 50% of the boardrooms, how can companies build exceptional customer experiences without these perspectives at the decision-making table? Multiple studies indicate that companies who embrace gender diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business strategically outperform their competitors.
My advice to women struggling to find their voice in the industry is—be authentic. When you are not being true to yourself, it’s impossible to feel confident in your own skin. Pretending to be something that you are not makes it impossible to live up to your full potential. True success comes when you do work that aligns with your talents, values, and passion. Bring your superpowers to the table and use them to launch your career. Many traits that we as women possess such as empathy, kindness, and compassion are undervalued in the business world. The myth is that you need to be ruthless in order to succeed in business. This is just untrue. The strength of kindness coupled with work ethic & ambition; any woman can be unstoppable.”
As I was writing this article, I came across a recent study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research which found that women are “at the highest risk” of losing their jobs to automation.
The report found that the technological change will affect men and women differently: “This study finds that discussions about technological change and the future of work must include gender as part of the analysis. That’s because the jobs most commonly held by women—cashiers, secretaries, and bookkeeping clerks, for example—face some of the highest risks of becoming automated in the future. And while men are not immune to the risks of technological change, women are even more likely to work in jobs where technology and automation threaten to displace them.”
What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear from you and possibly do a Part 2 of a series to dive further into this discussion! Comment on this post on our LinkedIn page and let me know!