Women in tech: developing empathy and intent for change
Women in tech face an uphill battle, both in terms of entry to the industry (women make up just 27% of the tech workforce), and developing a long-term career (50% of women in tech leave the industry before they reach the age of 35).
While we had Amanda in the chair, we asked her about other ways that businesses could take some of the unnecessary challenge out of being a woman in tech.
Women in tech: inequality dissected
You mentioned in Part 1 that there needs to be greater flexibility in tech, to allow women to establish a work-life balance that lets them stay in their careers. For those who leave to start families or provide care to relatives, should there be stronger mechanisms that make it easier to come back?
The cost of returning.
Yes. I had three children very young, and my daycare cost me almost $500 a week, which was more than I made at the time. So things like that don’t encourage women to return to the industry. I made the decision that I was investing in the future and that hopefully, at some point in time, it would pay off, but man, it was absolutely exhausting. And it was expensive.
So when companies want to bring women back into the workforce, there needs to be a really good reason to make women jump back in. A lot of times, it’s really capable, really intelligent women who leave the workforce, and what companies are essentially saying is “I want you to sign up for more stress, I want you to sign up for more expense, because you’re going to have to pay something in order to come work for me. But I want you to do it for less money and less title than you were making before you left.” It’s just really hard to encourage people to do that.
As an equation, that makes no sense at all, irrespective of sex and gender. Something needs to change in order to make sure there are women at a higher level, so that there are people to mentor and sponsor the next generation. The question is what can be done?
New, advanced options.
Well for instance, in my team at Bloomreach, when someone goes out on maternity leave, we encourage them to come back part-time. So when you are ready to come back, don’t come back full-time. And let’s check in, let’s have multiple calls, because as a mom and a working woman, I understand this plight very well.
So we go through a process and what happens every single time is they say to me, “I didn’t realize how mentally exhausting this would be,” because so much of your effort and focus is on your baby for such a long time, and then you come back and you’re expecting yourself to work at the same pace that you were doing before, without realizing you don’t have the energy to bring to the table that you had before.
We go through this balancing system of “What does your life look like now? What is your work-life balance compared to what it was before?”
And then if you need to travel for work, for a conference or something, we allow you to bring your baby and bring a caregiver with you. And we’ll cover that at the company’s expense so that you’re not having to choose between caring for your family and excelling in your career. And I think the more ways that companies can think of to make it easier, not just for women, but for any anybody, to do what they need to do at home, while still being productive in their careers, the more likely they are to attract great people.
So companies need to have that intention of focus to say “We need to think about this for the future of the organization, we need to plan for it and cost it, and these principles of inclusion and equality and balance need to be in the bones of the company.”
Exactly. You’re exactly right. They’ve got to think about it and be intentional. Exactly.
Imposter syndrome and the importance of empathy.
Let’s talk about impostor syndrome, because that seems to be a fundamental braking factor on the careers of women in tech.
This goes back to what I said in Part 1, when you’re the only one in the room, it’s really hard. If you’re in a team with people who can empathize with you, being vulnerable and authentic is a lot easier.
So, for instance, in a roomful of women, I can call and say “I’ve got a period headache, or a period migraine, I need to take the day off.” And in that circumstance, I’m confident of their empathy.
If I say that in a room of men, there’s zero chance that the empathy, the understanding, and the lack of judgment will be at the same level. Usually, you get “Please stop talking about this. I never want to hear it again. Like why are you saying that?”
I know that that’s a very specific example, but if you take standard imposter syndrome, and then add the insecurities that women typically have about the way they look, the way they sound, the impression they’re making, whether they understand the data well enough, did these guys all go out and golf with each other last night and I wasn’t invited… and then you add in insecurities around these biological things which a roomful of women would understand and empathize with, it all becomes massively magnified.
I think all those things are huge contributors to why women struggle with impostor syndrome. And they’re less comfortable talking about it than guys are, so I try to talk about it a lot, to provide an environment where people can feel that there’s empathy for the shortcomings they see in themselves.
In Part 3, we’ll delve deeper into the architecture of imposter syndrome as it affects women in tech – and explore some more ways it can be dismantled on the way to a more equal future.
28 November 2023
27 November 2023
27 November 2023