Women in Tech: barriers to inclusion
• Access to mentorship is one of the key barriers.
• Cultural expectations throw up barriers to women in tech.
• Women need access to the resources for growth and development.
In our ongoing series of interviews with women in tech about the barriers to progress they face – and how to remove them – we spoke to Jen Taylor, Chief Product Officer at Cloudflare (and formerly of Salesforce, Facebook, and Adobe). Given the extent of her career, we wondered whether she felt it had been harder to progress than it needed to be.
What do you think are the key barriers that women in tech are still facing? Have you experienced them yourself? How have they manifested in your career?
I think one of the most critical barriers for women in technology today continues to be access to mentorship. That is probably the most important thing anybody can do to build their career, find a good mentor.
Mentors and mentorship are critical in helping people understand how to learn and grow, both in general and within the tech industry. Mentors are also critical advocates, and they’re great at giving feedback, which is vital because I think we all need coaching, and advocates help us as we grow.
Another key barrier is a lot of the cultural expectations that women grow up with around their role. That’s both their own expectation, and more importantly, how others hold them in terms of expectations around family and career and the like.
But I think the other barrier is the fact that there’s not enough diversity in the workplace. That’s about appreciating that people – not just women, but people – need flexibility and creativity around how they might make life choices.
And the last critical barrier really is access to the resources they need to build the skills and the confidence they need to grow.
The slowly changing culture.
Again, a lot of this comes out of cultural norms. And I think that, over time, we’re seeing more and more women encouraged to do these things from a younger age.
If I look at the women that are in the industry today, that are younger, the encouragement that they’ve gotten, and the access they’ve gotten at a much younger age has enabled them to feel more confident building many of the skills that we come to understand and expect as women in technology.
Given access to resources and mentorhip, women are smashing barriers in the tech industry.
We’ve spoken to a few women in tech who have said very similar things about the importance of mentorship and visibility, and likewise about that differentiation between the cultural expectations and the available opportunities in what is essentially a heteronormative patriarchy.
That does seem to be changing, as you say, but it’s changing too slowly. And also that thing you mention about girls and women now being told “Go ahead, you can do this” – but then when you get into the industry, it fails to materialize.
The power of inclusion.
Yeah. It’s one thing to talk about building diverse workplaces. It’s a very different thing to talk about building inclusive workplaces.
I think we are all able to have conversations and do the math around diversity, but it is much more difficult to put your finger on the pulse of whether we’re truly inclusive, or whether we’re inviting people to really bring their whole selves to work.
Are we creating the space for them to do that? Are we celebrating and inviting those voices in? Are we creating a culture where that is expected and accountable?
I think the flip side is encouraging women to take more risks. It’s interesting – I do a lot of mentoring myself of both young women and young men from all sorts of interesting and different backgrounds.
The way that women will read a job description is “Do I have this? Do I have this? Do I have this? Do I have this…” versus men, who will just think “I think I’ll try it. I can figure it out.” It’s almost like a confidence or a self-perception thing. I’m not where that comes from.
There’s a lot of talk about that coming down to early years messaging – boys are told “You can do anything.” And of course, that’s backed up in a patriarchy with an atmosphere of entitlement.
So men will look at a job description and intrinsically assume they can do the job when they match fewer criteria, where girls don’t get that messaging so firmly, and so tend to feel they need to excel at every point on the specification before they apply.
Women in tech: inequality dissected
Yeah. And, and as much as I’d like to be “Boom, we’re done,” I think those cultural things are very difficult to change. It’s an incremental process that we’re going through.
The gradual rise of women.
If I look back on my own history, when I was very young, there were very few women in leadership that I could point to as role models, and so very few women able to offer mentorship to any of us who were coming up.
Now, there are more women in politics, more women in science, you have more role models and examples and more visibility on the art of the possible, and you have cultural conversations about the art of the possible, which I think will be a part of helping to create that change.
It’s one of those things which is difficult to tell in terms of how generalized it is across the working world. Because there are figures that say just 26% of the tech workforce as a whole is women.
Yeah. How does that compare to women in the workforce overall?
We don’t know [On subsequent investigation, Bureau of Labor statistics say women make up 56.8% of labor force participation].
I believe it’s only within the last couple decades that we’ve gotten to 50-50% of women in co-education, and a greater number of women going into the hard sciences. If I look at women in tech today as they’re growing in their careers today, I think the women I’m seeing be the most successful are the ones who are willing to take the risks and make the mistakes.
And again, that comes back to some of those cultural norms around the expectations of what “girls and women do.” What would drive women to be more than 26% of the workforce in technology? I think a lot of it is just our own conscious decision to hire more diverse perspectives.
Tying diversity into innovation.
Part of what I love about the work I get to do in tech, and specifically at Cloudflare, is that the imperative around diversity is not just around diversity, it’s deeply tied into the culture of how we think about innovation, and how we think about curiosity and different viewpoints.
I spoke a few moments ago about the importance of not just diversity, but also inclusiveness. How do you create and foster cultures that are inclusive?
There are so many different work cultures that exist today. But for me, noticing ones where people are encouraged to experiment, and where they’re rewarded for learning, is encouraging.
Cultures where you’re not at fault for mistakes, where there is a culture of mentorship, where there is a culture of all these things that I think help people grow within the workplace.
Those are the workplaces within technology where I’ve seen women be the most successful, both early in their career and then as they continue to grow.
In Part 2 of this article, we’ll focus on the power of visibility, and how to break down the barriers to authenticity in the tech workplace.
28 September 2023
28 September 2023