Today is International Women’s Day and in honor of that, we are speaking about the state of women in the tech industry and the many challenges they still face when pursuing a career in tech.
Weighing in on the topic are three women from across the industry: Amy Thibodeau, the director of UX for app and partner platform at Shopify, Shefali Shah, the senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Avaya, and Marcia Sequeira, the Canadian country manager for Trend Micro.
Our panel of accomplished women answered our questions about their journeys and how they see the issue of diversity in the IT in the tech industry:
What do you see as the major roadblocks that make the tech industry less accessible for women than their male counterparts?
Thibodeau: “I think that the major roadblock that I have seen is that there are not very many female role models in leadership roles in tech. When you don’t see people that look like you working in an industry it is really hard to imagine yourself there.”
Shah: “There are a number of factors that likely contribute to the relatively low representation of women in technology, including gender stereotypes, limited pipeline or talent pool, the impact of unconscious biases in making certain employment decisions (hiring, promoting, pay) or work culture challenges. Technology companies – like all other businesses – benefit from diversity as it drives profitability and value creation. So for technology companies, in particular, diversity drives innovation, which is at the core of every technology company. So it is critical that we overcome the roadblocks.”
Sequeira: “A major impediment that still exists for women is the lack of equal opportunities in the workforce. Tech, finance, science, and engineering, for example, are all predominantly male-driven industries. To counteract this, we must work with women and nurture their talents. The workforce can benefit from strong female leadership and it’s up to all of us already in these industries to help women get to that place.”
What obstacles that existed in the past do you believe have since been overcome?
Thibodeau: “There is no longer a sense that if a child is born that the woman needs to be the primary caregiver. Having these kinds of equitable policies (paternity leave) paves the way for women to lean into their career as much as men do as there is no longer this expectation that women have to make a choice between career or having a family.
We have a lot of work flexibility. I can work from home if I need to. My hours of work are really flexible. Basically, if I have access to a laptop and the internet, I can connect to meetings and I can get my work done.”
Shah: “When describing any challenge on a global scale, it is difficult to suggest that it has been eliminated. Don’t get me wrong, there have been great strides through enhanced awareness, targeted outreach earlier in the education pipeline, organized support and mentoring groups, and corporate initiatives. For organizations, creating a diverse and inclusive environment is an ongoing journey driven by societal and competitive motives and requires continuous, courageous and often bold action.”
Sequeira: “Right now, 51 per cent of women hold graduate degrees compared to 45 per cent of men and currently women account for 11 per cent of the cyber security workforce globally. This is a big step towards closing the gender gap and I think it’s worth recognizing. We’ve come a long way but there is still work to be done. It’s also very encouraging to know that Trend Micro is led by a strong female leader. Eva Chen is co-founder and CEO of the company and a huge advocate for women in tech. She is helping other women develop the skills to join the industry and credits the women before her with helping forge her path in tech.”
What is your organization doing to help bridge that gap and bring women into the tech industry?
Thibodeau: “The thing that is really meaningful for me about Shopify is it is something we care about, that we talk about, and we are intentional about. We also really value women’s voices here and we look for opportunities to support women to elevate their voices. What we do is we have some internal support for people who want to speak externally at conferences. We have some support in place so we can build their confidence and give them that platform. And of course, the more women that have that platform, the more women who will see them and the more women will feel that tech is the place for them. We also have a women’s employee resource group. This group partners with the organization to help create a work environment where women are supported to achieving their full potential.”
Shah: “We have a number of programs and initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, to recognize and reduce unconscious bias, and to bring more women into our industry and our company. Additionally, in support of girls who may have been denied an education because of who they are and where they’re born, Avaya launched last year its Devices for Diversity campaign to support our ongoing partnership with Save the Children. For every one of our multimedia devices sold during the program, a contribution was made to girls educational programming. Through this initiative, every dollar donated helped educate girls who may not otherwise have the chance to learn—changing the course of their lives, their children’s lives, and the future of their communities. Hopefully, many of these girls can pursue opportunities in tech.”
Sequeira: “At Trend Micro, we believe that women and a diverse workforce are the future of cyber security. We know that diversity is the key to innovation and advancements needed to protect the world from the rapid increase of cyber threats.
Women account for only 11 per cent of the cybersecurity workforce globally. In Canada, we’re doing our part to increase this number by tailoring our approach to recruitment. We’ve developed an “outside of the box” hiring method which includes:
- Identifying women-only networking and recruiting events
- Trend sponsors cybersecurity-themed networking and recruiting events like WomenHack
- Focusing on women with transferrable skills
- Hiring people that fit Trend’s culture and training for job-specific technical skills, giving opportunity to women who have the potential to grow into their roles in sales/tech
Trend Micro recognizes that there’s a lot more that can be done. Currently, in the Ottawa office, women make up 31 per cent of the workplace, which we’re really proud of. We grew this number by three per cent in the last year and plan to grow even more this year with some exciting new developments in 2019.”
What advice would you give to women looking to enter the tech industry or who are already in the industry and are looking to advance their careers:
Thibodeau: “The number one thing that I would tell women is to say yes to opportunities that are presented to you, even if you are worried that you are not 100% qualified for them. The truth of the matter is that no one is completely qualified for anything until they do it. We need to say yes to these opportunities and not select ourselves out if we don’t tick every box. Even if you are not qualified, it doesn’t mean that you have to pretend that you are, it doesn’t mean you have to pretend you have all the answers. When I moved into this role I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge. And when I said yes I was really honest about where my gaps were and every time I have done that people rush in to fill those gaps for me and support me. I honestly feel like I have learned so so much and have had incredible opportunities because I said yes to something that felt like a stretch. If you are excited about the opportunity you will learn what you need to learn. Say yes. Meet the opportunity and people will be there to support you and encourage you.”
Shah: “I encourage everyone – regardless of gender – to pursue their dreams and to balance having the confidence in themselves and the humility to benefit from coaching, mentoring and advice from those around and those who have come before. Some of these need to be sought out proactively and some are bestowed upon us. Leverage them all. As I noted, we benefit from those who have come before us and, as I ask that everyone, regardless of gender, facilitate our global progress on the journey. Let’s move it forward together.”
Sequeira: “Being confident and assertive has worked well for me in my career. I believe these are two of the most important qualities for women need to adopt as they enter the workforce, whether it be tech or another field. Women tend to second guess themselves a lot, and much more than men do. We need to stop this and know that we deserve to be here too. A tip for women to help them forge their own path in tech would be to always come prepared and know where your strengths lie. In tech, there are a lot of different components and we don’t expect everyone to know everything. It’s important for women to recognize what they bring to the table and what they can seek out from others, whether that means bringing a specialist along with them or meeting ahead of time to learn more.”
What is your organization doing to celebrate International Women’s Day?
Thibodeau: “We are highlighting the stories of women business owners across the world. Many of the entrepreneurs who use Shopify are women. So Shopify Studios is going to be curating an International Women’s Day playlist; pulling together stories of women across industries who are changing commerce. Later on this month we are hosting an event for business owners called Shop Class Sessions which is going to feature an all-women panel of Shopify merchants and partners who are going to talk about economic independence through entrepreneurship.”
Shah: “In addition to launching the Avaya for Communities program, for International Women’s Day and indeed not just one day, but throughout the month of March, we are promoting the contributions of women both within the company, as well as to the world in our blogs, social media, and outreach. We are publishing blogs from Avaya women patent holders and inventors and contributors in a variety of functions, for example, to promote women in STEM. We are sharing stories internally to highlight the achievements of women in technology, and again, we are proud to implement the Avaya for Communities program to make a difference for female entrepreneurs and future business leaders.”
Sequeira: “Those in the Ottawa office have already started celebrating International Women’s Day by joining Carleton University this past week for their Breakthrough Breakfast. The breakfast brings together female students, alumni and industry leaders, all to connect with one another and offer advice and support. Women from the R&D team at Trend Micro had the opportunity to attend the event and meet some incredibly talented young women.
This Friday, we’ll host a virtual Town Hall bringing together all Trend employees across Canada to shine a spotlight on how Trend Micro is helping to close the gender gap. We’ll share recruitment stats and discuss ways we’ll be elevating our efforts in 2019.
At the Ottawa office, we have a ‘Board of Accomplishment.’ Women employees are encouraged to post accomplishments like proudest career moment, personal accomplishments, tips for success, etc. Men are also encouraged to get involved by recognizing their fellow women colleagues and can nominate them for the board.
We’ll be highlighting the board on Friday through our social channels and recognizing some of our amazing women employees during the Town Hall.”