Despite evidence revealing that gender diversity in leadership results in greater innovation and enhanced profitability, only 21 percent of tech executives are women. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Twitter have surprisingly low numbers of women in tech roles, and the numbers are even more startling when you look at the percentage of women in executive leadership roles (tech and otherwise). Less than 25 percent of leadership roles at Google, Microsoft, and Twitter are occupied by women. The underrepresentation of women in tech and leadership roles is a significant, and challenging issue throughout the United States.
As part of our Strength in Numbers and #MNGirlsDisruptTech campaigns, the team at the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing program is facilitating a community response in an effort to hurtle the barriers to gender diversity in Minnesota’s Tech industry. One of the ‘hurtle the barriers’ strategies has been the engagement of female technology leaders to share their thoughts on what Minnesota businesses can do to help pave the way for more women to become successful tech executives.
In our first interview, we spoke with Lisa Schlosser, chief technology officer and vice president of FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business — Thomson Reuters has been a MNAiC partner and event sponsor since the program launch in Minnesota in 2012.
This month, in our second Strength in Numbers feature, we speak with Anne Worrell, Division Vice President at BI WORLDWIDE (BIW).
MNAiC: Tell us a bit about your role.
AW: In my current role as Division Vice President I lead teams focused on developing and supporting technology solutions that our customers use to engage and inspire their employees, sales/channel teams, and customers. Each solution is customized to meet their given business challenge. The teams I lead consist of software engineers, project managers, creative/UX, and quality assurance.
MNAiC: What were the greatest influences on your technology career choice, and direction? If something specifically happened that triggered your career decision, what was it?
AW: Shortly after college I was in a non-technical role working with software engineers and found myself literally sitting next to them troubleshooting their code. I knew they made a lot more money than I did and weren’t any smarter than I was, so at that point I knew I needed to learn how to code and move into the technical space to make more money.
MNAiC: As a whole, women in tech in the U.S. leave the industry at a 45% higher rate than men, further reducing the potential for women to assume leadership roles within tech. What do you think are some of the unique challenges women face in this male-dominated industry?
AW: There is a lot of male camaraderie and club atmosphere that exists among developers. I think it’s difficult for woman to break into some of the cliques and become part of the group. I experienced this myself when I was a developer. While they were friendly to me I always felt that they shared their learnings, things they’ve recently read, examples of “cool” stuff with each other much more easily.
MNAiC: Have you ever had to overcome (or help other women overcome) these challenges? If so, what did you do?
AW: One of the things I did was work hard to evolve my skillsets to other technologies. Also, I put a focus on the business side of the technology space and focused on moving out of a coding role. I knew I was interested in leadership roles so I went for those opportunities whenever they came up. The other thing I did was ask questions. I also aligned myself with people who were willing to answer my questions.
MNAiC: What do you think are 3 things MN Businesses can do to help remove these barriers in order to promote and retain more women leaders in technology?
AW: It’s important that companies focus on creating an environment where collaboration and sharing is a key part of the culture. Get people out from their workstations and have them interact. I think the Agile development approach helps with this with the daily stand-ups. Also, companies need to highlight the successes of the women (and men) on the development teams. Growing a culture of inclusion and shared successes organically rather than forced, will go a long way.
MNAiC: What barriers do you think are most challenging to address and why?
AW: I think the inclusion into the clique is the biggest barrier. When we have the Vice President of the United States say that he won’t have dinner with a woman who is not his wife makes it very difficult for us women in a field that is dominated by men. A male colleague will easily ask another male if he wants to grab dinner, or a beer, after work and talk technology, but in most cases will not ask a woman.
MNAiC:What can young aspiring women technologists do today to prepare themselves for a future career in leadership?
AW: Get involved in leadership roles outside of the workplace…team sports, volunteer, board associations. Also, raise your hand at work for special assignments, even activities outside your immediate team or department. And, if you are not comfortable speaking in front of people, definitely take a public speaking class.
MNAiC: Why do you think it’s important to move toward more gender consciousness in tech leadership?
AW: Technology is a solid field with a ton of different opportunities. A career in technology for a woman allows her to be independent and offers her more choices in her life. Also, with the technology trends of AR, IoT, Smart Home Technology, Automation, etc. it’s critical that we have the female perspective on usability, functionality, and influence that is different than our male counterparts.
MNAiC: What advice would you give to women who aspire to advance their career in tech?
AW: Don’t be intimidated by how many men you will be working with. Many times you will be the only woman in a meeting. Speak up, don’t second guess yourself, remember that much of what is being said by others isn’t right and many times it is only their opinion. And, let it be known to your boss that you want to advance your career in technology. Seek out learning opportunities. If your company doesn’t offer much, then find something and put together a recommendation and present it to your boss. The worse that can happen is that you are told no. My favorite phrase is “it never hurts to ask!”
About BI WORLDWIDE (BIW)
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About Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC)
MNAiC collaborates with businesses, organizations and schools to inspire and empower young women in high school to become our next, best Minnesota technology talent. Want to get engaged with the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing program? To learn how your organization can support the computing interests of young women in Minnesota and lead the movement to disrupt gender equality in tech, contact Russell Fraenkel, Director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships, Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence, at email@example.com or call (612) 659-7224.