By Marsha Shapiro
Having been in technology for almost 30 years, I have the unique experience of watching my two daughters enter similar worlds today and seeing how much, if anything, has changed for women. My oldest daughter is currently in a post college training program for a major cloud infrastructure provider, where only six of the 19 participants are women. My foggy memory is that this has not changed dramatically since I attended a tech consulting program at the start of my career. This ratio is likely why my younger daughter, an engineering student, is being courted for a free weekend in Tahoe just to get her interested in applying for certain internships (the weekend is only for female engineers). So, what, if anything, is being done to encourage women to pursue technology careers today (and is it enough)?
The appeal of having women on the ‘team’ has only recently become important in the technology world. Years ago, I was attending a meeting in Green Bay and my daughter (who is a major football follower), asked if I knew that the Packers had just won a huge game. Given that I barely knew that the Packers played in Green Bay, it’s safe to say, I did not know about the game. She filled me in on the details and when I arrived for the meeting on Monday morning, she was right…first of all, the room was all male (which I was used to…even in retail technology) but second, the first 10 minutes of the meeting were spent discussing this exact game! Throughout the years I’ve been used to prepping myself for a mostly male environment.
These days, the dynamic is very different and getting more women ‘on the team’ is a key requirement for many organizations. Now I find myself more frequently invited to dinners and seminars that are ‘only women’, as well as conferences that host separate lounges for women to encourage networking. And while in the past, I often found myself to be the only woman in the room, I never really thought about the need to add more women the way recruiters, executives and team members focus on this today.
While more women are emerging in the technology field, I realize I’ve been lucky enough to never lack in finding strong female candidates. Was this due to the type of technology? Was it due to the location? Was it due to my management style and level of flexibility in the work place? My guess is all the above but given I often found candidates through ‘word of mouth’, I believe my management style was at the top of the list.
With the shift in family dynamics more females have entered the workplace but still yearn for a full family life. Given that my husband and I have raised three kids (well, almost) and, even though my husband is and always has been more than a 50% participant in household and child rearing duties, we all know there are times where one spouse must take on more. Whether a spouse is traveling or working late, week to week, households are never split 50-50. (And this is even more true for single parents.) So, as a manager, a flexible work environment is critical. I have always measured success based on results and ability to meet expectations, not visibility during a specific workday window.
I believe women might historically have strayed away from technology not because it’s hard or they are afraid of long hours. I think they stayed away from technology because they believe they want to have a challenging career that ultimately provides a certain amount of balance. Recruiting more women into technology jobs requires building (and communicating) a company culture of work/life balance.
Overall, we still struggle to get women to embrace careers in technology. While more women are earning technical degrees, more companies are creating balance while still enabling challenging work and more hiring managers are understanding the benefits of a diverse team, after 30 years, we are still not at parity. I think the key to success moving forward is not to concentrate on what divides us as men and women in the field but to focus on and celebrate what connects us within the technology community.
Marsha Shapiro | SVP Product Management
Marsha Shapiro is responsible for the strategy and design of the 4R Systems Product Suite. She has over 20 years of retail software design and implementation experience managing the entire product lifecycle using an agile framework. Marsha has held executive positions with leading software providers implementing merchandising and marketing applications at retailers and wholesalers such as Ahold, Walmart, Target, Associated Warehouse Group, Family Dollar and Belk. Read more about Marsha.