What does it take to be a woman in tech?

More women are learning to code. - AP Photo
More women are learning to code. - AP Photo

MOZILLA’S chief marketing officer (CMO) Lindsey Shepard thinks there are two main pieces of advice every woman in tech should bear in mind.

Don’t be afraid to talk about money and it is not one’s job to be liked once in a leadership role.

For those unfamiliar with Mozilla, the US tech organisation is known for its products such as Firefox web browser.

She made the statement during Collision’s Women in Tech X virtual one-day event on June 2. Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) was the event’s lead sponsor.

Shepard spoke in one of the event’s breakout sessions called How women will lead a Post-pandemic World. Technology website, VentureBeat reporter Manasa Goginei hosted the event.

Shepard said women in tech, and in general, should stop being afraid to talk about money and being afraid to say what they needed.

“And to recognise and demand that other people recognise your worth.

“Talk about money, it’s okay. They call it work for a reason. We’re here to get paid,” she said.

“We’re worth as much.”

She added that as women thought about leadership and got more serious in their careers, it was not their job to make people like them.

“I think women, in general, we are taught, from a very early age, that likeability is a critical path to success and that is something men aren’t taught.”

She said once a woman has the responsibility of leading a team, her job is to ensure that team’s success not to ensure that they like you.

The issue of women and girls in tech is a growing one given the covid19 pandemic and the rapid rise of digital technologies.

In commemoration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, President Paula-Mae Weekes then encouraged girls and women to pursue studies in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A February 11 Newsday article quoted Weekes as saying, “because the nation, and the world, can only benefit from the addition of the female perspective.”

A March 3 Forbes article said a recent study concluded that the gender gap for women in technology as a whole is actually worse today than it was in 1984.

Mozilla's CMO Lindsey Shepard led a breakout session at Collision's Women in Tech X. The event was held virtually on June 2. RBC was the event's lead sponsor. -

“The study, led by Accenture and Girls who Code, showed that 50 per cent of women abandon technology careers by the age of 35 and that women are leaving tech roles at a 45 per cent higher rate than men.

“Only 21 per cent of women in the study said they believed the technology industry was a place they could thrive; sadly, that number falls precipitously to eight per cent for women of colour.”

Accenture is a multinational consulting and processing company and Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organisation which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science.

The pandemic year has been difficult for everyone but has affected some more than others. The Forbes article said in August and September 2020, 865,000 women left the workforce as compared with 216,000 men.

Asked if companies had adapted their support systems for women during the pandemic year, Shepard said the last year had been really tough on women and the statistics on women leaving the workforce over the past year was “pretty nuts.”

This was a reality that could no longer be ignored. Companies’ leadership teams no longer had the luxury of putting that off to the side and pretending it does not exist.

She said for women and mums, in particular, vacation days or wellness days were not relaxing but an opportunity to maybe “get your head on straight without trying to do 16 things at once.”

At Mozilla, at the end of June, there is a week where the staff is “unplugging for a week just to give everyone a breath.”

Those accommodations are really important, Shepard said.

As much of the world reopens and childcare spaces and schools reopen, it does not mean that children do not exist anymore, she said.

“Because there is more support available to us, doesn’t mean that it is not important to accommodate those different roles that the women have in their lives.”

A March 3 Forbes article said a recent study concluded that the gender gap for women in technology as a whole is actually worse today than it was in 1984. (AP Photo) -

Shepard personally subscribes to the concept of representation when she thinks about inclusion, the gender gap, women in the workforce and how to create an inclusive environment to encourage women.

“And how representation is really one of the most critical elements when it comes to creating an inclusive environment.”

Explaining further, Shepard said a lot of times people think of a certain percentage of women needing to be in these groups.

For her, it was not about the number but what it means.

“If I am a young woman starting my career, I am not just looking for any woman to be a role model for me. I am looking for someone like me and that means a diversity of perspective. It means diversity in every single sense.

“When we look at the numbers it is important to dig into those and understand what they mean because it is those points of intersectionality that can really make a difference.”

This applied to every type of diversity be it diversity of thought, styles, communication or physicality.

“Without us really pushing to have all different types of women represented across the board, you’re not going to inspire and encourage younger women in leadership.”

She recalled reading an article which said that women who wore light make-up got more promotions than those who were fresh-faced.

This boiled down to a toxic view of what it meant for women to look a certain way.

“But when you dig a little deeper, if you’ve never had a woman in leadership who does not subscribe to conventional beauty standards, does not wear make-up and similarly one that is obsessed with make-up Tik Tok and is trying all kinds of fun, creative things, both equally capable.

“If you don’t have those things equally represented, you are really limiting your idea of women in leadership to one specific thing.”

She said women aren’t one thing but come in all shapes and sizes with different styles and approaches.

While recruiting pipelines (the parts of a company’s recruitment process) is one often talked about in tech and STEM and is real to some degree, girls lose interest in math and science around eight which is a societal issue, she said.

This starts before recruiting pipelines and so Shepard does not buy into the recruiting pipeline being the culprit of the gender gap.

“I think that there are just plenty of brilliant, talented, well-educated, capable women out there that would be really beneficial to tech companies. I think the issue is less about the pipeline and more about inclusivity.”

She added that companies can hire a lot of people but once they are there they feel awful.

“Or when they’re there, they are the only woman in a room. Or once they are there, every type of social activity is like bro culture to the max, they are not going to stick around.

Aerospace Engineer Tina Oyeniya explains the technology inside an airplane to Girls Who Code students. - via AP

“They are going to look for places where they feel more included.”

So to encourage greater women in tech “decent recruiting practices” are necessary.

She suggested companies consider blind screening and/or having a diverse panel when doing interviews.

“Figure out how to debias that process,” she said.

Going forward, as workspaces shift more to screens, Shepherd thinks companies should also normalise face mute because women’s physicality plays a “huge part” in how we are perceived in the workplace.

“Once you get your recruiting processes as debias as possible it is about thinking about inclusivity for the group of people that you actually get into the door,” she said.


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