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How Women Are Helping Women Find Success in Technology

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Freeman

Female industry leaders share insights and data on transforming the tech world for the better

In an era where most aspects of daily lives have been digitized, nearly every company has become a technology company. Few industries today aren’t powered by technology — including traditional brand experiences, which are increasingly driven by amazing digital innovations.

As a result, companies are ravenous for top technology talent. For people looking to make a mark with their careers, the opportunities to learn, grow, and advance are enormous.

Women in technology have a history of being exceptional, from Margaret Hamilton’s mind-boggling handwritten code for NASA to Grace Hopper’s development of COBOL. And yet, the industry has not always embraced women with the support and recognition they deserve.

Women leave the tech industry at a 45 percent higher rate than men. Women occupy 41 percent of entry-level science positions, but a meager five percent of leadership positions. These numbers represent a massive loss — both to the individuals who leave and for those who aren’t being promoted.

If every company nowadays is truly a technology company, this status quo must change. But to find the right answers, companies must be willing to ask the right questions.

One thing I always tell young girls: Never let anybody tell you you can’t do it.

Michelle Haupt

Operations Engineer, NASA

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How do women get into technology fields?

According to Girls Who Code, about 74 percent of young girls express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Although, by the time those young girls get through college, something has changed. Only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degrees are earned by women.

What happens to the girls’ interest in STEM? Do they decide to follow friends into another field? Are they pressured to pick a more stereotypical feminine career path?

Or do they end up taking a less direct route to a technology position? Only 27 percent of college graduates work in fields not related to their degree.

Danielle Puceta, vice president of digital products at Freeman, talks about her meandering path into tech. “The journey is part of the process. I've moved around a lot, and it’s not the most linear path. I think that sometimes this causes a little tension as you’re going there. I'd tell my 20-year-old self to calm down; it'll be alright.”

However women get into tech, most enjoy it once they get there. 80 percent of women in science, engineering, and technology report loving what they do.

How can women help influence a more supportive culture?

One of the best ways women can support other women is to proactively seek out mentorship roles. In a year-long study, female engineering undergraduates who were paired with a female mentor felt “more motivated, more self-assured, and less anxious” than those without a female mentor.

Elizabeth Poston, senior director of business development at Helios Interactive, a Freeman company, has taken advantage of this in her own career. “With a woman mentor,” she says, “You can ask things like, ‘How did you make a lateral move within this company? How did you take your experience and leverage it into this promotion or C-level status?’ These are questions we’re not always given the opportunity to ask.”

Michelle Johnson, Freeman senior vice president and chief information officer, makes mentorship a central part of her leadership style. “The people in my department know that my door is always open. They see me and have opportunities to interact with me on a daily basis. They always have access to me.”

This approach has a profound impact that radiates throughout the company. “Michelle’s open-door policy has led to some great conversations,” says Sonia Barreau, director of digital product marketing at Freeman. “But even more than that, it’s the example she sets — the way she carries herself with confidence, her presence in a meeting, all of it. She’s impacting people even if they don’t directly report to her.”

Sometimes the best mentorship is to simply set the right example for others to follow. This can be the spark needed to shift expectations and spark a more open and balanced culture.

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How can women be proactive with their own careers?

Jennifer Jobin, former senior director of partner strategy at Microsoft, believes women need to understand what’s important to them and take charge of their own career path.  

“I’m very upfront with my employer that I won’t be gone on my kids’ birthdays,” she explains. “And I will never miss an anniversary with my husband. My employer knows that if I give in on my non-negotiables, I won’t be happy as a person and I won’t be successful at this company. But if they can respect this, I will be a much better employee for them.”

Visibility is also key, says Puceta. “In my experience, career development and promotion opportunities depend on your level of exposure inside a company — whether that’s because you happened to be on the right project, or you happened to be called upon to present on something important,” she states. “Sometimes, it’s just being aware of when those moments happen, and then things develop from there.”

As women see more women advocate for themselves, step by step, change can and will happen. And as it does, companies open themselves up to even greater benefits.

This is a journey all companies must take.

Johnson believes companies have no choice but to acknowledge the issue and continue to push for improvement.

After all, she says, “It’s simply part of who we are now going forward.”

To hear more from Jennifer, Elizabeth, Danielle, and Michelle, watch the recording of their live panel discussion, “Women in Technology: Making a Difference.”

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