March 22, 2022
What Is the Workplace Like for Women in IT? Women in Tech Reflect on Their Experience.
For the past two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to work for OST, an IT services and digital consultancy based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked women at OST to share their responses to the following prompt:
“What is the one thing you wish more people knew about your experience as a woman in the tech field or at a tech company?”
Many of the women who responded echoed what a new study confirmed: women in technology careers face challenges every day. According to WeAreTechWomen, one in five women in tech are thinking about leaving their jobs. Fifty-two percent of women who participated in the study feel their gender limited their career in tech. Only a third of women surveyed said that support is in place to ensure they develop the right skills for promotion.
What’s more, according to Gallup, burnout has increased among women since the pandemic set in. Women’s burnout increased four points to 34% in 2020 and remained at that level in 2021, while burnout among men has declined and remained below 2019 levels.
Read on to discover candid perspectives from women in departments across OST — and how OST is actively working to make the tech industry a more welcoming and inclusive place for women.
Lisa Jilek, VP of Sales and Marketing
Women in tech are underrepresented in almost all roles. In attending industry conferences, company events and partner meetings, it is especially noticeable how often the speakers or panels on stage are all men. I think it is increasingly important to have women present in those places and influencing thought leadership because it paves the way to lift other women’s voices. My experience has been that, while I’m not personally a technologist, speaking up about the importance of how and where technology and business intersect is critical as a leader at a technology consulting company and as a #womanintech.
Amanda Malaric, Technical Partner Manager
I wish more people knew how rewarding it is to be in the technology industry. I get to be a part of solutions that people use every single day, solutions that create communities and bring families closer.
Not only have I expanded my cloud development abilities, but I’ve learned valuable life lessons while working at OST. I have learned how to speak up and voice my unique opinion and viewpoint, which is invaluable because software touches a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds as well as genders and sexual orientations.
However, being in this industry sometimes means we have to deal with the occasional unwanted compliment, the challenging of your technical credibility and “glue” work (aka meaningful but less promotable work that falls outside of everyday technical tasks).
Being a representative of and contributor to one of the more underdeveloped subcategories in tech is truly an honor.
Jen Nowlin, Business Line Leader, Connected Products
Challenge directly all those around you. Test your challenges in everyday conversations, and then iterate and learn from how people respond. Link the impact of your challenges to strategic outcomes so that everyone feels they have a part in achieving success. Tech is a place where I have found that challenging directly creates an environment of confidence where people of any gender can be a part of shared success, every day, in their own way.
Preferentially Anonymous, Sales Operations
I wish there was just one thing I could point to; women’s experience in tech is a systemic problem. Although I have not experienced any issues at OST, I have struggled with things in other roles.
Technology and our industry experience ongoing and rapid change. Dealing with change effectively requires a certain amount of assertiveness. However, when women are perceived as being too assertive (and trust me, there’s not a lot of wiggle room), we’re viewed as less competent and “bitchy.” But if we’re not assertive enough, we can get stuck in entry-level positions, which are often low pay with the least amount of flexibility, and thus the cycle continues.
At other organizations I’ve worked, leadership has tended to promote people they like and trust. To gain trust, you would often need to socialize outside of the office. Not only were these events after hours, but they also included added risk factors. In situations like these, women are forced to decide if they should spend their personal and family time with male colleagues, typically at night, at a bar or restaurant and in the presence of alcohol.
In addition, women face a variety of microaggressions, especially in the tech industry. For example:
- I have felt obligated to end every sentence with an exclamation point so I wouldn’t be perceived as rude or unfriendly in email communications.
- I have been touched and even harassed by men at IT conferences where I was supposed to be networking to grow my skill set and my career.
- I have never felt flattered when men have said things like, “Wow! You’re more technical than I thought.”
- I have had my highly informed and backed-by-experience instructions and ideas constantly second-guessed.
Amy Richards, Enterprise Sales Executive
My experience as a woman in tech hasn’t been any different than the other industries I’ve worked in; it’s been amazing! Being in sales my whole professional career may be a reason — there are a lot of strong and influential women in that field, and many of them were our top salespeople. I’ve always felt heard and respected by my colleagues. My advice: surround yourself with people who empower you, inspire you and challenge you to be a better you!
Tabitha Rivera, Delivery Lead
We are effecting change, one bit and one byte at a time every day.
There are pages and pages of studies and statistics about women in the technology field, but they all say the same thing. The U.S. tech sector is dominated by men. Therefore, being part of the minority in this field is essential to me. I am proud to be a woman in S.T.E.M. I started my journey out of curiosity as a user of an ERP system, but my journey has evolved to be a STEM role model for my daughter, who is now in the IT field in the Army (says mom beaming proudly).
However, women in tech are not just role models for other women. They are role models for the men they work with in this field. The women working in the trenches of STEM are changing how the men in this space see us, work with us and ultimately teach their children.
Bailey Schutter, Delivery Lead
In some ways, I think it is easier for me being in a non-developer role because I am not expected to have the same depth of IoT knowledge as the rest of the team. That being said, it’s impossible to ignore the gender imbalance in the tech field. In one of the few cases where I worked consistently with a developer who is a woman, I found her to be less confident in her abilities than her male peers. I was sensitive to that because I know what that feels like, subconsciously doubting yourself because you know you aren’t the “standard.” Even though everyone on the team got along well, there was still an underlying feeling like she didn’t belong. I wish there would have been more women on the team then and more diversity in the technology field in general so that people of other genders, races and cultures won’t feel like such outliers.
Dawn Simpson, Sr. Technology Consultant
Women in IT face the challenge of being taken seriously. These biases contribute to a negative perception of women’s competencies and capabilities, which ultimately suppress innovation and progress.
My first experience with computer science in college was horrible. Thankfully, I had a coworker at the time who was a computer science major. She helped me muddle my way through the BASIC programming language to pass an obligatory computer class so I could graduate. I caught up with her recently. She has had an illustrious career in the tech industry. Currently she’s a director working with NASA and DoD Labs for her employer.
Being a woman in the tech field can be a little like walking into a game of “which one of these doesn’t belong?” Especially in the early days of my tech career, I found myself repeatedly the only woman in a room full (or even conference center full) of men. One of my bosses even dubbed me “a guys’ gal,” meaning, in the most endearing way, that I could hold my own. I would often joke and call myself “the token chick in the room.” This industry in particular is ruled by the other sex – not in a patriarchal way, mind you, but definitely by the numbers.
A common hypothesis to explain the reason for the inequity is the lack of role models in our industry, caused in part by unconscious bias. Whether conscious or not, I chose to ignore the “unconscious bias.” I didn’t choose the tech industry. It chose me. I am grateful that it did because there were few women in the field when I started. Indeed, of the female role models I encountered throughout my years in this industry, many embodied what most would call an edge of masculinity. Not in looks, but certainly in demeanor. They held to the stereotype of being ruthless or tough minded. In short, they weren’t the nurturing type. They shaped my early perceptions of who I needed to be in this industry.
Despite the behavior of my role models, I didn’t feel a need to follow in their footsteps. And I can honestly say I also shirked the idea that a glass ceiling or some unseen barrier was blocking where I could go in my career. I might have played the game at times, but I think in many ways my gender helped me. I have seen how other women have perceived the industry and shied away from it. I wouldn’t classify myself as a poster woman for the technology industry, but I’d like to think in a very small way I shaped a mind or two. Even today, when I am talking to young women, I am proud to call myself a geek. I wouldn’t wish to change my experience – after all, it is what makes me who I am today. What I wish is that gender was not a concern and that people would be curious enough to explore any field – especially technology.
OST: Celebrating and Supporting Women in Tech
At OST, we recognize that women’s experience in the technology industry is different and even challenging. For that reason, we celebrate and support women in a variety of ways as a leader in the industry.
OST makes a conscious effort to support and grow the next generation of women in IT. Some of these efforts are a long game, one that we may not even benefit from. For example, supporting programs for 5th– and 6th-grade girls now won’t see an increase in women in IT for 10 years. But each girl that we can keep interested in STEM-related topics at a younger age is a step further than we were a generation ago. Some examples of our support in this area include:
- Financial and volunteer support for the Girls Who Code organization in Michigan, Technovation[MN] in Minnesota and STEM programs and robotics teams in our local communities.
- We also sponsor registrations for young women interested in technology-focused summer camps and local women in IT leadership groups such as Women Leading in Technology (WLiT) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
We also strive to foster an environment for women at OST that focuses on collaboration and lifting each other up so that we can actively work against the typical stereotype of pitting women against each other in the race to the top. In addition to sponsoring in-house employee resource groups (ERGs) and offering unique professional growth opportunities for women in our company, OST also regularly hosts Women in IT roundtables focused on building a community of women in technology throughout the country.
Podcast Episode 15: Women in Leadership Panel at Twin Cities Startup Week
OST is also led by President and CEO Meredith Bronk. Meredith is regularly recognized for her outstanding contributions to the community and for her leadership. For example, she has been named multiple times to the 50 Most Influential Women in Grand Rapids list.
But we also know that we have opportunities to grow and create a more equitable experience at our company. We can’t do that if we don’t have strong women candidly calling out where they have been frustrated, what challenges they face or why they have explored other career paths. And we can’t do that if everyone isn’t on board with making OST a more inclusive space. This is why our first and most important value is to honor employees and their families first. And we are glad to use our platforms to shine some light on real issues and give the women of OST a chance to share their stories.