Tech Leaders Share Insights on the Strengths of Women in Tech

March 8, 2022

Tech Leaders Share Insights on the Strengths of Women in Tech

This week, Clariti’s ED&I committee hosted a Women in Tech panel discussion around Women’s History Month. In planning for the event, we had the pleasure of meeting with 6 accomplished women who, collectively, have over 100 years of experience working in tech. As soon as we began chatting, our commonalities became obvious; though our career paths had gone in different directions, I realized how much of my own experience related to theirs, and that other women with diverse experiences would likely relate to their reflections as well.

On the broad topic of women in tech, Amazon Worldwide Public Sector Global Partner Onboarding Manager Colette Tunstead explained, “Women are exceptionally well suited [to work in the industry], [and] by nature, tend to be fantastic listeners.” “We fully understand the issue and create solutions that work.”

This ability to listen and fully understand an issue before determining a solution is something I, along with I’m sure many other women, have experienced first-hand, and is just one of the many innate skills women bring to the table. So why are women still so vastly underrepresented in tech companies today?

One reason for lack of representation, Tunstead explained, could be that often, women have this “self-imposed idea that our opinions or perspectives may not be insightful or good enough,” adding that her own self-limiting internal dialogue sometimes held her back from trying new things and taking risks. “When I think back on it, I think I didn’t want to be seen as failing.”

This idea of failing is something I’ve also struggled with in the past, as I’m sure many other women can relate. Corporate Technology Program Delivery Global Manager Colleen Fehr summed it up perfectly: often, we can be our own worst enemies.

While it was apparent from our conversation that many women shared the struggle of being their own worst critic, surely this couldn’t be the only reason for the gap in the industry. There had to be more.

Surely enough, in our conversations, along with a consensus on negative self-talk hindering progression, the women shared that in retrospect, they wish they had made a career move sooner.

As Lee Ann Slinkard, member of Clariti’s Board of Directors who has spent her 30+ year career in tech explained, the importance of moving to the next opportunity as soon as it becomes clear that things won’t change cannot be overstated. For this reason, she recommends that women in tech make sure to set aside time to focus on keeping their networks healthy, and avoid the trap of solely being heads down in work.

Amina Tariq, Head of Product at Freddie, echoed Lee Ann’s sentiments, explaining that women are most successful when they get out of their heads - a lesson from personal experience. “I would like to go back and tell my younger self not to compare myself to other people so much. As soon as I stopped caring about where my progress ranked in relation to my peers, I had more energy to give to my work and just get stuff done. I wish I had drowned out the noise around me a lot sooner and just started focusing on my work.”

When digging deeper on the topic, it seems like not only are women facing negative internal narratives, but some external factors as well. In an interview with Forbes, Somi Arian, tech-philosopher, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and founder and managing director of FemPeak explained that, “many women point out how hard it is to be heard and taken into consideration for promotions and opportunities to rise through the company’s corporate ladder”.

Now that, I thought, is a big one. When asked about this topic, Tariq stressed the need for women to focus on creating value for the business. She proceeded to add what I believe to be an invaluable piece of advice for women in the workplace today: align yourself with the people in charge, and make yourself indispensable to them. Free yourselves from your negative self-talk, as Fehr rightfully reiterates, and make speaking up your #1 priority. Yes, even if you’re the only woman in the room.

Diving further into the discussion, I asked our panel: what do you think tech companies should strive for in the future? Unanimously, all emphasized protecting resources and talent from burning out, and ensuring the company is as parent-friendly as possible.

As Shopify Technical Program Manager Jennifer Fatkin highlighted, we need to reduce our tendency to be “always on”. Being surrounded by techies with systems and tools that allow us to connect any geographical distance and time, she adds, it is indeed easy to start feeling like there’s an expectation to be online 24/7. Diana Chow, Product Manager at LinkedIn also reflected on the importance of spending time outside of the tech world:

“The more we talk to and learn about different people, industries, and perspectives, the more it enables us to maintain a healthy balance. It also gives us the perspective we need to build products that serve a broader range of people”.

This couldn’t be more true, I thought, being a full-time mom who is surrounded by playful toddlers outside of work. Thankfully, I currently have the opportunity to spend time away from my computer and can also invest in other areas of life in a way that allows me to come back refreshed and ready for my next project.

Are you a woman who is considering a career in tech? Here are key pieces of advice from our panel:
On networking:
  • Find your allies and rely on them.
  • Keep your networks healthy instead of getting too “heads-down” in work.
  • Get yourself a mentor (gender is not important).
  • Track your accomplishments.
On gender equality:
  • Don’t let society’s view of what a woman “should do” affect your thinking.
  • You may be the only woman in a meeting. Don’t let that deter you from asking questions or voicing suggestions.
  • Talk to your male peers about compensation.
  • Stay tuned to what feels right. You’ll get a lot of advice, ranging from “be a bulldog” to “lean into your unique female perspective”. None of them are wrong if they feel authentic. All of them are wrong if they don’t.
On skill-building:
  • Take more stretch assignments no matter where you are in your career.
  • Aptitude and technical skills aren’t the only important things. Having really good communication and relationship skills will be what makes you successful in this industry.
  • Anything worth doing means working hard for.
  • Keep going for the opportunity to influence (if that’s your thing). Usually, you won’t be asked to take the lead.
  • Skills are totally transferable! Give yourself more credit for the work you have done, and think about how to connect these dots to the role and company you want to break into.
On affirmation:
  • Be fearless in speaking up and speaking your mind. Don't diminish the importance of your ideas and don't feel the need to defend your stance.
  • Stay humble, stay curious, and never stop learning.
  • Don’t worry about having ALL the answers - embrace ambiguity and just take the first step. You can figure it out as you go.
  • Learn the difference between being kind and being nice. Always be kind.
Our Panelists:

Colette Tunstead, Global Manager, Worldwide Public Sector Partner Onboarding at Amazon
Colette has been a network engineer, an enterprise architect, an IT manager, a Cloud specialist and is now responsible for the Global teams at Amazon Web Services (AWS) responsible for partner onboarding and development.

Colleen Fehr, PMP, CSM, CSPO Global Manager, Corporate Technology Program Delivery at
Colleen is a dynamic, results oriented, skilled professional with a background in building and growing high-functioning delivery teams. Within her 20 years of project management and leadership experience in the tech space, she has successfully managed complex projects and project teams.

Lee Ann Slinkard, Member Board of Directors at Clariti Software
Lee Ann is a Customer Success and Professional Services Executive with 30+ years of experience who builds “best in class” solution design and delivery organizations. People she works with describe her as an inspirational change agent.

Amina Tariq, Head of Product and Interim GM at PurposeMed (parent company of Freddie and Frida)
Amina has 10+ years of startup experience, with a growing specialization in healthtech. Her journey has spanned a variety of roles across Marketing, Customer Success, Analytics and Product. She's on a mission to build sustainable businesses that have a positive social impact.

Jennifer Fatkin, PMP Program Manager at Shopify
Jennifer is an accredited Project Manager with 8 years of experience orchestrating diverse projects with a focus in IT and Operational Projects including managing complex product developments, software selections, implementations, and process improvements.

Diana Chow, Product Manager at LinkedIn
Diana has spent 10 years in tech, 5 of them working across both consumer and infra-product. As a consumer product leader with a unique background in communications, Diana is experienced in end-to-end product development and analysis with a forte in understanding user needs and online community dynamics.

Our Commitment to ED&I:

At Clariti, we’re on a continuous learning journey as it relates to Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion. We know that diversity is a strength, and recognize that the unique backgrounds across our team help us make better decisions, result in more creative solutions, and ultimately lead us to stronger paths of success. We’re working to create a workplace and team that is as diverse as the communities we serve, and we aim to provide an environment that allows every person to bring their whole and authentic self to work every day. Curious how we’ve been working on this? Reach out to our People & Talent team and we’d be happy to share more details on the workshops, policies, and processes that we have both in place today, and in the works for the future.

About the Author:

Michelle is an experienced marketing professional who spent the last 10 years working in the tech industry. Driven by her passion for social impact, she takes pride in working with organizations who help governments better serve their constituents. As a Product Marketer, her goal is to build brand awareness and provide strategic guidance to connect the dots between software products and the market. Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn.

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