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Becoming a woman in tech: leaders tell their stories

technology
(Image credit: Image Credit: GaudiLab / Shutterstock)

Working as a woman in any industry, including the tech industry can be incredibly challenging. Women often need to prove their intelligence and knowledge is valid in order to be respected and have their voices heard. The Pipeline’s Women Count 2020 report shows that out of the FTSE top 350 companies, only 14 are led by women, and 15 percent of companies have no female executives at all. While there has been significant improvement in the industry, there needs to be more female representation within the sector to ensure future generations of women are not put off from a career in an industry that is predominantly male dominated.

Below, three women tell their stories of how they became leaders in the industry, and why other women should look to consider a career in tech.

Kay Baines, Operations Security Manager at A&O IT Group

“I have always been interested in technology and found Red Teams and Ethical Hacking to be interesting/challenging and very logical. It has always been an industry that I wanted to be a part of, but I was unaware that there are other roles apart from penetration testing and code development. As I had no qualifications in the field and didn’t know anyone, I thought that it was something I would never be involved in. I was previously working in a support role for the sales/commercial department when a position opened up and I was able to fully transition into Operations Support Manager. I was surprised by how easy the move was!

I know many women have faced prejudices throughout their career however I, very positively, cannot say that I have faced any. In fact, I’ve had quite the opposite experience as all the people I have worked with have gone out of their way to help me understand the industry, all of the terminologies etc., and have also given me advice on how I can better my career

For women looking to start a career in tech or cyber, the best advice I can give is be confident and don’t let the lack of women put you off.  It’s likely there are more women in cyber security than you might realize. And in terms of the industry in general, there are certainly more women coming into cyber security and they are being welcomed. It is still a male dominant industry but if you have the skills to succeed then now is the time to put those skills to the test.”

Haripriya Rajagopal, Senior Director of Engineering at Illumio

“When I started my career, I made an explicit choice to get into tech. While in undergrad, I realized that tech touches everything. I knew that if I worked in this space, I would have endless opportunities and could be geographically flexible.

I have been lucky to be part of Silicon Valley, where there is a lot of awareness on that front – at least at the junior level. It is important to set career goals and have regular conversations with your manager about it. Early in my career, I learned to identify and ask for opportunities and that made a huge difference.

At more senior levels in the tech and cybersecurity industry, there are certainly more challenges and it is important to raise visibility and work through them to pave the path for others. But I think, the industry at large is slowly learning to judge people based on their work, rather than who they are or where they come from.

My main advice for women who are currently looking to start a career in tech is to be intentional about the area you choose. The tech industry is so large that you can choose to specialize in a myriad of sub-areas, such as backend, UI or AI, cybersecurity. You have many options, so do your research and find what interests you. And again, an important piece of advice is to actively seek out opportunities – don’t assume they’re going to fall in your lap. You have to make it happen!

We are at an inflection point, and there is a lot of awareness about diversity. The way I see it is that, at the junior levels, there already is a lot of motivation to progress and opportunities exist. As you climb up the career ladder it gets harder, and there are fewer women at the top. There will need to be a conscious effort to evolve at the executive level, and I do believe the industry is ready to do more and do it better. To that end, diversity in recruiting, active coaching, and mentoring of employees for growth is key.”

Patricia Prince Taggart, General Counsel, Digital.ai

“When I started my career, most of the industry was male dominated.  I made the move from private practice into technology because I believe that technology is an equalizer.  Technology should be accessible to everyone, not matter their gender, race, or sexual preference.

When I started, there were fewer women in leadership positions than there are today. There are still not enough women in leadership roles, but it is certainly better than when I started my own career. I was a sports fan so in order to fit in, I talked about football, and I played golf with the men I interacted with at work.  I was often the only woman at the leadership table proving that I understood the business and not just the contracts.

The advice I give to women I mentor is, don’t undersell your capabilities or your personal brand. When mentoring women at career crossroads who are doubting themselves, I often say that no man ever says he isn’t qualified for the project, next role or promotion. So ask for the job, take the job, and worry less about how it fits into your future; get the experience and prove your value.

My daughter has chosen a profession in tech and I am proud that she has done so. I hope she will not face the limitations I faced because it wouldn’t occur to her to “get along”. I hope she will continue to demand fairness in pay, access to promotions, and equal treatment.  If not, she’ll find a company that does value diversity. She will not stay at an organization that doesn’t value diversity. I admire that.”

Moving forwards

Any career path comes with its challenges and progression up the career ladder should result from hard work, effort, and determination. But gender should never be a hinderance to this progression and should never present itself as a challenge. While the industry takes great leaps and bounds to becoming more equal, the women currently in the industry are doing their part in providing the female representation that is needed for future generations of women to feel welcome.

Kay Baines, Operations Security Manager, A&O IT Group
Haripriya Rajagopal, Senior Director of Engineering,
Illumio
Patricia Prince Taggart, General Counsel,
Digital.ai