Confido Q&A: What does it mean to be a 'Woman in Tech'?
7 minute read
The buzz phrase ‘Women in Tech’ is one that you can’t ignore if you work in Technology (or even if you don’t).
Right now, only 16.8% of the UK’s workforce in Tech is female, with approximately 1 million women needed to fill STEM roles to achieve gender parity (ONS).
There are endless positives associated with a diverse workforce. Not only have they been attributed to a 35% higher financial returns than the industry median, but also 67% of future employees consider this factor when deciding where to work (Hubspot & Glassdoor). Hence there being a myriad of events, programs and meetups dedicated to promoting diversity in Tech.
But, what does it mean to be a ‘Woman in Tech’ and what is it like to be one?
Who better to ask, than Dr. Amyce Aurora-Smith, QA Automation Engineer at Benefex, and aspiring Product Manager.
With a PhD and Degree in Automotive (Mechanical) Engineering under her belt - plus several working years in the Software space - Amyce has seen first-hand what it’s like to be a young, career-driven woman, in the Tech space.
In this interesting Q&A we cover everything from career opportunities, how to handle stereotyping, the importance of education and advice for anyone considering a move in Tech. We also cover positive discrimination (as well as the negative), as well as Amyce’s aspirations and future career plans.
Before we get stuck in, can you quickly tell us about your current role?
Currently, I’m a QA Engineer, at Benefex in one of their product engineering teams. We’re a cross-functional team and as a QA I am involved in the entire development process.
Benefex make it really easy for me and my fellow QA, Rich, to work together – we’re encouraged to have little QA tribe meetings where we work on strategy together - it’s very collaborative.
What’s great here is you can get involved across the rest of the business as much or as little as you want to. I’ve chatted to Matt our CEO about QA across the entire business, I’ve also got involved in organising monthly mental health drop-in sessions and a pride month initiative that we had.
What does the phrase ‘Women in Tech’ mean to you?
It’s an interesting one, because I think it’s an important phrase to have around.
It’s important to remind people every so often, that women are in tech. We constantly see CEO & CTO names that are male, in the mainstream media - it’s sometimes nice to just get that very basic reminder, that women are in tech.
However, there can be some issues with campaigns that are linked to the phrase, especially those that are along the lines of 'positive discrimination'. It's not something I've really seen in the software industry so far, but when I was an undergraduate engineering student, all the talk about increasing the number of women in engineering actually knocked my confidence; I think this is an unintended side-effect that people aren't always aware of.
For example, when I was looking for jobs at the end of my undergraduate degree, if I was offered an interview, or a role, I kept on wondering 'have I been offered this because I'm good, because I deserve it - or have I been offered this job to bump up their numbers of females?
It’s a fine area to balance. On one hand we really do need to get these messages out there, that there are women in tech. Especially in Education and schools; here’s the pathways and all the different things we can do – it’s not all geeky guys locked in a basement!
On the other hands, you’ve still got to earn your place, it’s not going to be handed to you.
How do you make sure employers aren’t just trying to tick the diversity box?
You’re never really able to control what an employer wants to do – if an employer wants to hire a woman, just because they’re a woman, as a candidate you probably wouldn't even know. The problem lies in, if that woman gets that job, and it’s not right for her, it can form other people’s negative opinions and stereotypes. This is partly why it is so important to make sure that a role is a good fit for you as a candidate; being able to be picky about jobs isn't a luxury everyone has, so if you can pick and choose, make sure you do. Don't just take the first thing you are offered; fight for your corner, ask how an employer will support your growth.
The problem lies in, if that woman gets that job, and it’s not right for her, it can form other people’s negative opinions and stereotypes.
In my opinion, the best way of effectively increasing women in tech is getting into schools.
What do you think schools can do better?
It’s not just about telling kids about ‘women in tech’, it’s about telling people about the sheer number and variety of jobs in tech. I didn’t know about half of the roles until I got to Uni – I didn’t know what a Software Product Manager was until I started working in Software for example.
When I got to Uni, I found out that you could get into Biomedical Engineering, where people are designing prosthetics, hip replacements. Because people don’t know about these options, people only know the stereotypical things. It doesn’t just have to be sitting in a software company working weird hours – you could be working for NASA.
Doing my Undergrad, I had a part-time job where we got to go to schools and do technology or robotics days - always brilliant fun. Sometimes, I'd be talking to a group of girls that were really enjoying the day, but had told me that they weren't going to do Physics GCSE or A level. When asked why, on multiple occasions, they responded along the lines of "My teacher told me girls don’t/shouldn't do Science.” If role models in their lives are saying that, how can we expect change!
What would you say to a woman thinking of moving into Tech from a different space or just starting their career?
I’d say it’s always going to be different to what you’d expected. All your fears and worries are going to be so much worse than the reality. Yes, there are horror stories, but you always tend to hear those.
Partly that’s because it’s how change happens, if you didn’t hear bad things then change wouldn’t happen.
Some places might not be the right fit, but that’s ok. Stop worrying and enjoy yourself. If it’s what you want to do go for it.
In Tech, everybody is so in demand and it’s such a mobile and positive industry. If you find yourself at an employer, that perhaps isn’t good at managing discrimination, then move on. You may have a problem, but as long as you can get it resolved with a good management structure then it can be dealt with.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that some people might just not be aware of their own behaviour, so if you find issues where you feel like you’re not being dealt with correctly, raise it. For example, if a colleague always uses male terms when describing scenarios or changes their behaviours around you versus your male colleagues and it bothers you, then speak to them.
There’s always going to be another employer, that might be more flexible, with better policies or better management processes, or just colleagues that you get on better with.
Do you find positives in being in a minority in a male-dominated sector?
I’d say from a personal point of view, I’ve always got on better with men. A lot of my friends are typically male, and if female then more tech, ‘sciencey’ types.
I think the great thing is I’ve never really had any issues, problems and it’s not really something that comes up and I’ve never really considered.
The thing people do need to be mindful of, I think, is terminology and accidental discrimination. For example, if you’re discussing the design of a form or profile area, with fields like ‘Surname’ that might need editing, don’t look at the only woman in the room and say, "We'll need to be able to change this field because if you got married your surname would change." Any person in that room could change their name, and not every woman does!
Do you think that there are certain behaviours or ways of working that differ between males to females?
I do think having worked with many men and fewer women over the years, that generally the sexes do tend to work slightly differently.
It’s a generalisation, but I have seen women in the tech sphere (possibly as you may be comparing to men who are less socially inclined) can be better at communicating.
Men can be quite abrupt or direct, which is fine as a developer for example, but not necessarily in management. I think women can be a bit better at thinking through what they’re going to say.
I’ve met some women that are systematic, some more emotional, some more creative, but I’ve met men that are all those things, so I don’t think there’s a huge difference.
Are there many female role models in Tech?
This is the sad thing, that I generally can’t name any off the top of my head - that’s an issue within itself.
If I went to a school and was asked who should I follow on Instagram – I’d genuinely think I don’t know.
We’re rebranding our meeting rooms at the moment, I suggested 10 famous engineers or scientists – 5 male, 5 female. It’s just a simple way to get people to learn about them and get that visibility.
Do you think the way startups think about and handle diversity differs to corporates?
Definitely. More established companies are getting better at it and starting to realise how important flexibility is.
Startups are trying to attract the younger generation so they must try a bit harder.
People in their 20s like me, think work life balance is important. I think startups and scaleups do tend to be better at this and put more thought into diversity. They don’t just go ‘this year we need to hire 10-15% female.’ They’ll sit down and think why they’re not attracting that type of person, so do they need to look at where they’re hiring from, different universities, different meetups etc.
I think startups and companies with flexible working appeal more to women. The women that I know really take advantage of and love flexible working – they get best of both worlds. Personally, I’m never going to just be stay at home mum, but it’d be nice if I don’t have to trade off having a well-paid job, versus going to see my kid’s school play.
What are your long-term career aspirations?
I want to go into product management, so all of my OKRs (targets) and aims – they’re all geared towards product management and learning more about product. It’s nice being at a company that supports your career learning not just your job learning.
We’re trying to build out that part of the team and establish process, so I’m trying to get involved in that decision making. I’m trying to embed myself & upskill by chatting to the Product Managers, so that by the time the vacancy perhaps opens up, I hope I should be in a good place to apply.
Your PHD was in Mechanical Engineering, what attracts you to Product Management?
Product Management should hopefully mean I should be able to use my wider skillset from my two Eng. degrees. When I was doing my PHD, I was managing a £250,000 project for Jaguar Land Rover, so on top of doing the research I was also having to deal with stakeholders, create project plans, produce progress reports etc – I really like that big picture stuff.
QA is cool because I’ve got to learn new skills, like coding in Java. I enjoy doing automation tests and coding because it makes the day go quicker. But what I get really excited about is that big picture stuff, the unknown, doing that market research and thinking broader. Pulling that product design style stuff from Engineering and applying it to the software world.
Finally, any recommendations to anyone thinking of getting into Tech, or just generally excel in their career?
I recommend everyone read the ‘One Minute Manager’ book! It helps you have better relationships – both in private and at work. The better relationship you can have with your colleagues, the more likely you are to be able to achieve your goal.
It’s differentiating yourself that’s important. You don’t want to be a person when a role comes up. You want to be THE person that someone thinks about. You’ve got to be strategic, yes think about how you’re going to develop yourself, but mostly the world of work is strategic, so always bear that in mind with how you position yourself.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Amyce’s thoughts on being a woman in the tech space – there’s plenty in here to think about and as with any divisive issue, we’re sure people with agree and disagree with some of the points raised. It’s a discussion that will continue to wage on we’re sure…
We’d love to help any aspiring women (and men) looking to accelerate their careers in Tech or Design. We work with many progressive startups, that value modern and flexible working practices and diversity.
If you’re an employer looking to expand your team, or struggling to attract a diverse candidate base, we’d be keen to speak to you. Do get in touch at email@example.com.