3 Reminders Women with a Technical Career Need to Hear
Career Development As employers push for a more diverse technical workforce, qualified women continue to be limited by oversights and misconceptions. Here’s what to look out for on your way to a fruitful career.
If you’re a young woman graduating from a computer science or engineering program, you know tech companies are eager to scoop you up. But with all the buzz around workplace culture, diversity numbers and attracting young talent, it can be hard to determine which companies are actually making a difference and which ones are just going through the motions.
Not too long ago, I myself was a new recruit at a well-known Silicon Valley company. Before long, I experienced first-hand the same problems so many women in technical roles face. Even though I’m an engineer, people routinely assumed I must be on the marketing team simply because of my gender.
I left the company for my current role, in which I run the Top Companies for Women Technologists program. I now have a much deeper understanding into how companies in the technology industry and beyond are approaching the issue of diversity. In my analysis of dozens of companies over two years, I’ve collected a few insights that I think will prove useful to any young woman considering a career in computing today.
1. The pipeline problem: recruiting women in technology is just the first step
“The diversity issue in tech is a pipeline problem”—we hear this argument all the time, and I want to dispel this notion once and for all. Yes, the education pipeline contributes to the overall diversity gap in technology, but we have hard data showing that once women enter the technical workforce, 56 percent of them leave by mid-career levels, largely due to unsupportive workplace cultures.
“Even though I’m an engineer, people routinely assumed I must be on the marketing team simply because of my gender.”
So while many companies are hyper-focused on attracting young, diverse technical talent, recruiting is only part of the picture. If you hire a cohort of young women technologists, but offer no career path within your organization, these valuable technical employees may quickly leave. And if you join a company where no one in middle or upper management looks remotely like you, it rapidly becomes an isolating, unwelcoming environment.
Through rigorous analysis of company data, we can identify which organizations are focused not just on recruiting, but also the retention and advancement of diverse talent. We have seen time and again that companies with women in leadership positions have higher rates of women in technical roles across levels.
So before you accept an offer, look at the makeup of the leadership team and how many potential role models you can find. Explore what professional development opportunities you might take advantage of, and dig into why people leave. Is it just a bad fit, or are there deeper cultural issues at play? Asking yourself these questions will help you land a technical role that’s a good fit for you and your career goals.
2. A career in tech is more than just coding
As you peruse the job boards, it can be easy to assume that your technical career will be spent hunched over a keyboard coding away with no end in sight. While there are plenty of opportunities for passionate programmers, there is so much more to a technical career than simply writing code. If you want to grow your career as an individual contributor, like a principal engineer or tech evangelist, you’ve got options.
And if a big tech company just isn’t for you, that’s ok. Today, every company is a tech company, and virtually every field has demand for technical talent. This year’s 60 Top Companies participants range from traditional tech firms like Microsoft and Intel to big box retailers like Target and Macy’s, media powerhouses like the New York Times and financial services firms like Goldman Sachs and Capital One.
3. Don’t stay somewhere you’re not supported
Remember that when you’re in a job interview, it’s also your opportunity to interview the company. Talk with other women at the company to learn how their career has progressed. Seek out workplaces where the employees, women especially, are engaged in their work and the company culture.
And finally, if you find yourself in a position where you feel unsupported or unwelcome, move on. But please, don’t give up on a career in tech because of one bad experience. There are plenty of companies out there making determined efforts to build strong, diverse and inclusive cultures that value employees of all backgrounds.