With men making up the majority of those in the tech space, it's no surprise that there are still major challenges that women face in the industry. The value of having women in the tech space is undeniable - given that women make up more than half of the U.S. workforce. Nonetheless, being a woman never held me back – and it doesn't have to hamper your career either. In fact, I excelled at my job because of the women who came before me, and my personal determination to succeed.
Throughout my career, I've learned a few things that helped me embrace my gender, become a strong leader in tech and also help my fellow female counterparts along the way.
Take Advantage of New Technical Background Opportunities:
'You should never be afraid and think that just because there are fewer women in tech, that the guys are better than you. You are capable of the same. Don't overthink it, just go for it.'
There are several factors that prevent women from pursuing a career in tech. With less than half of computer science students being women, many women that might have an interest in tech may think they don't have the right educational background to pursue a career in the industry. However, just because you didn't graduate with an education in tech, doesn't mean it's too late to jump in the tech space. In fact, there are many postgraduate programs that people interested in tech can pursue to strengthen their skills. Likewise, there are companies in the space that are looking for new diverse talent that offer to teach their employees how to code and learn new skill sets.
My advice to young women interested in pursuing a tech career, who didn't graduate with a computer science degree, is to not be intimidated and consider it to be too late. Look into programs online or in your city that can help you gain the technical background you desire.
We're In This Together:
Starting and maintaining a successful career can be siloed and as women, we often try to resolve issues and roadblocks on our own. I have found throughout my career that having the right role models and peer network group is a vital element of having an enjoyable and fruitful career.
There are many ways to build a network that can help you solve workplace issues, support you as you are taking on a new challenge and even swap stories and relate to during your career. This includes finding a mentor who has already navigated the same career path you are hoping to achieve. Having someone on your side that has already paved the way gives you a resource to turn to when problems arise or when you need to weigh career options.
Secondly, I have found it helpful to have peers supporting me who are on the same career trajectory as me, but not necessarily working at the same company or tech space like myself. These women in my life are often the ears that listen to me talk through daily work events and I know can relate to anything I am going through professionally.
Lastly, there are so many larger networking groups and organizations that offer regular events and meetups to connect with other professionals and leaders in the tech space. I find it refreshing to tap into these networks and meet with other women I might not otherwise know to hear their stories and learn about their approaches to their careers. I have also found that through these connections women have a great opportunity to learn about available job positions in the tech world and get their foot in the door. A few organizations that have helped me include Techstars, Woman in Hardware in NY, Hardware Club, and New Lab.
Acknowledging Gender/Unconscious Bias:
'Being a great female leader is not trying to mirror a man.'
It's important that while we celebrate all the achievements women in tech have accomplished these past few decades, we need to have an ongoing conversation about all that still needs work.
Although I have had a successful career in tech and secured a seat at the table, I've still faced situations where I was the only woman in the room. At first, I thought the best approach to navigate this was to change and morph my leadership and work style to fit my male counterparts. I quickly learned though that my sex isn't a problem that needs to be fixed, it is a fact that needs to be embraced. As women, even if we are the only representation in the room, it is important that we maintain our personalities and approaches and let our capabilities strengths shine through rather than projecting what we think others want to see.
In addition to staying true to myself and embracing my gender, I have also learned that it is imperative that acknowledge unconscious bias head-on rather than letting it continue. There have been many times in my career when I have faced unconscious bias where individuals have taken a different approach to me vs my male counterparts. It is easy to let these moments pass by and certainly can be less awkward, but I have learned that if I don't speak up and address these issues we won't change behavior and change the world for better opportunity and equality.
Paving the Path for Tomorrow's Women:
Having the confidence to pursue a career that is male-focused, embrace your gender even if you are the only woman at the table or to speak up when you experience unconscious bias takes a lot of courage. I've learned though that staying focused and continuing to work hard for my dreams has led me to have the career that I want leading a rising tech company and also has helped me pave the way for women to follow. When I get discouraged or think it would be easier to stay in the shadows, I always think that if I don't do it now, how will the future get brighter for women in tech?
Serena Williams said it best - "I embrace being a leader and continuing to pave the way for the next generation."
The more we do today will only bring more opportunities to women in tech tomorrow.
How many times have you looked at something and thought: I wish this did more? And how many times have you thought long and hard about what else you could make it do, if you had the resources, time, and a factory-load of people working for you?
We've all certainly been there. Whether we were 5 and inventing a flying Barbie, or futuristic football, or 35 and looking at the kitchen imagining a self-taught robot that would help with the nightly dinners. We've all come up with what we thought were million dollar ideas - but almost none of us follow through because we're already too busy, and somebody else has probably invented it already.
For one woman, this very sequence of events took place when she was just a teenager. Unimpressed with her dog's collar, she created a new one with florescent sides (making them more visible to cars at night) that would fit more comfortably on a dog or cat's neck. But because of her relative youth, the collar was never produced, and a year later was released and patented by another company.
The girl, Joy Mangano, vowed this would never happen again.
Fast forward to 1990. Single mother-of-three, Mangano has a bigger, bolder idea. This time, the Miracle Mop is born, launching her career as an entrepreneur and setting her up for a life in the spotlight with her product launch on QVC. Between then and now, Mangano has accrued 100 patents (for products like the Huggable Hanger and My Little Steamer) and her company, Ingenious Designs is worth over $50million.
This story was told in Hollywood by David O.Russell in 2015 with his Golden Globe winning movie, Joy. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Mangano served to highlight the difficulty of entrepreneurship and instruct on the minefield of patent disputes.
Mangano's latest product is one she says she's been working on for her entire life: a journal, a manual and a self-help for entrepreneurs wrapped up in her book, Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave and Creative Life.
SWAAY spoke with Mangano about the necessity for this kind of book in this age of entrepreneurship, and how it will resonate with aspiring female inventors and change-makers.
Drawing on her success and the pains it took to get there, Mangano has penned a book that will no doubt be a bible for those looking to take their flying Barbies or futuristic footballs to market. "I️ believe it will be a resource for people they can keep coming back to," she remarks. "This book truly is a lesson for anybody - in their careers, no matter what age."
Her family have been crucial to the whole process of building her brand and expanding Ingenious Designs, for the last 17 years, and have informed many of the chapters in the book. "I️ am fortunate enough to work with my children, family and friends and they were completely integral (to the books production)," says Mangano. Her daughter Christie serves as SVP Brand Development, Merchandising & Marketing Strategy having worked with her mom for thirteen years. “She's my left brain," laughs Mangano. Both her son Bobby and other daughter Jackie have worked elsewhere before also coming under their mother's umbrella. Bobby currently serves as Executive Vice President of the company and Jackie is involved with the fashion side of the business, which is certainly no mean feat, as she is also involved in styling for the upcoming reboot of The Murder on the Orient Express.
"When you can do things in life - work and follow your passion with people you love - it makes it all that much more meaningful and pure happiness."
The launch of her book signals new territory for the serial inventor, who has her first opportunity to tour the country and speak to those whose homes she has appeared in for the past 15 years on QVC and HSN.
"This is really one of my dreams," she comments. "I️'ve always wanted to go around the country and meet all of my customers and this is one way to do that. It couldn't be better."
"95% of my customers are women so I️ can't help but be an advocate always."
While on tour, Mangano is destined to meet a host of people that will tell her of their inventions or start-up ideas, but none more so than the millennials, who are completely reinventing the notion of entrepreneurship. Mangano hopes that through the book aspiring female entrepreneurs will be able to take solace in the fact they don't have to do it all. "I️ truly believe - this is a generation I️ watch, a lot of them work for me and with me - today, more than ever, they think they have to do it all."
"Dressed beautifully and in a meeting, they'll say 'I've been up since 5. Dressed the kids. Fed the kids.' And then (after work) they'll come home, have quality time, bath time. And I️ say - you can miss a game." If there's one thing she would invent for millennial women, it's this very advice, she says.
Rather than a product, or an item, it's this advice that, contrary to the millennial mindset, you don't have to be five places at one time or working 20-hour days to get where you want to be. Instead, Mangano has sections of the book that will inform on how better to manage your time and your ideas - to employ her methods - so you can become successful with (a little) less stress.
When asked how social media and the digital age has influenced her real-world inventions (like mops, hangers, steamers and pillows), Mangano chuckles. Technology, rather than impairing the invention of real world application actually opens up a 'wider range' tells the inventor. “It opens up a direct - to - consumer feedback and enhances your platform."
"With Instagram and Facebook my customers communicate with me. That's critical for looking at what you do and for the future of what you do."
Out of the dozens of things she's invented, Mangano won't say what her favorite is. "What am I️ most proud of? That's hard to say - that's like asking what child do you love the most and I️ don't think I️ could be prouder of any of them."