#SWAAYthenarrative

What I learned Being a Woman in Tech

4min read
Business

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.

4 Min Read
Business

Today, Companies Need to Retain Veteran Employees in Order to Survive and Thrive

In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.

At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.

Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.

What makes veterans valuable employees

Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:

Leadership

It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.

Commitment

The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.

Strategy, planning, and improv

Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.

Service

With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.

Best practices in retention of veteran talent

Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.

Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.

The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.

Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.

The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.

Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.