Against the Odds: Women in Tech

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining a fantastic group of female leaders at Women In Tech Panel presented by infra//STRUCTURE Summit. We were asked to share our personal experiences of gender biases in the workplace and the best way for businesses to address them.

I decided to blog and expand on the subject a bit further. Hi, my name is Elya McCleave, and I’m a woman who spent her entire career of 17+ years in tech and let me tell you – it is very challenging to stay in the industry and keep moving forward. Tenacity no doubt is your best friend, but it also can wear out if you don’t build the right support structure around yourself. Lesson 1: Surround yourself with the right people, people that genuinely believe in you and support you.

My first experience of gender bias in the workplace surprisingly came from the clients. I was working as a Level 1 Support Engineer, where I spent much time answering calls and tickets. Quite often, if it were a male customer calling, even though he’d already pressed 2 for Tech Support, I would get asked if it was, in fact, Tech Support. When I politely would say “yes”, the client would share how complicated the problem was, suggesting to get him transferred to my male counter-part. Over time, I learned how to make the best out of the conversations like this, put clients at ease and announce the name of the functional unit “Tech Support” as soon as I picked up the phone. Lesson 2: Work hard, upkeep your education, and stay relevant. It’s ok if people don’t take you seriously right away, surprise them and they will pay you back with gratitude and loyalty.

As the years went by, and I grew through the leadership ranks, I still struggled to find my true communication style. In certain situations, when I stood my ground, I would get called direct, bold, or borderline masculine. However, when I was nurturing and emphatic, I would get called a “mother,” and my direct reports “dragons.” You know it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Lesson 3: Not everyone will like you, and it is ok. Remember this is not a popularity contest. Drive positive impact and let your work speak for itself.

You might think that I’m discouraged from having gone through all these experiences, but I must say it is quite the opposite – I’m grateful for the journey and people I worked with. I grew stronger and as a result, started a business of my own. It also helped me understand what it meant to treat your staff right and how much support women required in the workplace.

Here are things businesses can do to help women strive and succeed in a workplace:

– Hire more women for your front-line technical roles

– Introduce voluntary “Gender Diversity and Inclusion Program.”

– Introduce “Executive Sponsorship Program.” This is especially important for women at mid-management level going up. Statistics show that a senior sponsor could make a world of a difference

– Introduce “Leadership Development Training” specifically for women in leadership roles

– Be transparent – know your numbers and share them with the rest of the company regularly. It has to start at the top.

“We need to resist the tyranny of low expectations. We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.” — Sheryl Sandberg