For many women, ‘tech’ can feel like an industry shrouded in mystery – elusive, jargon-filled, generally, dare I say…‘cloud’-y. It’s now been over 10 years since Marc Andreessen famously wrote about software ‘eating the world’, but the reality of what goes on behind the scenes (and on the screens) of the tech companies so central to our lives is still a mystery to the vast majority. The fact that around 75% of Australian tech jobs are filled by men certainly doesn’t help the women already feeling on the outside.
As it stands, there are still many systemic hindrances impacting the natural progression of a woman’s career in tech. Early on, there is gender stereotyping in childhood education, tilted career advice in high school, ill-defined networking and pathway opportunities (at scale) following school, and, less discussed, the casual conversations taking place in Australian living rooms that present tech as a career choice for others, and in particular, men. I’ve heard first hand, in the last 5 years, an account from a teenage girl who was told by a family member that working with computers would “hurt her brain”.
Contemplating a later-in-life transition to tech can feel very intimidating. There is very little established support for career transitions, from the government or from the companies who would benefit from this potential talent pool. And then there’s the domestic context, in which women are undertaking 21 hours more unpaid work at home per week than men.
These factors, and tech’s uncompromising rate of change, make the accessibility of entering tech and ‘imposter syndrome’ many women feel, even when well-entrenched in their tech career, unsurprising.
Don’t dismiss your unique skills
Looking from the inside out, however, my advice is ultimately to not be put off by what you think the industry might be, or, if you are already in a tech role, by the fact that you’re a minority in your team. On the contrary, trust that you do bring something valuable and uniquely ‘you’ to the industry – a message that I wish someone had told me (a woman that herself shifted into tech from another path), earlier in my career. Also, keep asking for what you want and believe you are deserving of it! There is truth in the old adage that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Even if you aren’t entirely ready for something, signalling what you want to do allows others to know how to support you and that you will be considered when something that aligns with your interests and ambitions is available.
There’s now mounting evidence that the most gender-diverse companies are considerably outperforming the least gender-diverse companies, and with tech becoming an increasingly omnipresent aspect of modern life, diversity is crucial to help debias the products being crafted.
At its simplest, our industry is about finding solutions to problems – building tools to make the lives of those who use our product/s better. You don’t have to be able to write code to work in tech. Analysis skills, communication skills, planning skills, financial skills, creative skills. We need them all!
Connect with a problem you’re passionate about
What can help get over any insecurities about “tech” is having a sense of connection to a particular customer segment or issue. That can mean working in tech that aligns with a problem space or cause you are passionate about or have expertise in. Tech now covers just about all areas – health, agriculture, finance, hospitality, climate, fashion (the list goes on), so get out there and find your match.
Use your network and strike while the iron’s hot
Pleasingly, meaningful and systemic change to boost the participation of women in Australian technology jobs is well underway, both via government initiatives and progressive businesses. But it’s also important to call out the variety of routes into the industry which don’t need formal study or an established pathway.
Tech has revolutionised how we can learn new skills. Don’t hesitate to look at what is available online and get some confidence by acquiring new skills in a comfortable environment, where you can learn at your own pace.
Look for mentors who can guide your journey, and remember a mentor can be a friend or acquaintance who has a skill you admire and want to learn first hand. Get out (now that we can!) and go to meetups in the domain you are interested in – the connections we make through people are still the best paths to opportunities, both early and later on in our careers.
As to where Australia is currently placed, the government pledged in March, prior to the election, to help create 340,000 new tech jobs by 2030, displaying not only the scale of the opportunity for the economy, but also for Australian women.
My advice to those not yet in the industry who are contemplating exploring it further is that:
1. You don’t need to be ‘in tech’ to be in tech.
Ask yourself three questions: What problems are you passionate about solving? Which companies are solving these problems? How can your skillset help solve these problems in these tech companies? And if there aren’t any companies solving the problem, maybe you need to start it yourself.
2. Learn through exposure.
Expand your network, talk to others in tech to learn about the industry, and read as much as you possibly can.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask!
As originally published in Women Love Tech.