Friday, March 3 is International Women's Day, and this year's theme is #BalanceforBetter, with a focus on helping create a more gender-balanced world, celebrating women's achievements, and raising awareness against bias.
In an ongoing Women in Tech series, https://www.wifihifi.ca/LatestNewsHeadlines/index.html?c=31 we've profiled women from across various areas of the consumer and business technology space to gain perspective on what it's like to be a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, or one working in a traditionally male-dominated position. The responses from the ladies, who range from CEOs to engineers, company owners, and sales and marketing leads, have been diverse. But there's a common thread: all of the women have experienced some form of gender bias through their careers, some of which are decades long. The women are all mostly optimistic about the future, and see opportunity for change. But they admit that we still have a long way to go.
The Challenges for Women in Tech
Mary Peterson, Vice President, Digital Display and Memory Business Divisions, Samsung Canada, gave an inspiring talk on the topic of women in tech during the AvixaAgta Women's Council meeting in mid-February, which was sponsored by Global Unified Solutions, Stampede, and Genesis Integration. If we work to support women through the crucial years of their life, she said, which often includes the periods of child-rearing, they will become the future leaders.
And a lack of support for women is an issue that is more prevalent than we might realize. During a recent industry event, I overheard a conversation between two female professionals about the challenges of balancing their jobs with child care. Another female I was chatting with, meanwhile, mentioned her decision to forego industry events that require travel simply because it's too much of a disruption to her family life. She, like many other female professionals, bears the primary responsibility for her child: pick-ups and drop-offs to school, carting him off to various sporting events, and so on. She made the decision partly due to the fact that her husband travels often for his work. But if he didn't, would it really have made a difference?
Through her 30 years in the tech industry, Peterson has seen many ideas floated around on how to better support women, particularly those who have kids, in the workplace, from in-office daycare, to job sharing whereby two people do the same job on split days. But they've often been abandoned. Other tactics that are being explored in today's economy include flexible and work-from-home schedules in positions where it's feasible to accomplish, as well as erasing the social stigma around men taking time off instead of women. Peterson, who has three children, took time off beyond the standard maternity leave on several occasions through her career to tend to her kids, and explore new paths. But her husband, at one point, also did the same so she could continue to pursue her career aspirations.
It's also important to help women ease back into the workforce - especially in an industry like tech where a lot can change in a year. "Companies need to...help ease the transition from maternity/paternity leave back to working full time," said Torey Konecsni, Director, Digital Life, Telus Mobility in her profile with us, who adds that work-from-home options, which they offer at Telus, "demonstrates trust, and puts people in control of their personal lives. It allows both women and men to deliver results and be present at home when they're needed."
It's a delicate balance between the needs of a company and the need to foster the talent of women. Ideally, working women would have endless amounts of support, could work from home whenever they needed to, and balance the demands of the job with the needs at home without an employer batting an eye. But companies need to protect their bottom lines as well. Thus, it's not uncommon for companies to shrug off hiring a talented woman in her 20s or 30s for fear of her desire to have a family, and see priorities shift - whether it's done consciously or unconsciously. To help eliminate some of this bias, companies like Google have removed names from resumes so that candidates are chosen for interviews based on their credentials alone, versus their gender, or even race. A female candidate, particularly one with kids, might have different challenges. But if she's significantly more qualified than others for a high ranking position, is it worth it?
When it comes to gender issues in the workplace, it isn't all about women who have, or desire to have, children. Unconscious bias exists in many other ways. She didn't realize it at the time, but Peterson recalls early on in her career that during meetings with the team of salespersons, she, as the only woman, was always the one getting coffee and taking the notes. In her Women in Tech profile, Victoria DeBoon, Director of Sales at SAP Concur, recalls a time when she was working for a small start-up. At the last minute, right before she and a female colleague were ready to conduct a presentation, a male vice president stepped in and told them he'd be doing it instead. And there's the age-old belief that a strong, confident man is ready for his next promotion while a strong, confident woman is a "bitch."
June Ip, Vice President of Marketing at Lenbrook, noted in her Q&A that, often times when she experienced encounters with obnoxious people, she wondered if she should have been more vocal. "But the reality is that in the moment, it's not always obvious that gender was central to the reason why those incidents transpired as they did, and I think that is something that needs to be acknowledged." Sometimes, the gender bias isn't so obvious, and women don't realize they've been victim of it until long after. But it's worth noting that sometimes the other person doesn't even realize his (or her) own unconscious bias. So speaking up to educate them could go a long way to making people more aware about their own onconscious biases.
How the AV Industry Can Set an Example
The AV industry is only 14% female, noted Christina Cruzeiro, Technical Sales Specialist at Stampede Presentation Products during her intro speech at the event. And the average age of a woman in the industry is 45 or older. Organizations like Axiva want to increase those numbers, and get more young women interested in working in the tech space. Feloma, for example, is a recruiter that links women who specialize in AV with potential employers in the field, including AV integrators and distributors where the presence of women in high-ranking or technical positions is particularly low. Marilyn Sanford, co-founder of Smart Fx and former CEO of custom AV integrator La Scala (she is now CEO of LincEdge) says she never felt held back because of her gender. "Perhaps the seed of change is in how we process and think about gender bias."
Women have long convinced themselves that we simply aren't good at STEM topics, and thus pursue careers in areas outside of tech, or in positions that don't involve tech. But women with an aptitude for STEM fields, and a desire to lead, have tremendous opportunities to change the industy. Women are known to have a higher emotional IQ, says Peterson, and can thus deal with conflict better.
Peterson suggests that women who are looking to move up focus on themselves and their own personal development. "If you're wondering why you aren't getting promoted," she says, "you might be giving off something you don't realized you're giving off."
For those already in positions of leadership, she suggests you avoid micro-managing. "Create a vision, communicate regularly with your team, provide and receive feedback, and continually tweak the course. Hire the right people, and ensure they're doing what you think they should do." When other women see successfully females in critical roles, they'll be inspired to follow the same path.
Thankfully, we're already seeing plenty of women hold their own, and prove how successful and influential females can be in the tech space. Among these women are the many women we've profiled, and continue to profile, in our Women in Tech series.
The bottom line, adds Peterson, is that a company that has diverse leadership is often a better run company.
"The tech business should be the example," she says. "Let's not leave it to the boring bankers or telcos. Let's really drive this."
The next AvixaAgta event will take place on Wednesday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the MARS Discovery Centre. Techni+Contact Canada has signed on as a sponsor.
Mary Peterson, Vice President, Digital Display and Memory Business Divisions, Samsung Canada