Even in the year 2021, there is still a remarkable underrepresentation of female specialists in STEM professions, including the tech world, especially amid the global pandemic, during which 14% of women in tech lost their jobs compared to 8% of men, and the ones who managed to keep their positions experienced heavy burnouts. The good news is that the situation is slowly changing and in 2019, 24% of executive positions in the IT sphere were held by women, which was a 3% growth from 2018. How can we accelerate this change and popularize the idea of female leadership across industries, especially in tech?
The best way to raise awareness and promote gender diversity in the tech field is to share success stories. Meet Julia, a Product Manager of Coupler.io at Railsware. Julia has changed many positions before finding her true calling and she is ready to share her inspirational story with you.
- Julia, how did you choose your career path, and what brought you to the IT industry?
The first time I stepped into the tech sphere was after my fourth year of study. At that moment, I already had some professional experience: as a personal assistant and analyst in the accounting department. Being a personal assistant was the first job that gave me an understanding of work ethics and relationships between the employer and employees. Working as an analyst brought me closer to the world of technology as I was responsible for the optimization of financial processes and the implementation of tools that make financial forecasts.
After my fourth year of studying Cybernetics, I finally found myself in a professional IT setting. Having had previous job experience, I knew exactly what I wanted: to come up with ideas that would be developed and realized with code. Even though I was versed in coding with C++ and SQL, I was certain that my strengths lay in “big picture” managerial skills. I became a Middle Business Analyst and, two years later, I was promoted to Business Analyst Team leader, and the head of the department a year later.
“I knew exactly what I wanted: to come up with ideas that would be developed and realized with code.”
I have switched between many different positions in the course of my career and I have realized that the stigma behind changing career paths is detrimental. I am convinced that no one should be afraid of trying out different roles to explore their talents and strengths. I went from Business Analyst to Project Manager to explore my managerial talents, then to Product Owner to immerse myself in the product. Later, I became a deputy Product Director, and eventually shifted to the Director of Customer Experience. I have accomplished a lot, from successfully running client projects, and educating my colleagues and clients through trainings and webinars to building products and establishing customer support services that deliver the best user experience.
“I am convinced that no one should be afraid of trying out different roles to explore their talents and strengths.”
After a while, I decided that it was time to focus on my family, and I took up a calmer position that involved setting up internal business processes. However, after my maternity leave, I returned to my passion: working closely with the product. Although I was anxious about starting at a new company after 12 years working for the same organization, joining Railsware was easy thanks to their flexibility in terms of their remote working culture, which allows me to combine my professional and personal roles with ease.
My old company gave me many opportunities and opened multiple doors for my professional growth, so I knew firsthand that the compatibility of values and expectations is a highly valued aspect when it comes to choosing your next employer.
- What is an ideal candidate’s profile for the position of a product manager?
First of all, candidates should possess hard skills, such as analytical and critical thinking, the ability to work with data, especially large amounts of data, and being able to prioritize the important aspects and leave out the rest. Research skills are also crucial for my position as well as an understanding of non-tech tasks and workflows such as marketing, sales, and customer experience. To become a Product Owner, a candidate needs to demonstrate a rich portfolio with various projects where he or she established the domain knowledge. It is a position that requires a lot of experience in many fields and extensive knowledge of marketing, development, clients, research, sales, etc.
Second, every leader must understand the importance of teamwork, direct communication, delegation, and other crucial soft skills. Being a Product Owner implies working in Scrum teams that do not have the traditional architecture of “manager – worker”. Everyone is responsible for their part of the process, and the PO is the integral piece of the puzzle. Establishing clear communication channels is the important foundation for a successful collaboration.
“The compatibility of values and professional expectations is a highly valued aspect when it comes to choosing your next employer.”
- Is high education important in your profession?
My analytical skills were definitely developed in my university mathematics course. We do put a lot of emphasis on the right education – for example, if a candidate has a degree in Humanities, we consider him or her not to be best fit. However, if the same candidate has been working in tech and built software, we know he or she is capable of building another one. Experience is more valid than initial education but we do value continuous self-education. The world of tech is changing every day, therefore it is important to continue to learn about new technologies and solutions.
“Experience is more valid than initial education but we do value continuous self-education.”
- Do you know any other women who manage engineering teams?
Yes, I do. The founder of Terrasoft is a woman, as are many executives at the company. Since it is a female-owned business, I can say that there is no gender discrimination there. However, if we consider the market as a whole, there is definitely a discrepancy. There are more men who hold leading positions in tech, along with operational and commercial directors, CFOs, CEOs, etc. I think what breaks the cycle is growing the specialists inside the company like they do at Terrasoft. They hire many women, teach them, and promote them to leaders and heads of departments. If other companies did the same, we would not have such a wide discrepancy.
- Have you ever been exposed to prejudice that a woman cannot or should not take a leading role in a tech company?
I cannot tell you about prejudices against women in leading positions but I did experience a few situations where I felt that my gender was perceived before my skills. For example, once at a regional math competition, after receiving the results, I realized that one of the tasks had not been graded correctly. I came in to appeal the results and talk to the members of the jury, but instead of looking at the task and explaining my mistakes to me, they told me that second place was good enough for a girl.
Another time I experienced rejection solely based on my gender was during my first year as a Business Analyst. I had a meeting with a client where I was supposed to consult them. As soon as I entered the room, the client asked for someone “more qualified”. In the end, I helped them and we worked together on their project, but that moment stuck in my memory for years. However, as I got older and more experienced, I did not encountered such behavior.
“I came in to appeal the results and talk to the members of the jury but instead of looking at the task and explaining my mistakes to me, they told me that second place was good enough for a girl.”
- Are there different requirements for female candidates as opposed to male candidates?
At one of my previous companies, everyone was presented with the same standards and requirements, with no exceptions. If an employee fulfills the expectations in form of KPIs or other success measurements, they get a promotion. The path was clear and identical for every worker.
However, if we look at other companies, the situation may differ. A friend of mine has been working for an IT outsourcing company for a while and still has not been promoted. Even though her male colleagues with worse work outcomes all climbed up the ladder, she is still in the same position.
- Do you see a difference between the ways that women and men do their jobs?
From my experience, I can say that women are more emotionally invested in their projects. Women often have a higher level of responsibility and involvement in their jobs, whereas men think mostly about numbers, indicators, and parameters.
- Do you think that gender-diverse teams are more successful than single-sex ones?
I am always for diversity, especially gender diversity as it brings different perspectives, skills, and backgrounds to the table. Although I have had many successful projects with my female colleagues, I think that having both men and women working on a project can only benefit the outcome. For example, I bring in empathy and a customer-oriented approach, whereas men are usually more tech-savvy. Obviously, women can also be technically sharp and men can be empathetic but both will bring their own experiences and skills to the project.
At Railsware, where I work now, we support not only gender, but also cultural diversity. It allows us to bring the world’s best talent on board irrespective of their country of residence and / or origin. This opens up new horizons, giving us the opportunity to constantly grow and exchange our knowledge.
“I am always for diversity, especially gender diversity, as it brings different perspectives, skills, and backgrounds to the table.”
- Do you have a recipe for being a successful leader in the tech environment?
The only magic pill I can prescribe is continuous self-education. Never stop learning about the developments in your field because once you stop, you are out. The velocity of technological progress will leave you unemployed and irrelevant after just a year of stagnation. Learn more, explore the latest innovations, and know the trends.
We at Innov8tiv would like to add that the path to success is long and challenging regardless of gender, but even nowadays women have it harder. Don’t be afraid to try different things before you discover your calling. Switching positions is not shameful – it is a great way to learn about the industry and find your place in it. Share your success stories to give others inspiration and motivation to advance their careers.
About the author: Alexandra Birk is a tech copywriter who is inspired by stories of breaking the glass ceiling and professional growth. She writes about technology and software development practices and also participates in feminist discussions across platforms and industries.