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Software engineer and Karateer Regina Chen shares her most memorable and insightful moments from last week’s Real Talk panel on women in engineering.
I joined Karat two years ago as one of the company’s first female engineers, so I was excited when I heard that Karat’s Real Talk series – a free and open space for members of the tech community to share their experiences – would be focused on women in engineering. We had five incredible female engineering leaders share their experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – in the tech industry. This is what I learned from the candid conversation, in the hopes that it inspires other women in tech and informs other members of the tech community about how they can support their fellow women engineers.
One of the panelists mentioned that when she was invited to interview for a company, the first thought that came to her mind was “what am I going to wear?”. I know I’ve felt the same way when I was interviewing. There’s already so much to worry about when there’s a technical interview coming up, and thinking about how to dress only adds to the stress. That’s why the option of a fully virtual interview experience makes a huge difference. It’s one of the product features I love most about Karat’s Interviewing Cloud, that all our technical interviews are virtual and the candidate gets to pick the day and time that best suits their own schedule. Engineers just want to show up and demonstrate our tech chops, without concern for what our shoe choice might say about us, or be worried that our dresses are too short for writing on a whiteboard in front of a mostly male interview panel.
I loved learning about how the women on the panel had gotten to where they are today. They had nontraditional backgrounds in tech, with most of them having started in completely different professions from veterans to veterinary assistants, yet they’ve been very successful since making the leap to engineering. I started thinking about my own interest in design, which is something I have no formal training in. Too often have I told myself that, “No, I shouldn’t pursue design because I’ve been a software engineer all this time.” But upon hearing the panelists talk about their own career pivots, I realized that if design really does interest me, I should pursue it. I have all of the panelists’ success stories to inspire me.
All five women agreed that leaders need to create a safe space for female engineers to learn and grow. If you have an early career engineer on your team learning a new skill, give them small, bite-sized tasks to help them build confidence in their career. Foster a workplace where it’s okay to ask for help, and women can stop saying “sorry for asking all these questions.” Invest in mentoring, shadowing, and support systems for the women engineers on the team. And, especially, notice when somebody in the room is uncomfortable. Instead of letting their feelings get internalized, speak up, make it a learning opportunity for others, and encourage others to do the same.
The most actionable advice from the panelists was to be more proactive. This is something I’ve struggled with since starting my career. Over the years, I’ve slowly learned how to surface my wins to my manager, because that’s how good work gets noticed. Additionally, be clear with your mentors about what we need, whether it’s specific feedback or advice on getting promoted. One panelist mentioned that she has a personal “board of advisors”, which is a set of people who advise her on specific parts of her life and career (e.g., leadership, technical expertise, parenting). I loved her idea of thinking about yourself as a company – invest in yourself, take risks, and learn from those around you.
The panelists emphasized that they were only able to get to where they are today because people have helped them along the way, and that it’s now their turn to do the same for other women. After hearing this, I realized that it’s my turn as well. As I continue to grow in my career, I want to look for ways to help other women in tech, as a mentor, a friend, a colleague, and especially as an advocate for them.
I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to listen to these five amazing women share their unique stories at Real Talk. These kinds of open conversations are what we need to bring awareness to what it’s like being a woman in engineering. If we can identify the problems, then we can fix them and make the tech industry a more fair and inclusive playing field.