Real Talk: the importance of allyship and advocacy for womxn in tech


Five strong womxn leaders from around the tech industry share their experiences and advice

Although more womxn are entering the tech field, there still lies a huge gender gap when it comes to the ratio of men vs. women within the industry. According to TechRadius, 80% of those in the field are male, while only 20% are female. The lack of representation of womxn in tech is challenging and can be exhausting at times.

For our Real Talk: Diversity in Tech event last week, we hosted five incredible panelists- all in executive positions within the tech industry. The panelists shared their personal experience being a womxn in tech, how they’ve been able to find their own voice, and finally, how they advocate for other womxn in the industry. Here are some key takeaways from our conversations.

Many womxn in tech face the dual challenge of gender bias and racial discrimination

Often we think of discrimination or prejudice as a huge event, however, aside from those big stories- the microagressions that womxn face daily create friction and hurdles throughout their work-day.

Katrina Jones, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Leader, GICS, Amazon Web Services (AWS) shares the additional labor you have to overcome because of your gender and race. “People will leave you on read, they don’t engage with you in the same way and are unwilling to partner with you.”

More than gender bias, racial discrimination also plays a role in the work environment and when you’re a member of an underrepresented race and gender within tech, you face extra obstacles including pedigree bias and poorly-designed code tests.

Moderator and VP Accelerated Commercialization, at Visa, Gia Griffith, adds that oftentimes in her career she’s been the “only everything.” This means that she’s been in rooms where she’s the youngest person, the only Black person, and the only Black womxn. The panelists agree that this becomes exhausting over time as peers look to you to answer for your community. This is referred to as the “black tax.”

Power of allies

Early on in your career, it may be hard to stand up for yourself. That’s why it’s important to have advocates within your team that you can trust will stand up for you. Shannon Hogue, Head of Solutions Engineering at Karat recalls earlier in her career at a different company when a man took credit for her work. She went to her boss and her advice was to “suck it up.”

Houge’s advice now is the complete opposite. “Please don’t tell people to suck it up. Instead, have measured and honest conversations. Find advocates and help each other build an inclusive culture at work,” said Houge.

If your workplace culture isn’t inclusive, it’s hard to navigate and use your voice. A 2017 poll in the Pew Research Center report found that 50% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19% of men said the same.

However, as a womxn in tech, we acknowledge it’s hard to speak up and recognize your worth when you experience discrimination. A study from George Washington University found that men interrupted 33 percent more often when they spoke with womxn than when they spoke with other men.

So how do you find your voice as a womxn in tech? The panelists all agreed that there is power within allyship. Not only is it important to have your own community that validates your challenges as well as your successes, but it’s equally as important to curate that environment at work.

Sponsorship comes after mentorship

You may be wondering, how do I find someone to advocate for me? How can my name, my work and my expertise be mentioned in a room when I’m not there? The answer? Sponsorship. However, it’s not a good idea to just find someone on Linkedin and ask for introductions- instead, you must cultivate that relationship.

Finding a mentor is one way to help build a network in your industry. Once you connect with someone, it’s easier to build a relationship and understand how you can both help each other. The panelists talk about it as a mutually beneficial relationship.

Griffith recalls her early days at Visa when she was matched to a sponsor and found herself questioning where she can add value to that relationship. However, she was transparent and let her sponsor know exactly how she felt and had a discussion to truly understand how to curate a mutually beneficial relationship.

If you’re feeling like you don’t know how you can add value to a mentor/sponsor relationship, first, acknowledge that you’re not always going to know how to identify your value. Secondly, ask if you can receive more information about who you’re working with and their projects so that you can start to identify places where you can add value. And lastly, be confident that you always have something to bring to the table.

A way forward for womxn in tech

A survey conducted by TrustRadius found that most participants (78%) said in order to support more womxn in tech, companies should promote more womxn into leadership positions. Other solutions include providing mentorship opportunities, (72%) offering flexible scheduling, (64%) and conducting unconscious bias training. (57%)

At Karat we believe sharing stories and learning about one another’s experiences is the best way to be a better advocate, a better boss, and ultimately a better friend. Be willing to step in, lean in, and be a part of the change to create a more inclusive tech community year-long, not just during Womxn’s History Month.

Full webinar on Real Talk: Diversity in Tech – Womxn in Tech

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