Being a woman in tech means navigating an industry that is difficult to enter, and even more difficult to advance in. It means facing the gender pay gap, challenging systematic bias, and even dealing with harassment – amongst other challenges.
We want to get real this International Women’s Day and talk about what everyone can do to help women overcome the obstacles they continue to face in tech.
During AGConf this year, our annual company conference, we hosted a Women in Tech panel with seven women leaders at 1Password – Jeannie De Guzman (Chief Financial Officer), Rachel Yarnold (Director of Marketing Campaigns), Meena Lakhanpal (General Counsel), Lynette Kontny (Senior Manager of Customer Success), Mary Sison (Director of Finance), Sasha VanHoven (Staff UX Writer), and Youri Wims (Senior Web Developer).
These women shared stories of challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve managed to thrive in the tech industry, and what they think could make the most significant differences for the future of women in tech.
Give women the spotlight
It’s a well-documented fact that women are underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against in the tech industry. Women-centric tech events are relatively new, but are so important to create a safe space where women can share their unique experiences – both failures and successes – when facing challenges in the tech industry.
It’s also essential for newer entrants to the field to see women succeeding at the highest levels. In this video, Mary shares some positive impacts women-centric events have for women in tech:
These events give women a place to speak, network, and ask questions without judgement – helping create a community where women can share knowledge and grow together. Women-oriented tech events put women in the spotlight, where many tech events still lean heavily towards male voices.
That’s something that needs to change too. Tech events need to start curating speaker lineups to be more inclusive of diverse voices to accurately represent the wealth of talent in tech.
Create a safe, supportive environment
Women frequently report higher levels of workplace harassment than men, and that number is even higher for women in tech. Workplace harassment takes many forms, including verbal abuse, physical violence, and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment.
“What nobody told me at the time, what no one talked publicly about, what no one warned me about is how grey and nebulous the majority of that abuse can be,” Sasha shared. Our panel discussed some ways women can respond to workplace harassment and how companies can create a safer work environment for everyone.
Documenting each harassment incident – in a notebook, through screenshots, witness statements, or a formal, documented complaint with HR creates a history of infractions that can be used should harassment continue or escalate. Facing harassment alone in the workplace is challenging, so it’s important to have a strong network to rely on for support to avoid isolation.
Having clear policies and procedures in place is just as vital. When women need to report misconduct, they should know who to speak to and how their complaint will be handled. It’s about creating a culture of trust and transparency, where women feel safe to raise any concerns they may have.
Build communities that encourage and elevate
For women in tech, finding a community that will empower, support, and inspire can be challenging in the workplace. But all of the women in our panel spoke to the critical roles community and mentorship played in their careers.
During our panel, Sasha talked about the benefits of a private Slack channel that women and non-binary coworkers used to share and improve on ideas before raising them with leadership.
The group also strategically coordinated support for new ideas that otherwise may have gotten lost in meetings, or public Slack channels. Sasha encouraged everyone to intentionally cultivate a community of women who share similar priorities in the workplace and in the tech industry.
Mentorship is also an important factor in the growth and development of women in tech. Meena talked about how mentorship should be a mutually beneficial relationship as “even leaders need to talk to somebody to bounce off their ideas.”
Each of our panelists spoke about imposter syndrome, the self-doubt they’ve felt, and how they overcome these feelings. “You just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, or else there’s not going to be change,” Jeannie said.
She went on to describe how she turned fear into a positive, using it as fuel to continue pushing forward. Sasha, Meena, and Rachel all also had great suggestions about overcoming imposter syndrome.
Some strategies women can use to help support each other include creating a safe space to talk, supporting each other’s ideas, giving credit, and mentoring and advocating for others.
Men: make space and advocate
While coaching and support are important for women’s growth in the workplace, advocacy has the greatest impact when it comes to career advancement. With fewer women holding executive level positions in tech, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to being promoted.
Men need to become comfortable with sharing the spotlight and, as Sasha explains, “the biggest impact is when someone who is not a woman decides to intentionally support women”. Here are Sasha’s top three tips for men to help support women in the workplace:
Leaders can also help support women by ensuring communal work that traditionally falls to women is shared between everyone – work like note-taking, printing, scheduling meetings, organizing travel, etc. This way, women will be free to take on more visible projects to improve their skills and make them more promotable.
Women aren’t going anywhere – or are they?
While the fight for a long time has been getting women into tech, now the industry is facing the struggle of keeping women in an industry where they find career advancement lacking.
As Youri explains “the greatest issue facing women in tech feels a lot less like getting into the industry and more like staying in the tech industry and feeling like we really belong here”.
We’ve already talked about harassment, gender bias, salary disparity, and being overlooked for projects that develop new skills, or provide a chance to exhibit leadership qualities – so it should not be surprising that women are leaving the tech industry.
And, while most women face challenges in tech for career advancement, it can be even more difficult for women with families. Support for working parents has never been more important as work, childcare, and homeschooling compete for attention.
Companies are quickly realizing a 9-5 work day is no longer a realistic option for many employees. As Lynette explains, “focusing on what you are accomplishing and if you are accomplishing the things you need to accomplish” and a shift around flexible working hours will help keep working parents from dropping out of the workforce.
To attract women to the tech industry, and retain them, is a complicated process requiring constant reflection and action. Sponsorship, support, and championing women as they grow in their careers are crucial, but we also need diverse leadership that inspires women to join, succeed, and advance within a historically male-dominated industry.
1Password Co-founder, Sara Teare understands the kinds of issues women in tech face and the hard work it takes to overcome these obstacles.
“From the beginning, I’ve been able to help shape and form the company, advocating for representation and making sure we have a more diverse set of voices at the table.”
“Our company was built around flexible working hours to accommodate childcare – I was home with two small kids, so finding time to work when I could was the definition of flexible.”
“I wanted to create a workplace where women felt comfortable “taking up space” in male dominated areas, and able to voice their opinions. Having my voice heard and respected has made it much easier to bring that sense of value to my work, and I’m not afraid to make my presence known.”
“As a female founder of a tech company, I have a unique opportunity to advocate for others on a systemic scale within 1Password. We are committed to elevating the voices of women and others who have been underrepresented, creating safe spaces where everyone feels welcome.”