How women in tech can overcome challenges
Hannah Gopi says why she believes this is still a relevant point of discussion.
Yes, there is still a divide. Yes, this is definitely still relevant. Even though there are more opportunities, from business, from government, from women themselves determined not to be held back, we still struggle to find a seat at the table.
Why this is so is a complex matter. In my personal experience, women sometimes lack the confidence to push ahead. We tend to be focused on compliance, checking all the boxes, making sure everything is done right, but we hold back from putting ourselves forward. We sometimes don’t come across as experts, even though we might be. Men put themselves forward, jostle for positions and behave in a confident manner. So as women we are sometimes overlooked. Perhaps we need to learn to present ourselves in a more confident manner, to speak up and present the solution that’s inside our heads, to demonstrate our expertise.
We can help one another to do this. Through networking and mentorship, women have an opportunity to empower and inspire one another. We already have role models who inspire us from a distance, with big names like Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), Susan Wojcicki (CEO, Youtube), Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo), Angela Ahrendts, Senior VP of Retail, Apple) showing that it can be done. So progress has been made, but we in SA have a way to go yet.
When I started in the industry in 2006/2007, I was a Java developer. At the time, I was the only female in a team of 12 men. There was an unspoken expectation that I would become the tester. That tells you a whole lot about perceptions of women, and of testing, at the time.
Fast forward 13 odd years and we see this type of thinking is changing. The relevance and necessity of testing is coming to the fore. Testers are the champions of users, a vital cog in the wheel. The notion of testing being lesser work (or even, dare I say ‘women’s work’) is fading away. The sooner these antiquated stereotypes vanish altogether, the better.
The age-old topic of women having a career and being a mom is also still in play. I moved into banking, became a SAP specialist and later a consultant, married my childhood sweetheart and mothered two children. I came up against more stereotypical thinking. There is still an expectation in South Africa that the mother is the primary caregiver. We do get questioned in interviews about how we manage motherhood and a career. Men don’t get asked the same question about fatherhood and their career. I believe this expectation does disadvantage us as women sometimes and cause us to miss out on a promotion or a growth opportunity, especially when our children are small. And to be honest, it’s not uncommon for our career trajectory to slow down because we do juggle multiple roles. Larger corporates could make it easier by providing day care at work, or by giving a couple of extra days for both men and women to take care of their children. If their child is sick, enable either mom or dad to work remotely from home, without fearing that it will impact negatively on their career prospects.
Then there’s the question of whether schools – and business - are providing enough information to girls about career choices in the ICT sector, especially to those in remote areas or from disadvantaged backgrounds. As companies, we need to do more to get out there, to create forums where the variety of careers in our industry can be shared. If someone doesn’t know a career path exists, how can she follow it? Plus, encourage girls to choose STEM subjects so they have more career options. We all have a responsibility to bring technology to our youth, to increase their understanding of career possibilities in ICT.
This may be controversial, but I do think that women sometimes use gender inequality as a crutch not to achieve. In a way, it gives us an out. It enables us to give up before we’ve even tried. This is not what future IT professionals should be doing. We need to be determined, push through, show our confidence, encourage and mentor other women and become really, really good at what we do.
Hannah Gopi is the Principal Consultant: Professional Services Western Cape for software testing company Inspired Testing. She has a BSc in Computer Science and two children age 5 and 9.