Women in Technology: Open More Doors

May 17, 2016

In early April, the Nashville Post celebrated the accomplishments of some of Middle Tennessee’s female technology leaders at a luncheon focused on our key inspirations, turning points and principles that drive success.

The subject was timely. The Wall Street Journal had recently hosted a similar event in San Francisco on the heels of recent research highlighting the obstacles women in business face, especially in tech.

I joined Beth Hoeg, COO for Trinisys, Nicole Tremblett, VP of Strategy and Planning at HCA, and Rachel Werner, Application Engineer at Built Technologies and Co-Founder of Nashville Girl Geek Dinner, on the panel moderated by Linda Rebrovich, Senior Client Partner at Morgan Samuels and a technology entrepreneur.

Much of our discussion and the questions from the audience focused on the challenges and barriers women face in high-tech fields. Recent studies show that technology firms lag behind others when it comes to advancing women, and many women feel gender is holding them back. Some take time out to have kids, and some never really feel that technology is an option for them to begin with, especially after they return to work.

All on the panel agreed there are many factors outside our control, but we can control our own self-perception. Women should not see themselves differently or less valuable or capable, especially if they want employers to look at them with the same potential.

A few other great thoughts for women in technology from the session:

Linda Rebrovick: “Lean in when you face challenge or feel left out.”

Beth Hoeg: “Take risk; believe in yourself.”

Rachel Werner: “Find mentors and sponsors as you build your network.”

Nicole Tremblett: “Are you going to be the squirrel (smashed on the road) or the truck?”

Lessons from my own life.

As I was preparing for the panel, I thought back to my own experiences and the obstacles I faced while building my career. For a time, while I was a single mom, I made the decision to postpone my dream to build my own business. But when the right door opened to start Virsys12, I realized I had to be strong for my children, and I knew that being true to myself was the best thing for them, too.

Taking a risk is not easy. I was in a comfortable executive role when I saw the opportunity to provide implementation and strategy for cloud technology. I realized cloud technology would dramatically change the way software was developed and delivered. But leaving a stable, great-paying C-level position wasn’t easy.

Everyone needs some one to say to them: You can do this.

Having the support of so many women around me made it easier to take a chance on Virsys12. There are many women who have played a significant role in encouraging and supporting me, including Connie McGee, Linda Rebrovick and Sherri Deutchman, who all assured me “You can do it.”

I also believe high-tech companies have a responsibility to remove the long-standing barriers protecting the status quo. Last year, Salesforce launched an initiative to equalize pay for men and women across the entire organization, effectively eliminating the wage gap at the company. IBM and PayPal are two more examples of large enterprises that recognize if they want to win the war for talent, they have to make the environment work for everyone. They are offering internships and other re-entry programs to get women back into the workforce after maternity or family leave. There are many more companies equally committed to nurturing women for executive roles and the C-suite. The playing field is continuing to level.

Never stop learning; work hard and smart.

Working in technology is a challenging road for both men and women. My advice? Regardless of gender, work hard and smart to earn your colleagues’ respect. Respect is not a right or entitlement but something that comes from proving yourself worthy.

Improve yourself constantly. Becoming invaluable to the organization based on your abilities is the best path to success. I was fortunate to have mentors who shared this life lesson with me early in my career and it still serves me well.

Thank you, Nashville Post, for including me. I was honored to participate in the panel. It provided a moment to pause and be thankful for the men and women who opened doors for me. I look forward to reading more about what Tennessee is doing well and what we need to do better in your first technology special print issue this month. We can all agree that technology needs the brightest and the best if it is going to fuel the change for a brighter tomorrow. I’ll lean in to that!