February 6, 2018
Article written by Neema Jyothiprakash, Product Marketing Manager
As I watched the Golden Globes, I felt like I was witnessing an executive kick-off meeting for a star-studded women’s empowerment project. Female activists accompanied actresses, films highlighted women’s stories, and Oprah’s speech inspired conversations about her potential presidency. Hollywood followed through on the past year’s zeitgeist - after Time Magazine named the #MeToo movement its Person of the Year, hundreds of women came together to launch Time’s Up, a well-endowed legal defense fund for “those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace.”
The momentum inspires me. It also makes me look inward to my own industry. What is the state of gender inclusion and equality in technology? Below, I share my personal trajectory as a professional woman of color in both sales and marketing roles. With 4 years of work experience in tech, I reflect on my time within the industry before joining Bluewolf three months ago, and why I now think Bluewolf’s culture promises progress.
Prior to Bluewolf, I worked in both business development and inside sales. I witnessed small, daily assumptions about women, by men in power. It was not uncommon for men to mansplain how sales works to me, rather than ask what I think. I created countless sales presentations to help drive deals, and was met with skeptical reluctance when I asked to actually present my work to clients or partners - if I’m capable enough to develop a narrative, it stands to reason I can at least speak to it. I worked on teams where men passed the time by rating women’s attractiveness in the office. I never had a true female mentor, let alone a woman of color in a sales leadership position I could relate to. Once, when hiring for my team, recruiters quickly agreed to sign off a salary raise request for male candidate, while saying nothing about an arguably more qualified female candidate interviewing at the same time. I pushed for her raise, and she received it.
Let me be clear: women also contribute. A few years ago, a female manager told me I was not assertive enough with sales leaders, when in fact, we simply had entirely different styles of communication. I prefer to listen first, and rely on reason to advocate my point, instead of being the loudest person in the room. She expected me to act in a certain way, stereotypically masculine, in order to be successful, which is an expectation that is unfair on men as well. You might think I’m being oversensitive, or reading too much into circumstance. So what if I need to work to overcome these assumptions about me? After all, we must all prove our ability.
My response is simple: tech is known for its innovation and disruptive thinking. Why does the industry easily apply transformational themes to process and technology, but struggles with gender bias, pay disparity, and a lack of female leadership? If you further juxtapose tech’s commitment to employee advocacy and experience, with the current state of women and minority turnover as a result of unfair treatment, its even more frustrating. It's not a huge logical leap for example, to see how my gender or race informs managers and colleagues impressions of my ability and potential to succeed in my role, as evidenced from the stories I shared.
When I joined Bluewolf three months ago I was pleasantly surprised. My CMO is a woman, who along with another long term, female, c-level executive jointly founded the Women Innovators Network. I was equally excited to learn that Eric Berridge, Bluewolf’s CEO, has written extensively on gender and diversity as a business imperative. He challenges companies to realize how great employee experiences create amazing customer experiences, and to make the logical next step, realizing how gender informs both experiences. Eric writing, speaking, and presenting on how essential diversity and inclusion are to business helps create an internal culture of openness and progress at Bluewolf, from the top-down, and in turn, encourages employees to reinforce that culture, from the bottom-up.
For example, I recently joined my colleagues of The Pack from around the world for an internal “virtual coffee” to discuss a powerful New Yorker article on The Tech Industry’s Gender Discrimination Problem. Paying more than lip service to a trending topic, we shared personal stories and ideas on topics including managers giving males in junior positions assignments or projects, when more qualified women are available or to people’s negative perception of women as overly aggressive when they speak up, and recruiters filtering women out of technical roles. We asked ourselves: how do we harness tech’s power to improve, and passion for delightful experiences, for gender equality?
- Get more women in the room when making hiring decisions.
- Refresh job descriptions and required skills to account for self-filtering candidates.
- Involve men in the conversation. If we want to achieve real progress we need men to advocate and be part of the solution.
Of course, there is no easy fix to this cultural challenge, and change is an ongoing effort. But I’m happy to be part of an organization whose culture values inclusion, and seeks results. As part of our work I challenge everyone reading this to ask themselves this question, what would this conversation look like in your business?