Iterating on some of our internal feedback to add more external speakers to our educational series, we set out to find successful and relatable women that had built careers in the technology and creative space for our next event. Sarah Aitken, our Chief Marketing Officer, reached out to her network and brought together three successful women to join a  panel discussion titled “Female Leaders in Technology.” 

We happened to hold the event on Women’s Equality Day and all took a moment to reflect on the hard fact that just 100 years ago women got an equal right to vote (and that was just white women). Yet 100 years later, we still find ourselves in a world where women are paid 82 cents on the dollar for equal work. 2018 data also tells us that for equal jobs, in tech specifically, women are offered less money than men 63% of the time.

Our panelists included Kay Hsu, Head of Creative and Design, Partnerships Marketing at Facebook, Bridget Pakowski, Business Technology Leader, Johnson & Johnson and finally Yardley Pohl, Fmr. CPO Thrive Global and Co-Founder of the non-profit Women In Product. As a leader in tech herself, Sarah led the panel discussion. Each participant had their own experiences about coming up as a female in the tech space. It was clear that each panelist has gone through struggles in their careers as a result of being a female and that we have a lot of work to do to empower women leaders in the workplace. 

These are just a few of the topics we covered and lessons we learned from our time with them:

Male allies are a critical part of helping bring up more female leaders. One of our panelists spoke about a pivotal mentor in her career. This mentor male and made the effort to get her involved in leadership opportunities and give her the experience and exposure to be in a position to move into a larger role. Men allies can also speak up for women when there are situations where a woman is being spoken over in a meeting. Simple tactics like jumping in to say “I’d like to hear the rest of what she has to say before we move on” can go a long way in the workplace and ensure the female voice is heard. 

Women in the workplace that are also people of color may face an even greater challenge to grow. If you look at the velocity of asian women in leadership, especially in tech, the numbers are lower than white women AND black women. One of our panelists stated that in order to combat this she had to start operating within some of the stereotypical behaviors of a “white man” and actually approached problem solving and building influence in the way that she believed a white male would do so. She altered her communication style to be more direct so she could have a seat at the table.

The current health crisis with COVID could further the gap in female leaders. The reality of the world in 2020 is women are dealing, often times more than men, with the need to juggle parenting, working remotely, and sometimes school and all day childcare simultaneously. We are no longer in an environment where work and personal life can be separated and as a result many women are finding themselves unable to take on more at work, whereas men may be more able to. One panelist stated this is even true in an equal parenting relationship - it’s natural that the children go to her before her husband and more of the burden falls on her. You can help support your colleagues who are parents by adding some humanity to the conversations you’re already having with them. Instead of diving straight into meetings, just ask how people are doing. Providing some space to connect on a personal level and better understand people and the situation they are in can go a long way.

Our panelists also had some advice for the women in the room - Speak up and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

One panelist stated that she wishes she had been more vulnerable when she had some personal issues that were affecting her capacity to reach and take on more. As a female leader she strives to be more vulnerable and set an example for up and coming women that it’s okay to be honest about what you’re going through and ask for the support you need in the moment. 

Be upfront when you know a bias may occur. Women in the workplace that are also parents oftentimes face a different level of bias than men or even those that are not in a parental role. Too often in corporate America, women will be skipped over for invites to drinks with clients or not asked to travel for a big meeting because they have children at home. Establish what you are able to be involved in and share those expectations of inclusion with your co-workers. Similarly, women are less likely than men to ask for or receive a raise/promotion. Advice was given to get ahead of these situations by communicating in advance that you will be asking for a raise or promotion so your manager has time to think about and process the request ahead of time. 

So what can companies do today to help develop more women into leadership roles?

For one, companies need to get involved well before they are seeking to hire senior level talent. The biggest, long term impact comes from getting involved in programs that involve mentorship and outreach. This is especially true in STEM programs, which give young women access to industry mentors. Companies can also consider apprenticeship programs, which dedicate time to developing leadership skills with up and coming female leaders. Ultimately, we are in a unique environment with everything being held virtually, so companies have the opportunity to spread their reach beyond just their local communities. 

Further, companies should alter their recruiting practices to ensure they are sourcing for diverse candidates, including women. Recommendations on places to find women talent, especially in technology, are Women in Technology, and Women in Product. Recruiting teams can also source using keywords like “Black Girls Who Code” and “Grace Hopper,” which are two organizations focused on developing and educating diverse talent in technology. It’s important that companies not only source for female talent, but also ensure that diverse talent is evaluated by diverse talent. This means ensuring women are part of the interview process.

Finally, one of the most discussed topics about the lack of women in leadership roles is their naturally dominant roles in parenting. Each of our panelists had their own story to share about the struggles of parenting while building a career and noted that starting a family was one of the more challenging parts of their career. Companies should have return to work programs in place and frequent check-ins with new parents as they re-enter the workforce. Creating resource groups for parents is another way to connect employees in similar situations, giving them someone to reach out to that “gets it” and can share their own advice and experience with newer parents.