Lessons from attending my first Women-in-Tech Event

How I went from being a skeptic to ardent supporter of the cause

Skepticism about WiT events

During the four years that I have worked in the tech industry, I have always been a little skeptical of women-in-tech events. I found women-only events a bit uneasy — if skewed gender ratio was an issue, why are we perpetuating it with our events? But the past few months changed my mind. I realize that I was actively contributing to the landscape of the technical workforce whether I thought the issue was relevant to me or not.

How I became a woman in tech

I came to software engineering through a slightly unconventional education path — by attending General Assembly Web Development Immersive program. I did very well in the course and didn’t feel like I was less capable than other male students.

Compared to my previous career in fashion and digital marketing, the tech industry was a great improvement in terms of pay and working conditions.

At my second software job, I had a smart, capable female mentor who was a great leader. She gave me the impression that it was completely normal for women to be technically excellent and hold a leadership position in tech.

And I know that I am not the only woman in tech who does not think gender discrimination was a problem. One of our junior engineers shares some of the same concerns as I do. Having earned a Computer Science degree at Hunter College, she had attended many WiT events and felt like they might be counterproductive:

“We hear all these negative stories about women in tech. The fact that there are fewer females in the workplace makes them think men must have done something to cause it,” she said.

What changed my mind

What got me really thinking about WiT was being promoted to Engineering Manager for Narrativ frontend development team in April (a team lead position with people management responsibilities). I took over the hiring process for my team and was astonished by the numbers!

Only 15% (9 out of 59) of the resumes I read belonged to a female candidate.

This number would probably be even lower if I account for the backend roles for which we are hiring. It made it extremely difficult to hire a qualified woman from all the candidates who go through our process. As of July 2018, our engineers consisted of 37% women. But as the team grows rapidly, by October, this number would be reduced to 30% if we followed general headcount trends in technology. This is when I realized I needed to take some serious action if I wanted to maintain a diverse, gender-balanced team.

I may be luckier than I thought, having had a great female mentor early in my career. I realize that, in my current position, I could really create an impact for other female engineers. I started looking into my professional network on LinkedIn to find ways to be more involved. Very timely, I came across Zocdoc WiT event, which boasts an impressive panel of women in technical leadership (password: WomenInTech).

Takeaways from Zocdoc Women in Tech panel

What I liked about the Zocdoc panel was that it wasn’t just focused on hiring more women into technical roles. The goal was to increase diversity and inclusivity in companies’ cultures. Hosted by Ruxandra Levy, Director Engineering at Zocdoc, the panelists featured some amazing female directors of engineering, including Swati Vauthrin (Buzzfeed), Ashley Miller(Datadog), Stacey Gorelik (Flatiron Health) and Farzana Nasser, President of mBolden.

After hearing stories and advice from the panelists and audience members, I began auditing Narrativ on some of the points that resonate most with me:

  • Do our job descriptions highlight the fact that the company values diversity and inclusiveness? (And I’m not talking about the Equal Employment Opportunity disclaimer.)

Our job description does little to reflect this philosophy even though this is something the CEO is passionate about.

  • Are women and people of color represented on the company’s About Us page? Blog? Do candidates see or meet with people who look like them during the interview process?

Our About Us page is OK but women are underrepresented on the blog. This is why I told myself I really needed to write this post.

  • Are we clearly communicating the vitality of hiring diverse candidates to recruiters? Are we utilizing employee referral as a way to attract and vet diverse candidates?

Narrativ recently announced an official employee referral program, so hopefully we’ll be getting some good candidates through this channel. I also communicated this to an external recruiter I’m working with. It seems like I’m getting more female candidates from him since he knows I respond well to them.

  • Do we have women in leadership positions? Candidates like to know that they can receive mentorship and be advocated for promotion and raises.

This is one of the areas where Narrativ is doing well. A lot of female candidates I speak to, especially at the junior level, highlight mentorship as one of the main things they look for in their next role.

  • Are we supporting tech programs with good gender ratio?

This seems like a no brainer — support educational programs that funnel your hiring pipeline. Narrativ has been involved with CodeNow and Code to Work, both of which boast a 50–50 gender ratio, and we hope to do much more in the future.

Final thought

Sitting at the room full of female engineers at Zocdoc panel, I wondered how many of them used to think WiT issues didn’t apply to them, and what the turning point was for each of them. The biggest realization for me was that, if you are not actively working to promote diversity in your workplace, you are hindering its progress. It is no longer enough to show up and do your job. Men and women, straight and gay people, white people and people of color all play their role in shaping the face and future of the tech industry.

I have always been a firm believer that we need more women in leadership positions, whether it be in politics, the C-suite or engineering teams. Recently, I made a commitment to educating my colleagues about what they could do to help support diversity initiatives (e.g. introducing iMentor — a mentorship program for first-generation college students). As I am writing this blog post, I’m brainstorming a ton of ideas for improving the hiring pipeline, team building and cultural sensitivity training. I want to get others on board in this journey with me, one at a time, and hope to record my progress on this blog.

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