How women in IT influence today's workforce and tomorrow's technology

What would the tech world look like without leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs like Satya Nadella, John Ive, or Elon Musk? What about the contributions of the other seven men who complete the list of “The 10 Most Influential Leaders in Tech Right Now” according to Juniper Research? Would the world be a poorer place without these powerful, intelligent, and insightful men bringing their minds to bear on the problems facing the world today? I think so.

Now imagine a world in which at least half of the names on that list were female. That’s a day that many women in the technology sector look forward to with anticipation. In my interviews with women across the tech spectrum, I certainly heard stories of obstacles and discouragement. But the overwhelming outlook is positive. It’s only a matter of time until the full impact of women in tech begins to be felt at all levels, adding depth and richness to a sector that is geared for an incredibly exciting decade.

I asked my interviewees to tell me about women they admire in their industry, what they believe women have to offer the tech world, and what the future will look like as our influence grows. Here’s what I found out. First, women aren’t tearing one another down. They are definitely cheering each other on.

Who do women look up to in tech?

It’s great to have role models at top levels of leadership in the technology field. Meg Whitman was a name that came up more than once in conversation. Julie Hamrick, Founder and COO of Ignite Sales, pointed to Meg’s early success at the helm of the world’s leading auction site. “For me, it’s the fact that she grew eBay to become a household name.” But it’s not just the wins that people find compelling about Whitman. It’s her attitude about adversity and challenges. CeCe Morken, EVP and General Manager of ProConnect at Intuit, also spoke about her admiration for the current CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “She so embraces learning from failure. One of the things she told us is that she now celebrates failure as much as she celebrates success in her all-hands meetings. These are just fast failures, experiments they learn from.”

But most of the women I spoke with didn’t choose a big name as a “shero” they look up to the most. They told me story after story of women they know personally who have inspired them. Charlene Schwindt, a software business unit manager at Hilti, put it simply. “I most admire some of the women I see and work with every day. When they complete a successful project, have big wins, get major status or an executive position on a board, that’s a huge achievement.”

Julie mentioned Valerie Freeman, CEO at Imprimis, as a role model. “She is one of those people who is doing well in business and doing good in the community.” Mary McNeely, Oracle Database expert and owner of McNeely Technology Solutions, spoke highly of peer advisory facilitator and talent development consultant Tanis Cornell as someone who showed that hard work and self-belief really can pay off. “She didn’t start out in tech, but she moved to technology sales, pulled herself up by the bootstraps, and overcame barriers to succeed.”

Jen Voecks is the founder and CEO of the tech startup Praulia, an online service that matches brides with wedding vendors. For her, the most inspiring thing to see is other women creating something new in the industry. She pointed to Molly Cain, former Executive Director of Tech Wildcatters, as an inspiration. “She built a lot of things herself.” Today, Cain is the acting Deputy Director of Digital Innovation and Solutions/Venture Relations at the DHS. Quite a remarkable achievement and certainly one that will make her a role model for many more women throughout her career.

How do women change the game within tech organizations?

There’s simply no substitute for having more perspectives for both innovation and problem solving. Charlene has seen the benefit of a diverse team in determining how to develop the projects under her direction. “What women bring to the table can be different. Often, consideration of how people work with technology is not really coming into play as it should during the development process. Even if you have people talking to the customer about what they want, everything is based on interpretation. With a cross gender team, you get a different result by having multiple views on the same thing.”

This is something Julie found true as well. “I’ve noticed when we have women on our teams we have better follow through and more creativity. They are good at filling in the gaps. Amidst all the ones and zeros, women see more of the gray, more depth.” That’s not just good for short term improvement. It’s also essential for long term viability. Tanis Cornell pointed out that economic and financial experts are catching on to the fact that women are good for business. “It’s been shown in study after study now that companies with a better gender balance on the management team perform better financially. Meryl Lynch and other firms are starting to pay attention. They are investing in and recommending companies with more balanced leadership at the top. It’s simply a good business decision.”

How will women influence the future of technology?

Women are bringing their power to bear in leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, and more. The days when tech was developed through a primarily male lens are fading fast. That shift is bound to have an impact on what happens in the next five to ten years. Many women I spoke with mentioned the subtle but potent effect the female touch may have on the direction of tech. According to Julie, “I think things will become more friendly and useful. They will have more care to them, even in technology. Tech is more utilized by everyone these days. Going forward, there will be even more self-service, but the experience will have a more satisfying, human feel.” Mary echoed this sentiment, in terms of what it will take to succeed in the tech field and the world in general. “As the world becomes more roboticized, there’s also going to be a counter trend. Good intuition and people skills will become even more critical.”

CeCe Morken offered this advice for the current and coming generations of female innovators. “Look ahead and be aware of what’s coming. It’s changing faster than ever before and you need to find a way to grasp it.” Morken put her money where her mouth is recently by purchasing the latest virtual reality tech for employees to experience at work. Intuit is not looking to launch any products using that technology right now, but CeCe wants her people to be familiar with what’s available so they aren’t playing catch up later as innovation continues to accelerate.

Jen highlighted the importance of tech for changing the future of women as well. “Tech gives you a new platform. It allows you to reach a broader audience. As an inventor or business owner, you have the opportunity to grow faster and meet partners.” In essence, tech is democratizing the entrepreneurial space even more than before, ensuring that women can advance on their own terms even if the corporate world continues to change more slowly.

Women in tech must keep reaching for their dreams

Data scientist Dr. Meltem Ballan has faced her share of challenges in building a career in tech. But she offered encouragement to other women in their quest to rise to the top. “It’s not insurmountable. There is no ceiling. Just keep on going out there and doing it. Learn to network well, and have the courage to take that next step.” Mary McNeely agreed that the future is there for the taking. “What we get next is whatever we want. We are educated and empowered. Our star is rising.”

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