When 'no' is not an option: Perseverance among tech leaders offers inspiration on International Women’s Day

When ‘no’ is not an option: Perseverance among tech leaders offers inspiration on International Women’s Day

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Today’s International Women’s Day is about many things, including gender equality, closing the job opportunity gap and breaking down barriers to career advancement. Yet perhaps more than anything else, IWD is about tales of perseverance.

Take the story of Dominique Bastos (pictured), senior vice president of cloud at Persistent Systems Inc. and former sales leader at Amazon Web Services Inc. Before embarking on a highly successful tech career, Bastos discovered an affinity for building circuit boards as far back as middle school.

Yet, she was told that engineering was for boys, not girls. Ten years later, Bastos would double major in industrial engineering and robotics with honors.

“I kind of shrugged it off and thought, ‘OK, well I’m now definitely going to do this,’” Bastos recalled. “I actually crashed the civil engineering school’s Concrete Canoe Building Competition. My inspiration was a little bit of ‘don’t do this’ and a lot of curiosity.”

Bastos spoke with theCUBE industry analyst John Furrier at the IWD23 event, during an exclusive broadcast on theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio. As part of IWD23, theCUBE interviewed industry experts and practitioners about the significance of the day and how diverse role models were empowering women in STEM and confronting gender bias in the technology world.

Here’s theCUBE’s complete video interview with Dominique Bastos:

Seat at the table

The stories told by women executive leaders interviewed by theCUBE underscore many of the hurdles that women have confronted over the years. That often started with being the only woman in the room.

“There were really no women; there were none,” said Teresa Carlson, president and chief commercial officer at Flexport Inc., recalling the early days of her technology career. “When I showed up in the meetings, it literally was not me at the table, but at the seat behind the table. The women just weren’t in the room, and there were so many more barriers that we had to push through.”

Another story of persistence came from theCUBE’s conversation with Lena Smart, chief information security officer at MongoDB Inc. Unlike many of her counterparts, Smart did not use a college education as a springboard into the corporate world. But she was fascinated by computers and thought the field could possibly lead to money and a satisfying career.

“I did not go to university. I had to leave school when I was 16 and got a job to support my family,” Smart said. “Most of my jobs were clerical work and secretary at that point. I would make it my job to go find the guy who did computing, because it was always a guy. I just kept learning.”

Fifty percent of women in tech roles leave them by the age of 35, according to a report released by Accenture PLC last year. This startling data point underscores the dual responsibilities women often assume, contributing in a corporate organization and managing a family at the same time.

“Never mind the unconscious bias or cultural expectations that you get from male counterparts where there’s zero understanding of what a mom might go through at home to then show up at a meeting fully fresh and spit out some wisdom,” Bastos said. “Your kid just freaking lost their whatever and you have to sort a bunch of things out. I think this is the challenge that women are still facing, and we will have to keep working at making sure there is a good pipeline.”

Here’s theCUBE’s complete video interview with Teresa Carlson:

Programs for change

To strengthen that pipeline, companies have developed a number of initiatives. The focus of many of these efforts has been on encouraging interest in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.

“We have a program that we run in Ghana where we meet basic STEM needs for an afterschool program,” said LaDavia Drane, head of global inclusion, diversity and equity at Amazon Web Services Inc. “We’ve taken this small program and we’ve turned their summer camp into this immersion. We do focus on girls, and they can come and be completely immersed in STEM.”

AWS is also involved in the Advancing Women in Tech program through involvement of the company’s Nancy Wang, director and general manager for AWS Data Protection at Amazon Web Services Inc. and founder/board chair of AWIT. The program was founded in 2017 to focus on mid-level women in technical roles. The goal is to provide support for women through mentorship programs and connecting people in the industry, even if that can lead to far corners of the world.

“When I was doing the product market fit workshop for the U.S. State Department, I had women dialing in from rice fields,” Wang said. “They were holding their cell phones up near towers near trees just so they could get a few minutes of time with me to do a workshop and accelerate their business.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. has fostered a “Ready Now!” program designed to help female HPE executives seek out and obtain seats on company boards of directors. Meagen Eisenberg, chief marketing officer at Lacework Inc., announced in her interview that a new initiative would soon be launched for women in the cybersecurity community.

“We’re launching Securedbywomen.com, and it’s very much focused on women in the industry,” Eisenberg said. “We’re going to be taking nominations and sponsoring women to go to upcoming security events. It’s to celebrate women in security and help them with continual learning.”

Here’s theCUBE’s complete video interview with LaDavia Drane:

Career decisions

The process of continual learning for women in the tech world extends beyond programs for inclusion and networking events. The experiences of many women leaders offer an educational roadmap for navigating the twists and turns presented by a career in the tech industry.

Part of this learning stems from knowing when a particular line of work may not be the right course to follow. For Madhura Maskasky, co-founder and vice president of product at Platform9 Inc., this insight came when confronted with a potential career in video games.

“I realized very quickly that I absolutely hate video games. I’ve never liked them, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” Maskasky said. “I was trying to understand how to build these systems, but I was not enjoying it. It’s so important that you enjoy whatever aspect of technology you decide to associate yourself with.”

Women must also make conscious decisions about job versus career, according to several of the leaders interviewed by theCUBE. This is a key process for risk-taking, according to Krista Satterthwaite, senior vice president and general manager at HPE Mainstream Compute.

“For the first half of my career, I was very job conscious, but I wasn’t career conscious,” Satterthwaite said. “I’d get in a role, and I’d stay in that role for long periods of time. Risk-taking can be a little bit scary, and the way I see it is give it a shot and see what happens. That helped me tremendously.”

Women are going to need to change the mindset at the top as well. Diversity and inclusion initiatives being generated by a number of tech companies are a nice start, but real change is more likely to take place when the vast majority of chief executives sign on.

“I would like to see commitment at the top; that you’re not just going to lip sync, but you’re going to walk the talk that this is important to you as a company and what you stand for as a human being,” said Andrea Euenheim, chief people officer at MessageBird Inc. “Are you going to put in the effort as a leadership team to actually set the right example?”

International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to take stock. While data points and studies continue to highlight the gender gap, there is a belief that perseverance will ultimately pay off, just as it has done already for many women leaders.

“The time is now,” said Asha Thurthi, chief product officer at MessageBird. “I really feel like the time has come for women to take what’s really due for them. And not just because we’re women, but because we are equally strong and contributing at the table.”

Here’s theCUBE’s complete video interview with Madhura Maskasky:

There’s much more coverage from SiliconANGLE and theCUBE coverage of the IWD23 event.

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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