Written by Saghi Amirsoleymani, Vice President, WW Cross Brand, Rocket Software
Rocket Software is a Platinum member of the Open Mainframe Project. This blog originally ran on the Rocket website and was approved to run on the Open Mainframe Project website as a member spotlight.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are made.” –Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Although this statement may have been revolutionary at the time, the number of women in the workforce is rapidly changing; in the U.S., it’s risen by 47 percent in 2020 alone. Over the past few years, thanks to the help of revolutionary women such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women are making bigger strides in all industries—including into the White House. In the technology industry, strides have been harder to make, but the number of women engineers, programmers, and IT professionals is still growing.
Within the five largest tech companies in the world, the workforce is around 34.4 percent women. While that number is not as high as the overall number of women working, we are making progress. There are more women in leadership roles, female software engineers have increased by 2 percent in the past 20 years, and most importantly, we’re finally seeing women emerge as technology mentors, speakers, and thought leaders. The number of women participating in tech events has increased year over year, highlighting the importance of a more inclusive culture. In 2020, there was even greater participation in conferences, summits and seminars, including many events dedicated exclusively to women in tech.
I’ve been fortunate to be involved in several such events within the last year, the most recent one being the October Women in Tech panel at IBM Tech University, made up of women executives from IBM and Rocket Software. Featuring Priya Doty, VP of Product Marketing, IBM Z and LinuxONE, IBM, Lilac Schoenbeck, VP, GTM Strategy, Power Systems, Rocket Software, Joanie Gines, Director Worldwide IBM Z Software Sales, IBM, and Hélène Lyon, Distinguished Engineer, IBM, there was immense talent and success on the panel. As a VP involved with IBM Z technology for Rocket Software, I was honored and proud to share my voice and platform with these amazing women. If you’re a woman working in the technology industry—or an aspiring engineer, programmer or IT professional—I’ve outlined some of the insights I gained from these successful and talented industry professionals.
Although self-advocacy is challenging for everyone, it can be especially difficult for women as they struggle to position themselves in a male-dominated industry. An easy way to start self-advocating is to think about how to speak up in meetings. In every person’s career, there comes a point where you go from listening in meetings to having to speak and share your thoughts. The easiest way to do this is to think of each presentation or conversation as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. By looking at it this way, you can establish a cohesive presentation and feel more confident in your delivery. Don’t be afraid to speak up!
Another important aspect of self-advocacy for women is to make your work visible, as it makes you credible and increases your value. Women become more confident when they are understood and known for their capabilities. It helps reduce imposter syndrome, as well. Form a network of advocates by finding mentors and joining groups. This will help you become known for your great work.
ON BEING A LEADER IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY:
IT, engineering, and programming tend to be male-dominated career paths, which is why women who enter these industries tend to—unfairly—need to defend their talents and knowledge. When beginning your career, many female leaders recommend building a strong foundation in whichever industry you want to join. That way you know your competencies and knowledge, and you can sell yourself if needed. You need to have the base of knowledge to build upon to establish yourself as an innovator and leader. By fostering your technical expertise, you will show others that you’re skilled and know what you’re talking about, which allows you to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry.
A benefit to being a woman in a male-dominated industry is that, as one of the few in the room, you will likely always be remembered when at conferences, events, or meetings. This makes it extremely important to make sure you’re making a difference and making your voice heard. It can feel like a lot of pressure, but your presence can help advocate for other women in the industry who may be just starting out or struggling.
That’s also why it’s extremely important to strive to be the best leader you can be. A quote by Clayton M. Christensen in How Will You Measure Your Life? summarizes the need for managers to strive to do their best: “…If you want to help other people, be a manager. If done well, management is among the most noble of professions. You are in a position where you have eight or ten hours every day from every person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that, at the end of every day, [they go home feeling like they lived] a life filled with motivators.”
A manager or leader is more than a functional job— it’s a moral mandate. You need to make sure that you are supporting your team and sending them home tired, but not broken. Make sure that you lead with integrity and ensure that you’re advocating for others. I’ve had great leaders and mentors throughout my career, and the common thread between them all is that they were confident and gave me confidence. They knew what I thought my weaknesses were, or what I was nervous about, and they made sure that they built the confidence in me to take on those tasks. Being a great leader and mentor means knowing what makes your team nervous and stressed, and pushing them to do it, regardless.
Always take risks. Whether it be an exciting opportunity, a chance to innovate or an opportunity to advance your career, don’t be afraid to take it. A common theme among all the women in the panel—myself included—is that they faced challenging situations where they were forced to make tough decisions, whether it be moving to a new environment or country, or prioritizing family. Ultimately, these risks paid off and helped their careers advance. If presented with a potentially life-changing opportunity, don’t be afraid to take it.
Always learn. As we all know, the technology industry changes rapidly. There’s always a new technology making waves. Always take time to learn and educate yourself on the latest trends. This will help you stay ahead in the industry. Don’t be afraid to advocate for the importance of education in your career.
Know who you are and what you’re best at. Learn from, and trust, yourself—not others. Find your voice and your passion, instead of listening to what others tell you to do or who to be. When you figure out your drive and passion, there is no doubt that you’ll succeed.