Count Us In: Women in Tech Share their Advice to Achieve Gender Equality, Success

In the spirit of “Inspire Inclusion” for International Women’s Day 2024, CompTIA Community leaders offer encouragement, support to thrive in the tech industry.
Women in Tech Share their Advice to Achieve Gender Equality_ Success

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Inspire Inclusion,” a nod toward offering encouragement, advice and support to others to help achieve gender equality in the workplace. The CompTIA Community is poised to relaunch regional Advancing Women in Technology Groups this year, including a session at the CompTIA Communities & Councils Forum, March 11-13, in Chicago.

Leading up to that event, we asked several CompTIA Community volunteer leaders to share their experiences in the tech workplace and what they would say to women trying to make it in tech. Here’s what they had to say.

You’re Never Alone, Let’s Do it Together

Brook Lee, channel development manager, Pia

Brook Lee_325As someone who has been in the IT industry since graduating with a computer science degree, I’ve seen a lot of change over the years. I’ve worked in many worlds—corporate, non-profit, MSP, the channel and consulting—all in tech—and had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and companies. I’ve learned a lot about how things work, why they work, but I also recognize when more work still needs to be done.

For example, it’s important to find diverse, different people to connect with. In the tech space, this is even more critical. Finding spaces to interact, collaborate and connect with women in the tech field will do more than just give you someone to talk with. It will allow you to learn from others, including how they overcame obstacles—what they tried that worked and what did not. How they turned failure or tough times into positives or found a way to pivot their career into greater success.

I start in tech a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. Jokes aside, I actually wanted to be a lawyer most of my childhood into high school but realized the time and debt were going to be a lot. I had a pretty frank conversation with my counselor and she mentioned that the tech field was really starting to grow, that there were not many women in IT, so it might be a great place to blaze trails. So I changed my major and the wheels started turning.

I started on a help desk, moved to desktop and server support before managing an IT department at an aeronautics company—all in about four years. I had found my niche and somewhere that I could thrive. I enjoyed the “fires” that needed to be put out and I enjoyed the people I was working with.

But what was quickly apparent was that there were no other women at any of the places I was working. The men there were not used to working with women. I’m not what you would call a girly girl, so it worked well for me. I love football and almost all sports and could easily have conversations about that or cars or anything else under the sun.

I took some time off to be a stay-at-home mom to my children (I would not trade anything from the experience), but life keeps changing and I found myself a single parent needing to re-enter the work force. I figured that I had a good education, experience from some pretty big companies and I would be able to get a low-tier tech job and work my way back up. Boy was I wrong. No one wanted to hire me. First, I had been out of work raising children so that was the first red flag people labeled me with. Second, said children caused people to not hire me as a single parent because they were “afraid I would miss work due to sick children or school activities.” Is this illegal? Absolutely. But I needed a job so the hunt continued.

I had to find a way to literally keep the lights on and put food on the table so I took a job working at a gas station overnight. I could take my daughters to school, take care of the youngest who was not yet in day care and work at night. I had to apply and use government assistance. It was one of the low points of my life but sometimes pride needs to be parked at the door so you can make things work and provide for your family. Was this what I wanted to do? Of course not, but sometimes you just have to put on your big girl pants and make it work.

Later that year I saw an advertisement for a receptionist/dispatcher at a local IT firm. I applied and interviewed and heard the usual push back on the “single mom” obstacle, but I just said, “I need a chance, I won’t disappoint you”. I stayed at that firm for almost 10 years. When I left this MSP, I was the vCIO, was on the leadership team and was part of the group that took this company from the seven people that were there when I started to over 40. It’s where I got my love of tech back. I moved into consulting after leaving this role and then into the position I’m in now in the channel space. One thing that was the same at every role and job I’ve had, there are very little technical women there. How have things changed so much but still remained the same?

That leads me to where I am today. Joining the CompTIA Community seemed like a logical place to find likeminded women and women that want to keep pushing the edge on our space in tech. How can we go even further? What can we do to affect more change and help others behind us? When I was approached to chair the Advancing Women in Technology group, I honestly jumped at the chance. I didn’t even think twice. I didn’t care how much work it was or what had been done before or why things are not moving fast enough. I simply thought, this is another opportunity to work with the amazing support of the CompTIA Community and get something done. I no longer felt that I had to go it alone. That is the takeaway. You are not alone. You don’t have to go it alone anymore. There are groups like AWIT all over the world. Find one that speaks to you and gives you a place to share your stories, hear others and how they have overcome some unbelievable hurdles and learn new ways to support all the women in tech.

Join us and let’s set the world on fire.

Speak Up, Showcase Your Talents

Lieve Van de Voorde, sales distribution manager, Kyocera Document Solutions, Belgium, and chair of the CompTIA Advancing Women in Technology Group - Benelux

Liev Van de Voorde_325The importance of a good gender balance is making companies more profitable is well-documented in numerous studies. It’s crucial to support and empower woman never to forget their strength.

I started my IT career in 1991, 21 years old and little did I know about IT. Two years later, I became store manager and was so proud of myself that I was able to achieve a function with more responsibilities. However, a few years later I got pregnant and that was a no-go for the company at the time. They made it clear that to achieve a career within the company I had to choose between a family live or my job. It was for me a shock and it felt so unfair but I didn’t speak up being so young. It was however the point where I realized I just didn’t want to work for a company with this mentality.  I felt it just didn’t resonate.

It was not easy to find another job being three months pregnant, but I was determined to find another company with the right values. IT was already the sector I was working in so I started to contact some people that I knew and luckily found a new job very fast. I was honest towards the new employer about my pregnancy and ended up working for a smaller distributor. It was the best decision I made. I was fortunate to never have to deal with gender discrimination because the CEO always prioritized talent over gender and gave me the chance to grow. After a few years I was his right hand and sales manager over a team of six people involved in every decision he made. It didn’t matter that I was a woman. I was free to just learn and grow being busy with the wellbeing of the company. It never popped up in my head for one second that me being a woman mattered in my job.

Unfortunately, after 16 years the company was sold and management changed and I started to feel pushed aside. Now I’ve found a great place in Kyocera. I realize today that gender discrimination does exist and that there often is a glass ceiling, but it never stopped me from pursuing my goals.

I advise to every woman who has the dream to have a career, whether it is in IT or another sector, to not be intimidated by gender discrimination but to speak up. If the company does not resonate with your values, it is their loss. Speak up and let them see your talents, your power, your skills.  Remember that there are a lot of companies and people that are not busy with gender but with you as a person combined with the wellbeing of the company.

I want to highlight the positive and proactive nature of women in tech who work towards changing perceptions and breaking barriers, showcasing their resilience and determination. Now being a part of the CompTIA Advancing Women in Technology Group in the CompTIA Community - Benelux, I hope to make a positive impact by encouraging other woman to have the courage and strength to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.

Treat People Right and They Will Rise

Sibyl Jacob, Business Development Manager, BELUX, Kingston Technology

Sibyl Jacob_325Thanks to my ‘arts & techniques’ degree and the languages I speak, I got a friendly invitation from a friend to start working for Corel as a merchandiser after university. In less than a year I had been promoted to the Belux channel account manager. In 1999 and 2000, business was booming and the IT world was pretty rock and roll at that time. A lot of technologies were about to be invented and a lot was going on while I was looking from the edge.

In 2002, Corel went public and after cost-cutting measures I had to look for another job. A bit disappointed and the one time where I thought that IT was boring and for men. I thought I’d try something else.

Through an ad in a French newspaper, I applied to work for a media sales house, managing magazines. The funny thing is that I ended up in a company with only women. The complete opposite. A very different vibe and I actually started missing the men—and the IT industry.

There is a magic around IT, the velocity, the way it moves forward, the reach and the liberty it reveals, the companies, the events, the networking, the satisfaction of being able to move mountains by technology and help businesses grow and transform through technology.

After two years, I got a call from Ingram Micro about helping them out with mobility, I did not hesitate and became their first (and first female) business development manager for mobility. I was challenged to turn Belgium and Luxembourg mobile with Proximus as the driving motor behind this. People were starting to surf on their phones and computers without using Wi-Fi. It became a success and still is today, of course.

Seven months later, I got a phone call from Kingston Technology asking if I would consider becoming a business development manager for Belux. My previous manager at Corel had recommended me. I’m still at Kingston, 17 years later, surrounded by marvelous people in a multicultural company where I feel I belong. About 58% of our workforce globally are women, who do not have to cope with the glass ceiling. Everyone gets the chance to become who he or she wants to be. Not only on a professional level but also in a personal way. We call it the Kingston family. The mixed environment is what I like the best and I am sure it is also the best formula for a company. Men and women and multiple cultures where everyone is treated with respect. That is one of the things I have learnt:

One thing I’ve learned is to treat your people right and they will lift you up. This is also how I build my relationships and how I now have an entire network of peers and friends in the Belgian IT industry.

Two years ago, I became an executive council member for the CompTIA Community - Benelux, standing up for ‘Advancing Women in Tech’ because I believe it is in women’s nature and a human characteristic to adapt to changes, to find solutions and to share with others.

Making people aware that diversity is the beauty in life, and a winning factor in every possible market. Since we are all different, it is obvious that a company should be the mirror of society to be in touch with something we call reality. Being true and fair helps to build a thriving, resilient future for society and businesses. It demands flexibility and being able to adapt in today’s fast-moving, everything-online-and-integrated world.

I would like to share my experience with young starters and help them navigate in this business to find their way and the CompTIA Community is the best place to do that!

My advice to young starters is to believe in yourself and never compromise your self-worth. Follow your inner voice and your desire when it comes to your job, it will take a huge part of your life so it is worth to invest your time, hard work and passion. Dear to step forward even if it’s a bit risky. When you are young you can afford to make mistakes and learn from them. After all it is not the successes that we learn from but the mistakes.

And at last, treat your colleagues the way you’d like to be treated.

Let’s Strive for a World with Genderless AI

Naz van Norel, founder of Ethical Data Queens, and Women AI Academy

Naz Cilo-van Norel_325Born to a nomad family on an Alm in the south of Turkey, my early experiences were far removed from the digital world that I would come to profoundly know. This unique upbringing instilled a fierce independence and a desire for equality, setting me on a path to challenge societal norms and champion transformative change.

My academic journey led me from the logical realms of electronics engineering to the nuanced debates of political science, reflecting a profound curiosity and multifaceted intellect. This transition was not merely a change of discipline; it was a testament to my determination to explore how technology can serve society, aiming to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical worlds meaningfully.

Joining Siemens in 1993, I embarked on a journey spanning over three decades, evolving into a senior IoT consultant. My role, at the cutting edge of technological innovation, went beyond connecting objects or systems; it was about making the world smarter, more intuitive, and ultimately, more inclusive. Throughout my career, I have navigated a global landscape, working with diverse colleagues, partners, and competitors, while challenging the biases that often sideline women in tech.

I encountered numerous hurdles throughout my journey, from the isolation of childhood and sexism within my professional life to the complex dynamics of social expectations, marriage, and motherhood. These challenges brought into sharp focus the essential role of initiatives dedicated to supporting women in technology. My experiences underscored a fundamental belief: to effectively reduce the gender gap, society must not only empower girls and women but also critically examine and address the ways in which boys and men are empowered. This approach involves fostering an environment where mentorship, community, and advocacy thrive, ensuring barriers are dismantled, and creating spaces where women can excel. It's about recalibrating the balance of power, ensuring equitable opportunities for all genders to flourish.

I have been working to empower women and girls in tech, through initiatives like Ethical Data Queens and Women AI Academy to underscore a broader vision. I love being at the forefront of advocating for genderless AI, striving to create technology that transcends traditional gender norms, ensuring that AI systems are inclusive and equitable. Efforts to debug gender bias in tech and engage men in the industry are vital steps toward a tech landscape where innovation benefits everyone, regardless of gender.

Inspired by pioneers like Stephanie Shirley, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Turkan Saylan, I feel like I am not just navigating my own journey in tech, but also laying down tracks for future generations. A vision for genderless AI is integral to this legacy, aiming to ensure that technology reflects and respects the diversity of human experience.

A Journey Beyond Codes and Circuits

Our story as women should transcend binary codes of technology. It's a narrative of resilience, empowerment, and a relentless pursuit of equality, highlighted by innovative approaches to genderless AI. As we continue to innovate and advocate for women in tech, let’s remember that the path to diversity and inclusion is not only paved with challenges but also with opportunities for profound change and impact.

Let's bridge the gender gap by creating AI that is ethical and accessible to all!

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