07 / 03 / 2021
#ChooseToChallenge: celebrating the voices of women in tech
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2021
International Women’s Day is an opportune reminder to assess where we are as individuals, organizations and as a society. While stories of successful female tech leaders – the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Gillian Tans and Whitney Wolfe Herd – are now hitting the headlines, these women still remain the exception to the rule. So, how does one cultivate a culture of inclusion and diversity?
We invited three women from within our own organization to share their experiences as women working in tech. It is through telling their stories that Ornat, Alina and Christabel share valuable insights not just to inspire the women of tomorrow, but to prompt us all, whether female or male, to look inwardly and question our own biases.
“When you get closer to the sun, you often get burned…”
Christabel Ebrill is our Risk and Compliance Lead at Trūata. With parents who are not only passionate about female empowerment but named their children after the daughters of the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, it seems Christabel was always destined to challenge the status quo. Christabel started her career in IT nearly 12 years ago, and it was only when she began to move into management roles that she became acutely aware that she was in the minority.
“When I look back over my career so far, there have certainly been times where I have felt the sense of isolation that comes with being outnumbered. What I found particularly difficult as I moved up the ladder was the language used – you know, the language bias that creeps into those interviews where employers are looking for ‘the right-hand man’, or those new encounters where people remark, ‘I never pictured you for this role’. This is what makes you hyper-aware of your gender and leads you to question yourself.”
While previously working in Australia, Christabel had the opportunity to take part in mentorship initiatives where women in tech shared their experiences. “What was common, but most disappointing, was much of the advice these women had been given. Essentially, they had been told to go against their own nature: shout louder about what you’re doing and embrace masculine qualities”, says Christabel. “This is incredibly disempowering; you have to be able to show up as your authentic self – to show up with the qualities that come with being a woman. And the right culture, the right company and the right team will value your hard work and your individuality – regardless of gender.”
“Fortunately, I am now in a position where I come into work every day and I don’t think about my gender or the fact that I am the only woman on my team, but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s a unique reflection of the intentional culture being built; my line manager has created an environment where inclusion, authenticity and hard work thrive, so gender becomes a ‘non-issue’, which is why I know I am now in the right place.”
“I dedicate this International Women’s Day to all the men who have supported me”
Alina Qureshi, an Agile Coach & Senior Scrum Master at Trūata, has been working in tech since 1990, and believes the female support network needs to be built from a young age to bring about gender parity.
“In order to bridge the gender gap, we need to address social and cultural issues that have been deeply ingrained in society throughout history; there are very different societal expectations placed on women, and the female influences in my early life certainly didn’t associate STEM subjects with girls – we need to challenge and change that. We need to create a culture where women support other women. Be a mentor. Be a sponsor. Proactively choose to challenge.”
Growing up, and throughout much of her career, Alina found that it was the male influences in her life who gave her the confidence to pursue her goals. “Rather than the women around me, it was my father, uncle and brother who challenged the norms and told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be”, says Alina. “We need young girls to see other females working in tech; we need to ensure we are not buying into the stereotypes that society has created and we, as women, need to stand for one another. While men often open the door for other men, all too often in life women get to the door and then close it behind them. We need to be asking ourselves what we have individually done to support our collective cause as women.”
Alina leads a team of male engineers, and she thrives on the opportunity to challenge herself and those around her on a daily basis. In observing how Trūata’s CEO has built an inclusive C-suite, Alina says, “I admire that; it is rare and says a lot about our leader. A culture of inclusion needs to be developed with a top-down approach that nurtures and raises female talent.”
“We need to vocalize what women can be rather than what they should be”
After studying Engineering at both undergrad and post-grad level, Ornat Ní Mhuirí found herself pursuing a career in tech products; she now works as a Product Manager at Trūata. When Ornat first decided that she wanted to study Engineering in college, family members told her it was “a man’s profession”; despite brushing it off and pursuing her goals, she is very aware of how labels can impact the path to gender parity.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had listened to that comment. Even when I was in school, science and maths were typically subjects that people aligned with boys. The gender bias creeps in from a very young age: what toys you’re expected to play with, what subjects your supposed to be good at, what career paths you should follow. I do think there is a lot more awareness of gender bias and stereotypes among young women today, but children do need the primary influencers around them to be encouraging careers without labelling them or placing them under a gender umbrella.”
At this stage in her career, Ornat says that she now feels a sense of support as a female Product Manager. “Times have changed, and tech has become more accessible to women; there are also a lot of initiatives out there to support and encourage women into tech, says Ornat. “In the world of tech, I do still think there is often an assumption that women in tech are not as technical, which can sometimes make women feel as though they have to prove themselves; however, I am in the fortunate position of having found colleagues who have supported and assisted me with overcoming issues with confidence and insecurities”.
Ornat recalls a time, early on in her career, where she was working as the only female in an all-male team and this wasn’t the case. “The ‘boys club’ mentality came through in the management style. We were a young team and flippant about our discussions over salary; I found out that all the men around me had received a pay increase, but I had not. Fortunately, I have had some fantastic experiences since then, and to see a number of women in top-level leadership in our organization who can represent us is both unique and inspiring”.
In looking ahead to the future, Ornat believes that progressive cultures will continue to pave the way for women: “I believe women can have both the career and the family, particularly when organizations create more flexible working environments and provide benefits that really help women – and Trūata really thinks about that. It doesn’t need to be an ‘either/or’ choice anymore; you just have to look at Jacinda Ardern or Sheryl Sandberg to see the female role models that are paving the way for the next generation. I would encourage all young girls and women to #ChooseToChallenge – don’t be afraid of the challenges and obstacles; if you go along with the status quo, you’ll never know what else you could have achieved!”
There’s always more that could – and should – be done to cultivate a culture of inclusion of diversity; we must each take conscious steps to drive a collective change. We #ChooseToChallenge today to create less challenges for the women that follow in our footsteps tomorrow. How about you?