It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in the world of IT. But what is the experience of real women ‘on the ground’? What does it feel like to be in the minority in a male-dominated environment? Or does being female in a sea of men, in fact, have its upsides? To get to the bottom of this, we had the privilege of hosting a round table with seven clued-in female colleagues at Lobster HQ. Their responses are poignant and enlightening.
Roundtable participants: Suelyne Batista (Software Development, PRO), Ayleen Bocretsion (Head of Technical Consulting, PRO), Anne Cybok (Technical Consulting, LLC), Dr. Maria Gonik (Project Manager, PRO), Svenja Fischer (CTO, LLC), Barbara Huber (Support, DATA), Katja Wacker (Technical Consulting, PRO)
Thank you for joining us and being open to sharing your experiences as women in tech. Let’s start at the beginning: Did you always know that working in IT was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into computer science?
Maria: For me, it definitely started at an early age. At school, I always enjoyed computer lab. It was something I was really interested in, and I loved that for IT-solutions there was a practical application. The virtual nature of the field inspired me – transferring the physical world to digital models solving problems virtually.
Anne: I think it had a lot to do with my upbringing. My dad was in IT, and we were one of the first families in Germany to have an internet connection. I remember my dad showing me and my brothers the “www” and how it all worked.
Katja: For me it was a bit different. I only changed industries two years ago, so I’ve never been focussed on a career in coding. Saying that, I originally started out in media technology – which is arguably also quite male-centric.
Ayleen: My approach was quite calculated in a way – I remember sitting down and looking at my skills and analysing where I saw the most potential for a lucrative career. IT seemed like a no-brainer.
Svenja: I wound up in the field almost by accident! I was meant to be in the introduction to economics session. But when I got there, they’d already started, so I sat in on the IT welcome talk instead – thinking they surely wouldn’t be that dissimilar. In the end I was so inspired that I decided to sign up!
Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like at Lobster?
Suelyne: My day-to-day centres around analysing our software solutions and trying to pre-empt or solve errors and cover all scenarios. We focus on pushing what our tools can do.
Katja: Personally, I’m less focussed on configuration and code and more on project management. No two days are the same as I have multiple different projects on the go in various stages of completion. Two years ago, I also took on the responsibility of PMO, so I’m now the first point of contact in-house for new projects and organise comms with the other departments – so support, infrastructure and sales, for example.
Christina: I’m also a point of contact, but mainly for our customers. I solve problems and advise our customers over Teams or the phone. Saying that, it’s not all externally facing. I also help colleagues in-house at Lobster if they’re having issues.
Svenja: My work is also incredibly varied. Some days I’ll be working on a pitch for a potential customer and focussing on presales, on others I might be running a customer workshop or a team meeting – it really just depends.
What is the biggest deterrent in your opinion to women succeeding in the tech workplace?
Katja: Personally, I don’t see any reason why women shouldn’t succeed in the workplace or in tech for that matter. Yes, all the tech gurus we see in the media are men. But my whole career has been spent in largely male-dominant industries and I have always felt that I have been awarded roles based on my previous experience.
Christina: I agree. And let’s not forget that IT solutions are made for humans to use. No matter whether it’s men or women, you’re focussing on creating a positive user experience, which means you need both perspectives in the team. All in all it’s much more people-focussed than we give it credit.
Anne: Yes, it’s a bit of a marketing issue – from the outside you don’t see many women, so women possibly don’t see themselves working in this industry. One thing I will say, however, is that from personal experience it gets more complicated when you have children. But that’s the same in any industry. Luckily, all my employers have been incredibly adaptable, and been happy to work around my needs as I started a family. But obviously, my work still needs to be done even if I’m part-time. You have to set boundaries, which can earn you the odd throwaway comment along the lines of “Oh? You’re off already, are you?”. You have to take it with a pinch of salt.
In Germany, more than one in ten companies don’t have a single women on the team. What can we do to encourage more women to join the tech workforce?
Maria: I think that the variety of roles on offer in tech isn’t highlighted enough. People forget that IT firms are like any other company. Not every job is about code. We need marketing specialists, sales reps, project managers, HR teams etc. I also believe we should be stressing how easy it is to move laterally into tech, especially if you’ve studied linguistics or communications. I have female colleagues who studied these traditionally female subjects, and were uninspired by their prospects and pay – ultimately they changed to a career in IT and now earn multiples of their former salary.
Anne: I don’t think women realise how flexible this job is. Companies seek out women in tech. When I was a freelancer, I could tell them what I needed – and they always found a way to make it work, especially when I had my children.
Ayleen: I fully agree. The flexibility around family time is great. I also think it would be good to have dedicated in-house mentors. Ideally, they would be other women, but that’s not to say that men can’t also be allies. It’s clearly a question of budget, but I do think SMEs could benefit from an individual or team dedicated to ensuring female voices are heard.
Svenja: I also think there we need more inspirational content out there highlighting female successes in tech. I listen to some great podcasts for women in business, like “Fast & Curious” with Lea-Sophie Cramer and Verena Pausder. But I haven’t come across anything explicitly for the IT sector.
Looking back, is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?
Anne: I wish I had had the confidence to know that I was on the right track. I am lucky to have had a fulfilling career in tech and wish I could go back and tell myself to just hang tight and trust my gut.
Svenja: I agree. Just stay relaxed. We offer a valid perspective and are a valid presence in meetings. Being women is our USP – we should use it to our advantage.
Maria: Exactly! Don’t feel you have to change who you are to fit in. I find that if I’m consciously more feminine in meetings, then the atmosphere is generally less aggressive and more polite.
Ayleen: I would agree. Play to your strengths but also find allies. Knowing who has your back never hurt anyone.
Suelyne: For me, I wish I had known to take credit for my work. It’s incredibly important to be a team player, but you have to advocate for yourself.
Katja: I wish someone had encouraged me to go back to working full-time sooner.
Christina: Mine is more from a lifestyle perspective: don’t forget to keep active outside of work. It’s easy to forget to move your body when work gets busy… so I’d say focus on making time for that.
Ladies, this has been an incredibly insightful conversation. Thank you for your time and candid comments.