Contributor: Ricky Rajani
Last week, graduate students studying at the Wharton School of the University in Pennsylvania shared their backgrounds and experiences working in the tech industry. Panelists Catharine Blankenship, Tania Steyn, and Emma Huntington previously worked at tech startups and companies, specifically LivingSocial, 360pi, Doostang, and Facebook. They shared what it was like working at a startup and the challenges faced by women in tech. Here is a quick rundown on what occurred during the panel:
Why did you decide to work for a tech startup?
The general response was because of the startup culture. Working for small-scale companies allows more freedom to make decisions quickly; therefore, the work that gets done is more fast-paced as compared to working at a larger company.
What is it like being a woman in a tech company?
Challenging. The panelists mentioned being the only female on their teams or even in their companies. Here are couple of statistics:
Women made up 26% of the computing workforce in 2013.
Females make up 30% of the workforce at Google, 37% at Yahoo, and 31% at Facebook.
7% of venture capital funding goes to women-owned businesses.
4.2% of investing venture capitalists are women.
But what is ironic is the fact that women are the lead adopters of technology, and startups with women executives tend to be more successful.
What challenges did you face as a woman working at a tech startup?
Since startups are not as established and formalized as larger companies, they don’t actively seek more female employees. They have to hire the first person that comes along who will effectively get the job done; diversifying their workforce is generally not one of their main priorities. Since there is a lack of females in the industry to begin with, there will be even less females working at startups. Due to this, being a female developer at a tech startup can get lonely, and some recruiters may try to hire female developers in pairs in order to alleviate this problem.
Is there any specific advice you would give to females considering careers in tech?
Speak up and be confident in your abilities. The tech industry can seem like a boy’s club which can be intimidating, but don’t be terrified to ask questions and speak up at meetings. One of the panelists mentioned that her boss was her biggest advocate because he always encouraged her to voice her opinions. Having a mentor, even if he is male, is crucial to succeeding in the industry.
Another inherent problem is the tendency for females to be tentative about asking for a raise or promotion. A study showed that women ask for $7,000 less than their male counterparts in job interviews. But when asked to negotiate on behalf of a friend or colleague, they asked for as much as men.
Consider working at a startup at some point in your career because employees tend to receive more responsibilities and opportunities that come with working in a fast-paced culture.
Last, be passionate about the product you are working on because that will be the reason you will get up in the morning to go to work. Many people in tech truly believe they are changing the world with their product, and that is by far the greatest motivating factor.
It is a great time to be a woman because most industries, especially tech, are looking to hire more women. And as technology becomes more pervasive in female-dominated industries, such as education, there will hopefully be a greater emergence of female entrepreneurs and leaders.