Tech has long been an industry where women are underrepresented, but the good news is that’s finally changing. Overall, the number of women technologists is growing each year, according to a 2020 report by global nonprofit AnitaB.org. And while there’s still progress to be made to reach equal representation in the field, it’s becoming less common to be the only woman in the room.
“Other women in tech who have been my teachers, mentors, and managers have been such an important part of my success that I can’t imagine being where I am without them,” says Ariel Inman, a user change management consultant at Allstate. Inman is just one example of a woman who has found success in the tech world; countless others at companies in the U.S. and worldwide are breaking glass ceilings in all manner of roles, from software and IT to product.
Here, 10 of these women share their tips for those aspiring to get into the field—drawn from what they’ve learned from making it in the industry.
1. Don’t Let Self-Doubt Get in the Way
It can be scary to work in an industry where you may be the only woman in the room or on a project—and you may even question if you belong there. That’s exactly what Emilie Murphy experienced during one of her first engineering internships. Luckily, she didn’t give in to these thoughts and her internship at Northrop Grumman turned into a full-time job.
“After gaining some experience and becoming more confident in my skills, I have never let these doubts affect my work again,” she says. “As women, we have a tendency to quickly count ourselves out... It’s important to be confident in your abilities.”
2. Learn How to Take Negative Feedback
A lesson that has served Lisa Pearce well throughout her career is knowing how to handle criticism. Instead of allowing it to derail her from her goals and aspirations, Pearce—who moved up from intern to executive at Intel—sees it as an opportunity to adapt and grow.
“As women, we can be more prone to moments where a negative comment or feedback can sit in our minds for some time. We dwell on it, and that can cause us not to take future risks to stretch ourselves,” Pearce says. “It is important to view failures and feedback as a gift. Learn to build on it and focus on how you will adjust for next time. Let it fuel you into your next challenge.”
3. Never Stop Learning
In her 20-plus years working at Siemens, Toni Neal has held a number of different roles, including market analyst, product manager, and business development manager. Today, she is the Senior Director of Service. She partly owes her rise within the company to continuously expanding her skill set—which she did by taking advantage of the learning and development opportunities available to her.
“I cannot think of any training that I wanted to take that I was told no,” says Neal, who has completed leadership courses as well as university courses on various business, marketing, and service-specific topics. She has also attended internal hands-on training sessions and classes about communicating effectively and giving presentations.
4. Find a Good Mentor
You don’t have to navigate your career trajectory on your own. In fact, Ariel Inman, a user change management consultant at Allstate, can't stress enough the importance of having a mentor—and even a community of supporters you can turn to for help and advice.
“Create an army of people around you who want to see you succeed," she says. "It’s important to have people who can remind you of your worth and how hard you worked to get to where you are.”
5. Communicate Clearly
Having the courage to speak up is one thing—but successfully delivering a pitch is a different feat altogether. A great idea might not land if your delivery is off. That’s why Devon Westerholm, Vice President of IT Customer Experience at cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks, recommends brushing up on your communication skills.
“You should be able to publicly speak in front of people and share an idea confidently and clearly,” she says. “After all, to contribute your ideas, you need to be able to articulate them.”
Although your job may not require you to give formal presentations, this skill will help you communicate with your team more effectively.
6. Speak Up
Despite having more than 20 years of experience in the field, Sharmeelee Bala—the VP of Engineering at Gap Inc.—admits she still needs a reminder once in a while to voice her thoughts and ideas at work. And she advises other women to build up their confidence to do the same.
“Remember, if you are invited to a meeting, you have earned the seat at the table,” she says. “If you have a point of view, make sure it’s heard. If you don’t agree, speak up.”
Even if your idea doesn’t work, there’s still something to learn from the experience of putting yourself out there, Bala says.
7. Find Work That Means Something to You
Throughout her career, Alissa Cooper Stein has learned the importance of focusing on work that is truly meaningful to her. “I’ve found that you’ll be most successful when you’re working on something that you enjoy doing, so it’s important to be interested and believe in the work or mission,” she says.
Case in point: Her decision to work in software development at Audible was fueled in part by the personal connection she felt to the products and services the company offers.
“My grandfather was an avid reader, but when he lost most of his sight, he turned to mailing audiobooks on cassettes back and forth from the Library of Congress,” she says. “I love how our product can help someone who may learn differently or may have difficulty accessing content through traditional reading methods.”
8. Build a Community at Work
Samantha Pierre, an anthropology major, wanted a career that would allow her to use her multidimensional understanding of people and cultures in the workplace. At Palo Alto Networks, she has been able to do just that as a senior content marketing manager.
Perhaps more importantly, she was also given the chance to create a community of Black employees as the co-founder of Ujima, a Employee Network Group, which has been crucial to her sense of belonging and feeling supported at the company. It’s also helping to set current and future colleagues up for success.
“I wanted to build safe spaces for Black people to support each other professionally,” she says. “Thanks to Ujima, there’s greater awareness and acknowledgement of the unique systemic issues that prevent Black employees from entering the tech industry and thriving when we get here, and the company is making an effort to address them.”
Read more about Pierre’s career story
9. Be Patient
Whether you’ve always wanted to work in tech or have plans to pivot into the industry, it’s important to remember that it takes time to achieve your career goals. Prachi Sahoo, Director of Product Management at BlackLine, knows this all too well.
Sahoo held various roles at some of the biggest software companies in the business and founded a startup before getting to where she is today.
“Be patient. It takes time and the right opportunity,” she says, adding that it’s important to be flexible in your first role and to not be afraid to make a horizontal move if it can help get you where you want to go.
10. Find Out What Motivates You
Everyone has something that fuels them professionally. For Tamara Bain, a software engineer at the fintech company Robinhood, what keeps her going is considering how her own career path might pave the way for the next generation.
“I like to think about the future [and] the brilliant young women engineers who are just starting their careers or just discovering their love of software engineering,” says Bain, who started coding in sixth grade. “I want them to be fearless. I want them to be part of this industry that has and will continue to change the world.”