At Phase2, we love being a part of the tech world. There are so many things to love about this industry, not least of all the hard-working, problem-solving people it attracts. But we are distinctly aware that not everything is perfect. Last week, Ellie called attention to the disheartening lack of diversity in our field. The response to her post was encouraging, for the most part: there was tremendous support and recognition that this is a problem which needs a solution. Of course, the nuances in the conversation suggest that it won’t all be smooth sailing.
Just as great web development begins at Discovery, so too do real-life solutions begin in conversation. So that’s exactly what we’re doing: discovering our issues, opening them up to examination, and starting a dialogue geared towards finding answers. This week, we interviewed Nicole Lind, a Senior Vice President at Phase2, to find out her thoughts on the subject.
As someone who has worked in the tech industry for a while, how has the role of women in the field evolved over time?
In the fifteen years I’ve been doing this, the main change has been more women taking on senior roles in project management and company leadership, as opposed to working the front desk. However, although the women who’ve been in the game for awhile are moving up the ladder, the statistics still show that the total number of women remains small. And of course the percentage of technical females - developers, architects, and engineers - is absurdly low.
What challenges and rewards do you face working in such a male-dominated field?
As a woman in this space - a woman of color - a woman of color in leadership - I have had to have a thick skin. Most of my early struggles were simply due to the fact that I was an unknown commodity. In my first technical leadership position, for instance, I became a director of 17 men, none of whom had ever reported to a woman before. But the great thing about tech is that when you do great work, nobody cares who you are. They may have their initial bubbling up of issues, and that’s when you have to have a thick skin, but they’ll ultimately come around when they realize you’re good at your job. That’s when you prove to yourself and everyone else that nothing can stop you, and that’s a very rewarding feeling.
Another rewarding part of being in leadership is my ability to mentor and coach other women who are struggling to climb the ladder. I like the trust, the bond that develops when I help someone with something I personally experienced. That’s one of the most satisfying and fulfilling parts of what I do.
How does increased diversity enhance Phase2’s success?
In so many ways! For one, it improves our relationships with our clients. Phase2 has two major women-dominated companies as clients, and it would have been much more awkward to do business with them without any female faces on our team. They very much appreciate seeing women leaders on our side, and they certainly see the value diversity brings to doing business.
Perhaps more importantly, differences in perspective always mean a better outcome or product. I find that women and minorities bring such an interesting perspective to the challenges we face. If I had a team where every member had the same perspective, our competitiveness would sorely lack.
How can we make the tech industry as a whole more inclusive for women?
From an organizational standpoint, inclusivity starts with leadership. When the leadership values diversity, hiring diverse employees happens more naturally through referrals and knowing where to look to find the best people. Companies also have to be sure to give a voice to people who have concerns. Ultimately, companies need to mature past the “brogrammer” culture Ellie mentioned to grown-up entities that provide diversity training, sexual orientation workshops - things like that.
Unfortunately, the solution to this problem is so much more complex than making a few strategic hires and holding a weekend seminar on diversity. It’s a societal issue, not something that can be fixed when people are entering the job market. It starts in elementary school. Girls are just not encouraged to study science and math. If they’re not taking the coursework, they’ll never major in a technology field, and if they never major in it, they won’t get jobs in tech. For nine years I worked for NYU running programs to get women and minorities interested in science and math. In my experience, the latest you can intervene is middle school.
So organizations didn’t create the problem, nor can they go back in time to change anyone’s entire educational experience. But what we can do is embrace our responsibility to foster kids’ interest in technology. Companies can sponsor programs in elementary schools, take on interns, and make our engineers available for speaking, tutoring, and inspiring young people to study mathematics. We can all do more to start helping to fix this systemic, long-term problem.
What are your thoughts about the long-term end game for diversity in tech? Have you had experiences similar to Nicole’s? All questions and comments are welcome below.