On November 28-29, a fellow engineer from the Payment team, Karen, and I attended the European Women in Tech Conference in Amsterdam. It was my first tech conference and it was definitely the first event I have ever attended where the only males to be seen were cameramen and members of staff 🤭 On a more serious note, we spent the two days chatting with professionals in the field (both tech women and women-in-tech) and listening to inspiring talks from leading women of tech companies, such as Amazon, Facebook, Xing, Arm, just to name a few.
A couple of themes that came up in most of the talks I attended were:
- Diversity and inclusion. The conference started with a panel, led by Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer at HP Inc. She dedicated her work to creating an inclusive tech environment. According to Brown, although the situation is getting better, still only 16-20% of tech professionals are women. Yet, the goal is not to create even more separation by implying that women need a special treatment or protection. Instead, as another panelist Luciana Broggi (Enterprise Solutions GM, EMEA at HP Inc.) pointed out, hopefully soon diversity (and women in tech) will become a theme that no one talks about because it will be so normal that it will not require any attention anymore.
- The career path is rarely straightforward. More often it’s a zig zag street. Another subject discussed in the panel was a “traditional” career path. All presenters agreed that rarely anyone climbs “the career ladder” anymore. Rather, a successful career path is going up in zig zags. You get better at something, then you move to a new-ish territory, you struggle a bit, you learn it and then repeat the process again. Olivia Schofield (founder of Spectacular Speaking and Vocal Women) added to the point saying that one must have an agile mind-set (“Staying ready, not getting ready”, as she put it) and be able to adapt and change one’s direction as the need arises. Luciana Broggi also admitted that when hiring, the most important thing that she considers in a potential candidate is the growth-mindset and aptitude to learn.
- You don’t have to have a title to lead. Not surprisingly, another prevailing topic was leadership. All presenters repeated again and again that you don’t need a title to propose a change. Sometimes it is tempting to feel like we should stick to our official role and we hesitate to point out anything that is out of scope of our work. But the attendees of the EWIT conference were encouraged not to wait for a promotion in order to speak up, suggest change, or talk openly about their achievements. That way, they would better serve their team and company, even if “lead” or “manager” does not appear in their official job title (yet).
- Be yourself, do your thing, not the right thing. A question that came up in many talks was this: “we work in a world dominated by men, does it mean we should start acting like men?” And the answer from all presenters was a clear no! Olivia Schofield, Mennat Mokhtar (IT Area Lead at ING), Kirsi Maansaari (Director, Product Management at Arm) and all other presenters stressed the need to remain feminine, authentic and true to ourselves. We (and by we I mean every one of us, regardless of our gender) often see things from a different point of view, we have different communication styles and ways to approach challenges and embracing it, instead of trying to fit in, brings the most innovative ideas.
Generally, the conference had a very supportive and positive vibe. The goal of it was to celebrate women in tech, no matter how few there may be and empower and inspire them. Of course it’s not all victories and celebration. In my opinion, the most interesting and insightful discussions took place off-stage. The women I talked to told me things that have not been addressed during the official presentations: discrimination and sexism that actually do exist (even if it can be forgotten after two days of interacting with female leaders of the industry), struggles they had to go through working full time, raising children and managing a home, inability to move on in their career because of not being taken seriously, over-scrupulous code reviews from male colleagues, mansplanation and so on. The contrast of hearing stories about wins and challenges of fellow women gave me a lot of inspiration and material for reflection. The not-so-happy accounts are just as important to be shared and, hopefully, in the future more raw testimonies will be coming from presenters.
It is obvious that most of the themes discussed above are as relevant to men as they are to women. Even though the conference was presented as a “women” event, anyone could have benefited from the presentations. I strongly support Luciana Broggi’s idea that we should focus less on separation between male and female engineers, as this trait differentiates us much less as we sometimes think. In the end, we all, men and women, should spend our energy on becoming better engineers, leaders, teammates, trainees and mentors. So my hope is that my blog post of the next year will be titled “A Couple of Takeaways from the Open-Minded People in Tech Conference”.