Women in Tech

Building a sustainable pipeline of female talent

8th March 2023
Kiera Sowery

Over the course of history, the contributions to technology from women have often been overlooked - and there is still a long way to go when it comes to representation throughout the industry. Leaders must also recognise that women contribute far more to business success than simply meeting diversity and inclusion targets. Carmen Fontana, IEEE member and, VP. operations at Augment Therapy discusses.

As an industry, we must ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to pursue a career in STEM and succeed. After all, by improving the diversity of knowledge and talent, we will be in a much better position to address many of the complex socioeconomic challenges we are currently seeing worldwide.

Representation starts from an early age

There are still many barriers for women in technology, including few female role models to look up to. This can make it difficult for women to aspire to become leaders in their chosen profession. For this reason, during the early years of my career, there was an initial drift away from technology. That has since changed, but I had to become creative and somewhat unconventional, proactively seeking out mentors and sponsors to support my journey. However, there should be a shared responsibility here.

Piquing the interest of girls from an early age is important, because it enables them to understand the real-world applications of subjects like maths, science and design and technology and the career opportunities that these can lead to. It also gives them a chance to realise their passion – there is no single pathway to a STEM-related career. Likewise, it is hugely beneficial when women in senior positions share their own experiences, celebrate the achievements of others and motivate a pipeline of female talent.

Navigating hurdles and embracing change

It is important to consider goals when life is at its toughest. It is during these times that action needs to be taken. For instance, when I was 30, I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my left femur – completely out of the blue. Consumed with thoughts about chemo and radiation therapy, along with wondering how I would continue to parent two small children and keep up with my job responsibilities, I needed something to get me out of the day-to-day.

An idea was hatched to qualify for the Boston marathon post-cancer. On the face of it, this was outrageous, because my left leg was ravaged by the cancer, which is a big deal when you are a runner. A huge goal like this meant that the focus could now be on the battle and what was ahead, but I had to break it up into very, very small digestible steps. That was important in my healing process. There was a point in time when I struggled to walk across the living room. So, I set very small training milestones for myself.

The same can be applied to our work and everyday lives – it is all about compartmentalising and understanding the process. By setting small goals that add up to something important to us, we can start to establish the best version of ourselves.

Advice to women pursuing a career in technology

It is important for women who are considering a career in technology to remember to be kind to those around us. Working in the technology field is not easy – technology changes just as quickly as consumer tastes. This constant change is stressful, however, leading with kindness helps to build trusted relationships and makes for more productive, enjoyable work environments. It's important to encourage women considering a career in technology to set meaningful goals. 

Another piece of advice for women pursuing a career in technology would be to take stock every now and again. It is easy to get stuck in the day-to-day by trying to work through a specific to-do list, but it is also important to take a step back and think about who and where we want to be in twenty years. Once that’s clear, short terms goals can be set in order to achieve this. Having a long-term vision allows for a more informed decision to be made, compared to when we are just in the moment. It's also helpful to know the type of culture an organisation aspires to. This can be used as a metric and comparison point to ensure the right decisions are made.

Looking towards the future

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. This is rather fitting – just as technology is a sector that still has a long way to go with regards to gender representation and equal opportunities, technology can provide a solution for just that. Hopefully, in time, the industry will have made some good ground and inspired future generations of female technology leaders.

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