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What’s it like to be a woman in tech?

If you take one look around the technology industry, you’ll find yourself asking the question: why aren't there more women?

It’s no secret that there is a massive gender imbalance across tech. Despite the research showing that the gender gap is bad for business, and the numerous initiatives aimed at boosting the profile of women in tech, there is no real sign of improvement.

We spoke to some of the women working across our various departments—engineering, design, UX and management—to find out: what does it actually mean to be a ‘woman in tech’? What does the gender imbalance feel like day to day? And what can the tech industry do better to attract and retain female employees?

Here’s their take.

The gender (im)balance in tech

When we talk about the gender imbalance in the technology sector, the figures are stark. Less than 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women and in the United States, the number of female entrants into computer science courses is declining.

“The gender balance in the software engineering teams is disappointing,” says Sarah Doran, Software Development Manager at Travelport Digital. “I used to have a manager who’d say to me ‘You’re my favorite female tech lead!’ It was a running joke because I was the only female tech lead, and for a long time the only female developer based in Dublin.”

The vast majority of developers in the Travelport Digital office are male, with the number of female developers in the single digits.

“Interestingly, when we advertise roles, we don't even receive that many CVs from women come in in the first place. It’s rare to see them come to interview, because there's such a small pool to start with that very few make it through the process,” says Sarah.

“On a positive note, this year we saw a lot more female CVs come through for our intern program and graduate program, and we actually have three women and three men starting on our intern program next year. And we’ve also recently hired two female graduates, so it’s all a move in the right direction!”

I used to have a manager who’d say to me ‘You’re my favorite female tech lead!’ It was a running joke because I was the only female tech lead

Director of Engineering, Niamh Bohan, agrees that the gender split across the tech industry needs improvement. “There are fantastic opportunities for women in tech and I’ve had an amazing career, but the gender split I’ve seen in the industry, particularly among engineers, is just pathetic. And while we’d like to think it’s getting better, I’d say there are fewer female engineers in tech now than there were when I first started my career.”

NiamhBohan3

That being said, a better gender balance exists in other parts of the tech business like UX research and design, for example. “In my particular roles it’s always been balanced in terms of gender diversity,” says Aisling Mockler, our Lead UX Researcher. “I find that especially in design teams, it’s pretty much a 50/50 gender split. But as a UX Researcher I work across the business with developers and project managers and I see that it is very male dominated.”

The only woman in the room

Kerry Clarke is a UI Designer at Travelport Digital and she’s no stranger to being the only woman in the room. “Before joining Travelport Digital I worked in smaller teams where I was literally the only woman. I was given jobs like sorting the Kris Kindle and putting up the Christmas tree—it was just expected that I’d be ‘better’ at it because I’m a woman.” 

I was given jobs like sorting the Kris Kindle and putting up the Christmas tree—it was just expected that I’d be ‘better’ at it because I’m a woman.

Sarah Doran agrees that being the only woman in the room can be an intimidating experience. “I went to a JavaScript event and I was the only woman there out of 70 attendees. Usually I’d talk to a wall, but on that occasion, I was just so outnumbered that I found it quite intimidating and felt uncomfortable starting a conversation. As soon as the talk was over, I just ran out of the room. I didn’t even stay for pizza and beer! So that put me off going to tech meet-ups for a while. You need to have a thick skin for sure.”

The benefits of gender diversity

Of course, the benefits of having a diverse workforce are widely known. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to earn above-average revenue and teams with 50/50 gender diversity outperform other teams in quality of work.

“Men and women see things differently,” says Sarah. “If you’re developing software, it’s most likely going to be used by as many women and men. So, if you only have men developing the software, you’re going to miss out on quite a number of use cases and understanding of how people are going to use it. Sometimes I laugh when I download an app and I’ll just know it was definitely developed by just men!”


Aside from product development, Niamh Bohan has seen her teams work better together when both men and women are involved. “When you have high conflict situations, it's very unusual that that would be among mix groups. We seem to be programmed to get on better as a mixed group rather than all male or all female.”

SarahDoran

Having women on the team has also allowed the engineering teams to work well together.

“I see female engineers do a lot more communicating and walking around the office than the guys. They are naturally better co-operators and communicators, so they naturally slip into roles of helping engineers cooperate,” says Niamh who manages a large team across various locations.

“I often see the male engineers in the corner of the room with their headphones on working individually. The women are more likely to start conversations and work collaboratively. As with all aspects of diversity, it's the mix of both of these approaches that makes great teams. Too much of one or the other and we struggle. Even though this just plays to some of our stereotypes around women having stronger interpersonal skills.” 

Leadership

Worldwide, women are a minority within tech leadership, accounting for less than 20% in their respective countries. It’s a small proportion, but for Niamh Bohan she’s seeing an improvement. “I think there are more women in senior positions now than there were when I started out. When I started my career in the mid-90s, there were basically no female role models for me in management positions.”

Despite the few female engineers in Travelport Digital, there is a better representation of women at team lead, manager and director level. Niamh Bohan has seen females flourish particularly well in male-dominated software engineering environments. “I think for a lot of women, even when they're very technical and very interested in coding, they start stepping beyond software development into those ‘collaborator’ roles I spoke about. And these collaboration and communication skills naturally elevate them into a team leader or manager.”

Niamh has not only seen this in her own teams, but speaks from experience. “I enjoyed coding, but my boss just pointed out that I was talking all the time! I had this real need to communicate, so I started being the one who would demo what the team had done and go to trade fairs. Even though I was still coding, my job became more about representing the team even before I was managing them. And then I moved into management and I actually realized I was just a lot better at it than the programming side.”

For Kerry Clarke, seeing the potential to move up the ranks is a major benefit to working in tech. “I’m quite introverted, but my manager here showed me that there were two types of leadership roles I could fall into: technical lead or people leader. I think I’m good at my job and I love the technical side of things, so it’s great to know I can progress through that path, using the skills that I’m best at rather than shoehorning myself into a particular path.”

Why women should choose tech

From engineering to design, UX research to management, there is one thing that our four women in tech can agree on: a career in technology can take you anywhere.

For Kerry Clarke, getting the opportunity to work on an app for one of the world’s biggest airlines was a dream come true. “In my third week here, I flew to London to present designs to easyJet for the Look&Book app feature. It was amazing to be there from the start, when it was just an idea, to designing screens for the finished product and being able to say ‘I was part of that’!”

KerryClarke-1

As UX Researcher, Aisling Mockler’s eyes were opened to the variety of roles available in technology. “Because it’s technology and it might seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t actually need to be a tech whizz to work in technology—my background is journalism and I could forge my own path in technology and apply my skills.”

For Niamh who has over 20 years’ experience in the industry, working in tech gives women a vast range of options. “You can reinvent yourself as many times as you want. There are so many different types of projects and job roles. And there’s so much technology out there; it’s growing by the day. It’s hugely varied really vibrant so many opportunities for women.”

Sarah agrees that tech is a very rewarding career. “Building any software is like building a house. You need so many different types of people to bring it all together: there's your product owner, QA testers, designers, user experience, SCRUM Masters, project managers…it’s definitely not all about coding.”

Attracting (and keeping) women in tech

One of the biggest challenges for tech companies is not only attracting women into tech roles, but keeping them there. According to Niamh Bohan, this is partly down to the fact that the tech industry still has a way to go to offer true flexibility to working parents.

“It’s getting better, but job-sharing or part-time work is not the norm in the tech industry now and I think that’s because women have not been at the right level in terms of decision-making. As a result, if women can’t get that flexibility, they will reskill and try a completely different career that will offer the benefits. This means we’re losing great people from the industry. Fathers are affected too of course but in much smaller numbers from my experience.”

Aisling Mockler agrees that flexibility plays a huge role in keeping women in the industry. “I really value and appreciate the flexibility I have at Travelport Digital. When I became a mother, I was willing to take a break if I wasn’t going to have the flexibility I have now. I wouldn’t have been willing to compromise my role as a mother for my role in the workplace.”

AislingMockler

While there’s a long way to go until we have an equal split of men and women across the tech industry, various initiatives are helping to promote the tech industry to females from a young age.

Sarah Doran is involved in the CoderDojo program and co-founded CoderDojo Girls at DCU, which teaches primary school girls to code. Sarah is also a member of the Implementation Team at the CoderDojo Coolest Project Awards.

“Putting the ‘CoderDojo Girls’ banner on it meant that parents were bringing their daughters along to the sessions for the first time. They’d tried bringing them along to a mixed group CoderDojo session before but found there were no other girls there and so it can be intimidating. So, CoderDojo Girls was about creating a safe space. I think initiatives like this are essential if we want to see the number of girls taking computer science or software engineering courses at third level, and ultimately entering the tech industry.”

Travelport Digital is sponsoring the Data Scientist Award at the Women in Tech Awards, happening on Thursday 22 November. These awards help celebrate diversity in tech and promote the female influencers who are impacting the industry today. Find out more

Learn more about careers at Travelport Digital

Find out more about the Women in Tech awards.

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