Women in tech: ‘Seeing me in a visible leadership role has made them feel comfortable in the space’ - Technical.ly Philly

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Women in tech: ‘Seeing me in a visible leadership role has made them feel comfortable in the space’

Four woman technologists discuss the reasons women need support from each other in a male-dominated field, and how to give it.

At the 2013 Women in Tech Summit.

(Technical.ly image)

Technology isn’t the only industry where a person may likely find herself as the only woman in the room. But with many industries once considered analog — like banking and incorporation services — evolving into tech, it may be the the one with the most opportunities.

How can a “she/her” navigate?

Technical.ly’s most recent AMA session on our public Slack featured four women who run local technical meetup groups and and woman-facing events: Emily Zbyszynski, the program manager at the Wilmington-based Futures First Gaming;  Gloria Bell, Philly-based cofounder of Women in Tech Summit; and Alice Walsh and Karla Fettich, organizers and board members of R-Ladies Philly, a meetup that promotes gender diversity in the R and data science community.

“Communities exist to instill a sense of belonging,” said Zbyszynski, who recently organized Futures First’s Girls Who Game tournament. “When you see yourself reflected in others, particularly those who are successful in their field, it feels like YOU have that opportunity to succeed. I’ve had people come up to me at community meetings to say that seeing me in a visible leadership role has made them feel comfortable in the space.”

They can also fill a kind of gender gap of opportunity. The “boys club” that many tech communities revolve around exist for the “boys” to pull each other up. Woman-centered tech organizations and events are often intentional about women supporting women in the industry.

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“For me, when I started, R-Ladies allowed me to add experience that I wasn’t getting through my job at the time, and create the kinds of opportunities I wished I had when I was getting started,” said Fettich, who works as a senior data scientist in the health insurance industry.

(Clockwise, top left) Gloria Bell, Emily Zbyszynski, Karla Fettich and Alice Walsh.

Clockwise, top left: Gloria Bell, Emily Zbyszynski, Karla Fettich and Alice Walsh. (Courtesy photos)

“I was in academia, [where] there’s very little talk about careers outside of academia,” she said. “I didn’t know where to begin to get experience outside of academia. I couldn’t find any volunteer opportunities, even. So with R-Ladies we’ve been running annual datathons, where people can get together and analyze data for a nonprofit, and it’s run more or less like a data analytics consulting project — there’s a client, there’s a deliverable, there is teamwork, there are modern data tools.”

“Personally, I like mentoring (whether people who are younger in their career or peers),” Walsh added. “I always learn a lot. For our org, I think the best has been the connections that have been made that lead to career opportunities whether directly or indirectly.”

Sometimes, as with the recent Activision Blizzard controversies, women need to face the harsh realities many of their peers in tech face in order to foster change.

“It’s definitely something that’s on my mind every day,” said Zbyszynski, who, as an esports consultant has worked with Activision Blizzard professionals in the past. “I know tons of people who work there (or have in the past), and my first priority was checking in on them. It’s proof that we haven’t come as far as we’d like to believe. I’m of the firm opinion that if we want gaming to be taken seriously as an industry, we need our actions to reflect that. I love that gaming can be a fun work environment, but this frat house culture needs to stop.”

And those changes can not be superficial, Zbyszynski said: “Calling your coworkers a ‘team’ is nice, but real teamwork comes from respect, shared passion, and a diversity of perspectives/experience.”

Bell’s org will host its annual Women in Tech Summit this October with three days of panels, including “Don’t Minimize Us to Marginalizations,” “Inclusive Design: A Design Thinking and Digital Prototyping Workshop” and “Empathy and Authentic Leadership Powering Human Centered Design in Tech.” The focus on change, not assimilation, appears to be growing among women in tech — a diverse group in itself.

“More and more people are becoming aware of what is happening behind the scenes with DEI, with how things are built, with how companies are run — a whole gamut of different forms of awareness,” Bell said. “I believe that can only lead to better things being built in the future.”

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You can join or just follow along with conversations like this one in the #ama channel on our public Slack. Coming on Thursday, Sept. 2, Technical.ly reporters will lead a discussion with coworking space managers from across the mid-Atlantic.

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