Ellen McKenney

It’s no secret that the technology industry and STEM disciplines have struggled in attracting more women to work within the sectors, writes Ellen McKenney, Sales Engineering Manager at MariaDB.

According to recent research from Accenture, women make up less than a third (32%) of the overall percentage of tech workers, and just one in four tech graduates are female. But why is this the case? Well, there is no right answer to this. I believe the media plays a very important role in helping address things when it comes to shifting perceptions and correcting misconceptions about working in the technology sector.

Tech companies can be exciting places to work, and it’s important to paint a more realistic picture of the type of roles and activities you can get involved in. You can solve problems, help customers, be creative, and deliver presentations – it’s not just about sitting behind a desk coding and building or developing complex products.

Career fairs are key to attracting female talent

 Alongside the role the media can play, I also think tech companies themselves can do more to make the industry more attractive as a whole to young girls and women who are thinking about their career prospects. One way to do this is through career fairs, which are so important because they provide an opportunity for young girls to see women working in the industry. Promoting the message that there are tech companies out there that are hiring women and that care enough to come and meet with the next generation entering the workforce is very powerful.

The role of mentors in improving gender parity in the tech industry

Related to the above, I think mentorship can play a really important role in inspiring more women to work in the tech industry. I was actually inspired by my mom when she pushed me to explore a career in technology when it was time for me to decide what to study in college. But, I also remember in my early college years going online to search for careers for women in tech and the types of roles that came up were for HR assistants, event planners, and legal executives. These are all fantastic roles, but nothing was coming up about engineering positions or solutions architects or anything that on the face of it had a clearer tech-specific function to it.

It wasn’t until I started searching in detail on LinkedIn that I was able to identify these types of roles at tech companies and see other women working within the industry. It’s really important that there are female mentors and role models that young girls and women can see working in the industry and aspire to be like.

Key skills to succeed

One of the main pieces of advice I would give to other women looking to work in the tech industry is to have faith in your own ability and not let someone else’s opinion shape yours. Nobody will advocate for you or your ideas as much as you can!

You’ll encounter a wide array of different personalities and cultures as you start your career, which is one of the best things about working in the tech industry in my view. It is great to meet with and work with so many different people and learn from them. You’re able to learn people skills and gain strong communication skills. These skills are not tech specific – they are transferable skills that you don’t have to be the smartest coder or best developer to possess!

The lessons learned in a tech career

Looking back to when I started out in my tech career, I think the main piece of advice I would give myself is not to be embarrassed! I started out in a class of 15 people as the only woman and was a little timid at first – but I soon grew out of that! Working in tech you are constantly learning and challenged to improve yourself every day and are required to up your skill level. Unfortunately, it is still the case for many women that they are starting out at a disadvantage and will have to work harder to earn respect, but it’s thankfully also true that there are a lot of excellent tech companies out there that are now giving young girls and women a chance. It’s a chance I would encourage more women to embrace.