tech role models

Role models can be a vital influence on anyone’s career, providing guidance, support, advice, and much more. This is especially true for women in technology, where it can be hard to establish yourself.

It’s no secret that there aren’t as many women in tech as there are men and that good female role models can be thin on the ground.

In my career, I’ve found that for the most part, female leaders are happy to share their experiences and help shape the future careers of others. The problem has been that when it comes to working mothers in technology, women often fall into one of two camps. They are either female leaders, who are high achievers and continuing to climb the career ladder successfully, with the balance tipped more towards work than family life. Or they are those that are happy to take a step back in their careers whilst focussing on family.

Either camp is great if that works for you, but for me, I felt stuck in the middle – I wanted to continue to progress whilst also being there to pick the children up from childcare and tuck them into bed.

Day-to-day life as a working woman in tech

Whatever the age of the kids, whatever your current role or level, balancing the demands of work with your children’s needs is a constant challenge for most parents. Even with a supportive partner, much of the childcare still falls to women.  

2021 research revealed that even though almost two-thirds of Britons believe that childcare should be equally shared when there are two working parents, 71% of women felt they had assumed most of the responsibility for childcare or homeschooling during the lockdowns.

With many parents now hybrid working and spending at least some of their working week at home, I imagine that situation remains the same. If there are childcare challenges, then it invariably falls to women to step in. This can mean that day-to-day life for a working mother can involve conference calls with a baby glued to you, interruptions, your attention being directed elsewhere, and having to work late in the day to catch up on what you missed.

Sometimes, even doing any work at all can feel impossible. For example, if a child is sick, then the priority will always be caring for them. This reality is what is lacking in many role models for women.

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Corporate role models

I started my career working for a large global tech consultancy. It had a great focus on women in technology and was good at highlighting how working mothers could ‘have it all’. Whilst the company was well-intentioned, the reality was that the working mothers in senior positions I knew, worked full time, with lots of travel, and had nannies for support.

Even before I had children, this felt like the only option for how to parent if I wanted to continue on the career ladder. While it works well for many women, it wasn’t the balance I wanted. Now that I am a mother of two, I want to demonstrate positively that you can progress in your career, whilst still being present with your children – but in reality, you’re not going to perfectly balance both roles every day.

In my own role, there are days when I feel on top of it and that I’m doing a great job, but there are other days when I feel like I’m barely managing.

Corporate, high-achieving role models can be damaging to women in tech. They create an expectation that everyone should be similarly high achieving, and when you inevitably do not, you feel like a failure as an employee and parent. It’s hard enough to juggle careers and motherhood without this false expectation of perfection.

Role models must be realistic and pragmatic

I now work at a start-up, and I am also a mother. This means that my working environment is much less rigid than at a large corporation and that I am becoming a role model myself, having been promoted to the Leadership Team. I am lucky to be in a team that understands my situation and trusts me to deliver, and also that I was given a say in how I can make both roles work. There may be some days when I am less productive, but my boss knows I will make up for that on other days.

That’s the message I am trying to convey to younger women in my organisation and the tech industry as a whole. Don’t feel like you must succeed at everything all the time. It’s ok sometimes to feel like you are less effective, at work or as a mum. Bosses and employers must demonstrate trust in order to empower and enable women in tech to thrive.

This trust, understanding and empathy are all crucial to positive role models for women in tech. They must be realistic and pragmatic, or they can have the opposite of their intended effect.

Corporates and start-ups can learn from each other, but in terms of providing good role models for women in tech, I have found start-ups to be better. No one can possibly hope to smash it at work every day while juggling the demands of parenthood. Addressing and acknowledging that fact makes for a far more effective role model – inspirational in a realistic way and something that working mothers can identify with, not be intimidated by.

Alana PearsonAbout the author

Alana Pearson is Delivery Partner Director at developer marketplace platform Deazy. She has worked in technology for most of her career at large corporates, agencies and start-ups, such as Deazy. She has two children – one in school and one in nursery – balancing swimming lessons and gymnastics classes with a four-day working week.