4 Local Women in Tech Discuss the Challenges of Working on Male-Dominated Teams

October 16, 2020
Evidation Health
Evidation Health

There’s no question that being a woman is tough. But being a woman in tech is even tougher. As an industry chiefly defined by the achievements of men, tech has always lacked a large number of women leaders. But as more women continue to enter the tech space, this once male-dominated field is slowly — but surely — undergoing a feminine transformation. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the bias that has always accompanied it has entirely disappeared. 

For women in the workplace, having the courage to stand up in front of one’s male peers is not always easy to do. It can be hard to shake off the scrutiny that often comes with being an ambitious, career-driven woman. But it’s also not impossible. When women are given the right amount of confidence, they can quell those nagging inner voices of doubt and embrace their right to be exactly where they are in the workplace. 

Sometimes, in order to feel this sense of empowerment, women need encouragement from others like them in the field. Luckily, women in tech from across San Francisco weighed in on their own experiences with workplace bias, sharing their advice for other women searching for ways to boost their confidence and own their careers. 

 

Ariane Coffin
Software Engineer

Evidation Health is on a mission to “enable and empower everyone to participate in better health outcomes.” The company helps people find and participate in research and health programs, offering a platform that turns raw behavior data into new measures of health and disease. 

Software Engineer Ariane Coffin described her experiences with gender discrimination in the workplace and stressed the importance for women to speak up — unapologetically. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve been lucky to work closely with very considerate men, but the subtle, often unintentional ways in which gender stereotypes show up in everyday interactions makes you feel like the “other.” For example, it’s not uncommon that I get asked who’s watching the kids when I’m working late or how I balance work and family, and I’m left wondering why no one asked the same question to the 10 fathers in the room with me. When it comes to responding to these, I evaluate the intention of the statement and choose my battles wisely.

 

What's the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and personal life?

Diversity matters a great deal. When you have a very homogeneous group, you’re missing out on a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. And, ultimately, the cost is innovation. You can’t make a great meal if you only have one ingredient. One way I implement diversity at home is by consciously assessing the content I consume. For example, I’ve gotten in the habit of evaluating my bookshelves to identify what voices I’m not finding in the authors I read, then I rectify the situation on my next book purchase.

You can’t make a great meal if you only have one ingredient.’’

 

What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

The easiest thing you can start doing today is something I frequently remind my daughters about: Don’t ask for permission to speak and don’t apologize for talking. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, you’re already swimming against the current, so don’t give anyone an easy way to hold you back.

 

Priyanka Pani
Senior Product Manager

Zscaler aims to make it easier for organizations to embrace the cloud. The company’s SaaS security platform enables organizations to securely connect their users to applications and data so they can operate efficiently and effectively engage their users. 

Senior Product Manager Priyanka Pani told us how she found her voice in the workplace and shared tips for women wishing to do the same. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

One of the most significant challenges I’ve faced being the only woman on a team — and very frequently, the only woman in a critical or strategic discussion with 15 to 20 people — is the frequency with which people speak over and interrupt me, which prevents me from articulating my idea or suggestion. It seems like a very innocuous problem and does not carry any malicious intent, but it is a reflection of the systemic biases that women face in the workplace.

Encountering this multiple times every day started to impact both my credibility and my confidence, and I began to second-guess myself, which in turn meant that I was speaking and offering input less frequently. It became a vicious cycle and began to diminish my ability to operate effectively. Fortunately, I realized it soon and began searching for ways to overcome it. 

When interrupted, sometimes I would say immediately, "Before we dive into that aspect, to complete my thought..." and proceed to complete my statement. At other times, I would leverage instances of other people being interrupted and state "Why don’t we let X complete their thought?" to highlight that this wasn’t an effective way of collaborating. My manager and a few other leads recognized the problem and wanted to help. With their support, the manner of conversations started changing.

At the end of the day, recognizing and solving the problem was paramount. Otherwise, I ran the risk of being dismissed as an ineffectual and non-productive person while being left out of discussions where important decisions were being made.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and personal life?

Earning a seat at the table is not enough; you have to work to maintain it. As the only woman on a team or project, you have to fight the systemic biases on top of proving yourself worthy and capable of handling more responsibility. Also, it’s important to have a sense of humor. It's a really effective tool to help dissipate tensions and establish a comfortable working environment. 

I have continued to apply this learning in my professional and personal life by ensuring that I always speak up to share an idea, ask a question, challenge a notion, propose an option or even to crack a silly joke. My voice remains my biggest strength, and it’s important to use it effectively to create a space for myself and others like me. My husband can definitely vouch for how much I use my voice! 

You're in a certain role or position because you earned it — so own it.’’

 

What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

For other women, the best advice I can offer is to not be afraid to voice your thoughts or your concerns. Always speak up. You’re in a certain role or position because you earned it — so own it. If you identify issues, bring in others, irrespective of gender, to be part of the solution. Don’t let people using adjectives like "aggressive,” "sensitive,” or “touchy” get to you. Always speak up.

 

Rachel Mozenter
Regional Sales Director, West

Segment helps businesses collect, clean and control their customer data. The company’s platform democratizes access to reliable data and offers a toolkit to standardize data collection, unify user records and route data into any system. 

Regional Sales Director Rachel Mozenter weighed in on the importance of owning personal strengths and taking control of one’s career. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

Early on in my career, it took me a while to find my voice. I easily let myself slip into a “listen and observe” role, while my male colleagues shared and debated opinions around me. Eventually, it hit me; I wasn’t getting any credit for the thoughts going on inside my own head! I needed to trust myself and contribute my opinions to my team. Being proactive about demonstrating your ideas only helps your personal growth and development. You never know which idea might lead you to that next promotion or new opportunity. 

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and personal life?

Oftentimes, when most of your team is male, a lot of the examples of success around you will be male as well. You’re not always going to be able to take the same path that your male colleagues do to get to the end goal. I’ve learned to look for peers and mentors whose styles complement my own. Leaning into my own strength versus mimicking those of my colleagues has allowed me to reach my goals faster and become a better sales leader.

Take the time to build your internal resume, and seek out opportunities to step into your own spotlight.’’

 

What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

You hold the most control over your own career. Be your biggest champion. Take the time to build your internal resume, and seek out opportunities to step into your own spotlight.

 

Lauren Doyle
Technical Customer Success Specialist

Webflow empowers businesses to build powerful, flexible websites without the need for coding. The company enables designers to build professional, custom websites in a purely visual canvas, which boasts built-in SEO tools, flexible integrations and simple content updates. 

Technical Customer Success Specialist Lauren Doyle told us about her struggles with imposter syndrome and the importance of building mentor relationships. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

For me, it was getting over imposter syndrome. I entered tech from a non-traditional background. By the time I completed my web development bootcamp, my resume consisted solely of professional experience that included waitressing, sales and being an executive assistant, while my male colleagues were mostly all computer science majors. In my mind, asking seemingly elementary questions when I was new in a role would confirm to my colleagues that I was not at their level.

Like most with imposter syndrome, the feeling that I fooled the interviewers was one I shared with no one else. I had to remind myself to take the advice I always give my girlfriends: “You have a voice; you were hired to use it.”

Honestly, imposter syndrome is still something I experience often. But now I have the outlook of, “I am getting paid to learn from the best,” and it reminds me that I am in a field where I can grow.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and personal life?

Representation matters. I still give credit to a former manager of mine early on in my career for being one of the most influential women in my professional and personal life. She was the only female manager in the department and was very intentional about not only helping us grow the skills we needed to succeed in our jobs but encouraging us also to dream big. I will always look to join a team with a proven track record where women have been celebrated and made a large impact. If that has not happened yet, I will be that person to make an impact for others.

Look to join a team with a proven track record where women have been celebrated.’’

 

What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

When I was able to create a username in Github with just my first and last name with no numbers trailing behind, I knew I had entered a male-dominated field. I think when women interview for roles in male-dominated fields, it is important to remember to interview the hiring manager as much as they are interviewing you. If you are going to be spending more than 40 hours a week in your job, it is important to feel like you have a good sense of your manager’s and colleagues’ values. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of amazing people in this industry, many of whom were men who were excited their team was becoming more diverse.

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