Being a woman in tech can be incredibly rewarding, lonely, frustrating and inspiring all at once. Each individual has their own experience and path that they’ve followed to get where they are. That is, after all, what makes us unique. Earlier this week Cindy Maike, VP Industry Solutions, hosted a panel discussion with women across the Cloudera EMEA business, working in a variety of different roles; each of us with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, which made for a wide-ranging discussion.
Kristel Sampson, Solutions Engineer, originally wanted to be a pediatrician; my heart belonged to architecture, and Qingyue Zhang, Compensation and Benefits Manager, thought she would go into academia. There is no set path to getting into technology. And the industry is stronger for the diversity of thought that these different backgrounds and skills bring every day to our working environment. We covered so much during the panel, but here were the three key learnings I would like to share:
We need to advocate more for each other
Kristel raised that all too often her challenge is that she is the only woman in the room. That in itself is not the challenge – the fact that it’s applauded is. As she argued, being the only woman is not an accolade. Instead, we need to look around the room and if we don’t see full representation, we need to ask the question, why? Questioning this, rather than just accepting it, helps us to understand what we need to do to change. The other ramification of men often dominating the room, Kristel suggested, was that by default women expect their male colleagues to champion and advocate for them in ways that women do not do for other women. We need to raise each other up more and shine a light on our achievements, not expect others to do this for us.
Diversity brings value to businesses
When Cindy asked the group what they believed was the ‘untapped value’ that businesses could realize through diversity, Qingyue summed it up perfectly when she said: “Humans are naturally diverse, when we come together, are open and willing to listen – that’s when we hit on the great ideas. We’re doing business with humans, and we’re a community.” Kristel built on this when she told us the story of a previous boss, who said if he came into the room and a decision was made within 15 minutes, he knew he needed a more diverse group of people around the table. The reason? He understood that difference of opinion drives debate, that in turn, leads to a better outcome. Having a room of people who all think in one way, may make for quick decision making – but not necessarily the right decisions.
Challenges bring opportunity
Albert Einstein said that “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” That’s been my guiding belief throughout my career. I am originally from Russia and adapting to the cultures, both countries and the companies I’ve worked for, has presented me with some of my toughest but most rewarding times. How a culture manifests itself within an organization and learning to read those cues, has accelerated the development of my communication, emotional intelligence, skills, and ability to connect with co-workers, stakeholders, and my environment. These experiences have shaped me both as a person, but also as a leader. They’ve given me an inner resilience that I might never have discovered without them.
Overcoming the biggest geographical – and cultural – difference when she moved from China to Ireland eight years ago, Qingyue said that she faced a significant culture shock. She recalled asking a colleague if they were OK because they looked unwell. Her colleagues were horrified, but in China, it would have been rude to not ask. Navigating new environments has enabled Qingyue to become more open-minded about things and realize cultural differences are our strength.
The pandemic has been hard for women. Research has shown that the disproportionate burden of taking on childcare and distance learning is putting decades of progress in the workplace at risk. And the panel agreed it has been tough. But we also considered how the acceleration of digital working also offered opportunity for some women. Projects and roles have been procured differently; location has become irrelevant, which in turn has made talent, not geography, the priority. It’s also brought more flexibility where the focus is on outcomes, not when or how long you’re at your desk. However, the big question is: What will we do to ensure any gains, no matter how small, during this time aren’t lost? Our work as a Diversity and Inclusion ERG continues with this very much front of mind.