Women in tech isn’t an anomaly, but it’s a sadly linear statistic. As of early 2020, only 26% of computer and mathematical professions are held by women, a number that hasn’t exceeded 27% since 2003 and stayed mostly stagnant for almost 20 years.
But women in tech—and in general—are much more than statistics. Instead of sharing more data and charts to examine why these numbers have stayed so immobile, we sat down with three badass women in tech to get their diverse perspectives. In this three part series, these technical experts will look at the overarching problems women face in STEM careers and what they’re doing to go above and beyond the stats.
Colleen K. | UX Strategist, LenderClose; Founder, Kinsey Co.
Hey Colleen! Let’s get the ball rolling. How’d you get into tech?
My parents always really pushed STEM skills and classes—I was always in science camps and exposed to technology as a kid. I think since my parents didn’t have that, “Oh, you need to fill this female gender role” it helped me feel comfortable with pursuing a job within the tech field without hesitation.
What have your experiences been like working as a woman in tech
When I initially started working in tech, it was intimidating working in predominantly male dominated industries. What helped me advance was finding self-confidence and not being afraid to advocate for myself. When you don’t have a cheerleader in your corner, you may have to be your own…or contact me—I love shouting from the rooftops to support colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.
It’s pretty common for international people to assume I’m a man until they meet me or it’s somehow brought to their attention that I’m not. My project manager, who works abroad, even assumed I was a man for the first few months until we had an actual face to face discussion.
I think part of my success is due to that is my attitude and acceptance of my femininity. There are times when I am the only female in a room full of men. And you’d better believe that I’m wearing heels and am dressed up because I’m not afraid to own my femininity. (But it helps that I’m 5’11”, too, so it’s EXTRA intimidating.)
What about UX in particular?
I am 100% self taught. It was basically formed by a need—I was working as a technical project manager for an electronic medical record company and I was not feeling fulfilled. I would travel, but not to places I wanted to go, and I realized if I wanted to take my path and own it, I had to figure out what that path was. So I spent a year teaching myself search engine optimization and building websites while working my full time job in preparation of living out of a backpack…I also spent that year saving as much money as I could and selling everything that I owned. (Surprise: you can sell a used food processor for $10 on Craigslist.) So for two years I was a digital nomad, coming back to Des Moines to crash on my parent’s couch, pick up a few website clients, and hit the road again. It was in about 2019 I decided to come back to Des Moines, which led me to where I am now.
I think part of my success is due to my attitude and acceptance of my femininity. There are times when I am the only female in a room full of men. And you’d better believe that I’m wearing heels and am dressed up because I’m not afraid to own my femininity. (But it helps that I’m 5’11”, too, so it’s EXTRA intimidating.)
How do you empower women in tech?
I’m really passionate about helping women find work and technical opportunities, which really stemmed from my travels. When I was traveling one of the things that kind of permeated with me and set me on to this path was the lack of opportunities that women have, not only just general career opportunities, but especially in tech. My trip to India really changed me—I was blown away by what they don’t have and what we do. I thought, “What if my purpose could be creating opportunities for women?” And that’s what drives me and gets me up every morning. I now mentor and coach women from developing and international countries to help them prepare for doing design, development, or marketing work online.
Though we have so many fights we’re trying to fight here at home, there is so much impact we can make abroad by providing opportunities for women in tech. For example women in Belarus who want to open businesses they still need the signature of their husband or father to get any sort of loan or financial support. It’s insane to me that’s still the case in 2020.
What advice would you give to a woman hoping to take charge in a technical field/role?
For women in tech—and female professionals in general—I would say that when people say no, you need to change your thought of what “no” is. One of the things that has continued to drive me is that I’ve taken “no” as a challenge. Instead of being put down, or thinking I can’t do something, I take it aggressively, almost like a game. “Oh really? Watch me.” Having that kind of attitude can be difficult, but it can also have the biggest impact. It allows you to be your most successful self without giving up who you are.
I think the key to being successful—for anyone, not just as a woman—is being hungry and being resourceful. No, I don’t know how to code, but I do know how to be dangerous and break things. Identify the people who can fill in your gaps, but also acknowledge that you have the skills and grit to hold your own.
Anything else you want to share with us?
If you’re interested in helping women in tech, consider donating to Pi515. It’s a local nonprofit run by an amazing woman named Nancy who works with youth in your community. She works with a lot of refugee girls and underserved communities that don’t have the STEM resources the rest of us might. As passionate as I am about helping women overseas, there’s so much we can do for our communities to help lift young women up.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll touch base with yet another talented Colleen as she unpacks the struggles women and minorities face within the tech industry through her personal experience.