Each year, International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrates the achievements of women on the global stage while also urging our communities to continue working to bridge the gender equality and opportunity gaps. Historically, in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) there has been an imbalance of representation for women as well as challenges with stereotypes and social barriers. While there has been progress made globally to create a more inclusive environment in the tech sector, major shifts like the COVID-19 pandemic have also heightened certain difficulties, as women are often more impacted by pressure to balance career responsibilities with home and family life. As of March 2021, 2.5 million women in the United States have left the workforce altogether since the beginning of the pandemic (compared with 1.8 million men) citing factors such as insufficient childcare and lack of employer flexibility as factors in this job loss.
This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge,” a direct call to action to confront bias and perceptions to fight for a more equitable world. At Acquia, we believe in building an open and accessible space for all through the power of technology and community-driven innovation. As part of our cultural DNA we are committed to building an environment where everyone feels welcome and is given the support and resources they need to make an impact. Driving meaningful change, both in terms of the technology we build and in the communities we create, starts with an intentional effort to promote the voices of those underrepresented and historically marginalized groups.
This International Women’s Day, we asked Acquians around the world to share their stories of how they’ve challenged the status quo in their own lives and offer advice for what we can all do to build a better future. Here are some of the responses we gathered.
How do you think the STEM community can work to break down barriers for women in tech?
“If all women in STEM were given a mentor, that would make a huge difference. There’s so much value in having someone more experienced help prepare you for what to expect, advise on tough career decisions, provide support and encouragement when things get bumpy, empower growth personally and professionally, and ultimately instill confidence.”
-Theresa Anderson, Senior Digital Experience Strategy Consultant
“I believe that the best way to encourage women into tech is to offer a glimpse into that world at the earliest opportunity. Connect at a grassroots level with pupils at school, perhaps those that are showing an interest in extracurricular activities; they probably have a passion around it that they may lose in early adulthood. I also think it’s important from a PR or business perspective to tell these stories in a way that speaks to the audience. We can be showcasing STEM as an interesting path to young people even in places like TikTok or Snapchat! Go directly to where the people you want to reach are!”
-Julia Birkett, Senior Director, People in EMEA
“We need to reach young women when they are entering middle school. Studies support that these are the years that most influence how they think about their opportunities/paths. Young women need to get exposure to what is possible. We can do this through mentor programs, onsite shadowing, diverse speaking opportunities...just to name a few.”
-Heather Hartford, Chief People Officer
“Prioritize work-life balance. Too often, engineering teams are pushed to meet unreasonable deadlines, working long hours to finish a sprint or fix a problem. Women with additional responsibilities in the home may not have flexibility to do that. As with many things that benefit women, a focus on work-life balance benefits everyone by creating an environment that welcomes all sorts of diversity.”
-Meagen Williams, Vice President, Professional Services
“In terms of progress for the tech community at large, we should be pursuing representation from women and non-binary folks at every seat at the table, from individual contributors all the way to senior leadership roles. The STEM community needs people in these roles who not only understand the disparities that are present in this system but also foster innovation by using the experiences that they've had to drive change.”
-Kat Law, Associate Software Engineer
“It's critical that we extend our reach beyond the obvious people who 'fit' into tech and look for those with extraordinary passion and potential. We need to seek opportunities in areas where we don't expect to find raw talent and nurture, mentor and celebrate the wins.”
-Amy Parker, Senior Director, Talent Development
Share an example of a time you have challenged the status quo in your career or worked to overcome a challenge?
"Being part of a very traditional family, many questions were raised about my father spending a good amount of his savings on my higher education rather than saving it up for his retirement. Him being firm on his decision to support my career goals was key in helping me realize my ability to have a career. Patience is very important here. Being in a traditional environment in India and being in an orthodox family adds a bit of extra work. My parents started on getting my marriage arranged by looking out for potential grooms but I persisted on my job search. I persisted in learning new tech, got involved in Drupal and am still going today!”
-Pavithra Raman, Technical Architect
“In my role, I’ve had the opportunity to speak up about racial injustice and call for change in not only our organization but tech organizations in general that need to be better with diversity beyond lip service. I think we as a society can start by dismantling the masculinity complex that is so deeply tied to STEM because it inherently excludes women. Basically, make it less of a boy's club!”
-Danielle Gabriel, Diversity and Inclusion Talent Lead
“One way I’ve worked to challenge a barrier or overcome biases was in working with at-risk youth in San Jose and San Francisco, helping them to plan and present at DrupalCon San Francisco. The kids presented about their digital main street project, and it gave them a chance to see that people are interested in what they are doing and their ideas, as well as to meet people in the careers they were considering for themselves.”
-Jenn Sramek, Director of Learning Services
“I have been involved in STEM most of my life — starting in the sciences, moving to bio-tech, and now working in a tech company. I feel like as someone who identifies as a woman, I am constantly challenging the status quo just by occupying these spaces — spaces that are still very much male-dominated. Folks who do not fit the model of (white, able-bodied, cis-, het-, male) are constantly having to prove their capabilities and work harder to achieve the same goals.
My experience at Acquia specifically has been that most folks treat me as a person first, and trust that I am here because I can do the work. However, there are some folks who continue to push back because of my identity, and in those cases, my response is to dig deep into my self-assurance and know that I am capable and deserve to be here as much or more so than the folks who try to detract from my capability.”
-Amanda Leto, Customer Success Project Manager
For more information on how we’re working to create inclusive spaces for women in tech, check out our ongoing efforts toward Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.