Breaking Barriers: Celebrating International Women's Day 2023
International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women’s achievements worldwide and reflect on the ongoing struggle for gender equality. In the tech industry, women continue to be underrepresented, facing barriers to advancement and often feeling isolated in male-dominated workplaces. Despite these challenges, many talented and inspiring women are making their mark in tech, and we are proud to introduce you to some of them today.
We spoke with six female members of the Xalient team to hear their thoughts and insights on what it’s like to be a woman in tech, and how we can work towards a more inclusive industry.
What inspired you to pursue a career in tech, and what do you enjoy most about the work?
Aman Kaur (Customer Success Manager): I was always interested in technology from a young age, and it started with my Dad buying me and my sisters a desktop PC when we were very young. Through this hobby, I chose to study business computing at university, then a master’s in IT for management. I worked in Change management and service management/customer success management for telco/tech customers. My passion is for helping people and technology fits my personality and skillset. What I love most about my job is the challenge – facing a customer who isn’t happy and making them happy gives me a buzz!
Lori Loftus (Customer Success Manager): I fell into tech almost accidentally, primarily because of curiosity about using tech to work for us and make life easier/better. It was an enjoyable puzzle to investigate and find a technical solution for a complicated process, an issue, or a workstream. The career took on a life of its own just by curiosity and interest in improving processes with tech.
Mary (MK) Smith (Business Development Manager): I have always been good at working on computers but never thought about making it a career. It wasn’t until I moved to Charlotte, did I land my first job in technology. I like that it never stops changing. New technology is always emerging, and it is fast-paced, so you must stay up to date.
Akshayata Madan (Senior Security Engineer): I was initially drawn to tech because of video games and computers! I still remember being about 7 in my Dad’s office, fiddling with his computer and being in awe of how the machine worked. 11 years later, it led me to choose engineering. What I enjoy most about working in tech is constant learning and problem-solving. Technology constantly evolves, so there’s always something new to learn and a new challenge to tackle. I also love being part of a team passionate about creating innovative solutions and improving how people interact with the world.
Hena Ahmad (Programme Director): I stumbled into a career in tech by chance as I grew up when computers were first introduced to the mass market. After finishing university, I applied for a business analyst role at an outsourcer and was assigned to work in the Telecoms division. This is where I found my passion for working in tech, specifically using technology to improve customers’ business processes. What excites me the most about working in tech is the technical aspects and how it can add value and improve people’s lives.
Emma Banner (Bid Manager): If I’m being honest, I just fell into the tech industry. It wasn’t something I ever imagined myself pursuing, and I was extremely nervous when I started nine years ago that I might struggle because I am not technical. I wish I had told myself back then that the tech industry doesn’t mean you have to be ‘techy’ I love what I do and couldn’t imagine working in any other sector, my work is so varied, and I have the opportunity to learn, grow and work with so many different departments across the business. With so many customers from different sectors, it is perfect for me.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in tech today, and how can we address them?
Hena: Online surveys indicate three primary challenges facing today’s women in the tech industry. Firstly, there is a lack of female role models, with most famous tech company CEOs being male. To inspire the next generation of women to pursue careers in tech, we need to provide them with successful female role models. Secondly, women remain a minority in the tech industry, and gender bias can start as early as in school. Girls still shy away from STEM subjects, so we must increase awareness and encourage more women to apply for tech careers. Encouraging women to speak at tech events can provide visibility and mentoring opportunities and showcase that women can excel in what was once a male-dominated industry. Thirdly, the gender pay gap is a major concern in the tech industry, with women earning less than their male counterparts.
Mk: There are many challenges women in technology face daily, but I believe every woman must push themselves and others daily to change the status quo. Otherwise, we don’t grow. Women must address these challenges face on and speak up about them and make people talk about them to progress and make changes.
Have you faced any obstacles or biases in your career as a woman in tech, and how have you overcome them?
Aman: Going on maternity leave and returning to work was tough; seeing people progress whilst my career was on hold was a tough pill to swallow. I returned from maternity leave on both occasions and worked hard to prove my worth. At the time, I also had several strong female mentors who helped me stay focused and helped set out attainable goals and objectives.
Lori: Absolutely. I’ve experienced having my ideas stolen and being underpaid compared to my direct reports. I’ve also been passed over for a promotion despite having superior customer satisfaction ratings and experience. However, I still enjoy my career in tech and find it challenging. I choose to continue doing my best and encourage other women to pursue their dreams in tech or any field without being held back by beliefs that it’s not possible. Anything is possible.
MK: I have, and sadly, it came from another woman when I started my tech career. I live by the saying, “kill them with kindness”, and always be the bigger person in every situation. I knew it was something lacking in her life and not necessarily something I was doing, and I chose to ignore it, work hard and prove myself along the way.
Akshayata: I feel fortunate to have been surrounded by exceptional leaders, mentors, and colleagues throughout my career. I have been fortunate to have not experienced any significant hindrances to my growth due to gender biases. However, there have been moments when I sensed a shadow of disappointment among customers upon learning that a woman had joined their Severity 1 network down call to resolve their issue. Nevertheless, I take pride in quickly resolving their issues and providing a solution within a shorter time than the average resolution time. Ultimately, my achievements speak for themselves, and any lingering doubts or biases are swiftly forgotten.
Hena: As the only woman in the room, I faced age differences and imposter syndrome in the early days. However, I learned to stand up for what’s right and not be afraid to speak up. Although I didn’t know everything, I gained the confidence to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Working in the Middle East as a woman was also challenging, but I proved myself through professionalism and adaptability. Balancing work and motherhood was tough, but I persevered and earned respect from my peers and clients. Juggling responsibilities is a common struggle, and it’s important to understand and adapt to cross-cultural ways of working while staying true to yourself.
Emma: Yes, I especially struggled when I was pregnant with my first child. I felt that people stereotype women who have children, want flexible working arrangements, or want to come back part-time only and that they can’t work and have children. It isn’t easy because, as a mother, you want to do what is best for your children, but at the same time, a career to me is essential, it feels as if people think you can’t have both.
I am now lucky enough to work for a company that allows me to work full time but also be a mother to two little ones, giving me the flexibility to do the school run, work from home, or work in the office to suit me.
How do you think the tech industry can become more inclusive and diverse, and what role do you see women playing in this?
Lori: Despite various experiments and regulations to increase diversity, the percentages of women and minorities in leadership positions still show otherwise. President Biden is trying to create a diverse cabinet and set of advisors. Still, there are concerns that preference given to gender or race qualifiers may prevent the most qualified person from getting the job. However, great accomplishments by women have shown that passion and opportunity are critical elements of success outside of traditional qualifications. We need to create and protect opportunities for women, disrupt the standard system, and encourage them to take non-traditional positions. Despite women making up nearly 50% of the population, less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
Hena: Look at how you advertise tech roles. Create gender-neutral job descriptions and avoid buzzwords that can be seen as aggressive, as this is likely to dissuade women from applying. Once applicants are through the doors, foster a sense of belonging in your teams and encourage opportunities for promotion within the organisation.
A lot of organisations have done work to create women in tech support groups so women can support, brainstorm and uplift each other. Whilst I think this is a great idea, many women would be liked to be recognised for who they are and the skills they have not the sex they are.
Emma: Being adaptive and flexible will encourage more inclusivity and diversity in the tech industry. I think having a general understanding of other people’s needs is important, everyone is different, and a set of rules for ones doesn’t mean they will work for others.
What advice would you give young women interested in pursuing a career in tech but may feel discouraged or intimidated by the lack of gender diversity in the industry?
Lori: Believe! If you are passionate about working in tech, believe in yourself first. Believe in change, and be a change maker. Get experience wherever and whenever you can, and network with other women who will also lift you and connect you with opportunities for learning and career advancement. Above all, do not be discouraged – if you are disrespected and cannot change the tone where you are, change where you are, and you will be effecting a retroactive change that will help those that come after. Accept the hand and advice of women who are on the journey, and then extend your hand to those who come after you. Encourage young women and girls to believe in themselves and to pursue as much technical experience and training as they enjoy. Enjoying what you do is half the battle. Believing that you belong to the other half.
MK: Reach out to other women in tech and ask them for advice. Ask what things that have worked for them but also what things didn’t work. People are like google- a wealth of knowledge. Take what they say to heart and continue using it while you build your career. Don’t be afraid to ask for something. The worst answer you will get is no, which usually means speaking to the wrong person. Don’t settle for no. Find someone willing to help you.
Hena: I recall the wise words of my daughter’s headmistress, who encouraged the girls in their early years always to strive to do their best, regardless of gender. This is a lesson that applies to all aspects of life. Here are some tips for professional growth and success:
- Find a mentor who you respect, and you can bounce ideas off
- Always look for ways to enhance your professional development, both doing tasks you need to do and also things you are passionate about. IT is always changing, so keep your skills fresh, which will help you stay ahead.
- Confidence is key to any role. You are just as good as anyone else in the room, so go ahead and command the room where required but also sit back and watch and learn from those you admire and also those you don’t admire
- Work for a company that aligns with your values. You will enjoy going to work and feel proud to represent your company.
- Learn to build strong connections with both your colleagues and your customers.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. As women, we often feel we need to be seen as doing more but learn to work smart, not hard, all the time.
Emma: I think some people see the word Tech and do not understand what roles are included as part of the ‘tech industry’. It doesn’t necessarily mean you must be a technical expert in a certain field to work in IT. Please don’t be discouraged. So many roles within the industry aren’t as technical as others. Also, find a company willing to support your growth as an individual that sees your talent first.
Who are some women in tech that you admire, and why?
Aman: Anne Sheehan was one woman who wowed me whilst I worked at Vodafone UK. When she was the CEO of Vodafone UK, she was presenting an All Hands at the Vodafone Head Office, and she set the stage on fire – she captivated her audience and left me feeling proud and proud and valued. She captured people’s attention by walking into a room; her presence and aura is what I strive to have.
Lori: I will start with one of the reasons I joined Xalient, our own Sherry Vaswani’s passion, focus, heart and encouragement for other women to “never stop learning and challenging”, and she is a model for all women in tech. I also admire other women I work with, Emilee Khalil, for her tireless dedication, always putting the customer first, and always with kindness, genuine interest and concern for those she works with. Liz Wright for her amazing technical knowledge combined with a rare sense of humour and ability to put people at ease, support her team and take care of challenging customers all in one fell swoop. For her lightning-fast mind and technical skills, Lucy Price is always ready to help her team and answer questions. Hazel DePippa for her incredible organization and attention to detail and process. All the women I’ve met at Xalient are my heroes, and I’m so lucky to work with them. Outside of Xalient, several women have blazed new trails as leaders in tech, like Jennifer Morgan, former CEO at SAP; Ruth Porat, the CFO of Alphabet; Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and others who have stayed the course and made a mark in the tech industry. But my truest heroes are honestly the ones at Xalient who make my work life the best I’ve found yet!
Akshayata: I admire so many women in tech; it’s hard to choose just a few! Of course, some big names in the industry immediately come to mind, but I also have the privilege of knowing and learning from some amazing women leaders right in my backyard.
Donna Moor, for example, has been an incredible mentor to me since I joined Xalient. Her leadership style is inspiring, and I strive to follow in her footsteps. And then, of course, there is our CEO Sherry, whose work significantly contributes to the tech industry and positively impacts the field. I have a great deal of respect for the work that she’s doing and the example that she’s setting for women in tech everywhere.
Hena: Throughout my career, I have looked at mentors, customers and suppliers and attributes I wanted to emulate as I had learnt a lot from them, which helped enhance me.
Saying that, within Xalient, we are fortunate to be led by a forward-thinking woman CEO Sherry Vaswani, who is also supported by a number of amazing women on her board. Sherry has created and fostered the Xalient ethos, where we genuinely care about making a difference. We stand on our merits to ensure that our company culture is always about inclusion and diversity, no matter what race, religion or sex you are.