Seattle’s tech eco-system has hit a rapid growth spurt in recent years, with over 850 tech companies in the city’s industry sector and $3.5 billion in contributions to the economy last year. The PNW is home to tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia, yet also simmering with startups, creating the perfect balance of career opportunities for prospective employees. A career in technology promises higher wages, lavish office perks, and a chance to contribute to an industry affecting change worldwide. Despite the obvious advantages to a career in STEM, there still seems to be a huge gender imbalance; where are all the women? Better yet, where are the women of color?
Women are fast becoming the most educated group in the work pool, yet there still seems to be a lack of female representation and diversity in the technology industry nationwide. According to a 2013 report by the Center For Women & Information Technology, only 3% of women in tech identified themselves as African American, 5% as Asian, and 2% Hispanic. Women represent just 19.7% of software developer positions in the US, and men outnumber women 4 to 1 in the technical sectors at Apple, Google and Facebook. While these facts are certainly daunting, these statistics haven’t stopped some Seattle women from starting a career in a historically male-dominated field.
Seattle ranks 3rd in the nation for best cities for female entrepreneurs, and powerhouse women like Scilla Andreen, Sachita Shenoy and Arry Yu have paved the way for others to follow suit in the startup community. With budding curiosity about life as a female exec in tech, I had the opportunity to speak with four female executives at successful local tech companies, and received interesting insight and a peek into what it’s like as a female leader at the male executives’ table.
Arry Yu, CEO and Founder of GiftStarter, Emotiv Labs, Inc. and serial patent Queen wasn’t always buzzing in the technology realm. Yu started as a musician and artist out of college, and began working in event planning for Microsoft. Five months into her event planning days rubbing elbows with Microsoft employees, one of the General Managers told Arry he needed a Business Analyst, and she accepted the challenge; the rest is history. “That was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had,” said Yu. “After six months my team began working on an automated IT system, and I was introduced to the world of IT. I loved it,” she said. The lack of female representation in the tech sector never bothered Yu, or dissuaded her from performing at her highest potential. “Despite the lack of women and diversity, the tech industry is an equal playing field,” said Yu. “If you have a great brain, and you’re willing to work hard and embrace the discomfort of sitting at a computer hours on end, and eating bad food, you’ll succeed,” she said. Yu said there was a definite lack of females vs. male in the workplace, often being the only woman among the senior leadership. “Some women have to make a choice, and no choice is wrong, but for me I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to focus on work, I married later and don’t have any children yet,” she said. Yu believes that if more women enter into management positions in the tech industry, they’ll bring fresh ideas to the table, productivity will increase, and more fun will be had.
Since Yu can remember, she has always been interested in starting her own business. Her company GiftStarter, a crowdfunding startup that allows family & friends to pool money together for joint gift giving, came to fruition after attending a Startup Weekend hackathon event in 2014, and after taking home first place, she walked away with several backers and others interested in doing business with her. Both founders of GiftStarter are women, presenting a unique opportunity for Yu’s company to help her employees and partners better understand women’s needs in the workplace. “Right now, our other founder (Christie Gettler) recently had a baby, so we’re working through how to start a business, raise capital and start a family at the same time,” said Yu. “Our small office culture is great because we have an equal mix of both men and women, which isn’t common, and we’re learning, and making improvements moving forward as we evolve,” she said. Yu wants women entering the tech arena to learn how to adapt to succeed. “If you’re shy or an introvert, find someone to sponsor you and support you to make your voice recognized. You need to adapt to the culture around you to succeed,” she said.
Kelly Wright, VP of Sales at data analytics company Tableau Software recalls her earliest interactions with technology at a very young age. “I think it was likely a dictaphone, back when people used to record what they were saying instead of typing,” she said. “This is similar to our mantra at Tableau in a way, just as people who couldn’t do the work on their own turned to technology, Tableau is leveraging technology to allow them to do the work themselves.”
Wright has been with Tableau for the past 10 years, and was actually the first salesperson. She has been in sales for her entire career, after briefly working in management consulting. “When I think about what I do, I’ve always been drawn to figuring out how I can have the most impact,” said Wright. “That’s technology. It’s moving the fastest, fostering creativity, and empowering people in ways they never thought possible.” Kelly is the token unicorn among a sea of men in Sales, but she’s never let that cloud her conscience. “Very few female leaders are in sales, or in this industry, but I’ve never factored gender at all into my decision process,” she said. “You can be successful if you follow your dreams, rather than letting other people define your path for you.”
With females representing a small fraction of the investor, engineer, and executive level positions in the tech community, I asked Kelly what she thought would change if this female representation increased. “At Tableau, we want everyone to see and understand data,” she said. “If you look at our population of users, half of them are women. There are huge benefits to having diversity in the workforce, producing different creative approaches, and new ideas to tackle the market,” she said. Wright emphasized Tableau is hiring, and currently on the prowl for fun, powerful women like you. “Figure out what it is you want to do, believe in yourself, operate at the top of your game, and go after it,” she said.
Acacia Krebs is the Director of Communications at Winshuttle, a lean data management software company headquartered in Bothell. In 2000, Krebs began her career in the industry when she started working for a high-tech public relations agency in San Francisco. “I wasn’t sure what career path to take and my girlfriend was looking for a writer. What a wild few years those were. We worked closely with tech startups that were experiencing those high highs and those that were closing their doors,” she said. Krebs went from a predominantly female PR world, to the male-centric tech industry, and loves working in an industry that is constantly changing. “Within the industry, there is always something new to learn, there is nothing stagnant about it,” she said.
When asked what she thought would change if there were more female inventors, engineers, and executives in the tech community, she said there were many benefits to a diversified representation. “Females bring a different perspective from designing and creating technology, to the leadership team,” she said. “I LOVE what companies such as GoldieBlox are doing to inspire females, and I want my daughter to know she has the same opportunities as her twin brother to grow and develop her abilities,” said Krebs.
When our conversation shifted to the infamous thoughtless remark made by Satya Nadela on the “good karma” rule of thumb for requesting increased wages, Krebs said there is absolutely room for improvement in the gender wage gap. “Of course I want equal pay for equal work, but progress is slow. Having more female representation at all levels in this industry is something we can address now by increasing women’s opportunities for careers in STEM fields and then empowering them to succeed in the workplace,” she said. Krebs credits an encouraging upbringing, and surrounding herself with a supportive core group of people to propelling her to where she is today, and advises women interested in a tech career to believe in themselves. “My advice is actually gender neutral: Don’t be intimidated by the lack of females or males in any specific field. Whether it’s science, technology, engineering, nursing or education, be bold, take risks and always believe in yourself,” she said.
Annette Promes, Chief Marketing Officer of marketing analytics software company Moz, has worked in the tech industry for 15 years, and likes the data driven nature of the tech space. “I’m driven by the ability to effect real change by digging into the demo data, helping design and market products, and doing things based on the potential customer needs,” she said. Promes finds the industry fascinating and fun, and doesn’t note many significant challenges as a woman in the field, although she does notice a lack of representation. “The biggest one [challenge] that I see, deliberate or not, is that the leadership teams are mostly men,” she said. “People like to work with their friends, and men generally have mostly male friends, and want to provide their friends with opportunities. It’s hard to break through gender walls, and it’s not that they plot against it, it’s just part of the natural digression.” Promes said that Moz is doing what it can to promote not just women, but diversity across the board, having women and men from all backgrounds, people of color, and transgender presenters at events to get them on the technical track. “Our Founder has put on platforms to note that if he didn’t see people that looked like him succeeding, maybe he would and maybe he wouldn’t have gotten to where he is today,” she said. “As more women get technical degrees and write code, they’ll be the model behavior for others to follow,” she said.
Promes feels that there is room for improvement to close the gender wage gap, and she encourages and supports salary sharing to help women gain a sense of self-worth and know how to justify that to assist with compensation negotiations. “If you don’t have those conversations with other women, it can be hard for you to advocate for yourself,” she said. “You need to ask for what [salary] you deserve, and what you’re worth. Understand how others in similar roles are being compensated, and don’t be hesitant to know that you deserve it,” she said.