Overcoming the challenges of being a woman in Tech

*Please note this is an article that went viral on LinkedIn and Medium*

With men comprising a high percentage of those in the tech space, it can be difficult as a woman trying to compete. Here is some advice from industry experts to address and potentially overcome those challenges.

con·fi·dence: the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; the feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

With men comprising a high percentage of those in the tech space, it can be difficult as a woman trying to compete. Even tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Twitter have extremely low numbers of women in their tech roles. In 2015, women in tech roles at these companies were only 16.6 percent at Microsoft, 10 percent at Twitter and 17 percent at Google. When you look at the numbers in executive leadership roles (not just in tech), only 23 percent of Microsoft’s leadership roles are filled by women, 21 percent at Twitter and 21 percent at Google.

Previously, I wrote about the “Highs and Lows of Women in Tech” to highlight some of the challenges women face in the industry. With thousands of shares, comments and likes, it was clear that it hit a cord in the tech space by highlighting the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done in the industry. As a follow-up to that piece, this covers the major challenges that women face in tech and avenues and advice from experts to address and potentially overcome those challenges.

Not having the right education

With less than half of computer science students being women, many women that might have an interest in tech may not have the right education that employers are looking for. However, just because you didn’t gain an education specifically in tech, doesn’t mean it’s too late to jump into the tech space. In fact, many companies have found that it’s often easier to train a specialist to code than it is to train a programmer on a specific industry. Healthcare software companies actually hire doctors and train them in technology in order to design and build their EMR system. Who better to help design a health record system used by doctors than doctors themselves?

Stephanie Sylvestre, Chief Programs Officer/Chief Information Officer at The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County, started her education in International Relations, but found she was able to use that knowledge to enter the tech space. “Back in the late 1990s when I got started, there was flexibility in knowledge of technology so I decided to give it a try,” she said. “I found two things — one it’s a high paying industry and two, I could transfer my education in international relations to analysis of computer systems. I was able to parlay that into a highly successful IT career. In 1995, I entered the IT vector without any experience, over 20 years later, I am CIO of a $100 million company because I kept learning and was okay with asking for help. Of course, being a great team player and having humility went a long way.”

Deborah Vazquez, CEO of IT Staffing Firm PROTECH, believes that it’s important in any career to have a plan and to leverage your skills to attain that goal. “I entered the tech field begging my way into a programming role after working as an assistant in an accounting department of a theatrical organization. I had purposely looked for a job where I could use the accounting skills I had gained, but where the opportunity existed to transition into a tech role.”

There are also boot-camps and training programs like IronHack for both men and women that have realized a passion for tech after college. Programs like these allows students to use their current skills to transition into a tech focused role. There are also free ways to learn computer science — here’s a list of resources to learn to code for free.

The confidence gap

Unfortunately, women often are not confident or underestimate their skills. Reports show that female computer science concentrators with eight years of programming experience are as confident in their skills as their male peers with zero to one year of programming experience.

Some have a hard time believing in a confidence gap and that this is a simple case of men overestimating their skills and less about women lacking in confidence. Interestingly, it is a combination of both. It several studies, when men and women are given the same skills test and asked to self-assess, women give themselves an average score lower than their actual score and men give themselves an average score higher than their actual score. Both men and women score very similarly in a variety of skills tests (so there is little discernible differences between level of skill between sexes). In the programming example, this was an actual study done by Harvard (graph above) that found men started their self assessment (from 0–5) at about 3.3/5 with 0–6 months of experience. Women started much lower (2.6/5) and only self assessed as a 3.3/5 after 8 years of experience. Men with that same experience self-assess at 4.3/5 after 8 years. Since it is unlikely that men will start lowering their own assessments and confidence, it is up to women to bridge the confidence gap.

In the recruiting space, I have seen this first hand, and often have to push female candidate to be more confident when talking about their abilities when preparing them for an interview. On the other hand, I have had male candidates with 6 months’ experience tell me they were as strong as other candidates with 3+ years’ experience. Confidence plays a big part in the tech space, and the unfortunate reality is that the male candidate with the 6 months’ experience and confident attitude will land the job over another candidate, male or female, with several years of experience but lacking in confidence.

Women are holding themselves back in the confidence department.

“Some observers say children change our priorities, and there is some truth in this claim. Maternal instincts do contribute to a complicated emotional tug between home and work lives, a tug that, at least for now, isn’t as fierce for most men. Other commentators point to cultural and institutional barriers to female success. There’s truth in that, too. But these explanations for a continued failure to break the glass ceiling are missing something more basic: women’s acute lack of confidence,” say Katty Kay and Claire Shipman on an inspiring article about the confidence gap for The Atlantic. Turns out, women hold themselves back in the workplace, often believing they aren’t good enough, when chances are, they are as competent as their male peers. In fact, companies have tried to figure out why they have a lack of women in key leadership. A famous study by HP came to the startling conclusion that women were not applying for a promotion unless they met 100% of the requirements while men will happily apply if they only meet 60% of the requirements.

Women are holding themselves back in the confidence department. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman add, “We were curious to find out whether male managers were aware of a confidence gap between male and female employees. And indeed, when we raised the notion with a number of male executives who supervised women, they expressed enormous frustration. They said they believed that a lack of confidence was fundamentally holding back women at their companies, but they had shied away from saying anything, because they were terrified of sounding sexist.”

Then of course there is the flip side. Women that are confident are told they are too aggressive, with 84% of women in tech reporting they have been told this, often more than once. 47% also have been asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues are not asked to do (e.g., note-taking, ordering food, etc.). With a very well-established confidence gap between the sexes, it is very possible that women that are simply confident come across negatively when compared to other woman, who may not have the same confidence traits.

“Confidence with a big ‘C’ is a myth,” said Lerner, who founded, a career website for women. “We hold ourselves back from valuable opportunities if we wait for everything to line up and to have all our skills in place. [We] have to redefine confidence and understand that courage is the main ingredient for success for achieving their goals.”

How can a woman in tech find the courage they need to succeed and excel in a career where their perception of their own skills is often most important?

Jill Flynn, partner at leadership consulting firm Flynn Heath Holt, recommends women stand up for themselves and their ideas, especially in meetings. “Meetings are so important because they’re the corporate stage,” Flynn said. Rather than observe, contribute to the meeting and do not be afraid of your idea being rejected. Confidence and courage are muscles that need to be flexed in order to grow, sharing an idea in a meeting might be scary the first time, but each time you speak up you will grow your confidence.

Women in tech also need to train themselves to use more direct language. Instead of using passive language like “what do you think about doing it like this?” women should instead use active language like “I suggest we should do it like this.” Along with that, Flynn says we need to stop apologizing in the workplace.

Team sports also appear to play a big role in developing confidence for pre-teens, however, this is also the time when many girls tend to drop out of competitive programs. Confidence also stems from not being afraid of mistakes or failure — both of which are encouraged by competitive sports. As an adult, even if you missed out on being on the baseball team, there are still ways to build confidence including joining an adult sports league or competitive exercise programs. Exercise on a whole is a great confidence boost and adding in an element of competition can help boost your confidence in the workplace.

Instead of using passive language like “what do you think about doing it like this?” women should instead use active language like “I suggest we should do it like this.”

Finding a support system

It’s also important for women in tech to find a mentor, whether that is a relative or someone in the tech industry you admire. For Patti Barney, Vice President of Information Technology at Broward College, it was her grandfather that motivated her into the tech space. “My grandfather was an adjunct instructor in the technology field,” she said. “He projected high demand and high wages for female careers in technology (back in the early 1980’s — great insight!) I also saw it as an opportunity to learn many new things, innovation stems from ideas and creativity which was one of my strengths plus I preferred a challenge over “routine” every day of the week.”

What makes someone a good mentor for you? The best mentor would be someone whose career you admire and are looking to mirror that you share a common connection with.

“The best mentors are often women that you establish a relationship with, that you find a connection with. And then it develops — and it takes on its own natural progression. And some of the best mentors you might never have the conversation about whether or not you’re a mentor or a mentee. But you know it — and they play that role for you, and they’re happy to do so. So, it isn’t helpful for some women, in that, they really want to know specifically, tactically, “How do I do this?” So the best advice that senior executive women have shared with me to pass along is that, you find a connection with these women. You put yourself out there, and get to know them — and, if they reciprocate with equal interest, then you keep going. And you build the relationship like you would any other relationship,” says Wendy Cukier, Vice President Research and Innovation, and Founder & Director, Diversity Institute, Ryerson University.

For example, if you are looking to be a director of software engineering one day, find someone in this type of role through networking or company events and invite them to something informal, such a coffee or lunch. She also warns that asking someone to be your mentor is not the best approach. “On the subject of asking for a mentor itself, I have heard a consistent response from peers and influential women everywhere; they don’t like to be asked. In fact, the general rule of thumb for finding a mentor seems to be that if you have to ask, it’s probably not right.”

Finding a mentor is similar to finding a significant other — best practices would advise against asking them to be your boyfriend or girlfriend on the first date. Instead, you work on building a relationship and getting to know each other — the key difference being you may never officially declare yourselves a mentor-mentee relationship — you’re just two people at different career levels that enjoy learning from each other. Good mentorship relationships are not one-sided, your mentor is likely learning from you as well, perhaps to better understand those they manage in their team.

Vazquez believes that success as a women in tech is less about gender and more about education, self-confidence and hard work. “My advice to young women is to seek out a mentor that understands your goals, appreciates your talents and is willing to help you succeed. This combined with a good attitude and tenacity has been the right formula for me. After many years in the software industry and a lot of domestic and overseas travel which was wearing on me, I pursued my entrepreneurial passion and founded PROTECH. This allowed me to once again do something that maximized technical and business skills in the software business to create unique value for our clients. I’m proud of the reputation and quality brand my team and I have built over the years. And much of what we do involves career coaching which we enjoy very much.”

Workplace harassment

Along with being a minority in the workplace, many women report both harassment from their male counterparts and superiors. Shockingly, 60% of women in tech reported unwanted sexual advances with 65% of those advances being from a superior. For those that did report sexual assault, 60% were dissatisfied with the outcome. As a woman who has reported sexual assault to HR only to be told I should be “flattered” to be receiving attention, there is no easy solution for women when it workplace sexual harassment and assault. The biggest challenge facing women in the workplace is something outside of our control, and something the industry needs to address on a whole, as demonstrated by several high-profile lawsuits in the industry.

Along with sexual harassment, many women in tech also felt a general sense of not being included. 66% of women in tech felt excluded from key social and network opportunities due to gender, 59% felt like they did not receive the same opportunities as male counterparts, and 90% reported sexist behavior during company events and industry conferences.

Barney admits that women in technology can sometimes feel out of place. “Every conference and learning engagement I was surrounded by men. They were very much about the technology, I was very much about the business,” she said. “I always found ways to learn from them, but apply it to the actual business value our institution would gain from it. At times, you will feel inferior, out of place and perhaps weaker… find a way to fit in! I used my background in athletics and sports to join conversations.”

Showing up and standing out

For Vazquez, being a woman in tech can be a tremendous advantage. “I later worked my way up the ladder at a global software company and transitioned into executive management,” she said. “As the only female Sr. VP, I was the only woman around the board room table. I never felt being the sole female was an issue. I always felt the highest level of respect from my peers and superiors. And in fact being the token woman sometimes even felt as an advantage because I brought unique perspective from that of my male counterparts which they seemed to appreciate.”

The best way to shrink the women tech talent gap is to encourage more young women to consider technology careers. Sylvestre advises young women to be bold and not let anyone intimidate you. “Be okay with not knowing and okay with having to ask for help and spending a lot of personal time learning and refining your skills. Always volunteer for projects even those you might not have a knowledge set in — it’s an opportunity to learn and diversify your skill sets,” she said.

Barney advises young women to “be prepared for an exciting job that comes with challenges in such a highly dynamic environment. Be flexible and courageous. Set your goals and steer the course — Be a risk-taker only if you have a thorough understanding of how to mitigate the risk. Don’t embark on a new technology because someone else is doing it — Have a PLAN! Surround yourself with experts that know the technology and have a passion for the institutional mission.”

At the end of the day, having a diverse workforce isn’t just about a company feeling good about itself. McKinsey research indicates that gender-diverse companies outperform by 15%. On top of that, ethnically diverse companies perform 35% better.

According to the report “More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing return. This in turn suggests that other kinds of diversity — for example, in age, sexual orientation, and experience (such as a global mind-set and cultural fluency) — are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for companies that can attract and retain such diverse talent.”

It’s clear the benefits of women and people of color in tech greatly outweigh any costs. With the higher returns that diversity is expected (and proving) to bring, the more tech leaders invest now in diversity and inclusion, the further they’ll pull ahead of their non-diverse competitors.

Elizabeth Becker is the Client Partner of IT Staffing Firm PROTECH, Her expertise has been featured in a variety of publications including The Ladders,, Monster, LinkedIn, and more. You can reach her with comments, feedback or to be featured in an upcoming story at


The Highs and Lows of Being a Woman in Tech

There has been momentous push to highlight gender inequality within tech, yet the question still remains: Why are there so few women in tech and in top leadership roles?

According to a recent Reuters study, 30% of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions. Only 25% of the IT jobs in the US were filled by women and considering the fact that 56% of women leave IT in the highlight of their career, it’s no surprise that there’s so few women leading the tech industry.

30% of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions

The value of having women in leadership is common sense — women make up half of the purchasing demographic so having limited or no representation of women leading companies can make them miss out on valuable insight. This common sense is backed by a study by a DDI consulting firm that found the top 20% of top-performing companies had 27% or more women in key leadership positions while the bottom 20% of companies had less than 19% of women in these roles.

I asked women in leadership roles to share their experience in the tech space, everything from why they chose a career in tech to perks/challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry to advice for young women considering tech as a career.

Advice to young women considering tech

Brush up on your math.

Becca Stucky, Director of Demand Generation at tech company Thycotic, says that math skills are critical. “Tech companies move fast, and to know you’re making the right choices, you need to be able to read trends and metrics for how your initiatives perform — this is true not only for marketing, but also for making choices for product features or UX, running tech support and client happiness teams, and even working across teams and explaining to other managers why your team is making certain choices.”

Diane Merrick, VP of Marketing at Teradici agrees with Stucky, adding “Don’t be intimidated by math and science. Ask questions. Sometimes the problem is the teacher, not the subject. You may need to explore other sources of learning.” Merrick also recommends young women check out the option of a co-op degree where you’re guaranteed work after graduation. “It is a fantastic way to help you discover what you like and maybe more importantly what you don’t like,” she says.

Know your worth

For Katie McCroskey, Senior Manager Channel Operations at Thycotic, it’s important for young women to know their value. “Women bring a lot to a tech company — different perspectives and skill sets, tech companies with more women are more successful and it’s a hot industry to be in, good paying jobs with lots of diversity in focus (dev, cybersecurity, ops, etc.) and opportunity. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by a room full of men.”

Become a life-long learner

Karen Nowicki, director of engineering for a Chicago-based software company called kCura, says that women in tech need to become life-long learners. “Make learning part of your commitment to yourself and keep looking for new ways to grow. Technology is an especially fast-paced career. Not only will you find the domain changing quickly, but career growth also demands being proficient in each new role. Joining user groups in your industry and national societies to keep current are just a couple ways to stay sharp.”

Go for it

“There are so many options open to you when you go into a tech career,” says Dr. Galina Datskovsky, CEO of Vaporstream. “It is not just programming or coding — the options are unlimited. You should never be afraid and never think that the guys are better at it then you. You are capable of the same and more. So, just go for it.”

Stand Out

Robbie Hardy, tech sector veteran, and author of the new book UPSETTING THE TABLE: Women Mentoring Women, says that young women should consider tech because they’ll stand out. “Technology is a great career for smart women who like a challenge and lots of opportunity. While it has been a male-dominated Wild Wild West for years, it is changing. An increasing number of women are embracing STEM, which is the basis of most technology careers. These women “stand out” and therefore their talents and integrity are more exposed than a man. This has both pluses and minuses, but if you understand that you must not take no for an answer and take your rightful seat at the table of technology (upsetting the table, as I like to say), you will succeed.”

Choosing a career in tech

Solving real-world problems

For Stucky, she enjoyed the idea of working for a company making lives better was a big motivation for her to enter the tech space. “In tech — and software specifically — if you can imagine it then you can make it. There are very few limits to what people can do when given a computer and the knowledge to code. I find that very inspiring. Software can make people’s lives easier, it can make work more productive, companies more secure, and it can connect people all over the world. Productivity is something I get especially excited about. I absolutely hate doing something if I know it can be done faster, with less steps, or if I can automate it. Even though my own coding skills are mediocre at best, I get to be part of an industry of problem solvers, idea-dreamers, and of virtual builders, who are creating entirely new markets and tools that the world never considered before now, but once made, could not imagine living without.”

Happy accident

Not everyone starts out with a desire to join a tech company. “My tech careerbegan by accident,” McCroskey said. “I joined Thycotic seven years ago with a background in marketing and grew my technical knowledge and background as the company grew; now I love the challenge of constant change and teaching myself new technical topics, this constant quest for knowledge keeps me driven and engaged.”

Hardy also stumbled into tech on accident. “The technology world chose me. I was a research assistant at UNC Chapel Hill, putting my husband through his PhD program, and in order to do my job I had to learn to use technology to analyze the data we had collected. It was certainly challenging, because I am not a math and science person by nature, but once I unlocked the door to all that was possible with those 1s and 0s, I was hooked for life,” she said. “I found my sweet spot in technology management. My experience in those days as a research analyst and beyond, gave me the technology foundation I needed to be successful in managing it.”

Creating a shared vision

For Nowicki, knowing how to earn respect from an early age is a critical part of a tech career. “In high school, I became president of a rifle club and it was my first foray into leadership. I had to earn respect to get the role and incorporate everyone’s feedback to shape the program in a positive way. In college, I picked up computer science and led a national mathematics honor society where I put on a national math convention. Throughout the process, I got the hang of how to collaborate effectively and make decisions that were best for the group,” she said. “I’m also a volunteer coach for an Olympic-style junior air rifle club and there are very few female coaches. When I take the students to tournaments, the other coaches and attendees are sometimes surprised to see me. They perceive the sport to be male-dominated and have to shift how they think, so we can work together effectively. From a leadership standpoint, volunteering has taught me that you have to appreciate and maximize the unique passions and talents that everyone brings to the table and work with people of all different skill levels and backgrounds to create a shared vision.”

Ground breaking field

For Datskovsky, the opportunity to be in a revolutionary space like tech was too attractive to resist. “I always liked exact sciences and found that computer science gave the right mix of science, technology and human interaction, as well as the ability to work in a ground breaking field that is constantly changing and evolving.”


Being in an innovative space is what drew Merrick to a career in tech. “I began my career as a civil structural engineer in Ontario, Canada — a technical career but not in the “tech space”. There are several things that intrigued me about the tech space: The pace of innovation. The openness to do things differently. A lesser degree of prejudice — good ideas seemed welcome from anyone regardless of age or sex. The tech space is also a very global industry and it afforded me the opportunity to not only move to California but to travel the world.”

The challenges facing women in tech

Finding the right company

Not all women have faced challenges in their tech career. For Stucky, she says that a good company culture can make all the difference. “I give most of the credit for my personal experience to Thycotic, and our founder Jonathan Cogley’s focus on hiring good people and giving them the opportunity to succeed. Because of Thycotic’s culture, I’ve never been treated differently because I am a woman, and I have been given incredible opportunities to grow.”

Be thick-skinned and dance it off

For McCroskey, it’s important to remember that the tech industry is still a male-dominated space and women need to be confident and thick-skinned. “It is very challenging to walk into a room of ALL men knowing they are going to drill you with tech questions until you prove yourself — but this is common,” she commented. “All I can do is come as correct as possible through preparation and constantly retrospect, self-analyze, improve and sometimes just dance it off.”

Confidence to be yourself

According to Nowicki, women work and see things differently than men and add a different perspective that’s highly valuable. “When an environment doesn’t have prior experience with women in the workplace, it’s initially difficult for all involved to adjust to changing dynamics. The most important change that can be made is for women to feel confident enough to be themselves. If you’re in a workplace with a small female population, partner up with one another to build up confidence, discuss resources, and lean on one another for support.

Being the only one at the table

“Often I am the only one in the room. Frequently, I would go to a conference, and there would be a long line for the men’s room and none for the ladies’ room — although that’s a welcome change,” says Datskovsky. “It was occasionally more difficult to be taken seriously, as the men would be assumed to be the ones in charge. I always felt that I had to perform at my maximum at all times being a woman.”


Merrick admits it can get lonely as a woman in tech due to their being so few women in tech leadership. “My move to tech also involved moving from engineering to marketing, albeit marketing of very technical products. In the early years my engineering degree definitely bought me credibility. I am also told that my physical stature helped; I am quite tall. It is definitely sometimes harder to be heard as a woman. I also think we are less self-promoting. We let the work speak for itself and sometimes the work needs a voice to get noticed. As I moved up the ladder, the number of woman in my ranks definitely decreased. It can be a bit lonely. You may need to find a peer set outside of your company through associations and special interest groups. You do have to get used to being the only woman in the room on many occasions.”

Gender bias

Although Hardy admits there is a gender bias, she sees it as an opportunity. “There are always challenges but I like to look at challenges as opportunities. The gender bias is alive and well in technology, but not any more than any other sector. I was always the only woman in the room, but I learned early on to not own that or see it as a problem, but as a fact. I had to stand a little taller, work a little harder, be a bit more agile … but as long as I could maintain mutual trust and respect (T&R) with my colleagues, it always worked out. Once that trust and respect was gone, it was time to move on.”

The perks of being a woman in tech

Flex Hours

According to Stucky, there are perks for anyone, not just women, to find a career in tech. “Compared to the other industries I’ve worked in, tech companies give more time off, seem to have better family leave policies, and they provide food to bring people together and so those working late have snacks. At Thycotic, we have men and women who come in early so they can pick their kids up from school, and night owls who work well into the evening.”

Other women

The best perk for McCroskey is being surrounded by other women in tech through organizations for Women in Tech. “The women tech community is unique because we seem to all admire each other and promote empowerment in each other — as it’s often us against them. There is very little backstabbing or pettiness — in my experience tech women easily feel a bond and want to learn from each other and help other women be successful.”

Finding a passion

For Nowicki, the opportunity to create and learn in different spaces is most exciting. “In my first role at a defense company, I wasn’t just coding — I got the opportunity to write the newsletter, conceptualize and apply processes, and develop tools that were first-to-market. I even had access to the internet before it was available to the public. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job because I got to work on so many different projects and was hungry to learn. That passion sticks with me today.”

Being a pioneer

Datskovsky enjoys being a pioneer in a new space. “You are still a pioneer in the tech world, and sometimes get to cover new ground, which is exciting. It is also nice to be the one to provide that diversity in the work place.”

Great pay and career advancement

Along with the opportunity to contribute to a new and innovative field, Merrick also lists perks of being in tech as good pay and career advancement. “I think there are a lot of perks to being in tech for men or women. The pace of change in tech is exciting. Tech is competitive and for that reason it is a very innovative space. Tech is very broad and there is a lot of opportunity for job changes and career advancement. Tech is still a well-paid field with a lot of job perks unheard of in other industries. I do believe women think differently and problem solve differently. With the right attitude you can make those differences work for you by bringing new and different ideas to the table.”

Never boring

Hardy is never bored with her career choice in tech. “With T&R in full gear, a woman is often rewarded/ sought after for her unique skills and intuition (yes I said intuition), however, I don’t think that this is unique to technology,” she says. “Since technology is still a male dominated field, being a woman in tech gives you an opportunity to stand out from others and be recognized and rewarded for your talent and work ethic. For me, the perks are also the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of new products, techniques, and technologies. It is certainly never boring.”

Although women are still lagging in numbers in the tech space, it’s important for girls and young women to know they have the opportunity to change the tech scene and become positive influences. Want to jump into the tech space and learn to code for free? Here’s a great list of free places to learn coding basics.

This article originally appeared at on the PROTECH website.

Elizabeth Becker is the Client Partner of IT Staffing Firm PROTECH, Her tech and workplace expertise has been featured in a variety of publications including The Ladders,, Monster, LinkedIn, and more. You can reach her with comments, feedback or to be featured in an upcoming story at