International Women's Day: Celebrating Women in Tech at Autotask with Angela Richer

March 08, 2018  
angelaricherIn celebration of International Women’s Day, we are talking with one of our favorite bilinguists, Angela Richer about Women in Tech. This is a topic she happens to be well-versed in having been in the tech industry for the past 30 years. She’s been loving life at Autotask (now Datto) for over 10 years now. And she’s as honest as she is experienced. Read on for her insights.  

Q: Why do you think now is such a great time to be a woman in tech?
A: Oh, wow where do I start? 
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, women in tech were rare. If you could find them, they were often in “assistant” roles. Biased attitudes were the norm rather than the exception. Employers assumed women who had families would carry most of that load, and women simply weren't promoted at the same rate. Companies made no accommodation. If you wanted to play in the boy's club, you had to work harder and be better. 
Today, women have more things working to their advantage.  

First, attitudes about women in the workforce have changed. Women expect to work and be financially independent. Having children simply means that your income is needed even more. It's been quite a while since I ran into a woman whose life plan was based on being supported by a man. Millennials have grown up in families where mom worked.
Second, technology makes it easy for employers to be more flexible. Working from home is a huge benefit for anyone with children, but especially for mothers who still provide much of the childcare. I used to fear snow days because the extra childcare I had to pay for could be a real financial burden. Two weeks of vacation a year was standard.
Third, the employment situation in tech works in the employees' favor.  Everyone is needed.  Employers go out of their way to create an even playing field. Equal pay seems achievable. Women's role in the hiring process is growing, and men are hiring women because they now know they can get the job done.
I am not saying everything is perfect, but believe me, it is a lot better than it was.
Q: What more do you think needs to be done to get women’s voices heard? Create more equality?
A: Everyone has to understand and accept that gender equality is a social construct, so the remedies have to include societal and political measures. For example, the difference between the US and Saudi Arabia is not genetics; it is societal norms and the laws of the country. In my opinion, what would really help is to codify the new normal into law. This country has never passed an Equal Rights Amendment. I am always shocked by how oblivious young women seem to be to the precarious nature of the achievements of the last few decades.
At the individual level, companies can do a much better job with mentoring women. My niece works for a company (in Germany) where everyone in a supervisory or managerial position picks a mentor and a well-defined set of expectations and practices is attached to that role.
Q: How do you keep your seat at the table?
A: Speak up. Get noticed. Refuse to shut up. If I have an opinion (and I always do), I voice it. In my experience, it is more important to always be heard than to always be right. Participation counts. Men don’t always have the right answer or idea, but, in my experience, I’ve noticed both women and men react worse if women say things that aren’t well-received. This makes women more cautious, and in consequence, they lose out.  There have been many times when I did have an idea I wasn't sure about and didn't voice it, and wouldn’t you know 20 minutes later a man at the table said the same thing and would get the credit. It has even happened to me that I did voice it, and nobody heard it, until some man repeated it. It can be frustrating, but it’s so important to let our voices be heard. So be brave and say what you want to say. 
Q: What advice would you offer to a woman just starting out in tech?  
A: You must realize that even a career in tech requires savvy sales know-how. At a minimum, you are selling the contributions you can make, the skills and talents you possess (promoting your own brand). While young women are probably a little more assertive than my generation, I would bet dollars to donuts that men are still ahead in this metric. So, get comfortable saying great things about yourself. This is hard, but it is especially hard for women with cultural backgrounds that discourage self-promotion.  When it comes to preparing for this part of an interview, I encourage you to practice with a group of friends. They can help you find the right tone.
Second, find a professional mentor.  Ask somebody with whom you have worked, but who is more experienced and not directly in your chain of command.  I have never had one myself, but I do make a point of sharing advice, career and otherwise, to younger people at the company. I’m a big proponent of instituting a formal mentoring program and a lot of the best companies do have these in place. 
Third, don't believe the myth that women are always supportive of other women.  They are not. There are many workplaces that are just like high school.  As you start to climb the ladder, be aware of this and do what you can to not let it be your experience. Treat both women and men fairly.
And if you encounter behavior that shouldn't be tolerated, don't tolerate it. We are post #metoo. But don't overreact. Please don't freak out when someone says a dress looks nice on you.

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