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InVision women reflect on tech career challenges and triumphs

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It’s no secret technology has a gender diversity problem.

As an industry, we have a lot of room for improvement, from access to education to the right training for all managers; comprehensive family leave policies to creating inclusive company culture.

Perhaps most important is leadership that walks the walk when it comes to providing support for women in underrepresented roles.

Related: An open letter to up-and-coming women in digital design

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we asked some amazing women at InVision to share their unique stories. In this 4-part series, they’ll share their experiences starting and growing their careers as women in tech.

“Creating space for #womenintech to share their stories helps us tackle the gender gap head-on.”

Meet our amazing panel

Jennifer Aldrich, UX and Content Strategist
Jennifer fell in love with technology after working for Penn State University’s information technology department in a campus computer lab. After earning degrees in education and psychology, Jennifer took a software training job at a local startup. The company experienced rapid growth, and she was given the opportunity to shift into a UX role on the product design team.” She’s written extensively on her experience as a woman in tech.

Emily Flannery, Engineer
Originally intent on becoming a designer, Emily started a fine art magazine in college and worked as a design intern, starting with web design to maintain her own portfolio. Then she attended Harvard’s Extension School for a web development course. One thing led to another, and now Emily works as a front-end developer. She brings designs to life with pixel-perfect precision, supported by her love for and understanding of design.

Dana Lawson, VP of Engineering, Platform
Dana’s road to tech began with art. Aspiring to be the next Georgia O’Keeffe, she started working in graphic arts in the 1990s, but also loved math and science. After becoming an information system operator in the military, she moved into code once she left to work as a contractor. Today, she works in engineering management and leadership because working with people and building teams motivates her.

Natasha Litt, Staff Data Engineer
Natasha loved computers as a kid, but she didn’t discover her love of code until 1999 while working to make a database Y2K compliant. As soon as she began to code, she thought, “This is like playing LEGO… with words. Can I get paid to do this?” She was hooked, and now she really does get paid to play LEGO with words.

Jessica Meher, VP of Enterprise Marketing
Jessica started working for a SaaS company right out of college as their first marketer in the early years of digital marketing. She fell in love with tech right away, and joined HubSpot in 2011. Jessica worked at HubSpot for 5 years, from 200 employees to 1,000, and $18m in revenue to $180m and an IPO. She’s worked in almost every marketing function—excelling at some, crashing and burning in others, but always learning.

Lindsey Redinger, Product Manager
Lindsey’s career in tech started with a love of computers and teaching herself HTML and CSS to make fan sites for cartoons (she remembers a Sailor Moon site at age 11). Originally planning to be an anthropologist, Lindsey got her degree in IT instead and began doing Rails development right after college. But her love for designing web interfaces and front-end development led her to user experience—where her anthropological interests came in handy. She’s worn a few hats at InVision, and loves working on product strategy and building out our product roadmap as a product manager.

Lindsey Serafin, Director of Customer Success
Lindsey excelled in math and science in high school and was encouraged to pursue engineering. After getting her undergraduate degree from Cornell in civil environmental engineering, she worked as an engineer before going on to earn her MBA. From there, a move into consulting led her to tech. Lindsey is passionate about creating more awareness of women’s experiences in tech, having worked in male-dominated industries her entire career.

Erica Simmons, Team Lead, Support Engineering, AMER-E
While Erica’s bachelor’s degree is in music, she’s always enjoyed technology. In her first post-college job, she became the go-to person for colleagues’ software or hardware issues, and eventually ended up helping her IT department. After working as a level I and level II customer agent at her next job, Erica now leads support engineering for InVision’s AMERICAS-East team.

Carol Tang, Director of Online Marketing
Carol began her career in electrical engineering in the aerospace industry before moving into marketing after attending business school. She’s worked at agencies, ecommerce companies, and startups, progressing through positions in marketing analytics and paid search campaign management. She now manages InVision’s online marketing programs and enjoys being part of an industry that challenges her to be strategic and tactical at the same time.

Lori Williams-Peters, Senior Director, Productivity
Lori’s vision was to be an engineer. After getting an engineering degree from UCLA, she interned for IBM, where a vice president told her she’d be a sales natural. Although she initially resisted, as soon as she explored the sales organization, she loved it. She worked at IBM for 15 years, ending her career there as a business segment leader for a worldwide, billion-dollar brand. Since then, she’s been a technical advocate in multiple sales organizations, including now at InVision.

“What challenges have you faced in your career as #womenintech?”

What challenges did you face early in your career?

JESSICA: Sometimes my job history doesn’t show the incredible up and downs of my life, but there have been many. For starters, I’m dyslexic. It’s difficult for me to keep facts and numbers straight. My spelling is horrendous. I easily forget people’s names, and I feel awful about it. I can’t tell you how often I get things backwards.

I’m also fairly introverted. I avoid conflict, and have struggled with a major lack of confidence. For a long time, I didn’t believe I was smart enough or capable enough—I literally had people tell me I’d never be successful—and I spent more effort trying to prove myself rather than taking risks. Failure was completely soul-crushing, so I did everything I could to avoid it. I took feedback personally, and I rarely spoke up.

CAROL: Similarly, in the beginning, I was definitely a lot more timid and did not feel like I had much power to define my own career path. That could have partly been because I worked in aerospace, where most people have very well-defined, niche roles.

Over time, I’ve felt a lot more empowered to explore and work on projects that interest me. Smaller startups require most people to wear many different hats and provide endless opportunities to try new things. Sometimes you just have to find the right environment that enables you to flourish.

LORI: At UCLA for engineering, I was one of 2 Caucasian women in the entire class. We had about 600 people. I would walk into classes and the professor would say, “What are you here for?” and I would say “This class.” And they would say “Are you sure?”

When I went to IBM in the mid-1980s, and there weren’t a lot of women in my role. I would walk into meetings, and they would think I was the admin to bring them coffee. The building at the client location didn’t have a women’s restroom. There was a lot of that.

LINDSEY S.: I’ve always understood that I was the minority in the room. Starting in college in my engineering classes, it was very normal for me to be the only woman in a class or a group or a meeting.

I’ve worked a lot on construction sites, and was often the only woman on the site. I’ve never actually had a female supervisor. Everywhere I’ve worked has said they’ve cared about supporting and promoting women, and some companies do a better job than others of following through on that.

What experiences stand out to you?

JESSICA: One time, in my early days of HubSpot, my boss told me I wasn’t doing a good job. She rated me a C-. It hurt—a lot. That was a turning point for me. She was the first manager I had who gave me direct, honest feedback that wasn’t sugar-coated.

From then on, I got more comfortable with feedback and expected it often. I discovered I was underperforming because I was working on all the wrong stuff. She put me in a role where I could succeed.

JENNIFER: I remember one experience vividly because it was my first encounter with blatant sexism. It was a few years into my design career, and my team was attending a conference—5 women surrounded by a sea of about 150 men. We were gawked at like zoo animals. Every speaker at the conference was male.

When I went to pick up an information pamphlet, the representative grinned and asked, “Are you waiting for your husband to get out of his conference session?”

I just grinned back and said, “No, I don’t have—nor do I want—one of those. Are you here keeping that seat warm for your wife? I’d love to chat with her about this product when she gets back.”

EMILY: In general, I have had the urge to hide my natural interests and personality—many of which are stereotypically feminine. But I’ve realized there is no reason. I don’t need to pretend I’m into gaming. My interest in fashion and art bring unique value to my work.

ERICA: One time, I received a promotion and my acting manager said, “I’m sure this is the largest salary you’ve seen.” I was so taken aback, I just didn’t respond. I couldn’t stop thinking about why he would say something like that to me, in what was supposed to be a celebratory moment.

LINDSEY S.: There are some things that people don’t think about that continue to reinforce these issues. In particular, the way vernacular is handled in male-dominated industries can be alienating. I’d be on a construction site for a job and someone would swear, and then they’d look at me and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, Lindsey.” It’s not that I mind the swearing—it’s that I’m singled out because somehow I’m supposed to be more offended because I’m a woman.

LINDSEY R.: The thing with women’s experience in tech is that it often feels like your thoughts and opinions get dismissed, like you don’t have the right understanding or perspective to deal with complex tech problems. I have definitely felt ignored in technical conversations. Suddenly a man will say exactly what I said, but now everyone understands. I can’t help but think, “Is it because I’m a woman? Was I not assertive enough?” It’s definitely something I’m aware of. Luckily, I haven’t ever had that happen at InVision.

How have views toward women in your field changed over the course of your career?

LORI: There is a much higher natural acceptance of women in technology now than when I started. But in some of the organizations I’ve been in, it’s also driven that kind of upfront shock and resistance underground.

When I was coming up, it was right there. It was obvious. But what I’ve seen is that today, there’s still some of that resistance, but it’s politically incorrect to say those things. So, they don’t say them, but they do other things that show they’re not cool with a woman in technology.

So neither one is great, of course. I do much better with direct conversation. That underground behavior makes me less comfortable. But overall there’s a much higher degree of acceptance.

JENNIFER: A year after the conference where that story I told before happened, I noticed the shift was more 75/25 men to women speakers. And I started speaking at conferences around that time too—the gender gap wasn’t going to close itself, and I had experience others might find valuable. Then a year later, the male/female gap was 65/35. Every time I speak at a conference now, I see the gap narrow. But there’s still work to be done.

DANA: I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt. Hearing things like, “That’s so easy my mom can do it,” those sorts of things—you can practice empathy to understand what people are really trying to say, and help people understand why we need to change the phrasing. To change people and society, you have to embrace them. You catch more flies with honey, as they say.

I have a philosophy of embracing the suck. Sure, it might be hard to be where you are, but are you doing something about it? Are you being direct? Are you calling attention to the challenges you’re facing? Because 9/10 times people just aren’t thinking about it. I have a personal responsibility to make things better for all my engineers, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion, creed, personality.

Stay tuned for the next article in the InVision Women in Tech series: Why mentorship is key to closing the tech gender gap.

Author

Claire Karjalainen
Claire is a content strategist at InVision. She's all about words, technology, design, dogs, Colorado sports, and the scifi/fantasy section. Say hi on Twitter!

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