Representation and Women in HR Tech

Here at the HR Technology Conference, the first half of the first day was dedicated to the Women in HR Technology conference. First of all, I greatly appreciate the fact that the role of women in technology was highlighted – not just from an end-user perspective, but from the leadership in creating and driving the innovation of the technology. I also appreciated seeing so many men attending sessions. Highlighting women doesn’t mean exclusion of men – it means raising everyone’s awareness, and it takes all of us to be more inclusive.

The sessions were good – smart, thought-provoking, data-driven, focused, actionable. I was sad I couldn’t attend all of them based on the Twitter stream I read. As I sat listening to the opening and closing keynotes, as well as some of the sessions, I was stuck by how the topics were intertwined by cause and effect.

Rita Mitjans, the Chief Diversity Officer at ADP, shared data highlighting the importance of diversity for innovation and success in a business. She also shared that while woman and people of color are entering the workforce at decent numbers, they are not advancing in the workforce. Later in the day, Jenny Dearborn, EVP, Human Resources and Global Head of Talent, Leadership & Learning at SAP, shared data around the skills gaps in tech, highlighting the challenges of filling roles in technology. Perhaps the solution is right in front of us.

Think about it – we know bias is a real thing in hiring. It’s also a real thing in promoting employees, and this problem perpetuates itself in businesses because promotion is more about visibility than ability. Yet within businesses, women tend to be less visible – they are called upon to do fewer presentations to the C-Suite, they are talked down in meetings, they sit in the background rather than at the head of the table. These small actions add up to real consequences. Earning potential drops. Women leave the corporate world. The talent pipeline dries up. And Jenny Dearborn has to do keynotes about the challenges of filling tech roles in Silicon Valley.

This made me think about the importance of representation. If there were more women in tech leadership, there would be more women in tech. Period.

A personal story:

When I was picking a college to attend, I targeted one that would allow me to be a physics/music double major. I assure you – there are not many. A visit to the University of Denver convinced me they were a good fit. The Physics Department had respected scientists, the music program was top notch (a little too focused on classical opera singing, but that was fine), and I liked the student to teacher ratio. After enrolling, I downgraded the music to a minor just for sanity’s sake, but loved being able to do both. Freshman and sophomore years were challenging but great – I had terrific classmates in my physics classes. Each of us had different strengths in thinking through problems, so we complemented and learned from each other. But most of those classmates were either chemistry or pre-med majors and the first two years of physics for them were just prerequisites. For me, it was my future.

Flashforward to junior year. I was the ONLY physics major at DU. That meant it was me and professor in all my advanced classes. And all of my professors were men – not just in my physics classes, but also in my advanced math classes. On the surface, that’s not that big of a deal. After all, a lot of professors are men. But I never once had a mentor in math and science who was a woman. I lost my support group of fellow students. I faced professors who had been doing these classes for years and didn’t know how to interact with a single female student in class. They insisted on leaving the door open for all classes, regardless of how loud it was outside the classroom. I understood why – but it impacted my learning. Halfway through my junior year, I opted to change my major, and graduated with a major in history, and minors in physics and music.  

Would I have stayed in physics if there had been more representation of women? Maybe, maybe not. Intro to Complex Variable was hard, yo. I do know that it shook my confidence right at the time when I needed to believe in myself the most. Now, there are several female astrophysicists and other scientists represented on television, talking about science and making it cool to be smart AND a girl. I love them for that. I watch them and cheer them. And I make sure I tell girls about them and encourage them to love science and technology.

I share this story because I believe in representation. I believe it impacts a company’s success. I believe it builds strong talent pipelines. I believe it builds strong, confident women who refuse to take a lower salary because they should just be grateful they got the job. I believe it continues to help women realize they should never ever apologize for their success, nor should they be considered rare and magical when they show up at a conference and share their knowledge like the badasses they are.

So thank you, HR Tech Conference, for giving women in HR technology the visibility they deserve. We’ve always been there. Now it’s time you see us.