This year for International Women's Day, several employees shared their insights on some of the challenges they've faced in their careers and how they've overcome those challenges. They also shared what they think technology companies can do to help #BreakTheBias and ensure women and diversity in tech become not just the norm, but actively encouraged.
Who did we speak to?
What has been the most significant barrier in your career and how did you overcome it?
Francesca: I hit the biggest barrier in my career as a junior lawyer, when I worked in private practice. I went from being a top performer at school, to feeling permanently anxious and inadequate, having little confidence in my work. It became such a barrier, that I wondered 'am I even good at my job?' and 'should I have done something else'. I was actually thinking about leaving the law altogether before I was headhunted to join an in-house team at HP. I took the chance and it changed everything.
In the right team, I fell in love with my work once more. In turn, I began to trust my own judgment again and thrive in my new role. Not every environment is right for every person, to unlock your potential. If you're experiencing barriers, you have to ask 'am I in the right place, for me?' and if the answer is no, find that place.
"Not every environment is right for every person, to unlock your potential. If you're experiencing barriers, you have to ask 'am I in the right place, for me?' and if the answer is no, find that place."
Francesca Porter, General Counsel
Amy: After spending over a decade in similar roles, I realized I wasn't growing in my job the way I wanted to and needed a new challenge. Learning how to leverage my expertise and experience to take my career in a new direction wasn't easy because others had a tendency to see me as a very specialized expert.
I talked to a lot of people who had made a similar jump to figure out exactly what I was looking for in that next job and how to demonstrate the value of my experiences and skillset. Mentorship, whether short-term or long-term, has always been important for me when tackling a challenge — you can learn so much from talking to others about their experiences to guide your thinking.
Ananya: When I started my career there was no concept of flexibility, work-from-home was a privilege, daily long commutes on packed London Underground trains was a given. I had to raise my daughter while doing an intense job… reliable, affordable and quality childcare definitely helps.
As a woman of color with an accent to match, and limited local knowledge, I of course faced unique issues early on in my career. I’ve also had the privilege of having some of the best bosses and managers one can ever have. So it kind of evens out.
Leta: The most significant barrier in my career has been, being a woman. Tongue and cheek, I know. However, in my career, I've had experiences a man never will. A man does not know the challenges of getting promoted during a pregnancy and having the world tell you that 'it is what it is'.
As I continued to progress my career, eventually as a single mother, I found myself hiding my true self because of insecurities that conflicted with societal norms, such as complete flexibility to travel for business. I can't count the years I looked around the room and was the only woman at the table. I can't count the number of times that males peers would ask questions like 'how did you get so smart?' after I presented a thoughtful solution to problem, or touch my arm to tell me to 'not to be nervous' because I had prepared more than my male colleagues for a contentious client meeting.
It wasn't until I learned the term imposter syndrome and began seeking out strong women mentors that I realized I don't have to hide my true self. That I can speak up when something is said. That the world may have a set of expectations but that you can customize your life any way you choose. It just takes a vision and plan.
Chloe: The most significant barrier in my career to date has been my own self-belief. I really lacked confidence in my 20s, confidence in my abilities, in my decisions and in my overall career direction. It’s always hard to pinpoint the root cause of these things, but I think it was in part because my self-esteem was tightly entwined with external factors such as what other people thought, or doing well at school or university, and having a bit of an ‘all or nothing’ perfectionist mindset when actually life is full of uncertainty and there is nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error.
Some of this has improved with experience, but I have also made a concerted effort to focus on my mental and physical health. Joining a strong community of women here at Onfido and being part of an open, positive and supportive work culture where people can raise questions, challenge the status quo, make mistakes and learn and iterate has helped a lot.
What in your opinion can tech companies do to ensure that women in tech become the norm to help break the bias?
Francesca: Awareness, is key: it permeates at every level. An awareness of our subconscious use of language in job specs, the hiring process itself and mixed interview panels, gender pay gap analysis and reporting, and being aware of the impact of having key meetings in the evening (which may conflict with childcare and stop women from having a proper seat at the table). With the right training, organizations can raise awareness of bias, both direct and indirect across an organization. Being aware of blindspots enables them to be tackled head-on, so that tech companies can not only attract but retain female talent and break the bias.
Chiara: I don't believe in positive discrimination. I believe that companies should be set up so that they encourage equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender or personality type. You should be able to flourish whether you are loud or quiet, whether you are data-driven or a storyteller, whether you thrive in meetings or quietly behind your screen. Companies should make sure that there isn't an inadvertent bias towards the loudest voices in the room but rather encourage and promote rigor, thoughtfulness and thoroughness.
Ananya: It largely depends on the type of management and mentors on offer. There is no magic bullet. There is only so much 'leaning in' women can do, if the organization is not ready for it then those strategies can even backfire. The organization needs to be ready to embrace women leaders, and mentor them to success.
"There is only so much 'leaning in' women can do, if the organisation is not ready for it then those strategies can even backfire. The organisation needs to be ready to embrace women leaders, and mentor them to success."
Ananya Lahiri, Applied Scientist
Which female leader do you take most inspiration from and why?
Leta: The Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my hero, of course. I have a picture of her behind my desk to remind me of the person I aspire to be. She was accomplished in her own right and fought equality in America. For example, did you know that before Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women couldn't open their own bank accounts? My favorite quote of hers is 'Fight for things you care about, but do it in a way that leads others to join you.'
Chiara: Jacinda Ardern is pretty cool. Elected at 37, a woman, a mum, and a pretty amazing leader in the face of tough issues like gun violence and COVID-19. But the most inspiring thing is that she doesn't try to change herself or fit into a mold of how a world leader 'should be'. She carries out speeches with her daughter on her lap, she goes on chat shows... her style is transparent and empathetic in a field that is dominated by the wrong kind of politics. I think that's something we can all take into the workplace.
How can more women be encouraged to pursue careers in the technology space?
Francesca: 'You can't be, what you can't see' is a phrase that says it all for me. More women could be encouraged to pursue careers in tech if they could see mentors and role models within the sector.
Amy: Technology is becoming a part of our lives more and more each day which leads to more technology-focused careers, whether that's as a developer, a sales representative, an accountant, or a policy wonk. Talking about all the different paths and creating opportunities for young people to explore their interests — though internships, shadowing, mentorship, etc. — is really important.
"Women need representation in technology, in all areas of technology. I grew up in a world where women were teachers, nurses or stay-at-home mums, all of which are fantastic professions. However, the idea that I could do something else was simply outside of my sphere of knowledge."
Leta Amburgey, Global Vice President & Head of Customer Success
Leta: Women need representation in technology, in all areas of technology. I grew up in a world where women were teachers, nurses or stay-at-home mums, all of which are fantastic professions. However, the idea that there was more beyond those three roles was simply outside of my sphere of knowledge.
It was my mother, a teacher, who recognized my interest to do something different and set me on a course through a former student of hers, a VP of Marketing for a large US company. This changed the direction of my life and career. I also can't stress enough the role men can play in encouraging women. I have had countless male managers and mentors who I consider pivotal in my career progression. I have a deep appreciation and respect for these men who were allies in elevating myself and other women in the technology profession.
Chloe: I think there is still a way to go in communicating the incredible career opportunities offered in tech. It would be great to see a closer alliance between technology companies and the education system. I would love to see more tech companies offering work experience opportunities and driving more engagement and participation earlier on, when students are considering what subjects to take.
Strong female representation during this process will be key in encouraging more women into the technology space, and crucially, getting female founders in front of young people. An obvious point is having women at the C-suite, VP and management level of any organization. If candidates (male, female or non-binary) are reviewing potential companies and cannot see diverse representation at these levels they will be likely to look elsewhere.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self, if you could?
Francesca: Trust in yourself, and don't be afraid of making changes — 'Jump, and the net will appear!'
"Don't lose sight of the answers to these three questions in regards to your job: Are you growing? Are you valued? Are you empowered? Pay attention when the answer is no to any one of these."
Amy Shuart, Policy Director / Head of US Government Affairs
Amy: You've got a long career ahead of you and you can't anticipate now the direction it will go. Be open to new and interesting opportunities. Don't lose sight of the answers to these three questions in regards to your job: Are you growing? Are you valued? Are you empowered? Pay attention when the answer is no to any one of these. If two of them are no, then it is time to think carefully about making a change.
Ananya: Don’t overthink! Just do it. You have one life. When you are seventy years old you don’t want to think what could’ve been. Take that shot, learn that skill, get past the challenge and rise to your true potential.
Leta: Be thankful for the women before you. Be grateful for your mother who will teach you that women can break barriers and grit is priceless.
Chiara: Be more positive and take things more lightly.
Chloe: Get comfortable with uncertainty, trial and error and make company culture a key criteria for any job. I used to really beat myself up for not having my career path sorted after I graduated! This is absolutely not essential, and actually, having a flexible mindset can be very helpful. In order to be able to build confidence and develop resilience, a vibrant, dynamic, and supportive culture is key — so really probe this during the recruitment process!
To find out more about what Onfido's been doing for International Women's Day, take a look at our blog: Celebrating International Women's Day.