Celebrating Women’s History Month: What It Means to Be a Woman in Tech

In celebration of International Women’s Day, and to mark the countdown until our 4th annual Ada Lovelace Awards this fall, we reached out to our past Ada nominees to share with us what being a woman in tech means to them.

We noticed similar themes and experiences shared by many of our nominees. 2017 Ada nominee Kate MacDermott, Co-Founder and CEO of Equal To, shared the tribulations and triumphs she’s experienced while navigating the tech industry as a woman:

2017 Ada Lovelace Award nominee Kate MacDermott, Co-Founder and CEO of Equal To, on what it means to be a woman in tech today.

Being a woman in tech today is not easy. The reality of this space is not a pretty one — harassment, tech bro cultures, unequal pay, limited opportunities to advance. There have been moments where I’ve felt so frustrated and defeated. Reflecting on my experiences, the one thing that always keeps me going is the support and inspiration from the group of women I’ve surrounded myself with. These women, while vastly different in their backgrounds, experiences, and goals, are all similar in their ambitions, values and in their dedication to support each other.

Find your girl gang, tribe, crew, flock, network — whatever you want to call it. Seek out those women who share similar ambitions and values, but who come from different backgrounds and challenge your perspectives. In turn, be that same mentor and support figure for other women. Create a cycle of support and mentorship, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it grows and how powerful it becomes.”

Kate’s Equal To co-founder, Lauren Windsor, shared a similar perspective:

“Being a woman in tech is both immensely satisfying and exciting – and immensely difficult. While nothing beats the feeling of writing good code, the frustration of being underestimated, ignored, and left out can build over time. My advice to other women in tech: don’t doubt yourself, never stop fighting for your place at the table, and always support the other women in your field. For every step you climb higher, reach back to pull another woman up with you.”

Rashmita Das Chaudhuri, a 2016 Ada nominee and Transportation Engineer at AECOM, echoed the struggles facing many women working in STEM industries:

“I am the first woman engineer out of the four generations of engineers in my family and find it a constant challenge to be a female engineer in a male dominated industry. I was once denied an internship by a construction company just because I am a woman. Later, I earned the same internship by proving my work and the company offered me a job. This incident ended up inspiring some of my fellow female engineers who were denied opportunities for the same reason. What I conveyed to them was, “It is not our gender, but rather our work that validates us.” As a female Transportation Engineer at AECOM, I keep motivating women to develop STEM skills to join this industry.”

Some women like Siobhan Lidon, a Digital Strategist at FSC Interactive, have come to embrace the idea of being a “woman in tech” even though that may not be the way they envisioned themselves while growing up:

“It’s funny because I never saw myself becoming a “woman in tech”. I always thought I’d be a “creative”, sitting in a big room full of brainstorms and whiteboards. In reality, the technology industry created an opportunity for me to express my creativity in a tangible and data-driven way. I’m happy to be a woman in tech because I’m breaking boundaries of what it means to be a “creative”, using technology to create new ideas and strategies.

Anna Finch, Founder of Realized Designs, likewise found herself unexpectedly immersed in the tech world:

“I never expected to end up running a business in tech, having studied Chinese as my major! It’s been an amazing learning curve and I’m excited to be carving a path for more women in a male dominated industry. I think it’s really been a contributing factor to us having a large female client base and I’m proud to be a part of allowing those women innovators to have a voice in product design.”

2017 Ada nominee Élan Jones is the Executive Director of NOLA_CODE, which teaches the principles behind computer science and engineering to students across New Orleans. Her organization preaches that “Computer literacy is literacy” and she believes that:

If you’re a woman, then you’re a woman in tech. If you’re a woman who’s ever used a hot comb, a chain saw, electricity, or a clap on light fixture, then you’re a woman in tech. Lemme find out someone’s tryinna tell you otherwise.”

Shercole King, nominated in both 2015 and 2016, serves as a Homeless Management Information Systems Administrator at VIA LINK, where she works with homeless programs on data quality and human services software and user experiences for the Greater New Orleans region. She sees the potential for positive change that technology can bring:

2017 Ada Lovelace Award nominee Shercole King, Homeless Management Information Systems Administrator at VIA LINK, on what it means to be a woman in tech today.

“Being a woman of tech of color for me is all about using your experiences, your full identity to develop new ways of handling technology from different perspectives. The increasing diversity in technology will help us create new solutions that will change our world.

Sondra Brown, President and Founder of MDRG, Inc., is also excited about where 21st century tech is taking us:

“There are so many advances in market research as a result of technology. I’m most excited about the opportunities I’ve seen for automation to harness big data in a way that amplifies and augments the primary research that we do. Bringing primary and secondary data together to offer our clients a richer and more contextual understanding of their brand health is really an exciting place to be.”

Sondra’s not the only Ada nominee who sees the potential for data to shape our future. 2015 Ada nominee Dr. Michelle Montgomery Thompson shared her thoughts with us:

“As we moved from dot matrix to desktop, then geek to technologist, color and culture have expanded tech diversity in both theory and practice. As a University of New Orleans Department of Planning & Urban Studies Associate Professor and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Fellow, I support the use of community-led data in conversations about environmental justice and financial empowerment. To increase numbers of women in tech, we need to encourage young girls to listen and learn about what data tells us and not what we want it to say.”

Sparking an interest in technology in young girls was a theme that came up again and again. 2016 nominee and COO of Search Influence, Angie Scott, shared this insight:

“There are many after school programs for computer science at young ages, however, I don’t see as much in required classroom hours during the day. I believe that if there were more hours offered during the day time for computer science in elementary school, more young girls would be exposed to computer science. I have two young boys in school. One in elementary school where the computer science classes that are offered are offered after school, when girls have many other choices of programs they would like to take like Girls on the Run. So, these classes, of which my 5th grader is involved, are full of other boys….not girls.”

Blair Broussard, a two-time Ada nominee and the Senior Vice President of ARPR, echoed this sentiment:

“I firmly believe getting more women in tech starts with education. Personally, I wish I would’ve been introduced and encouraged earlier in life to the opportunity the tech industry possessed. Lucky for me, I sort of fell into it because I was one of the only millennials in a corporate office 10+ years ago. The really good news is that according to Code.org 90% of parents today want their child to study or understand computer science. This awareness has helped initiatives such as STEAM and various coding programs infiltrate schools around the country, which will make this next generation’s women in tech truly unstoppable.”

Our 2017 STEM Educator award winner Mariana H. Williamson created a STEM program for under-served children in St. Bernard Parish. Over the past three years, Invention Convention has enabled hundreds of fifth grade students the opportunity to use STEM skills to invent new or improve existing objects while expanding their critical thinking skills.

As a mechanical engineer at Valero Energy who immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela at age 18, Mariana is no stranger to overcoming obstacles:

Our 2017 STEM Educator award winner Mariana H. Williamson, a mechanical engineer at Valero Energy, shares what it means to be a woman in tech today.

“[Being a woman in tech offers a] challenging environment with plenty of opportunities to continue to grow and develop yourself professionally. You may sometimes face discouraging situations, but if you keep going steadily your efforts will be worth it. Staying true to yourself is a very good center when faced with difficult situations.”

Many of our nominees offered similar words of encouragement, like April Dupre, who has used technology to enable the rapid growth of her business Footprints To Fitness:

“Being a women in tech, especially in New Orleans, means you have to approach your audience in a “laissez les bons temps rouler” kind of way. Knowing the power of social media and being relatable can change how people view your brand. Being innovative, organized, and open minded are three great resources. I always share with others, especially women, to become an expert at your craft so no one can deny you for your knowledge and skillset. Technology is forever evolving and we must follow in its footsteps.”

Allyson Seitzler, a 2017 nominee and Founder and President of Webtyde Internet Marketing, shared this:

Passing on the knowledge and experience to help our sisters and daughters succeed is a great way to equalize womens’ numbers in the tech industry. Help a new woman-run business. Volunteer at a tech camp. Be a strong example.”

Starnes Solutions founder and 2016 Ada nominee Tiffany Starnes agreed with the idea that by working together, we can create a stronger foundation for women in tech:

I encourage women to ask for what they want and be confident in their worth. I have been very lucky to work with strong professional female role models since the start of my career. We all benefit from seeing other women succeed and opportunities to collaborate, share and learn from each others experience. It is exciting to see more women in the field working together to have honest discussions and move the industry forward toward equitable growth.”

Having strong female role models and becoming a mentor to others in the industry is also important to Margaux Maizlish Krane, a 2017 nominee and Communications and Marketing Manager at the New Orleans Museum of Art:

“I have been very lucky to have worked for agencies and companies that support powerful women, or are led by women in leadership positions. Because of that, I take the personal responsibility to create these opportunities for women in the tech industry very seriously. When we started Social Media Group last year, we recruited some amazing women who are leaders in their fields to join us on the board. There are so many talented women out there, and creating opportunity is the best way I know how to highlight that.”

Sheena Allen, a two-time Ada nominee and CEO of CapWay and Sheena Allen Apps, offered this encouragement:

Sheena Allen, a two-time Ada nominee and CEO of CapWay and Sheena Allen Apps, offered this encouragement to women in tech.

“Being a woman in tech is without question a challenge, but who doesn’t love a good challenge? As women in tech, we must stand tall and stand together. A change is coming.

Candalece Coleman-Lambert, a 2017 nominee and STEM Teacher at G.W. Carver High School, shared what keeps her going when things get tough:

Being a woman in tech makes me feel powerful. It doesn’t matter what the people in the room believe about my abilities. I know that I can do whatever I want to. I can learn whatever I want to. I can teach whatever I want to. All while inspiring whoever I want to.”

2016 nominee Karynn Verrett, the CEO and Founder of TOURED, told us:

Being a woman in tech is like being a part of some super exclusive, prestigious, unique organization. You are allowed to color outside the lines, live outside of the box, and most importantly, be a leader to reshape the world of technology as we know it. Now, that’s powerful!”

Wendy Dolan, President of Get Online NOLA and our 2016 runner up winner, shared a different take:

“Being a woman in tech is the same as being a woman in general. I attempt to strike the balance between accomplished professional, frazzled mom, and fleeting sex object. I ignore small injustices so that I may call out major ones when necessary. I endeavor to state clearly the things I know, and publicly, the things I do not. Above all, I strive to learn as much as I can, and share that knowledge whenever possible.

Ashley Boggs, a 2017 nominee and the VP of Marketing at Deposco Inc, has hope for the future of women in tech industries, despite the challenges we’ve faced thus far:

“I never knew in my career how often I’d be the only woman in the room, or that it would last this long. I thought I’d see more change, more of ‘us’, but then again, we’ve seen phenomenal changes showing women’s amazing capabilities in advancing technology. Be fearless – find your niche, pursue your vision, and embrace the diversity that brings value to our organizations, we’re making history!”

Finally, two-time nominee and Founder and Executive Director of our non-profit partner Electric Girls Flor Serna shared these words of encouragement:

Two-time Ada Lovelace Award nominee and Founder and Executive Director of our non-profit partner Electric Girls, Flor Serna, on what it means to be a woman in tech today.

“You’re not an imposter. You’re supposed to be here. And now it’s your job to remind her that she’s supposed to be here, too.”

Help us celebrate women in technology!

While Women’s History Month may be celebrated in March, we believe in celebrating the accomplishments of women in tech all year long. Of course, the biggest way we do that is with our Ada Lovelace Awards in October.

Stay tuned and sign up to receive updates, as we’ll open the nominations for #AdaAwards18 in late summer.

Mallory Whitfield

About Mallory Whitfield