Born and raised a Tar Heel, Cara Hutto is a culinary aficionado and zealous writer consumed by wanderlust. She's passionate about women's issues and interviewing inspirational women in her community.
It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in tech—really underrepresented. Women only own 5 percent of tech startups. Just 25 percent of computing jobs are held by women, and this number has been steadily declining for years. Plus, the turnover rate is twice as high for women as it is for men in tech jobs, with a whopping 56 percent of women in tech leaving their companies mid-career.
Clearly, we’re not doing enough to support and retain women in the tech industry. Forty percent of women believe companies don’t spend enough time addressing diversity, even though it’s a key component of fostering a successful workplace, and research shows companies with more female executives outperform those with fewer women in the C-suite.
It’s our mission to encourage more women to break into—and stay in—tech.
So we asked four women to share how they got into the field, and what they wish they had known when they got started. This is what they had to say. (Responses have been lightly edited for style and brevity.)
How They Got Started
Financial Consultant, Avanade (3.5 Stars)
Some 20 years ago, I decided to study economics and management. I loved the financial aspect of those programs, and when the opportunity presented itself to start teaching at the university level, I jumped at the chance. I then received an offer to work as a consultant and combined both professions for two years. In 2002, my brother and I decided to take a leap of faith and started a consultancy company of our own. I loved being involved in every part of the process and made sure I had good working relationships, which occasionally evolved into genuine friendships with both my employees and my clients.
Growth Marketing Manager, SeatGeek (3.5 stars)
From the first time I was exposed to the world of digital advertising, I knew it was the right fit. It’s fast-moving, competitive, dynamic, creative, and at least for me, fun. I had known since high school that I wanted to pursue a career in marketing but it was by way of chance that I ended up on the digital side.
Software Engineer, Adobe (3.7 stars)
In 2016, a defining moment convinced me to switch careers. Yahoo! Inc. (3.7 stars), the company I worked for at the time, had a massive workforce reduction, and I was laid off. Despite having graduated from a reputable college and having excelled in my job, I had a fear of becoming obsolete. At that moment, I knew I had to equip myself with indispensable skills that will always keep me in demand. In search of such a skill, I found programming. I was hesitant to dive into a field that intimidated me in high school and college. But watching my brother successfully pursue his computer science degree gave me the encouragement I needed.
What They Wish They’d Known
Associate Brand Marketing Manager, WayUp (3.3 stars)
I wish I had known that you don’t absolutely need a degree in computer science or engineering to pursue a career in tech. While I didn’t allow my Bachelor of Arts to stop or slow me down from following this path, it did make me question my legitimacy in this space. While many roles at tech companies heavily lean on degrees in the sciences, there is an abundance of opportunities in the industry that not only embrace, but encourage interdisciplinary backgrounds.
The main thing I wish I would have known was how willing people are to help one another. While looking for a job straight out of college, I was terrified to reach out to older Duke University alum on LinkedIn. I was intimidated by their success, nervous that I would seem annoying. Looking back now, I can see how wrong I was. As I became friends with older colleagues, I realized how often they received messages like the ones I was too afraid to send, and how excited they were to offer help when they could. Hearing how much they enjoyed taking on this mentorship role, even if it was just for a 15-minute phone call, helped reduce the insecurity I had about my own lack of importance when reaching out and empowered me to be more confident in future job searches.
I learned to maintain a better work-life balance the hard way. When you have your own company, you work day and night. The constant pressure and high stress levels caused me to have heart problems, and I ended up in a hospital; I did too much and paid the price.
If I had known everything I needed to know about a career in tech, I would have missed out on the excitement that comes from taking risks. My career transition was adventurous because there was no defined roadmap. I didn’t know I would be up against fierce competition from elite universities’ computer science graduates. I didn’t know I would be pulling all-nighters to teach myself data structures. If I knew this in advance, I might have gotten discouraged from following this path. I learned to embrace the constant pressure I was put under because it allowed me to develop and flourish. For anyone redefining their careers, don’t try too hard to lay out all the pieces of the puzzle. Instead, welcome the unknown and have fun in rediscovering yourself. The unwavering hope that comes with unpredictability will fuel you to keep going.
Their Biggest Challenges in Tech
I’m grateful to be in an environment that handles a lot of the external challenges appropriately, but the impact of cultural stereotypes and expectations still weighs on me internally. It comes out when I’m struggling to make decisions about my career: Is it okay to ask for a title change? Should I have negotiated my salary differently? But just because many of the challenges women still face are internal, we don’t have to overcome them alone. I make a conscious effort to surround myself with women who lift me up, and I do my best to return the courtesy for others. The onus is on all of us to recognize opportunities to empower one another and to curate an environment of open dialogue, especially in the face of injustice.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a woman in tech has been personally reckoning with the stereotype associated with being a woman in advertising. After introducing myself to a friend of a friend, I mentioned working in marketing and was met with an eye roll and the response, “You and every other girl I went to high school with.” I was both surprised and confused because up until that point I had never questioned that the work I was doing was challenging, innovative, and something to be proud of. The main way I’m working to overcome this, especially now that I am at a male-dominated company for the first time, is by trying to work cross-functionally as often as possible. I’ve made it a personal goal to educate others on the work I am doing.
There is no better time than now for a woman to be in tech. I face far less challenges today than any women before me. This is because tech is now encouraging more women to join the traditionally male-dominated industry. As a mentor for young girls, I aim to exemplify that gender is not an impediment for succeeding in tech. Just like our grandmothers fought for our civil rights, and just like Sheryl Sandberg and Indra Nooyi paved a way for women to openly compete with men, I too have a dream of changing the world for women. I hope to empower women around the world by giving them a voice.