While companies with racial and gender diversity were associated with higher sales revenue, more customers, market share and profit, our tech industry continues to fall short when it comes to achieving its diversity goals.
According to data from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women make up a mere 25 percent of computing roles in the tech sector. Black women comprise only three percent of that number, approximately five percent are women of Asian background, and another one percent are Latina women.
Barriers facing women and women of colour in the tech industry was the topic of discussion at a recent panel entitled “The Colourful Side of Tech Sales,” put on by Google‘s Women Techmakers – Waterloo in partnership with sales academy Uvaro and BWOSS, a Waterloo-based non-profit that helps BlPOC women access sales development resources and career development support.
Led by session moderator Donna Litt, COO of Uvaro, a panel of representative women from BWOSS, Shopify and Google shared their personal stories and insights into the topics of representation, diversity and what needs to happen for the employment of BIPOC women to be normalized across the tech industry.
“For women, especially those working in tech sales, there’s an understanding that you need to be uncomfortable in your role. Women represent fewer than one-third of B2B sales and one-quarter of B2B tech sales roles. Add to that being a Black or racialized woman, and the feeling of lack of belonging can be greatly magnified,” says Lena Thibeh, co-founder of BWOSS and session panellist.
Thibeh, who began her career doing door-to-door sales, notes that as a woman of Afro-Palestinian heritage, she has been able to bring a unique understanding of different languages and cultures that has enabled her to uniquely connect with people. “That ability to connect has translated to $6M in pipeline built up over two quarters,” she notes.
But the reality of being a woman of race in an industry that still has much room to grow with respect to diversity represents a unique set of challenges for ambitious BIPOC women looking to build their careers.
Feeling Out of Place in the Room
“I am very often in meetings where I am the only female or the only visible minority…or both,” says Katy Hung, Customer Success Manager at Google. “In those situations, I am quite aware that I look different. So throughout my career, it has been critical that I maintain a laser focus on what’s important, remain unruffled, and surround myself with people who make me feel good about who I am. Oftentimes for individuals of race, there’s simply an acceptance of the path and its barriers.
“I never really realized until I began preparing for this panel that I had a role to fill as the token Asian woman in a tech world and in a tech sales capacity,” said Stephanie Yi, Solutions Engineer at Shopify. “I didn’t realize how toxic it was to think that way until I started to see more women on my team, and women of colour in particular. I wondered what my role was now that I wasn’t the only one — and I realize now that was a huge disservice to the work that I do and the value I bring to my employer, as well as a huge disservice to the work these other amazing women do.”
Family Represents a Source of Inspiration and Courage
From surviving wars and refugee camps to immigrating to a new country and culture, family has been a constant source of inspiration and courage for each of the panellists, who have learned the art of perseverance from their fathers, mothers, grandparents and siblings.
“I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth and take nothing for granted. I’ve watched my family struggle,” says Lena. “Everything my mother does to me is a blessing. She was not supposed to make it but she did. I take a lot of pride in that. It’s in my DNA.”
While there is still much room for improvement in the tech industry, the women from Uvaro, BWOSS, Shopify and Google are demonstrating that the racial and gender glass ceiling can be shattered.
“It is critical that women of race who are trying to build careers in revenue-generating roles in tech know that there are people who look like them and who are succeeding in their roles,” says Stephanie. “I didn’t have that representation early in my career and that resulted in a lot of negatives along the way. I want to be part of the change. If being vulnerable and sharing my story helps move the needle then that’s a small price to pay.”
Career Advice for Other Women of Colour Building Careers in Tech
Katy Hung – “If it doesn’t serve you let it go. If you are going to bed dreading the next day, then what you are doing is probably not what you are meant to be doing in your life.”
Stephanie Yi – “Advocate for yourself. The quality of your work builds your case, but you have to bring that case to make progress.”
Lena Thibeh – “Find a community of people who will clap for you, who see and validate you and pick you up when you are down.”
Donna Litt – “Find allies who will speak up for you when you are not in the room. Developing those relationships and allies is critical. Business is a team sport.”