What do women in tech have in common?

At a panel discussion titled "Women in Tech: Breaking the Glass Ceiling", organized by BrightMarbles, four representatives of different sectors within this industry presented their experiences on leadership positions and explained the challenges they encountered on their career paths.

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women in tech leadership

Illustration: MilicaM

Women in generation X weren’t encouraged to get a degree in tech   

In developing countries, Generation X women (born between 1965 and 1980) were not naturally encouraged to study and pursue jobs related to the tech industry. On the contrary, the environment, more or less subtly, suggested that there were “more appropriate” occupations, mostly related to taking care of others. 

That’s why, female members of this generation, who are now part of the tech industry, have extremely interesting and dynamic career development paths. As it turns out, each of the stories is significantly different from the other and, although specific, many women can relate with these stories. 

This was also the case at yesterday’s panel discussion organized by Bright Marbles, entitled “Women in Tech: Breaking the Glass Ceiling”. The participants at this panel were: 

  1. Jasmina Dimitrijević, Software Developer; 
  2. Nevena Nemeš, Chief Experience Officer (CXO); 
  3. Mirjana Parpura, Senior HR Business Partner, and; 
  4. Tamara Petrović, Agile Coach. 

The previous claim was confirmed by Nevena Nemeš who, growing up with her brother, spent her childhood and adolescence in front of a computer and yet, under the influence of societal norms, decided to study something else. 

“Even though I’ve been playing games all my life, they told me that I seemed too feminine for that school. And t because of that pressure, I decided that I would not go there, that it would only be my hobby. In the end, I enrolled in psychology, which I really love, but over time I focused on marketing and research,” Nevena said. 

Support is important, and it comes in different forms   

Building a career requires a number of sacrifices, depending on the priorities. However, women who choose to be mothers face additional challenges and often put pressure on themselves because of the feeling that they have to prove they can still work at the same pace. 

They quickly realize the consequences of that intense pace that no human being, regardless of sex, should go through on their own. Fortunately, there are different forms of support that can take the burden off their shoulders, with the support of family, partners, nannies, colleagues, to name but a few. 

“It’s normal to feel as if something was missing when you’re not with your baby, but today, in many cases, there’s also the possibility of working from home, which helps a lot. I would like to encourage young moms and tell them that, when the baby is born, that period when it’s completely dependent on you passes very quickly. You will go back to work in no time and you will still be in full force, catching up easily on what you missed. There are no rules, but when you have support and love at work and at home, everything comes into its own,” says Mirjana. 

One of the data mentioned at this panel discussion indicated that women spend an average of 30-40% more time than men on home unpaid work. 

“I balance my work and personal life by delegating. I don’t put everything on my back, but motivate team members to be proactive and the child, who is now in his teens, to be independent. The organization of time is very important, in the sense that there must be a part where I am focused on work, then on my family and, of course, on myself in order to stay normal,” Tamara Petrović said. 

What do female tech leaders have in common?   

What’s specific for earlier research on leadership types was that they looked at gender differences in leadership as a way to answer the question of how women and men leaders differ. However, today, this premise has somewhat changed, so they no longer deal with differences but look for what leads to those differences. 

So, for example, what is considered an authoritative type of leadership, in the case of women, is often interpreted as arrogance. 

“I had to be strict sometimes and often my behavior would be characterized as arrogant, while in male colleagues the same behavior was perceived as professionalism,” Tamara Petrović noted. 

When asked what characteristics are important in women in leadership positions, panelists agreed: 

“IT is an industry where women are heavily underrepresented and therefore some of the most important skills are adaptability and resilience. It is also an ever-changing area, so leaders need to adapt to new technologies, processes, challenges… And women face additional obstacles, so they must have the ability to recover from failure or disappointment. This is an important characteristic that precedes success. I was rejected many times, I don’t know if it was discrimination or if I just didn’t meet the criteria. When I got into a position where I couldn’t take rejection anymore, I started looking for another way and started working as a freelancer because I didn’t want to wait. If they can’t do it one way, female leaders find another one,” said Jasmina Petrović. 

Her colleague Nevena Nemeš added that women are fighting for the same positions as men, but there are more obstacles on their path. 

“We face a much greater number of challenges than our male counterparts. We’re going through the same career path, climbing the same stairs, but it’s like we’re carrying an extra weight on our backs,” the panelist noted. 

Inappropriate comments twisted into a joke are still sexist   

Women who work in male-dominated industries, such as IT, may occasionally experience sexism. As societal awareness grows, but also the number of women employed in these industries, there’s less tolerance towards such forms of discriminatory behavior. Still, it often emerges in a humorous tone. 

“I’ve experienced a lot of mansplaining, meaning that my male colleagues would explain the same thing to me five times because it’s strange for them to suddenly have a woman on their team. I’ve experienced this behavior from clients, too, when they come to the office and tell me to make them coffee. They thought I was a secretary because I was the only woman there. But it also came from superiors, for example, the director would tell me during the presentation to click space because ‘I do it really well’. There are also comments that men believe to be compliments, for example, when they tell me after a meeting that I looked nice and that I made their day. If we don’t compliment on the appearance of men in meetings, they shouldn’t do it either. If you experience anything like this, call for change. This is not something you should agree to. We are equally capable,” Nevena Nemeš said. 

One of the consequences of this discriminatory behavior in the workplace is the violation of the self-esteem and self-confidence of the person to whom the comments are addressed to. She begins to doubt her abilities, even though she has invested years in her education and experience. 

“I’ve been told that as a woman, I’m here to make their team prettier. It’s always been in a funny tone, but it means I’m not there for my qualities. I was never satisfied even though I had tangible results. And I showed excessive modesty, while others glorified their successes. Over time, I’ve learned that other people’s comments won’t distract me from my motives. Conflict situations are an integral part of life and business environment and, if we withdraw and, just in order to avoid conflict, make some decisions, we will not do our jobs well”, concluded Tamara Petrović. 

In the end, the panelists agreed that excellent mentors and allies contribute to the empowerment of women in the tech industry, and that through solidarity and mutual support, women advance faster and feel better. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.

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