An inside look at women in tech: Towards greater representation and inclusion
In the world of tech, many companies have been striving to make engineering more gender balanced. Efforts have been strong, yet the numbers are slow to change. Deloitte’s analysis of 20 large tech companies showed signs that a renewed commitment and greater efforts are likely needed for progress to continue post-pandemic. We spoke to an experienced engineer to get her first-hand insights on being a woman in tech.
Julia Flament-Wallin has been working in tech for more than 10 years. As a child, she dreamed of being many things: an opera singer, a ballet dancer, or a history professor. “But I never imagined engineering,” she says.
Today, Julia is an Engineering Manager at TomTom: “My team is creating traffic signs, lights from various data sources and publishing them to the map. We’re working on so many cool things, fusing different sources like data from OpenStreetMap, sensor derived data and dash cams or aerial images, creating the most accurate, up-to-date signs possible.”
Julia’s come a long way since starting her studies in computer science back in 2010. Which she says was “kind of by accident,” adding, “but as soon as I started, a new world opened for me. I knew I’d found my purpose.” Julia is the perfect example of how one small experience can lead to the next, and snowball to create a career.
Overcoming challenges, becoming an engineer
A lack of women role models is the main reason Julia never imagined herself as an engineer, she says. She isn’t alone here. Our environment plays a role in shaping who we become, what we care about and what we see as possible from a young age. Without knowing our options, it’s hard to imagine what we could do.
“I think the biggest barrier for me was ignorance. Growing up, my parents exposed me to as much as they could. But engineering just wasn’t their world, or the world of anyone I knew,” Julia says. That’s why initiatives like Equals Role Model campaign are so important, which spotlight successful women in tech to show other girls and women what they could become, spreading inspiration as a gateway to action.
For Julia, she picked up momentum after her initial steps into computer science, saying, “I’m glad I had an internship at a start-up during my studies. It exposed me to a big part of tech I would never have seen on campus.”
Still, starting out can be scary. Julia admits, “just the feeling that everyone knows so much more than me, held me back.” Yet in hindsight, she adds, “I wish it hadn’t, because it’s mostly not true or it’s irrelevant as you learn and gain experience.” It’s evident that limited knowledge should not be an obstacle. If you want to learn, you will. It always helps to find the people who will inspire and support you.
Julia Flament-WallinEngineering Manager, TomTom
What it’s like at work
Speaking from her experience at TomTom, Julia says, “it’s evident that there’s an awareness in engineering that men are in the majority, and that there’s an effort to act inclusive. A small example is the language used in the engineering ladder document and how leaders are described, not as men by default. The interview process has been designed to be inclusive, as I’ve experienced myself.”
Indeed, TomTom is committed to boosting the representation of women across its company and in senior management. The effort appears to be making a difference, as Julia notes that “it helps when women help shape things [like the engineering ladder and interview process]. And I personally appreciate seeing women as VPs, directors and on the executive team. It makes it seem more achievable; that it can be me.”
Despite men being in the majority, when it comes down to it, the work is about the work:
Julia Flament-WallinEngineering Manager, TomTom
But still, while Julia tells us that her “experience as a woman in engineering at TomTom has been fantastic,” she also feels like “There just aren’t enough women in engineering at all!”
The physical workspace also plays a role in creating an inclusive environment. “I feel like the office spaces being built now are more about human connection and less about ping pong tables… That being said, I’m still waiting for the office with an attached kindergarten.”
Are companies making good progress towards gender equity?
In general, Julia observes, “There’s a big pull now between remote or not. Some tech companies are demanding that people go back to the office. I don’t necessarily see many companies learning from the fact that remote work is inclusive. It’s helping people in minority groups like moms or people living in rural areas to have a career in tech, and a full one at that.”
There’s also a big focus on hiring – getting women through the door. While that’s positive, Julia notes, “I wish the energy shifted a bit from focusing on getting women into tech to focus on keeping the women in tech that are already here. The sad truth is that women drop out of the field at a higher rate than men. Why? I think the industry as a whole needs to address the woman-leak. What’s making women leave these exciting high-paying jobs? Are we getting promoted like our peers? Is it possible to combine with having a family?”Julia talking to attendees of the European Women in Tech conference in Amsterdam.
Are you considering a career in tech?
“Join us!” Julia says. “We’re having so much fun, making important products, services and even infrastructure, and earning a good living.”
What would it take to join Julia? “If you’re tech curious, that’s all you need,” she says. “Tech is so vast! There are so many fields within this field, and you don’t need to know exactly where you’ll fit beforehand. You’ll learn that as you go.”
Julia adds an important point: “Tech isn’t necessarily engineering. There are many women in tech who work in Marketing, PR, HR, UX, etc. These areas are even dominated by women, and very important.”
“But please consider and don’t be afraid of engineering specifically,” Julia says. “This is where we have fewer women, and this is where the actual products and services are being developed. We need everyone’s perspective here.”
So, where will you find your impact in tech?
Find your impact at TomTom.
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