The Tech Industry is growing fast. What used to be an almost exclusively male industry is becoming more and more female. Nevertheless, women working in the tech industry are faced with a unique set of challenges based on their gender. We talked with Niamh McShane about why it is so important that women defy these challenges, disrupt the tech scene with diversity and stay true to themselves.
Society 3.0: Tell us something about your background and philosophy.
Niamh McShane: I studied literature as my major with a focus on languages, particularly German, so my entry into the tech scene was a little atypical, although arguably not uncommon. I started working for IDG in Dublin, in their international sales team and as a brand ambassador for various big-name tech companies who were working with IDG. What I love about the tech world is how multifaceted it is, particularly regarding career direction. I don’t think any other industry has as much variety and potential for personal growth and career change. That’s the beautiful thing; it brings together so many people. As someone who comes from an academic background that is focused more on the cultural and on the linguistic, my job in tech has allowed me to connect people with software. I currently write content for Signavio GmbH in Berlin and my role here over the last two years has been very varied, having been involved in field marketing in the UK, then in Germany, and then switching to the corporate content side.
Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
This is a really important question, and you are so right! Women make up only around 30% of people employed in the tech industry, and that brings with it a lot of issues. The string of sexual harassment cases and office misconduct that have recently gone through the press involving big names like Google show that only too clearly. And then there are other, more practical considerations, like the fact that Virtual Reality goggles, which were designed by men mostly, ended up being unintentionally sexist and giving women motion sickness due to its design which had also primarily been tested on men. More worryingly, the rise of Artificial Intelligence also reflects the monoculture of its designers. A recent BBC report, questions if the gender imbalance in tech is being reflected in the products the industry is coming out with. Dr. Ileana Stigliani, assistant professor of design and innovation at London’s Imperial College Business School, is quoted in the article as having said: “If those teaching computers to act like humans are only men, there is a strong likelihood that the resulting products will be gender biased. This could explain why we see sexualized fembots with a view of the world that reflects the social norms of the group who created them – white men, for instance.”
And that’s why I’m in tech! We need to diversify this hugely influential industry that is shaping all of our futures whether we like it or not. There is strength in diversity and grave danger in not asserting this strength.
What advice would you give to women looking to break into the tech industry?
Be yourself! Don’t listen to all the blogs and books that tell you to downplay your character to appear less threatening. When I struggle with this, I always reflect on a quote by a feminist I admire, who also has a special connection to Berlin, Audre Lorde. She said that the master’s house could not be dismantled with the master’s tools and it’s true, if we want to dismantle sexism in tech, we can’t bend to gender stereotypes and hope that that solves the problem. Another vital piece of advice I would offer, is to have a strong sense of self-worth (ok, easier said than done, and possibly also a universal problem solver) which will help you deal with the real bullshit, harassment and being underestimated, perhaps being paid a lot less, etc. Fight for what you are worth. And you are worth a lot!
What is the most significant transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
That’s a good question; I guess the growing use of Blockchain and its emergence in a variety of fields. I’m in the BPM (business process management) field, and even here, it’s becoming big news. This blog asks what happens when you combine blockchain technology (described as the new hotshot player) with business process management (described as the powerful performer which has been on the scene for a decade): super exciting stuff!
What are your thoughts on the next transformation in the tech industry?
Hmm, more new disruptive technology, that’s a given, and it’s exciting. But also more diversity! Things are getting more diverse little by little, and that will be reflected in innovation and in the products the industry comes out with. I think there is an exciting future in tech for people from all walks of life. I’m looking forward to that!
Niamh currently works as a Content Specialist at Signavio GmbH in Berlin, blogs for The Times Higher Education online and is an avid writer. She specializes in writing content for tech companies – everything from blog posts to whitepapers to video scripts. Other than that; she is a passionate champion of diversity and of those who bring cake to the office.