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Support networks: Who’s got your back?

Rear View of Four Women with Arms Around Each Other, supportive women in tech networks

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Lúcia Mendes, Senior QA Engineer at Beyond, highlights the importance of finding women in tech networks and communities and how they can help you succeed in your tech career.

Like many women, I never intentionally pursued a career in technology – rather, it found me.

I studied Engineering at university and finished unsure what to do next. Someone recognised my potential for a career in digital engineering and it turned out to be the perfect fit. Since then I’ve never looked back. But as anyone who has worked in tech knows, it’s not always a straightforward industry. 

According to The World Bank, women make up less than a third of the world’s technology industry workforce. Yet women’s voices are essential to creating a diversity of opinion – moving away from a monolithic approach to tech development. At the end of the day, the users of technology are not from one group, so why should the innovative minds behind it be? 

While there are many barriers preventing women from growing their careers in the tech sector, we are also good at building new obstacles for ourselves. We often battle the imposter syndrome and second-guess ourselves, and this feeling can be pervasive and hard to shake off. Do I belong here?

What has been crucial in helping me overcome this, is finding a supportive community. 

networks

Why it matters

Communities like SheCanCode, and the recently closed Women Who Code, provide a helping hand to many women thinking of approaching the sector, taking their first steps in it or changing roles.The old saying goes – “you can’t be what you can’t see” – and it’s very true. Without having that sounding board to discuss your thoughts or concerns with, it can be difficult to know where to apply for a role, what is fair and equal pay, how to impress at an interview, or where to gain more experience to pad out your application. 

Research shows that women typically only apply for roles if they believe they meet a high percentage of the criteria, meaning we easily overlook positions we qualify for. But realistic expectations can be hard to gauge without an experienced friend to let you know the standards set. In peer networks, you’ll find that friend. They bring in different perspectives and experiences from people who have faced the same challenges. 

No two paths are exactly the same in the world of tech, but it’s worth listening to the many people who have gone before you and share your experience

I know this from personal experience. When I moved to Portugal after living in London I found myself without the support network I was used to. Fortunately, I quickly found Portuguese Women in Tech (PWIT). It turned out to be a group of like-minded and intelligent women who were ready to support, provide advice and career guidance, and help me start building my own local networks.

Having seen first-hand the benefit of having access to such support, I also became a mentor.  I wanted to give back to the community that supported me, and help other young women as they navigate the tempting but sometimes intimidating world of tech. Getting to see how my mentees are thriving has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

An industry perspective 

Getting involved in female-led initiatives in and around work is great for networking, support and fostering a feeling of belonging – but there is a level of industry buy-in that is important here too. 

There are many ways businesses can encourage, nurture and retain strong female talent, and these can be relatively easy to employ. For example, right from the start, having a representative interview panel when screening potential candidates presents a more welcoming face to your business. 

Flexible working policies are a benefit for all employees, but particularly for those who need to navigate a career with childcare requirements. The same goes for comprehensive maternity policies – companies should be open about their policies to show they value female talent and are ready to look after it.

Finally, businesses should show their support for the networks and communities that empower women – what better way is there to demonstrate that you support women in tech and want to see them prosper? There are many ways to get involved, from sponsorship to sharing knowledge and opportunities. Beyond, where I work, sponsored a Hackathon with PWIT, bringing together ingenious female coders to help collaboratively solve classic technology challenges. The winners were gifted additional mentoring support to help develop their ideas further – an exchange where everyone benefited.

Tech for all 

My message to women in tech: seek out female-led initiatives in technology. These communities are built by people who are passionate about tackling gender imbalance and improving the careers of women, both at the start of their careers or beginning their transition into tech. You will find like-minded and supportive communities who want nothing more than to help you succeed. I found mine and it’s changed my life for the better. Reach out, you can only win.

And to the industry I owe so much to: women are essential to your workforce, and supporting them benefits you, too. Without supportive policies you are at risk of alienating 50% of your workforce, and many of the tech leaders of tomorrow are likely to be in that 50%. 

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