Women leaders at 5 Chicago tech companies share advice for others entering the industry

by Andreas Rekdal
June 27, 2018

According to research by Google, women receive just 18 percent of computer science degrees. Three decades ago, that number was 37 percent.

Unsatisfied with that status quo, many Chicago tech companies are taking steps to make their teams more representative of the country as a whole. We asked technology leaders at five of them to share more about those initiatives, along with the advice they offer women about getting started in the industry.

 

sittercity chicago tech company
image via sittercity

Sittercity.com’s online marketplace connects parents with professionals who can help care for their children. Sittercity Mobile Engineering Manager Pamela Bergson, said the best advice she has for female engineers looking to kickstart their careers is to not undersell past experience.

If you make something with code, it’s real.”

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field, or are just getting started in their careers?

Give yourself credit for what you’ve already done. I keep meeting people who want to get into software development but have nothing on their GitHub accounts and no work samples available. Then I find out they’ve done these great projects to learn things, but think those items don’t count as “real” programming somehow. If you make something with code, it’s real.

 

How is Sittercity working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

We work really hard at making sure people feel safe here. It’s hard to do your best work if you’re spending half your time making sure your defenses are impenetrable. This helps everyone, but it’s especially helpful for people who are already having to spend a ton of effort defending against microaggressions and bad assumptions elsewhere. When someone makes a mistake, there’s no shaming or keelhauling. We fix it, learn from it, and move on. Our teammates have our backs.

 

morningstar chicago tech company
image via morningstar

Morningstar provides digital tools and services that help investors of all stripes invest their money more effectively. According to Morningstar Engineering Director Thulasi Kethini, the most important thing for women who want to enter the field is to find a way to get involved — in whatever capacity they can.

Don’t be discouraged by unfortunate events and stories.”

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field, or are just getting started in their careers?

There has never been a better time for women to be part of the technology industry. The industry is realizing the impact of diversity, both on the community at large and on companies' bottom line. Powered by advancements in computing and AI, there are now huge opportunities to solve interesting social problems at a global scale. This opportunity, combined with the momentum to build a diverse workforce, makes it a truly exciting time to be part of the industry.

Don’t be discouraged by unfortunate events and stories. Be encouraged by the potential conversations about them, the progress made and the problems we continue to solve. I’d like to encourage everyone to be part of the community at whatever capacity they’re able to.

 

How is Morningstar working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

We have several thriving programs that support diversity. Externally, we sponsor the Grace Hopper conference and we support Women Who Code. Internally, we have a women’s initiative group, WIN, that aims to make Morningstar a leading supporter of women in financial services, including among our employees, clients and investors. We also recently launched a diversity council to provide a platform for a deliberate focus on diversity and inclusion and to enable transformations.

 

activecampaign chicago tech company
image via activecampaign

ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation software makes it easier for companies to reach consumers with targeted campaigns that adapt to how recipients respond. VP of Product Jen Busenbark and Director of Site Reliability Engineering Rhea Ghosh said the most important advice they’d offer others entering the field is to ask for what they need, and to build their own support networks.

If you don't ask for what you want or what you need to be supported, you may never know what is possible.”

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field, or are just getting started in their careers?

Ghosh: Ask for anything. It took me a long time to learn to ask for anything, but it's the most valuable thing I've ever done. If you don't ask for what you want or what you need to be supported, you may never know what is possible.

Busenbark: Build yourself a support squad. Finding a single mentor who can help you grow in all areas is hard, and it’s even harder for a women in tech. You can find mentors in unlikely places — a colleague, a friend, a partner. Having these meaningful relationships and people you can count on will be invaluable throughout your career journey.

 

How is ActiveCampaign working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

Busenbark: We have kicked off a diversity and inclusion group, which is our first step in trying to make sure this is top of mind for us in everything we do, from recruiting to giving back to the community and supporting the folks who work at ActiveCampaign. Our approach has been to make sure this is a priority at a leadership level and to empower the people at ActiveCampaign to drive these initiatives with leadership’s support.

 

infutor chicago tech company
image via Infutor Data Solutions

Infutor Data Solutions specializes in helping companies identify and understand the consumers they interact with every day. Based on its data, customers can make smarter decisions about everything from marketing to fraud protection. VP of Data Strategy Mary Jo Yafchack said the most important thing for women who want to enter the field to consider is to pick a career path they can be passionate about.

Making a choice for any career should be about following what you have a passion for, and what motivates you.”

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field, or are just getting started in their careers?

Making a choice for any career should be about following what you have a passion for, and what motivates you. For me, the most exciting part about what I do is solving problems. When I’m faced with a challenge or a set of issues, I get a lot of satisfaction from getting to the root cause and creating a solution. That’s what working in technology does for me. Even better, techies are witty, fun and interesting people to work with. I learn something every day from one of my colleagues.

 

How is Infutor Data working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

Our organization makes hiring decisions based on who is best qualified for a position, both culturally and technically. The culture in our organization supports individuals, rather than genders or background. As a team, our company shares cultural goals as well as financial and operational goals that are important to achieve.

 

vail systems chicago tech company
image via vail systems

Vail Systems makes technology that streamlines communication between companies and their customers. Director of Database Administration Ying Guo, became a technologist after starting a career in marketing. In her view, it’s important to keep an open mind about trying several paths within the field.

Java or C++ are great programming languages to learn first.”

Do you have any advice for other women who want to enter the field, or are just getting started in their careers?

It is never too late to start a career in the field. I originally earned my bachelor’s degree in English and worked for a few years at a marketing job in China, but I took a chance and came to the United States to earn my master’s degree in computer science from Loyola.

Also, don’t be afraid to try working in different areas within the field. I began in web development and switched to database administration before moving into various database administration management positions up until my current role. Java or C++ are great programming languages to learn first because of their popularity, and because many other modern computer languages are derivations or extensions of them. Finally, stay determined, work hard and never be afraid to voice your opinion and try out your ideas.

 

How is Vail Systems working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

Management at Vail understands that to solve the most complicated problems, we need to have a diverse group of talented men and women. Recently, Vail established a women’s group to advocate and discuss relevant topics for women in the workplace — specifically in the tech industry. Vail HR has hosted seminars on gender intelligence and all employees were invited to join a book club on the topic.

One of the other goals of Vail’s women’s group is to recruit and retain more women. Recently, Vail created a policy to ensure that there is always at least one woman who participates in the interview process for each role, and we are also making sure to have women representing Vail at all of our recruiting events.

 

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