What Real Change for Women in Tech Looks Like at 5 Chicago Companies

by Alton Zenon III
October 17, 2019

Computer scientist Grace Hopper was a legendary figure in tech that opened doors for so many women through her industry-changing programming work in the 20th century. And in today’s world of tech, companies are upholding her legacy by giving women fair opportunities to pursue their dreams and effect change just like Hopper did.

Driving change could not have been easy in Hopper’s time, and conditions are still not perfect for women in the industry — but many tech companies are working to change that. Through initiatives like fair hiring practices, and participating in and sponsoring conferences like those dedicated to Hopper herself, the following tech companies are working to fight some of the major issues women in tech still face. Five Chicago companies below described how they’re empowering women on their teams and in their communities.

 

DocuSign team members working at a computer
DocuSign

Chief Technology and Operations Officer Kirsten Wolberg and Vice President of Developer Programs and Evangelism Marie Huwe had a lot to say about DocuSign’s efforts to help women grow in their careers. They said the eSignature company has systems in place to make for a more fair promotion process while also giving women professionals opportunities to advance their soft skills.

 

What are some examples of issues facing women in tech that your company is addressing?

Wolberg: Industry-wide, men tend to get promoted at a faster rate than women. We are trying to help level the opportunity for women in the review and promotion cycle by calling out the specific language used in performance reviews. We are working with managers to bring attention to the fact that male reviews have primarily agentic language and female reviews are filled with communal language, and both should have agentic and communal language.

Typically, men have more opportunities to interact with senior leadership, which can lead to them being considered more frequently for special projects or strategic job openings. As a solution, we hold regular events focused on promoting and growing women at DocuSign. Many of these events are sponsored by or include various members of our senior leadership and include things like speed mentoring, “3 cups of coffee” and one-on-one mentorship sessions.

We are trying to help level the opportunity for women in the review and promotion cycle by calling out the specific language used in performance reviews.”

 

What other initiatives does your company have in place to support women in your company?

Huwe: At the local level, we hold events regularly and talk about issues we can’t talk about elsewhere. We bring in speakers to address development opportunities: how to improve your public speaking skills, how to improve your professional presence, how to ask for what you want. If you are introverted in an engineering organization and you are the only female, it can be hard to speak up. So, having these support groups and workshops can be helpful.

It also helps that our CEO Dan Springer is very intentional about diversifying our executive staff and the board. Just this year, we appointed Maggie Wilderotter as our first female board chair and recently hired our first female general counsel as well.

 

Ulta Beauty team members working at a laptop
ulta beauty

Ulta Beauty’s Senior IT Director Diane Brown knows what it’s like to be overlooked because of her gender. The veteran techie said for years, she has had to battle disparities in how her abilities are perceived compared to her male coworkers. Brown commented on how the beauty retailer embraces those war-wounds, and helps prevent other women from experiencing the same pain.

 

What are some examples of issues facing women in tech that your company is addressing?

I have been in IT for over 35 years and I would have hoped that the issues then and now would be different. In many ways, they have gotten better but in some ways, they remain the same. In the past, as a woman in a predominantly male field, I have always had to work harder, put in more hours and sacrifice time with my family compared to my male counterparts. I had to defend my position and prove myself when a man in the same position was respected but did not have to prove himself.

Ulta’s culture changed this for me. We have a wonderful team of leaders, 50 percent of which are women. Our dedication to diversity and inclusion is changing that mindset and we are hiring a more diverse workforce. Women in technology have proven themselves to be great leaders and respect is given to them equal to a man in the same position. I find that in general, women’s opinions are now sought out instead of ignored. For me, being a woman and having to overcome those obstacles has helped hone my leadership skills. Ulta’s belief in me has given me an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to be a great leader.

Women in technology have proven themselves to be great leaders and respect is given to them equal to a man in the same position.”

 

What other initiatives does your company have in place to support women in your company?

Our ability to flex our work location and schedule is a major contributor to my team. With the pressures of family and life in general, our lives are filled to capacity each day. The world does not understand that most adults work full-time jobs and making appointments for doctors, appliance repairs, deliveries or caring for a sick family member adds demands to our lives. Having the ability to work from home, come in late or leave early to accommodate our busy lives has provided relief for the pressures of life.

 

PEAK6 team members at women in tech event
peak6

The investment firm PEAK6 does a lot to get face-to-face time with women in the greater tech community, according to Tech Project Manager Natalie Langan. She said the company sends employees to Florida to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration and speak with college-age techies, and hosts a poker game designed to evolve the professional skills of local women.

 

What are some examples of issues facing women in tech that your company is addressing?

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration 2019 in Orlando, Florida. More than 25,000 people attended this amazing annual event focused on women in technology.

We spoke with students, teachers, and other professionals about our common goal of increasing the number of women in tech. Many of the college students I talked to were unaware of how many tech companies are currently looking for women like themselves. It’s clear that companies need to do more outreach to target female technologists in their college careers.

By having a presence at the Grace Hopper Celebration, PEAK6 was able to show our commitment to supporting women in technology. From a personal development perspective, our team also had the opportunity to see well-known speakers and learn about topics of global interest. We spent four days of the conference networking with other women to discuss what’s happening in our industries. It’s not every day that you get to surround yourself with thousands of like-minded, career-driven women that are channeling the same drive and enthusiasm as you.

It’s clear that companies need to do more outreach to target female technologists in their college careers.”

 

What other initiatives does your company have in place to support women in your company?

Attending this conference conveys just one of the many ways that PEAK6 is committed to supporting the women in our organization. We went beyond just talking about outreach to women and instead had the opportunity to actually connect with thousands of them.

I am proud to be a part of a firm that is making an impact by developing opportunities for women in many tangible ways — from offering all-women internships in technology and trading to hosting the Poker PowHER initiative to help young women build skills in decision-making, risk-taking, and strategy. I am beyond grateful that from the highest levels of leadership, PEAK6 encourages and supports the women across our firm to learn and grow.

 

NextCapital team members working in conference room
NextCapital

It’s one thing to make sure women are considered for positions equitably, and it’s another to make sure they feel at home once they’re hired. Software Product Designer Shuruthy Yogarajah said NextCapital is working to do both, with an interview process that’s based on avoiding bias, and post-onboarding diversity initiatives that encourage women to speak up and feel empowered. 

 

What are some examples of issues facing women in tech that your company is addressing?

In the past few years, there has been a surge in effort towards eliminating patterns and biases that prevent girls and women from pursuing careers in STEM. Realizing these efforts and understanding that the percentage of women that end up pursuing careers in technical fields is still extremely small, tech companies need to do their due diligence in eliminating deterring patterns and biases in the workplace. Companies cannot just hope that the women pursuing these opportunities are simply okay with the current workplace environment. 

That is exactly what we are trying to address at NextCapital. Our company is taking strides toward creating a workplace environment that will help women be successful. We have revamped our recruiting efforts by trying to eliminate points of bias in our interview processes and created rules and structures surrounding how to facilitate better feedback channels. We also have recurring women’s lunches to discuss industry issues and concerns faced by women at the company. We realize there is always space for our company to continue to grow to create an environment that women not only want to be a part of, but also can succeed in.

We have revamped our recruiting efforts by trying to eliminate points of bias in our interview processes.”

 

What other initiatives does your company have in place to support women in your company? 

NextCapital also has an employee group called DIVE: diversity, inclusion, values, and ethics. Our mission is to cultivate an environment that promotes a sense of belonging, confidence and that provides the tools required to succeed. Within this group, we discuss topics surrounding these four pillars and have begun drafting policies and promoting transparency surrounding these topics.

 

Flatiron School Chicago Campus Director Mandy Yoh speaking at an event
flatiron school

Chicago Campus Director Mandy Yoh said the Flatiron School directly supports women throughout the full cycle of their tech careers. Yoh noted that the graduation numbers between men and women at the coding and data bootcamp are equal. And after they receive their formal tech training, the organization is a place where women can come back to lead a team and drive growth at the company.


 
What are some examples of issues facing women in tech that your company is addressing?

Gender parity is one issue facing women in tech that we are addressing by fostering an inclusive tech community through initiatives and partnerships. We were a sponsor for the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration. We’ve also partnered with Women Tech Founders, Birchbox, Citi, Kode With Klossy and more. Our efforts are also reflected in the number of female students and alumni we have. Our classes often achieve gender parity and we have identical graduation rates for men and women.

Women in our company are empowered to make decisions that directly impact the growth and direction of the company.”

 

What other initiatives does your company have in place to support women in your company?

Our mission to create a more inclusive community is reflected in Flatiron School as a company. There are Slack groups that provide support and growth opportunities for women. Our leadership — including our COO Kristi Riordan — is comprised of several women who are leading our admission, marketing, online education, and career services teams. Women here are empowered to make decisions that directly impact the growth and direction of the company. 

 

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