EPISODE 5: Diversity & Inclusion Q&A with Sherry List (Part 2)
Welcome back, Sherry! We are very excited to continue our discussion and diver deeper into diversity & inclusion. Firstly, how does the current gender balance look within your team?
“If we focus on my Western Europe team, where there are 12 of us across different countries, I was actually the first female to be hired in the team. I also had a different technical background (the first front-ender) to the rest of the team. My manager worked hard and focused a lot on closing the team diversity gap. Shortly after I joined, we hired another female to the team, based in Amsterdam who has a similar profile to myself (someone who focuses on empowering under representative groups in the industry). So, this was really positive!
As a team, we have worked together to help drive diversity, although it is not perfect right now, it has improved a lot in our team and I am proud to have been a part of the journey, where I could influence and share ideas.
What I appreciate a lot is that at every quarterly connect meeting with our managers at Microsoft, one of our core priorities for discussion is Diversity & Inclusion. Managers are encouraging employees to focus on Diversity & Inclusion from every different angle that you can. This approach has kick started a lot of initiatives within Microsoft to focus on this important topic. For example, there have been a lot of accessibility projects and hackathons focused on how we can make our buildings more accessible for everyone. Microsoft is investing a lot in Diversity & Inclusion.”
It’s great to hear that things are moving in the right direction with Diversity & Inclusion at Microsoft. What initiatives are running in your team to help promote this further?
“ We know that the lack of role models for marginalised communities has a major impact on making people feel like they do — or don’t — belong in these environments. That’s why in my team, we use any opportunity to highlight these role models. We don’t always label the event, or program as a ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ initiative but we do a lot of work in the background to make sure the line-up and projects highlighted are diverse & inclusive.
Microsoft hosts an annual conference called Ignite. It starts with a big event in the U.S and then the following months goes global. I was part of the team that worked on the Community corner & Human of IT track at Ignite the tour in Denmark. We had a very big focus on making sure our line-up was diverse from every different angle. For example in Denmark, there were multiple sessions from Hack Your Future students.
Another example is the team effort to make Global Diversity CFP Day happen in Denmark, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands & Norway. Global Diversity CFP Day is a worldwide, community-run initiative to empower members from under-represented communities to become public speakers by organizing 1-day workshops around the globe. Here is the link from highlight of the event in Belgium: https://video.buffer.com/v/5e297780dbb1270dd815b5e2
I am also part of the Azure Heros core team, where we recognize & award members of the community with our cute blockchain-based badge(r)s. In the spirit of our mission to empower technical practitioners of all backgrounds, we created this program to inspire developers to learn, coach, and build on Azure and promote a healthy, inclusive community. Our most valuable badge is called Inclusive Leader where we have only 100 of them available and we award individuals who make sure our community and events are inclusive and welcoming for everyone.
The other initiative I would like to mention here is the event(s) I am running every year in Denmark in May together with my fellow WomenTechMakers leads in Denmark to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year we ran a full day Hackathon called AI Towards Sustainability where we had more than 50 attendees and majority women.
In connection to that together with my colleagues in Wester Europe we highlighted more than 30 Women in Tech during march by interviewing them. You can read their stories on our Dev channel: https://dev.to/azure_heroes”
Thanks for sharing Sherry! So, throughout your career, have you encountered any gender specific challenges or obstacles?
“For sure. I can remember when I was hired as a System Analyst, I was the only female in the technical department of this company, although there were females in HR & marketing. If you are looking at the number of years of experience in the field, I was the most experienced in the IT team. But unfortunately, the Developers & Architects did not like to listen to my ideas/suggestions, I tried every method that you could imagine to have my voice heard. This was a huge challenge for me, I reached a point where I quite frankly felt very ignored, it was disheartening for me.
I spoke to my manager about how I was feeling on several occasions, once I actually received the response “Ah you are so sensitive.” It felt as if they were laughing and making fun of me. After around 7/8 months in that job, I decided to quit.
I was just so frustrated by all of the ignorance; I had experienced that I quit my job without having any backup plan. At the time, I was living in Northern Cyprus, a place where it wasn’t so easy to source technical job opportunities because it was a small market. Because of this, I had to get a job as an administrator which had zero relation to what I was previously doing. It also wasn’t a development-focused job, but I totally embraced this because I was so frustrated by the awful treatment I had previously received. I had that job for 4/5 months until I found a job where they appreciated me for who I was.
Another example would be a few years ago, this is something that I will never forget. A Jira ticket had been assigned to me regarding a bug which had nothing to do with me. I tested the situation and realized the bug was not related to the scenario which was mentioned by the author, but was definitely related to the service that the author developed. I explained it for the author and instead created the right ticket to fix the bug. The reaction was shocking!!! The author strongly disagreed with the situation and wrote back a very impolite message which I was shocked by the wordings! He even wrote something like ‘why do you even bother writing this, you better go and take more education!’
It was so offensive that I couldn’t even face the conversation I needed to have with my manager, I screenshotted the message I had received and emailed it to my manager letting them know that I had to go home. Later that day, my manager called me and told me they would handle it, I really appreciated the support that I received. The guy that sent the message to me, was sent on a communication training course. My manager also agreed, he wouldn’t use the same wording if I was not female.
For me, I believe I have a strong personality so the fact that I was so offended and discouraged by the message, made me think, what if this happened to someone who was newer in this position or just starting out in her career? This can be totally discouraging and could even be a contributing factor for women leaving the industry.
Unfortunately, this is happening a lot! More & more females are going into education to become a Software Developer. They join the job market but quickly switch their career because they do not feel welcome. Situations like the one I went through is enough for someone to question, maybe this isn’t a career for me? We need to work together to change this!”
Based on this, what would be your advice to someone who is currently feeling this way in their career?
“Speak up. Join supportive communities that empower women in tech, there are so many out there. Talk to people there, share stories, inspire and encourage. Collaborate with this network, allow it to put you on the right path, find mentors and surround yourself with positivity.”
Thanks for some powerful advice Sherry! In your opinion is there a difference between how men and women plan to progress in their careers?
“This is a tricky question to answer because I feel it’s very much based on an individual. One thing for sure is that, typically as females we are more modest even when we achieve greatness, so maybe we go a little more unnoticed and do not shout about our achievements as much as we should.”
Do you notice yourself a lack of women in technology?
“Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I moved out of Iran that I heard of the phrase “Women in Tech”. Back in Iran, we had many female software engineers. I even worked at a company where we had more female software engineers than males. After I moved out of Iran, I often found myself to be the only female or one of a few female developers in teams. In Denmark, if I had other female developer colleagues, they often were not Danish, majority were from India, Romania, Bulgaria or Russia. I had started to realize all the biases towards women in our industry.
Because of this unbalanced environment I have noticed, many female developers in their early stages in their careers feel not so welcomed in their teams and they instead become product owners, scrum masters & etc.
You may ask why we have many female developers in Iran then? I had the same question and thought about it alot! My assumption is that because back in my country there is still an element of females having less equality than males. From personal experience, what we learn as young girls, if we want to have more control over our lives, we have to be financially independent. To do that we have to be more ambitious to study subjects can lead us to land in well paid jobs. Software Engineering happens to be one of these topics. And I assume that’s one of the reasons we have more female software engineers in Iran compared to countries like Denmark.
I know there are multiple initiatives to make young girls get more interested in software developments, even at schools and I can see the ratio is changing. So hopefully we are stepping in the right direction.
But in general I think this also starts from childhood and the stereotypes we establish. I was talking with one of the organisers of Coder Dojo where she mentioned that she sees similar patterns that parents coming to coding workshops let their sons stay at the workshop but often not to let her daughters stay. When she asks why did you decide not to leave your daughter’ they often replies ‘ Oh no this computer stuff is better for the boys, I will take her shopping.’ These are the unintentional stereotypes we need to move away from. I can see the situation improving a lot more but when you indirectly tell your daughter in a sense that you are not good enough for these computers, it will, of course, stay in her mind.”
For sure, we need to work on removing these stereotypes from a young age. What more can we do to appeal/attract more women in tech?
“We need to continue to highlight relatable, female role models. Show the younger generation that anything is possible!”
This is so important; I’ve also addressed this on a previous blog post I created. We need to be giving visibly of more females succeeding in tech careers as this can empower and help inspire the younger generation to model themselves after those successful women.
What would be your advice to women trying to get into technology?
“Don’t be afraid to get involved, the possibilities are endless. Give it a try, you will not regret it, you can ever work remotely or work part-time. Microsoft recently announced that they expect 500 million new apps to be built in the next half-decade, which is more than all the apps built in the last 40 years. Which means there will be a need for so many more developers! There are technology-focused opportunities everywhere and having a career in tech will open up so many possibilities for you.
Get involved in the community, be pro-active, look to volunteer at different events, build your network, knowledge and come out of your comfort zone.”
Thanks, so much Sherry! Can you share any initiatives/organisations/communities you are aware of promoting women in tech?
I mentioned this in our previous discussion but Diversity Call for Proposals (Diversity CFP day) is amazing!
- Diversity CFP Day: https://www.globaldiversitycfpday.com/
- Women Techmakers: https://www.womentechmakers.com/
- Wonder Coders: https://wondercoders.org/
- WomenHackCPH: https://www.facebook.com/WomenHackCPH/
This concludes, Episode 5 of our Diversity & Inclusion: Q&A! Thank you again to Sherry for sharing some powerful personal experiences as a Woman in Tech.
Tune in next month where we continue our insightful discussions. Let’s all work together to create some magic ✨
Who’s story would you like to hear from next? What questions do you have for women in the technology industry? If you would like to get involved in this initiative, we would love to hear from you! Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ellie King - Principal Talent Partner - Data / Al Nordics