Women in Tech: Thinking of Leaving? Take some Advice from the Trenches Before You Jump

women in tech leaving

“The culture in technology is tough, and women often find it difficult to feel they belong, experiencing both men who don’t treat their female peers with respect, and women who are fighting so hard for their personal success they felt unable to spend time or effort looking outward to help other women. It’s important at times to step back to gain perspective, and determine what you really want from this career. Leaving the profession in times of challenge is not the only answer. Understand when and how to say no, reach out to trusted colleagues for support, and understand the personal contribution you bring to the table so you don’t become overwhelmed.” ~ Laura Dobson, AVP, Architecture and Corporate Services

Across this series, we have explored what it’s like to be women in tech – how women in tech get started, and how they deal with fears and overcome barriers. We’ve shared tips on handling harassment, discrimination, and “frenemies.” And we’ve embraced the extreme joy one can feel by sticking with it, and ultimately smashing through the tech world’s male-dominated glass ceiling.

And yet, women still leave.

As we wrote in our first article, “Either due to lack of support (at best) or unconscionable and inexcusable behaviour directed toward them because they are women (at worst), there’s a “leaky pipeline” when it comes to STEM and women. Of women who majored in computer science, fewer than 40 percent are working in the field. For men? That number is over 50 percent. Engineering? Equally bleak – only 24% of women with a degree are actively working in the field. When you drill into the numbers for diverse women, the number plummets.”

Gaps Galore

There are gaps between women and men in the tech industry anywhere and everywhere you could possibly find a gap:

  • Employment gaps.
  • Retention gaps.
  • Gender gaps.
  • Pay gaps.
  • Founder gaps.
  • Representation gaps.
  • Workplace culture gaps.
  • And IT leadership gaps.

And not surprisingly, when women who have left careers in tech are surveyed, their answers are an exact match to the bullet points above.

Lack of career growth. Poor leadership. Bad management. Stagnated salaries. Work-life balance issues. Company culture. Limited mentorship.

We Need Women

Women in tech can become discouraged for a variety of reasons, including not being seen as the stereotypical “type” for these jobs, and the lack of female role models. Kelley Irwin and Debra Christmas, building on a strong professional connection, an emerging friendship, and decades of experience in the tech field, knew people could be inspired to do more, and they committed themselves to shaking up the industry.

Building upon their own experiences, they talked to career veterans like themselves, mid-level women struggling to balance home and work life, and also fresh hires and younger girls considering a career in IT. Then they wrote the consummate book on what it’s really like to be women in tech – Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive.

Today’s technology industry needs skills and aptitudes that far surpass a degree in math or science. We need creative people, innovative thinkers, excellent problem solvers, and people with social and communications skills. People who can encourage the next generation to embrace our “tech tribe.” 

We need people who understand both the human needs and the technical jargon and can marry the two to unleash wonderful, usable, feature-rich solutions for real people living real lives. We need leaders who can engage and collaborate with a workforce comprised of five generations.

We also need to increase the number of women entering the field and support them so they stay. Let’s celebrate the upward movement of women when we see it happen, in management and executive roles. “See it to be it” describes the sense that women need to see other women making it to believe it is possible for them.

Our Clarion Call: Please Stay!

Yes, there can be some seriously rocky times in the tech industry – just as in all industries. It’s easy to feel unsupported and beaten down at times. Bea Lozinski, Vice-President, Talent & Total Rewards at Magna, spent 10 years working in high-tech. She made the decision to leave when the sector was in a downturn, and she didn’t feel supported.

Bea has had an incredibly successful career since then, but upon reflection, she shared that perhaps, instead of letting that negative experience convince her that tech wasn’t for her, she could have turned it into a learning experience. She could have found an advocate inside or outside of her company, been patient, looked for the right opportunity, fought for what she believed in, and stayed in tech.

She encourages women in tech who are thinking of leaving to ask themselves, “… if you make this decision to leave, and realize it will be extremely difficult to come back, how you will feel? Are you leaving for the right reasons? Think about why you are there. What are you good at? What do you like to do? Are you moving toward something that allows you to build on your strengths and your passions, or are you just moving on to avoid a tough situation? Don’t give up. Don’t let yourself be pushed out of something you love. Don’t sabotage yourself. Have courage. Develop thick skin. Find people who are on your side. And finally, if you love working in tech, don’t leave!”

Advice From the Trenches

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”

~ Mae Jemison, American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut

If you’re a woman in tech, or considering a career in tech, don’t feel overwhelmed. We’re not suggesting that every single one of you should set out to change the world. We’re asking you to be mindful and push for incremental changes – which, if enough of us do the same, statistically will result in revolutionary shifts in the IT ecosystem.

Many women have blazed trails before us – trails that allowed us to be where we are today. And many more will blaze trails ahead of us, so the next generation of women in tech can achieve even more. That, friends, would be a beautiful thing.

Women can, and should, take their place in this exciting profession. Let’s not think just about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as an entry point for these careers. It’s time for us to think about STEAM – adding in the A for Arts. Imagine having a degree in Arts and using that talent to help advance technology? Take it one step further and think about women who don’t have a college or university degree. This is a realistic possibility, and global technology companies are starting to launch programs to engage high school students with the goal of exposing them to technology. They want to influence their future career plans and prepare them for entering the workforce without requiring a degree (and the enormous debt-load that comes with it).

Young people are making their mark in technology, forming their own companies, building websites and apps, and honing their ability to talk not only about technology, but also about the business value it brings. We want young girls and women to see the endless possibilities. We wish for them to carve out their own path, to pursue their dreams, and for many of them to embrace the technology profession. We want them to see a future for themselves in this great field and not let anyone hold them back. We can clear the path for those walking beside us and also for those who follow in our footsteps.

Final Thoughts

Women in tech are powerful. Join the discussion; join the movement. It is time for us to unite, to come together as a community of smart, capable, competent women. There is strength in numbers. There is power with focus and commitment to a cause. Women in tech are the cause. We have the right to succeed and the responsibility to help others.

As we wrap up this important series, we are leaving the door open for dialogue, an exchange of ideas, a conversation about this profession, the jobs and careers available, and the impressive tribe of people you can join in the journey. Visit us to hear our ongoing stories and perspectives. Join us on Facebook to contribute your stories, your words of inspiration, your questions, and your thoughts.

We want to hear your interests, your concerns, and of course your successes. We can teach, and we can learn. Let’s all be technology warriors.

Bonus: A Double Dose of Tips from the Tribe

Things to Consider if Thinking About Leaving

  • Ask yourself why you are thinking of leaving? Think of options to address your needs without leaving the profession.
  • Ask for help! Find others who have solved the professional issues you encounter in your role to gain from their experience.
  • Watch for signs that you aren’t happy before it gets to a breaking point. Think of these as signs of early detection.
  • Assess whether a new job or new company would address the issue while staying in the technology career.
  • Engage external support for some of the personal goals you need to attend to in order to relieve the pressure.

Advice From the Trenches

  • Don’t work in isolation and silo yourself from the other team members.
  • Look for opportunities to learn and grow your skills.
  • Find ways to be a public relations (PR) agent for yourself in your own way.
  • Be proud of your accomplishments and make them visible.
  • Take time once a month to reflect on your personal successes and progress, not just the team accomplishments.