Ask These Questions to Find Out If a Company Values Women in Leadership
Carol Juel is keenly aware that finding the right fit can help propel a woman’s career in tech.
Juel, a CTO, COO, and executive vice president at Fortune 500 financial services giant Synchrony in Stamford, Connecticut, found her interest in computer science derailed at a tender age.
“When I was in high school, I signed up for an advanced computer science class but opted out because I was the only girl in the class,” Juel told Built In.
Women in tech are leaving the industry at a time when they would be normally establishing a path toward leadership. A whopping 50 percent of women in tech roles leave by the age of 35, according to a joint report by Accenture and Girls Who Code.
“After college, I joined a consulting firm and that was my first step into the world of business and technology,” said Juel, who studied linguistics in college. “Once I was in that world, light bulbs went off for what was possible.”
Below you’ll find a handful of questions to ask when sizing up prospective employers on their commitment and value to women in leadership roles.
How to Identify Companies Invested in Women’s Leadership Development
“Check out a company’s website. There’s lots of information online and all companies are very strategic about what they post about their company. If you don’t see any mention of women and diversity initiatives, it may not be important to that particular company,” said Sharon Hutchins, AI and data vice president at financial software company Intuit in Mountain View, California. “I think companies that have gone beyond lip service make an effort to make it known to prospective candidates.”
Look for hard data on gender representation that may be on a company’s website, advised Kara Sprague, executive vice president and BIG-IP general manager of Seattle-based cybersecurity company F5 Networks.
Some companies publish the percentage of women in leadership roles on the various pages of their website, such as the careers, employee resource groups (ERGs) or social good report pages.
Another area to glean gender balance data is on a company’s leadership page, where photos and names of executives are listed and a percentage of women in leadership roles can be deduced, Sprague said.
And, finally, check out the company’s social media posts to see if their values about women are reflected in the broader conversations they conduct online, Sprague added.
Good Job Interview Questions to Ask
“You can find out a lot about a company by asking the right questions,” said Juel, who also serves as a board member on Girls Who Code. “It’s important to work for a company that truly values diversity of thought and treats D&I just like they would any business imperative.”
8 Questions to Ask During a Job Interview
- What benefits does the company provide?
- How does the company ensure equal opportunities between remote and in-person employees?
- What does the company do to keep track of employee sentiment? What actions have been taken as a result?
- How easy is it to move around within the engineering organization?
- What are the key elements necessary for success at the organization?
- Can you describe the company’s philosophy and practices around talent reviews?
- What formal mechanisms does your company have in place to support women’s advancement in their careers?
When interviewing at a company that offers work-from-home arrangements, it’s imperative to ask how they ensure equal opportunities are available to those working from home versus in the office, Juel said, noting job applicants may want to ask for an example of a senior tech leader who has leveraged the WFH policy.
“Don’t be shy. These questions — and their answers to them — are important in helping decide if the organization is right for you,” she said.
Asking about flexible work policies and the company’s other benefits will also provide insight into how much attention is being given to work-life balance issues and family, said Sheri Rhodes, CIO at HR and finance cloud applications company Workday, based in Pleasanton, California.
“All of these things would be important as a woman looks at her career,” Rhodes said.
According to Pew Research Center, 53 percent of U.S. mothers with children at home work full-time, and half of this group, 50 percent, say their role as a working parent makes it harder for them to advance their careers. But when it comes to the 51 percent of employed U.S. fathers with children at home, only 39 percent say being a working parent makes it harder to advance their careers, notes the Pew report.
One of the most telling signs of whether a company values women in leadership roles is the composition of its interview panel, said women tech executives.
“If your interview panel is entirely male, that is a ginormous red flag,” Sprague said. “That is one of the easiest things for a company to address and if they haven’t addressed it, that’s a big problem.”
Should that be the case, job applicants may want to consider asking to speak to a woman who they would be working with, Sprague said. It would provide a diverse perspective on the culture and working climate at the company.
How to Reach Success, Given Tech’s Gender Gap
“As a young woman when I started my career, maybe my voice wasn’t heard because I didn’t speak up,” Hutchins said. “But one piece of advice I’d give women is to speak up because it’s not good enough to be seen. You’ve got to be heard. And if you struggle with that, look inside your company for programs to address it.”
Asking questions is one way to be heard, noted Robin Ducot, CTO at AI company Momentive, formerly SurveyMonkey, based in San Mateo, California.
“If you’re shy, set a goal to ask a question in every meeting. That’s often easier than stating an opinion at first,” Ducot said, adding, “understand that people can be truly different from you and learn how to communicate with different types of people in a way that allows you to be understood.”
In addition to having a point of view and expressing it, it’s also important for women to ask for what they want. Ducot recalled a time she was at an awards ceremony that asked women to make 10-word speeches on the best advice they had ever received.
“One woman said, ‘If there’s no seat at the table, pull up a chair.’ I love that. In order to get what you want, you have to first know what that is and then ask what it takes to get there. I never got a promotion or an exciting project that I didn’t ask for. Just keep showing up, making it clear what you want. And keep asking,” Ducot said.
Workday CIO Rhodes said she had to step outside her comfort zone and be willing to take on different challenges to rise up the ranks. One of the things she learned was it’s OK to be missing some tools out of your toolkit.
“You don’t have to have every check marked off on your resume before you apply for a job,” Rhodes said. “I definitely have done that a lot within my career.”
Identify mentors, champions and sponsors who can help propel your career. That’s what Synchrony’s Juel did. Her mentors advocated for her when advancement opportunities arose and pushed her career along, she said.
How to Set Yourself Apart
Learning constantly is an important part of the everyday fabric of a CTO’s life, as well as a constant curiosity for such things as technology trends, architecture, process, platforms and new ways of working that drive execution, said Raji Arasu, CTO and executive vice president at design software maker Autodesk, based in San Rafael, California.
“Make complexity your friend, because as a CTO there is nothing but complexity,” Arasu said. “There is complexity in architecture, there is complexity in systems. There is complexity in transformation. It’s going to come at you from all sides. Don’t be afraid to dig in and dive in deeper.”
Grab opportunities to expand your palette of experience in various company departments, tech sectors and industries, which plays a big role in advancing careers for women in leadership, according to tech executives.
Over Ducot’s career, she made a number of horizontal moves where she led teams responsible for product, design, QA, operations, infrastructure, IT and e-commerce. The breadth of experience gave her a broad view of the business and helped her connect the dots between the different teams, making her a stronger leader and collaborator, she said.
For Rhodes, she gained broad experience in a number of industries.
“I didn’t start my career in tech and actually played a number of different roles really early in my career,” she said. “I think being exposed to a number of different industries has been very helpful. Having perspective on how a tech company runs, how a financial company runs, how a service company runs and being able to take the best of those organizations and bring that to bear in my current role has been really important.”
Curiosity is another prized trait to possess for women in leadership roles in tech, especially when it comes to resolving problems affecting the business.
“Find interesting problems to solve that the business cares about is important. Engineers sometimes want to focus on solving just interesting technical problems they happen upon, but not the most critical technical problems the business actually has,” Ducot said.
Signs It’s Time to Quit Your Job
Sometimes, however, the work environment may not be a good fit for career advancement. And that’s when an internal personal reflection and a company assessment need to be undertaken, advised Hutchins.
Two questions to ask yourself: Is your voice heard? And do you feel supported by your employer to advance your career?
“If you’ve got a voice and you have support, sometimes it’s worth sticking out and be part of the change,” Hutchins said. “If you’re not being heard and if you don’t feel supported, then it may be time to look for another company.”
If you’re thinking of moving on, you wouldn’t be alone.
“It’s not enough to hire a certain percentage of women into tech. Organizations need to create an inclusive environment to help retain women as they progress in their careers,” Juel said. “We won’t reach our goal for women in leadership roles in tech until the reasons that women are leaving are addressed.”