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By Lucia Villar
Leaving my job as a consultant at McKinsey to join an unknown startup didn’t always seem like a great idea. I was giving up a lot, both financially and in terms of job security, to take a risk.
I knew that the tech industry was infinitely more innovative than consulting (e.g., I was still using Lotus Notes) and that if I missed out I would regret it forever.
But I was also baffled by the lack of women in the industry and saw it almost as a personal challenge to combat that. While I can’t say that the plethora of hoodies and meditation courses I’ve received at my startup can ever make up for all the Starwood points lost, I can say that I have no regrets. Why?
The Tech Industry is Too Valuable for Women Not to Be at the Center of It
The tech industry’s relationship with women is troubled but there has never been a more important time to show up for it, both to shape the culture for decades to come but also to push your own career to the next level. Just consider a few data points:
- Tech companies, such as Airbnb, Lyft, and Square are disrupting and modernizing traditional business models and have a combined value of $60+ billion. The next big disruptive company is out there and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to join.
- Some of the smartest people in the country are choosing tech. In a 2017 study, three of the five most desired places to work by business students in the US were technology companies: Google (#1), Apple (#3), and Amazon (#5)
- Tech workers earn on average $108,900 in 2016, more than twice the average national wage of $53,040.
- Tech is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors, accounting for 7M of US jobs and accounted for 10% of all new jobs created in 2016
- Basic coding is becoming as critical as putting together a powerpoint. You don’t want to miss out on learning these new skill sets that are rarely taught in school. “The joblessness rate of those that have coding skills is also half of the national joblessness rate.”
Why Joining a Startup Was Good for My Career
My own story at fintech company Earnest highlights some of the opportunities that await women in tech. Before I joined the company in 2015, I was a management consultant in New York. My work was always intellectually challenging, but I didn’t always feel that I had control over the work I did on a day-to-day basis. So much was dependent on the timing of a project launch, getting the right client, and working with the right consultant team.
When I joined Earnest, I gave up the comfort of a large corporate firm but I was hoping to gain more control over shaping my career.
Like many jobs in a startup, my new tech role didn’t include a defined career path. Startups by nature tend to ask people to wear many hats; that’s part of the value of working at one—in addition to equity and often, the mission. I decided to use that to my advantage and leverage the fact that we were growing fast and feeling the staffing pinch to work on things that I didn’t know much about, such as FP&A and Marketing.
My experiences across various parts of the organization not only helped me develop my hard skills but also allowed me to expand my sphere of influence within the organization and become more visible. This eventually positioned me to take over P&L responsibility of one of our main products. The road to landing the job I wanted wasn’t always perfect, but I don’t think I could have gained that type of responsibility so quickly if I hadn’t joined a tech startup.
There is Still a Ways to Go for Women in Tech
Like my story shows, there can be huge career development opportunity in tech, but let’s not kid ourselves about how far it really goes. Women are still highly underrepresented in the industry overall and, according to a recent McKinsey & Leanin.org study, only 17% of the C-suite in tech are female.
“Only 17% of the C-suite in tech are female.”
The problem starts at the very beginning, as only 36% of entry-level jobs go to females, indicating that women are just not opting in. In Engineering, the problem is even more severe, as only 20% of engineering students are women and only 11% of engineers working in tech are women. That means that 40%+ of female engineers chose not to pursue a career in tech. According to a research study from Stanford, much of this gap can be attributed to the lack of role models and mentors in tech. This vicious cycle can only end when more women consciously opt into this industry and reverse the trend.
In addition to the fact that there are fewer women entering the industry, there have also been too many cases of harassment at the workplace. This hurts both recruiting and retention. Recent tech scandals (Uber, SoFi, 500 Startups) have demonstrated that this bad behavior can pop up anywhere.
Despite these obstacles, women need to continue to push forward in tech, otherwise, we risk missing out on the future of an entire industry. Pioneering new ground is not easy but over time industries where women were once outliers—like finance and healthcare—are now benefiting from better gender equality.
There is still a ways to go, but we can’t let that deter us from participating and thriving in this industry.