5 women in tech share how they found — or created — their own seat at the leadership table

April Bohnert

Colorado is fortunate to have a diverse community of tech companies and startups, each one backed by its own diverse community of leaders, tech gurus and innovators. But diversity aside, women are still grossly underrepresented in tech — in classrooms, in boardrooms and everywhere in between. 

Although 74 percent of young girls express an interest in computer sciences and STEM fields, only 18 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women. In the workplace, only 26 percent of computing jobs and a measly 5 percent of leadership positions are held by females.

And while this may paint a bleak picture, the women of Colorado tech tell a very different story, one of forging your own path and finding — or making — your own seat at the table. 

 

Amy Wiley has been in the tech industry for almost 22 years, taking on roles in IT, sales engineering, development, threat research and technical support. She’s spent the last 12 years leading and mentoring technical teams, and today, she’s the VP of engineering services at Webroot. As a woman deeply rooted in the tech world, she had some powerful advice for the next generation of female tech leaders.

What is the greatest challenge you've faced as a woman in tech?

One of the biggest challenges I have faced over my career is finding the right balance between work, family and time for myself. When you have a demanding career, it’s hard to make sure you are balancing things correctly across all aspects of your life. In the tech industry, it can be particularly difficult, as you are responsible for systems and teams 24/7/365.

What is your company doing to promote diversity and inclusiveness in your organization or the broader tech community?

At Webroot, we formed a “Women of Webroot” group to support women in the company. We meet quarterly to discuss topics where members may need coaching or advice, and then take actions from our discussions.

One of my favorite actions is our “random” lunch pairing, which helps build relationships with women in the organization that might not have interacted otherwise. The pairs have lunch, get to know each other, and discuss ways to best support each other in the work environment. Our human resource department and recruiting teams also pay close attention to conferences and recruiting events that are geared towards women in technology.

What advice do you have for other women in tech looking to move into leadership roles or for young women who are considering a career in tech?

I have a daughter that will be heading to college soon, and many nieces that are in college now. My advice to them and other young women is the same: Find what you love to do, and focus on your goals. I believe that if you do what makes you happy, work hard and have the courage to speak up, you will be successful. Confidence in your abilities is important and finding your seat at the table is critical to success.

 

 

Kacy Beitel always loved math and science, but she first discovered her passion for tech at the University of Michigan, where she studied engineering. She landed her first tech gig out of grad school, working for the Department of Defense as a systems analyst. Over the years, her systems analysis experience naturally led her to product management and the role she holds today as ProtectWise’s director of product management.

What is your company doing to promote diversity and inclusiveness in your organization or the broader tech community?

We take pride in our culture here at ProtectWise, and for good reason. We encourage diversity of thought and hire individuals who naturally desire to live and work with integrity, who are open-minded and inclusive. 

When I first joined ProtectWise, I approached leadership about sponsoring a table and taking part in a Women in Tech job fair. The response was a resounding “yes, and let’s do more.” Needless to say, we had a great time and will continue to do more to empower women in tech. 

What advice do you have for other women in tech looking to move into leadership roles or for young women who are considering a career in tech?

If you have a strong work ethic and a passion for technology, there shouldn’t be anything holding you back. Companies are specifically looking for a diversity of thought and capable women to join their organizations. Choose a technical degree in school and excel. Once you get your foot in the door, show off your grit and talent and be the person your colleagues are excited to work with.  

 

 

Sandra McQueen grew up in a beach town near Silicon Valley and was captivated early on by the excitement and innovation emanating from the tech community. By 16, she had already decided she wanted to pursue a career in product marketing, but it wasn’t until a few years after graduating college that she landed her first job in tech. Since then, she’s led various marketing teams at tech firms, eventually co-founding the robotics company Canvas Technology, where she’s the VP of marketing.

What is your company doing to promote diversity and inclusiveness in your organization or the broader tech community?

As a startup with limited resources, promoting diversity is primarily a cultural/philosophical thing. We have a deep-rooted belief that everyone has the opportunity — even the responsibility — to contribute at a significant level. This not only applies to gender but also race, age, level of education, etc. In addition, I’d like to believe that having a female co-founder says something.

What advice do you have for other women in tech looking to move into leadership roles or for young women who are considering a career in tech?

Continually build your knowledge and skillset so you can be competent and confident in specific areas. Find and nurture community so you feel a kinship and learn from others. When I was in my mid-20’s I organized a dinner group once per quarter with women I looked up to. Many of them were in their mid-40’s at the time. We shared stories, drank wine and laughed.

 

After getting her career start in a data position at a bootstrapped B2B home and gift company, Karen Radcliffe fell in love with the startup life — and more specifically, the ability to wear different hats and try new things. Soon she found herself working in tandem with the sales team, researching and implementing software that would help drive sales and improve efficiency. This first foray into tech ignited a passion that spurred Radcliffe to co-found a SaaS startup in 2000 and, more recently, partner in her second startup, HealthSpaces.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in tech? How did you overcome it?

The tech field still remains a male-dominated field, which can create challenges in overcoming cultural differences. I have overcome these cultural differences by surrounding myself with individuals that share the same passions as I do and building an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard and every individual makes a difference, whether male or female.

What is your company doing to promote diversity and inclusiveness in your organization or the broader tech community?

I am currently one of four partners in a new software startup — as of January of this year — called HealthSpaces. Our philosophy as we start to build our engineering (tech) team is we hire for mindset over skillset, empowering teams to drive their destiny within the company.

What advice do you have for other women in tech looking to move into leadership roles or for young women who are considering a career in tech?

My advice to other women in tech is to surround yourself with people who share your same beliefs, who you can be your true self around, who you can trust and with whom you can work towards the same common goal. 

A Peter Drucker quote I love: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Find the culture you love — or create one for others to join.

 

Kim Johnson and her husband Jim co-founded Mobile Solutions in 2008 when they saw that companies needed help managing their mobile expenses and device procurement. Their mobile SaaS solutions give businesses more control over telecom and wireless asset management.

As president and co-founder of a fast-growing tech company, Johnson has a hand in guiding culture and equality within her organization.

What is your company doing to promote diversity and inclusiveness within your organization?

Culture has always been very important at Mobile Solutions. Our company culture attracts and retains diverse talent. We put our employees in the best position imaginable to allow them to create their own career success.

What advice do you have for other women in tech looking to move into leadership roles or for young women who are considering a career in tech?

Tech is an exciting, always changing, innovative industry. Get into a company, learn the business, demonstrate your value and enjoy what you do!

 

 

Photos via featured companies. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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