Breaking the Bias: How Can We Get More Women Into Top-Level Tech?
As a company committed to building a culture of belonging, MongoDB strives to attract and retain a diverse workforce. To support this goal, we created MDBWomen, a community where MongoDB employees identifying as women can seek support, share experiences, and build connections.
MDBWomen is a safe space to discuss important topics, including how companies and women at those companies can create opportunities for women to thrive in the technology industry.
Although representation is rising, currently only 26.7% of technologists are women. And women are leaving the sector at a 45% higher rate than men. How can we break the bias and encourage more women to join — and stay in — the technology industry?
We posed these questions to women leaders who joined us March 2022 for MDBWomen’s panel event in celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD). Though IWD has passed, striving for equity in the workplace is a topic MDBWomen keeps top of mind year round, so we wanted to reflect on conversations like the one we hosted with:
Shadi Rostami – Senior/Executive VP of Engineering, Amplitude
Hillary McTigue – VP of Engineering, Ticketmaster
Jean Xu – Director of Engineering, Data Security/DLP, Palo Alto Networks
Jeanette Gamble – Global Head of Data & Analytics Infrastructure Technology & Web Services, Morgan Stanley
Harsha Jalihal – Chief People Officer, MongoDB
Ksenia Samokhvalova – Senior Product Designer, MongoDB
Ksenia Samokhvalova: Have you experienced gender-specific challenges or stereotypes during your career? If so, how have you overcome them?
Hillary McTigue: Early on in my career especially, there were moments where people assumed I wasn’t the technical person in the room. One thing that I have learned over the years is to own the fact you’re an engineer. You have something to contribute to the conversation — don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice.
Jeanette Gamble: There have definitely been times in my career when I’ve been through uncomfortable things. It’s a powerful message for a young woman to feel supported and championed, and that’s not the case in all companies.
I was extremely lucky when I joined Morgan Stanley in 2000 because the Head of Technology for Europe was a woman, and she did a lot of mentoring sessions. Mentorship is the greatest tool we have, and it’s hugely undervalued. Things I learned from her I still use today and try to pass on.
Shadi Rostami: When your leaders around you don’t look like you, it’s tough. I think all of us have experienced imposter syndrome at some point. But the most important thing is to believe in yourself. I was talking to somebody yesterday and she was telling me that she was having a hard time hiring directors because people don’t want to report to a female leader. And I told her, “No, stop there. You’re more than capable.”
Jean Xu: A couple of years ago, a friend’s company wanted her to move up to a management role, and she was really concerned about the impact it would have on her family. But I assured her it shouldn’t be a concern. We definitely need women to share similar challenges they’re facing — support is very important to career advancement.
How can we improve the representation of women in technology?
Jeanette Gamble: Retention. We focus so much on getting women into technology; now we have to pivot and focus on how we can keep them in technical roles especially past the age of 35.
Harsha Jalihal: I think men have a huge role to play in breaking biases and stereotypes for women. Women start dropping out of the workforce at a certain point in their career journey with the pressure of having children, being the primary caregiver at home, and potentially not having an equal partner in their life to share that responsibility with. If I reflect on my own life, I wouldn't be where I am today without the role that the men in my life have played in getting me and keeping me at this level.
Additionally, you can’t be what you can’t see. One of the biggest barriers to improving representation of women and the workforce in general is there are not enough role models or inspiration points for younger women and girls to look up to, be inspired by, and learn from.
Hillary McTigue: Having a manager who is an advocate is essential. It’s very important to understand your team and what they want in their careers. Don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing.
Shadi Rostami: We all talk about diversity, but the more important thing is inclusivity. If you create an inclusive environment where women can speak up, it enables another perspective in the room. All of us bring such different, vast experiences to the workplace. If we let everybody find their voice, the brain of the group becomes much bigger than the sum of the different people. That’s what makes a company successful.
How can companies break the bias surrounding women in technology and enhance gender equality in the workplace?
Jeanette Gamble: Benefits! I have the luxury of working for a big, global company that puts immense focus into supporting women. But these changes were only made from people pulling together and being really loud about what we need to retain women in the workforce.
Jean Xu: A few years back, I felt that as long as I treated everyone fairly, bias wouldn't exist. But that mindset totally changed after I joined Palo Alto Networks. Our company focuses on diversity and inclusion. We have recruitment policies for the way we form interview panels, and inclusion/diversity is measured in our performance review as well as in the core company values. It’s really helped to change the way I look at issues attached to diversity and inclusion, and also prevent unintentional bias from happening.
How important is it to break the bias early in life — and how can we get better at supporting gender equality from a young age?
Harsha Jalihal: I grew up in India, where society was and in some ways is very patriarchal. If it hadn’t been for my father’s approach to raising me — not as a boy or girl, but as a human being — I don’t know that I would have developed the self-confidence I have today. Every opportunity I had to do something that was against the norm, my father was always there, unconditionally supporting me.
Now I have a son and daughter, and both see that I am in a relationship of equals. Dad can make French toast and braid hair; Mom can be out traveling for work. When men lean in at home, it makes it easier for women to lean in at work.
Jeanette Gamble: Parents tend to buy gender specific toys, games, and clothes. Introducing your daughter to Scratch or Osmo instead of Princesses and My Little Pony makes a huge difference. I'm passionate about programs like Girls Who Code. In 10 years, they've introduced technology to nearly half a million girls in North America, which is phenomenal. They have completely revolutionized how companies, parents, and schools think about technology by getting in at the grass roots.
Promoting female potential through high-profile events like International Women’s Day also helps to break biases. What does IWD mean to you?
Jeanette Gamble: To me, International Women's Day is feeling part of a community coming together to help others rise up. There's a saying that I think about a lot: “Be your best, not the best.” When you say you want to be the best at something, someone has to lose for you to succeed. International Women's Day is really about changing that and being more inclusive to make everybody feel like they belong.
Hillary McTigue: For me, it’s about empowering yourself. Don't wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder. You have the opportunity to really take control.
Shadi Rostami: The sky’s the limit. I grew up in Iran in a very patriarchal society. It was a rebellion against the system to prove that girls can achieve as much as boys. We are very, very capable and can achieve anything we want.
Jean Xu: I'm a mother of two daughters, so International Women's Day is a constant reminder that women have been through a lot, and we have achieved a lot. There are still gender disparities in our society and in the workplace. But I think together we can make a much better world for future generations.
Harsha Jalihal: For me, International Women’s Day is about breaking the biases and stereotypes that hold women back from realizing their potential. On a personal note, I think it’s also a day to celebrate the woman in me and the women in all our lives, because it's a pretty cool thing to be a woman. We should take a moment to feel proud about how far we've come.
MongoDB values diversity and inclusion. Learn more about life at MongoDB or browse our open roles across the globe.