It’s time for women in tech to stamp out gender stereotypes.
By Helena Plater-Zyberk (CEO, SimpleTherapy)
Have we had enough with the endless statistics about the lack of women in tech, in company leadership roles, and on boards? From every angle, the numbers stink, much like the smelly room we know from youth – the one packed with teenage males doing something vaguely secretive, in all likelihood worrying that one day we’d trample through their boys’ club door and realize that inside was a Potemkin Village of power.
Why don’t we bust open more of these doors, from a younger age? What can we do, individually and in unison, to encourage girls’ door busting during adolescence, so that gatecrashing in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields seems second nature later in life?
Inspiration Does Wonders
As a female first-time CEO of health tech company SimpleTherapy, and a board member of a legal software-as-a-service (SaaS) enterprise, I’ll add my two cents: What got me places was inspiration to bust open that door, just because it was there.
I like to think back to a holiday dinner some 25 years ago with my aunt, an accomplished architect and urban planner. She recalled her experience graduating college as one of only a single digit number of women at a previously all-male institution. I was impressed by the gumption it must have taken for her to even decide to apply, and then to survive day-to-day in a place where she often felt so unwanted. I decided then that it didn’t matter if my presence wasn’t wanted somewhere– all that mattered was if I wanted it.
My mother expressed no fear when I endeavored to race bikes and drive go-karts faster than the neighborhood boys, to beat them, just for kicks. She didn’t tell me to stop when I flipped one over either; I was patched up and sent back out. My father proudly obliged when I insisted he build a higher tree house than any of the boys had, which I promptly christened “girls only” until they asked nicely enough. Soon these youthful aspirations turned professional – I wanted, and got, the more selective internship, the job that sounded more exciting, and the faster promotions, just to put males on notice – I will be in your club, whether you want me there or not. That attitude led me to follow rare opportunities instead of a neatly laid path.
Focus on Where You Want to be
My route to CEO of SimpleTherapy seems quite haphazard: I’ve jumped from industry to industry (international development, social venture capital, media, financial services technology, education technology, and now healthcare technology) and from function to function (research, writing and editing, consumer insights, business development, marketing, sales, strategy, and now general management). I chose each new role not because I had the experience deemed necessary to do it – I rarely did – but because I wanted to be there, to make some waves. Now I can cross-pollinate practices from a wide variety of disciplines. It’s all of these diverse experiences combined that have led me to be an effective tech CEO.
There is a lot of debate on why female representation in STEM is low—some say women aren’t choosing the fields, or that they haven’t built the right skills to enter the leadership positions, or that it’s the alpha-male culture forcing them out. Whatever the reason, progress still needs to be made, one woman and one busted door after another.
Trample the Stereotypes
A basic underlying desire to trample and infiltrate is critical for women in tech, and in all fields where the odds are against us. Perhaps only some of us are born with it. Even among those who are, however, encouragement of competitiveness is still needed, to balance out a lifetime of conflicting messages.
To the dialogue on what today’s girls face in the way of gender gaps, let’s add another “G” —for GUMPTION. Whether for our daughters, nieces, family friends, students or mentees, how can we do more to encourage and inspire that?
How do you think we can motivate women to challenge tech’s stereotypes?
About the writer: As CEO of SimpleTherapy, Helena’s mission is to make the benefits of therapeutic exercise accessible to all via on-demand video. Helena holds a MBA from Columbia University and a BA in International Relations and Economics from American University. She is also board member of the fast-growing Liquid Litigation Management.