How Does Motherhood Affect Your Career In Tech?

In an exclusive blog for W.I.T. Republic, we recently caught up with Software Engineer Olena Drugalya to talk all about motherhood and how it impacts your career in tech.

Olena has been a full time stay-at-home mum for 10 years, until 2 years ago when she decided to change her career and become a software engineer. Today she is a junior Software Engineer, working for Novatec, combining both job and family responsibilities.

“It was not an easy path for me, since I had no technical background and 2 kids on my shoulders, but it was definitely worth it.”

Q: Does being a mother in this traditionally male-dominated industry come with any challenges? If so, how have / do you overcome these challenges?

A: For me it was very important to feel in myself that I was “equal and fit”, I haven’t been working for a long time and was afraid of both of not being accepted and how I would balance work and family responsibilities.

Fear of rejection is a typical situation for a working women of any profession. For woman in tech it is probably a bit harder because the industry is still a male-dominated space. However, I think I was quite lucky because although the software engineering department at Novatec consists mainly of men, from my first day they made me feel totally welcome. Which has helped to create a friendly and healthy working environment.

With regard to balancing work and home life, my partner is an enormous help. Without them I doubt I would have been able to work and take care of my children without being constantly stressed out. I think that having a support system who can help you manage things is key.

Q: How can companies help to eliminate some of these challenges and better support mothers and returning mothers in tech?

A: Many companies are already doing a lot to support mothers. For example, they offer child sick days (up to 20 in Germany on a regular basis + 20 extra because of the current pandemic per year) – you can inform your company’s HR department that your child is sick and you don’t have to work these days. That reliefs some of the stress mothers have when their children are sick. If a company doesn’t have a policy like this in place already, I highly recommend that they set one up as this is a big incentive for mothers in tech to join, and stay at, companies.

Another thing companies could do to support returning mothers is offer them the possibility of working part-time or flexible hours. This will help a woman, who has just returned from parental leave, to get back into work again slowly and keep a balance between family and work. The opportunity to work part-time for a specific period (for example, half a year) is a great support companies should be offering returning mothers in tech.

Q: Many women in tech fear returning to the workplace following maternity leave, why do you think this is?

A: The main reason that comes to mind is that they fear not being “relevant” any longer. Software engineering and tech in general requires constant study in order to be up-to-date with trends and what is new in the industry. Improving old knowledge and investing into your professional portfolio on a daily basis. So many women think, that being on parental leave for 1-2 years makes them loose the experience and knowledge they could gain, if they were to work for that time instead. Or they fear, that they will loose the knowledge they had before by not practicing for a year or two. According to my experience, this is not the case for fear at all. Let me tell you why…

Firstly, the basis of knowledge is still there no matter how much time passes. For example, I learned C# 10 years ago. Later when I started to learn JavaScript even though so much time had passed, I still remembered all the main concepts of the previous programming language (variables, methods, loops etc.), that helped me to learn this one.

Secondly, maternity leave is a great opportunity to have a refreshing break from work for your mental health and enjoy motherhood in full. It also presents the perfect possibility of starting with something new – whether that be a new language or a particular niche – after your maternity leave is over. From this perspective, taking a break from work and going on maternity leave doesn’t seem so bad after all.

This is also the same for women who fear that becoming a mother, or working as a mother in tech, will stunt their career growth. In my opinion, career growth in tech is a bit different than in other fields in that it doesn’t depend on your age but your level of experience and skill. As such, 1-2 years of maternity leave will not play a big role in a carer path of a women. As I wrote above, maternity leave can even help you to return to work rested and fresh and ready for new challenges!

Q: What are your predictions for the future of women and mothers in tech? What do you hope to see in years to come?

A: I hope to see more women and mothers in tech in the future. Whilst things are getting better with regard to diversity and inclusion in the industry, there is still a long way to go. When I look at open source project contributions on GitHub, or go through a list of tech conference speakers, or take a look at tech company´s career pages, I always wonder why there are so few women represented.

Perhaps it is because they do not find careers in tech to be attractive? Implementing the things I mentioned above – flexible working hours, child sick days – are just two things that companies can do to help attract and retain women and mothers in this industry.

Q: Finally, could you share the best piece of advice you’ve received throughout your career as a woman and mother in tech?

A: The best advise I received was : “Just look at the positive side of being a mother”. And indeed, I think being a mother made me more empathetic towards other people and their feelings and needs. I understand when a colleague says they cannot work today because their child is ill, or because nursery was closed or their children have appointments. I think, becoming a mother also made me more tolerant in resolving conflicts too. There are many positive ways in which being a mother can influence how you act in a work environment.

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