Ben discusses how we can all help to create a space for women in tech to succeed and offers top tips for people who are looking to become a mentor/mentee.
W.I.T. Republic (WR): To kick-off could you tell us a bit about what inspired you to pursue a career tech?
Bendangrenla Aier (BA): I stumbled into a career in tech, to be honest! I wanted to be an Engineer like my dad (he was a civil engineer). I choose Electronics and in my final year was offered a job as a software engineer at Infosys. I decided to give it a year before I pursue my “real career” and 15 years on, I am still here! I was motived by the ingenuity, possibility and sense of achievement that I experienced. It felt quite extraordinary to be building solutions, that make a difference to Multi-national Banks. For someone like me, who grew up in a small rural town, I felt the world of opportunities open up before me. And that sense of awe and possibilities, to this day, inspires me.
WR: Since your career began, have you noticed any changes in the industry with regard to women in tech and diverse talent?
BA: I would say that there is more awareness and proactive programs to bring in more diverse talents into technology, compared to when I started. But the status quo is still no where good enough. You see a healthy talent diversity at entry level roles, and as you progress through the levels then all of a sudden, it starts to become less diverse. This tell me that there are systematic and cultural issues, whether by design or not, in organisations and within the industry, that should be addressed to bring about real change.
On a positive note, I love that there is a true desire from most people within the industry to be diverse and inclusive. Inaction and shrugging of shoulders are no longer acceptable and I see more people holding their leaders to account and participating in social activism. There is a recognition that this is not a minority or a “them” issue but this is a collective “our” issue to resolve.
WR: You recently featured as a panellist at our recent event around actions in D&I, could you talk a bit about how we can all create a space for women in tech to succeed?
BA: It is a topic very close to my heart, not least of all because I have been very fortunate to have people, who supported me as peers, managers and mentors, throughout my career. Some simple actions that everyone, especially leaders, should do to create a space for women (everyone!) to succeed are:
- Make sure that even the quietest person in the team is given an opportunity to speak and is heard. Many women feel that they are not heard by their team and manager, especially when it comes to technical discussions or decisions.
- Don’t delegate admin tasks such as note-taking, printing, scheduling meetings, organising lunch etc to women! Make sure that it is shared.
- Find a mentor for or encourage women to find mentors to support their careers, extend their network, navigate the organisation etc.
- Don’t assume that women would not want to lead or take on challenging projects that might require them to learn new skills, put in more time, travel, relocate etc. Make sure that equal opportunities are given to everyone.
- Create an environment where mistakes can be made and don’t attribute the reason for mistakes to gender. Blame culture is toxic for talent to flourish.
- Give credit and acknowledge their successes. Many people struggle with imposter syndrome and lack of confidence, and your acknowledgement of their success, can give them a boost.
Everyone has to dig into their personal resilience, when faced with challenges; but having an environment that nurtures, are essential for people to fulfil their potential.
WR: What do you think are the main benefits for both individuals and businesses of getting involved with communities like W.I.T. Republic?
BA: Communities like W.I.T. Republic creates dialogue and positive momentum for change. It is a great network of women and allies and I have been so impressed by the number of passionate people that I have met. Many women in technology, especially in start-ups and smaller companies, don’t have the support network and allies within their company. Very often they are the only women and hence can feel isolated and don’t feel that they have a safe space to voice their concerns. Communities like this, are so critical to help connect and for women to share experiences, learnings and build network. Businesses, can do well to listen and learn from the voices in these communities.
WR: You are also passionate about ‘paying it forward’ why do you think this is important to increasing the number of women in tech and how can others do the same?
BA: As a woman in Technology, I feel that I can play an important role in encouraging, motivating and championing other women in technology. I never considered myself as a role model, but it was eye opening when women come up to me and say how they have been encouraged to pursue a tech role seeing me and other women being successful in it. I realised that perhaps by championing it more deliberately, I can make a bigger impact. It is not to say, that every women face the same challenges because everyone’s career journey is unique. But there definitely are common experiences and challenges and being able to support, listen and share, does clear the path for others to navigate.
WR: As a mentor, do you have any tips for people who are looking to become a mentor/mentee?
BA: My advice to mentors is to authentic, truthful and empathetic. You don’t have to have all the answers but you can listen, empathise and be honest . Open up your network to your mentee and be an advocate for them.
The first part is true for mentees as well. You don’t have to agree with whatever your mentor say and if the relationship is not working then don’t feel oblige to keep it going. You have the choice to seek out the best person you can have a meaningful relationship with. It takes a bit of courage to reach out to someone, especially if it’s not someone you already know, but you will be surprised by how positively people react when you ask them for mentorship.
WR: Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received throughout your career?
BA: The best advice I have received is invest in building meaningful and authentic relationships. We spend a huge part of our lives at work and so it’s important to bring your true self to work and engage with each other at a human level. The connections you make can not only enrich your experiences in your current workplace but can also lead on to unexpected opportunities in the future.
If you would like to join Ben as part of our Q&A series, get in touch today!