How These Women Are Setting a New Tech-Industry Standard

October 27, 2020

women in tech boston

 

There still is a long road to travel in terms of equality in the workforce. 

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), only 57 percent of professional occupations in the U.S. workforce were held by women in 2019. As far as the tech industry goes, only 26 percent of professional computing occupations and 18 percent of top or executive-level positions were held by women in 2019.

Even though these statistics may seem jarring, there are countless women who are diving in headfirst and successfully navigating their way through the tech industry.

Built In Boston caught up with Brittney St. Germain, VP of technology at Forward Financing, and Cynthia Patterson, director of people and culture at MachineMetrics, to see how they are pushing the boundaries and setting a new industry standard.

 

Brittney St. Germain
VP of Technology

To be successful in the workplace, Vice President of Technology Brittney St. Germain, suggested to find an ally — female or male. She said to look around and observe those in your company that you’d like to emulate, invite them for coffee and tell them you’d like to learn from them. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team? What did you do to overcome that challenge?

While I’ve been fortunate that I’m usually not the only woman on a project team, there have been countless meetings where I look around the room and see only men. I’ve been lucky to work for organizations where I never thought being a woman was the source of the challenges I faced.

There is a sense, I think, that women have to puff up their egos to hold their own in male-dominated organizations and on male-dominated projects. I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. While I’m confident in what I know and defend my positions when I feel that confidence, I'm also conscientious not to pretend to know things I don’t, and I pursue relationships with people within each organization who can help me understand what I don’t.

More often than not, I find that saying out loud that I don’t know something lets other people in the room admit they don’t know either. It’s a way to make friends and form bonds that help teams function better. Once people, both men and women, know that you’re an honest partner, you get the respect you need to do your job well.
 

As a woman, but more importantly as a leader, I want to bring a balanced approach to every team I work with.”


What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and/or personal life?

I’m very wary of deploying stereotypes to explain my approach to leading teams. The common misconception is that women are emotional, and men are rational. I have not seen that play out in the teams I’ve worked with, and we can’t act like emotion and reason are mutually exclusive.

We’re all emotional when we care about the work we’re doing, and we all try to get to a place where what we’re doing makes sense. 

Throughout my career, my role has been to keep teams focused on the nuts and bolts of the project. It’s often helpful to acknowledge how people feel about the team’s decisions to move forward. As a woman, but more importantly as a leader, I want to bring a balanced approach to every team I work with.

 

More on D&I in TechBuilding a Diverse Sales Team Takes Work, But It's Worth It

 

What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

In any work situation, find an ally. Remember, your ally can be outside your immediate team, in another department, and of course, can also be male. Look around and observe those in your company that you’d like to emulate, invite them for coffee, tell them you’d like to learn from them. Most people are more than willing to mentor, or simply build connections, in the workplace. I’ve had a few amazing male allies in my work career that have helped me navigate male-dominated situations with perspective and inside knowledge on how to best communicate and establish productive working relationships.

 

Cynthia Patterson
Director of People and Culture

As an HR and people leader, Cynthia Patterson, director of people and culture at MachineMetrics, translates data into impactful business strategies in order to provide the best possible work environment for the whole company. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team? What did you do to overcome that challenge?

The greatest challenge I experience as the only woman on a team is magnified by my role itself within organizations. As an HR and people leader, I communicate difficult-to-translate data into an impactful business strategy.

Consider an employee engagement survey. A survey result (data point) of seven on a scale of 10 does not include the sentiment of the people who self-rated their engagement a two or a 10. I need to be able to provide context that is meaningful to support the data point and articulate our organizational need to improve our people strategy. If leadership views the seven as an “acceptable score” and does not take into account the full context or understand the value, we are unable to move the business forward.  

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and/or personal life?

The most important lesson I have learned as the only woman on my team is a double-edged sword. From a scientific perspective, men and women’s emotional intelligence (EQ) are overall equal. EQ is a composite of an individual’s self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. However, while men tend to score higher in the subcategories including self-regard and assertiveness, women tend to score higher in empathy and social responsibility. 

In the modern U.S. workforce, there is a tendency to value self-regard (viewed as confidence) and assertiveness. Therefore, for me to have my voice heard, I need to conscientiously focus on my self-regard and assertiveness as a complement to my empathy. This is one reason why women are such powerful players in organizations and why studies have shown that organizations with more women are more successful.
 

For me to have my voice heard, I need to conscientiously focus on my self-regard and assertiveness as a complement to my empathy.”


What is the best piece of advice you'd offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

There are two pieces of advice I can offer to women on male-majority teams. First, be aware of how you use the word “sorry.” Do use it when you have hurt somebody’s feelings, or your actions created an undesirable situation that was preventable. Suppress the urge to apologize when you misunderstand something or need clarification. Don’t apologize for offering a different perspective than the majority, i.e., “Sorry, I think…” 

Second, related to women’s voices being suppressed, my recommendation is to speak to each member of your team individually. In situations where my male colleague has repeatedly interrupted me during a meeting, I speak to them offline via one-on-ones and let them know: “I don’t know if you were aware, but you spoke over me three times in the meeting just now. Going forward, I’d like us both to be mindful of this.” The other side of this coin is to reach out to members of your team who exemplify positive behaviors toward the women on their team. I’ve been fortunate; every team I have been on has had at least one male who will stop a conversation and say, “You interrupted Cynthia. I’d like to hear what she has to say” or “XX, Cynthia brought up that point earlier and I would like to hear her additional thoughts on that.” 

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