Never Say Never: Confessions of a Woman in Technology

In the car the other day my kids started listing all the things they would never do. “I will never smoke a cigarette. I will never drink a beer. I will never get my nose pierced.” And the lists went on until I told them, “I have learned to never say I will never.” I’ve found that somehow, some way the act of saying “I will never” seems to propel events into happening.
They asked for examples.
1. “I’ll never have less than 10 kids” (I did).
2. “I’ll never be divorced” (shocked me).
3. “I’ll never get remarried” (twice).
4. “I’ll never move to the suburbs” (I did).
5. “I’ll never move specifically to one particular Texas town” (here I am).
6. “I’ll never get fired” (did that, too).
7. “I’ll never go back to school” (it’s now on my bucket list).

And then one hit me: “I’ll never think that men and women in the workplace think or act differently.” (I do now.)
I’ve been incredibly blessed with amazing mentors my entire career – men and women. But everywhere I turn lately – from Magdalena Yesil to Mary Barra to Hollywood scandals and corporate messes – people are talking about women and men in the workplace. It made me sit back and ponder. Why do people care so much? Why is it such a hot topic?

In business, we all believe in hiring the best person for the job regardless of gender. But if it’s just about hiring the best person for the job, why are so many organizations working so hard to get women in leadership positions? Do women get different results or is it just a matter of balance and fairness?

In the general business place, 57 percent of women versus men hold professional positions. In technology that isn’t the case. Technology is all about process, efficiency, improvement, and organization – all aptitudes of women. These numbers vary from report to report, but here’s what we found in looking at the National Center for Women & Information Technology, USA Today.
• 25 percent of women work in fields related to computing/technology
• 18 percent of software developers are women (higher than I thought as we can’t seem to find any!)
• 14 percent of women were named to the boards of tech companies

Interesting facts, but not reasons that compelled me to think or do anything differently.
And then one day, I discovered what, for me, was the missing piece of the puzzle, the one thing that helped me pull it all together and realize the importance of diversity.
I recently went to a private equity conference attended by many venture and private equity firms and companies like ours. There were, I think, over 100 people and I was one of only two females in attendance (both from our company). The guy leading the conference was great – you couldn’t help but like him. Nice. Down to earth. Helpful and smart. He stood in front of the group, talking during one session and made a comment that virtually everyone in room agreed with and laughed at. And I did not. And the reason I did not was largely due to my gender.

In this moment, it hit me why it’s helpful to have both male and female voices leading organizations. Diversity of opinion leads to better discussions and better discussions lead to better results

I thought about our own company. Our initial board of advisors was half women, half men. Our current executive team is half women, half men. I didn’t plan it that way. I didn’t go out and seek that balance. I did seek to balance out the types of people and opinions. For the board of advisors, I sought out an expert in operations, in marketing, in risk and in technology. For the exec team, I looked for people with different skill sets than me. In hindsight, the varying perspectives have helped remarkably.

I will continue to consider the importance of different perspectives in the workplace, because in all fields – related to technology or not – diverse team members working together and challenging each other get to the best results.

Stephanie Alsbrooks is CEO of defisolutions.