Influential Women in Tech and What We Can Learn From Them was originally published on Firsthand.
In 1889, Anna Bissel became the first female CEO in the United States, breaking traditional gender roles and setting an example for generations of women to come. Fast forward to today, 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. Women are also making waves outside of corporate America, standing up for women’s rights, gender equality, and other important issues. Here are three influential women working in tech today, along with important takeaways from their careers.
The influence that Susan Fowler, a software engineer turned author, holds today started in 2016 when she began to work for Uber. While working at Uber is a dream job for many people, for Fowler the dream morphed into a nightmare. In 2017, Fowler published Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber, a blog that blew the whistle on what was going on inside Uber, including multiple reports of sexual harassment being swept under the rug. As a result of the article, investigations took place, and the company fired 20 people, which included some of those in high leadership positions.
Today, Fowler is celebrated for breaking the systemic sexism that existed at Uber, and she continues to share her story to help women in similar situations. In 2017, she was named Person of the Year by the Financial Times, and in 2020, she published Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber, which The New York Times called “a powerful illustration of the obstacles our society continues to throw up in the paths of ambitious young women, and the ways that institutions still protect and enable badly behaving men.”
Fowler’s best advice for students and young professionals
Through her work and activism, Fowler has shown how important it is to use your voice, even when the odds are stacked against you. Fowler used her voice time and time again by reporting sexual harassment to Uber HR, and when she wasn’t heard, she took to her platform to speak to the masses. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Fowler said, “Words change the world.” And she’s a living example of this—she was the reason systematic sexism and sexual harassment are no longer welcomed at Uber (and perhaps other tech companies as well). Today, Fowler encourages anyone who has experienced a similar situation to “stand up and speak out, because the more of us that do this, the more that we can actually affect change.”
Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, an educational organization that aims to close the gender gap in tech roles by using summer immersion coding programs, specialized campus programs, and after-school clubs. Girls Who Code is adamant about more women being in technology roles, but its goal extends well beyond women simply having tech jobs. The organization is also dedicated to bravery and activism. Its mission is “not just preparing our girls to enter the workforce” but also “preparing them to lead it, to improve it, to completely and totally transform it.”
Prior to helping women in tech, Saujani was part of the political scene and a passionate activist. In 2010, she became the first Indian American woman to run for Congress. During her campaign, she saw the gender gap in technology-based classes in schools across the nation, which catapulted her to where she is today.
Saujani’s best advice for students and young professionals
In a TED Talk, Sanjani speaks about encouraging young women to be brave. She mentions that there is a gender difference in the idea of bravery starting in childhood, when boys are playing rougher and taking risks, while girls are taught to always be safe and get good grades. This translates to boys being raised to be brave, while girls are raised to be perfect. Sunjani suggests this is why women are “overly-cautious” when it comes to their careers, and why they need more confidence and bravery to seek out tech-related opportunities. She hopes women aspire to be more brave, take more chances, and not be afraid to pursue careers outside their comfort zones.
Pip Jamieson is the founder of The Dots, a platform for “no-collar professionals” that focuses on creative roles and diversity. Jamieson’s career didn’t begin in the tech industry, or in the creative industry at all. Jamieson actually holds a degree in economics, and is even said to have been “appointed by the UK government as a fast-stream economist.” She eventually found herself taking on more creative roles, and found a problem surrounding how those in the creative field find work. According to Jamieson, other career platforms, such as LinkedIn, have too much of a corporate feel for those focusing on building portfolios as creatives. This is how The Dots came to be. Jamieson’s platform also emphasizes various types of diversity in the workforce, including neurodiversity. As someone who is dyslexic, she helps others in similar situations find themselves a place in the creative workforce. She hopes this will help create a more “balanced industry.”
Today, The Dots community is 68 percent female, 31 percent BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic), and 16 percent LGBTQ+. All of Jamieson’s work has resulted in her being featured by Ad Week “as one of the 41 trailblazing leaders having a positive impact on the world.”
Jamieson’s best advice for students and young professionals
Competing with LinkedIn in the networking space wasn’t easy. Jamieson faced entering an industry dominated by one company and dominated by men. She also faced other obstacles, including her dyslexia. But she persevered anyway, in part because of her desire to find a solution to a problem she identified. In an interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times, Jamieson refers to herself as a “non-tech tech founder” and advises other female entrepreneurs to “just do it.” She encourages women to not fear failure and take chances, like she did.