BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th. Heather VanCura spoke about the need for companies and employees in the tech industry to change direct and subconscious behaviors and “ally” for women in tech.
There are myriad ways to encourage more women to take up roles in the ever-expanding tech industry, but policies that attempted to force change could be counterproductive, VanCura said. “Giving people quotas and forcing things on them… people react very negatively to it,” she said. “Just try to focus on being human.”
It was helpful to think of ally as a verb, not a noun, to encourage the idea that small actions could make a huge impact on employment culture for women, VanCura said. Things like being aware of how assignments are distributed, being prepared to change the subject from conversations about sex, and creating normalized expectations about salary negotiation and job competencies all have the potential to create a more positive environment for women.
“Women do not want to put themselves up for a job, they want to be told that they should go for that job. They will not put themselves up for a job unless they have all the requirements listed in the job description,” VanCura said.
Almost half of the women who take tech jobs leave within 10 years, and this was in part to an environment in which work traits were interpreted very differently in men and women.
“Some of the feedback that I received from my mentors and sponsors was that I was perceived as a little bit bossy or aggressive, sometimes abrasive, where when I think about it myself, I saw myself as a strong leader, independent, taking the lead, being brave. So there’s two different ways you can think about those types of behaviors.”
In an environment where perception is as or more important than performance, it was extremely difficult for women to succeed solely on the basis of their skill set. “I really did think it was a meritocracy, and I think that’s a big misconception,” VanCura said.
Overall, there is a need to disrupt the natural tendency to make assumptions about people, and to build a culture where everyone is treated as an individual.
“Remember that we are all human. We are more similar than we are different and we can all be the change that we wish to see if we focus on people as individuals and focus on what brings us together rather than what divides us.”
Heather VanCura is chairwoman of the Java Community Process standardization efforts at Oracle. She spearheads efforts to transform the JCP program and broaden participation and diversity in the community. She is passionate about women in technology and development, and is a regular international speaker and organizer of developer hack days around the world.