In early January 2021, Fortune Magazine published a startling statistic: of the 140,000 jobs lost in the month of December alone in the United States, all of them were women. A 2019 analysis from NS Tech using data from the UK Gender Service showed that women are still very poorly represented in the tech industry, and just 16% of directors were women. With those sobering statistics in mind, and the knowledge that there is always work to be done, we here at Lineup wanted to take the opportunity on this International Women’s Day 2021 to acknowledge the incredible work of our female directors, leaders, and colleagues – and show readers that there are many paths into tech.
We spoke with two of our directors, Dawn Briddon (Product & Marketing Director) and Susan McDonald (VP of International Sales), and leaders and colleagues globally: Neda Bjorner (Senior Product Manager), Sarah Hartland (Head of Marketing), Martina Machulova (QA & Support Engineer), and Nita Watkins (Product Manager, CRM). Each had insight into their experiences within the tech industry, their often circuitous routes to their current positions (guess which went to culinary school or taught kindergarteners in Japan), how they stay informed on tech trends, and what has been the best – and worst! – advice they’ve been given as women in the tech industry.
“Representation matters.” It’s an adage we’ve heard in regards to gender, race, and sexuality across nearly every aspect of life, and when it comes to women in tech, is backed by numbers: the higher the percentage of women in positions of leadership, the more likely that company is to have female employees with higher job satisfaction and trust in the company.
Dawn, who made her way to her position as our Director of Product and Marketing from a background in media and not tech, agrees, “…each woman – and that includes me – is making the industry more of an equal-opportunities industry with every joiner.” Many of these women spoke about their pleasure at the growth of women’s roles at Lineup, including Nita Watkins, who started working for Lineup when there were only seven employees total, reminisced: “It has been so nice over the time I’ve been here to see how many more women have been hired in different types of roles in the business, and also different levels of the business.”
Susan MacDonald (VP International Sales) also acknowledges that she makes a difference simply by being a woman in leadership and leading by example and made the point that it’s more effective to encourage other women in tech to apply for leadership positions when you’re in one yourself and have already stepped into that space. MacDonald explained, “I think the more women you see in tech the more they continue to demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers.”
Sarah Hartland, Lineup’s Head of Marketing, commented on the importance of women in tech coaching and mentoring one another: “It’s not enough to break the glass ceiling, I think it’s also important to send down a ladder and help others to break barriers too. Especially for my generation, it can be easy to forget that women’s presence in leadership is relatively new. In the past, I think women in business had a tendency to see one another as competition – there's simply no room for that anymore. One of the things I’ve loved about Lineup is the abundance of mentorship and comraderie. That’s the kind of attitude I want to carry forward throughout my career.”
Neda Bjorner, Senior Product Manager, remarked on the change she’s seen in the tech industry more broadly, saying, “The industry is changing and evolving so fast. Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, they’re bringing women into the forefront…because they’re realizing of course that the diversity is very important, but also that these women have extraordinary skills that should be acknowledged and appreciated, and that’s making the way for all the rest of us much easier.”
Many departments at Lineup are seeing an influx of women as the company has grown, especially with hiring in the last two years bringing the company to an overall total of 38% female employees, higher than the 28% (in the U.S.) cited by the National Center for Women & Information Technology5 though not at the 50/50 split ideal. Martina Machulova, a QA & Support Engineer, works in one of the more male dominated departments at Lineup, and while she enjoys working with her male colleagues, she did observe that when a team has gender diversity, it “works better, and is more fun!”
Gender diversity at Lineup is also paired with diverse backgrounds, and all these women agreed that this diversity gave them more advantages in the tech world, and that women shouldn’t be discouraged from applying for positions just because they may not have the typical educational background for the industry. The perceived educational barrier to tech, they said, has not been their experience.
Nita was an arts & humanities student during university and moved to Japan with a linguistics degree to teach kindergarteners. At the time, she wouldn’t have thought that career path would have been beneficial to a tech role, but found that “it’s really valuable having a different perspective and different things you think about and consider, and it adds a lot of value to your teams. Someone who’s been trained in tech, they can answer tech questions. I’ll ask a different question, or come at it from a different angle, and offer a different solution.” Neda started her career at an Iranian culinary school, and then began working with the physical machinery of printing and publishing, while both Susan and Dawn came to Lineup with over 20 years’ experience each in the media industry. Their effectiveness and innovation stems from those experiences, as non-traditional as they may be for the tech industry.
Neda related her culinary school days directly to her current day-to-day at Lineup: “One of the courses I had to take was how to make something traditional fit in a modern way. How can you modify these foods to be served in a different way? And I always look at it with software now. There’s nothing you can’t build. You can build anything. It’s just, how do you find the best and most efficient way? I look at it like that big pot of rice that you cook, and you need to make it smaller, more presentable. You think ‘oh well I can use a muffin tin to make the rice’… and suddenly you have one portion of rice that is deliverable and you’re making the Iranian food correctly but you’ve made the portion smaller & manageable. That’s the same logic you apply to the software – yeah its complicated, yeah it’s hard. But nothing is impossible.”
Of course, that’s not to say the women of Lineup haven’t observed the “boys club” that continues to pervade the tech industry throughout their careers, even if it is less prominent at Lineup. Dawn spoke about the male-dominated events spaces (pre-COVID!) of her early days in the industry, while Nita talked about the less overt things that happened to her, like always being the one asked to take notes, or make tea, or greet a prospective customer at the door. Neda once “had a former customer say to me that maybe it’s better that I stay at home and take care of my family and leave the work to real people.”
It can absolutely be intimidating to enter this field knowing that some of this still exists, and many places of employment still have a distance to go when it comes to supporting women in tech with company culture (as 52% of women say they still feel the need to prove themselves at work).
That culture, both within the wider tech industry and also within our own companies, can make the difference when taking up that space. Chris Spalding, Lineup’s CEO, acknowledged and celebrated women in the tech industry with this upcoming International Women’s Day, saying “Diversity is hugely important to our business; it underpins our success, and I am very proud of all the amazing people from different backgrounds who bring their ideas, skills, and passion to Lineup every day. As we celebrate that today, we especially pause and recognize the fantastic contribution of all the women at Lineup, and the huge role they play in our future.”
Some of the worst advice these women from Lineup have gotten over the years included some tired cliches: Nita once got “You’re lucky to be here”, and Neda was once told “It’s just a job” to which her response was: “It is not a job when you’re a woman. When you’re a woman, you have to be one step ahead of everyone else – because we’re still fighting to be in that room.” We wanted to leave you with encouragement, however, and some of the best advice they had been given over the years, which all seemed to overlap in sensibilities.
As a matter of practicality, always get concrete, actionable feedback. Don’t be afraid to take up space or be right. Be the best person for the job and do the job well. And do not assume that because you don’t have a tech background you can’t make an impact in this field.