When Jossie Haines first ventured to Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom to start her career in tech, women accounted for a small fraction of the tech workforce. Today, over 25 years since the dot-com boom began, women remain underrepresented in tech, despite efforts to reduce the gender disparities that have long plagued the industry.
Women hold only a quarter of all tech jobs, according to a 2020 report by ISE Magazine. To narrow the gender gap and reduce inequities, Haines—Vice President of Software Engineering and Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Tile, and a Baskin Engineering computer science M.S. alumna—argues that tech companies need to do more to recruit, retain, and support the professional advancement of women and other underrepresented minorities.
Haines addressed the lack of gender diversity in tech—and also offered advice to help companies and individuals promote inclusion—during the third event of the professional speaker series Diverse Voices 2021.
“Everyone has a voice and the opportunity to make a difference,” said Haines.
Workforce diversity leads to more inclusive technology
Haines worries that the industry’s lack of diversity means that technology is being developed “that’s not fully addressing the needs of women and minorities.” She cited examples of non-inclusive technologies, ranging from facial recognition software that doesn’t recognize darker complexions to voice recognition apps that are less responsive to women's voices.
To build more inclusive products, Haines believes “comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion policies have to be in every aspect of the business, from hiring to the product pipeline.” This will help ensure that diverse perspectives are included in the product development process, which will lead to technologies that benefit all users, regardless of skin tone or gender.
But building a diverse workforce requires effort. Haines’s own experience at Tile has shown that companies who strive for inclusivity must provide employees with opportunities for mentorship, support, and growth. In addition, women and individuals from underrepresented groups must feel empowered.
Empowering women through resilience, support, and self-advocacy
Haines outlined four steps women can take to empower themselves and thrive in tech. “Build resilience, build a support system, build a network, and build your personal brand,” she said.
According to Haines, workplace resilience means “advancing despite adversity.” Though people often shy away from tasks they fear, resilience emerges only when individuals confront their fears. For example, Haines suggested that those who dread public speaking should practice ten minutes a day to build confidence and resilience.
Haines also encouraged women in tech to build support systems, especially as they advance in their careers and find themselves in roles where they are the lone female voice on a team. Finding opportunities to share experiences, resources, and advice with others can help women overcome common challenges they face. To build support systems, Haines encouraged audience members to join women-in-tech communities such as Elpha and Women Who Code, and to seek out mentors who can aid in professional growth. “We can’t be afraid to ask for support,” Haines said.
Networking, Haines argued, is as important as building support systems. She advised women to build diverse networks that include men and people in leadership roles, and to enlist members of those networks to serve as sponsors. “Having sponsors can help you explicitly grow and succeed in your career,” said Haines.
Lastly, Haines encouraged women in tech to build a personal brand by assessing and confidently sharing their individual strengths with others. She recommended highlighting those strengths in cover letters and LinkedIn profiles. Making these strengths more visible is what will allow women to advance in the industry and empower the next generation of women in tech.
Visit the Diverse Voices 2021 website to learn more about the series and access recordings of previous talks. Tune in for our final event of the season, “My Journey from Jamaica to Google: From Majority to Minority,” on Wednesday, May 26 at 5 p.m., featuring Sheldon Logan, senior software engineer at Google.