Our Women In Tech forum is an online community addressing equality in the workplace. As part of a series of interviews, Jessica Wilson, our DEI Program Manager, spoke to Maureen Sundman, our Director of Global Solution Engineering, about her experiences.
What led you to pursue a career in tech and what challenges have you overcome?
I vividly remember noticing one small 'green screen' terminal in my office when I worked at my first job at Fidelity Investments. I don't know why I gravitated to that terminal immediately, but soon after, I found myself completing several technology classes that my manager encouraged me to attend. After three years at Fidelity, I left to pursue my technology career.
Along the way, the most significant challenges to overcome surfaced when I became a parent. I worked hard to manage conflicting feelings of guilt for working full-time versus feelings of satisfaction that I was able to contribute to my family’s future. It took a little time to realize that I could manage both!
Do you think diversity and inclusion has improved in tech over the last few years?
In some ways, yes. For example, when I initially began my career, I wanted to start as an engineer, but my degree was in Corporate Finance and Accounting. I had pursued some programming courses in college but was encouraged by my father to pick a path that would offer more options. He was a mathematician, so there was that!
I credit one excellent manager who encouraged me to shift from Sales Operations to Software Engineering after 10 years. Since then, I am encouraged to see a consistent uptick in women in engineering roles.
Do you think the rise of remote and hybrid working has helped improve inclusion?
Absolutely! I'II cite my own introduction to a flexible working mode in the mid-1990s. It was rare to have this flexibility then, but I had a supportive manager who realized I had a toddler at home, and long daily commutes. He knew that it was in the company's best interest, and mine, to allow me to work from home two-three days a week. Without this flexibility, it is likely I would have had to make some difficult choices.
Companies benefit from offering a remote and hybrid working model since they instantly open the flood gates to a pool of incredible candidates. This also introduces valuable opportunities for diversity and global collaboration, which enrich an organization's composition.
What's the best piece of advice you've received about working in tech?
I’ve been very fortunate to have some incredible managers, many of whom reinforced the notion that the technology industry is extraordinarily fast paced, and there is no way you will know everything!
Never be afraid to ask questions, and never be afraid to say you don’t know something. It’s not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of confidence.
Do you feel that the responsibilities of childcare are more even now than they were?
Early in my career, I witnessed many women friends forego their careers to stay home with their children. The great news is, most of them today say they are pleased they were able to do that and wouldn't change their decision if faced with the choice again.
Since then, many companies have offered more alternatives and support for parents. For example, by offering remote and hybrid working options, this affords parents flexibility to participate in childcare more readily. I hope this model will expand and sustain for all working parents.
Racial diversity and LGBT+ rights are equal challenges to gender equality in tech. Do you see all diversity and inclusion as one struggle or as parallel issues with their own unique facets?
I see diversity and inclusion as parallel issues with unique facets. Personally, I can cite examples of gender equality issues in tech. I’ve also worked with many colleagues who have struggled with racial diversity and LGBT+ inequality. It is difficult for me to compare gender equality with issues I have seen friends deal with which are so much worse.
For me, this is currently the most discouraging facet of the workplace evolution. Thankfully, awareness, training, and conversations have increased and, as a result, more people are paying close attention and bringing issues to the forefront which is encouraging.
What is the biggest change you'd like to see in the tech industry to support women?
I don't know if this is unique to the tech industry, but I believe women still struggle with confidence. Whether these characteristics stem from the workplace, or otherwise, the fact is that women need more support from fellow employees.
Support can be in the form of a quick message to a colleague, asking how her day is going. It should also include devoted managers who are committed to maintaining widespread equality throughout their teams.
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