According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women significantly lag men in tech professions — even though they make up nearly 60% of the U.S. workforce. We asked three tech leaders at Wells Fargo for their perspectives.
They are Debbie Ball, head of Design & Delivery for the Innovation Group; Sharon Murphy, head of Team Member Technologies; and Secil Watson, head of Digital Solutions for Business for Treasury, Merchant & Payment Solutions.
Q: What’s the most pressing challenge for women in the tech industry?
Ball: It’s not a single challenge, but a combination of factors. We need to get more women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in school, as well as ensure they establish supportive sponsorships early on. Also, women still have to consider more work-life balance decisions than men since they are often the family’s primary caregiver.
Watson: We need to bring more women into the industry and make them feel valued. I was interested in math and science when I was in college, but attitudes about those majors seemed to preclude me. Times are changing. Technology is more accessible, prevalent, and used in all parts of life.
How do you recruit and retain women in STEM careers?
Murphy: Ensure women leaders are supported on all levels. Once I was tapped to lead an important initiative at a previous employer, and a male colleague refused to work for me. I was shocked. Thankfully, my boss and male colleagues were supportive. And I knew other women in more junior roles were watching this situation closely.
Watson: Promoting mentorship is key. I mentor a few individuals here at Wells Fargo, and I have had mentors. You have to be intentional with the mentoring relationship: Set specific objectives and establish a one- to two-year time frame to explore those goals.
What advice do you have for other women pursuing tech careers?
Ball: Honestly, you can’t do it alone. I’ve been fortunate to have great sponsors, men and women, who’ve helped me throughout my career. Seek out role models and mentors to advocate for you. Of course, you have to put in the hard work, too.
Murphy: My father told me, “You’ll always be a woman, and you’ll always be African American. Don’t make those the only two things people remember about you.” Focus on execution, driving results, and having a deep understanding about the business, so your peers and managers have more to describe about you than the obvious.
As companies focus on diversity in tech, are young women seeing the old obstacles fall away?
Watson: A lot of this responsibility falls on current leaders. We need to sustain an environment where women can be authentic, contribute equally, receive the same opportunities and compensation as men, and be treated with the same respect that others receive.
Murphy: We have to change the perception for young men, too. While we teach young women to be prepared, we also need to teach young men to be inclusive in areas where they dominate. They have to take part in creating an environment of inclusion for all.