Four Wells Fargo leaders in technology discuss the challenges women face in tech careers
Four Wells Fargo leaders in technology discuss the challenges women face in tech careers
Diversity & Inclusion
August 26, 2016

Advice from women in technology: Be prepared, have confidence

Four tech leaders at Wells Fargo probe what it takes to “create environments where women can contribute equally, receive the same opportunities as men, and be treated with the same respect.”

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women significantly lag men in tech professions — even though they make up nearly 60 percent of the U.S. workforce. For Women’s Equality Day, we asked four tech leaders at Wells Fargo for their perspective.

They are Sharon Murphy, head of Team Member Technologies; Secil Watson, head of Wholesale Internet Solutions; Debbie Ball, head of Innovation Design and Delivery; and Miranda Hill, head of Wells Fargo’s Digital Innovation Lab.

Four Wells Fargo leaders in technology discuss the challenges women face in tech careers
Murphy (left), Watson, Ball, Hill

Q1: What is the most pressing challenge for women in the technology industry?

Murphy: I see a significant challenge with attracting more women to IT majors in college. We’re just not seeing enough diversity come through undergraduate and graduate programs so there is a diverse pool of candidates entering the industry. And once you’re in, there is not the same level of advocacy for women as there is for men.

Watson: We need to bring more women in to the industry and make them feel valued. I was very interested in math and science when I was in college, but attitudes about those majors seemed to preclude me. Now times are changing. Technology has become more accessible, prevalent, and utilized in all parts of life.

Ball: It is 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 that 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.

Hill: I also think we hold ourselves back from getting the recognition we deserve. Women tend to give more credit to others, which is great from a collaborative relationship building perspective, but can diminish the perception of our contributions. We need to give ourselves a bit more credit than we typically do, and position ourselves as leaders and activators.

Q2: How do you recruit and retain women in STEM careers?

Watson: Promoting mentorship is key. I mentor a few individuals here at Wells Fargo, and I have had mentors. And you have to be intentional with the mentoring relationship: Set specific objectives and establish a one- to two-year timeframe to explore those goals.

Murphy: We also need to be sure 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 very supportive. And I knew other women in more junior roles were watching this situation closely.

Hill: It’s often said that men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, and women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. What I uncovered when I looked into this is that women tend to hesitate on new opportunities because of the risk of failure and because we lack confidence. From a recruitment perspective, I encourage women to have faith in themselves, to have confidence, to go after roles and understand that failure is okay.

Q3: What advice do you have for other women pursuing tech careers?

Hill: Ultimately, it comes down to being prepared and having the confidence to be a part of the conversation. It’s not enough to just have a seat at the table. A previous manager told me, “Don’t just state the facts and allow others to come up with their own conclusions. Tell them what you think, and have conviction.”

Ball: And honestly, you can’t do it alone. I’ve been fortunate to have great sponsors, both men and women, who have helped me throughout my career. Seek out those role models and mentors who will advocate for you. Of course, you have to put in the hard work, too.

Murphy: My father told me very simply, “You will always be a woman, and you will always be African American. Don’t make that the only two things that 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.

Q4: 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.

Hill: It requires action and not just words. One positive aspect of all the attention on diversity and inclusion is that there is now a top-down commitment to improvement. As a result, women who are starting out in their careers have access to more resources and networks that can really help their development.

Murphy: And 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.

Q5: What benefits ultimately accrue?

Hill: With diversity comes a breadth of perspective for approaching a challenge, which is really important in the tech and innovation spaces. If you look at the very beginning of a product development cycle, you need to imagine all various possibilities and nuances of different scenarios.

Ball: This is especially true when you’re trying to solve for the needs of diverse customers who can come from a variety of cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. We need to look at diversity from all angles: race, gender, unique experiences, and age.

Murphy: To take it one step further, diversity alone is not enough. You have to have diversity and inclusion. Without inclusiveness of ideas and perspective, you just create “groupthink,” where the opinions of a few dominate. It takes a mature culture to bring people from diverse backgrounds together and encourage them to voice their opinions.