Last week marked 50 years since man first stepped foot on the moon. It was a monumentally world-altering event viewed by over 650 million people around the world, people who watched history unfold as they heard Armstrong say the words “…one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Emphasis on man.
What is often forgotten is that a handful of unmentioned women, from brilliant mathematicians to secretaries to chemical engineers, played a central role in putting man on the moon. It’s just one of thousands of other historic feats that resulted from the equal ingenuity of women working alongside men, but where little mention is given to the ‘inferior’ sex. We saw just this week the world’s worst country for human rights violations against women – Saudi Arabia – lift its longtime ban on female drivers as well as remove a decree that says women can only apply for passports and jobs if they have the consent of a male guardian. Ever so slowly, we are seeing opportunities for women flourish not only in the darkest corners of the world but also in the until-now-dominated-by-men boardrooms of the world’s most developed economies. Women are coming into their own at last, it seems, and the tech space is no exception.
Though you wouldn’t know it just yet.
According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, in 2015 women accounted for just 25 per cent of all “professional computing technology” jobs in the United States, while that same year women held 57 per cent of all occupations countrywide. The issue is a systemic one and symbolic of a much deeper ‘man’s world’ kinda culture that pervades the tech sector.
According to Saumya Bhatnagar, co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) of Los Angeles-based workplace community platform InvolveSoft, finding one’s feet as a woman in the tech industry is far more challenging than it is in other industries.
“In the tech industry, there are no specific gender-based roles; in Hollywood, for example there may be female roles that need to be filled,” she said. “But in the tech industry, it’s all about knowledge and having the skill and ability to do business with people who might not even be comfortable with the idea of sharing a conference table with a woman.”
Despite this Saumya has forged a name for herself in the tech world and garnered the respect of male and female colleagues – and employees – alike. Prior to co-founding InvolveSoft, Saumya co-founded a startup right out of high school which focussed on using technology to identify and reduce female birth-cessation across India – a system now used by India’s regional governments. Having then gone on to earn a Masters in Computer Science from the University of California before founding yet another nonprofit in India focussed on female empowerment, Saumya has become an increasingly well-known advocate for stronger representation for women in the tech sector.
Today she is well on her way to succeeding in her second venture: that of creating a platform that facilitates communication between senior leadership and lower-level employees in an effort to unify distributed workforces. InvolveSoft has leveraged the shift towards a more physically distributed workplace which is seeing up to around 50 per cent of the U.S. workforce working remotely. While workplace flexibility has its advantages both environmentally speaking and in terms of mental health, it presents constant challenges to employers, supervisors and those working remotely, especially in terms of work-related communications.
“The disconnect often leaves workers feeling devalued and not motivated or engaged with the company culture,” Saumya said, whose background includes coding and natural language processing. “We wanted to create a platform that helped employer’s align company vision with top-down communication to support workplace retention and make it a more fulfilling experience for everyone.”
But Saumya and co-founder Gaurav Bhattacharya also wanted to make a social impact through InvolveSoft. Having faced gender-based discrimination all her life as a female born in India, Saumya has spent much of her professional life challenging the pervasive belief that women pursue male-dominated careers merely as a hobby and are far less adequate at it than their male counterparts – especially in the tech space.
“I’m an immigrant. I’m brown. I’m a woman. I’m in a chief level position. I have once been asked to my face if our company was so desperate to hire coders that they hired a woman,” she said, before going on to explain how InvolveSoft had supported the #MeToo campaign among other social movements that support female empowerment.
Already, Saumya has been featured in Forbes Magazine and is paving the way for women in tech alongside the likes of fellow female tech leaders including Shopify’s Gail Carmichael, Oracle’s Safra Katz and Microsoft’s Amy Hood.