How to Overcome the Challenges of Being a Woman in IT, From the Women Who've Done It

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There’s no doubt that women have made great headway in the workplace since the time in history when having a female CEO was completely unheard of. However, as any woman working today knows, we still have a long way to go. Being a woman in any industry can be tough. But the tech industry poses special challenges to women searching for a role they love. Only about 20% of the technology workforce is women, and senior leadership dwindles from there. However, women do make it to the top of the food chain in great roles with the help of supportive work environments, women’s networks, and teams. One place all three are available? Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

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Four Women from BCG IT spoke with Fairygodboss about the diverse opportunities, diverse teams, and diverse answers to the tech industry’s challenges that BCG offers. Then, they shared their best advice for tackling male-dominated teams, and for finding an IT role that really works for you. 

What is your current role? How long have you been at BCG? 

Ruth McElroy: I’m a Global IT Director – Business Operations. I’ve been at BCG for three years. In my current role, I work closely with the broader IT team on the 50+ active projects that we have going on at a given time. I help teams navigate the planning process and get the resources and funding they need to get started. I also work closely with our IT Leadership Team to help outline our strategic priorities and roadmaps.

Sonali Kelkar: I am a Lead Database Architect and Database Administrator at BCG's Boston office. I have been at BCG for almost a year now but I am excelling in my role, and it feels as though I've been here much longer. I am responsible for ensuring the heath, performance and security of BCG's SQL Database assets. 

Jennifer Zera: I am an IT Senior Manager, HR Systems. I’ve been at BCG since August. My team’s priorities are to drive the identification, implementation and ongoing support of technology-related process improvement opportunities for BCG’s Human Resource (HR) function. My role balances the overall strategic and operational business needs of HR with the technical application of the necessary business systems.

Necole Jackson-Dejoie: I am a Global IT Director, Client Team & Practice Area Operations Systems. We’re focused on enabling the modernization of our collaboration tools across a variety of services. My priorities are focused on finding solutions that enable new ways of working and drive productivity. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in being a women in tech?  

Ruth: Being a woman in tech can be hard sometimes. Given the prevalence of men in the industry, women can sometimes feel like the “different” one in the room. I find that my biggest challenge is just having the confidence to not let that feeling of being different impact my work. Even though I am sometimes the only woman in a room of men, I have full control over my performance and my assertiveness. 

Sonali: Certainly, when I started in technology, I noticed that there were few women. This has not stopped me from advancing in my career. Luckily, I have never felt uncomfortable or felt that I was treated differently while being the only woman on my team. But it would be really awesome if we start seeing even more women in technology.

Necole: The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a women in tech is being the only woman in the room and making sure my voice is heard in the group – particularly when that group is comprised of highly skilled technical male engineers.

How has BCG been particularly supportive and helped you overcome this challenge? How is the sense of support you’ve felt reflective of BCG’s overall culture/policies? 
Ruth: BCG IT truly values having diversity — including strong gender diversity — on their teams. They also recognize that women can have additional hurdles to overcome in the workplace that men may not have to consider. I’ve had help with these hurdles in many ways at BCG. I’ve received informal mentorship from other women in leadership positions, and the broader teams have been trained to accept different styles of leadership and to not think of one style as the most effective. For example, just because some women aren’t the loudest voice in the room (although I can be at times!) that doesn’t mean they are less passionate or less committed. BCG also has strong network for women, like Women@BCG and Women in IT, that meet regularly to further the conversation and build the community of women within the organization. But BCG IT also gives numerous opportunities for women to learn from other women outside of BCG. My leadership team gave me the opportunity to go to Lincoln Center in New York City to attend the Women in the World conference, which was nothing short of inspiring (something I don’t say often).

Sonali: Being a mother of two children, I can find myself facing sudden home emergencies while solving a technological issue or facilitating phone calls with colleagues in different time zones. But my colleagues and manager at BCG are really understanding and supportive of those struggles. It is really amazing to see how we all adjust to meet our objectives in spite of varying personal situations.

Jennifer: BCG has an incredibly respectful environment. Our goal is to be successful, and everyone is expected to bring their experience and knowledge – regardless of level, position, gender or ethnicity. The culture does not create a competitive environment; it creates a smart, effective, and collaborative environment.  

Necole: I found my voice and leadership style prior to joining BCG. However, at BCG, I’m surrounded by strong peers who are women. And across the company, we encourage every level and gender to have a point of view (as long as it’s supported by the data).

What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are pursuing careers in IT/Hi-Tech, or in other industries that tend to be dominated by men?

Ruth: Lean way in on pursuing new opportunities. Don’t let any fear get in your way of voicing your opinion, applying for new roles, asking for a raise, learning new skills, or pursuing something that you truly want. Also, don’t be afraid of trying something and failing. There is such a high demand for solid talent in IT that you will always have a fall-back option. Treat others with respect, but hold your ground. Your team will respect it. 

Sonali: Do not be overwhelmed when you see you are in a heated technical discussion and are outnumbered by men! You have a voice and expertise: use it! If you are curious to learn new things and are passionate about new technologies, then IT is an industry where the sky is the limit.

Jennifer: Be confident in yourself, treat everyone like you would want to be treated, have high expectations of others and expect the same of yourself.

Necole: Take ownership of your career.  Set time aside to think about what you want to achieve, and create a blueprint in the areas of experience, exposure and education. Also, look for a mentor who you can be open with and who will be committed to helping you develop.

Is there anything else you’d like to share to women in IT that are curious about BCG?

Ruth: Reach out! We have a great team, so get to know us more!

Sonali: There is a common perception that people who work in technology are geeky and introverted. I am the opposite of that. In fact, I enjoy working with people, and I work best in a team environment. The amazing work culture at BCG makes me feel right at home.

Necole: I’m a wife and mom of three young men who are 20, 18 and 10-years-old. It was challenging for me to juggle a career with my family life, and I’ve come to realize there is no perfect work-life balance. Several years ago, I was mid-break down because I was in grad school, working full time, and taking care of my family.  I was on the phone with my best friend stressing about how the laundry was still waiting to be folded. My friend asked: “what’s going to happen if you don’t fold the laundry?” I took a moment and thought. Nothing. I ask this question often when I have taken on too much, as a way to remind myself that I’m not perfect. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There is no such thing as perfection. 


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