What I Learned About Succeeding as a Woman in Tech From the Girl Scouts, From a VP

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Photo Courtesy of Cognizant.

Photo Courtesy of Cognizant.

Shameka Young
Shameka Young
This past summer, the Girl Scouts launched 18 Coding for Good badges, part of the organization’s focus on giving young girls the opportunity to learn about technology and encourage interest in STEM careers. This is great to see, but it also raises a question: Are we in the tech industry doing our part to ensure inclusion in the workplace by giving women a voice once they’re here?
While the tech industry focuses on encouraging women to get into the field, many smart, capable women enter tech only to find themselves dealing with a non-inclusive workplace.  It reminds me of a song from Hamilton, “The Room Where It Happens,” which describes the risk we all face when we’re not at the table when decisions are made and are left to have things happen to us or around us. Our unique perspective and ability to influence are missing.

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For example, I had the pleasure of working with a brilliant telecommunications executive who possessed remarkable vision.  She could quickly assess trends and spot their relevance for her organization, especially in customer experience. But the company’s leadership team dismissed her ideas and marginalized her. In their view, her recommendations for adjusting key customer care processes were too risky. She forged ahead. By setting strategic goals and delivering big operational results like reduced truck rolls and improved net promoter scores, she became a voice that leadership could no longer deny.
Calling Out Exclusion  
Sadly, this isn’t a rare exception. At a recent meeting, I had the uncomfortable experience of a client repeatedly directing his questions to the gentleman on my team, who’s my direct report. At first, I was baffled. My direct report, too, was thrown off. By the time he had fielded a third question from the client, the pattern was obvious. My colleague quickly emphasized that I was the lead and expert in the space, not him.
The moment was a stark reminder to our team that exclusion is alive and well, and that it’s critical for everyone who witnesses it to speak up and change the dynamic to include all voices. The experience underscores why I’m such a strong advocate for Women Empowered at Cognizant, which helps to not only recruit more women but also provide a clear path to leadership and opportunities to build a supportive network.
Like a Girl Scout, ‘Be Prepared’
When it comes to encouraging inclusion in the workplace and giving women a voice, the industry can take a page from the Girl Scouts’ dual emphasis on participation and results. The Coding for Good badge program provides a comfortable environment for girls to learn and requires them to complete a project. The end result could be a computer program, video game or app that solves a problem or generates positive change. Small wonder Girl Scouts are more likely than others to take an active role in decision making (80% vs. 51%).
It’s that combination of speaking up and doing good that fuels my optimism about women in STEM careers. Young people’s voices are getting stronger. Up-and-coming Generation Z is reportedly the most racially and ethnically diverse generation we’ve seen, and it captures the spirit of change: 60% of Gen Zers say they want to change the world.  Organizations like Technovation aim to change the world by empowering underserved groups, especially girls and young mothers, to solve real-world problems in their own communities through technology.
Women have made huge strides in tech during the course of my career, but we’re still far from the finish line. Girls Who Code estimates fewer than one in five computer science graduates are women. The statistics are even more alarming in the burgeoning area of cybersecurity, where only 11% of the workforce is female.
Inclusion in the workplace is one of the biggest workforce challenges we face. Let’s hear it for the Girl Scouts for reminding business leaders that we need to ensure women have a voice – and for showing us how it can be done.
This article was written by Shameka Young, Vice President, Communications, Media and Technology, Management Consulting & Digital Infrastructure at Cognizant and was originally published on Digitally Cognizant. Fairygodboss is proud to partner with Cognizant. Find a job there today!