Celebrating International Womxn of Tech & Design ft. Sarah Usher @ Ladies Of Code


IWD2021, womxnintech

How can we proactively make a change to achieve equality and inclusion in tech? It's International Women's Day in March and Orbis are dedicating the entire month to celebrating the womxn of Tech and Design. If we want more women in tech, we have to do more than want. Our team felt we needed to share stories from the industry, told by voices with first-hand experience. All of the exposure International Women's Day kicks up is critical, not just for our own education as a business, but also to support the exposure of gender equality and inclusion in tech. These stories are not told by a company or PR, or any other bias perspective. These are the real women of tech shaking up the industry. 

Sarah, what is your personal career journey in tech?

I had a more traditional entry into tech. I learnt coding in High School (Turbo Pascal) and I decided I wanted to continue in tech. I attended Johannesburg University where I earned my 4-year degree and I later studied a Masters degree while working. I am now in my 11th year of professional software development. I have worked across different domains and types of applications including web and mobile apps, backend processing and reporting apps and now I mostly focus on large-scale data processing (data engineering) and distributed applications. In this time, I have also taken on Tech Lead roles for teams and projects, have run multiple workshops and community events outside of work.

What do you think tech leaders could do to help support gender equality within their teams? 

Most importantly, they really need to care about diversity. We cannot have leaders who don’t want to actually create an equal environment but feel obligated to hit a KPI. They really need to care and value that they are treating their staff as equitably as possible, to ensure everyone has access to the same opportunities in the office. Something as simple as advertising an internal role or leadership opportunity instead of simply promoting someone they ‘had in mind’, and actually applying a process to all applicants that can create that equitable opportunity.

Widening that point, how can businesses adapt to ensure they are enhancing women with their careers?

We need to be honest about how the household load is still higher for women. Companies can directly assist here by offering parental leave that is equal for any parent, rather than policies that are different for moms than dads.

Having clear career progression, role expectations and opening up opportunities to applications rather than simply promoting staff that they ‘know’ goes a long way to creating a transparent environment where the opportunities are more equal. Props go to companies that publish salary bands for their roles, internally and externally.

Offering sponsor and mentorship within your business makes a really big difference. Men and women navigate the world differently because we have been taught to. Providing access to sponsors and mentors can help folks overcome barriers that you might not even realise are there.

And finally, creating interviews that are relevant to the company. Far too many companies have copied interview practices from FAANG when they really don’t need folks with those skills (I’d even argue that FAANG don’t need those skills as much as they claim). Create an interview process that mimics how you actually work in the office and is truly relevant to the skills you are seeking - including personable, core skills, not just technical skills. And be open to folks who need to learn. Trying to fit lots of diverse people through the same homogenous interview process is really affecting so many companies abilities to hire diverse candidates.

Top 3 tips for women looking to break into tech or progress from their current position into a tech role?

1 - Be realistic about how much time you have to learn. Re-skilling takes time and some roles take more time than others. Be open to how you might enter tech and plan to work and learn at the same time if stopping work for a few months is not financially feasible. Customer Support, Analyst, Project Management roles can be less technical but give you insight into technical products while you learn in your personal time and you may already have some of those skills from your previous career. Not everyone in tech writes code.

2 - Find a mentor. Find multiple mentors. People who can tap into mentors actively accelerate their learning, are more confident and produce better quality work compared to people who don’t have mentors.

3 - Find a community. There are so many women in tech communities. Find the ones that suit or personality and schedule, and get involved. These communities often provide opportunities to speak, blog, find jobs and provide access to free or low-cost learning.

When and how was your community created and what inspires you to lead your community?

Ladies of Code was created in 2011. I have been attending their events since 2017 and joined the leadership team at the end of 2019. I have really enjoyed connecting with so many interesting people. I also really love learning and teaching, which we do all the time in Ladies of Code. It’s really motivating and it’s hard not to feel inspired by the incredible women I get to meet, who work so hard to become better technologists.

What is your community’s mission and what impact are you hoping to have on the industry?

We aim to promote, make visible and grow our community members into amazing technologists. We want people to have support while they enter tech from another career and while they grow in their tech careers. Ultimately our goal is to increase the number of women working in technology by helping new women enter and existing women stay in the industry.

What is the best part of being involved with your community?

Working with my incredible team members Suze and Anna, who have their own challenges but still find time to give to Ladies of Code. Closely followed by meeting the wonderful and inspiring women in our community.

What are your plans and goals for 2021, what is the community’s vision for the future?

In 2020, we changed our plans due to the pandemic and it turned out that going online made our events accessible to a whole different set of people. We went international and it really expanded our network and exposure. In 2021, while we immensely look forward to seeing our members in person again, we will still run online events. We have also taken a much more engaged approach. We have 2 weekly recurring events which focus on working on things instead of talks, which we will still do, but we have found this engagement to be really fruitful for our members. We have had feedback about how they have managed to complete personal projects that they have been putting off for years and even found jobs because they learned how to write TDD and completed portfolio projects. This has made us really proud and we hope to continue to find ways to engage with our community members to achieve their own goals.

In tribute to IWD’s 2021 campaign, what do you choose to challenge?

I decided on a personal perspective for this. I choose to challenge myself to maintain my support and availability to my community and mentees. It is a big commitment but I really can see the change when folks feel personally heard and supported. It’s about quality over quantity for me. If I can help a few folks grow in their careers by being available to them, it’s worth the work.

Thanks Sarah.