Celebrating Women in Tech - Amanda Gowland
"A little empathy goes a long way, and great things can happen when people listen to each other and feel that they are heard."
What is your current role in the industry?
I am a Senior Communications Officer at the RIPE NCC. My role is focused on the internal culture change programme and external diversity efforts at RIPE Meetings.
Why did you choose a career in the tech industry?
It wasn’t a conscious choice, and when I started there was a steep learning curve. It has been an advantage, though, when it comes to diversity issues. I feel that I can see things with a certain detachment which helps when dealing with discussions and defusing tension.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman working in the industry?
When it comes to promoting a more inclusive workplace, one challenge has been the pushback. It seems to be a simple truth that more diverse groups perform better than homogenous ones, but it can be a challenge to show that bringing women into the community is not a critique of men. Working to promote inclusion, I have seen how attitudes change when men are involved in the discussion and can see that their feedback is welcomed and appreciated. I remember giving a talk on diversity at a RIPE Meeting and looking out at a sea of male faces. It really reminds you how important it is that we keep talking about diversity and include as many people as we can in these conversations.
What do you think needs to be done to help promote more diversity in the tech industry?
Inclusion efforts have to start earlier, and include getting girls interested in technology and promoting parental awareness that choices of toys and activities can reinforce gender stereotypes. We also need to look at the high attrition rates for women in the tech industry, particularly for working mothers. In many countries, parental leave is set up in a way that tends to put more of a burden on the mother. With the tech industry being such a fast moving world, being out of the workplace for some time can be a real disadvantage. Many women move away from a tech career after having children. I think the tech industry needs to find more effective ways to re-integrate working mothers into the workplace. That is one reason why we introduced childcare facilities at RIPE Meetings. As a mother myself, I can see how important this kind of support can be. I am also very happy that we’ve also introduced mentoring at RIPE Meetings and that we have diversity tickets, where companies can sponsor attendees from under-represented groups to come to the meetings. I think it is important that companies have options for showing their commitment to diversity work. Many companies are now more proactive in promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce. That’s why you see a lot more C-level jobs, such as Chief Diversity Officer, that focus on this area.
What do you think the future holds for women working in the tech industry?
The tech industry still has a long way to go. But when I look how far we’ve come, I am very encouraged. We’ve seen major changes in the last two years and increasing receptiveness from the RIPE community towards diversity efforts. I think things will improve as more male colleagues participate. We have seen such positive developments in the RIPE community as more people become involved in the conversation around gender equality. There is increased empathy, sympathy and a real willingness to work together to make the workplace better for everyone. To really change things we have to hear about our different experiences. This is how awareness increases and attitudes change. I hope that we will see more men becoming advocates for women’s issues in the workplace.
What do you wish you had known when starting your career?
The important thing is not to get discouraged. It can be difficult in the beginning when there are attempts to downplay the importance of work to promote diversity. This is the kind of reaction that sees this as a “nice to have, best effort” kind of thing. But if you persist, and get people working together, you start to see a change in attitudes and find people taking this more seriously. There are more male colleagues who are genuinely interested in making things better for everyone and understand that this is not about criticising men but about women asking for an equal seat at the table. A little empathy goes a long way, and great things can happen when people listen to each other and feel that they are heard.
Senior Communications Officer