Eileen Gallagher (INEX)
What is your current role in the industry?
I work with marketing and membership development at INEX, where my role is focused on community building, liaising with existing members and bringing new members onboard and I also run the INEX meetings. Since 2018, I am also a member of the Euro-IX Board.
How did you begin your career in the tech industry?
Although I work in the tech industry, and engage with a lot of network engineers, I come from a business communications and PR background, but I was first introduced to the IXP industry in 1996. I’ve been at INEX 14 years but prior to that, I worked in the technology PR industry working with a wide variety of telecoms and technology clients including LINX, Lucent and Motorola.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing women working in the tech industry today?
For some people, the most serious challenges revolve around a lack of self-belief, that sometimes stems from a career lifetime’s experience of being subtly or indeed overtly undermined. While the most important solutions to these challenges are knowledge and support to break the cycle, there is often too much focus on talking about how bad the industry is or why there aren’t more effective quotas. I don’t see this as helpful – I’d like to hear more people coming forward with solutions. We need to distinguish between recognising the issues and talking about things we can actually do – for companies, toxic behaviour towards others should be treated much the same as physical abuse. Companies need to take responsibility and provide effective routes for reporting.
For me, the goal is to keep getting women involved, and keep bringing them into the circle. Each time a woman speaks at a meeting of colleagues, at an industry meeting or on a panel, you make it more likely that another woman will speak up on future occasions.
Another big challenge is that a lot of very talented women working in tech end up being sidelined into sales or marketing management roles, when they started in engineering. There are obviously some for whom this is an excellent career choice and who have just the right mix of skills to make this a success. But I have also seen others who made this move to escape toxic work environments, where they have had their confidence undermined, their work criticised or stolen and, in some cases, their health destroyed. The individuals themselves, their employers and colleagues need to stand forward on this and remove this behaviour from the industry vernacular.
What do you think needs to be done to help promote more diversity in the tech industry?
We need to keep asking ourselves: how am I stepping forward and who am I pulling up the ladder behind me? This could involve anything that helps you and others develop their career from speaking in a group at work, development of standards, contributing on a mailing list or IRC, at an industry meeting or going forward for Executive Board elections. These are the actions that change perceptions.
There is no glass ceiling in most cases, just a million invisible glass threads holding us onto the floor below. You have to go out there and cut these invisible threads for yourself or others in your sphere of influence. If there happens to be a glass ceiling then you’ll be much more effective at getting past it if you’re right there banging on the glass with both fists. We need to look at what is holding us down and address it. No doubt, along the way, we will confront other institutional or social issues, but at least we have taken control. And because this is too big for any of us to change on our own, the most effective response is for every woman to step forward and maybe bring two women with them. You spread this from the most senior to the most junior roles in the industry, and all the way back to universities and schools. Look at those coming behind you and cut some threads holding them back and encourage them to step forward.
For the last few years, at INEX we have been aiming for a better balance of female/male speakers at our meetings. Our approach has been proactive. Go out and find the best woman in the business to address a particular topic, and help them develop their story, if needs be. A lot of women don't put themselves forward. This can be due to lack of belief they can do it, someone else did more work on the project, time constraints, or family commitments. I’ve heard all the excuses and they are all valid but we do need to step forward.
That is one of the reasons I stood for election to the Euro-IX Board. I had been asked previously to stand and had, like many others, 20 reasons why I shouldn’t. In Autumn 2018, at the RIPE meeting I realised that I needed to step forward. I want those alongside me who have also stood back to step forward and those coming after me to see that it’s possible. We all need to be brave.
What would you like to see in the future for women working in the tech industry?
I’d like to see more women staying in the core of the industry they enjoy. Many women leave the industry, as the jobs often involve a lot of travelling and this can be hard on anyone, female or male, with a small family. I would like it to be normal for there to be women on panels or speaking at industry conferences, more women listed on industry standards, and for male and female presenters to be treated with the same level of respect and active listening. I would hope that more women will stand for industry positions, developing their careers and absolutely helping to support those who come behind them. Turn around and see who you can help cut some threads!
What do you wish you had known when starting your career?
You need to be brave, step forward and keep stepping forward. Show people that you are not willing to be held back.
Marketing and Membership Development