International Women's Day 2021: Female tech titans on how to thrive in the enterprise and beyond

Help forge a gender-equal world, and start spreading the word that #ChooseToChallenge and #IWD2021 are this year's official IWD hashtags.

women's hands together

Image: iStock/Prostock-Studio

On March 8, the world will celebrate International Women's Day 2021 (IWD), which began in 1911. It comes with a battle cry that's also a challenge: Can you help forge a gender-equal world? Raise awareness against bias? Take action for equality?

The theme of IWD 2021 is apt: "A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge." The global day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and issues a call-to-action for accelerating women's equality. Use #ChooseToChallenge on social media to "call out gendered actions or assumptions," "challenge gender stereotypes and bias" and "maintain a gender-equal mindset."

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

IWD isn't specific to a country, group or organization, but a global movement that continues to push forward its initial mission to celebrate women's achievements and increase visibility, while calling out inequality. There are more than 630 virtual events worldwide this year.

Women continue to be underrepresented in the tech world: Women are wary of entering the field. There are increases noted for women in senior IT positions, but only 10% work in a female-majority team, compared with 48% working in a male-majority team.

Last year's IWD was held at the very start of the pandemic, and clearly the enterprise has undergone numerous changes. We asked female leaders in the industry to weigh in on the worldwide state of the IWD mission, the effects and impact of COVID-19 and the impact they hope IWD provides.

SEE: Women in tech: Funding for women's startups still lags (TechRepublic)

Here's what VIPs had to say about gaining traction and thriving in the tech universe.

mary-habib.jpg

May Habib, CEO of Writer

Image: Writer

May Habib, CEO of Writer

Habib believes "government-funded daycare" will be invaluable to working mothers who bear the brunt of childcare. Habib also hopes for a "trickle-down effect" from working mothers in positions of power in tech. "It's a stake in the ground to women at all levels in the organization, you can work here even if your home life is a full-time job, too. Fund more women founders."

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Anna Curzon, chief product officer, Xero

anna-curzon.jpg

Anna Curzon, chief product officer of Xero

Image: Xero

"To solve the right problems, we need more women joining the tech industry at all stages of their career, so we can think deeply about problems we want to solve. Technology impacts society and communities across the globe, to identify the most important issues we need a balanced and diverse workforce. A gender balance brings better business outcomes, greater profitability and value creation. Better balance between women and men means broader insight, more empathy and fresh ideas. We need to keep women in the industry. This means inclusive work environments where women can thrive personally and advance professionally."

Victoria Phillips, COO at Avionos

"For women working in the technology field, seek out women leaders, ask for advice and listen to their stories. I think you'll find there are many commonalities and similar experiences, and you can learn from those who have been down the road before. It's a great opportunity to get real and practical advice as well as feel validated you're not alone."

farnaz-ronaghi.jpg

Farnaz Ronaghi, CTO and founder of NovoEd

Image: NovoEd

Farnaz Ronaghi, CTO and founder of NovoEd

"We remind ourselves of the actions we need to take to close the economic and opportunity gaps between genders. Women remain underrepresented and are impacted by sexism and misogyny. Underrepresentation [can be] passed off as a pipeline problem, but the reality is that there are deeper cultural issues at play." She admitted there are "issues attracting women to STEM." Many women experience working on bad teams and ultimately give up on engineering. "Every woman in engineering is a change agent." Ronaghi advocates for "the development of new organizational capabilities that invest in coaching and feedback, collaboration, and cultivation of an empathic spirit that welcomes, recognizes and rewards the contributions of female colleagues."

SEE: Women wanted: The tech industry's quest for gender diversity via role models (TechRepublic)

Challin Meink, senior director of marketing at Avionos

"Women in technology should keep in mind" they've "earned the right to share opinions and recommendations, so speak up about a project, an issue or to guide your company in the right direction. Ask for more. Take up space. Confidently own your perspective."

evgeniya-naumov.jpg

Evgeniya Naumova, vice president of global sales network at Kaspersky

Image: Kaspersky

Evgeniya Naumova, vice president of global sales network at Kaspersky

"We all have the tools within us required to achieve our goals, and if you feel your calling is in the technology sector, you absolutely will succeed. When you have mentors around you to show you the way, it can be quite easy to follow in their footsteps."

Rita Gurevich, founder and CEO, Sphere

"Women have brought a different perspective [to cybersecurity], focusing on the end-user equally to the technology itself. The advice I would give women entering into cybersecurity is you do not have to go it alone. We are a close community here to help each other and provide guidance. Find a mentor."

brittney-burgett.jpg

Brittney Burgett, head of communications at Bestow

Image: Bestow

Brittney Burgett, head of communications at Bestow

"I love fintech, and highly recommend it. It's thrilling to work at companies fundamentally changing every facet of our lives. We need more diversity, more women and people of color in senior leadership roles. With diverse perspectives and backgrounds, tech companies can create better products to serve everyone equally."

Irina Matveeva, chief data scientist at Reveal eDiscovery technology 

"There are tremendous opportunities for women in tech, we just have to be bold enough to embrace them. I love to see young female engineers and scientists who don't hold back and don't worry about a room full of male colleagues. They know that they are knowledgeable and are proud to bring unique perspectives and talents."

kathryn-petralia.jpg

Kathryn Petralia, co-founder of Kabbage

Image: Kabbage

Kathryn Petralia, co-founder of Kabbage

"I hope that women and men reflect on the important work done by those who have gone before us." Petralia said, "There are still women without access to basic financial services products and are unable to participate in their local economies."

Judy Sunblade, vice president of revenue growth and enablement at WhiteHat Security

"Women have shied away" from cybersecurity careers, "because of misconceptions of being too technical. There are different expectations of girls and boys as it pertains to STEM. Continue to fight for equality for girls and women, it will make it easier to capitalize on careers in tech."

SEE: New partnership can help more women enter tech careers, helping fill in-demand jobs (TechRepublic)

Jennifer Geisler, CMO at Vectra

"With online cybersecurity courses, women can work around other demands. Cybersecurity is a great career for women who like to solve problems, hunt down cybercriminals, protect people and assets, test resiliency and/or teach others. Ask cybersecurity professionals for 30 minutes to learn from them. There are scholarships in support of cybersecurity education. Some companies will help pay for you to cross-train into cybersecurity or fund continued education." 

heather-ames.jpg

Heather Ames, COO and co-founder of Neurala

Image: Neurala

Heather Ames, COO and co-founder of Neurala

"The pandemic has added fuel to the fire of inequality in this country. It will take empathy and grace to even begin to understand the impact and to support women as they navigate their careers and support their families."

Heather Paunet, senior vice president at Untangle

"Having mixed genders in leadership roles in security gives the right balance of perspectives. To succeed, young women require a passion to do something they believe in. It's an easy sell to many women that working within cybersecurity is not just high tech, it's a way to be part of something that makes the world a better place. Being a part of blocking [cybercrime] and keeping people's assets safe and secure is very satisfying."

Also see

By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist covering film, TV, entertainment, b...