Working from home is helping women advance their tech careers

Now that everyone is working from home recognition is based more on output and quality than on face time with leadership.

Working from home is helping women advance their tech careers

TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Nancy Wang, CEO of Advancing Women in Product (AWIP), a nonprofit organization for women in tech, about how working from home could get more women into tech fields. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Nancy Wang: AWIP, or Advancing Women in Product, was started in 2017. The purpose behind AWIP is really to create a community for women who are already in product or engineering roles, targeting mid- to senior-career-level women and other minorities who want to advance to the executive levels, because, especially when you go to college, it's, "Do this, do this, follow this, and you'll get a job in big tech." But as soon as you get there, what is the next step? How do you move up the ladder? I realized that for each woman, the experience is incredibly unique and individual. However, there are certain milestones, there are certain skills that one needs to acquire in order to be eligible for an executive role. That's really what we do, is we provide skills-based workshops, we provide executive coaching and sponsorship through our ambassador community. Then lastly, we take all of those learnings and share them with our corporate sponsors, partners, as well as NGO organizations.

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The really unique thing about AWIP is that we are a collection of over 140 full-time practitioners in the field directly. We give realtime and real-life examples to help our members. For example, full-time, I am a service leader at Amazon Web Services, where I lead an organization of over 50 engineers, product managers, and designers, but AWIP is how I leverage my full-time skills to provide that coaching and learning to our members.

Karen Roby: When we talk about working-from-home opportunities, now that so many of us are working from home, talk about how women are impacted and how you see this potentially as a good thing.

Nancy Wang: I recently wrote an article about how COVID-19, if not, for example, adjusting the right way could lead to a pink collar recession. Some of those findings are, for example, traditionally women are responsible for taking care of the household, taking care of the children, but what I'm finding actually more and more these days directly from our members is that they are now receiving help from their spouses, from their family members, and all of that is contributing to their ability to give it their all and their work. Part of that then also leads to their ability to move up the career ladder. That's actually a positive outcome that I'm finding out from the COVID-19 period.

Karen Roby: For working from home, Nancy, especially when we talk about technical roles, is this something that before you feel like was really difficult for women especially? Explain what that was like for women.

Nancy Wang: Working from home and being a manager myself, there are certain things that, for example, when a woman is giving birth or when a woman needs to take care of young children, sometimes that necessitates that she worked from the home during certain periods, I know that a lot of folks in a lot of organizations are working toward more flexible work hours, and I do think that's a good thing, because ultimately, we should be a meritocracy where workers are evaluated based on their output and their achievements rather than face time or what traditional industry calls butts in seats. I'm not a firm believer of that, and I'm glad to see that policies are changing.

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With that said, however, nothing does replace face time with leadership, so sometimes there could be hallway conversations or many catch-up sessions after large meetings, for example. If you work from home, you're naturally going to be absent from that. What COVID-19 has actually done to my earlier point is really level the playing field, because now everyone's remote. You can no longer have, "Hey, let's go chat two minutes about X before the meeting." That's really where studies show some of the backroom dealings or decisions really get made. Women, in my opinion, now just have an equal chance to make themselves heard and be part of that decision-making process.

Karen Roby: Obviously this pandemic was not something any of us could see coming, so things have had to change rapidly and we're in the middle of it still, as companies are shuffling things around and trying to figure out how to best work through this. What do you see just a couple of months from now how things will continue to evolve as companies are changing in light of the pandemic and how will that overall be good for women?

Nancy Wang: Speaking to some of the corporate sponsors that AWIP works with, including VMware, and of course, Amazon among other companies, is that we find that companies who have distributed offices are now bringing all of those offices together. Especially, one of the phenomena that's resulting from COVID is, I'm sure you've heard of the gig economy. One of our partners, her name is Jarah Euston, she's a founder and CEO of a partner organization of AWIP's called Wharton Alumnae Founders & Funders. She herself is a founder of an organization called WorkWhile. That's a Khosla [Ventures]-backed [organization] that focuses on the gig economy. Just from talking to her, as well as other founders in this space, what I'm seeing is that women who have specialized skills, whether it's in IT or engineering or design or marketing, are better able to apply those skills, because like I said, COVID has really leveled the playing field that is more about output and achievements rather than face time.

Everyone is now assessed more so, and I can speak that from my own perspective, on what the output is. For example, even on my own team, currently, we do have our contract workers. For those contract workers, I assess them the exact same way as I would assess a full-time employee, "How many deliverables have you produced over the last, let's say, evaluation period? What was that quality of that deliverable?" Once you remove the full-time versus contract distinction and lines become blurred, that's where women who traditionally tend to go toward more gig-economy roles, because it allows them that flexibility to take care of household or take care of their family are now given an equal opportunity to advance their career.

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Karen Roby: Leveling the playing field, that's a good thing, something I know we've all been hoping for, and certainly you've been working toward. Nancy, we appreciate you being here with us today, and I think it'd be great to check back in with you, say, in a couple of months just to see how things are going and some of the experiences that you have witnessed with some of those that you work with. Even a year from now, what is your hope or vision that you would like to see for this particular sect of women here that we're talking about? What do you hope for them?

Nancy Wang: What I hope for them is that they feel supported and feel like they have just as much of an opportunity to advance their careers, whether they are gig economy, whether they are independent contractors or whether they are full time (employees), again, removing that distinction. For the women watching this, I really encourage you to check out our chapters, as well as our online community of over 16,000, where we have resources on how to advance your career and how to gain some of those skills that hiring managers will look for in executive roles.

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TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Nancy Wang, CEO of Advancing Women in Product (AWIP), a non-profit organization for women in tech, about how working from home could get more women into tech fields.

Image: Mackenzie Burke, TechRepublic