GitLab's Women's Team Member Resource Group (TMRG), a forum for women to find their voice and be heard, celebrated Women's History Month by reflecting on what it means to be a woman in technology, how they arrived here, and who inspires them. We also gathered advice for other women who want to enter or advance in this industry.
Tips for women in tech
At GitLab, we work within our CREDIT values every day. The organization’s team member resource groups amplify our value of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. And, aligned with our value of transparency, we’re able to share the voices of our TMRG here with our wider GitLab community.
Below are perspectives from:
- Jane Gianoutsos, Manager, Support Engineering
- Michelle Hodges, VP of Global Channels
- Taharah Nix, Associate Paralegal, Employment
- Sherrod Patching, Senior Director, Technical Account Manager
- Juliet Wanjohi, Senior Security Engineer, Security Automation
What advice would you give to women who are considering a career in technology?
Michelle: Unapologetically go for it. The industry requires diverse collaborators and contributors to make sure that the technology that runs the world, our schools, our homes, etc. is made by people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences. Just by showing up in technology, you make a meaningful impact on the world today and for the future.
Sherrod: Honestly, I believe that anyone from any background can be successful and fulfilled in tech. Before pivoting into tech, I started my career as a musician. In tech, we are constantly creating, which is incredibly fulfilling as a creative person.
Taharah: I would say that there's a place for everyone in tech. A lot of times people can be intimidated when they think of working for a tech company because they may not have the experience that they think they need. However, just as with any other company, there are a lot of different business needs within the company and all perspectives are necessary. So, I would say think about what you're most comfortable doing and expand from there. There are endless opportunities for learning.
Juliet: The first step when considering moving into a career in the technology industry would be to come up with a strategy - explore the different pathways available and identify your area of interest. The next step would be to look at ways of leveling up your skills and knowledge by doing certifications, reading books, and listening to podcasts/audiobooks related to your area of interest.
Leverage your network and community connections by reaching out and having coffee chats with individuals who are in the tech field to get more insight and advice on how they got into the industry and tips that helped them along the way.
What tips do you have for women working towards being senior leaders?
Michelle: Leadership requires authenticity in self while being focused on the success of those you lead. Know where you want to go and build those experiences into your CV intentionally. Grit and resilience will serve you well - so build them into your wheelhouse.
Sherrod: Lead by example, even if you are in an individual contributor role. Some of the best leaders I know led long before they had a team. Know where you are going, determine the milestones to getting there, and follow through on execution.
Juliet: Taking the lead in shaping conversations about your career path with your manager is definitely important. You can do this by drawing up a roadmap or a plan of what you aspire to achieve, and where you'd like to be in the future, and being accountable by making a habit of evaluating your progress towards your goal of becoming a senior leader. Another essential tip would be to work towards increasing your sphere of influence and forming a network of professional relationships outside of your immediate team, as this opens a doorway for more collaboration opportunities with other teams and a chance to continually hone and fine-tune your leadership skills.
Did you have any women mentors (formal or informal) when you were building your career? What was some key advice they gave you and how important do you think mentorship is for future leaders?
Michelle: Your “otherness” is your superpower. You have a unique way of approaching problems, leading people, and showing up in a team setting - lean into that. Don’t let your otherness impact your authenticity. Not always but often, boys are raised to be brave while girls are raised to be perfect. Do not let your desire to be perfect stand in the way of taking risks, being brave, and being authentic.
Sherrod: I have had mentors, but not women mentors. I can't advocate enough for having someone further along than you that can help you see things from angles you can't yet see from.
Juliet: Yes, and I still do! One key [piece of] advice that I received at the start of my career from one of my mentors was to leap out of my comfort zone and go where the opportunities are. Waiting for your career to build itself rarely works, it is up to you to be committed and work towards getting those opportunities that you feel will uplift you and get you one step closer to your goal.
Mentorship is an integral piece for future leaders because it gives them an opportunity to shadow and seek advice from women who have had more experience with climbing the tech career ladder, and can help them map out their career path in accordance with their interests and goals. Having a mentor also gives them the chance to receive honest and constructive feedback on any challenges that they may face, and how they can potentially turn these challenges into growth opportunities!
What has been the proudest moment in your career so far and why?
Michelle: Seeing previous employees and mentees thrive in their careers.
Sherrod: One moment that comes to mind is having led the acquisition of another company in my previous role before GitLab. I led the process and was considerably out of my comfort zone, which is when I learn the most.
Jane: I’m proud of:
- Earning not only the trust but the respect of a team member who was adamant I was the wrong person for the role when I was being appointed to it.
- The card I received at a farewell saying I was the most effective manager the highly regarded engineer had worked for.
- The unexpected recommendation and thanks written for me on LinkedIn by someone I had encouraged to notice his leadership skills and who went on to do just that.
- The call I got from a third party after another person’s farewell from an ex-employer to tell me how much that departing person referred to my influence during their farewell speech.
- The customer who insisted on coming to my farewell with flowers and champagne.
- The peer I first worked with in 2005 who I still discuss career growth and life decisions with.
How important are GitLab’s values in building an inclusive culture for women at GitLab?
Michelle: Vitally important. In the workplace, whether it's GitLab or not, women have a responsibility to drive the change that creates not only an equal workplace but an equitable workplace. Equitable meaning working motherhood, caretaking, many women’s belief they need to be perfect, the imbalance of gender or URG representation, etc. - all these and more need to be accounted for to create a truly equitable work environment
GitLab’s culture provides a space for women to lean into this responsibility, speak up, and make iterative and incremental changes that will impact future generations of women in the workplace and women leadership.
Sherrod: Incredibly. I am a wife and a mom of two little girls first and foremost, and GitLab makes it possible to have a career and a career trajectory while also not sacrificing my family.
Jane: GitLab has genuinely been life-changing for me. Through necessity, I’ve always been ok with being often the only woman in the tech team or even the company - or at least I thought I was ok with it!
Then I started working here and discovered what it was to have space held for every voice, where I wasn’t reliant on allies to hold space or amplify my voice or sanity-check my suspicions about bad behaviors. Where microaggressions are understood and challenged if they occur, where I don’t have to fight to advocate for the uniqueness of people but am empowered to support the fulness of all my team and colleagues, where we normalize talking to each other when we see old bad habits in play and where we do that with kindness.
I’ve been moved to tears by people’s kindness, by the depth of inclusion I have come to experience here. I am often left pondering how very different things would have been for me had I experienced this in the early years of my career. I have no doubt mine would have been a very different journey, where I could have expended less energy on battling self-doubt and on healing, and more on growth and contribution.
The Women’s TMRG also invited Christie Lenneville, GitLab VP of UX, to share her experiences during a live speaker series, open to everyone at the company. You can watch the replay of the conversation below.