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Women in tech: What does working in a male-dominated world mean?

#TechThursday

Women in tech: What does working in a male-dominated world mean?
We uncover the misconceptions, obstacles and skills required to work in the tech industry

Times have changed — look around you, and you'll see men donning rompers, slapping on concealer and getting manicures. It's no surprise that gender roles in careers have also shifted. Women have long broken out of beauty counters and found their true calling in jobs like engineering, aviation, and even technology. Coding is one of the many skills that a woman can definitely hone — and in this case, it's what Tina Weyand, chief product officer at HomeAway, does on a regular basis. Helming the product team of this globally acclaimed web platform that specialises in vacation rentals, Weyand looks after user research and content production across Boston, Sydney, Singapore, London, and Madrid.

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We sat down with the busy lady boss while she was in town for a work trip, and sussed out what's it really like being on top in the tech industry.

Have you always wanted to work in tech, especially when you were a kid figuring out your ambitions?
Not necessarily. But as a kid, I was exposed to technology really early at school so I took a coding class when I was about 11. I was an avid video game player and really good at math, logic and grammar. I just gravitated towards things that were really structured. I ended up getting an undergraduate degree in philosophy — that critical thinking component fits really nicely with technology.

What do you think are some of the misconceptions that people have about working in tech?
I think they think it's boring, and you're sort of sitting there by yourself. It probably used to be like that but it's much more dynamic now. In the past, there probably used to be engineers sitting by themselves in a room, and when business comes in, they'll just be told to do whatever it is, and they never really saw the customer. It's so much more fluid now and it's also about teams working together. Just like how technology is changing every single day, so does the business.

"It's so much more fluid now and it's also about teams working together. Just like how technology is changing every single day, so does the business."

Why do you think the industry is always so male dominated?
It has a lot to do with socialisation at a young age — like how parents would gift video games to the boy in the house, and never the girl. Video games are heavily marketed to boys so girls don't really have direct access. By the time they get into school, they're actually a little bit behind in technology.

I think the other main issue is what I call the value system. What's valued in technology is working really hard, long hours, working a little bit by yourself, sitting down to code, so there's not a lot of interaction and being a risk taker. These traits tend to be a little isolating to women.

However, I think that's changing pretty dramatically. Now when you look at technology and how that industry is developing, it's very agile and fast-changing and requires a tremendous amount of collaboration. So when you look at who's going to be successful in technology going forward, it's those engineers who can adapt really quickly. What makes you stand out is your ability to collaborate and communicate and because the value system is going to change, that's going make it a lot more attractive to women.

"It has a lot to do with socialisation at a young age — like how parents would gift video games to the boy in the house, and never the girl. Video games are heavily marketed to boys so girls don't really have direct access."

What are some challenges you face by being female in your job?  
I would say that outward discrimination in the workplace is pretty rare, but what was more common is the subtle gestures where you enter a meeting room. Guys have a habit of shaking hands or saying, "Let's have a game someday," and this is where you have to insert yourself into their conversations. They're not going to reach out to you, so what you have to do is think strategically and figure out what that assimilation is gonna be like. Doing so is more than 50% of what you actually need to do in your job.

"They're not going to reach out to you, so what you have to do is think strategically and figure out what that assimilation is going to be like."

What are the skills that one should have when it comes to working in your position?
Critical thinking is an amazing skill because it helps you still things down when working with different elements, and it also makes you curious. So when I'm hiring people, I'm also evaluating people who are good performers — are they asking the right questions, or are they just sitting there passively receiving information?

The world we live in is extremely digitally driven right now. How do you keep up with the ever-changing trends in your consumer needs?
Part of it is spending time in Asia. Just reading about what it's like to do business in India or what's it like to do business in Singapore or Japan doesn't really get you close enough, so you actually need to be physically present —user research labs are critical but you need to go and see how are they actually operating. That's one way of keeping up, and reading TechCrunch or anything that's coming up is really helpful as well.

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