Throughout history, women have faced gender discrimination. Not only that, but many important discoveries and technological contributions from women have gone unrecognized. We know that women are underrepresented in the tech sector despite the evidence that teams with women in leadership roles produce higher levels of profitability. But overhauling systemic issues takes time.
Despite all this, some of the most powerful people in the industry also happen to be women. Harini Sridharan from Betterworks shared, “Many [women] have inspired me: Sheryl Sandberg – former COO of Meta Platforms, Susan Wojcicki – former CEO of YouTube, Safra Catz – CEO of Oracle, and Fidji Simo – CEO of Instacart.”
While there is still a long way to go in establishing gender equality, pay equity, and overall recognition, it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come.
The first women we look up to are often in our own families or the women we interact with before our professional lives begin. “My mom has been one of my greatest inspirations, and her learnings have helped me in my career. She was my main role model and taught me the meaning of being passionate, having a glass-half-full attitude, and the value of understanding perspectives,” says Elif Tutuk, Global Head of Product, AtScale.
Heather M. Harris, Field Chief Data & Analytics Officer at Alteryx, revealed,
“My mother was my greatest influencer. She recognized and nurtured my interests in math and programming, along with my many other interests. Despite our modest means, she provided opportunities for me at a very young age to learn computer programming and other advanced science topics in summer and weekend enrichment programs.”
Women establishing careers in tech today also imagine how much better it could be for the next generation. Kate Bachman, VP of Corporate Communications & Brand at Invicti Security says, "When I think about the workplaces [my nieces Bella and Hazel] will enter, I see this critical need to change the industry and do everything in my power to make it more equal and fair for them. I know the fight women face won’t be over by the time they start working - in tech or otherwise - but if we can advance the road further, at least they won’t need to have the same fights we are having today.”
In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to hear from our community about the women who have inspired them to pursue careers in technology. Let’s give kudos to the talented people inspiring the next generation of female technology leaders.
What trailblazing women have inspired you? Here’s what our community shared:
Dr. Rhiannon Little-Surowski, CEO, Brain Jar – “I find the work of Kimberly Bryant to be so important to the tech industry. She founded Black Girls CODE, a non-profit dedicated to introducing girls of color ages 7-17 to technology and computer science. So many tech CEOs have pledged to bring a more diverse workforce into their companies but cited their biggest problem as an empty funnel.
Not enough people of color, especially women, are interested in careers in tech. That’s why Black Girls CODE is so important. It’s bringing young girls into the fold, and in a few years, they’ll be ready for jobs in tech, ready to fill those pipelines. And we all know that a diverse workforce makes a stronger, more resilient company overall.”
Nobel laureates Frances Arnold and Donna Strickland
Melissa Darejeh, Computational Engineer, Vaultree – “There have been quite a few female thought leaders who have changed the course of history, but some who have inspired me personally are recent Nobel laureates Frances Arnold and Donna Strickland. Strickland was awarded the Nobel prize in Physics in 2018 for her work developing high-intensity, ultra-short laser pulses, which led to a better understanding of matter, as well as practical applications in medicine and industry. Arnold is a chemical engineer who won the Nobel prize in Chemistry the same year for her work on directed evolution, which involves genetic engineering techniques to create new enzymes.
These women have made significant contributions to their respective fields and serve as role models for women and men looking to excel in their industries. Their lectures are available to watch online as well; it is amazing to have these current thought leaders so accessible.”
Shelly Ahlers and Swati Baradia
Kalpana Tummala, VP of Engineering, Program Management, Invicti Security – "I have two inspirational women leaders - the first being Shelly Ahlers, senior vice president at ACI Worldwide.com. I had the pleasure of working with her for all my seven years of tenure at ACI and learned many things from her, including being able to speak your mind, have the balance of being soft but strong, and driving clarity for ourselves and others. She instilled confidence in me not to fear the unknowns and be practical and ready to handle the risks.
Another inspirational leader is Swati Baradia, senior vice president at LPL Financial. I am inspired by her balanced approach to handling issues, her ease in identifying people’s strengths and weaknesses, and her ability to handle any situation by breaking it down into simple steps. She is a great inspiration for me!"
High EQ + IQ leaders
Harini Sridharan, Product Marketing, Betterworks – “Being in the technology industry, for me, was a default choice. I am Indian by birth, and as you might have heard, Indian parents are obsessed with engineering. It stems from an era a few decades ago when India started on a path of modernization and industrialization to catch up with the first-world countries - so engineers became highly coveted.
But the women who have inspired me the most are VP and C-level women executives at the companies I’ve worked at. I saw them be empathetic and collaborative yet confident and authoritative. I witnessed them lean in and have the talent to back it up. I saw them be fabulous at elevating other women at work and leading with both EQ (emotional intelligence) and IQ. It is much easier to be inspired by and emulate bits and pieces of these women that I’ve seen in action.”
Mahkameh Yaghmaie, Director of Engineering, Clio – "I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredible people, but there is one woman in particular who has truly inspired me. Her name is Solmaz Shahalizadeh. During my time at Shopify, I had the opportunity to witness Solmaz’s remarkable growth and the profound impact she made throughout the organization. Her leadership style was a masterclass in balance.
She exuded confidence yet remained humble and approachable. Her vulnerability was also a key part of her success, allowing her to connect with people on a deeper level and build trust and respect. Her growth and unwavering commitment to excellence set a powerful example for me and countless others."
Mentoring for the future
Ashley Kramer, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer (CMSO), GitLab – “I didn’t have strong female mentors myself, so I wanted to address the problem by mentoring others. I believe it’s so important for women, in particular, to share their knowledge and support the next set of leaders on their way up. I have mentees worldwide, from the US to London and Dubai. My advice to these women is always, ‘don’t be afraid to try something new.’
I was a computer science major, but I didn’t want to write code for the rest of my life. Being a developer wasn’t my passion, but there were elements of building a product that led me to speak to people in different types of roles, from product to marketing to sales. Taking the time to step outside your comfort zone and network to hear other people’s experiences is an invaluable part of any career journey and is integral in helping you find your own path.”
Julie Furt, SVP of Global Services & Support, Talend – “I remember reading biographies of major business leaders while growing up in the ‘90s - it was a given that they would all be men. But when Carly Fiorina became CEO of HP in 1999, it struck me that women could also be successful leaders in business and tech. This happened while I was in college, and until then, I had written off pursuing a career in the tech space.”
Alvina Antar, CIO, Okta – “There are so many women I have been lucky enough to be inspired by throughout my career. Two women come to mind that inspired my career in its earlier stages and as I’ve progressed.
Adriana Karaboutis, Chief Information & Digital Officer at National Grid. During my 17 years at Dell, I was fortunate enough to work with Adriana while she was CIO from 2010-2014. Adriana’s visionary and authentic leadership inspired me to pursue my first CIO role at Zuora and now at Okta. Adriana will always have a huge influence on my life.
Yvonne Wassenaar, Board Director at JFrog, Arista Networks, Rubrik & Forrester, and former CEO, Puppet and CIO, New Relic. I first met Yvonne as a customer when she was CIO at New Relic. From the day I met her, she challenged me to think bigger and bolder. She saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself, and is the reason I pursued board opportunities and am now a proud Board Director at Couchbase and Girls in Tech. She will forever be my inspiration and a reminder that together, we will change the world!”
Adele Revella and April Dunford
Megan Sawle, Director of Product Marketing, LogicGate – "When I took my first product marketing role at a cybersecurity SaaS company, navigating the complexities of the industry and my new responsibilities was, at times, overwhelming. So when I stumbled across books and resources from Adele Revella and April Dunford, it was like getting handed cheat codes to some of the biggest challenges facing me at the time.
It’s easy to get lost in the complexities of any role in tech. While the problems we attempt to solve and the products we bring to market get increasingly sophisticated, at the end of the day, we’re all just humans trying to help other humans. Adele and April provided me with repeatable and scalable playbooks and frameworks that can simplify even the most complex go-to-market challenges. Their willingness to share their knowledge with others like me has been a rising tide in my career and helped me manage the imposter syndrome that so many of us face as women in tech."
Equity in tech innovators
Lori Witzel, Director, Thought Leadership and Customer Engagement, TIBCO – “I’d have to set an arbitrary dividing line here and separate my go-to’s for inspiration into two groups:
My women colleagues – past and present – who inspire me as they juggle career, family, community, and personal commitments. Their grit and grace, and their generosity with lessons learned, inspire me to do my best while staying true to my values.
[ Learn the non-negotiable skills, technologies, and processes CIOs are leaning on to build resilience and agility in this HBR Analytic Services report: Pillars of resilient digital transformation: How CIOs are driving organizational agility. ]