Female role models are vital in improving the position of women in the technology industry, according to a leading executive at Salesforce.
Melissa Di Donato, vice president of Salesforce's independent software vendor division for EMEA and Asia Pacific (pictured), told V3 that successful women in technology need to be visible to others in the industry.
"I think it is really important for women who are in business today to remain visible. I think women in particular take inspiration from other women," she said.
Di Donato went on to explain that women in executive positions need to be role models and mentors for other women in the industry, and for the future generations of females working in technology.
Such role models could include Sharon White, who will become the next chief executive of Ofcom, the first woman to hold the position.
Di Donato also acknowledged the need for digital skills to be developed at grassroots levels to encourage more young women to consider a career in technology, effectively resolving the industry's gender divide from the bottom up.
A visible voice
However, she emphasised the need for a "top down" approach where high-flying female executives encourage and support other women in the industry and act as role models.
"I think we finally got some really great women that want to speak out and talk and want to be visible, and want to be mentors and role models and leaders. And if people see more of them, inevitably they will set examples for others to follow," she said.
"I think it so important that we talk about it and get women out as much as possible, because it's only going to help future generations."
Di Donato described this approach as a "bit of a chicken and egg situation" whereby women need role models but there are too few of them.
"Without having women in executive roles there's no one to push from the top. These women have nothing to look up to and aspire to if there are no women at executive levels," she explained.
"If I have an impact on that generation, or even the women that are in careers right now in technology looking for inspiration, it is absolutely my obligation; it is absolutely my responsibility.
"If you don't see them you cannot be anything like them. If we all sit around and know that there is a topic that needs to be addressed and that we're passionate about, and yet we choose to have no voice, that top down will never be addressed."
Change and instability
V3 was keen to get Di Donato's take on why technology remains a male-dominated industry despite the growing level of women in executive positions in other fields.
She does not believe that the industry is a "boy's club" in the way it has traditionally been viewed, but said that the pace of change and disruption does not appeal to people who want stability and a good work-life balance.
"I think a lot of women look for some level of stability. Typically, if you look at the market, men are more willing to take risks, calculated and uncalculated, than women," she said.
"That also yields further interest in a lot of change. Typically men are really adaptable and embrace constant change, whereas women, typically and statistically speaking, want more stability."
As a high-achieving female executive, Di Donato is cleary one of the exceptions to this and, having recently started a family, she bucks the trend by finding a balance between her work and family life without needing to compromise on either.
A perspective change
It was the birth of Di Donato's first child that changed her perspective on women in the technology industry.
Di Donato had not felt strongly about often being the only female in a room full of male co-workers, nor did she feel it was a topic to speak about, saying that she used to think: "I don't want to be pointed out; I don't want to be the anomaly in the room."
She added that she rarely encountered problems relating to her gender, stating that she was, and still is, a "business person not a business woman", and that the obstacles she faced were typical of anyone on a career path.
However, having a daughter changed all that. Di Donato explained that her perspective shifted to the question of: "What kind of world do I want my daughter to go into?"
She became focused on championing approaches and initiatives that make the technology industry more open to women, and create a path for her daughter should she wish to follow her mother's footsteps into technology.
Di Donato acknowledged that technology may not have been the traditional industry for women. "Perhaps for the girls of my generation tech wasn't the cool thing to do, it was more of 'boys' sport', if you will," she said.
Yet she wants to change this perspective for her daughter's generation, citing the example of her daughter drawing a picture of a leader, and being just as likely to draw a female figure as a male one.
Playing a role
Di Donato added that by choosing to keep working and have a family she will promote this ideal of female role models in technology.
"By staying in my career and continuing to work and excel, I will give so much back to my daughter," she said.
With such an approach, and the effort being put into teaching digital skills to both genders, Di Donato said that the position of women in the industry is set to change.
"I guarantee you that because we're having more and more female role models every day that ‘bottom-up top-down' approach will begin to squash the problem we have in the industry," she said.
Doing this will open up the technology industry to more women, helping bring an influx of fresh ideas, perspectives and talent that will only stand to benefit the sector as a whole.
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