“I took a computer programming class when I was 13 and it pretty much changed my life,” says iTalent founder and CEO, Renee La Londe over the phone from San Jose, California.
Women in technology are a minority. Women in technology who also occupy leadership roles are even harder to come by. iTalent founder and CEO, La Londe is both and she’s on a mission to make sure she’s not alone.
iTalent was founded on the principle that anything the major companies could do, her mid-sized consultancy business could do it just as well, if not better. This is a standard she also holds herself to, “I did programming in high school and it was never something that intimidated me," she explains. “When I was in university I actually programmed as a consultant as a way to pay the bills.”
The company now has a workforce comprising of 54% women and they work hard to prove to their customers the business benefits of having such a diverse team. The lack of women occupying leadership roles in the technology industry is affecting companies quite dramatically. A study by DDI [PDF] found that the more women a company had in leadership roles, the better its financial success. This correlation between diversity and success doesn’t surprise La Londe in the slightest. “Innovation drives business but how can you be innovative if you’re just hiring one subset of people with similar backgrounds?”
“We’re a digital world now,” she continues. “If women aren’t represented, that’s half the population they’re no longer appealing to.”
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Women who successfully overcome these initial hurdles and make it into the industry are then confronted by a fresh set of barriers once inside. One of the biggest challenges facing women who work in technology is that they don’t hold enough technical roles, only 26% of technical computing roles are held by women across American tech companies. One consequence of this is that many women working in business and marketing roles become intimidated by the technical know-how, causing them to second guess themselves and give up on what might actually be the best solution.
La Londe explains this is evident today amongst some women she knows working in senior roles. “A lot of my female peers have actually said ‘Renee, will you come into this meeting with me and push this idea because they might question my technical ability.’” And while the number of women holding leadership roles continues to be such an embarrassing statistic, it’s a problem that is only set to continue. “There’s not a lot of women with a technical background in this industry which makes it harder for women to find a champion to help push them. As a result, many now look at the technical side of things and chose not to focus on it because they believe it’s too difficult.”
Another factor that she’s seen come into play is the need for women to prove themselves more than their male counterparts. “A lot of women are out there, trying to compete like men but men help each other out.” This idea that women don’t want to help each other out enough is something La Londe says she sees all too often and she’s working on stamping out. “I’ll nominate my female peers for awards and they’re always so surprised. We need to congratulate each other, help each and look out for each other more. That’s the conclusion I’ve reached working in high tech.”
Not only did she reach this conclusion, she also decided to do something about it and last year she set up the Girl’s Leadership Academy Meetup (or GLAM for short). The aim of the event was to expose girls to coding, show them how easy it is and get them excited about it. Much in the same way La Londe had at 13 years old. “It pretty much changed my life. It was an expensive class and my mom didn’t really have the money but I will always be indebted to her for finding a way to get me in.” An experience that undoubtedly influenced the decision to make GLAM free. While the camp focused on getting girls interested in STEM subjects, it was important to La Londe that an emphasis was also placed on business and leadership. “We taught them how to vision board and talked them through the importance of developing a business plan. We paired them up, gave them an idea, got them to develop a plan and then had them pitch it to us in a Shark Tank-like setting.”
For La Londe, the event was not only about encouraging girls to join the world of technology, it was a way to showcase some of the female talent that already exists within it. “The great thing is it’s not just me teaching them, we brought in all these amazing and powerful women from iTalent’s customers and technology companies around the Bay Area to talk them through every step.” They were also able to highlight some of the problems they’ve faced as a woman in tech and get the group to talk about their own challenges and how they’ve overcome them.
And the next step? “We had such a big response and there’s been a lot of people saying ‘can you do one in my city?’ We want to try and bring it over to the UK at some point so that’s what we’re looking at the moment.” GLAM are looking to put on two events next year but they know the demand is there for a lot more. “We’re just trying to figure out how we do it and keep the quality.”
So why does she do it when, as a CEO and company founder, she’s already broken the ultimate glass ceiling. “We live in a digital world, everything we do is captured. Women need to understand how to play, how to shape and how to lead in that space. Not understanding how to code, at some point in the future will be like not understanding how to read or write. That’s the message I want to get out there, how important it is not to be left out.”
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