For decades, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields were considered "boys clubs." While historically, women have been an integral part of STEM since the very beginning, it's true that the perception gap has proven troublesome and difficult to shake. According to the National Center for Women & Technology, although women made up 57 percent of the total workforce in the United States in 2015, they only accounted for one-quarter of employees in computer-related occupations. Yet in recent years, the tide appears to be turning as more women take their place in tech and science.
Given the pressing need to improve women's representation in not only this industry but STEM in general, what changes need to be made and how can we foster greater representation? To get some insight into the careers of women in technology, we turned to a few of the senior members of the IDI Billing team:
Driven by a love of design
When Erin McLellan, CostGuard® Solutions Development Manager, began her career 18 years ago, she had already found her passion developing computer software. Thanks to her parents' strong encouragement to take a computer science course to round out her college curriculum, she discovered an aptitude for application development – particularly the problem-solving aspects inherent to writing code and designing user interfaces.
The ability to see precisely how software works just by looking at the code spoke to Erin's love and aptitude for puzzle solving. In particular, Erin holds a real affinity for user experience and user interface design, as it provides more of a creative outlet and lets her see the tangible results of all her effort. That strong work ethic paid off when she won the IDIology Award, which recognizes the employee who best represents IDI's values and culture.
From Erin's own experience working in the STEM field, it's not unusual for more taciturn people to feel like their voices get lost in the din of strong opinions. Especially being part of an all-male engineering team, Erin comments that it can be difficult to have your voice heard at times. However, she has found that as you grow into your role and build up experience, you gain the confidence to be more forceful giving an opinion and cutting through the noise.
Although women have seen progress in terms of stronger representation in technology, Erin believes more work could be done to not only support women in STEM but also more broadly in the workplace. Mentorship programs, Erin says, would go a long way in building awareness in the industry regarding these issues as well as really encouraging young women to join and succeed in the field.
Erin's recommendation to young women just getting started in the STEM field is to never feel intimidated, keep your confidence up and always feel free to speak your mind. If technology is your passion, follow it.
Finding your passion in unexpected places
In contrast to Erin, there was never one singular moment when Susan King, IDI Billing's Director of Sales, realized she was destined for a career in technology. It happened organically, following the path her career took in various iterations. After college, she took a temp job at a telecommunications company to make some money, fill out her resume and bridge the gap as she pursued what she considered her "true" profession in marketing.
Except that marketing career never happened.
Instead, 26 years later, Susan continues to apply her skills and aptitude in sales to the industry. Since 2003, IDI Billing has been the beneficiary of her immeasurable expertise and business acumen.
Working in technology sales is no easy feat, Susan says, since just about everyone in the STEM field has a finely-honed sense to detect when someone doesn't really know what they're talking about. As Susan puts it, if you put yourself out there and just pretend you understand something, you'll lose all credibility with your sales prospects. As such, Susan does a lot of independent research on her own time to stay up-to-date and educated on all things related to the industry.
As a mother of a few curious and inquisitive daughters herself, Susan is very cognizant of the steps required to bridge the gender gap in STEM. Since creativity and intelligence are so critical to success in this field, she believes those attributes need to be cultivated and supported from an early age.
During her career, she has certainly seen the number of women working in this industry grow, and a great deal of progress has been made. However, there's always room for improvement. When she started out, there were very few women serving in executive positions, and while that number is increased over the years, it's not yet close to where it should be. The industry needs to find ways to put more women in leadership positions.
A view from a telecom veteran
If there's one thing Debra Tellstone, IDI Project Manager, knows, it's the telecom industry. With over 25 years of experience working in this field, Debra has a strong operational, technical and business background that she leverages to help customers achieve billing excellence and operational efficiencies.
Debra found her way to IDI after managing billing operations for a VoIP services provider. That experience was incredibly positive and helped guide her toward a specialization in telecom billing services.
Before all of that, she had her sights set on creating something tangible and thought the manufacturing industry would be a good fit. However, after taking a job with a Rochester-based carrier, and seeing firsthand the ins and outs of telecommunication systems and how they function, she developed an appreciation for service-based operational processes.
One of the great things about working on billing systems is you get to help carriers improve their customer engagement practices. Often, invoices are one of the few real touchpoints people have with their telecom providers on a monthly basis. Enhancing and optimizing billing processes can drastically improve the customer experience.
Debra has always felt that she's worked with a combination of strong men and women during her time in the telecom field. Her advice to young women interested in a career in STEM? Study computer science, even if it doesn't immediately pique your interest. The experience is invaluable to strengthening your logical-thinking muscle, understanding the nuts and bolts of how software functions and providing you with the fundamental building blocks of how systems operate in the enterprise.
Thriving in STEM fields isn't always dictated by your knowledge of STEM subjects alone, however. Debra suggests working on your leadership, communication, presentation and interpersonal skills – this can be a powerful combination for job satisfaction and success.
Strong women go far in the technology space
The experiences of Erin, Susan and Debra are proof positive that strong women can go very far in technology. We should always be striving to do better as an industry, but the progress that has already been made is commendable.