In conversation with: Women in Tech

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Corinne Ripoche sat down with industry leaders Pavan Kochar, CEO and Co-Founder of Certree, and Lesleigh Seagram, Global Head, VP Fieldglass at SAP, for a conversation about Women in Tech. 

In the first of this two-part interview, the three leaders discussed ways to encourage STEM interest in future generations of the female workforce, as well as educating STEM students on the many careers that their degree can apply towards. By being vocal and sharing stories of women in technology, more females will be encouraged to enter and grow in the industry.  

Do leaders and organizations have a social responsibility to invest in STEM at the grassroots level and change the current trajectory? 

Corinne Ripoche: We know that there are few female STEM students, and even fewer entering the workforce as a technologist. In fact, a McKinsey study out of the UK found that only 27% of female students said they would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of males, and only 3% said it is their first choice. Do we have a social responsibility here to invest and encourage females to enter tech? 

Pavan Kochar: As leaders in this industry, I do believe we have a social responsibility to support females in tech. In my mind, this starts very early on, from the time girls are born and through the time they’re senior leaders in Tech. One of the biggest influences when we are young is our parents and educators. They can provide an open platform for girls to learn the same things that boys do and are exposed to math and science and this includes toys and games and anything else that kids might interact with. I think that is absolutely critical, very early on.  

I also think female leaders have the responsibility today to ensure we can be mentors. It’s amazing how often I get asked to be a mentor, and it’s because girls don’t have too many options for female tech role models. We need to show girls that being a technologist, you can thrive and this is what it looks like. And it’s not necessarily just coding. More girls are getting STEM degrees now, which I’m very excited about and the numbers are going up.  

Beyond degrees, it’s also our responsibility to nurture and advocate for women throughout their careers. Retaining women throughout technology careers is a challenge and so that nurturing and that mentorship is key to all of us. 

Lesley Seagram: It’s so important to plant the seed and I love what Pavan said where it starts very early in the child’s life. I also think it’s important for organizations to help plant that seed and SAP is doing a really great job at this.  

At SAP, we have a STEAM program and they’ve been running coding weeks and hackathons and really providing an environment for young women to come and learn about technology and the tech industry. You know, it can be daunting for younger generations to navigate this industry, so with organizations really stepping up and providing that forum and fostering that environment for girls to thrive and really learn about the different aspects of what technology industry means is supercritical. 

Corinne: I agree. You know, I did some research and I found that the person who designed the first algorithm to be executed by a computer was a woman. Ada Lovelace – born in 1815 and her design done in 1845 – so meaning we’ve had women in STEM for some time and we lost part of that at the beginning of the 20th century.  

We have to plant a seed and we have to be vocal. And we have to continue to be vocal because we have not been for so long. Looking at the past, how many women have done that? We have the impression that no one has done that in the past when we actually have some great names and role models to look at. We must continue to be vocal and share stories. 

Pavan: Absolutely, I agree, so often we think that there’s just not that many of us. But, there are many of us and I think it’s all of our responsibility because we’re in this type of forum and we’re leaders. We have the capability to impact and to make changes and to express that to the younger generation.  

Lesleigh: It’s really showing the art of the possible. Last year in the summer we partnered with supermodel Karlie Kloss and she completed a coding course and fell in love with it. And after that, Karlie started sponsoring young woman who wanted to become interested in coding and really giving them the opportunity to explore that.  

We can be multi-dimensional. Just because you choose one career doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with it. These types of examples really show what the art of the possible is.

Lesliegh Seagram, Global Head of VP of Fieldglass Partnerships

Pavan: That’s a perfect example, Lesleigh. I think for me personally, I didn’t know that I wanted to be in tech or study computer engineering, but I had the openness and the platform from my family to explore and to feel encouraged to see how far tech could take me. Tech can be applied to so many arenas. It’s not just about coding, and I think that exposure of young women to all STEM can offer is crucial. 

Corinne: Agree. We are always looking at different surveys from the market, and a recent one from PwC said that only 16% of the female had a career in technology suggested to them. And a McKinsey study showed that women globally account for only 35% of STEM students in higher education, and fewer than 20% of tech workers are female. 

So if we look at how we can encourage more women to come to tech, I think is clearly coming from us leaders and organizations, but it’s also coming from the education and teachers and families. And also from different examples and stories that we can share with everyone at the beginning of the career or the bringing of the life of the people as well.  

How do we stop the old stereotypes that say females should go work in certain categories or roles?  

Lesleigh: I’m a big believer in growing early talent. You know it’s not just about opening the doors and getting young women interested in this space, but it’s about fostering that environment for early talent and growing it. There are so many avenues. It’s one thing just to give them an opportunity, but as Pavan mentioned really helping mentor those women and setting up future leaders. 

Corinne: Do you see any obstacles within companies? What are the obstacles that women can face when they are in the tech industry, more than in some other industries? 

Pavan: In my personal experience studying to be an engineer at UIUC, there weren’t that many females. I was one in a handful of women among a group of thousands in my class and so the obstacle is really the fact that there’s not that many of us. I can see that it’s improving now. But as you grow into leadership positions, and as you grow to do a multitude of different things, there are less and less women.  

As Lesleigh mentioned, creating a nurturing environment where women can thrive is so important to me. With every new hire in my company, I’m spending time with each one on one to ensure that the environment is conducive for their success.  

This is very much a male-dominated industry, and as women grow in their tech careers, organizations should encourage and help inspire these women so that they stay there, and they grow, and they potentially join board seats. It’s important to have a female voice at those levels. 

Lesleigh: This is a very interesting topic for me and one I often engage in some really interesting debates on. I often think our biggest obstacles is ourselves. 

And what I mean by that is I think us as women always try and compare ourselves against our male counterparts. And I honestly think if we stop doing that and we step up and we be bold and we be unapologetic in our point of view and what we have to say, I think that’s going to pave the way for a lot more progression where we see women moving into the space.  

I always mentor my team that as long as you’ve done your due diligence, you’ve done the hard work and you know your subject matter, then you should have no problem stepping up and voicing your opinion. But when we get into comparing ourselves to our male counterparts, we’re actually doing ourselves a big disservice because we are making that the focal point – we are not making the focal point in what we have to say and the value that we have to deliver. 

Pavan: I love that point, Lesleigh. You’re absolutely right on. Maybe that is one of the inherent girl versus boy things, right? And we need to overcome that.  

It’s interesting – I have someone who I consider a peer asking me for some professional advice about her career and a lot of the conversation I found myself saying: but what do you really want? Express yourself like the world is your oyster. Assume that you can have any role that you want. What would that look like? Assume that, then set your targets on that and figure out how that can play out. All too often we’re not doing this. We’re not as expressive and in-line with ourselves, in terms of who we are and what we want. Self-discovery and self-confidence and knowing who you are and what you want. 

Corinne: So clearly here we have to work on our resilience. We have to believe in ourselves and we have to have determination.  

Because if you have all of that – you know yourself, you know what you want, and as Lesleigh said you have done your due diligence done and know your subject matter: nothing can block you. Nothing can block you. You have all the components to be successful and to provide your company with the same level of job and the same level of result as your male counterpart.  

Check back for part two where the women discuss the power of mentoring and building a business culture to retain and encourage women to grow into leadership roles.  


About the panelists:

Corinne Ripoche is CEO of Adecco Americas and Pontoon. Corinne is a global leader with an activist mindset and clear customer-centricity. She is driven by data and knows that purpose and experience within the hiring ecosystem is central to success. Corinne is a member of C200, Paradigm for Parity, and Women’s Business Collaborative.

Lesleigh Seagram is the Global Head & VP of Fieldglass Partner Channel at SAP and is responsible for developing and executing Partner GTM Strategy, ensuring partner and customer success.  Her career at SAP spans 20 years, where she’s focused on transparency and authentic leadership as the foundation to build trust and loyalty of her team, customers and partners. Lesleigh advocates for coaching and mentoring of young woman in tech, as well as creating awareness on Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace. Lesleigh originally hails from South Africa and currently resides in Dallas, Texas.

Pavan Kochar is Co-Founder and CEO of Certree, an anti-fraud platform with the purpose of safeguarding data privacy. Prior to Certree, she was co-founder and CEO of Ubertal, a global technology services company focused on delivering innovation as a service. Pavan spent 15+ years in the technology industry holding leadership positions at firms such as Accenture, Deloitte and several others. She is a member of YPO, EO, Athena Alliance, and President of Akhand Jyoti USA. Pavan resides in Silicon Valley and holds a B.S. in Computer Science/Engineering and Bioengineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

See Part 2 of this Interview here