The value of strong female mentors in tech from Deltek’s CIO

Image of a woman working with technology/machinery. grey, silver coloured - Deltek CIO

I’ve always been obsessed with technology. Growing up in the 70s, my mom – who was ahead of her time – worked for a start-up technology company, while also teaching computer programming at Georgia State University. She was my mentor and has had a major role to play in getting me to where I am today, working as the chief information officer at Deltek.

I feel fortunate that when I fell in love with tech, I wasn’t aware of the gender divide in the industry. In fact, all these years later, men still hold three quarters (74.3 percent) of tech-related jobs, with less than ten percent of tech companies having women represented on the C-suite. For innovation and growth to happen, this has to change.

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed huge progress in getting women into tech. I love taking the time to applaud women who have spearheaded progress, but there is more to be done. By sharing my own experience, I hope that others can take away valuable insights, enacting meaningful change to drive greater diversity in the industry.

Starting my career in technology  

Technology was always a big part of my family’s life; I started coding at home when I was in fourth grade. For context, this was way before there were computers in classrooms, or even computer classes in elementary schools.

As I got older, I distinctly remember having two disagreements with my mom about the classes she wanted me to take at school. The first being in middle school. She wanted me to take a typing class (and when I say typing, I mean on a typewriter!) because she knew – and was right – that it was a skill I needed to learn early on.

The second disagreement came in high school. Computer programming had just emerged as a new class and I didn’t want to take it, because it would have meant that I was the only girl. My mom, however, strongly encouraged me to enroll and it ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made! From here, I went to college and majored in computer science, working in the technology sector ever since.

The value of strong female mentors  

Throughout my life and career, I’ve been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by positive role models, not least my mom. Growing up, she taught me that anything was possible and showed me firsthand that my gender shouldn’t be a barrier to a career in tech.

Straight out of college, I then went on to meet my second mentor. Watching her tech career develop, I learned how to find my voice and style, not mimicking what I’d seen before. While establishing this leadership style took some time, once I found it – a style that was authentic to who I was – I was able to start owning my career, gaining confidence in my skills.

I’ve seen firsthand the importance of mentorship in the technology industry. The benefits for the individual’s career development are enormous, and the business benefits are non-negotiable. Research from McKinsey shows that companies in the top quarter of gender diversity are 39 percent more likely to achieve financial outperformance versus companies in the bottom quarter. It showcases that supporting women in technology not only is the right thing to do, but it also improves business success!

I’ve witnessed the need to do more, so I made the decision to join Deltek’s mentor program, and I’ve been a part of it for the last decade. It’s a win/win. It enables me to learn from each mentee who comes through, developing long-lasting relationships. These relationships help me to better understand the various roles at Deltek, and perceptions of the company. In turn, I use these insights to contribute to Deltek’s strategy – while also supporting the next generation of female leaders in tech. Being part of the program is something I am really passionate about. It sincerely energizes me.

Stepping outside of the comfort zone 

Based on my experience, I’d encourage all women, regardless of sector, to embrace the feeling of discomfort. We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This discomfort will drive results and ultimately, enable women in business to succeed.

Looking back, if I chose to ignore my mom’s advice about which courses to take, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As such, my biggest career take away is to not let my own insecurities define what I do – instead, I leverage these as career growth opportunities.

Mentorship provides a safe and secure environment to find this discomfort and push through any insecurities. Having someone who understands the challenges, can offer advice, act as a sounding board and celebrate successes, is invaluable to women developing their career in the sector. For business leaders, especially in male-dominated industries, I recommend that they embrace female mentorship programs. The benefits are endless.

For women in tech looking to embrace discomfort, I want to share that, even to this day, whenever I am faced with new challenges, the unease remains. However now, I don’t hesitate – the discomfort motivates and drives me.