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Women in SGF tech industry report disparities, work to help others - News-Leader

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Source: https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/business/2023/10/29/springfield-tech-industry-women-disparities-discrimination-mentoring/71227344007/

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Simoriah Stogner’s career in the tech industry will soon come back full circle to where it began.As a high school graduate and new mother to her son, Kamryn, 18-year-old Stogner was in search of a career to support her new family.Just three months after graduation, she was hired at Jack Henry.“I landed an entry-level position on a service desk, and, at that time, I didn't even know how to send an email,” Stogner said.“That was extremely intimidating, as you can imagine, going into a tech profession in a major tech corporation and not even knowing how to connect with my colleagues.”Over time, Stogner grew her skills in the firm, at the same time that Jack Henry was growing as a company.“Here I am, 17 years later, one of the subject matter experts for a lot of different technologies, but also over the last few years I've been identified as an industry expert,” said Stogner, who now serves as the senior manager of technology services and IT operations.She also works to train and recruit new talent to the firm, educating them on the opportunities that a career in the tech industry can provide.For at least one recruit, she didn’t have to look too far.“(Kamryn) actually just celebrated his 18th birthday, and now we're preparing him for applying to tech jobs when he graduates in May,” Stogner said.At that graduation, Stogner plans to reenact a memory from her own graduation, just months before she launched her own career in the tech industry.“I'm really excited for May to come when he graduates because I'm gonna make him recreate this photo with me,” Stogner said, referring to the photo with 6-month-old Kamryn on her hip while she posed in her regalia.Stogner and her son have had multiple conversations concerning what kind of profession might be best for Kamryn, aligning with his interests and desires.He hopes to find a career that offers flexible working options, compensation incentives and opportunities for in-house training for someone fresh out of high school.“He's looking for, ‘How do I enter into a high-paying profession that has basically an endless ceiling, or it seems as though there's an endless ceiling?'” Stogner said. “So we've done a lot of research on what the labor market is for the United States, and we found that technology is second behind healthcare for the highest-paying jobs.”Working toward equal opportunities for women and men in the tech industryWhen Stogner started at Jack Henry, both the company and the tech industry were expanding significantly.During her 17 years in the tech field, both have blossomed into a burgeoning market force.According to Statista, the United States tech sector employed about 5.2 million workers in 2020, but that number is expected to balloon to nearly 6 million by 2030.As it grows, local tech associations are carefully monitoring the sector to ensure that leadership opportunities and compensation grow equally for both men and women.Springfield Women in Technology and the Springfield Tech Council, two local organizations fostering growth and development in the Springfield tech industry, commissioned a tech workplace survey report aimed at investigating the experiences of men and women in the tech industry.Maranda Provance, a board member of Springfield Women in Technology and director of development at Mostly Serious, heard some feedback from local tech workers that a firm didn’t offer paid parental leave.That got her wondering about policies and benefits local companies offered to support women working in tech roles, leading to the survey being conducted.“We wanted to get actual data from real people working here that would help local employers understand how to support women in the tech industry,” Provance said.There were 363 responses to the electronic survey, and smaller focus groups made up of a dozen women working in tech roles in southwest Missouri honed in on specific responses topics.Among the top findings in the report was that, while compensation was the number one factor influencing all respondents’ decisions to accept a job offer, men were more likely to have higher salaries than women.When asked if they felt they were paid fairly in comparison with others in their organization, 58% of women indicated that they were paid fairly compared to 73% of men.Although about 47% of respondents earn between $75,000 and $150,000 annually, the survey results showed that 45% of male respondents reported earning over $100,000 while only 24% of women said the same.“I found that to be honestly a little discouraging, but at least the data is out there and we can start to recognize that this is no longer a feeling that women have, but there's actual data behind it to support this,” Stogner said.Nationally, there is a reported 1.8% pay gap between men and women who apply for the same job.Still, any of those salaries are far above the average household income in Springfield, which, according to 2021 U.S. Census data, was almost $40,000.Some local companies have worked to reduce or eliminate gender-based pay gaps.Kelly Robertson, director of information technology at CNH Industrial Reman, said that all positions the company offers have a base pay associated with the job.Robertson, herself, has never experienced any wage discrimination during her career in tech, which spans 23 years and five companies.“Everywhere that I've worked, I've never felt that I was underpaid, under-respected, or not valued,” Robertson said.However, this may also have something to do with the positions held within a given company.In the survey, about 13% of men indicated that they were owners, C-suite or executives, compared to 5% of women.Additionally, 16% of women identified as senior management and 10% as entry level, compared to 8% and 3% of men, respectively.Women were also more likely to report feeling less represented in leadership roles, at 64%, than their male counterparts, of whom 73% felt women were well represented in the leadership of their company.It is hard to tell from the survey and focus groups if this stems from a lack of open positions for women to apply for or if it is due to imposter syndrome, meaning that someone who is qualified for a role may doubt their own abilities and decline to seek advancement.Imposter syndrome, it seems, it highly prevalent in the tech industry and equally reported among men and women in the survey, with 78.2% of women and 77.9% of men saying that, at some point in their career, they have experienced feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy in their professional role.More: Community around Pomme de Terre Lake rallies against beef packers' plan to dump wastewaterWomen more likely to experience discrimination and leave the tech industrySurvey results revealed that 46% of female respondents have experienced some form of discrimination while working in the tech sector. Experiences shared by respondents seem to have a common theme involving a lack of confidence in a woman’s knowledge of industry topics or technology.Provance said she faced her first, but only, encounter with discrimination while she was still in college at Missouri State University, where she earned her computer science degree.When Provance volunteered to answer a question, a male student said something to the effect of, “Well what does she know?She’s a woman.”“I think it's important to call out too that I was literally the only woman in a class of, you know, maybe 25 or 30,” Provance said.“So I was very singled out in that moment, as if I wasn't already.”Fortunately, Provance’s professor in the class squashed that immediately, informing the male student that his comment was inappropriate, and casually inserted that Provance may have had one of the best grades in the class.She graduated with honors from MSU, and, since that time, Provance counts herself fortunate that this kind of blatantly discriminatory experience hasn’t been repeated. Stogner has also faced some discrimination in the workplace.At one point in her career, a male coworker directly challenged her technical expertise in front of a large audience of people.Rather than react in the moment or through virtual communication, Stogner scheduled a private meeting, with just one coworker in earshot to serve as a witness.She explained her perspective to him as a woman in a leadership position within the company facing a public challenge to her expertise, something that she feels he may not have realized when he initially made the comments.“By the end of that conversation, he gave me an apology,” Stogner said.“He basically said, ‘I shouldn't have ever challenged you. You're obviously a very intelligent, competent person over these spaces.’”Following this encounter, Stogner and the male coworker formed a good working relationship and he became one of her go-to experts at the firm.Any time an issue like this comes up, Stogner always looks for a silver lining and better methods for approaching or avoiding future encounters.“I try to grow through those things from a personal viewpoint like, ‘What could I have done differently?How do I avoid these situations going forward?How should I have responded?’ Stogner said.“Maybe I didn't respond in a way that actually even brought the issue to light so that it could be addressed.”Along with these issues, policies at some companies can be discouraging to employees looking to grow their families. Provance points to the results of the initial question that piqued her curiosity about conducting the survey — paid parental leave.“Just over 50% of companies had parental leave,” Provance said.“I would have expected that to be more because tech is generally known to have more progressive policies, regardless of federal or state policies.”All these factors combined may indicate why a higher percentage of women indicated on the survey that they planned to leave the tech sector at some point in their career.Only 53% of the female respondents plan to stay in tech for the duration of their careers, compared to 71% of male respondents.“Over the years, our workforce has gotten much more flexible,and people jump into not just jobs, but they've jumped industries now, too,” said Emily Buckmaster, executive director of the Springfield Tech Council.“But it's kind of disheartening to see a large number of people who are open to leaving the tech industry.”Provance, however, feels that the issues highlighted by the survey shed some light on why this might be the case.“I think that it's very clear, when you see the challenges that women face, in that they're not paid at the same rates as men, that they face more discrimination and then they're not being given the same opportunities for development and growth, it is not surprising to see that so many more women were looking at leaving the field,” Provance said.Disparities aren’t preventing new women from entering the fieldDuring the pandemic, Kayla Paden was faced with a decision.She had worked in education teaching music and English as a second language.But then many of her private piano students stopped coming and the international students she taught at Missouri State University returned to their home countries.At a career crossroads, she started down a path that led her to her current freelancing gigs in the tech sector.More: Does it feel like everywhere you go, you're being asked to tip? Say hello to 'tipflation'“If the pandemic hadn't happened, and I hadn't lost students, I don't know that I would have transitioned when I did,” Paden said.Having worked with the online learning platform, Blackboard, and other technical roles as a teacher, she volunteered in a data management position.Discovering she had a knack for tech, she started doing informational interviews with local tech leaders, like Provance and others.She soon found that she really enjoyed working as a web developer and joined various Springfield tech organizations, such as Springfield Devs, a group with a shared passion for website and software development.“I love being creative.I love problem solving,” Paden said.“So the web development path, that fit really well for me.”She is working out her contract as a teacher at Missouri State University, but, all the while, she continues to develop her tech skills.The biggest challenge she expects to face is breaking into the tech market by finding her first job.“Applications are always wanting experience, even for entry level,” Paden said, “Usually, it's like one to three years. I understand that so that's why I'm volunteering and freelancing to be able to get that experience and then go in and show myself as less of a risk to a hiring manager.” Asked how she’s feeling about launching a career in this new industry, Paden said, “I am downright excited.”More: Politician or the people's lawyer?How the role of Missouri Attorney General has evolvedTranslating survey results into new programs, policies in SpringfieldThe Springfield Tech Council takes an active role in recruiting the next generation of tech employees, with many working partnerships with local colleges.This involves outreach programs attracting interested students and a monthly lunch of collegiate tech leaders to discuss current topics in the local industry.“We do try to help the next generation feel part of the community and it's important to help get that pipeline going,” Buckmaster said.Area employers also coordinate outreach programs with local schools.Robertson, of CNH Industrial Reman, said the company partners with MSU’s graduate assistant program to take one student under its wing, providing on-the-job experience and training.“This student is going to come out with her graduate degree with experience unlike many of her peers, and her resume will just shine,” Robertson said.Mentoring plays a large part in career growth and fostering relationships within the tech sector. Survey results indicate that 70% of female respondents would be interested in a formal mentor/mentee relationship, compared to only 56% of men.Taking mentees under her wing is one of Robertson’s favorite things about her job.Her 23 years of career experience were prefaced by high school mentoring experiences.She remembers those times fondly and cherishes the impact it made on her, and she is passionate about mentoring people new to the tech industry.“I wasn't surprised that people were looking for that because I find it important,” Robertson said.“You can't grow without that.To make yourself vulnerable, to take that constructive criticism, to improve upon yourself, to get to the goals that you've set out for yourself is really key.”Buckmaster was encouraged by the strong interest in mentoring programs. The Springfield Tech Council is already working on ways to address some of these desires for training detailed in the survey.“We think that people get busy, or they maybe don't always want that mentorship, or sometimes people shy away from that networking piece.But I was encouraged and kind of surprised that it was as high as it was,” Buckmaster said.While the survey revealed many positive aspects of the local tech industry, and well as areas that could use improvement, Buckmaster’s next focus will be on putting the survey results into action.“(The Springfield Tech Council) is the hub for the whole tech community, so we do feel a responsibility to make sure that this doesn't just sit on a shelf, but we want to encourage conversation and collaboration,” said Buckmaster.FacebookTwitterEmail

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