Championing women in tech
In honour of International Women's Day, our VP Technology Services Europe & Oceania, Courtney Burkhart shares her story on how she got her start in the tech world – and why more women should too.
Despite her success, Burkhart’s career in tech wasn’t one she planned for. In fact, she always had aspirations to be an animator, but after switching to engineering school at 19, she discovered her niche in coding, problem-solving and software.
But, her journey wasn’t without its challenges. “I remember when I met with the head of the Computer Science department at my university to discuss enrolling in the course, he remarked ‘I would think someone like you would rather major in marketing,’” recalls Burkhart. While this was a precursor for the challenges she’d face as a woman in tech, Burkhart was undeterred.
Navigating the gender divide
“During my career, I have encountered gender biases often mixed with age biases, and it can sometimes be hard to tell which is what,” she says, recalling situations when her competence was called into question just because she is a woman. “There have been countless meetings where I have been asked if the discussion was too technical for me.”
While Burkhart doesn’t believe these comments are meant with malice, she does encourage open dialogue about the challenges women face in this industry.
“Globally there are less and less women entering tech roles and we need to address this with support from men,” she says. “I only ask that we are welcomed to the table for our skills and recognised for our ability not only to code, but also to lead.”
Following her dreams
Despite the challenges of being a woman in a male dominated industry, Burkhart’s determination has never wavered. “It has not always been easy, but it has taught me to really find my voice and stand firm when needed.”
In fact, the quote accompanying her email signature speaks volumes about her drive to succeed: perseverance is stubbornness with a purpose.
“I feel like this quote represents who I am, not only my personality, but also my grit – something you need a little extra of when working in tech where you have to operate in more male cultural norms,” she says.
Inspiring the next generation
With fewer women entering the field than before, Burkhart believes it is important to show girls and young women that a career in tech is possible despite societal perceptions.
“We need to make tech available to young girls and let them know that entering STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines is an option for them. We also need to place strong female role models in front of them.”
Equally important is support from men in the industry, says Burkhart.
“We also need leaders, men and women alike, to lead the way. Women need to be promoted into key leadership roles so we can create a pipeline down for women to see advancement in IT.”
Another misconception that needs to be addressed is that technology roles are only about coding. “IT professionals are heavily engaged in how tech is being used and how that will make a difference in society. For example, using AI to optimise our fleet allows us to meet global sustainability goals. This is where diversity becomes absolutely critical,” says Burkhart.
So how can we create positive change for women in tech?
“I believe that organisations should begin addressing this locally, through internships, mentoring, and open discussions so that we can reverse the negative trend,” says Burkhart.
“For me, as a woman in tech, I have hope that more women will decide to choose this career. My only advice is: find your voice and follow your dreams.”