The actual sight of seven women in a Hippo meeting room elicits quite a response from passersby in the office. Not a single male colleague walks past without a quick pause-- a moment of noticeable confusion, all followed by a smile and a thumbs up. We’re here for the “Ladies of Hippo” panel—an ad hoc conversation about what it means to be women in the tech industry and what it means to be women working at Hippo CMS.
The timing of this conversation is not accidental—last week’s article “This is Why There Aren’t Enough Women in Tech” in popular Silicon Valley blog ValleyWag painted a bleak portrait of the position of women in tech: excluded, undermined and discriminated against in school and later, in the work force. Given the Hippo office’s open atmosphere, this was the perfect time for reflection and frank discussion about gender within the company, as well as in the industry. Having circulated a link to the post alongside some open-ended questions, I’m not here to steer the conversation or elicit sound bites. I’ve “been in tech” for under a week—my role is to facilitate and take notes. Removed as I am from the unfolding conversation, its overall message is more optimistic than I could have hoped. Its organic evolution adds to its strength. Below are some of the conclusions I drew from the conversation—and they make me appreciate the work atmosphere at Hippo more than any complimentary massage could:
It’s not easy to be a woman in tech, but that’s a source of empowerment
Certain experiences are undeniably shared by the women sitting in front of me—they recognize that as a gender, they’re in the minority. Each can recall situations where they’ve felt overlooked, or like they had to work harder to be taken seriously. But rather than feeling like victims, they’re proud to be trailblazers. Certainly, they’d like to see more women enter the industry—and more young girls feel that tech is an option for them. However, they’re also proud to be succeeding in a field where, statistically, few women are represented.
Women in tech want to help each other
Rather than lamenting their smaller numbers, the panelists feel empowered by their experiences and are proud to be in a position to offer advice and support to women who are new to the field. Appreciative of the women who helped her along the way, Sonja Wraith [VP Marketing] emphasizes: “I want to help younger women who come into tech now. That means a lot to me, precisely because it was so difficult.” Linda Neijenhuis [EVP Professional & Support Services] echoes this point “it would have been nice to have a female mentor—there aren’t very many women in the field to look up to” but sees hope in future generations of women growing up with computers: “I hope that the mainstreaming of technology brings greater diversity to the industry.”
A different perspective is a strength—but needs to be used as one
When asked what advice she’d give to young women entering tech, Elvin Priyadi [Junior Web Developer]’s message is clear: “Stand firm, and don't be afraid to use your female side—it can be one of your greatest assets.” As Linda points out, “our view of what a leader should be is still male—but women have different styles of leadership, and our own strengths to offer.” As for those who might doubt her abilities, Elvin has a few select words: “if you don’t think I can do something, watch me”—even the doubts can be a catalyst. Overall, the panelists embrace the challenge of being in their field: as Sonja underscores “I have no time for the perception of women as victims in tech—there are so many ways to kick ass back.”
A management team that embraces diversity and respectful coworkers makes a world of a difference
Although they recognize that the tech industry has a long way to go before women are truly recognized and represented, the panelists agree that Hippo sets a higher standard. Neha Duvuri [Developer] feels that her 25 male colleagues go out of their way to make her feel comfortable—“if they forget themselves and crack a joke, they apologize; if I’m silent in a conversation, they make an active effort to engage me.” Regarding her male colleagues, Linda agrees. “I feel like I’m one of them,” she says. Aditi Shah [Developer] points out that she doesn’t need to be tiptoed around just because she’s a woman. She sees the comfortable, informal and open working environment—including jokes—as indication that her colleagues don’t define her as a woman: “it’s a compliment,” she says. The panelists credit the tone set by CEO Jeroen Verberg and the Leadership Team for the respectful and inclusive atmosphere within the company—not only is the feminine perspective actively sought and appreciated by the leadership, there are regular check-ins, providing further opportunities to raise concerns. As Elvin puts it, at Hippo “we don’t have to come to work with a sword everyday—but even if we did, bring it on.”